Africa's problem and Zimbabwe's problem too

Professor Patrick Lumumba, Director of The Kenya School of Law, speaks on democracy and political parties in Africa. Few, if any, can match his clarity of thought and what he says is relevant to the Zimbabwe situation.

Uploaded 03 March 2022

Transcript of the video soundtrack:

Prof Lumumba: The problem is the misguided belief by Africans that their political leaders are messiahs to be compared with Moses holding a rod in his hand, and parting Red Seas.

My view is that democracy is a competition of ideas. And those who have ideas put them in the marketplace and the people choose. But unfortunately, in many African countries, first of all, we are wedded to ethnicity. Number two, we are wedded to demigods. And once you choose that path, then you’ve got to pay the consequences. When you treat people like God for too long, they begin to think that they are God and they begin to behave like God, and they begin to think that they are infallible, and you pay the consequences. And Africa is doing so and will continue to do so until the day our eyes are open.

Journalist: So does democracy then have a future in Africa? Isn’t it a misplaced concept here?

Prof Lumumba: This thing called democracy. First of all, in Africa, we allow Western Europe to define for us what democracy is. We are told that democracy must mean elections after every five years. We are told that democracy must mean political parties. We are told that democracy must be endorsed by Western Europe and the European Union at every election cycle. We must ask ourselves, “What is democracy?” It is participation of the people. Is it possible for us to define for ourselves what democracy means? As long as it means participation of the people. Africa allows ourselves to be defined by others. And that is my pain and our tragedy?

Journalist: Does Africa have the capacity to define itself, putting into perspective the colonial injustices, the level of poverty and the dependence on foreign aid to run Africans affairs?

Prof Lumumba: We are not the only people we were who were colonised. The Indians were colonised. The Chinese had an element of colonisation. The Koreans were colonised. There is a sense in which we must now liberate ourselves from this argument that colonisation and slavery cannot be taken out of our reasoning. I believe we have the capacity (and there is no shortage of Africans who are speaking from different corners of the world) but unfortunately, in Africa, despite the best intentions of the best of us, we are incapable of giving those people the opportunity to serve. But we have men and women who know what ought to be done. But Africans in their critical mass are not listening to the voices of reason which cannot be heard, even in their purest tones.

Journalist: Let’s talk about the concept of political parties in Africa. What are your views about the parties that exist? Do they contribute to this animal you call democracy?

Prof Lumumba: First of all, do we have political parties in Africa? There are very few political parties in Africa – I can only mention a few as constituting what I can refer to as political parties. Chama Cha Mapinduzi in Tanzania is a political party. The ANC is a freedom movement converting into a political party. Frelimo is a freedom movement converting into political party. MPLA in Angola. But in many countries, what we have are formations which are owned by individuals masquerading as a political party with no ideas, and they engage in elections every five years and they change their names every five years. These are not political parties. Political parties must be underpinned by clear ideological foundations, which inform the quality of people’s lives in the in these different facets. What we must therefore do is to ask ourselves: Do African political parties qualify to be called political parties in the classical sense? My answer: Very few of them qualify.