Might Southern Africa be dealing with a “pink tide”?

Within the early 2000s, elections throughout Latin America noticed left-wing or centre-left events voted into workplace.

This phenomenon, which noticed leaders such Brazil’s Lula da Silva, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Chilean Ricardo Lagos, amongst others, coming to energy, was dubbed the “pink tide” by political scientists. Pink was chosen to explain this prevalence as a result of, whereas lots of the events voted into workplace leaned left and have been democratic, they weren’t hard-core “Reds” or communists.

An analogous phenomenon has been the assorted waves of democratisation which have swept the world. A “wave of democratisation” describes the phenomenon of a lot of nations turning to democracy over a reasonably brief time period. The newest of those waves was within the late Nineteen Eighties and early Nineteen Nineties. The collapse of the Soviet Union helped spark a veritable tsunami of democratisation, when nations in japanese Europe, Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa moved away from authoritarianism.

South Africa was a part of this wave, with the nation transferring away from racial autocracy to a non-racial (in concept) democracy.

However may Southern Africa see its personal mini-“pink” wave and consolidation of democracy this 12 months?


There isn’t any want to speak about South Africa’s outstanding election on the finish of Could. A lot ink has been spilled right here and elsewhere on it. However may the tip of ANC dominance within the nation see one thing comparable occur in the remainder of our area?

Three of our neighbours additionally go to the polls this 12 months – Mozambique, Botswana, and Namibia. All share some historic similarities, having been European colonies, with Namibia having been a South African colony for a lot of the 20th century. All have had various experiences with democracy, with Namibia having its first multi-party election within the late Nineteen Eighties, and Mozambique in 1994. Botswana has been a democracy because it gained independence from Britain within the Nineteen Sixties.

Nevertheless, the standard of democracy varies within the three nations. The Economist Intelligence Unit, the analysis arm of the titular journal, ranks Namibia and Botswana as “flawed democracies”, whereas Mozambique is rated as “authoritarian”. (International locations fall into 4 classes – “full democracy”, “flawed democracy”, “hybrid regime”, and “authoritarian”). South Africa is rated as a “flawed democracy”.

Freedom Home, which seems to advertise democracy across the globe, additionally ranks nations into varied classes – “free”, “partly free”, and “unfree”, and determines whether or not nations are electoral democracies – the place elections are free and honest.

South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia are all ranked as “free” and as electoral democracies, whereas Mozambique is ranked as “partly free” and isn’t an electoral democracy, in response to Freedom Home.

The election in Mozambique is in any case already a foregone conclusion, with the governing Frelimo prone to retain energy by way of a combination of intimidation and vote- rigging, because it has executed for a lot of the previous 30 years.

Free and open

Issues are totally different in Namibia and Botswana, that are free and open societies to a various diploma. However will what occurred in South Africa have any affect on elections in these two nations?

I used to be in Namibia every week earlier than the South African election, and the discussions I had with Namibians indicated that this democratic “contagion” may leak over the Orange River into the Namib. The pondering went that that if a South African electoral upset occurred (because it did), this might galvanise Namibian opposition events and voters to offer the governing SWAPO Occasion a bloody nostril, simply because the ANC received on 29 Could.

As well as, Namibia straight elects its President, in contrast to South Africa, and a state of affairs may come up the place the President is from one celebration whereas the legislature is managed by one other. Some Namibians suppose that that is probably.

In 2019 an unbiased and former member of SWAPO, Panduleni Itula (a dentist by career), shocked the Namibian political institution by successful practically 30% of the vote in that 12 months’s election, with the SWAPO candidate, Hage Geingob, seeing his share of the vote fall from 86.7% to 56%. This was regardless of Itula being one thing of an unknown, by no means having held senior positions in SWAPO or the Namibian authorities, and having little institutional backing. Equally, within the legislative elections, SWAPO noticed its share of the vote drop from 80% to 65%.

On this 12 months’s election, set for late November, Itula is standing once more, having fashioned his personal celebration, the Unbiased Patriots for Change (IPC). The IPC had its first electoral foray in native elections in 2020 the place it carried out properly, with just below 20% of the vote. It secured various mayoralties throughout the nation.

However there are additionally critical questions over Itula, with one Namibian telling me, “You would possibly let Itula be a presidential candidate, however you wouldn’t let him have a look at your enamel!”

However the South African earthquake, which noticed the ANC shaken out of its complacency, may see Itula and his celebration, together with different opposition figures and events, invigorated and extra probably to offer SWAPO a fright, and even vote it out.

Aside from our shared historical past, South Africa and Namibia share different challenges equivalent to excessive ranges of inequality, poverty, and unemployment, and these may see SWAPO’s maintain on energy threatened for the primary time since Namibian independence within the Nineteen Eighties.

Totally different

Botswana is barely totally different. Its historical past is considerably totally different from South Africa’s and Namibia’s, the nation by no means having had excessive ranges of European settlement. The British authorities had a “fingers off” perspective to its administration of the Bechuanaland protectorate, which later turned Botswana. It turned unbiased within the late Nineteen Sixties, and has been one in every of Africa’s most secure democracies, with common free elections, and an absence of violent political contestation.

However, lately the nation’s slip has proven, and it’s maybe not as democratic because it seems from exterior. International lecturers who’ve been essential of the nation have been expelled, whereas journalists have additionally spoken of harassment. Additionally it is not as open to international funding because it has been up to now, with non-citizens discovering it more and more tough to speculate and run companies within the nation. Botswana has been closely reliant on diamonds, and efforts to diversify the financial system typically appear to have failed.

And whereas it has had free-and-fair elections since independence, these have all been received by the Botswana Democratic Occasion (BDP), with that celebration by no means having been challenged on the polls in any important manner. It isn’t clear that the BDP will likely be as magnanimous because the ANC was after its shellacking on 29 Could.

As well as, in contrast to Namibia and South Africa, Botswana makes use of the antiquated first-past-the-post or “Westminster” electoral system. Which means ought to the BDP win lower than 50% of the favored vote (one thing that has solely occurred as soon as within the nation’s historical past) it’s nonetheless prone to safe a parliamentary majority.

Winds of change

That stated, the winds of change may additionally be blowing in Botswana. Just one electoral ballot has been performed in that nation forward of this 12 months’s election. It was performed by Afrobarometer in 2022, and confirmed that the BDP had the assist of solely 22% of the citizens, with the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change on practically 40%. (Practically 30% of respondents stated they have been undecided). After all, this ballot was performed a while in the past, nevertheless it does present that there’s some degree of dissatisfaction with the BDP, and occasions in South Africa on the finish of Could may give additional impetus to the opposition events and their supporters.

Issues are unsure in South Africa, and this may very well be the case in Namibia and Botswana too. However in South Africa, democracy is working because it ought to, with voters letting the governing celebration know that issues can’t stick with it as they have been. They should change. Gaborone and Windhoek may quickly get the identical message.

And when all is claimed and executed, it’s far preferable to reside in a messy democracy than in a decaying nation run by a sclerotic celebration which retains energy by way of violence, as is the case in Zimbabwe. South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia are fortunate to be open democracies. Now it’s time to see these political methods result in sustainable, numerous, and fast financial development.

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Picture: College of Illinois through Wikimedia Commons, https://garystockbridge617.getarchive.internet/media/map-of-south-africa-showing-land-surface-features-dpla-57f382b1227948520488b0df719ba1c1-bd03c1

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