AS calls for multiparty democracy sweep across Africa, there is a
growing realization here that reforms, though desirable and
inevitable, are fraught with problems.
Just a year ago, only six of the continent's 53 countries claimed
multiparty systems. Today, pressures for change have been or are
being felt in almost every nation, and some have had their first
peaceful transfers of power through the ballot box.
During the past year, some rulers have been ousted by coups or
rebel victories, leaving in place fragile governments as in Somalia
In many nations, reforms are at best halfhearted. Even where new
governments take power, persistent ethnic tensions and economic
problems undermine efforts at political liberalization.
"The transition from autocratic rule to stable democracy is
fraught with a lot of dangers," says Michael Chege, a Kenyan social
scientist based in Zimbabwe. "If we are not careful, the current
euphoria could turn to disappointment. We could end up with ...
cycles - as in Latin America - of democratic rule followed by
autocratic military regimes."
On the plus side, Mr. Chege notes, is the fact that political
pluralism is now firmly on the agenda. "A year ago," he says, "it
would have been inconceivable for the Organization of African Unity
to state that the question of democracy has to be addressed."
It is no longer possible for any African leader to "sit back and
expect to get by," adds Jonathan Moyo, a Zimbabwean analyst.
Although elections have been held in the six countries claiming
multiparty systems (Botswana, Gambia, Mauritius, Namibia, Senegal,
and Zimbabwe), only in Mauritius have these led to a change in
In February, the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde made
history when its Marxist president, Aristedes Pereira, handed power
to the pro-capitalist Carlos Veiga after a peaceful election. That
was followed by the end in Benin of the 19-year military rule of
President Mathieu Kerekou, who lost an election to Nicephore Soglo,
a former World Bank governor.
But the fragile nature of African elections was underscored by
events in the Ivory Coast, where President Felix Houphouet-Boigny
retained power amid charges of widespread electoral rigging. In
Gabon - after a second election held at the insistence of opposition
parties - President Omar Bongo clung to power but with a much
In many countries, leaders' commitment to democratic reform
remains dubious. For example, only as a result of intense pressure
and after dozens of civilian deaths did Togo's President Gnassingbe
Eyadema finally yield to demands for a national conference to begin
June 24 to decide Togo's future.
In neighboring Ghana, Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings is holding a
national convention to draw up a new multiparty constitution. But
opposition forces have not been invited to the talks, political
parties are still banned, and a "preventative custody" decree
remains in place.
The conference is just "a way of buying time" without any real
intention to give up power, charges student leader Paul Asare Ansah. …