Term Paper: African Politics in Sub-Saharan

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African politics in Sub-Saharan Africa

According to Thomson (215), one of the main obstacles to democracy in sub-Saharan Africa is the tendency of African governments towards a one-party structure. The author explains that this is largely a reaction to artificially induced democracy brought about by colonialism. During the post-colonial period, African governments manifested their liberty in the one-party state.

Many African governments felt that a multi-party system would act as a socially distracting force; a choice of governments, according to this theory, would exacerbate ethnic and other divisions within the country in question, and thus distract the people from the unified goals of nation building and economic development.

Ironically however, this was not the case. In most African countries where a single-party system was in political operation, this often led to the manifestation of a ruling elite (Thomson 218). Governments and politics moved by force rather than by democracy, and African nation states operated on the principle of one political party, one ideology, and one leader. Unfortunately such an ideology would often be imposed upon the people by force in the absence of legal opposition. The one-party system was therefore widely open to abuse, and was indeed abused by the majority of monarch-type leaders in the ruling positions of these.

One of the countries that differ remarkably in this respect is Botswana, a country that maintained pluralism in politics throughout the colonial period and beyond. The country incorporates free and fair elections, and has a multi-party system that offers its citizens a choice of rulership over them. It is interesting that Thomson (215) also mentions Zimbabwe in this regard. Recent events have proven that democracy in Zimbabwe exists only in theory. President Robert Mugabe might as well have been at the head of a single ruling party. His violent tactics indicates the characteristics of a one-party rather than a multi-party system. While the opposition is legal, both members of this party and those attempting to vote for them was intimidated to such a degree that they feared for their lives if they exercised their right to vote in such a way. According to the basic definitions of democracy, such actions can in no way be classified as either free or fair.

According to Thomson (217), a democratic governing system entails that citizens have certain freedoms. These include the freedom of speech, association, and assembly. This means that political groups are free to gather peacefully and without being disturbed or intimidated. Political parties should also have the freedom too compete with other parties, and to win votes. Clearly this is not the case in Zimbabwe. The author also however briefly mentions Ghana, with its frequent free and fair elections.

While many African countries have begun to incorporate elections, this is often a case of theoretical democracy only, without any commitment to the actual fact of democracy. Indeed, often these elections failed to be followed up, and the process of democracy was undermined. Ghana however, appears to be the exception, with frequent elections and the existence of apparent political democracy.

According to Thomson (217), the original, literal meaning of "democracy" is "rule by the people." In ancient Greece, the political system was open to rulership by the citizens of the nation state. In the current Western world, however, the nation state political system has become too complex and time consuming to involve the citizens. Therefore citizens elect political officials to represent them, and to rule on their behalf. The democratic process is important, because voting allows citizens to elect their rulership in a free and fair manner, and also to eliminate those parties, politicians and systems that have proved themselves inadequate. Many African countries need a major paradigm shift to truly incorporate such a political system.

The argument that genocide in Rwanda is the result of ancient tribal hatred between two different ethnic groups is a manifestation of what Thomson (58) refers to as the "primordialist explanation." According to this explanation for not only the Rwandan genocide, but for all forms of violence within Africa, all such problems are the result of an inherently tribalistic pre-colonial history within Africa. The theory holds that, before the arrival of colonists, the indigenous people in Africa tended towards tribalism. National and international conflicts that now occur, it follows, are the result of unresolved disputes occurring during pre-colonial times.

According to Thomson, this theory is far too often used as a generic explanation for all violent political events in Africa. Indeed, the Western world is particularly prejudiced in this regard; not understanding the deeper nuances of the African paradigm, it is assumed that violence is somehow part of the African "nature" and that violence occurs simply because "it is Africa." What such a theory does not recognize is the fact that, even while belonging to specific ethnicities within Africa, African people are also primarily human. According to Thomson, they are no more prone to violence than any other human being. The author therefore suggests that the reason for events such as the genocide in Rwanda cannot only be the result of tribal and historical disagreements.

The proponents of the primordialist explanation often overlook current issues facing the people of Africa. Regional political issues for example are not necessarily connected to the tribal paradigm in creating the conditions for violent reaction. The example of Zimbabwe might once again provide a good example. President Mugabe has oppressed the opposition and their supporters for decades. He has done so violently in order to remain secure in his presidency. Some have gone so far as to maintain that the president might be suffering from a mental or psychological illness.

In other African countries, political issues have also played a role in violence and wars; it should be recognized however that these are current political issues, and not necessarily historical ones among tribes. Political and ideological differences also played a role in the Rwanda genocide, rather than a fundamental disagreement between two specific tribes. Specifically, the underlying disagreements between the Hutus and Tutsis were far from inherent. Instead, it was the result of colonialism. At the basis of the genocide was therefore European interference in a country where the two groups had lived and shared each other's lives peacefully. European colonialism however meant that a wedge was driven between the two groups.

The beginning of the problem was that colonial administrators selected the Tutsis, traditionally being landowners, for education and the privilege of acting as intermediaries between the new governors and those being governed. This introduced the European paradigm of class consciousness into a country where this had never been part of the system. The political divide was exacerbated by the Tutsis, whose behavior became increasingly aristocratic towards the Hutus, who increasingly began to feel like peasants. Clearly this social divide was artificially introduced, and not the result of an inherent African propensity towards violence.

Political and technological development also played a role. Modern weapons and warfare were introduced to the formerly peaceful country. Missionaries added a religious aspect to the conflict, inspiring a sense of oppression and a drive towards revolution in the Hutu group. Political conflict culminated in mutual hatred, and war culminated in genocide, with the Hutus killing not only Tutsis, but also those of their own tribe who were not against the latter. Wives, husbands and children were murdered in their thousands, and the world saw only an inherent, inter-tribal conflict rather than the underlying European involvement that began the slaughter.

According to Thomson (2002), the 1980s and 1990s in the African paradigm saw several crises as a result of the economic, social and political policies introduced during the colonial and post-colonial period. Specifically, the author addresses the crises of accumulation and governance. The latter refers to the increasing loss of legitimacy faced by bureaucratic governments on the continent. Citizens no longer felt that they were receiving due benefits in return for loyalty to these governments. Poor management of economic and political resources resulted in increasing poverty throughout the continent. Hence the loss of trust and legitimacy for these governments.

The crisis of accumulation refers to the natural resources that Africans can use for their economic growth and welfare. Thomson hardly needs to note that Africa is the poorest continent in the world. Interestingly, however, he also notes that the continent has not shortage of resources. Indeed, Africa houses 40 per cent of the world's hydroelectric power, 12 per cent of global natural gas reserves, and 8 per cent of global oil extraction (Thomson 202).

In addition, the continent is rich not only in minerals, but also in fertile soil. In answer to the question of the current poor economic performance of African countries, Thomson addresses the crisis of accumulation.

At the basis of the problem lies the fact that Africa's initial surpluses were scarce, and that productive investments of what surpluses did exist were infrequent. In addition, economic factors such as unequal exchange and declining commodity prices also had a detrimental effect upon the overall ability… [END OF PREVIEW]

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