Modalities Of Africa's Democratic Transition
The African transitions to democracy from the late 1980s were quite varied and characterized by progress, blockages, and reversals. In many countries, the transitions occurred quite rapidly following the onset of internal protests and external pressures on the incumbent autocratic regimes. At first, the protests and pressures were not taken seriously by many of these regimes, which responded with both repression and reform, depending on the relative strengths of the prodemocracy forces and the regimes themselves. The latter always sought to manipulate differences within the opposition; indeed, by the mid-1990s many African leaders had learned to play the new democratic game of multiparty electoral politics to their advantage.
The actual mechanisms and modalities of transition from dictatorship to democracy took three broad paths. First, there were countries in which opposition parties were legalized and multiparty elections authorized through amendments to the existing constitutions by the incumbent regime. This pattern was followed mainly in one-party states in which the opposition forces were too weak or fragmented to force national regime capitulation and the regimes still enjoyed considerable repressive resources and hegemonic capacities, for example, Zambia, Malawi, Kenya, and Tanzania. Zambia was the first country in southern Africa to undergo democratization when President Kenneth Kaunda's (b. 1924) United National Independence Party, which had ruled the country since independence in 1964, lost the elections in 1991. Three years later, President Banda's (1898–1997) Malawi Congress Party lost the elections in Malawi. In Tanzania, however, the ruling party won several multiparty elections, while in Kenya the ruling party prevailed over a fractured opposition in two elections in the 1990s, finally losing in 2002.
Second, there were countries where the transition to democracy was effected through national conferences in which members of the political class and the elites of civil society came together to forge a new political and constitutional order. These conferences were largely confined to Francophone countries and South Africa. They succeeded in countries where they were held early, before incumbent regimes had learned how to manipulate them, and where the opposition was strong and united and the regime weakened and factionalized, as was the case in Benin, Congo, and Niger. Benin held the first national conference in 1989, which succeeded in toppling the regime of Mathew Kérékou. The opposite was true in countries such as Gabon, Togo, Côte d'Ivoire, and the Congo Democratic Republic (then called Zaire), where incumbent regimes managed to retain power for a while. In South Africa, the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, held between 1991 and 1993, was prompted by the strategic stalemate between the nationalist forces and the apartheid white minority regime and paved the way for the transition to democratic rule in 1994.
Finally, there was the path of managed transition pursued by military regimes, which tried to oversee and tightly control the process and pace of political reform. For example, in Ghana, the military ruler, Jerry Rawlings (b. 1947), turned himself into a civilian and won the multiparty elections of 1992 and 1996, but his party lost the elections of 2000, while in Nigeria the military refused to accept the results of the multiparty elections of 1992 and proceeded to entrench a repressive regime that ended only after the death of the military dictator Sani Abacha (1943–1999), when multiparty democracy was reinstalled. In Uganda, the government of Yoweri Museveni (b. 1941) clung to power while claiming to pursue "no party politics," a rehashed doctrine of the one-party state. In Algeria, the military-backed government annulled the elections in 1992 when the Islamic Salvation Front won the first round and looked poised to win the final round. Instead of democracy, the country became involved in a vicious civil war that lasted many years.
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