Guy Scott Returns White Rule to Africa: a timely reminder of the continent’s lack of progress

Guy Scott has drawn rare attention to the African state of Zambia this week, not for anything he has done but because of the colour of his skin. The death of President Michael Sata has handed the white Scott temporary leadership of one of the continent’s more stable countries, elevating him from his previous role as Vice President.

Scott was born in Northern Rhodesia and educated in the UK
Scott was born in Northern Rhodesia and educated in the UK

Scott is the first white leader of a mainland African state since F W De Klerk made way for Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1994. He is Zambia’s first white head of state since Sir Evelyn Dennison Hone, the final Governor of what was the British colony of Northern Rhodesia.

Although Scott is anything but the white nationalist, some people within Zambia and further afield are likely to voice scepticism about his appointment, however temporary. This may partly relate to his relative lack of diplomatic power in the past, but is likely to largely concern his race and the uncomfortable prospect of a white man leading a black majority.

Despite the inherent unfairness of the white majority rule that embedded itself in several African states in the 20th century, it can hardly be argued that the prospects of the average African have improved by the year 2014. Indeed, incidences of violence and crime continue to escalate across the continent, with corrupt governments and rebel militias wreaking misery in equal measure on their own people.

The shooting of South African soccer captain Senzo Meyiwa this week provided yet another reminder of the awful degradation of South African society. Fears of inter-racial violence are paling with the now abundant phenomenon of black-on-black crime. Political representation and democratic choice seem increasingly insignificant for many black South Africans whose educational and economic aspirations have surely declined since the Apartheid era.

Student protests were at the heart of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Today, education provision for many black South Africans is woefully inadequate
Student protests were at the heart of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Today, education provision for many black South Africans is woefully inadequate

In Burkina Faso, another president unwilling to relinquish the reins of power has created widespread rioting that has claimed 27 lives. Since the French colony of Upper Volta dissolved, this impoverished West African nation has been characterised by political repression and corrupt authoritarian rule.

Robert Mugabe, meanwhile, soldiers on in defiance of his various medical ailments in Zimbabwe, having successfully destroyed the productive capacity of the once prosperous white-led Southern Rhodesia.

Guy Scott will probably not run for the Zambian presidency in 90 days time when elections are scheduled. He may not be allowed to because of his foreign-born parents. Yet his temporary elevation to ascendancy is a stark reminder of how little has been achieved for the majority of Africans since the fall of the European colonies and white-minority governments that proliferated on the continent in the 20th century.

Our poorest people remain some way behind.

Percentage of population living in poverty
Percentage of population living in poverty
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Coup or no Coup? Lesotho’s Endless Search for Political Stability

Exiled Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has called for southern African states to deploy military force to restore his rule. This proposal asks for a similar response to that given by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 1998 when foreign troops were sent into Lesotho to overturn a military coup and restore the rule of law. The capital, Maseru, was left in ruins.

Lesotho's army denies orchestrating a coup
Lesotho’s army denies orchestrating a coup

Thabane fled Lesotho at the weekend claiming that his position had been usurped by his Deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing, supported by the army. Whilst accurate details about this latest ‘coup’ are difficult to ascertain, it would not be the first time that military forces have destabilised the political equilibrium in this relatively-young nation, which only achieved independence in 1966.

In fact, this weekend’s events are almost a reversal of circumstances to a once infamous military crisis in Lesotho, that precipitated by South Africa in 1982.

As the African National Congress (ANC) increased the intensity of its armed campaign against the white-minority government in South Africa, many of its fighters were constantly on the run from the pervasive security police. Lesotho became a popular destination for these insurgents, something that unsurprisingly rankled with the National Party (NP). (Whitaker, 1983)

Whereas at this present moment refugees are attempting to escape further violence in Lesotho by fleeing to South Africa, in the early 1980s it was ANC activists that sought sanctuary within the mountainous kingdom of the South African interior.

Lesotho's mountainous terrain made it a popular refuge for ANC exiles
Lesotho’s mountainous terrain made it a popular refuge for ANC exiles

In December 1982, South African forces attacked Maseru in a bid to root out ANC cells in exile. Indeed, such was the chagrin of the NP at its inability to prevent the regrouping of what it deemed ‘terrorists’ in a foreign country, that it even gave its tacit support to the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA). (Martin & Johnson, 1984)

The LLA had begun life as the Basutoland Congress Party, a left-wing pan-Africanist political party. With military ties to South Africa’s violent Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), the LLA began a guerrilla insurgency against Leabua Jonathan‘s Basotho National Party in the late 1970s.

That the right-wing, white supremacist NP would support the LLA during its bomb attacks on Maseru in early 1983 (Whitaker, 1983) shows the extent to which it was willing to go to overcome its greatest enemy. Despite the show of force, however, most of the ANC fighters, used to a lifetime of covertness, escaped the net.

Jonathan was finally ousted in a 1986 military coup, supported by a South African-imposed blockade of Lesotho's borders
Jonathan was finally ousted in a 1986 military coup, supported by a South African-imposed blockade of Lesotho’s borders

Today, as has been common in recent history, Lesotho faces challenges from both within and outside its mountainous borders. Its tenuous status as a poor, rural, landlocked kingdom inhibits its potential for development and encourages political agitation. As with many African countries whose independence is fairly recent, it is riven by the factional strife that has existed since the tribal feuding of the 19th century.

It is unsurprising then, on this occasion, that the SADC has no intention of getting involved. Thabane’s request has been rejected and Lesotho is left to fend for itself once again.

Sources

Martin, D. & Johnson, P. ‘Africa: The Old and the Unexpected’, Foreign Affairs (1984)

Whitaker, J.S. ‘Africa Beset’, Foreign Affairs (1983)