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.