Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Outlook Brighter for Democracy in Africa

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Outlook Brighter for Democracy in Africa

Article excerpt

AFRICANS want democracy. In Togo, Gabon, the Ivory Coast, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and many other countries south of the Sahara, citizens have recently demonstrated vigorously in favor of participation and public choice. Some of their rulers have responded. Others are countering with repression.

Tiny, coup-prone Benin and the giant, island-long Malagasy Republic, both single-party states with Marxist legacies, have heard their publics and have promised to legalize opposition parties. So has rebellion-torn Mozambique, military-ruled Niger, and beleaguered Somalia. Even Zaire, dominated since the mid-1960s by the corrupt family of Mobutu Sese Seko, has dramatically welcomed new parties and the possibility of elections.

Prosperous Kenya is holding out against this clear trend. Democratic demands there have been met with increasingly harsh clampdowns on dissent. Members of parliament and leading lawyers have been detained. Abstruse legal publications have been banned and their editors jailed. President Daniel arap Moi, who has ruled from a minority ethnic base since 1978, has threatened to exterminate his critics. So far, either because the armed forces are led by loyal ethnic kin, or because the popular forces of reform have not yet been mobilized sufficiently, Kenya has retained a fragile calm.

In Zimbabwe, the main cities are less tense. But university students have regularly protested President Robert Mugabe's announced intention to scrap his country's 10-year-old multiparty democracy in favor of single-party rule. Despite the problems in Kenya, despite the lessons of Eastern Europe, and despite the dramatic developments elsewhere in Africa, Mr. Mugabe threatens to extinguish the final vestiges of political choice.

In today's Africa, his arguments sound hollow and outmoded, for elsewhere leaders are abandoning the hoary rhetoric of Afro-socialism and one-man guidance. Up and down Africa, men like President Mobutu and President Felix Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast have ceased talking about the virtues of benevolent despotism. Most of their people no longer accept, if they ever did, such self-serving nostrums. …

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