The current political sands in Africa are steadily shifting towards the youth. In South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe, young Opposition politicians are rising to challenge the status quo.
Think Julius Sello Malema of South Africa under the Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF) against the African National Congress (ANC); Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine, an independent MP who champions the People Power movement, against the National Resistance Movement (NRM); and Nelson Chamisa, acting president of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) against Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).
Others like Rwanda’s Victoire Umuhoza Ingabire against Paul Kagame’s Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) have not been given chance to challenge the status quo.
Recently, she received a presidential pardon and was released from jail where she had spent eight years out of the 15 she was to serve for treason and other trumped-up charges.
With rampant unemployment, rising income inequality, corruption and failing economies in the Sub-Saharan African countries, the youth are at loggerheads with the respective governments over their failure to address such issues despite being in government for decades.
However, the rise of Malema, Bobi Wine and Chamisa seem to provide hope and optimism for an eventual takeover by the youth. It has made the current governments increasingly unpopular, and they have resorted to violence and intimidation against those working with the young leaders.
The youth are giving their full support to the young leaders over perennial Opposition leaders who have failed to deliver victory over the long serving governments.
Julius Sello Malema Vs ANC in South Africa
Commonly known as ‘Juju’ among his supporters, the 37-year-old Malema of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party has become a threat to the ruling African National Congress (ANC) that has spent the last 24 unbroken years in power. Until 2012, the combative leader had spent most of his political life with the ANC in various political positions heading the youth.
However, in 2012, Malema was expelled from ANC over what the party described as fomenting divisions within the party.
He had also become a fierce critic of his mentor Jacob Zuma, and increasingly advocated for Zuma’s resignation as party leader at that time.
At his expulsion, he was the leader of the ANC Youth League from 2008, a position he used to influence youth for his own future political engagements.
Interestingly, Malema did not appeal for his return to the ANC but rather started to mobilise funds to form a new political party. In June 2013, the fiery leader formed the EFF party, something the ANC described as ‘not a threat’.
However, Malema proved his former party wrong in the 2014 general elections by winning more than 25 seats in the ANC dominated National Assembly.
After joining the National Assembly, Malema continued to wage political battles against his former masters. In June 2014, he was dismissed from the National Assembly after refusing to withdraw a remark accusing the ANC of having a hand in the murder of miners involved in the Marikana miners’ strike in 2012 in which more than 78 miners were shot dead by police.
In 2015, Malema advocated for the resignation of Jacob Zuma as president of South Africa over the Nkandla scandal. He accused Zuma of using more than $24m (about Shs90b) from the national coffers to upgrade his private residence.
Later in February, 2017, the EFF leader and his fellow EFF parliamentarians were thrown out of parliament for chanting slogans at Zuma during a State of the Nation address. However, before being ejected, hard hats, water bottles, fists dominated the day as Malema and his comrades fought against security forces.
Malema, through his missives, has consistently accused the ANC government of corruption; failing to tackle unemployment, which partly led to xenophobic attacks in 2015; and also failing to address the land redistribution issue, leaving most blacks landless.
According to the Landless People’s Movement, an umbrella organisation representing the landless in South Africa, an estimated seven million people are still landless. At least 69 per cent of land is still in possession of the minority white in a country where 80 per cent of the population is black. Most landless people have been resettled and live in congested shacks on the outskirts of cities such as Johannesburg.
Clad in red overalls and gumboots, Malema and his supporters have sometimes used protests in rallying the young and poor in advocating for their land rights.
Malema’s radical ideas on land, corruption, unemployment, and high income inequality in South Africa have become a siren song to the poor and landless; the unemployed youth and frustrated middle class.
With the 2019 general elections around the corner, there’s an outpour of anger at the ANC for failing to tackle land reforms. But with pressure from the EFF party, the ANC and president Cyril Ramaphosa realise this could cost them an election in 2019 where land has become an electoral factor.
Nelson Chamisa Vs ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe
The 40-year-old lawyer and pastor gave ZANU-PF and its ageing leader Emmerson Mnangagwa a run for their money after putting up a spirited fight in the just concluded presidential elections.
His meteoric rise is giving ZANU-PF’s ageing leaders sleepless nights.
Chamisa rose through the ranks of MDC under the watchful eye of his mentor, the late Morgan Tsivangirai.
All his life, he has fought against the ruling ZANU-PF, and a peek into Chamisa’s profile indicates he has been at loggerheads with the long serving ruling party from his student days.
In the 1990s, he organised student demonstrations in colleges against president Robert Mugabe before they were shut down.
Before his appointment as acting president of MDC, Chamisa was head of MDC’s youth’ wing, party spokesperson, and later an information and communications minister in the power- sharing deal of 2008.
His fortunes changed in 2016 when he was appointed co-vice president of MDC alongside other party officials. After the demise of Tsivangirai, the party’s founding leader, Chamisa became the acting president of the party, although with fierce opposition from other party officials.
In an alliance with seven other political parties, the MDC-T was formed in which Chamisa was nominated in June to run for president against main rival Mnangagwa ‘the crocodile’ of ZANU-PF and other 21 contestants.
For a country whose youth have never seen change of power from ZANU-PF since independence, Chamisa went into campaigns as a new hope to majority young Zimbabweans, who had university degrees but were hawking airtime scratch cards on Harare streets given the high unemployment rate.
Using his oratory skills horned in the court room and pulpit, the young MDC leader hinged his campaign on rebuilding an economy squeezed by cash shortages and hyperinflation, rampant unemployment and a high government payroll.
His charisma attracted the youth with the international media giving him wide coverage, political pundits argued back and forth. Was he the man destined to fill the big void left by his predecessor Tsivangarai? And could he prove it in the election?
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced that Chamisa had garnered 44.3 per cent of the vote against Mnangagwa’s 50.8 per cent, a result he challenged by lodging a petition which the constitutional court dismissed with costs.
In the Resident President, a satirical segment on BBC’s “Focus on Africa” news programme, the hosts joked that ‘the crocodile’ may ‘eat a lot in the next five years’ and become more slow, something that connects to Mnangagwa’s age. The ‘crocodile’ will be 80 years after his presidential term of five years.
With the notion that ‘life begins at 40’, Chamisa is still a force to reckon with in Zimbabwe’s murky political environment.
Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) Vs NRM in Uganda
After waging musical battles with fellow artistes such as Moses Sali, alias Bebe Cool, for years, the musician cum politician has turned to political battles.
The 36-year-old Kyadondo East MP hit the ground running when he declared he would battle the Age Limit Bill that was slated to be tabled in Parliament.
Indeed in September 2017, Bobi Wine put up a spirited fight with other Opposition legislators to oppose the tabling of the Age Limit Bill by Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi.
However, the legislators were overpowered by security and later detained at various police stations within Kampala, with Bobi Wine specifically being detained at Naggalama where veteran Opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye has been held several times.
Before, Bobi Wine had had bitter exchanges with President Museveni both on social and mainstream media. And he continues to.
When the Opposition-leaning MP’s vocal nature attracted international media outlets such as the BBC and Al Jazeera, the NRM still claimed he was not a threat but was using his newfound fame in politics.
The ‘Bobi effect’ combined with ‘People Power’ pressure group continues to sweep through the country. In the recent by elections, Bobi Wine’s support with that of other Opposition leaders has seen two FDC party members win hotly contested by-elections in Rukingiri and Jinja, in addition to Bugiri and Arua municipalities where Jeema’s Asuman Basalirwa and Independent candidate Kassiano Wadri won, respectively.
The concluded by-elections in the above districts were a cat and mouse affair between the Opposition and the ruling NRM. Heavy presence of the army and police armed to the teeth did not deter voters from shunning the ruling NRM to vote the Opposition.
In the subsequent elections in Bugiri and Arua, increasing intimidation saw Opposition supporters clash with the army and police. The Arua by-election was by far the most violent.
With allegations from the President’s security detail that his convoy had been pelted with stones by supporters of Wadri and Bobi Wine, several Opposition politicians, supporters and journalists were later beaten to submission, arrested and whisked away to different detention centres.
Meanwhile, Yasin Kawuma, Bobi Wine’s official driver lay lifeless in a pool of blood after being shot in the fracas.
The torture and arrest of Bobi Wine and Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake in Arua sparked off a chain reaction of events.
With Bobi Wine and Zaake in detention, violent protests from their supporters in Kampala, other districts and parts of the world, including Kenya, Nigeria and the United States, demanding their release attracted army and police wrath.
Tear gas canisters, live bullets and beatings dominated the week. Increased protests coupled with an outcry from human rights’ bodies made government to hastily charge Bobi Wine with illegal possession of firearms.
The charge was later dropped, as he was tossed between Makindye Military Barracks and Gulu, and charged with treason despite his deteriorating health condition.
The ‘People Power…our Power’ movement continues to be a rallying point. Whereas the idea has not yet crystallised, it continues to spread like wild fire and it is complimented by the red colour that was adopted by Opposition politicians last year.
Bobi Wine’s charm continues to attract many young disgruntled unemployed youth, who seem to have a bone to pick with the current government.
Main Opposition parties, especially Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and the Democratic Party (DP), including Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu’s splinter group of New Formation, are all jostling for Bobi Wine’s People Power movement whereas the NRM is watching closely.
Victoire Umuhoza Ingabire
Rwanda’s Victoire Umuhoza Ingabire has not been given chance by Paul Kagame’s RPF government to challenge the status quo. Recently, she received a presidential pardon and was released from jail where she had spent eight years out of the 15 she was to serve for treason and other trumped-up charges.
The young Opposition politicians rising to challenge the status quo of long serving political parties in sub Saharan Africa have some notable similarities.
The young leaders’ modus operandi is a head-on approach that revolves on protests, attacking government on media, and rallying people to fight for their rights.
For example, Malema has urged South African black people to rise up and seize white-owned farm lands through protests. In Uganda, Bobi Wine has used protests to oppose unpopular government policies such as the social media and mobile money taxes.
Ngabire in Rwanda has protested against a suffocated political space in her country. Meanwhile, Chamisa has organised demonstrations since his student days during Mugabe’s reign.
However, no government treats protests lightly, and, therefore, Malema, Chamisa, Bobi Wine and Ngabire have spent more time in court and jail battling charges ranging from financial fraud to treason in their respective governments. Their supporters have been beaten, tear gassed, shot at and detained with no clear charges.
Meanwhile, as governments try to stifle their political environment; they have instead amplified their popularity attracting the international media and other sympathisers such as the European Union.
Musa Luwemba, a lecturer of political science at Islamic University in Uganda, says the international media gives coverage because it is also tired of seeing undemocratic practices in certain countries.
The red colour is another symbol that seems to be an intersection of young rising politicians in Africa.
Malema, Chamisa and Bobi Wine have on most occasions used red as a rallying colour for their supporters and they have followed suit.
However, Luwemba says it is just a coincidence that they have all adopted the red colour, but he is quick to add that most of them look at it as a colour of freedom fighters.
Their rise in politics has also led to near eclipse of other main Opposition parties which have to struggle to keep identity.
History makers or passing clouds?
Yona Kanyomozi, a veteran politician and FDC founding member, while speaking to NTV recently, expressed admiration for Bobi Wine and his People Power movement, but warned that if he does not build grassroot structures, it will be difficult for him to navigate through.
Luwemba admits there is a huge obstacle ahead, but also says most of these politicians have studied good courses such as law and political science.
This gives them an edge in knowledge of what should be done when someone is to bring about change.
“The fact that these people are joining politics when they are young; it gives them hope that it may not be in the next three years but may be 10 years down the road, we shall have something,” he sums up.
Somadoda Fikeni, a political analyst and professor at the University of South Africa, while speaking to the media recently, said Malema had impacted on South African politics and especially the ANC.