Africa, often known as the ‘Dark Continent’ rightfully occupies its place as the ‘Cradle of Civilization’ as the first humans have been known to originate from this continent of diverse ethnicities, tribes and clans. Since ancient times, the very nature of African society predicated formation of kingdoms and states centered on ethnicities and clans. Later, the advent of colonialism brought to Africa new forms of governance, which included democratization, socialism, communism and dictatorships.
One enduring feature of African style of governance has been the prevalence of one party rule in most African countries. This paper examines why there is such a preference for such single party model of governance in Africa. To fully examine the subject, this paper shall first provide a historical overview of the progression of styles of governance in Africa and then examine the trends in major countries that make up the African continent. The paper will argue that the intrinsic nature of the African society and the effects of colonialism predispose them to following a one party rule.
Historical Overview Africa is the world’s second largest continent both in terms of size and population and has 54 countries many of which are struggling democracies, a few communist regimes, and a number of authoritarian regimes bordering on dictatorship. Since ancient times, Africa had its indigenous systems of governance based on tribes and ethnic affinities. Africa also had great civilizations like the Egyptian civilization in 3300 B. C (Martin & O’Meara, 1995, p. 79).
The earliest foreign influence came in 814 B. C. with the founding of Carthage in present day Tunisia under the Roman Empire which was followed by Persian domination of Egypt. In 332 B. C. , Alexander the Great replaced the Persian domination of Egypt and Roman rule continued in much of North Africa till the advent of Islam in the early 7th century (Martin & O’Meara, p. 99). In all these cases, the style of governance was centralized, as exercised by the emperor based in Rome or Persia through an appointed sovereign.
The influence was limited mostly to North Africa, while the rest of Africa was considered too difficult to traverse due to thick jungles. Thus even in North Africa, from ancient times, the focus was on one –man rule and that more or less ‘conditioned’ the North African people to accept models of ‘uni-power’ in those times. Since the jungles were impassable and large number of tribes and ethnicities abounded, it was natural that rest of Africa had thousands of small kingdoms, states and at times independent nomadic tribes who dominated a particular territory.
Each tribe had its own set of rules, customs, traditions and styles of governance, which again was predicated on the rule of one man or a tribal elder. The concept of Greek ‘city-state’ like democracy complete with a senate and an executive was non-existence. Over time, some of the tribes became more powerful and evolved into larger settled kingdoms that coalesced around similar ethnicities and language such as the Ghanaian empire that existed in 790-1076 A. D. followed by the Mali Empire from 1230 to 1600 A. D. (Martin & O’Meara, p.
70) The significant changes in style of governance came with the advent of colonialism. From the 18th century and by the late 19th century, most of Africa was divided up between the colonial powers; France, Britain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Netherlands. Under colonial rule, the African people had to undergo centralized rule of the colonial powers and the brutal suppression of any African revolt reinforced this submissiveness to a one-man rule. During the colonial period, the colonial powers brought with them their systems of governance, jurisprudence and legislation (Martin & O’Meara, p.
8). Colonialism lost its vigor in the early 20th century and by 1980, most ex-colonies in Africa gained independence. The former colonial powers before exiting from the continent tried to put into place systems of governance in ‘their own image’. Thus across Africa, a variety of ‘democratic’ systems took hold. Most of these ‘democratic systems were basically presidential forms of government, being the closest approximation to what they were used to both as per their pre-colonial experience and their colonial experience.
The end of the Second World War gave rise to the Cold War and the Soviet Union tried to expand its influence in Africa also. This gave rise to numerous socialist-communist regimes in Africa that were opposed by the U. S. leading to proxy wars. Having examined the broad trends of the historical period of Africa till the advent of independence, the paper will now examine specific examples of how prevalence of one party rule exists in Africa.
It is not intended to cover all 54 countries, but few sample countries that typify the various regions of Africa. For the ease of comprehension and brevity, Africa will be discussed under the heads North Africa, West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa. North Africa North Africa because of its proximity to Asia had significant influence of Asian and Islamic traditions superimposed on ethnic African traditions and cultures. It is because of the spread of Islam in the 7th century, most of North Africa is Islamic.
Islam, an egalitarian religion is considered as a complete body of work wherein all aspects of human life including politics and governance can be practiced through the Quran, the Holy book and the Hadith, the Islamic interpretation of Jurisprudence. Under Islamic law and Islamic political systems, an Islamic state is governed by a Caliph and where a Caliph no longer exists, then by a monarch or a ruler. Ideas such as secularism and democracy have very little congruence with the practice of political Islam.
When such a system is overlaid over ancient tribal culture of a village head, it becomes natural that a state be ruled by a monarch or an authoritarian head and if not, the nearest approximation, a single grouping or party. Take for example, Egypt. Egypt, since ancient times was a land ruled by the Pharaohs, then the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and the Arabs. In the colonial era, Egypt was ruled by Britain but the largely Islamic populace got independence from Britain in 1922 (Pateman & El-Hamamsy, 2003, p. 28).
Egypt was initially a constitutional monarchy and had adopted the British parliamentary system of government but constant political interference from Britain led to internal turmoil that finally resulted in a military coup in 1952 (Pateman & El-Hamamsy, p. 28) in which the monarchy was overthrown and Egypt declared itself to be a Republic under General Muhammed Naquib. Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew Naguib in 1954 to become the Egyptian President. Nasser, on assuming power banned all political parties and created a one party named the Liberation Rally to run the government.
This move helped him consolidate his power and rule Egypt till his death in 1970 after which he was succeeded by Anwar El-Sadat, the vice President (Pateman & El-Hamamsy, p. 29). Sadat carried out political reforms and reverted to a multi-party system (Pateman & El-Hamamsy, p. 31); creating one of the parties called the National Democratic Party and remained the President till he was assassinated in 1981 by a group of Egyptian army officers during an army parade (Pateman & El-Hamamsy, p. 29). Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak is still in office since 1981 and is the present leader of the National Democratic Party.
Though by the Egyptian constitution, multi-party system is allowed, due to sustained state patronage, the National Democratic Party is the only party which has the necessary financial and political clout to win elections. There are other smaller parties that have virtually no chance of winning a single election and till to date Egypt is essentially ruled by a single party. Libya, a British colony was declared as a monarchy under King Idris in 1951 but was overthrown by a revolution led by Colonel Muammer al-Gaddafi in 1969 (Wright, 1981, p.
130) who has ruled the country ever since. Political parties were banned by Gaddafi in 1972 and the country is ruled by the ‘revolutionary leader’, Gaddafi aided by a Revolutionary Committee also called as the People’s Congress. Tunisia was a French protectorate that became independent in 1956 and adopted a Presidential form of government, copying the French model, except that it rapidly turned into an authoritarian police state where most ‘Presidents’ have been military personnel.
The present incumbent, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is a former military officer (Perkins, 2004, p. 7). On paper, political parties are allowed but in reality, it is only the President’s party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally that gets almost all the seats. The rest of the political parties are usually browbeaten into submission by the state’s security system and there is virtually no free press. The farcical nature of Tunisian ‘democracy’ can be gauged by the fact that in the 2009 presidential election, Ben Ali received 89.
62% votes to continue as the President (Lowe & Amara, 2009, p. 1). The ancient kingdom of Morocco, a French and Spanish Protectorate gained independence in 1956 as a constitutional monarchy, a system that continues till to date. Though the King of Morocco has a prime minister, a parliament and a multi-party system, the style of governance continues to be – rule by one man, the King (Forum, 2008, p. 49). West Africa In West Africa, the situation is slightly different.
Here more than Islamic influence, it was the effect of local dynamics, ethnic rivalries, Christian missionaries and communist influence that has determined the preference for single party rule. Take for example Liberia, the only other country other than Ethiopia which has an American connection rather than a European past. Liberia was created through a private American enterprise to house freed African American slaves and became independent in 1847. Since, the project was American led; Liberia adopted a presidential form of system.
However, the American backed Liberian elite who ruled the country came in conflict with 16 other indigenous ethnicities living in Liberia. Since the regime was thrust ‘top down’ from the Americans, tensions quickly developed and a coup by a group of ethnic military soldiers led by Samuel Doe took place in 1980. Doe replaced the presidential republic with his authoritarian regime. Political parties were allowed to exist but their freedom remained curtailed by the regime which furthered the hold of its own party, the National Democratic Party of Liberia.
The 1985 election results in which the opposition Liberal Action Party won were declared invalid by Doe, which led to the Liberian Civil War in 1989. Doe was killed and the power passed into the hands of Charles Taylor (Moran, 2008, p. 106), who continued his dictatorial regime which again led to another civil war in 1999 that continued up to 2003 and only came to halt with Charles Taylor being forced into exile in Nigeria. From 1847 till 2003, Liberia was ruled by the Americo-Liberian elite and their single party.
Since 2003, a transitional government was put into place with international intervention, which because of corruption was dissolved and fresh presidential elections were again held in 2005 and was won by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the head of Unity Party who became the first woman President of an African country (Polgreen, 2005, p. 1). Nigeria got its independence from Britain in 1960 and had numerous political parties. These political parties were sharply defined along ethnic lines comprising of three main ethnicities; the Hausa, the Igbo and the Yoruba (Rotberg, 2007, p.
19). The Yoruba dominated Nigerian National Democratic Party won the elections in 1965, which led to political dissensions and instability resulting in two military coups in 1966. This did not resolve the problem as the Igbo, dominating the Eastern region of the country declared independence from Nigeria leading to the Nigerian civil war 1967-1970 that led to over a million deaths. The civil war ended but not the ethnic strife and the military continued to rule Nigeria with coups and assassination of the presidents being a regular feature.
For thirty years, Nigeria continued under military rule till 1999 when it finally elected Lusegun Obasanjo, a former military dictator as its President. Obasanjo was re-elected in 2003 (Rotberg, p. 13) as the President amidst allegations of rigging. Obasanjo was replaced by Umaru YarAdua of the People’s Democratic Party in 2007 and on his demise now been replaced by Goodluck Jonathan (Nossiter, 2010, p. 1). So while the American model was adopted, the actual functioning of a presidential type of government has been a recent development in Nigeria’s history.
At present there are two main parties in Nigeria, the ruling People’s Democratic Party and the opposition All Nigeria People’s Party with numerous smaller parties. What must be noted is that a democratic political system in Nigeria is still nascent and fragile and should ethnic differences arise again it will not be long that another military coup will take place in the interests of ‘national security’. Angola became independent in 1975 after having been a Portuguese colony from the 16th century. Angolan independence came right in middle of the Cold War where Soviet influence in Africa was rising.
The independent country was immediately plunged into a civil war between the Soviet backed Communist MPLA faction and the American backed anti-communist UNITA rebels (Sheehan, Yong, & Lin, 2010, p. 38). The Angolan civil war continued for 27 years (Sheehan, Yong, & Lin, p. 43) till declaration of ceasefire in 2002 by which time over 500,000 people were killed. The ideological factions had an ethnic base too wherein the MPLA comprised basically Angolans of the Kimbundu clan and the UNITA, the Ovimbundu tribe. Presently, the Communist MPLA holds power in Angola.
As can be deduced, this being a communist regime with no legitimacy, the concept of political parties in a democratic system does not apply. East Africa East Africa including the Horn of Africa portrays a region of extreme instability with a few deceptively stable nations. Sudan, the first country being analyzed, after gaining independence from Egypt and Britain in 1956, was gripped by a civil war till 1973 (Barker, 2008, p. 16). This civil war was basically because of ethnic differences between the people of Northern Sudan (Islamic of Arabic lineage) and Southern Sudan (non-Islamic of non-Arab lineage).
While the civil war raged, Khartoum was ruled by the Sudanese military. A ceasefire in 1973 negotiated through granting autonomy to Southern Sudan kept the peace till 1983 when the military general, and the de-facto President, Nimeiry unilaterally decided to incorporate Southern Sudan into a federation. The civil war continued (Barker, p. 18), Nimeiry was ousted in 1983 and replaced by a democratic government under Prime Minister Al Sadig Al Mahdi which was not recognized by the Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLA) of Southern Sudan. Civil war continued anew.
In 1989, Colonel Omar al-Bashir over threw Prime Minister Al Mahdi, abolished political parties and established an Islamic code on entire Sudan. Al-Bashir formed the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation and allied his group with National Islamic Front to consolidate Islamization of firstly, Northern Sudan and then the rest of the country. In the subsequent military action by the Sudanese army, the SPLA were defeated in Southern Sudan by 1994. Having achieved consolidation, Bashir dissolved the revolutionary council in 1993.
In the 1996 election Bashir declared himself to be the only candidate eligible to run for President. All other political parties were disbanded and Bashir converted Sudan into an Islamic state with single party at its helm – the newly created National Congress Party (NCP). Meanwhile, Bashir unleashed a brutal war of suppression on the non-Arab ethnic minorities in the Darfur region using proxy militia known as the Janjaweed that has resulted in deaths of over 400,000 Darfuris (Kessler, 2005, p. 1) leading to an indictment of Al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide.
At the tip of the Horn of Africa lies the failed state of Somalia where no functional government exists. Somalia was never formally colonized by any power and had come under a variety of influences ranging from Islamic influence during the Ottoman Empire, Fascist influence under Mussolini’s Italy and then British military administration from 1941 that was replaced by the formation of a republic of Somalia in 1961 with a parliamentary form of government (Lewis, 2008, p. 33). This brief democratic interlude was shattered in 1969 when President Shermake was assassinated and replaced by a military government.
The military created the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party in 1976 and ruled the nation till 1990. Meanwhile, various Islamic factions and clans grew in size and potency that overthrew the military government leading to a series of skirmishes through the period, 1990-1991. The long standing military dictator, Siad Barre was ousted in 1991 and President Ali Muhammed was installed, yet the civil war continued. The UN Security Council approved the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) in 1992 that has since been replaced by UNOSOM II with no success.
Presently, a Transitional Federal Government (Lewis, p. x)is the internationally recognized government of Somalia whose writ does not even run through the entire city of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. In the dismal narrative so far, Kenya appears to be a bright democratic spark in the African continent. After achieving independence from Britain in 1963, Kenya adopted a semi-presidential form of government albeit, with the peculiar African preference for single party rule. The Kenyan constitution mandated formation of only a single party in Kenya.
Governments continued to be formed under the single party system until 1992 when electoral reforms were introduced to allow a multiparty system. The elections since then have been held in generally free and fair manner. The 2007 elections were marred by allegations of rigging in which the main opposition party, the Orange Democratic Freedom accused the ruling Party of National Unity for stealing the election. In the ensuing rioting, over 1000 Kenyans lost their lives (Raghavan, 2010, p. 1) and hundreds of thousands were displaced.
Peace was restored through international mediation in 2008 and the country is presently being run by a grand coalition of members of both the parties under a new constitution (Raghavan, p. 1). Kenya’s relative stability is attributed to the British colonial era, where unlike the rest of Africa, the colonists set up educational institutions and government infrastructure. Also, unlike the other African countries, 78% of Kenyans are Christians while 10% are Muslims, 10% indigenous and the rest 2% are Asian immigrants (CIA World Factbook, 2010, p.
1). Central Africa In Central Africa, the Republic of Congo has been in the news for decades for all the wrong reasons. Congo received independence from France in 1960 and adopted the French presidential model of governance. However, the first President, Fulbert Youlou was ousted in 1963 by a military coup, which then installed a puppet civilian government (Rorison, 2008, p. 225) and also adopted communist ideology. In 1965, the Congo republic formally joined hands with the Soviet Union, firmly coming into the soviet bloc (Rorison, p.
226). This alignment did not bring about political stability as the original French democratic influence clashed with the ‘uni-power’ Soviet ideology leading to a series of coups and dictatorship under Denis Sassou. During his first spell of rule from 1979 to 1992, Sassou ruled Congo under a single party rule of the Congolese Labor Party (PCT) (Rorison, p. 227). When external pressures grew strong, he introduced multiparty system in 1990 and was defeated in the 1992 Presidential election.
Sassou’s ouster led to a civil war between the supporters of Sassou and his competitor Pascal Lissouba. Sassou, a former colonel won the civil war and proclaimed himself as the President in 1997. In 2009, Sassou was sworn in for another seven-year period (Amnesty International, 2010, p. 1). In Congo’s case too, for most of its independent history, the country has been ruled by a single party and now despite a multi-party ‘democracy’ in place, the original political party, the PCT continues to rule the country. Southern Africa
In Southern Africa, any discussion regarding Africa would remain incomplete without illustrating the case of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe, originally Rhodesia became independent after a violent struggle with the British in 1980. Throughout the period, 1965-1979, the country was engulfed in a civil war between British government forces and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) led by Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) led by Joshua Nkomo as also a number of smaller splinter groups (Raftopoulos & Mlambo, 2009, pp. 141-165).
In the 1980 elections, Robert Mugabe won by a wide margin but fighting with opposing parties and groups continued. The two main parties the ZANU and ZAPU fought bitterly until 1988 when ceasefire was declared and the two parties merged into ZANU-PF thus starting Zimbabwe’s slide into single party dominated system (Raftopoulos & Mlambo, p. 179). Till to date the ZANU-PF has won every single election by force. Mugabe’s policies of throwing out the white farmers and forcibly occupying lands and giving it to the poor black resulted in economic sanctions by the West and a meltdown of the economy.
Owing to his bad economic policies, hyperinflation struck the country and created political space for Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change to challenge him in the 2008 elections. The results were rigged but could not conclusively establish Tsvangirai’s claim of having won the elections. In September 2008, Mugabe maintained his power as the President by agreeing to share power with Tsvangirai who became the Prime Minister (Raftopoulos & Mlambo, p. xxxii).
Yet again, the single party rule dominates Zimbabwe. Finally, a discussion of Africa would be incomplete without examining its most prosperous and advanced state – South Africa. In South Africa, the colonial power, the Dutch did not relinquish their hold over the country and continued in the form of Apartheid, which was once again predicated on the dominance of a single party – the White minority party thereby conditioning the people of South Africa to rule by a single party.
However, the violent suppression of the minorities could not continue indefinitely and ever since 1961, when South Africa left the British Commonwealth (Berger, 2009, p. 166) the white minority National Party faced constant protest from the black majority for equality. Till 1993, the National Party had banned other political parties (Berger, p. 166) and it was only in the face of sustained international pressure and internal struggle by the black and colored populations that the ban was lifted in 1993 and the African National Congress (ANC) led by Nelson Mandela was allowed to participate in elections.
In Mandela, the South Africans found a charismatic leader who exuded the moral authority and statesmanship, which promised to build a future for the suppressed races. Mandela delivered on his promises but also led to consolidation of the ANC as the only party of choice for the people of Africa. The National Party chose to merge with the ANC and this yet again showed the propensity of Africans to prefer single party rule. Conclusion
In conclusion, it can be reiterated that analysis of all the regions of Africa shows a remarkable similarity of circumstances that seemed to have shaped their preference for single party rule. The ethnic make up into tribes and clans were at the most basic level, the building blocks for adhering to the instructions of the clan leader or village headman. This obedience in turn was further conditioned by brutal colonial rule, where the colonial masters used every suppressive means to keep the Africans submissive.
Suppression and exploitation itself became the rallying point for the African clans to unite and fight for their independence. Since most of the colonial powers only exploited Africa and did not build institutions, the succeeding indigenous governments had no infrastructural back up to employ their people or give immediate succor; naturally, the people fell back to tribal and clan loyalties as rallying forces. Since these points of opposition had to be formed clandestinely, they became sort of secret societies that formed oligarchic groups to fight for independence.
On attaining independence the basic dynamics of the groups did not change and they continued as a closed ‘in-group’, which only heightened social inequalities and strife broke out in most cases. As democratic institutions had not been allowed to mature under the colonial period, people tended to cluster around the ‘village headman’, in other words, any leader with some charisma and since one institution that always has a clearly defined leader is the army, most governments became victims of military takeovers. The populace conditioned by colonial repression now became victims of military repression.
Military forces needed a ‘democratic fig leaf’ to govern nations and so they set up political parties which were then headed by serving or former military officers to perpetrate the rule of a single party in the states. Parts of Africa that had predominantly Islamic influence adopted Islamic laws, which ideologically are not compatible with democratic secularism. Therefore, these countries by default became ruled by a king or a dictator or by a single party. Where the Cold War intruded the African political space, communist regimes under laid by African tribalism became the dominant feature.
In these cases, the political ideology required the rule of the state by a single party. Later, when communist regimes fell, the old habit of single party rule lingered on. Thus the assertion that there is prevalence of one party rule in African states is emphatically proved. However, as can be seen from the examples of African states discussed, the hold of one party system is slowly changing. Multiple parties are emerging as the African people are becoming more aware of the wider world through the process of globalization.
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