The Party System and Democracy in Africa

Practically nobody in these islands understands the Party System. Britons do not know its history. They believe that it is founded in human nature and therefore indestructible and eternal . . . by the immutable law of political human nature.

-BERNARD SHAW, in "Everybody's Political What's What?"

. . . if you were to ask . . . an American concerning the two great parties of his own country . . . , a bewildered look would probably cross his face; he would scratch his head and murmur something about tariffs. You would be puzzled. If you asked five Americans you would be five times as puzzled.

-VIRGINIA COWLES, in "How America Is Governed"

MANY people believe there is some special connection between the democratic form of government and the party system, so that one cannot exist without the other. This belief is strengthened by the fact that the freedom to form as many parties as people want is seen to be incompatible with a totalitarian régime. An ideal Communist government is run by a single party composed of the working class; a Fascist government is similarly run by one party in the interests of the capitalist class.

This type of thinking is based on a misconception of the true nature of democracy. It confuses cause and effect. There were parties before the advent of democracy. The first political parties in Britain, for example, are believed to have come into being in the reign of Charles II. This was long before the Reform Act of 1832, which was the bare beginning of change in the direction of democracy.

At present there are political parties in countries which do not even admit the correctness of the thinking behind democracy. Has not the U.N.'s 17- nation committee on colonialism ruled that there is no self-government-let alone full democracy-in Southern Rhodesia because of the denial of equal voting rights to Africans? And yet Southern Rhodesia has political parties which fight and win elections and form governments. South Africa also has parties which have been governing the country for over 50 years against the will of the majority of the people. No one can suggest South Africa enjoys anything like democracy.

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