Africa’s Innovation Story — The future of African politics
The revolutionary road
Our failure as a continent has been election of the incompetent whose only achievement has been promises and lies. May we be wise and not myopic in the future. Rabison Shumba
Politics in Africa is altogether challenging and intriguing and it comes with a plethora of risks. Yet, as with any other continent it is a key pillar necessary to drive a nation or the continent forward. There is a direct and potent effect on the innovative capacity of a nation and the overarching political ideology of a nation or in other words political will. In spite of the efforts of innovative citizens within a country it is difficult to profitably see innovation through if the macro-environment is not conducive.
And critically national government or continental policies contribute to an environment that fosters or stifles innovation. Mauritius is an example of a country where innovation was spurred on by positive government policies. So it must be asked whether politics is a dirty game or is it that we make it dirty. And if it is dirty then many of us are rolling in the dirt because politics affects every single citizen in a country and on the continent.
On the surface politics in Africa seems to be business as usual but there are tectonic shifts in the order of the day, based on changes in the structure of the populace, technology and other wide ranging economic and social factors. The focal point of this article will be a high level look at electoral process as one lens to assess future changes in politics within Africa.
If we look at Zimbabwe as an example it is important to note how economics is going to play a significant role in elections both in 2018 and 2023. It will not be a conclusive analysis because Trevor Maisiri suggests that different countries in Africa will take different trajectories namely strengthening democratic institutions, whilst other nations will witness further decay of democratic institutions and lastly other nations will maintain weak democratic institutions. Furthermore, beyond elections there is the likely impact of internal renewal in revolutionary parties translating in change in narrative and ideology. It is important also to note how the growing threat of terrorism and global unrest may have an indirect effect on national politics. In terms of technology the digitization and mobile literacy of the electorate will be an important factor affecting populist politics in Africa.
What will the future be like?
If we look at Zimbabwe some of the most important events are democratic elections which determine who will rule and govern the country for 5 years. The most recent election in the future will be the 2018 harmonized elections. Subsequently this will be followed by the 2023 and 2028 harmonized elections.
In 2018 it is less likely that elections will buckle from the previous trend of low voter turnout unless something extraordinary takes place within Zimbabwe to sway the apathy of the electorate. The possibility of this is marginal. There are 3 potential scenarios in 2018 namely, the emergence of a strong opposition to the incumbent, business as usual for the incumbent and the beginning of internal renewal of the incumbent. It will be interesting to see which of these 3 scenarios will play out but the most likely is business as usual followed by internal renewal and lastly the emergence of a strong opposition. Importantly, the discussion is always been centred on whether elections free and fair. Whatever the conclusions about whether elections will be free and fair it is likely that ZANU PF will have a majority in parliament and the senate and control over the presidium.
The 2023 election will be one of the first ones we will witness the effects of time and nature on revolutionary parties as first hand war liberator voices will diminish and the party will rely on a second hand revolutionary narrative to spur voters on. This is an important landmark event for revolutionary party much like what revolutionary parties in countries like Namibia, Kenya or Zambia experienced.
The digitization of the electorate through mobile telephony will significantly affect the method of campaigning as well as voter awareness as the digital age of the electorate matures. At present, it is difficult to appreciate the effects of the internet on political parties, governance, and civic engagement in Africa but the increase in mobile telephony and the birth of the virtual African citizen will be a telling mark in Zimbabwe 6 years from now one just has to look at the changes being instituted by Facebook. It is interesting to note the discussion surrounding a biometric voters’ roll at present. How will that affect elections in 2023? Arguably 2023 represents an event that could spark the emergence of increased citizen engagement in politics based on growing collective networks of people that can be called digital Ubuntu. From the hashtag communities, to issue driven movements it is likely that there will be more politically centred civic engagement.
It is most likely that personality driven politics will diminish and there will be a greater focus on policy and genuine economic empowerment. Trevor Maisiri highlights that Africa in general will have to integrate socio-economic factors with politics. The present paradigm that separates politics and economic success is slowly diminishing. Specifically, Maisiri highlights the need to disentangle social and economic factors from colonial power matrices. The major drive will be to redress the imbalances and poverty caused by Africa’s colonial history as well disaffected post-colonial political policies.
Subsequently, this will lead to the possibility of accountability based politics. Maisiri posits that advances in technology, globalization and trends in migration will be push factors in transforming the politics of impunity. He proposes that this will give rise to the inquisitive citizen who interrogates the imbalances prevalent across the continent. Finally will 2023 see the rise of the Diasporan vote in Zimbabwe? This is hinged on addressing changes in the Electoral Act of Zimbabwe as well as the influence of the diaspora living in countries like South Africa to institute such changes. This could become a point of discussion that could sway the outcome of the 2023 elections.
By 2028 it is most likely that the revolutionary narrative will be driven by second or third hand accounts hence compounding the need for another revolutionary agenda which will be economically focused so as to appeal to the masses. Maisiri suggests that devolution of power is a possibility. 2028 represents a point of no return in that the lines between the elite and the ordinary will be blurred by technology in politics.
We cannot take for granted the effects of time and nature. These will definitely play a significant role in the survival of revolutionary parties based on the passage of first hand story tellers and heroes of a bygone era. By 2028 the strength of history will be hinged on the ability of revolutionary parties to entrench economic independence. Failure to do so will result in diminishing influence on the populace looking to break out of poverty.
There will be a digital electorate both local and diaspora which will determine the victory of candidates. It is mostly likely the Zimbabwe willingly or unwillingly will be deeply entrenched in the digital age more systemically. The demands of the millennial generation will cross over to politics and it is likely that electronic voting will be critical to effectively encourage civic engagement.
What are the emerging patterns?
Over the next 15 to 20 years one emergent trend will be the emergence of the youth vote. Throughout Africa projections are clear that the largest portion of the population will continually be under the age of 30. This one factor will contribute significantly to the urbanization of Africa. According to Nic Cheesman in the next 20 years the urban population of Africa will increase from 700 million to 1.26 billion. Furthermore, this will not necessarily be concentrated in the continent’s capital cities like Harare. Rather, Cheesman cites the United Nations’ prediction that 75% of urban population growth will take place in the smaller intermediate cities and towns such as Kadoma, Gweru and Kwekwe in Zimbabwe. According to Cheesman this will reduce the distance between urban centres. Already, evidence exists in Zimbabwe of the urbanization of peri-urban and rural areas around cities . According to Cheesman the distance between cities in West Africa with a population greater than 10,000 fell from 111km in 1950 to 33km in 2000. This is likely going to impact on the reliance of parties on the rural vote for victory.
Will there be diminishing or increasing citizen unrest? Let Roman history teach us a lesson with respect to growing urban populations in relation to discontent. Urbanization will increase levels of unrest and discontent if there continues to be explicit economic imbalances. It may not necessarily be violent unrest but it will definitely demand that politics and governments deliver on their promises of job creation and prosperity for all. Urban societies impress on government genuine economic growth that should translate to increased jobs and disposable income.
There will be an increase in crowd-sourcing votes. Tools like social media and data gathering tools will contribute to the growth of electioneering on the internet to win over the internet savvy young generation. The power of big data will help political parties assess their areas of influence and better dispense their resources for success.
Cyber-war is something alien to Africa at present though is it is prevalent in the west and Asia. But it is likely that there will be an increase in cyber-attacks all over the world. And it is highly likely that the controversy surrounding whether or not Russia hacked American elections is a potential precursor to cyber-attacks on sovereign states as a way of fueling chaos or destabilizing nations. Increasing digital engagement of African citizens will mean it will be possible to disseminate genuine or fake news much faster with more potent effects on the outcome of elections.
What may change?
A major disruption in Africa, will be digital rural engagement. Mobile phones are already making a difference in rural communities across Africa in including Zimbabwe; transforming the rural landscape in Zimbabwe and Africa. Hence, technology especially the mobile phone is going to have a significant role and effect on the rural vote. This challenges the assumption that the rural vote will always determine the outcome of Africa elections.
Technology will also affect elections more directly with bio-metric and iris scanning voting systems: Already conversation in Zimbabwe is hovering around the idea of a bio-metric voters roll. If this is implemented for 2018, it is most likely that elections in 2023 and 2028 will be far more advanced in nature based on the direction these technologies are taking. This will significantly affect the conversation around free and fair elections specifically how easy it will be to rig elections by manipulating the voters roll.
An interesting innovation will be the birth of the techno-politician. Social Media is driving the politician into the digital space. In the future, the African politician will need to be tech savvy to appeal to the majority of the populace being influenced and driven by social media. This will have both a positive and negative effect on populism. Though I stated that technology will drive for more accountability it is possible that it will also drive populism if we consider the impact of twitter on American elections. So it is likely that the politics of populism will be disrupted by innovations in campaign strategies as will as platforms for critical political discourse..
Panopticon the evolution of governance by observation and not force? Foucault’s proposal in light of Jeremy Betham’s architectural design was to structure the convenience and efficiency by which cohorts in different institutions woudd be observed. Will this be the effect of cyberspace? It is interesting to note how the internet has changed surveillance in the world. It is most likely that investment will be made in the arena of big data analysis in Africa at some point in the next 10 to 20 years. It will not be as advanced as in western nations but it is inevitable nonetheless. This may have an impact on the exertion of force in the form of police and military presence on the streets. Will there be more preemptive strikes on rogue elements using things like Facebook profiles?
According to Maisiri demographics and gender parity will be major disruptions in politics. As young people and women are becoming more influential in economic and social spaces that influence will gradually seep into the political space. Maisiri contends that stereotypes that have barred women from direct political participation will be dismantled. There will be a distinct and visible growth in the footprint of young people and women on politics in Zimbabwe as well as in Africa.
What steps we can take to move forward
One of the concepts of the future proposed by Sohail Inayatullahis social change that is the contributory effect of the individual or the whole to the future. It is most likely that entrepreneurial endeavours can and will significantly transform the political landscape in Africa deliberately or through serendipity in a bid to appeal to the social appetites of the younger generation.
The mobile phone will become a political tool. At present the mobile phone is a social and economic tool in Africa. Over time it will encroach into the political space possibly as a means to improve voter participation of youth or as a means of civic engagement and participation.
Technology will improve the proliferation of information and knowledge and thus one of the biggest milestones will be the level of awareness and exposure of citizens in both rural and urban communities. Technology will not only increase access to knowledge but will be the tool to democratize and decentralize the creation of information and knowledge.
Importantly, the future of politics can be captured by the 2 questions asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Coggan in his 1975 call to the nation. Firstly, what sort of society do we want to live in? Secondly, what kind of people do we need to be to achieve it? These questions serve as a guide for Africa’s citizens to interrogate and determine the kind of political future they want. Aluta Continua!