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Biti book reveals how liberation movements use populism to stifle democracy

Opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) interim Vice President Tendai Biti has a book out that documents how liberation movements in Africa and Latin America exert populism to beget dysfunctional institutions that stifle democracy and development.

Biti co-wrote the book, In The Name Of The People, with other reputable international political science scholars: Nic Cheeseman, Christopher Clapham, Ray Hartley, Grey Mills, Juan Carlos Pinzonn and Lyal White.

“In The Name Of The People” unpacks how liberation movements are perpetually employing shallow self-serving agendas that undermine sound policy debate, leaving future generations to struggle with socio-economic ills and social instability.

Populism is generally referred as political strategies aimed at fostering direct links between a leader and the masses, an ideational concept that relies on discourses that conjure a corrupt elite and the pure people, and a set of socio-cultural performances characterized by a leader’s charisma, theatrics, and transgression of accepted norms.

Biti in part two of the book titled Liberation-Movement Populism writes in the book that the country’s ruling elite, a liberation movement, uses the veil of democracy to valorize populist discourses to legitimize their entitlement to rule.

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“The armed struggle against oppression is the mainspring of populist leaders who have chosen to interpret liberation-movement populism history in a way that favors their continued rule.

“To some, liberation movements are the sole legitimate representatives of the people because, by taking up arms and fighting militarily, they became the true representatives of the people.

“This populist myth, is of course, not in accordance with the facts, which show that many others, from priests to journalists and protesting youths made sacrifices as large as outside the armed struggle,” writes Biti.

Biti in the book writes how the conflation between Zanu PF and the military has suffocated the emergence of a new opposition government through coercion justified by the entitlement liberation movements harbor as the sole legitimate government.

“Most notably, Mugabe simply refused to hand over power following Zanu PF defeat in parliamentary and first-round presidential elections in 2008, surviving with backing from the military.

“The resort to rule propped up by the military is justified because the post-liberation military forces are held to be the successors of the guerilla movement that conducted the armed struggle and therefore enjoy legitimacy as the ‘true defenders’ of Liberation.

“This tradition of military rule under the guise of democracy continues more than four decades after the initial settlement and has survived Mugabe’s death, with the new leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa – who earned the nick-name ‘the crocodile’ while leading the Gukurahundi and who is widely held to have rigged the post-Mugabe election,” writes Biti.

Biti further argues in his book that liberation movements that took up arms for the sole purpose of decolonizing African countries through their obsession of employing myopic populist policies that demonize opposition movements have become incapable of transformation and development.

“Liberation-movement populism does not apply to the period immediately after liberation, but it can also be applied to subsequent actions of liberation, when these seek to restore order after a post-colonial movement is overthrown.

“The hold of liberation-movement populism is powerful and has the effect of delegitimizing the opposition as ‘enemy forces’ wanting to return the country to the dark days of oppression, even when the opposition is clearly working within the parameters of the post-liberation democratic order.

“Because they control the dispensing of patronage, makes the rules for business and control the public discourse, liberation movements are able to exert pressure on the inherited establishment of the old order to support it and not opposition parties, should they want legitimacy and a part of the post-liberation rents,” writes Biti.

“In Zimbabwe, where the opposition enjoys large public support, more repressive measures are taken with the same jurisdiction.

“Because it is no longer acceptable to rule through outright authoritarianism, the veneer of democratic ‘elections’ is used to confer legitimacy on these governments.

“A critical aspect of liberation-movement populism is the unspoken rule that one liberation movement will not go against another. This is a powerful network that renders these multilateral institutions (AU, SADC) powerless to act even in the face of obvious abuses,” concluded Biti in his writing.