Ethnic Identity and Multi Party Democracy in Africa


Africa in the early 1990s was confronted by the dilemma of the advent of multiparty politics. This system of politics would either include development which was ironical focused on European modernity or a focus on poverty alleviation.During this era, controversial clusters of events occurred. On one and there was the apparent success of South Africa’s democratic transition in 1994 and on the other hand the path of disaster typified by events in Rwanda (Genocide), Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the surrounding regions.The universality of the concept of democracy is hitherto expressed in a common notion that “the people shall be governed by the people”. The basis of this idea is that leadership should not be imposed, but should be the choice of the people – whether good or bad. This is supposed to be practiced in like manner in every sovereign state from the North to the South. There is no separate type of African democracy. Although this is the case, debates and opinions on “democracy” however differ depending on context. Democracy then must be described as a whole series of processes and cultural values which relate to the selection of leaders at all levels of society, how these values affect the behavior of groups and individuals who hold different views on issues under consideration and how they affect the use of power by those who the selection process has placed in a decision making position. Democratization in Africa which meant one man had one vote, did not consider the role of ethnic representation in democratic parliaments. Individuals who belong to the same ethnic group as those in power have been known to continue to align with them even when they are poor at their role. Those from the Shona ethnic group in Zimbabwe for example kept voting for Mugabe, the Bulu in Cameroon still vote for Paul Biya and the Nyankore of Uganda have continued to  vote for Yuweri Museveni. The creation of nation states or the partition of Africa was therefore without much consideration of its organic ethnography. The natural design of Africa as opposed to its imperial design is that Africa is a composite of ethnic states/societies. In as much as Africans are identified by nationality, ethnic statehood has a stronger bond within African communities than nation statehood. Pre-existing ethnic divisibility has produced a long lasting consequence over choices of political leadership. These nation states including Benin, Eritrea, Lesotho and South Sudan that were created outside ethnic lines were a displacement of the organic form of ethnic states. The result of this displacement has given birth to ethnic chauvinism in multiparty democracy in Africa.As time has gone by it remains unclear whether the quest for multiparty democracy is a decisive mode for change because of lingering old and new conflicts  and the rise in terrorism. Examples can be seen through the Egyptian revolution in 2011, the Eritrea-Ethiopia border crisis of 2010, the titanic express massacre in Burundi  in 2000, the Nigerian Niger Delta conflict of 2004 and  the Algerian civil war that lasted from 1991-2002. These examples may lead one to conclude that in integrating democracy the African continent has again and will always merely stand as a testing ground for western socio-economic and political theoretical frameworks.

Featured image | Kigali genocide Memorial Center | Trocaire | flickrThe views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.Do you find this topic interesting? Why not contribute to our website?