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.
Forget the days when the image of Africa in the developed world was one of rolling vistas of unspoilt safari parks, natural disasters and war.
In the last 10 years, western firms and investors have been showing much greater interest, ploughing increasing investment flows into the continent of 1 billion people.
One day this year, in all probability, the “billionth African” will have been born, a milestone that will only benefit the poorest continent if it can get its act together and unify its piecemeal markets.
Nobody knows, of course, when or where in its 53 countries the child arrived to push Africa’s population into ten figures.
The U.N. merely estimates that in mid-2008 there were 987 million people, and in mid-2009, 1,010 million.
Given the difficulties of obtaining accurate data from the likes of Nigeria, where provincial population figures are often hostage to the ambitions of local politicians, or any data at all from the likes of Somalia, experts are reluctant to hazard any greater degree of accuracy.
There is less doubt, however, about the underlying trend — that Africa’s population is set to grow faster than in any other part of the world in the coming decades, and to double by 2050.
To some, the statistics from the U.N.’s population division will invite comparisons to the Asian giants, and inspire hopes of a flood of investment from Africans and outsiders to meet the needs of a continent likely to be home to one in five people by the middle of this century.
By contrast, China’s projected population of 1.4 billion in 40 years will be shrinking, while India will only be adding an annual 3 million to its 1.6 billion people.
To others, the numbers are stark reminders of the mammoth task Africa’s leaders face in providing the food, jobs, schools, housing and healthcare that are still so sorely lacking.
UNFPA, the U.N.’s population arm, summarises by saying that sub-Saharan Africa faces “serious political, economic and social challenges” and points to the last two decades as evidence that more people does not mean more wealth.
“Twenty years of almost three percent annual population growth has outpaced economic gains, leaving Africans, on average, 22 percent poorer than they were in the mid-1970s,” it says.
Are Africa’s leaders ready and willing to create the truly unified common market needed to boost investment, trade and economic growth, or are short-term national interests likely to prevail, consigning Africa to a century of overpopulated poverty?
Some Kenyans believe Obama ought to have come “home” first. Others, especially among critics of President Mwai Kibaki’s government, say he has deliberately shunned the country to show U.S. disapproval of rampant corruption and nepotism in political circles here.