Academic journal article African Studies Review

Political Transition without Transformation: The Dialectic of Liberalization without Democratization in Kenya and Zambia

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Political Transition without Transformation: The Dialectic of Liberalization without Democratization in Kenya and Zambia

Article excerpt


The decade from 1990 to 2000 saw a total of seventy-eight top leadership elections involving forty-three of the forty-eight sub-Saharan African countries. Of these, only twenty-one elections led to power transition from an incumbent to an opposition political party in nineteen countries. Paradoxically, even where there was such transition, authoritarian tendencies persisted. Focusing on Kenya and Zambia, this article argues and seeks to demonstrate that the limited number of transitions from an incumbent regime to an opposition party and the persistence of authoritarianism are a function of political liberalization without democratization of political institutions and rules of the political game.


The decade from 1990 to 2000 was a period of sustained political activity in Africa leading toward democratization. During this period, most of die African countries shifted from single-party authoritarianism or military dictatorship to multiparty polities. Whereas in some cases (such as Cape Verde, Benin, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, and Zambia) this transition resulted in the ouster of old authoritarian regimes, in others (such as Cameroon, Cote dTvoire, Kenya, Togo, and Zimbabwe) the old authoritarian regimes continued to reproduce themselves in power. Even where new regimes emerged, autiioritarian tendencies persisted, as the case of Chiluba's Zambia illustrates. Focusing specifically on the centrality of electoral system design to electoral contests and their outcomes, this article argues that the limited transitions from incumbent regimes and the persistence of authoritarianism are a function of effecting political liberalization without democratizing the political systems and the rules of the game. By political liberalization I mean the mere act of legalization of opposition political parties and their freedom to contest political office. Democratization, by contrast, entails redesigning the rules of the game, especially the electoral system, to make political competition fairer and restructuring governance institutions to take account of the changed political landscape and to make them more responsive and accountable to the electorate.

The article begins with an exposition of types of electoral systems and then examines the electoral outcomes of the first multiparty elections in selected countries in Africa. It then focuses on the cases of Kenya and Zambia, and finally delineates the implications of political transition without transformation of the rules of the game. The significance of the two cases lies in the contradictory scenarios they present, despite their similarities in social and political circumstances, in regard to democratic advancement in Africa. Kenya and Zambia are former British colonies. They achieved political independence within one year of each other. In both countries the process of political consolidation saw a falling out between the president and his vice president, laying the ground for the establishment of singleparty states. By the time of the 1990s wave of democratization, both Kenya and Zambia were single-party states by law. Yet in Zambia in 1991, the opposition united against the incumbent to score the first opposition electoral victory in 1990s elections in Africa. In Kenya, the opposition was fragmented, facilitating the incumbent party's ability to retain power in both the 1992 and 1997 elections. In the third multiparty elections in the two countries, the situation was reversed; in Zambia in 2001, opposition fragmentation facilitated victory for the new incumbent, while in Kenya in 2002 the opposition united to edge out the authoritarian incumbent. These contradictory scenarios are a function of the electoral system's design in the two countries, a crucial determinant of political competitiveness and, ipso facto, of electoral outcomes.

Institutional Design for Democracy

The aspiration for democratic rule is an almost universal phenomenon, as illustrated by the ubiquitous wave of democratization across the world at the close of the last century. …

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