It appears that a playbook has emerged for struggling liberation movements: Replace the leader or president well before a general election, and ensure the new president communicates an agenda of reform that pre-empts the opposition on who best can deliver tangible change.
Couple that with a standard message of staying loyal to the party that delivered freedom and it appears that governing parties have a winning strategy in this region.
Looking ahead to 2023 and 2024, opposition parties need to develop a counter to this set of steps.
Their work needs to start with fostering unity and building strong campaign organisations.
It also requires doing more to establish an early message framework that links governing parties to “old ways” and themselves to “change”.
A second factor that hurt the region’s opposition parties in 2019 was a lack of unity and common purpose.
While it is encouraging to see a united Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Zimbabwe once again, its reunification came way too late.
That it was divided for much of the run-up to 2018 elections contributed to a poorer-than-expected election campaign.
In Botswana, the much-vaunted Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) was embroiled in a court action with one of its member parties right up until the start of the official campaign period.
Rather than delivering an external message, focused on the voters, newspaper articles and social media posts were taken up by internal divisions and intrigue.
In Namibia, one can only speculate what might have been achieved had the Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) and Panduleni Itula joined forces to take on President Hage Geingob.
In South Africa, the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) was divided for the two-and-a-half years running up to the 2019 general election.
Bogged down in internal disputes, disciplinary matters and court cases, it was not able to communicate a clear message until the election campaign was right upon it.
In putting together a challenge to an incumbent governing party in the region, unity and common purpose is vital.
Opposition parties in countries such as Tanzania and Zambia should take note ahead of their respective upcoming elections.
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