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Opposition in Tropical Africa

  • Christopher Clapham


AT THE START OF THE 1990S, THE CONSTITUTIONAL STATUS OF opposition movements in tropical Africa was dramatically transformed. Prior to 1990, in only a minimal number of states had legally tolerated opposition parties even been permitted, while in no case had any opposition party been able to assume power after defeating the incumbent government at the polls. Within a few years, multi-party systems were introduced within almost all African states, while several opposition parties achieved the ultimate test of gaining state power by electoral means. At first sight, at least, opposition in Africa had undergone a radical shift, bringing the continent into line with a movement towards multi-party electoral political systems that was taking place throughout the world.



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1 ‘Tropical Africa’ here refers to all the states on the continental mainland, apart from those of the Mediterranean littoral and the Republic of South Africa.

2 This journal provided, in those early days, one of the few dissenting voices; see for example Shils, Edward, ‘Opposition in the New States of Africa and Asia’, Government and Opposition, Vol. 1, No. 2, 01 1966, pp. 175204; Finer, S. E., ‘The One‐party Regimes in Africa: Reconsiderations’, Government and Opposition, Vol. 2, No. 4, 07 1967, pp. 491509.

3 See Crook, Richard C., ‘Winning Coalitions and Ethno‐regional Rivalries: The Failure of the Opposition in the 1990 and 1995 Elections in Cote d’Ivoire’, African Affairs, Vol. 96, No. 383, 04 1997, pp. 215–42, for a study of the capacity of former single parties to retain power in multi‐party systems.

4 For a discussion of multi‐party democracy in Africa during the years of its lowest ebb, see Wiseman, John A., Democracy in Black Africa: Survival and Revival, New York, Random House, 1990.

5 For an excellent recent survey of the longue dune of African history, see Iliffe, John, Africans: The History of a Continent, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

6 See Herbst, Jeffrey, ‘Migration, the Politics of Protest, and State Consolidation in Africa’, African Affairs, Vol. 89, No. 355, 1990, pp. 193203, for a brilliant discussion of the politics of exit in Africa.

7 See Mbembe, Achille, ‘Provisional Notes on the Postcolony’, Africa, Vol. 62, No. 1, 1992, pp. 337.

8 For a general discussion, see Gifford, Paul, ‘Some Recent Developments in African Christianity’, African Affairs, Vol. 93, No. 373, 10 1994, pp. 513–34.

9 Cited in Samuel Decalo., ‘The Process, Prospects and Constraints of Democratization in Africa’, African Affairs, Vol. 91, No. 362, 1992, pp. 7–35.

10 For a set of case studies on the resurgence of multi‐party politics after 1989, see Wiseman, John A. (ed.), Democracy and Political Change in Sub‐Saharan Africa, London, Routledge, 1995.

11 See Nwajiaku, Kathryn, ‘The National Conferences in Benin and Togo Revisited’, Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 32, No. 3, 09 1994, pp. 429–47.

12 See Newell, Jonathan, ‘“A Moment of Truth”: The Church and Political Change in Malawi’, Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 33, No. 2, 06 1995, pp. 243–62.

13 See Kaspin, DeborahThe Politics of Ethnicity in Malawi’s Democratic Transition’, Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 33, No. 4, 12 1995, pp. 595620.

14 See Lewis, Peter M., ‘Endgame in Nigeria? The Politics of a Failed Democratic Transition’, African Affairs, Vol. 93, No. 372, 07 1994, pp. 323–40.

15 See Wiseman, John A. and Vidler, Elizabeth, ‘The July 1994 Coup d’Etat in The Gambia: The End of an Era’, The Round Table, No. 333, 01 1995, pp. 5365.

16 See Fox, Roddy, ‘Bleak Future for Multi‐Party Elections in Kenya’, Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 34, No. 4, 12 1996, pp. 597607.

17 See O’Donnell, , Schmitter, Philippe C Guillermo, and Whitehead, Lawrence (eds), Transitions from Authoritatian Rule: Comparative Perspectives, Baltimore, Md, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986, for pacted transitions in Latin America.

18 For an extremely influential book which takes this as its central theme, see Bayart, Jean‐François, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly, London, Longman, 1993.

19 See his autobiography, Museveni, Yoweri, Sowing the Mustard Seed, London, Macmillan, 1997.

20 This is a theme which I have explored at greater length than I can do here in Clapham, Africa and the International System, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 46–50.

21 See Reno, William, ‘Reinvention of an African Patrimonial State: Charles Taylor’s Liberia’, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 1, 03 1995, pp. 109–20.

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Opposition in Tropical Africa

  • Christopher Clapham


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