Politics is the relationship between the people and their government and involves activities that manage the government’s functions. In Africa, various governments had been in place even before the beginning of colonization incontinent. The idea of a government was introduced during the scramble and partition of Africa states by colonial masters like Britain, Spain, Portuguese, and Germans. Different communities in African states used to have some form of government and are dependent on the community belonging in that area. ”Some communities were governed by kings i.e. Buganda kingdom in Uganda and Zulu Kingdom in Southern Africa others were governed by chief, like in Luo Kingdom in East Africa” (Tordoff, 2000, p.3).
Political parties around the world are the vehicles for political representation in parliament and are usually used to gauge a country’s democracy. It acts as the bridge between the government and civil societies in a country. Political parties usually have an influence on the executive in the government as clearly seen in Britain and other European countries; “these parties formulate policies to the public and facilitate coalition governments in other countries. Politics in Africa is weak and usually decreases the democratic representation and competition in Africa countries” (Tordoff, 2000, p.13).
Why are the political parties in Africa struggling to fully integrate multi-party democracy in their countries and in what ways are the International communities involved to help these political parties in Africa institutionalize their politics?
Many people in Africa exercise their democratic rights without appreciating how their vote will decide for them by electing their elected representatives. The decision which their elected representatives will make in the country’s parliament will affect their lives either negatively or positively. Many votes in African countries come from communities in which the right to govern is based on the birthright of leaders; “these voters in Africa are still ignorant on the potential power they have in their hands as a result of those votes” (Tordoff, 2000, p.23).
Women in Africa have afforded to lobby men although 52 percent of the population in Africa consist of women, Women in Africa countries don’t have enough representation in their country’s parliaments. A study was conducted by ‘Emang Basadi Women’s Association’, which is a non-profit organization based in Botswana, which represents the interest of Africa women. They came up with the following statistics; the many problems that African women faced in politics were that many of them were still ignorant in voting. Political parties that exist in Africa don’t recognize women as candidates for political leadership and women in Africa don’t have equal representation in their countries parliament although they have a natural majority. A good example is in Botswana where women have been more historically active than their counterparts on the electoral process in their country. In an election held in the year 1990, they managed to increase their majority from 40 percent to 60 percent of active voters.
Political parties in Africa have rich campaign manifestos, their goals are to increase equal representation in their parliament but they have failed to materialize these ideas that are seen in their manifestos. The numbers of women in African countries that are members of parliament do not even meet the standard set by the United Nation i.e. a minimum of 30 percent of the seat in parliament should be occupied by women.
The political parties in Africa are not sensitive to change the voting trends that will enable the general population to vote for women and they usually continue to make promises to women for their support during the general elections while they maintain male domination in the political arenas. The tendency of political parties in Africa to split when they are near the general elections is another factor that contributes to the undermining of women in Africa. For example, in Botswana, the opposition got 33 percent of the seat in parliament in 1994 but the main opposition split into two in the run-up to the 1999 elections. This type of behavior in Africa political parties is rampant; they divide votes into meaningless fragments that cannot put pressure on the ruling party and this always ensures the dominance of a single party.
With the advent of colonization of African countries by European nations, the colonialist created a system that rewards discriminately, Africans with the highest potential to work were rewarded handsomely this was a strategy of somehow exploiting the continent’s human resources and this is what contributed to the problems that African countries are experiencing today. The norms of African politics today are “you will not get my services, if you don’t tip me”.
Corruption is rampant in Africa countries today, corruption initially was not part of their culture, and it was acculturated into the African leaders later becoming a major concern to the economic and social growth in Africa today. Many of the leaders in Africa have been acculturated into such systems and have emulated their colonial masters who were involved in massive economic exploitation like minerals and other raw materials that belong to Africans. This has always been seen in many African states as their leaders transfer their countries’ revenue to their personal banks’ accounts in foreign banks, something which President Obama and Gordon Brown would never dream of doing.
Bribery is a form of corruption and a fact of life in Africa today, having the basic right like owning a driving license, cannot be granted unless you give out a bribe to the person who is responsible for issuing the driving license. The advert of foreign companies in African economies has made the condition to be worst. Kwame Nkrumah (First president of Ghana) once said,” economic independence can be differentiated from political independence” and African leaders should not brag about political independence because they were controlled by the western nations in their politics through involving themselves in corruption.
Some apologists argue that when the colonist was still in Africa, services such as education, health and roads were available to the common people and some of these apologists also believe Africa is a cursed continent that will always remain backward in development. For example in Africa today, when an African and a foreigner go to a hospital at the same time, the foreigner will be given a quality service as compared to his counterpart the African person. These are just some of the ideologies that are still entrenched in African minds.
Former presidents have characterized tribalism in Africa as cancer; this is what any African country faced today. This evil called ‘tribalism’ must be overcome in Africa countries. Tribalism in Africa is the dominant political force and together with poverty, still holds back Africa in terms of development. Kwame Nkrumah spoke against tribalism in Africa as one of the reasons for slow development in terms of industries and infrastructures. “Africans people before were manipulated by the colonist through tribal rivalries. Tribalism continues to control the politics of Africa countries and with this it has a ripple effect on the citizen of a country” (Spiro, 2008, p.44).
“Tribalism has been co-opted into democratic process, thus leaders like Robert Mugabe point to democracy in Africa as simply an Africa version of politics when tribalism is involved” (Spiro, 2008, p.14). Tribalism impedes the democratic process in African countries when we compare it to other elements such as religion or economic status that influence the politics in European countries. Tribalism in many African states has contributed to dictatorship in government and these tribal groupings are the ones forming political parties in certain countries in Africa to champion their community interests. “Immediately after independent In Kenya the then deputy Prime Minister Odinga had a small book to record the gifts he had received and this gift he received was being shared to his tribal friends” (Kasfir, 1968, p.5).
Many Africa states they are described by their ethnicity, “a good example is in Kenya you might be a Kenyan on paper but your benefits as a Kenyan is only define whether you come from major tribes in that country i.e. Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Luo and Kamba” (Kasfir, 1968, p.13). These are the major tribes that are in government at the moment and the many positions that are in government have been taken by these tribes. “Political parties are born from tribal alliance and they are always defining their own tribal interests and as long as there is tribalism in African continents another form of totalitarianism will be realized in Africa” (Spiro, 2008, p.20).
Since the end of the one-party system in Kenya, election years have been characterized by politically instigated violence. The human rights watch group in Kenya had an interview with several individuals who participated in these attacks. The local leaders are the financiers of this violence that was happening in Kenya. “Their aim is to displace the ethnic communities that are likely to votes for the opposition in general election” (Frank, 2006, p.25).
“These raids always target the members of non-indigenous communities that will vote against the ruling party as it was experienced in the year 1992” (Kasfir, 1968, p.22).where the member of a non-indigenous community vote disproportionately to the opposition causing the ruling party at that time to lose three seats in the same district. But come 1997, there was an attack on this non-indigenous community, forcing them to flee from their homes, during the same year after the violence the ruling parties regain the seat they had previously lost i.e. in 1992. The perpetrators of these attacks are always dissatisfied youths who are hostile towards non-indigenous communities as was the case in Kenya. “They felt these non-indigenous communities’ members were to blame for the poor conditions of the local population were living” (Frank, 2006, p.32).
Many political parties in Africa form government as a result of violence. The case is the government which is in Kenya is made up of three main political parties i.e. the ODM, ODM-K, and PNU. It was as a result of the violence that caused mass killings that contributed to forming a grand coalition. In the same year in Zimbabwe, the “government was instigating violence in the opposition’s strongholds, as a result of violence millions of hectare of agricultural land belonging to people believed to be pro-oppositions” (Spiro, 2008, p.24).
Most African leaders once they are in power are not able to leave the presidency even after their term has ended, they will continue to cling to power. Ways in which they are doing this is through the weakening of the Electoral process in their respective countries and some will try to change the constitutions to their favors that allow them to run for office even after their two terms have ended, an example is in Malawi. The president who has already served his two-term limit is one of the leading contenders in the coming general election, “with this they have found ways in which to lengthen their stay in the top seat. Other presidential candidate will buy voters with money so that during election they they will be voted in” (Kasfir, 1968, p.23).
Contrary to what the western media view opposition parties in Africa as to fighting for democracy in Africa, this is not true as they claim. Most of the political parties in Africa are formed as a result of fall out with the government due to their self-serving reasons, an example is in Kenya ODM and ODM-K parties were formed on the basis that “memorandum of understanding was not followed when the members of parliament from all those parties that are in the coalitions were together. This memorandum entails equal distribution of ministerial seats in the cabinet” (Frank, 2006, p.34).
The future of African people remains bleak with this type of political party they have in their respective countries. The politicians both from the government side and opposition side will continue using the ordinary citizen claiming they have the interests of electorates at heart, but the reality on the ground is that most politicians in Africa are hungrily eating the riches of their countries. In near future, in Africa countries, we will see many coalitions governments formed as a result of disagreements in Elections, but once this coalition is formed it will be business as usual; hyena like politics of eating and rewarding their cronies with top government jobs in state parastatals.
Frank, H.C. (2006). Politics and economics of Africa. Lagos: Nova Publishers.
Kasfir, N. (1968). Politics in Africa: an introduction. Kampala: Milton Obote Foundation Publisher.
Spiro, H.J. (2008). Politics in Africa: prospects south of the Sahara. London: Prentice-Hall Publisher.
Tordoff, W. (2000). Government and politics in Africa. Indiana: Indiana University Press.