The Legacies of radical, liberal, and aborted-liberal approaches to reform in Southern Africa

Salih Noor, Northwestern University

Five Southern African countries with a shared history of entrenched settler colonialism experienced a historic episode of liberation struggles in the second-half of the twentieth century. Yet, today, these countries are marked by contrasting regime types and social-cleavage structure: i.e., inclusive semi-democracy in Angola and Mozambique, polarized “social” democracy in South Africa and Namibia, and exclusionary semi-authoritarianism in Zimbabwe. Previous scholarship explains these outcomes in terms of either (1) distinct state structures and modes of racial/class domination associated with settler-colonial rule or (2) ideological and organizational differences among the liberation movements that launched the liberation struggles and controlled state power following settler-colonial rule. I offer an alternative explanation that traces the causes of these contrasting (and similar) outcomes of the liberation episode to different reform approaches — i.e., “radical” (Angola and Mozambique), “liberal” (South Africa and Namibia), and “aborted liberal” (Zimbabwe) — that were implemented by radical elites after achieving national liberation. The alternative policy options, I argue, explain political dynamics that varied across the five countries following the liberation episode as well as the contrasting long-term “legacies” of the episode that prevail in the region today. I develop a critical-junctures framework of analysis; that is, liberation elites adopted a specific reform option during a critical turning point which gave rise to state and social structures that reproduce themselves in a path-dependent fashion. The study employs comparative-historical methods of cross-case comparison, counterfactual analysis, and highly contextualized within-case methods to test hypotheses and assess alternative explanations.

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 Presented in Session 115. Socialism, Capitalism, and the State