The Viability of Political Opposition Parties in Africa


Opposition parties and their position in national legislature is a central component of any strategy of democratization by elections. But the third wave of democratization in Africa has resulted in only a limited increase in political competition. Regardless of the nature and quality of electoral institutions, opposition parties have remained numerically weak and fragmented and unable to carryout their roles of political counterweight to the victorious party and president. The performance of opposition parties indicates that we should question whether Africa’s multiparty systems really are progressing. At the very least, the pace of democratic progress has been exceedingly slow.

In Southern Africa, most countries are governed by parties that emerged from liberation movements and have been in power for decades since independence. Although some of these incumbents have lost some electoral support in recent years, opposition support has not been high enough to unseat them.

Opposition parties have lowest levels of popular trust and faces some major obstacles to winning majority support. These include the fact that they aren’t trusted as much as governing parties and that very often they aren’t seen as viable alternative to the dominant ruling party. There is a lot of infighting and increasing fractionalisation in opposition parties.

There’s much lopsided distribution of power and resources for opposition parties in countries within dominant governing parties than those in competitive party systems. Coupled with a lack of governance experience, this makes it difficult for opposition parties to be seen as credible alternatives.

Public dissatisfaction with government performance doesn’t necessarily translates into perceptions that opposition political parties can do a better job. Viable opposition political parties and effective party systems are regarded as crucial to the building of democratic societies. Opposition parties are faced with the double task of democratizing the state and society as well as their internal structures.

Donors have tendencies to support civil societies and neglect political parties. In some countries such donations is prevented by the law. Worse still, the nature of the socio-political development of political parties and liberation movements has resulted in opposition parties being totally neglected by the populace as well as their governments. Most political parties are not funded and many of the opposition parties have developed a protest against the incumbents and the logical thing for incumbent governments to do is to crush the opposition and restrict the environment in which they operate. Imagine if the opposition parties are funded by former colonizers. An anathema!

In Africa it is very difficult to find positive accounts of opposition political parties and their contribution to governance. African opposition political parties are regarded as having low levels of institutionalization and weak links to the society they are supposed to represent. Even in established democracies, asserts, opposition parties are perceived in negative terms are said to be self interested, untrustworthy, corrupt, challenged by interests of groups, social movements, the media and the internet as forms of political participation or communication and incapable of providing alternatives on governance.

In some instances, it is alleged that there is crisis of party legitimacy and there is evidence to suggest that citizens are disillusioned with the motivations, true concerns and effectiveness of the opposition parties. The evidence takes the form of declining electoral turnout, a decrease in the number of voters claiming strong partisan affiliations and a striking reduction in party membership.

Opposition political parties appear to be more involved in personal squabbles and struggles for power than in focusing on their central role-to boost representative democracy and to make differences to policy outcomes. The splits and power struggles and lack of intra-party democracy within opposition political parties are bound to undermine their status among voters. Opposition parties do not maintain high moral and democratic standards as they demand from their governments.

African opposition political parties, noting that governments do not often abide by democratic rule, demand full compliance with the ethos of polyarch. Unfortunately, once in government, opposition parties, also in common with most democracies in the world, revert to quasi-polyarchial and at times non-democratic tendencies.

While it is very easy for opposition political parties to preach bold and rhetoric questions, once in power they find themselves constrained by a completely different policy environment-one where they have to respond to increasing demands with the meagre resources of underdeveloped economies.

In Southern Africa, the opposition parties are pervasive-are castigated as reactionary and de-legimitised as lacking liberation credentials but at the same time are expected to be loyal.

The national liberation parties in Southern Africa and their legacies continue to place constraints on policy development by emerging opposition parties. The clash between an authoritarian culture of national liberation and participatory democracy put opposition political parties in dilemmas.

The political landscape in Africa is littered with parties of different sizes, strengths and levels of acceptability. Regional institutions are not playing their part in ensuring places for opposition parties in their deliberations pertaining to governance and economic development. There is no inclusion of civil societies and opposition political parties-the sell-outs!

Although opposition political parties are quite visible, their viability and effectiveness in governance remain questionable. The emerging of opposition political parties and the constant fragmentation does not reflect the success of multipartyism or the consolidation of democracy. The dilemmas the opposition faces today in its day-to-day operations are not merely academic, they are practical realities. Much of opposition political parties are lame and the dominant ruling parties remain a challenge. The opposition must realise that it takes years, and adequate resources to be fully institutionalised and find roots in society. Institutionalisation depends on The way the opposition is organised as an instrument for mobilising support. The future of democracy in Africa lies with opposition political parties that well-organised, democratic, gender balanced and active.

Morgen Makombo Sikwila
MSc Peace and Governance
BSc Counselling
Diploma in Environmental Health Health
Certificate in Marketing Management (0772823282)

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button