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Opinion - The mortality of political parties

2024-02-23  Prof Makala Lilemba

Opinion - The mortality of political parties

Empires and kingdoms came and went in full view of their incumbents. 

Some of the transitions were smooth while others were turbulent and violent. 

This is so because according to the wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon in Ecclesiastes, from the first verse of the third chapter, there is a season for everything. 

Unfortunately, there are people especially politicians who try by all means at their disposal to change this biblical and universal principle. 

Politicians are not immune to change, as it is inevitable whether expected or not. Although it is difficult to tell the advent of that change, there are always signs to that effect. 

Like now, there are fears that with the demise of the head of state, the ruling party might disintegrate, but contrary to such fears, it might emerge out from this quagmire more vitalised and united than before. 

From a researched perspective, political parties can fail for a variety of reasons, and the dynamics contributing to their failure can be complex and context dependent. 

Some factors leading to the disintegration of political are simple which might emanate from sheer poor planning and lack of insight. 

A good example is that of the Caprivi African National Union (CANU) which was formed in 1962 to fight for the liberation of the region, but through carelessness at the time of the merger with the ruling party, no abiding conditions were put in place for its survival. 

As a result, the party was simply swallowed up and despite measures to resuscitate it, the original centre could no longer hold.  

In some cases where politicians are seasoned and mature, political parties last for a long period of time. 

In Africa, the independence parties have clung to power, only to be removed by the barrel of the gun because of their dictatorial tendencies. 

Of course, there are situations in which the political parties have been in power because they have been democratic and peaceful. 

Cognizant of party formations, any serious-minded political party maker will always come up with conditions and measures for the survival of the party and the leader himself. 

This could be one reason why some political party makers usually reserve the first four positions in the new party as uncontested making them untouchable. 

As our kinsfolk in the North say, “Tashi li olukunde, oshi li molukunde”, meaning what destroys a bean seed is inside the bean itself. Therefore, internal divisions emanating from ideological disputes often lead to disagreements on core principles, policies, or strategies which can further lead to factionalism and hinder the party's ability to present a unified front. 

In addition, leadership conflicts and infighting among party leaders or a lack of strong, cohesive leadership can result in a fractured party structure. 

Leadership struggles may divert attention from broader goals and impede effective decision-making. 

For political parties, which have been in power for many years and suddenly fall from the grace, might mean the persistent dictatorial tendencies in the party. 

A political party like the United National Independence Party which ruled Zambia from Independence in 1964 until 1991 could befit this category.  

After twenty-seven in power, the party failed to evolve and adapt to the changing political kaleidoscope in terms of social, economic and technological situations. 

In the Namibian political setup, the writing could be on the wall after the ruling party has been riddled with corruption and scandals on a regular basis. Scandals involving party members or leaders engaging in unethical or illegal activities can have long-lasting negative effects on the party's reputation. 

Politicians might for now console themselves with the massive support across the country and maintain what Mazrui says in his documentary, ‘The Africans: A Triple Heritage’, when he referred to the frangibility of Kenyan nationhood by Mzee Kenyatta, that “the nation shall never die”, by echoing similar sentiments that “the ruling party is eternal.”  

Another important aspect which might lead to the demise of political parties is the disconnection from the electorate. This is common in the Namibian political panorama, in which politicians campaign tirelessly during elections only to disappear after being voted into power. 

Of course, in the land of the blind, one-eyed person is king, but even the blind voters usually realize after the elections that things went wrong, as promised services never come by. 

Political parties that are perceived as disconnected or elitist may struggle to resonate with the broader population. Understanding and addressing the concerns of diverse constituencies is vital for maintaining electoral relevance. Political parties that ignore or downplay pressing societal issues risk losing support. 

Failing to address economic inequalities, social injustices, or environmental concerns can alienate large segments of the electorate. The demise of political parties is not the result of internal infighting only, but external forces could also impact on their disintegration. 

For example, biased or sensationalised media coverage can shape public perceptions and impact a party's image. Unfavourable media narratives can contribute to the decline of a political party. 

In Namibia, the tendency of the media downplaying the coverage of some parties during elections by allocating less slots can lead to the unpopularity of some parties and finally their demise. Political parties are complex entities influenced by a combination of internal and external factors. 

When these factors converge negatively, they can contribute to the failure or decline of a political party. In conclusion, successful parties must navigate these challenges effectively to remain relevant and responsive to the needs of their constituents. 


* Professor Makala Lilemba is an academician, author, diplomat, motivational leader, researcher and scholar.

2024-02-23  Prof Makala Lilemba

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