Coalitions should be on Policy, not on sharing Spoils – Dr Fomunyoh on African Coalitions

By Boris Esono Nwenfor

Dr Christopher Fomunyoh speaks to Thami Ngubeni on the program Newzeroom Afrika on African coalitions

Dr Christopher Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa and Regional Director at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) has advised politicians and political parties to tailor their message on the policies they have for the citizens rather than focus their energy on sharing the “spoils” for the personal gains or fighting to weaken the other parties.

The former adjunct professor of African Politics and Governance at Georgetown University was speaking to Thami Ngubeni on the program Newzeroom Afrika on how Africa is doing when it comes to forming coalitions across the spectrum with South African political parties currently in talks following the outcome of the 2021 local government elections.

In established and emerging democracies alike, ruling and opposition parties have formed a coalition to increase their electoral competitiveness; advocate for democratic reforms; improve their influence in policy formulation; use their limited resources more effectively and reach agreement on programs for government. While coalitions have helped advance democratic competition and governance, parties have also formed partnerships to enjoy the spoils of office without regard for policies to improve socio-economic outcomes for the broadest possible range of citizens.

“What is happening in South Africa is very fascinating to watch. It is a testament that the post-Apartheid generation is coming of age and it is beginning to make decisions based on government performance and service delivery and that often pushes political parties who don’t have the majority to be forced to get into conversations about a coalition,” Dr Christopher Fomunyoh told Newzeroom Afrika.

“The track record on the continent is checkered; there have been some successful coalitions and there have been others that have not worked so well. In Zimbabwe, after the 2008 elections that were hotly contested, ZANU PF and the MDC went into a coalition government (from 2009 to 2015). This was a very difficult coalition to manage and it fell apart thereafter and Zimbabwe has been polarized since then.”

“Interestingly, in a recent poll conducted by Afrobarometer, a majority of people in Zimbabwe now say a coalition government will be one way to break the log jam. In Kenya, there was also experimentation of a grand coalition government after the 2008 election. That coalition worked for five years but this is coalition at the national level and they require a lot of political will,” Dr Christopher Fomunyoh added.

Even when coalitions are well-intentioned, coalitions inherently post several challenges for member parties as they attempt to: maintain a distinct party identity while respecting their obligations to coalition partners; develop mechanisms for coordinating with coalition partners, and communicate coalition goals and accomplishments to members and the general public.

Responding to the question on the best practices of forming coalitions, Dr Fomunyoh said the two best practices rest on the political will of the actors involved and coalitions that are based on policy aggregation turn to work better than coalitions that are put together so that the leaders could divide the spoils of the electoral outcome.

“I would advise that the parties look at their respective platforms and agree on a common platform of policies that reflect what they should collectively agree upon so that the implementation of that coalition would be based on policy rather than just a division of the spoils for the political leaders,” Dr Christopher Fomunyoh noted.

“… These political leaders should be forewarned that the electorate will not take it for granted; they cannot take the electorate for granted and in the next five years if they do not deliver on the promises made or the expectations of the people of South Africa especially the youths who are dealing with the issues of unemployment, corruption and lack of accountability, that in the next five years the results could be worse for those political parties and people will hold them accountable.”

He added that: “the next two years are quite crucial and I understand that politicians will want to use those two years to make their mark but I think it is going to come down on how the makeup of the agreement around which the parties then govern. For example, in the big cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, it is going to be important in terms of which party holds the key positions as it is those parties that will be held accountable by the electorates. If anything, we can draw from this is that parties in South Africa, even historical parties like the ANC, can no longer take the electorates for granted.”

Dr Fomunyoh went on to encourage the political actors in South Africa to look for the positives and to have positive messaging for the next two years rather than “looking for ways to weaken the other side and then get into a food fight that will make them even less competent and therefore generate even more anger and disaffection by the electorate by the time we get to 2024.”




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