African Winds of Democracy

By Robert I. Rotberg. Robert I. Rotberg is the president of Lafayette College . | The Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 1991 | Go to article overview

African Winds of Democracy


Robert I. Rotberg. Robert I. Rotberg is the president of Lafayette College ., The Christian Science Monitor


THE winds of the West continue to blow strongly in Africa. Despite a few recidivist nations, Africa is exhibiting more and more democratic, pluralistic tendencies. Most of its peoples are claiming long suppressed rights.

If the recently announced cease-fire in Angola becomes a reality after 16 years of civil war, that once Marxist country will soon join the growing list of African states preparing to hold their first open elections.

The willingness of both the governing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) finally to agree to a cease-fire monitored by the UN and elections to be arranged with the help of Portugal, the US, and the Soviet Union, is a legacy of the end of the cold war. The US (and South Africa) have backed UNITA; the Soviet Union supported the MPLA.

Their mutual willingness also recognizes the force these days of the winds from the West and the successful outbreak of democracy in Eastern Europe. Namibia, Angola's neighbor to the south, made the successful transition last year from a cold- war object and South African control to well-celebrated independence. Even South Africa is stirred by the winds of change.

In preparation for major shifts at home, the MPLA, like Communist parties in Eastern Europe, has already abandoned its commitment to Marxism. Along with formerly Marxist Mozambique, another Portuguese-speaking state, the MPLA has also permitted new political parties of the moderate center to emerge.

The MPLA had few other choices. With the return home of 50,000 Cuban soldiers, it could not expect ever to defeat UNITA on the battlefield. Nor could UNITA hope to achieve an outright victory, particularly without South African backing (withdrawn last year) and without the promise of continued military support from the US.

Moreover, the wider lessons of Africa are clear. Directly to the east, in Zambia, President Kenneth Kaunda, in office since independence in 1964, last year was compelled by the threat of urban riots to concede an election and to license more than his own political party.

Ever since, his United National Independence Party (UNIP) has lost prominent followers to the upstart Movement for Multiparty Democracy and other parties. Few expect UNIP to win, or President Kaunda to remain in office. Nor do many expect his rivals to govern more effectively, however responsive they claim to be toward ordinary Zambians. …

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