Combating Political Dysfunction: Election Results in Congo And Sudan Showcase The Need For Unifying National Identities
Africa is an often neglected continent in terms of geopolitics and international attention. It is a continent politically shaped by a history of exploitative European colonialism, tribal conflicts, and a fleeting struggle to maintain modern governing institutes that can be supported by all factions for the benefit of all. Where the International Community has been heavily engaged in the Middle East, for example, African issues have been put on the back burner, especially since the 1990s. It is certainty true that a large number of international governmental and nongovernmental organization have been involved in many African nations, but the resource-rich continent is clearly not a top priority for world powers nor is there is a grand international effort to address the issues that often send African nations into violent civil wars. Unfortunately, the governments and societies of the world are headed toward the same dysfunction often exhibited by many African nations. Looking at the recent elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, there are invaluable lessons for the world.
In many respects, the lack of attention Africa receives is an example of what happens when world powers can facilitate some of the critical progress needed to set countries on a path to prosperity in a relatively short period of time, yet cannot broadly achieve the progress needed to ensure the prosperity of an entire region. Africa is, however, a region where regional governing institutions play a key role in ensuring the stability of African nations. It is these regional governing institutions and nongovernmental organizations that have prevented the continent of Africa from collapsing into pure chaos. These regional institution have, of course, limitations. Not only are they unable to solve all of Africa’s problems, they may well find themselves unable to adequately address a growing number of regional crises, much like their international equivalents are failing to address mounting global crises. In the cases of Congo and Sudan, it is the inability to trust national leaders with the power of the state that threatens to plunge these societies into violent civil war.
The oil-rich Middle East, in contrast to Africa, has had a long history of stability at the hands of strong, albeit oppressive, authoritarian governments that struggle to cooperate to achieve even the most fundamental regional interests. In the wake of the Arab Spring Revolutions, the Middle East, which sometimes encompasses North African nations, is struggling with the same instability and civil unrest as Africa. Much of that instability is due to cultural conflicts driven by sectarian divisions that extend beyond national borders. Where divisions between religious factions like the Shiites and Sunnis feed conflicts across the region of the Middle East, ethic factions like the Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa feed conflict across the region of Africa. In attempting to forge nations out of fractious tribal lands and territories dominated by single groups with strong cultural identities, colonial European powers forced incompatible cultures to exist under single national governments.
Where these conflicting groups forged somewhat of a national identity, they were able to form, at least, semi-functional governments absent the presence of a strong, oppressive authoritarian government. Where the peoples of nations could not overcome their ethnic cultural identities to develop a national identity, they have struggled to support national governments. Where authoritarian governments have not been strong enough to suppress violent factions, civil war has been a constant companion. In the Middle East, the powerful authoritarian governments that replaced colonial rulers and kept warring factions suppressed have been increasingly unable to assert control. Despite the reality that the governments of Africa tend to be highly ill-democratic, the push for democratic governance occurred years ago, which empowered relatively weak governments that were never able to fully suppress violent factions. Consequently, African nations have struggled with the issues that come with a lack of national identity longer than Middle Eastern nations.
Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, who has ruled since 1989 and whose attempt to use the superficial guise of an election is currently feeding unrest, is someone unwilling to yield power to an independent successor. He enjoys the support of his faction, but true democracy requires leaders to step aside, even if their supporters make up a majority, to ensure true representation. It is a lack of trust in change and alternative leaders on their behalf that affords him their support. Not only has al-Bashir failed to allow alternatives in his own political party, his supporters do not trust the leaders of other ethnic factions while other ethnic factions do not trust his leadership, which is partially why South Sudan split from Sudan in 2011. In the case of Congo, the prolonged rule of an ill-democratic leader has finally ended, thus affording opposition leaders a chance to represent often neglected factions. Marred by delays and irregularities, the late 2018 election was one of the least contentious in decades, but a lack of trust in victor Felix Tshisekedi has resulted in civil unrest as well as calls for a recount and unity government. Factions, whose preferred candidates lost, do not have faith in their newly elected leaders, their democratic institutions, nor democracy in general.
Even if voters could trust election results, they would not trust their leaders to serve the interests of those who do not belong to their ethnic and political factions. They cannot accept a national democratic government, because they have no national identity. Leaders do not serve the Peoples of their nation and the Peoples of the nation do not support the leaders of their nations, unless they belong to the same ethnic group. The US has been a democracy as long as it has existed while Americans lack the long history needed to forge unique ethic cultural identities. As a nation defined by politics, however, Americans do have strong, often conflicting cultural identities. With faith in America’s democratic institutions in decline and the national American identity fading, Americans, as well as the Peoples of other modern, democratic societies, are beginning to mirror the same level of divisiveness seen in Africa. Americans need to reinvent the American identity to survive as nation while the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East need to forge their own unity identities that extend beyond their conflicting cultural identities.
Read old posts