Democracy in most African countries is a road under construction. The democratic road has not reached the destination yet. People of Africa have adopted from the West the conception that democracy is best realised through political parties.
What is a political party? It is a grouping of people who share the same interests and subscribe to the same ideologies. If they are businesspersons, they usually believe in free enterprise without too many government regulations. They prefer lower corporation taxes and social welfare services for the poor.
If they are employees, who own nothing but their labour, they usually have socialist leanings. They want the government to provide legislation and funds for the protection of the most vulnerable members of the society. They advocate progressive taxation in which those who earn more should not just pay high taxes, but at a higher rate so that the proceeds can be used to fund social services, such as education and health for poor members of society.
Up to now, most African political parties do not have palpable ideological differences such as exist in old democracies where some parties are described as conservative, communist, socialist or liberal and so on.
In the struggle for the emancipation from colonial rule, African leaders did not form political parties as such, but all-embracing associations. Some called their associations congress as in South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and Uganda. Others called them unions as in Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe while others called the movements such as in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
At that stage, it was believed that every mwananchi, child of the land or citizen, wanted self-government and independence first and foremost. There was no room for other associations. If other political associations existed, what would be their objectives? Whenever somebody started a splinter association and called it whatever name, it was assumed he was an agent of reaction or a stooge of those who wanted to delay independence.
Democracy in the classic definition by American president Abraham Lincoln is government of the people, for the people and by the people. These sound easy phrases to memorise but when you ask, who are the people, do you mean all the people found in the country.
Even for citizens of the country, some are ‘more people’ than others. Discrimination of all sorts crops up.
Under the multiparty system, there are people known as majoritarians who say that power should be exercised exclusively by those whose political party has won most of the seats in Parliament. In other words, the interests of the majority are all government should care about. Forget minorities and minority interests.
But there are also those who say the whole is more important than the majority. These demand that minority political parties and their interests should be allowed some influence, their interests should be catered for.
Multiparty politics will not fulfill its objective of providing people with power until members of parties provide most of the funds that the parties need. When the party depends on a few people for its finances, there will be plutocracy: democracy of the wealthy.
Because people are not paying membership and subscription fees, political parties have entrenched regionalism. This is a disease which must not be allowed to remain lingering around.
The periodic election of members of Parliament and presidents has gone a long way towards ensuring the people freedom from oppression. Those in office know that utmost, they can exercise power for up to 10 years only and, thereafter, other people will come in. For this reason, they avoid to some extent persecuting those who offend them.