Three interesting phenomena every political scientist should be aware of.
Southern Africa has no single definition as such, but in this text, I refer to the countries between South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania as Southern Africa. The Southern African states naturally differ significantly from each other, but there are some mutual trends that can be identified
1) One party states and political changes
Many Southern African states started gaining independence after the 1960s. Former liberation movements became political parties and they began to rule the newly independent African states. This was the case in Namibia, for example, where the liberation movement SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organization) became the ruling party in 1990, which it still is. In South Africa, the ANC (African National Congress) party won the first democratic elections of the country in 1994 and has been in power ever since.
Although the ruling parties have enjoyed popularity, the trend might be changing. The economic inequality remains huge and political and social instability is present in the Southern African societies. Also, wide corruption scandals shake the legitimacy and credibility of the rulers. As the emotional connections to politicians who fought for the independence begin to fade away with the new generations rising to power, the fragmented and weak opposition parties may have an excellent chance to strengthen their role.
2) Decolonialization and land reforms
The Southern African states share the colonial history of being ruled and exploited by European states. Even though colonialism has ended with the states gaining their independence, some colonial power structures still remain very present in the societies. For example, they exist in the discourses concerning the national history, the peoples and the different races. Some of the characteristics of the national economies can also be traced back to the colonial era. Decolonialization, which is the undoing and unpacking colonialism and coloniality is a process of major importance in the Southern African states.
In practice, the decolonialization process is closely related to the redistributive mechanisms between the different races. Vesa Sirén presented in his article published in Helsingin Sanomat how about 70 per cent of the privately owned South African land is still owned by the whites, who represent less than 10 per cent of whole the population (HS 26.8.2018). South Africa will most likely execute a land reform to balance the unequal ownership of the land but the details of the reform remain unclear.
3) Regional integration processes on their way
Regional integration has been proved to be an efficient way to drive development. Until the very last years the European Union has been regarded as the role model of a successful economic and political integration and therefore it has inspired many regional integration initiatives in Southern Africa. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) are all building an economic union that would help the region to develop.
However, the task is not easy as the three organizations are heavily overlapping in their agendas and are driven by different political visions. Due to different historical backgrounds SADC is aiming to build a political union and COMESA focuses more on the economic integration. Many Southern African states belong to more than one regional economic organization, which makes it difficult to proceed with the separate economic integration models. The goods and services many Southern African states produce are also rather omogenic and therefore the hegemonic and industrialized South Africa is the most likely beneficiary of the deepening economic integration.
The author is a former FAIA board member, who spent the spring 2018 studying at the University of Namibia. The nature, the people and the countless opportunities made her fall in love with the amazingly diverse Southern Africa.
Picture: Riikka Ilmonen