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Africa Democracy

Modalities Of Africa's Democratic Transition, Explanations Of Africa's Democratization, Visions Of African Democracy

In the mid-1980s, democratic theory and politics in Africa entered a new phase as struggles for democratization spread across the continent and scholars began to vigorously debate the processes, prospects, and problems of Africa's democratic projects. This process was captured in an important collection edited by Peter Anyang Nyong'o, Popular Struggles for Democracy in Africa (1987), and in debates conducted in the influential newsletter of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, Codesria Bulletin (1989). In 1990, all but five of Africa's fifty-four countries were dictatorships, either civilian or military. By 2000, the majority of these countries had introduced political reforms and had become either democratic or were in the process of becoming so. In the meantime, the literature on African democracy exploded. Initially, analyses centered on the forces behind the democratic transitions and their modalities; later they focused on the challenges of democratic consolidation. There were also vigorous debates on the meaning and content of democracy in which instrumental, institutional, cultural, and historical approaches vied for definitional, analytical, and ideological preeminence.

Before the mid-1980s, African political systems were dominated by authoritarian regimes and African political thought was preoccupied with developmentalism: how to overcome the challenges of development through socialist-or capitalist-oriented strategies. In the 1960s, many leading political scientists even applauded the one-party state as a vehicle for nation-building and economic development; it supposedly minimized societal conflicts and conformed to African cultural traditions and a preference for consensus politics. Several prominent African political leaders and thinkers—Julius Nyerere of Tanzania (1922–1999), Leopold Senghor of Senegal (1906–2001), Sekou Touré of Guinea (1922–1984), and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana (1909–1972)—argued passionately that African socialism not only represented a creative and viable fusion between the "communal" values and practices of precolonial African societies and Western socialist ideas, but that it embodied and ensured democracy. In the self-proclaimed Marxist–Leninist regimes, such as those of Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Angola, "democratic centralism" of the ruling party was upheld as the basis of "communist democracy" and contrasted to Western "bourgeois democracy" (Zeleza, 1997, part VI; Idahosa).

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