“Africans wanted elections, but they also wanted to be free from foreign intervention,” he says. Freedom movements combined both of these two goals into a larger project to push out Western colonial powers. But once the colonial powers left, the liberal goal of democratic freedom gave way as newly formed African governments adopted an authoritarian style.
This authoritarian style has lasted until today, through strongmen Presidents such as Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Angola’s Eduardo Dos Santos, and Gabon’s Ali Bongo.
At a time when foreign investment is flooding into Africa – particularly from China, India, and Russia, but also from Britain, France, and the US – this authoritarian style, mixed with a touch of populist nationalism, can sometimes ring warning bells, as when South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) contemplates new rules to limit press freedom, and when ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema recently called for nationalization of all the country’s privately operated mines.