Change and the Tyranny of the Majority in Africa

by Pan

Photo: ©PUBLIKACCESSNETWORK.COM                                                            Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the MDC-T

Photo: ©PUBLIKACCESSNETWORK.COM                                                            Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the MDC-T

Several months ago I travelled to Zimbabwe. During my stay I accidentally ran into a recently elected MP representing the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T). We had a casual chat about the outcome of the then recently held harmonized elections and how Morgan Tsvangirai had “lost” to Robert Mugabe. One question that we naturally went for was “what now?”.  Jokingly, we all seemed to think that maybe it was time for Mr. Tsvangirai to resign to allow for regeneration of a party whose energy was nearly burnt out from both strong political opposition and enduring internal shortcomings.  Towards end of January 2014 the Deputy Tresurer General of the MDC-T Mr Elton Mangoma made a blatant proposal offering the founding leader of the MDC-T a golden parachute to drop from the helm of the party. The story was initially circulated through ‘grapevine-ish’ means making it sound like a boardroom coup.  Whether or not the proposition was treasonous is subject for another day. To date the story has developed into various twists and turns. The outcome of which has been physical assault on the so-called renewal grouping and the ultimate suspension and expulsion of Mr Mangoma and his vocal allies from the MDC-T.

A take home from the current internal struggles bedeviling the MDC-T is the question of change. What is change? Can we change? Why should we? How do we manage change? The question of change is even more illuminated in the MDC-T as the organization was created and continues to sell itself under the change mantra.

Change management has been understood along the lines of understanding that the 21st century environment is constantly changing. Organisations that survive in this continuous tide of change are those that can adapt to the needs and realities of their stakeholders and improve on their delivery constantly. Interestingly the MDC-T has decided to call the idea of internal change, leadership renewal. A term that implies recycling, continuing, repairing, and extending validity (after the old one has expired). The notion of renewal is somewhat not very  complementary to the concept of change which generally implies overhaul.

 It is important to note that it is unfair to single out the MDC-T as the failing change ambassador.  Change deficiency is a malignant cancer chewing through various institutions in Africa.  

Most African countries have failed to evolve beyond the revolutionary parties that contributed to their respective independence from colonial rule. Post independence institutions have been created on the basis of liberation war doctrine and they have failed to capture the new momentum. The ANC in South Africa is fast becoming an example of this change failure, though the country has managed to keep steady economy and thriving institutions, the party has failed to fully stand up to the demands and imagination of a growing poor and youthful population. In Zimbabwe, after nearly 34 years in power, ZANU (PF) is still struggling to retain legitimacy and followership among the so-called born frees (young people born after the 1980  independence).  In Rwanda, President Kagame is still in charge, 20 years after the genocide, despite a growing opposition to his rule.

At a continental level, the African Union has at best managed to change its name from its founding, Organisation for African Unity. These predominantly political examples give an insight of  a society that has not changed much in many years. The resistance to change has in many ways affected the citizens.

Without running the risk of “too being academic”, let me reflect on how the resistance to change has affected growing democracies and societies in general. Perpetuation of a  social convention, customs and norms, that uphold status quo have escalated the fear of isolation by those who have a divergent view.  Just as observed by Tocqueville, 18th Century French politician, people join “masses even though they (do) not agree with them” mostly because of their fear of isolation than “committing an error”.  The challenge of ochlocracy in emerging democratic societies has remained the “tyranny of the majority”. Under these conditions, the majority encloses thought within a formidable fence where one is free to express self within the generally agreed parameters, but vulnerable to isolation once one goes behind the fence. Over time a spiral of silence develops, minority opinion, thought, and ideas are consistently shrugged off, at the very least . The society and its institutions fail to grow and open up to novel ideas. Sadly many African societies are ‘growing’ towards that direction.