Liberal Democracy in Africa

March 20, 2023 saw major street protests held in Kenya, Tunisia, and South Africa. The latter was aimed at a total shutdown of the economy and the resignation of President Cyril Ramaphosa amidst the energy crisis and load shedding. The protests were led by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party. In Kenya and Tunisia, the opposition parties organize protests against the high cost of living, unemployment, and general elections-related issues. Liberal democracy is at the heart of it all.

The crisis of capitalism and the shrinking economy of liberalized markets has hit a dead end, putting liberal democracy, the trojan horse of capitalism and imperialism, on its last straw. The prosperity and freedoms we are gladly promised don’t exist in capitalism. Protests in the former British settler colonies of Kenya and South Africa were closely monitored globally, with the “international community” expressing concerns about the political crises in the two countries considered the most “vibrant democracies” in Africa and key entry points of global foreign capital and influence in southern and eastern Africa respectively.

Liberal democracy spurred by American global supremacy has long taken false credit for the end of apartheid in South Africa and dictatorship in Kenya with the introduction of multi-party politics, while erasing the contributions of liberation movements like the Umkhoto We Sizwe and Mwakenya DTM. South Africa and Kenya are often used as examples of countries that took a democratic trajectory by adopting the considered tenets of Western liberal democracy such as “human rights, progressive constitutions, and bourgeoisie elections” after every 5 years.

However, under the tutelage of liberal democracy, stark economic inequalities in these regions and the privatization of public institutions and health care have only created despair and hopelessness among Africans facing unimaginable suffering. This democracy is only performative, never providing any concrete solutions to poverty and societal issues that are systemic but only rehabilitating capitalism.

In Europe, liberal democracy has shown that it’s only a molecule away from fascism. In Africa, liberal democracy appears as it comes, presenting a standoff between the opposition and governments that has resulted in demonstrations, attendant deaths, and diminishing fortunes of the working class. While being led by political parties that are not necessarily progressive, these confrontations are born out of the dire material conditions caused by capitalism. On one hand, the opposition parties are praised for exercising their right within democratic channels, and on the other hand they are advised to tone down their rhetoric on the high costs of living and inequality as it could lead to a “class war” or” Anarchy”— the poor against the rich conflict or total chaos. 

It’s not difficult to see why the ruling class will be terrified by protests and uprisings in Kenya and South Africa as the land question not only remains a critical and sensitive issue, but a major cause of inequality as it’s controlled by a minority in both countries. At the end of colonialism in 1963, Kenya’s British empire still maintained large tracts of land, a reflection of a sham independence that also created a Black elite that embarked on land grabbing and accumulation of wealth. It is the same framework In South Africa. Whites own over 70% of the land in the country despite Africans being the majority, the rest is held by a tiny African elite. Private property in these “democracies” is considered sacred and the mention of land and redistribution of wealth sends panic to the elite hence the propaganda that misconstrues class struggle as class war or anarchy. Liberal democracy protects the rich and provides leeway for the exploitation and criminalization of the poor. In Africa, a deliberate war is waged on memory and historical injustices that have greatly shaped the present crisis the masses face.  We are asked to forget the past, accept the present and move toward a future built on a hollow premise. Liberal democracy has become compatible with inequality, corrupt state forms, and authoritarian regimes so long as it pleases imperialism.

But unlike The Great Depression in the 1930s, the recessions in the 70s, and the confrontations between the Soviet Union and the USA, those who have lived in the last three decades have gone through the 2008 economic crash, the 2020 global pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the rise of fascism, and the current economic crisis. Liberal democracy has hit its limit in our lifetime.