African business, politics and lifestyle
100 years and going strong; But has the ANC-led government done enough for its people?
By Isaac Esipisu
Although the role of political parties in Africa has changed dramatically since the sweeping reintroduction of multi-party politics in the early 1990s, Africa’s political parties remain deficient in many ways, particularly their organizational capacity, programmatic profiles and inner-party democracy.
The third wave of democratization that hit the shores of Africa 20 years ago has undoubtedly produced mixed results as regards to the democratic quality of the over 48 countries south of the Sahara. However, one finding can hardly be denied: the role of political parties has evidently changed dramatically.
Notwithstanding few exceptions such as Eritrea , Swaziland and Somalia , in almost all sub-Saharan countries, governments legally allow multi-party politics. This is in stark contrast to the single-party regimes and military oligarchies that prevailed before 1990.
After years of marginalization during autocratic rule, many African political parties have regained their key role in democratic politics by mediating between politics and society. Multi-partyism paved the way for genuine parliamentary opposition and the strengthening of parliaments in decision-making. However, several shortcomings still remain: many African political parties suffer from low organizational capacity and a lack of internal democracy.
Dominated by individual leaders, often times lifelong chairpersons and “Big Men”, youth and women remain marginalized within party structures.
There are five main types of political parties: Elite-based; mass-based; ethnicity-based; electoralist and movement parties. The ethnicity-based party seems to be most salient in Africa, while other types, although not completely absent, do not apply to Africa because they demand a high level of bureaucratic organization, professional electoral campaigns or distinct ideological positions.
Political parties in Africa can develop into truly democratic institutions when African leaders begin to promote bureaucratic organization, internal democracy, accountability and transparency.
Some of the shortcomings of African parties can be explained by the fact that most parties are relatively young, specifically designed to contest elections and therefore lack experience on party matters. They are not the product of social interest groups but largely formed by individuals whose main interest is access to power.
That is not the case with South Africa’s ruling Africa National Congress (ANC), which celebrated its 100th anniversary on the 8th of January, 2012.
ANC is among the oldest parties in Africa and since taking power in 1994 the party says it has made big strides in erasing the economic and social injustices caused by decades of oppression of the black majority by a white minority under apartheid.
Underpinning the economy is the most advanced infrastructure on the continent, the strongest banks and a well-developed rule of law and judicial system, making South Africa a stepping stone for investment in Africa’s quickly emerging states. One constant factor that has kept the ANC government on the fiscal straight and narrow and reassured investors has been the National Treasury, led since 1994 by just two finance ministers highly praised for their fiscal discipline.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Survey ranks South Africa as top in the world for its regulation of its security exchanges, number two in the world behind Canada for the soundness of its banks. It is also one of the easiest places for a firm to raise money by issuing shares.
The ANC, with its many internal problems and criticism of its leadership, has had a hands-off style of leadership when it comes to fiscal and monetary policy, something that many African ruling parties don’t do.
The ANC has also relied on labour for support and is not about to set in place reforms that would loosen one of the world’s most restrictive labour markets, even though economists said changes are needed to make it more competitive.
The ANC has done what many parties write in their manifestos but fail to implement. Do you think Africa needs more hands off parties like the ANC in running their economies? Are well entrenched and older parties good in running economies? What has the ANC done in improving people’s life in South Africa and is it enough?