The recent rise in the legitimacy of far-right inclined movements within several national polities has impacted the landscape of political dynamics across different regions of the world. The increase in the support base for National Rally’s Marine Le Pen during the past presidential elections in France is evidence that even the most acclaimed republican democracies are vulnerable to the dangers of extreme identity politics. The operational dynamics of far-right movements include the composition of traditional conservative parties that propagate claims of deviation from their fascist origins for electoral purposes. Such parties in Europe include the French Front National – now National Rally (Rassemblement National), the British National Party and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) domiciled in France, the UK and Germany respectively. There are other groups modelled on the ideologies and violent methods of 20th Century fascism including the Golden Dawn, German People’s Union, Feuerkrieg Division, New European Order, Dutch Peoples Union, National Radical Camp and Vigrid amongst several others in Europe; American Renaissance, Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, National Vanguard, Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nations in the US; as well as the South African Gentile Socialist Movements, White Liberation Movement and the Afrikaner Resistance Movement in South Africa. The Trade Union Congress, in its 2020 report on The Rise of Far Right, earmarked a common indicator of these groups to be a push for ethnocracy through the Darwinist inspired myth of biologically determined racial/ethnic and cultural superiority. Based on the foregoing, the second quarter meeting of the Africanist Scholars Forum held on June 2, 2022 to explore the trends of far-right ideologies and the trajectories of their expression on the continent.
The forum noted that the expression of far-right Ideologies in the Western Hemisphere is layered in its intensity with countries like the UK seemingly neutralizing its political legitimacy. Parties such as the British National Party and the UK Independence Party have never quite gained a significant foothold on the nation’s politics. However, the realisation of Brexit could be touted by some as victory for the far-right of the political spectrum, even if it is not considered so by mainstream political actors or media. Even so, there has been a shift in favour of the left per the latest results in the 2022 local council elections, where the Conservative party lost 11 councils; while left and centre-left parties gained 8 councils. On the other hand, France could boast of a larger far-right presence in its mainstream politics. This is most clearly demonstrated by the increase in relevance of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party. The party won 41.2% of the votes in France’s 2022 presidential election, and has subsequently made a breakthrough in the National Assembly by winning 89 of the 577 seats. This paves the way for the National Rally to better influence the agenda on issues such as immigration and security. As it were, the spread of fascist-inclined movements is garnering momentum across the globe and there has been a lot of concern about the perpetuation of hate speech and hate crimes by adherents.
It is fair to say that the African political landscape has had its own share of far-right ideologues. Perhaps the most cited example is the Rwandan genocide, perpetuated against the Tutsis by several far-right extremist and paramilitary groups under the racial supremacist ideology of Hutu Power. This was enabled by media propaganda; prominent among which were hate messages peddled by the newspaper Kangura founded in 1990 by the journalist Hassan Ngeze; as well as those by Radio Rwanda and Radio Telivision des Milles Collines (RTLM). Within the West African subregion, the First Liberian Civil War was festered by the politics of hate between the Krahn/Mandingo-led government and the Gio-Mano rebels. Within the ECOWAS Corridor, the politics of ethnic and religious divisions has become a prevalent feature within electoral cycles in the attempt to set the context for voting patterns of the electorate. In June 2016, for instance, the erstwhile president of The Gambia, Yahaya Jammeh was reported to have threatened the Mandikas during a political rally leading up to the presidential elections by referring to them as enemies and foreigners to be eliminated. Another dimension of this was the October 2020 ethnic clashes in Cote d’Ivoire between the Dioulas, who were supporting President Alassane Ouatara’s unconstitutional quest for a third term, and the Agnis routing for the opposition candidates, Messrs Pascal Affi N’Guessan and Laurent Gbagbo.
In the Southernmost part of the continent, South Africa has been considered a fortress for right-wing populist movements that have supporters basically domiciled in the townships and suburbs. With a well-documented history of racial hostilities during the Apartheid Era, the post-apartheid democratic governments are yet to win the trust of majority of the county’s population. It was recently documented in the Edelman Trust’s research report that only 21% of South Africans trust their government — the lowest out of the 26 countries surveyed. Another report by the same organisation found that 62% of South Africans would trade democracy for an unelected leader that could create law and order, as well as provide jobs and housing. This further proves that the current crop of leaders have been unable to create the needed systemic shift for racial integration.
Apart from internal racial tensions, there are prevalent hostilities against foreigners — particularly other Africans. There have been reports of xenophobic expressions through the harassment of immigrant traders in Soweto and Johannesburg by a group dubbed “Operation Dudula” (meaning: “to push” in Zulu), emerging from mid-January 2022. Earlier in June 2020, a social media campaign was launched calling for actions against immigrants under the Operation Dudula banner, with the group pushing for the removal of foreigners. As of February 2022, the Tsietsi Mashinini Centre in Soweto habouring refugees and foreign nationals was raided by the same group. In the same month, residents of Soweto and Alexandra marched to Hillbrow and Orange Grove in support of Operation Dudula to forcibly remove undocumented foreigners who were purportedly responsible for rising levels of crimes and immoral activities such as drug peddling and prostitution. There is also a rise in right-wing populism by the white ethnic minority as manifested in the increasingly strident Afriforum- an Afrikaner group. This pressure group purports to advance the rights of Afrikaners by using the country’s constitution to defend white Afrikaans speakers and, at times, black people amenable to its agenda. However, it has since evolved to be considered as the face of white denial about the country’s historical past, and of defiance against the need to redress the inequalities in the country; even as their hate narratives are often coated as the promotion of cultural values.
As a way forward, governments and international bodies have to take more proactive measures in tackling the narratives of hate generated from myths about biologically determined racial/ethnic supremacy. A start point would be to revisit and revise educational models that misrepresent biological and historical facts, in the bid to create national, regional and global narratives that promote the culture of accommodation and respect for differences. In terms of legislations and regulations, the protection of individual rights must promote the culture of respect for one another, especially by taking cognisance of the fact that the first bond of individuals is our common humanity before other various forms of affiliation. The attempts at forcefully removing immigrants through relocation to other countries for asylum is a discriminatory symbolic gesture that leverages on their vulnerabilities to strengthen the contours of hate and discrimination. People should rather be given the opportunity to decide where to live as a sign of respect for their human dignity.
The codes of conduct for politicians must strongly regulate political propaganda and clearly define utterances that mobilize interethnic hate sentiments to build their political base and canvass for votes as illegal and punishable. There must be adequate deterrence measures, including the prescription and implementation of punishments for those found guilty of the promotion of hate narratives. However, it is important to state that such regulations must not be weaponized to target political opponents and dissidents, otherwise it becomes a form of persecution which in itself is an expression of hate.
We commend certain efforts by the media to create mechanisms for censoring hate speech, which has become quite prevalent in the digital media. However, the popular opinion is that prominent social media companies do not have effective mechanisms for identifying and punishing perpetrators of hate speech on their platforms. These organisations must strive to balance their support for the right to freedom of expression and association against the protection of users on these platforms from hateful utterances and conducts. The media, in general, has the responsibility to develop countermeasures against hate speech, including the propagation of narratives that promote peaceful coexistence and equality for all.