Rethinking Multi-Party Democracy and Political Stability in Africa



There is no bigger problem that Africa has faced rather than conflicts. To curb or stop the blood-letting across Africa, democracy has often been suggested as the remedy. Democratization in itself is very appealing; a government of the people, for the people is a desirable ideal. It means that each citizen is self-governing in the sense that his/her voice is put into consideration in the making of national policies. Like any other ideal, concretising a democracy seems to be more complicated than African leaders have been ready to acknowledge.

In most African countries, political contests are about ethnic supremacy and political alliances are formed along ethnic lines. In most cases, the elites make the pacts and whip their groups into endorsing their decisions. Tribal chiefs are thus most instrumental in determining political processes in most African countries. The political pacts or alliances of tribes are often driven by the desire to control national resources at the expense of other tribes. With ethnicity playing a major role in national planning and policy-making, inclusion driven meritocracy is critical for stability in such nations

The debate on predictable succession in Africa is closely linked to adoption of multi-party democracy. Multi-party democracy has taken different forms across the world. The exercise of democratic elections has always been context specific since inception of democratic ideals. Despite many African countries adopting multi-party democracy, popular democracy is yet to take root especially in African countries

Political parties and their functionality define how countries meet the democratic principles of equity, accountability, transparency, inclusion and participation. Internal balance of power within nations is dependent on existence or lack of political parties and the nature of political parties’ actions on national issues. To attain predictable political succession in Africa, it is important to have strong institutional arrangements, which clearly empower political parties as the most significant political players in a political system. Good political parties are responsive to the prevalent political climate within a state. Considering the ethnic fracture lines that define the stability of many sovereign states in Africa, a political party governing framework has to put into consideration ethnic representation.

It is informative to note that, stability in most African countries was realized at a time when political competition was limited to one major political movement or party.

The Case of Kanu in Kenya
Kenya enjoyed relative peace and stability for a long time despite the chaos in the larger great lakes region. This can be attributed to the stability of KANU as a unifying political entity. After the run up to independence ideological differences between leaders in Kanu and Kaddu were dealt with; Kanu became the only stable vehicle through which all political leaders channeled their ambitions. While the excesses of KANU leaders are detestable, there is truth to perspective that have a one party state helped stem ethnic mobilization and balkanization in Kenya.

The Case of CCM in Tanzania
Chama Cha Mapinduzi in Tanzania coupled with Julius Nyerere’s attempt to define a philosophy, Ujamaa thinking, that predisposed Tanzanians to Undugu and Ubuntu has made Tanzania an Island of peace and stability.

The Case of NRM in Uganda
Uganda was volatile since independence with ethnic communities from central Uganda fighting ethnic communities from the North. When the national resistance Army (NRA) led by Museveni defeated the northerner dominated army, Ugandans as well as the rest of the world sighed with relief. The National Resistance Army rebranded to National Resistance Movement (NRM). NRM was anchored on communist ideologies owing to the Ujamaa influence from Tanzania. The NRM has mutated from a communist leaning totalitarian party to a political party like many others in Uganda. Despite the changes over time, it remains the most dominant political institution in Uganda. Much of the peace and oneness enjoyed in Uganda can be attributed to the genius of the NRM. NRM for long has been a single vehicle through which leaders irrespective of ethnicity competed for a leadership role.

The Case of Burundi
In Burundi, at independence, the president was a Tutsi, which is a minority group compared to the 85% of the population that are Hutu. Consequently, there were numerous coup attempts with the Hutu seeking to topple the Tutsi led government. In 1998, following talks brokered by retired president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere assisted by then Tanzanian President, Benjamin Mkapa and Nelson Mandela; an inclusive government was formed comprising both Tutsi and Hutu cabinet ministers. Despite a peace deal being signed in 1998, the Hutu rebels continued with their sabotage activities against president Buyoya. This led to protracted negotiations and in 2001 another peace deal was brokered by regional heads of government suggesting rotational or alternating presidency; as a solution to the Tutsi versus Hutu duel. In 2001, a number of coup attempts were made against the government of Buyoya. The negotiations of 2001 led to an agreement that would see Buyoya head a transitional government with a Hutu vice president and later hand over to Pierre Nkurunziza a Hutu with a Tutsi vice president. The signing of the Arusha agreement in effect led to an end to a military regime led by Buyoya. The headache in Burundi has been how the two tribes can accommodate each other in government while allowing for popular democracy yet the Hutu are a majority. Through an institutional arrangement where the all are accommodated in government, ethnic animosity is controlled.

The Case of MPLA in Angola
At independence, MPLA formed the government but was quickly opposed by two rebel movements; the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (NFLA) and National Union for the total Liberation of Angola (UNITA). Just like in many other African countries, the problem in Angola is ethnic based. In order to manage the country, the Portuguese created regional divisions based on ethnicity. When national liberation movements were being formed, they were formed along ethnocentric lines. Backed by ethnic communities in rural areas, UNITA waged a long war against MPLA government. However, through centralizing of political competition in MPLA and inclusivity arrangements, there is currently, relative calm in Angola.

One Party Based competition and Stability in Africa
While the communist party in china can be criticized on many fronts, I personally believe it offers a model of inclusivity that tribal chiefs and war lords in Africa should adopt for greater political stability. In Africa, it is important to move away from winner takes all kind of electioneering. While Western model of multi-party politics is good, it cannot adequately work in Africa due to ethnic balkanization.

In Africa, when a political party looses, it is not just the party but an ethnic group that has lost. Therefore, there is need for political arrangements that allow winners to enjoy certain privileges while the losers still are seen to enjoy given privileges through their leaders. Taking the case of Kenya, there is need to strengthen parliament. I would be considerable if the opposition leaders became the leaders of minority in parliament rather than being left in the cold for five years. What African needs to work on is having fewer political parties and a formula for sharing privileges among the political parties after election. For instance, there is no harm in considering the Rwandan model where all parties contribute a certain share of cabinet secretaries or ministers after elections. The number of cabinet secretaries or ministers a party nominates should be pegged on number of national assembly seats garnered. There is no harm in extending the same formula to all government appointments. Such that based on ratio of votes garnered, all political parties in an election have a chance of having a share of government through appointments.

African countries do not need multi-parties; African countries need Inclusive Government Structures that accommodate all ethnic groups. This should be the area of focus for those interested in political stability and seamless transition in African countries.

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