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The rarity of White African Politicians’ involvement in African politics

Southern Africa unlike other parts of the continent has had a number of White government officials in post-colonial Africa. With Zimbabwe recently appointing Kirsty Coventry as Youth, and Sports Minister, we take a look at the rarity of White African politicians in many countries. We ask: Why do White Africans seem to be on the periphery of the political sphere?



Given Africa’s colonial past it’s no small wonder that positions of political power cannot be easily conceded to those that resemble historical oppressors. However, given the numerous communities of White settlers that remained on the continent it is curious that not more of them have pursued governance positions. The conspicuous absence of White people in corridors of political power across various African countries raises  various questions around this racial imbalance in political participation. The absence is particularly stark  considering White Africans are quite visible in the governance of economic affairs, so why do they seem to be on the periphery of the political sphere?

For many African countries it is not common to find White Africans getting involved in African politics, particularly in elective post-colonial African politics.  The absence of White politicians for some Africans is embedded in the longstanding narrative of colonial and post-colonial African politics that has defined Blackness as synonymous with African nationalism, an ideological barrier which is difficult to scale for many White Africans. However, the negative effects of corruption and bad governance which has seriously constrained development in some countries and constituencies has helped to justify the candidature of White African politicians, as the electorate start to see beyond the issue of race.

Statistics on White African population 

According to statistics, there were an estimated 5.6 million White Africans of European ancestry on the African continent in 1989 most of whom were Dutch, British, Portuguese, German and French. The majority of them based along the Mediterranean coast, in South Africa, or in Zimbabwe.

These numbers were much higher before states began gaining independence and continuously varied after regional decolonization where White Africans were represented in every part of the continent in key political, industrial and commercial agriculture positions.

The “White flight” phenomenon that accompanied regional decolonization resulted in destructive economic repercussions for the emerging states due to the abrupt loss of much-needed technical skills. But it also resulted in the termination of white minority rule.

DA Election Launch_ Kliptown, Soweto, March 2011. Photo: DA/Flickr

African countries with the highest white populations

At the top of the list is quite obviously South Africa with Afrikaaners making up 8.7% of the population and a total of 4,602,000 white populace including those of British and Australian origin. Next in line is Angola with a total of 220,000 making up 1.2% of the population many of whom are of Portuguese origin.

The top five also features Namibia at 154,000, Madagascar at 120,000, Tunisia and Morocco both at 100,000. Interestingly Zimbabwe that has had quite a number of White Africans in governments only has a population of approx. 28,732. Unlike a country like Kenya that has a population of approx. 67,000 but only a few White government officials after independence.

Notable White African Politicians

With the exemption of some first ladies and conservationists few White African politicians have served at national and local government level in Tanzania, Uganda, DRC, Rwanda, Swaziland, Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Senegal, Cameroon amongst other African countries.

Some countries that have had singular or sparse political personalities include:

Malawi: Malawian of Dutch descent, Jan-Jaap Jakobus Sonke, was Member of Parliament in Malawi from 1999 till 2004. He is a former Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, and of Public Works of Malawi.

Kenya: The White Africans who have served in government include Bruce Roy McKenzie; as Minister of Agriculture in Kenya during Jomo Kenyatta’s presidency. Humphrey Slade was the inaugural Speaker of the National Assembly, from 1967 to 1970. Philip Leakey served Langata Constituency as MP for 13 years, and was an assistant minister for a short stint. Leakey represented the KANU party led by then president Daniel Arap Moi. Richard Leakey served as cabinet secretary and head of the civil service in 1999 in Daniel Arap Moi’s administration.

Seychelles: Has had two presidents Sir James Richard Marie Mancham who founded the Seychelles Democratic Party and was the first President of Seychelles from 1976 to 1977 and France-Albert René who was the President of Seychelles from 1977 to 2004. They also had a prominent opposition leader Gérard Hoarau who sought to overthrow France-Albert René.

Uganda: In Uganda, Ian Clarke,  was recently elected chairman of a district of Kampala.

Zambia: Guy Scott served as the 12th Vice-President of Zambia from 2011 to 2014, and  was the acting President of Zambia between October 2014 and January 2015. He was the first white president of Zambia and the first white president in sub-Saharan Africa since F. W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, left office in 1994.

Zimbabwe: The country has had numerous White politicians serving in various capacity in cabinet, and at local government level.  These include, Dr. Timothy Stamps, Zimbabwe’s former Minister for Health, Denis Norman spent a total of twelve years in the Cabinet of President Robert Mugabe, serving as Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Transport and Minister of Power – from 1990 to 1997. White Zimbabweans have also been actively involved in opposition politics, and some of the notable names includeEddie Cross, Trudy Stevenson (late), a human rights activist and former Ambassador to Senegal, David Coltart, Roy Bennett (late), Michael Auret, a veteran human rights activist and Brian James, former Mayor of Mutare.

However, these six cases are not a representative sample but give a snapshot of the involvement of White people in African politics, which is not widespread.