Political parties in Africa as instruments of democracy
Any analysis of the political context on the African continent must be based on the fact that Democracy, though still in its nascent stages, has been a political and social reality in Africa for a few years now, with very few exceptions.
Progress of democracy in Africa
I would like to begin this analysis with a look at the history of the progress of democracy and political parties in Africa, before reflecting on the emergence of CDI Africa in the current context and on the responsibility and role that centrist political parties and their associated international organizations are destined to play on the continent.
Before colonial times, the history of the different ethnic groups was one of permanent mutual conflict. The fight over resources, land and power formed the bases for these conflicts. There was very little progress in Africa during this time.
The destruction of both infrastructure and lives was the order of the day. Logically, this period saw no democratic processes or advances.
This phase was followed by the era of colonialism, which saw the beginnings of progress, though the thrust of that progress was driven by the needs of the colonial overlords.
Very little power was granted to or placed in the hands of local leaders. There were no elections involving the general African populace. There were either no political parties during this period, or their participation was irrelevant.
The era of freedom, or independence
The era of freedom, or independence, saw a process that resulted in many frustrations for indigenous populations. Struggles and destruction were commonplace during this time, meaning there was very little development. Democratic processes offered no guarantees, being used instead to obtain power and to keep it in the hands of a chosen few.
Political parties at that time provided a pathway to power; they were not used as democratic institutions.
Dictators rose to power by taking advantage of the illusion of freedom and independence, and also at the expense of ethnic imbalances, rose to power, promoting their own personal aggrandizement instead of their countries’ progress.
At first, in most nations, when the colonial overlords negotiated independence, power was delivered to just one political movement or party, which gave these groups a head start with respect to those that would be founded later.
It should be noted that, save for a few exceptions, like Kenya, power in the vast majority of countries, especially in southern Africa, was handed over to communist parties or movements.
These parties established close ties among themselves, which allowed them to retain their power through the creation of a single party and to maintain, by means of their ideological principles, an iron grip on politics, society and the economy. For many years this situation impeded the creation of new parties, since such initiatives were prohibited and considered to be an “attack on communism” and established principles.
Collaboration among the different communist parties that controlled the destiny of many African countries resulted in specific cooperation based on the fight against apartheid, especially in South Africa, called the “Front Line”, which was very active among the various political movements and parties and which exists to this day, despite the abolition of apartheid in South Africa some years ago and that country’s current status as a multiracial and democratic state, and the only African country with a democracy
The end of the wars
The end of the wars in countries like Mozambique, Angola, Namibia and others, in the 1990s and later, paved the way for the appearance of new political parties or for the transformation of warring factions into political parties.
An added problem is that the parties that were created after rising to power through political movements, once they lost their power either through elections or, more commonly, through a coup d’état, were forced to disband or simply disappear due to the ensuing internal power struggles.
These parties exist at the pleasure of the political and economic well-being of the ruling party and have no real base that allows them to maintain their opposition status once privileges expire, or once the ideological base from which they sprung to power changes, with personal interests taking precedence.
Wars in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, constantcoups d’état and violent government overthrows exacerbated the stability of political parties, since the opposition parties were subjected to constant pressure and persecution by the established administrations, which saw them not as opponents, but as enemies that could strip them of their power and the privileges, especially economic, associated with it.
At the same time, those countries lacking a democratic process for the exchange of power, which was the majority, saw the finances of the State become intermingled with those of the Party. The line separating the two was often so thin as to be non-existent, which gave the ruling party more privileges and opportunities, thus deepening the divide with opposition parties even more.
The outcome of all these circumstances and hardships was that only the parties in power were able to maintain partisan relationships with other parties in certain regions of the African continent, especially those with socialist ideologies.
Currently, the creation in January of last year of the Regional CDI (Central Democrat International), the CDI Africa, to which 16 African political parties already belong, is paving the way for new collaboration among Africa’s parties, both among present and future member parties.
This new collaboration involving Government and opposition parties will be essential to the democratic development of Africa.
On the one hand, the aim is to create a team to work on common goals through the representatives of member parties in the African Parliament so that all may have a united voice and be able to defend positions that would be hard to uphold separately.
On the other, a commission will be created to support parties in electoral campaigns and during elections, so as to make the best use of the experience built up over the course of elections held in recent years.
In addition to the meetings that are held periodically and which provide a platform for exchanging ideas and experiences, the goal is also to attain collaborative and personal relationships among the different parties.
Along these lines, I should note that one fundamental area which the European Union cannot keep ignoring is the lack of transparency in elections held in Africa.
The constant electoral fraud, the manipulation of voter registration, which is where the fraud begins, as well as the voting and recount processes are marred by conflict despite the presence of observers, who are do not always perceive these realities, whether out of ignorance, conformism or complacency.
“Africa will not develop without democracy, and democracy will not exist if we do not support political parties, both in and out of power.”
Programs to bolster political parties
That is why the European Union must create programs to bolster political parties and which encompass not only the organizations’ ideologies, but practical aspects as well, such as preparing their leaders and establishing a media presence. Limited financial support is also essential so as to permit for greater democratic progress.
The money earmarked by Europe, whether multilaterally or bilaterally, will not have the desired effects if a stable and lasting democracy is not achieved. This should be the challenge for the European Union in coming years. Attaining this goal requires freedom of the press as well as solid and capable political parties.
The discovery, or newfound availability, of oil is currently hindering the democratic process. Oil interests are often resulting in the acceptance of absolutely unsustainable situations, as in the case of Equatorial Guinea and its constant trampling of human rights. This is simply immoral.
If we do not take effective actions and fail to move toward the democratization of Africa with steadfast resolve, then grave problems await us, the repercussions of which will undoubtedly be greatest in Europe.
Chinese expansion in Africa is an added risk. Especially worrisome are the words of the Chinese Premier who, while on a state visit to Gabon, said that “Chinese cooperation does not depend on good governance and democracy in African countries.”
These statements clearly encourage dictators and their abuses, and lead to despair in those parties that long for democracy in their countries.
China’s attitude stems from its dual need to acquire raw materials such as minerals, petroleum and wood to drive its development, and to sell its products in less demanding markets.
This position, however, is severely damaging to European interests and is an open invitation to Africa’s false democracies to stall for time while their leaders consolidate their power.
It is therefore necessary to maintain the cooperation that exists between the regional parties of CDI Africa, which I am privileged to preside over, and Europe’s EPP, headed by former Belgian Prime Minister, EPP President and CDI Vice-President, Wilfried Martens.
It is important to realize that all African countries need to collaborate and have a rapport with their European colleagues. This must be done within the CDI in concert with the EPP.
African leaders need the EPP’s experience and international influence, especially as it pertains to the fight against the anti-democratic abuses present in many African countries.
We must advance together in defending Human Rights and freedom of the press, in upholding and boosting political parties, and in promoting true electoral transparency. Only then will we be able to change Africa’s future together.
The future of CDI Africa must be geared toward creating strong bonds of dialogue and work among all member African parties so as to present a true and united voice to the African Parliament, the African Union and the different governments, a voice with which to speak out against Human Rights abuses and violations, as well as to work toward promoting and strengthening democracy.
The most pressing political mission we must undertake on the continent is the creation of modern political parties and think tanks. If we fail in this task, we run the risk of contributing to the demise of democracy, to political chaos and to the economic collapse of Africa.
To achieve our goals, we are creating a working group this year to head relations with the African Parliament and to coordinate all representatives from CDI Africa.
I have no doubt that the EPP would be open to putting its broad experience to work on an important project like this.
Another vital point for CDI Africa is working toward making free and transparent elections a reality in Africa and to have alternating governments. We know the task is not an easy one and that much effort and hard work will be required, likely over the course of many years, before any promising results emerge, but it is very important that we pledge ourselves now to this task that is so crucial to the continent’s future.
The bad example set by populism in Latin America could spill over into Africa. This would force the continent, already beset by many problems, to regress several years.
To avoid all this, we must commit ourselves to achieving five basic objectives:
- Democratic, strong, stable, effective and responsible institutions.
- Economic growth built on equality.
- The defense of human rights.
- Conflict prevention and resolution.
- An enhanced democracy with increased participation and political and social commitment by the citizenry.
Achieving the above will require strengthening our parties within CDI Africa. To aid us in this effort we have the support of the EPP as well as of every regional component – CDOA in Latin America and CDI Asia Pacific.
Through our regional political alliance our desire is for parties to be more accountable to the people, to propose specific programs that represent a true commitment to the electorate and reflect their everyday concerns while offering concrete solutions.
Africa look to its future with hope
The political parties of CDI Africa are called on to become the instruments of communication between institutions and voters, enhancing the role of the former in their countries’ democracy and convincing the latter that democracy provides the basis for their own development and that of their countries.
Paradoxically, political parties in Africa are viewed by some as the key to a representative democracy, and by others as being absolutely incapable of carrying out the functions that are essential to the effective functioning of a democracy.
Now is the time to shatter that paradox.
Now is the time to offer the African people serious initiatives crafted by honest, well-prepared and responsible parties.
Now is the time to restore citizens’ confidence in their democracies and their hope for a better future.
We at CDI Africa are committed to delivering on those expectations, to making our parties the cornerstone of rejecting Afro-pessimism, corruption, imperfect democracies, fraudulent processes, indifference to democracy, unstable governments and institutions, the unpunished violations of human rights and the lack of progress.
Only thus can political parties become true instruments of democracy.
Only thus can Africa look to its future with hope.