A turbulent path towards Competitive Party System – Has Nigeria finally arrived? What about Africa?

My friend, Rahime, called me late last night all the way from Turkey. She wanted to discuss exam questions she has set on Foreign Policy Crisis before submitting them to the University Examination Board this morning. Earlier in the day she had given me lots of insight and assistance for my soon to be teaching modules – International Relations Theories; and Philosophy & Research Methods in IR. So after those we went into discussing Nigerian elections and the different regime systems. She reminded me of Comparative Politics. Following such rich discussions, I slept thinking so much about party system in Nigeria and in Africa at large. The path towards competitive party system has been turbulent in Africa. That was my conclusion. I will try to explain it below.

Yesterday’s elections results of Nigeria have been hailed as democratic in the way that it was the first time that the incumbent and ruling party in Nigeria (Forth Republic) has been taken out of power through a ballot. This (although not the first time in Africa) is a big step towards competitive party system. It is another sign that citizens of Africa can now have a choice between different parties. The dominant parties can no longer take advantage of their place in power to maneuver elections and voting.

The genius about Nigeria this time is how peacefully the news were received especially when the incumbent loser, Goodluck Jonathan, picked up his phone to concede and congratulate the winner- Gen. Buhari.

Nevertheless, I have many reservations towards party systems in Africa. In Kenya, for example, we saw a change in party in 2002, however it was more or less the same people who took power in the name of a different party (or coalition of parties). Similarly, in Nigeria, although Gen. Buhari has been in opposition, he is an elite and has been a president (military regime) before. Different political parties in Africa may gain power, but it is the same people who maintain power. This is a caution.

A point to be noted: it is often the case that a dominant political party in Africa will be removed out of power when there is an internal split within the party. It is very difficult for a still united tight political party to lose elections in Africa. In Kenya, the reason why KANU lost in 2002 was mainly because there was a split within the party, which caused some prominent members to form a coalition of opposition (NARC) to oust out KANU. But in 2007 albeit with different labels, the spirit of KANU proved its presence in the hearts of politicians. No one could concede the elections results hence conflict erupted.

In Nigeria, the incumbent party lost mainly because there was a split within the party. That is vivid by the fact that Gen. Obasanjo who had been the president under the sponsorship of the same party did not support Goodluck Jonathan.

In my beloved Tanzania, the dominant party –CCM – has been in power since independence. I was telling my brother, CCM is like capitalism – i.e. very easy to adapt in times of crisis for survival purposes. We have seen how CCM has been adapting and effortlessly working to change its image. The genius to its survival is the recognition that it needs to be united. It fights very hard to discipline its members and indoctrinate its youths so as to ensure that they do not leave the party. It has a way of keeping the family together despite many “domestic” issues it has.

Not to be ignored, however, is the fact that opposition parties in Africa have also been a disappointment. My experience with an opposition party in my country was an eye opener to why (despite many other structural issues that marginalise opposition parties in Tanzania) these parties are not convincing the majority towards change. Apparently, change is also strange to them.

So the path towards competitive party system in Africa is still turbulent although it has gone a distance from early 1990s when countries adopted multi party system- what Samuel Huntington called “Third Wave of Democracy”.

2 thoughts on “A turbulent path towards Competitive Party System – Has Nigeria finally arrived? What about Africa?

  1. Kitila Mkumbo

    Interesting analysis Aikande, as always. It would appear that the defeated ruling parties in Africa would concede power only if they trust that the incoming incumbent is their own son or daughter. Kenya and Nigeria are indeed good case examples. This is also largely the case for Malawi and Zambia (after UNIP).

    Ahsante sana

    1. Aikande

      Many thanks Prof. Kitila. We have to fight for a REAL change in Africa. Move beyond labels in the name of “opposition” to real changes including institutions, structures, systems (accountability) etc.


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