New Internationalist

Liberators, step aside! Let the administrators in

A few weeks ago, Jacob Zuma, President of the Republic of South Africa, appointed Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega as the country’s police commissioner. She is a former social worker with a corporate background and diploma from the University of Wales.

She is the first female police commissioner, and there has been a lot of heated debate around her appointment. But the public debate has not been centred around the fact that she is a woman (those debates are conducted in private and in beer halls). No, the issue that has constantly come up is her lack of real policing experience. The question that people have been asking themselves is: can someone who does not know what actually goes on in the field lead the police force?

The police commissioner’s job is, however, mainly administrative, so it is worth considering what qualifications one needs to ascend to that office. And this leads me to a further question: who are the best people to put into office to do a mainly administrative job?

The lack of a proper answer to this question – in the few instances that it has been raised – has led to many of Africa’s problems. Should a soldier be put into office? (I am using soldier in the broadest sense of the word, to include the uniformed forces, freedom fighters, stone-throwers in demonstrations and all sorts of ‘revolutionaries’. ) A colleague once remarked that in the US you must have a million dollars in your bank account to run for presidency, while in Africa you only have to be brave. But should we put ‘brave’ people into office? I don’t believe so. After all, we have too many examples of cases were heroes who ‘liberated’ people eventually became villains.

Take the example of Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans fought a long war of liberation with Ian Smith’s Rhodesian forces. At the end of it, Robert Mugabe ascended to power, but the agreement at the time prevented him and his government from correcting the injustices that blacks had gone to war for to begin with: issues of land were not properly dealt with, and there was no proper national healing. Mugabe had been imprisoned by the Ian Smith government; he had been tortured, and he had seen thousands of Zimbabweans being massacred. Was Robert Mugabe supposed to assume the leadership of the country? Was he supposed to go into office to do an administrative job and make decisions not poisoned by bitterness and vindictiveness? I don’t think so. He was a soldier and is still a soldier and he should have handed over power to an administrative person in 1980.

The same goes for most of the cabinet then and now: most were educated, but the important credential was liberation war experience. Like many African countries, Zimbabwe at independence was run by people who were angry. People who were bitter and had a lot of unresolved grievances – and rightly so. Our liberators should have stepped aside; they could then have been honoured as war veterans. Administrators, not soldiers, should have gone into office. Mugabe should have sat back and relaxed.

Had he done so, he wouldn’t have presided over the slaughter of 20,000 people in Matabeleland and Midlands in the early 1980s. He wouldn’t have thought it okay for ‘war veterans’ to murder white commercial farmers in the name of land redistribution.

We should never put soldiers into office; honestly, how many Nelson Mandelas do we think we have? How many people can come out of a bitter war of liberation and say ‘let’s work together’ and really mean it?

The presidency of a country is an administrative job. If you hear Zimbabwean Prime Minister Tsvangirai and his supporters saying Tsvangirai should become the country’s president because he was beaten up by the police, then you know the vicious cycle is continuing. We need to put a stop to it. We do not want a situation where most public offices are occupied by stone-throwers who feel they are owed something and who will loot state resources and behave like they own the world. We should put an end to the situation whereby bravery is the sole qualification one needs to ascend to power.

Photo of African soldier by hdptcar under a CC Licence

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  1. #1 Tim Gee 13 Aug 12

    I wonder if an additional variable is the nature of the transition. Something like this:

    a) Transitions arising from the use of violence

    i. In the instance of a total victory, few compromises need to be made in building a new polity, increasing the grievances of competing centres of authority.

    ii. War can cause economic woes, leading to material need.

    iii. Material need can lead to popular discontent.

    iv. In this situation (iii), competing centres of authority are more likely to win support.

    v. If violence is accepted as a legitimate tool of political change, it is likely that competing centres of authority will use violent tactics.

    vi. Administrations following violent transitions are likely to resort to norms of hierarchy, secrecy and brutality, learned in the field in the face of threats.

    b) Transitions arising from the use of non-violent struggle

    i. Non-violent transitions, especially those using national conferences, allow for greater opportunity for competing centres of authority to be played out in ways compatible with the post transition regime.

    ii. Whilst material need often still exists, compromise and negotiation are more likely to persist into administrations brought about by non-violent conflict.

    iii. The state army might be more inclined to side with the movement if it is non-violent, thus avoiding the above problems and making a smooth transition possible.

    iv. Once a population has the knowledge of how to succeed using non-violent methods, a strong and assertive civil society is more likely to emerge willing to defend civil and political rights.

    What do you think?

  2. #2 Tim Gee 13 Aug 12

    There's some scholarly back up for the below. Sarah Rich Dorman has written some great stuff on post-liberation governments in Eritrea and Zimbabwe.

    Gene Sharp's book 'The Politics of Non-violent Action' doesn't look closely at Africa, but does make some possibly transferrable arguments:

    Violent methods such as coups, revolutions and wars lead to the state centralising power and acting with greater brutality. He backs up this argument firstly by referring to the hierarchy necessary for successful armed struggle, which is reflected in post-transitional societies. Secondly, he claims that social approval for violence as a tool of political change legitimises violence against post-liberation governments, leading to greater state repression in response.

    Non-violent struggle, on the other hand, leads to more democratic systems, because of the 'bottom up' nature of the strategy. In non-violent movements the power of the leadership is weak, and the power of the membership is strong. Leaders of non-violent struggles have no power to cut off arms supplies to, or shoot, critics. Furthermore, if the movement is to be successful, it must be self reliant as the leadership may spend substantial time behind bars. These changes won in non-violent struggle are accompanied by the capacity to defend those changes non-violently against future threats. Thus changes won by non-violent means are unlikely to require violence to maintain them, in contrast to changes won by violence...

  3. #3 Tim Gee 13 Aug 12

    There's some scholarship to back up the below.

    Gene Sharp's 1973 classic 'The Politics of Non-violent Action'45 argues that violent methods such as coups, revolutions and wars lead to the state centralising power and acting with greater brutality. He backs up this argument firstly by referring to the hierarchy necessary for successful armed struggle, which is reflected in post-transitional societies.

    Secondly, he claims that social approval for violence as a tool of political change legitimises violence against post-liberation governments, leading to greater state repression in response. Non-violent struggle, on the other hand, leads to more democratic systems, because of the 'bottom up' nature of the strategy.

    In non-violent movements the power of the leadership is weak, and the power of the membership is strong. Leaders of non-violent struggles have no power to cut off arms supplies to, or shoot, critics. Furthermore, if the movement is to be successful, it must be self reliant as the leadership may spend substantial time behind bars. These changes won in non-violent struggle are accompanied by the capacity to defend those changes non-violently against future threats.

    Thus changes won by non-violent means are unlikely to require violence to maintain them, in contrast to changes won by violence...

    Sara Rich Dorman has written some interesting stuff on similar themes

  4. #4 PGCan 23 Aug 12

    To some extent you may be correct in that not many liberators make good administrators; but you forget that administrative decisions can change the course of history, so one can be forgiven for wondering if someone like Mangwashi Phiyega with her ’corporate background’ might not pervert the revolution she is supposed to serve. If her background leads her into serving business and putting its interests ahead of those of the millions of black people who fought for majority rule and human and civil rights then she should not be entrusted with any amount of power. I'm not sure what the right solution is, and you pointed out obvious problems when most liberators rule, but I am very sure that a moral compass is required and that may necessitate a type of veto power at the very least, to prevent the administrators from taking the easy way and chipping away at the gains of any revolution. We have enough examples to show clearly that administrators alone cannot be trusted to be their own moral compass or the moral compass for a nation or a people; that is something which can only be entrusted to the people themselves and only when they are engaged in the ongoing struggle for social justice.

  5. #5 TM Scruggs 24 Aug 12

    Purely administrative doesn't exist, as there are always weighty political aspects to administrative decisions. Otherwise, many good points made here.

    One thing: one cannot dismiss military people out of hand, Lt. Col. Hugo Rafael Chavez Fri­as is an excellent example. Of course, he didn't have to face combat, a fact true for almost all of the Venez. army and a reason it has been able to cultivate a good amount of very progressive people within its ranks despite great opposition.

  6. #6 simbarashe manyange 27 Oct 12

    your artcles just cant be about what they should be about but to demonise tsvangirai's mdc,u r nt an analyst,come out in the open&state ur alligiance

  7. #7 The Mosiah 30 Apr 13

    The solution is ’PAN-AFRICAN NATIONALISM OR WE WILL PERISH’ , IF YOU DONT KNOW WHO (MARCUS GARVEY) IS I ADVISE YOU TOO STUDY HIM AND TEACH OUR PEOPLE ABOUT HIM ASAP...

  8. #8 Larry 11 Jun 13

    Overly simplistic. Just because a battle has ended it does not man the war is over

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About the author

Mgcini Nyoni is a playwright, theatre director, screenwriter, thinker, blogger and poet based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. He is also the founder and creative director of Poetry Bulawayo.

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