Various authors and political analysts have criticized the one-party-system in Africa and its impact on democracy and development of the ‘dark continent’. There have been debates over the past as to whether single-state party system is the way to go for Africa, with civil societies, international organizations and local African scholars deeming the practice as barbaric, undemocratic and a system that will destroy Africa. There are several reasons why the one-party rule tendency was dominant among African countries.
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Consolidation among ethnicities
Many African countries have experienced serious threats to their national cohesion, post-independence and ethnic clashes caused by internal disputes regarding imperative resources like land, minerals, water and power. After gaining independence, most African countries transpired into the single-party system, argued as the ideal way to bring the people together before engaging in power struggles brought about by multi-partism. Aknirade.S (2000) claims that the one-party system ensured stability within a democracy.She asserts that multi-partism and democratization is accompanied by struggle for power and division in the people among political party’s lines. The jostle for the limited power will cause upheaval in the national cohesion. A single-party system ensures consolidation in the political arena and ensures that conflicts and chaos which could lead to war and mass destruction are avoided. She argues that former Tanzanian President Nyerere’s move to adopt single-party system was a move, meant to solve the tension existing between tribes as a result of social divisions, but misinterpreted as a move out of ignorance. She further adds that the African states were observing and following suit of the European systems of governance, where legitimacy of the state was ensured before allowing competitive parties to play part. Elite fragmentation in the governance is according to her, a major cause of disruption among African states.
Wars, chaos and violence
A single-state system appeals unity, strength and brings about communalism and multi-party systems will bring about division among ethnic groups and economic disintegration of certain areas in a country according to many African leaders
Another argument why the single-party system is suitable for the African people is the disputes brought about by elections. As trivial as it may seem, African economies have been marred with problems arising from poll violence. This is an outcome related to multi-partism where political leaders break the rules of the game to ensure a win driven by self-aggrandizement, and greed for power. It has been reported in very few cases where political leaders accept defeat during election and inciting their supporters to act. Hameso.S (2002) critiques the attitude among African leaders claiming that ‘when changes seem eminent, political protagonists refuse to accept the outcome as fair’.
A recent case involved Kenya during the 2007-2008 elections, where alleged rigging caused tribes to kill other tribes. The post election violence was caused simply because the politics were tribal based. Two major tribes had their candidates as the major runners, and when one was defeated, the losing contender cried foul sparking up ethnic wars among different tribes in the country. The result was the death of thousands the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people (BBC April 13, 2008).
These Kenyans claimed to kill in the name of democracy, the same democracy brought about by multi-partism.The situation was ironically solved by the power-sharing agreement between the two main candidates, insinuating a thirst for power among the leaders, a case also observed in Zimbabwe,2008(Peta.B February 4,2009).
The political problem in this case is deeply rooted in the minds of Kenyans, which runs deep along tribal lines, and how to change the perception of the people is still a hard task, and it’s indeed a sad case. This is blamed on the exemption of some tribes in the nation building so competitive politics is definitely ethnic based.
Another unfortunate incident brought about by the struggle for power in multi-party states was the arrests and unrests in Senegal in 1988, where riots and chaos erupted after Abdou Diof was re-elected as President (Brooke.J March 6, 1988).Some people argue that the only way such problems can be avoided is by reverting to the good old system of single-party rule.
Illiteracy and ignorance among Africans
Otite.J (September 2009) states that there exists a positive correlation between education and peace. In a continent where the literacy and comprehension level is high, then democracy is exercised better and the people know the need to decentralize power in the government and advocate peacefully for that move. When a large population of a country is illiterate, the people are unaware of what rights are entitled to them and are taken advantage of, by the corrupt and selfish leaders who can destroy the country beyond repair. The case was so during the single-party ruling system and Africans did not know about the good governance of a country and believed what their leaders conveyed to them.
Democracy according to some leaders is an alien concept, derived from the West, and that ‘illiteracy and a miniscule middle class will make it impossible in Africa’ .The context of that statement is true to some extent. Africa has the highest percentage of illiteracy in the world and percentage was higher in the post-colonialism days African intellectuals however dismiss the above comment of illiteracy by saying such skepticism, is a major cause of the downfall and through empowerment and knowledge, the situation can be changed. A Guinean journalist, Siradiou Diallo disagrees and is quoted to say that “These are only politicians’ formulas and slogans designed to abuse and dupe public opinion”. The question as to whether Africans can overcome this illiteracy and take control of their own destiny is doubted when the development is slow-paced and the educational, political and economic situation is terrible compared to the other continents. (Brooke .J March 6, 1988)
The lack of democratic thinking ways in Africans has encouraged manipulation and exploitation by these leaders who managed to convince the people that single-party rule was the ideal system of rule.
Fragile media and a deceptive civil society
The media’s role in promoting democracy and transparency in issues governing a country is indisputably important in every society. The press has a right and the freedom to articulately inform the public about the happenings, regarding national issues and also inform the public about their democratic rights. They have the power to reveal atrocities and misuse of power being conducted by any government body regardless of status and position. Basically the media’s role is to inform, educate and empower the people. Through the media, people are well-versed on certain happenings and can call for action to change the situation. These media privileges definitely clash, with any government that has a single-party system because democracy is limited to some extent.
In those post-colonial times, the existing media was inactive and in some countries non-existent. The existing media houses were government owned and controlled and any information that portrayed the government in any negative way was discarded. Harsh legal laws were in place to deal with the ‘perpetrators’ and discourage any form of unauthorized reporting. Sadly in the present day, some media houses are still controlled by the government.
The media according to Hameso.S (2002) had to operate under strict controls placed by the single-party states. The media was also monopolized with one broadcast house available in most countries e.g. in Kenya, Voice of Kenya was a government owned and controlled broadcasting house. The adversial relationship between the media and the government can be traced back to the dictatorship rules after colonialism, where media was stifled and media people tortured and jailed for oppressing the government.
The information had to be approved by the government, before being conveyed to the people, undermining the basic function of media i.e. democratizing communication. Therefore the African people lacked a channel through which they could air their grievances and the acts of government were kept secret and out of the open.
Another significant contributor to the system was the illusive civil society. It is common to find lobby groups in any country fighting for human rights and good governance. Civil societies did exist back then but their impact was not felt like the media’s.
Hameso.S (2002) argues that civil societies are perceived to be the groups distinct from the state yet they “interact with the state and influence the state”. He views association as the thin line between being independent and involved with the state. The civil societies are supposed to fight for the rights of the common good, yet during despotic rules, most civil societies were accused of being absorbed into the selfish needs of the government. The descent and composition of these groups was first of all ambivalent, with the question on, who represented these groups, being raised. These civil societies dealt with complex issues regarding governance and with most of Africa’s population being illiterate, eyebrows were raised on whether the societies actually represented the issues of the common good or if their interests were based on the elite few, or if they were being driven by the one-party governments (Hameso.S,2002).
These civil societies and media are supposed to act as watchdogs to the government and play a significant role in bringing about democracy. The lack of power and manipulation by the governments of these groups during post-colonial times provided the opportunity for the communist leaders to establish the single-party states without external pressure.
The value dilemma
According to Hameso.S (2002) the single-party system was further fueled by the notion that conformance of the western values and systems including the multi-party system was unorthodox and objectionable. Adoption of the system would lead to weakening of community ties and bring about confusion of interests among Africans. Africans believed that the adoption of the multi-party system would show that they did not believe in their own values, beliefs and opinions and instead chose to blindly follow the traditions of the West, who had earlier on robbed them of their national pride during colonial times and oppressed them for decades.
It was feared that the imposition of Western-Style ruling, anomalies would occur including conflicts. The consequences are further proved after the adoption of multi-partism, where leaders call for a return to the single-party states, wherever violence occurs, and blaming multipartism as the focal cause for power struggles.
When the colonialists left, African states were left in weak conditions, with the power to rule left in the hands of a few who had learnt from the colonialists. Even these few individuals did not have the proper tools and skills to govern a nation and lacked knowledge on how to institutionalize and consolidate the pre-existing national institutions. The leaders did not have an idea on how to allow fragmentation of other independent parties and maintain the political balance and economic stability as well. This responsibility was hard since the people expected change .The governments were not properly institutionalized with the African leaders constantly seeking help from other Western countries in terms of aid, economic and political advice.Stambuli.K.P (2002) described this as a ‘post-colonial African design of government’ who used democracy as an excuse to employ the same ‘divide and rule’ policy that the colonial powers used. They ‘tightened their grip around power’ and filled the African people with false hope and mediocre ideologies of transforming the countries. The leaders postured themselves as powerhouses, with no opposition or an enlightened nation to oppose them, ensuring their tyrannical rules subsisted for decades.
The challenges involved in transitioning a single-party state to a multi-party one, encourage the people to maintain the existing conditions. The frail economics and fear of uprisings is also another validation to the previous dominance of these systems of governance. Transfer of power in many states brought about violence and this discouraged the people to challenge the ruling parties fearing the situation would get worse and could paralyze development completely. According to Aringo.P.O (October, 2004) says the transition in some countries e.g. Kenya was faced with oppression with the opposition parties being treated as enemies. It is a common trend where the opposition party members are arrested and implicated with crimes they didn’t even commit as a way of silencing them. Cases of alleged murders of key front members of opposition members were not unheard of, and people were not willing to risk their lives in the name of democracy.Assasinations and ethnic genocides were crimes committed just to stifle the other side. Leaders disregarded the opposition parties in broad daylight, for example in Kenya, President Kenyatta referred to the opposition party members as ‘snakes’.
Why the single party system failed
It is obvious that a revolution has taken place over the past half-century with only Eritrea existing as a single-state party. The political metamorphosis has led to the existence of opposition parties in many countries, and some have even taken over, the preceding single-state parties. Neuberger.B (n.d) argues that the system is not the solution for African countries because a party’s long term stay in power does not necessarily amount to success. He claims that parties in some African countries have been in power for decades yet their portfolios have no significant improvement, to prove their long stay and service to the people. He claims that cruel, selfish minded regimes have survived for decades and in some cases some regimes keen on change and reforms have been overthrown within a short time of their ruling, hinting the fact that maybe people are susceptible to change and do not want to change the status-quo, in fear of worse future repercussions .He suggests three criteria that can be used to determine if one-party states are necessary in the African continent;stability,economic development and nation-building, with regard to factors of democracy and human rights.
Neuberger.B (n.d) seeks to establish if the existence of a single-party state affects the performance of the nation, by challenging the people to use the three criteria to rate their country’s development, and hints that very few countries could meet the requirements of the named criteria.
Chief Emeka Anyaoku, a former Secretary General of the Commonwealth is a great strong critic of the single-party state, claims that the former governing system is the root cause of all troubles facing the continent. He attributes all the developmental problems being faced as consequences of the rulings in the post-independence era, characterized by single-party systems. He is quoted to say that “Nothing has done more to destroy Africa ,than one party rule and military dictatorship”(Ghana News Agency November 10,2007).He claims the military coups brought about by the single party governments, not only caused the democratic destruction of the African people but caused economic downfalls in the then sensitive growing economy. He further claims that single-state parties curtailed the efforts of productivity and development that ‘enabled a golden age of sycophancy, and resulted in a one-man rule and bred mediocrity’ (GNA November 10, 2007)
He says that the prime cause of all these problems was as a result of these systems that brought about corruption, oppression and ethnicity tension between tribes and nations, leading to wars. He further adds that these financial problems led to the dependency of foreign aid, like a drug, and brought about massive economical problems that will take years to solve, claiming that the greatest regret is not that the problem was brought about by non-Africans, but was self-imposed.
The downfall of the single-party system can be attributed to certain things.
Gentili.M.A (2005) presented a report at a global forum in Seoul and claimed that one of the contributing factors to the failure of the single-party system was the economic liberalisation of the 80’s.The governments had failed to deliver what they had promised and the common people felt betrayed, leading to political democratization. The people felt that through competitive politics and opposing parties, the government would feel pressured to perform. By the end of the 80’s structural adjustment in the economies was prevalent, and the interference and control of the single-party government was noted as a root cause of the economic challenges being faced. This was a crucial field and Africans felt the need to protect their own futures by developing their countries through economic stabilization and privatisation.This could only be done through abolishing the system and so began the democratization process. This progression was characterized by establishment of new-fangled norms and policies, institution building and good governance. The existence of multi-partism was the first step towards achieving these developmental goals, through free and fair elections and promotion of the media and civil societies as watchdogs.
Another reason leading to the failure of the one-party rule was the failure of political and socio-economic development ,and a good example is Ghana which was the first African country to gain independence in 1957.Mariam.A (January 25, 2010)verifies that President Kwame Nkrumah established a one-party system rule adopting socialist ideologies. Within a year of his rule, he had already transformed himself into a ‘power-hungry despot’, by establishing a fiery rule where his actions were unopposed, conferring to himself all the powers, whether constitutional or judicial. He opposed any criticism and laid down callous labour laws, by declaring strikes illegal. He was known for making unlawful arrests for any one suspected of sedition and his irrational economic plans of the state. Ghana was at the time a large exporter of cocoa and was the most successful countries in Africa, but due to Nkrumah’s power misuse, Ghana’s economy failed miserably making it one of the poorest countries in the continent. The downhill performance of the economy prompted the coup de tat which saw him being overthrown.
Countries such as Tanzania also abolished the one-party system after the repercussions impacted their economy. The ‘Ujamaa’ system of collectivized farming also led to a plunge in the agriculture production in Tanzania.
He also claims that the one-party system has failed miserably in increasing national unity and preventing clashes as civil wars, genocides and corruption are rampant since pre-colonial times.Mariam.A (January 25, 2010) further claims that these dictatorships are the root cause of African problems of famine, corruption, economic under-development, political unrest and over-dependence on foreign aid. He claims that the social, political and economic ills facing Africa will be solved if the people are wise enough to realize the games posed by these political leaders. He claims that the leaders re-brand themselves by joining new parties but still have the same selfish intentions. Africans must be empowered to in an open, and informed multiparty process. He claims that the argument of Africa not being tailored to handle the Western system of multi-partism as ‘layered sophistry and paralogism of African leaders’ who are obviously power-hungry.
Pan-Africanism and pressure from the international bodies led to the dissolution of these systems. These leaders practically, destroyed the economic status of their countries and in sought help from the international bodies such as IMF, World Bank and other organizations. Democracy was a pre-requisite to the granting of these aids to most countries, and to salvage the situation, many leaders complied with this demand. Though many economies resisted at first, the situation became worse when the aid reductions were implemented, placing these leaders in a dilemma. The donors advocated for privatization which could be better managed through a multi-party system.
Stambuli.K.P (2002) in his paper claims that these auspices influenced African states to end the restrictive trade laws and motioned the process of privatization, which ultimately led to the abolishing of the one-party system.
It is clearly evident that the invasion of multi-partism has not compelled the changes that the people expected. The single party system way of operation is still being observed in many countries up to the present day. The conversion of the party systems in Africa over the years has verified beyond a shadow of doubt, that the reasons why African countries are still to revive themselves is not because of the previous non-existence of opposition parties, but within the leaders themselves. In a continent where the leaders openly commit iniquities against people and declare themselves unsurmountable, getting rid of these leaders will be the first step towards practicing democracy. The African people should be empowered and education spread to all corners of the struggling continent and help eradicate this virus of ‘incompetent leaders’ that has been eating into the core of the continents own existence.