Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

African Churches in Social Transformation

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

African Churches in Social Transformation

Article excerpt


It is an ironic twist of history that Euro-American interests in the "democratization" of Africa accelerated after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, rather than at the establishment of African republics following decolonization in the 1960s. African struggles for national independence in the 1940s and 1950s did not get much support, moral or otherwise, from Western Europe and North America, even though in the North Atlantic nations, freedom was cherished as one of the basic human rights and democracy was championed as the ideal form of government. The rich nations now interested in democratization of Africa did not consider it a priority for the continent in the decades since decolonization: Ideological considerations took precedence over Africa's democratization.

The national constitutions brokered and signed respectively in London, Paris, Lisbon and Washington to end colonial rule in Africa were, in principle, democratic, but the citizens were hardly informed about their democratic rights under the provisions of those constitutions. Civic education campaigns should have immediately followed national independence. Had they, the citizens would have become aware of their rights from the beginning. As it turned out, Africa became a continent of coups and countercoups, of one-party and military regimes. The leaders of those regimes had the tacit support of one ideological bloc or the other. Thus these political convulsions were largely, though not exclusively, shaped by Cold War interests, and Africa became a massive battle-ground for superpower rivalry.

Why, then, was there an interest in democratization during the 1990s, rather than during the 1960s? It seems that western nations did not believe Africans needed democracy in 1960, but did in 1990. Suddenly, after 1990, the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPS) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) included political liberalization as one of the conditions for receiving loans, whereas during the Cold War, dictatorial regimes could obtain support from Europe and North America, provided they were supportive of the western ideological bloc. The belated interest in democratization leaves open questions as to whether the campaigns now linked with SAPS can and will be sustained in the long term.

Democratization in Africa after the Cold War has come to be associated with multiparty politics and multiparty parliamentary elections. If democracy is broadly defined as "government of the people, for the people, by the people themselves," it is clear that the existence of multiparty politics and regular parliamentary elections do not, on their own, produce democracy. Experience in several African countries since 1990 shows that overemphasis on multiparty electioneering may lead to a limited type of democratization, but it cannot guarantee the full participation of the electorate. Indeed, in many countries it has increased civil strife, rather than democracy. The overenthusiasm on the part of the rich nations to promote democratization in Africa after the Cold War has led some African countries to conclude that democracy, if imposed from outside, can be a form of imperialism.

Uganda for example, has argued that the decision to have a multiparty political system should be debated by the citizens, not imposed from outside. For that reason, Uganda will have a referendum for or against multiparty politics after a five-year experiment of participatory democracy without political parties. During the multiparty era, the electorates of Tanzania, Kenya and Zimbabwe have returned to power the same political parties that reigned as single-party regimes. The citizens of Benin, in their second parliamentary elections after democratization, chose the former leadership and rejected the newcomers introduced by the multiparty era. These results are useful indicators that more thinking is needed with regard to the campaign for democratization in Africa. …

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