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Catching the "Third Wave" of Democratization?: Debating Political Party Effectiveness in Africa Since 1980

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image of African and Asian Studies
For more content, see Journal of Asian and African Studies.

Many observers believe that multi-party democracy increasingly represents the inevitable future of governance around the world, including Africa. Some countries such as South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, and Senegal have in fact made remarkable progress in instituting and moving toward consolidation of democratic systems. There has also been a history on the continent, however, of political systems that place de facto or de jure legal constraints on the ability of political parties to function. In fact, in recent years many African leaders have only grudgingly permitted multi-party politics under donor pressure. There remains a current of underlying skepticism toward political parties, and arguments exist against multi-party politics. This paper identifies and explains five key arguments. It then critiques them and determines that while individual elements of these arguments may have some validity, the conclusion that is drawn, i.e.that party activity should be constrained, if not prohibited, is not consonant with democratic governance. The final section presents suggestions of how weaknesses in political party functioning could be addressed without placing limits on the ability of parties to play their legitimate role in a democratic political process.


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