Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
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.
This week has seen a rush of key policymakers and business executives from Africa flocking to London. Apart from Sierra Leone, oil and gas executives have been discussing the outlook for Equatorial Guinea, a small central African state rich in oil.
Equatorial Guinea made a relatively rare foray into the global news earlier this month for a presidential pardon of former British army officer Simon Mann, who was serving a 34-year prison sentence in the country for his role in a failed coup d'etat in 2004.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick ended a visit to Africa this week with the pronouncement that this century belonged to the continent’s development despite damage to economies from the global financial crisis.
Those who remember what were flagged by some at the time as “Africa’s decades” in the 1980s and 1990s may have cause for scepticism given that in many countries they turned out disastrous despite early hopes.
U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 10 day trip to Africa ends this week with many commentators viewing it at least partly as being aimed at offsetting China’s growing economic clout on the African continent.
In public, Clinton has delivered Washington’s traditional messages on the importance of fair elections and of fighting corruption and human rights abuses.
But the fact that top oil producers Angola and Nigeria are both on the tour has made clear the importance of the visit from the perspective of ensuring access to resources – an area of huge importance to China too.
Where once African officials might have viewed infrastructure projects solely as a good source of kickbacks, these days there is pressure from electorates, at least in some countries, to deliver on promises of improvements.
The growth that many African states have enjoyed in recent years has exposed the failure of the continent’s infrastructure still more starkly – with even South Africa suffering the kind of power outages that much of the rest of Africa has grown far too used to.
The announcement by a U.S. investor that he has a deal to lease a swathe of South Sudan for farmland has again focused attention on foreigners trying to snap up African agricultural land.
A few months ago, South Korea’s Daweoo Logistics said it had secured rights to plant corn and palm oil in an even bigger patch of Madagascar – although local authorities said the deal was not done yet. Investors from Asia and the Gulf are looking elsewhere in Africa too.
Nigeria’s revenues from oil exports have reached unprecedented levels as global crude prices rally, yet the majority of its 140 million population remain mired in poverty. Africa’s top oil producer set up an “excess crude account” five years ago to save windfall oil earnings and try to help promote long-term economic stability.
But infighting among the three tiers of government — federal, state and local — on how the revenues should be shared out has seen them squandered.