Monday, December 3, 2012

NEVIS REVIEW No 5, Section II: Ref # 5.2

Section II
Ref# 5.2
Dec 3, 2012

From Liberation Movement to Government : Past legacies and the challenge of transition in Africa” by Christopher Clapham:
Summary by NEVIS editor, Mesfin Tekle
All those who struggled against oppression and autocratic governments are defined by the sacrifices they made to free the populous from a dictator or in South Africa’s case from racial domination by a minority. There are struggles for statehood such as in Eritrea and South Sudan or to overthrow a dictatorial regime in Ethiopia and Uganda. Clapham points out that once these liberation movements achieve victory and become a government “the experience of struggle has generally been regarded as an enormously positive legacy for the new state and the regime that rules it. The more intense the struggle, indeed, the greater the advantages conferred on the new government”. We can see the evidence of this in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, and South Africa. Here we should pose and ask a legitimate question. Are liberation movements entitled to govern ad infinitum? There are governments like that of Eritrea who still act like a liberation movement not a government. There are also governments who still feel entitled to govern forever. The “failure to move beyond ‘liberation politics’ and shed a struggle mindset” also results in a standoff with those who want to move on to the next level of governance that is not stuck in past grudges. In some of the states that have failed to live up to expectations, as problems mount “it becomes all too easy to view the legacies of the struggle not as a blessing but as a curse and to envy those countries whose transition to majority rule has been marked instead by peace and continuity”. All struggles have their unique characteristics that differentiate them from one another but what is striking is the recurring similarities that are common to most of them.
The legacy of liberation

For those who go through the struggle and win “It brings with it a deep sense of conviction in the rightness of the cause, and the entitlement and responsibility of the survivors to continue to exercise the power, and pursue the objectives, for which they fought”. What has remained constant in most states that are governed by liberation movements is “a virtually permanent claim on state power: those who did not participate in their struggle, including those who were too young to have had any chance of doing so, are expected to take second place to veterans”. However, these same liberation movements forget that they also got to where they are today by suppressing dissent within their own organization or outside of it. “One common feature of liberation war is the contest for ‘movement hegemony’, in the course of which often vicious fighting takes place between rival movements”. TPLF Vs EPRP or ELF vs EPLF are good examples

The challenge of Governance

“The moment at which a liberation movement comes to power is normally one of extraordinary catharsis”. Whatever misgivings the population has about the victors, the finality of the war in itself is welcome news to most of the citizenry. However, creating national reconciliation and forging forward for legitimacy was not an easy task to most of the victors. “Yoweri Museveni in Uganda or Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia – deliberately created new political structures intended to extend the legitimacy of the new regime beyond the limited areas of the country in which the war had been fought, and provide the basis for a new constitutional order”. However, running a government is a completely different exercise than leading a liberation movement. Governing requires accommodating varying interest groups whose interests might be at odds with each other. It is unlike fighting a regime with single-minded purposefulness. “Flexibility must replace rigidity”. Those like TPLF that took over a state apparatus and have to work with it were more successful than those like EPLF who chased out those who served the old regime regardless of the benefit that may have arisen by keeping them.
Calpham in the end concludes that there is not single liberation movement that has transitioned seamlessly to a national government. Governance presents its own challenge that is not only unique but often conflicts with the principles of a liberation struggle that has led it to victory.
(For full article, you can check out this link