Directors of South African foundation that predicted Chamisa will win this year’s elections write “a playbook to unseat liberation movements”


In some cases, including Zanu, it’s the old, brutal face of authoritarianism, involving beatings, assassinations (sometimes of entire classes of the population), detention without trial and the constant flow of money to the privileged few. But more often it’s the more sophisticated façade of contemporary dictators, of tight political control, information flows through trolls, bots and self-censorship, a system in which they buttress critical support through money, including access to preferential contracts.

It’s less, as Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treisman argue, about “fear dictators” than “spin dictators”. Populism, too, is useful, and mobilising through promises and attacks against the elites is part of this arsenal. Rather than restricting flows, “spin dictators … mostly welcome flows of people, capital, and data and find ways to profit from them”. Rather than imposing from the top the “loyalty rituals” of Stalin or Saddam, modern dictators “adopt a cooler rhetoric of competence and expertise, sometimes with a light socialist or nationalist veneer”.

This modern version of dictatorship ensures such movements are more difficult to unseat, particularly when they avoid violent repression and their human rights transgressions are cloaked under a layer of respectability. And, when external donors prefer stability over democracy — a decision, of course, which they have no right to make  — the modern dictator is smiling all the way to the development bank.

In fact, it’s so difficult to unseat liberation movements that even when they lose, as in Zimbabwe in 2008, they hang on to power, and eventually cut a deal for some sort of inclusive government. Then they learn from their mistakes and ensure the next time around they win handsomely with a package of measures including an overinflated voters’ roll, media suppression, manipulation of results and, again, the steady flow of money to oil the wheels of electoral behaviour and support.

They have all learnt the lesson that elections are not rigged on voting day when observers are swarming about and the cameras are clicking. Sophisticated rigging is about who gets to vote, who controls the media space in the months, who gets to campaign, and, most crucially, who controls the counting of the ballots. 

But there is some hope, and it comes from an unlikely place — Angola. Long considered the worst version of rent-seeking politics with a political economy based on proximity to the oil spigot, the 2022 election proved a curveball for the MPLA, in power since the Cubans helped install them in 1975. 

Its historic rival, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), has transitioned from Jonas Savimbi’s bellicose bush army to a sophisticated modern, youthful party with urban support. It managed a radical turnaround at the August poll, officially increasing its support from just under 27% to nearly 44%, and increasing its share of parliamentary seats by 39 to 90.

“Officially”, because many observers had Unita winning the election by a margin of more than 12%. Its leader, Adalberto Costa Júnior, focuses on three reasons for Unita’s success: 

  • The dismal state of the economy and the widening wealth gap;
  • The detailed organisational effort behind Unita in mobilising and protecting the vote; and
  •  Solicit and receive support from outside of the party, including the churches and civil society.

Continued next page


Don't be shellfish... Please SHAREShare on google
Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Like it? Share with your friends!

Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *