Political parties are an important vehicle for attaining political power. They are a crucial pillar for engineering democratic ideals and social progress in any polity. Historically, political parties have been associated with community mobilization with the aim of either advancing policy issues or addressing forms of inequality and to seek for inclusivity through popular will and representation. Political parties have echoed the voices of the voiceless, the poor, and the marginalized and more so, political parties have been used as avenues for social and political inclusion of the suppressed. Political science as a field has the discourse of political parties and association as one of its core areas of studies. Political parties have been used to pool together, to drive agendas, to call for respect of human rights, and as a form of a centralized platform to discuss national issues.
If there was anyone who was a student of political parties and wrote extensively about them, it was Lenin. Vladimir Lenin, the one-time ruler of the now defunct USSR dissected the theories and discourse of political parties many from the standpoint of class systems. As the great Kenyan scholar Anyang’ Nyong’o posits in his analysis of political parties: you cannot be a student of political parties without studying Lenin. A critical look at political parties, properly so called is the outcome or the offshoots of the Industrial Revolution. It was as a result of the decline of feudalism and the division of society into social classes under capitalism, that political parties emerged as major proponents in the political spheres. The dynamics of their formation cuts across many political systems from Germany, France, China and to the post-colonial societies.
My focus is the conceptualization of political parties in Africa. The evolution of political parties in Africa was an aggregation of social forces for the struggle for political independence. Though the formation of parties can be traced deeper than the aggregate demands for social inclusiveness, it should be noted that parties in Africa were mainly formed under the auspices for advancing community interest first. this notwithstanding, the parties later gained national outlook driven by the common denominator for political independence. They became avenues for seeking political freedoms. However, after the attainment of political kingdom as Kwame Nkrumah once put it, the freedom parties were used as mechanism for solidification of power. Multi partism was discouraged on grounds that it could polarize the society.
The fall of the Berlin wall and the end to the Cold War witnessed the triumph of western democracy. A new world order as conceived by George Bush Sr. arose. Not to be left behind, Africa had to adapt to the new order and multi-party democracy sprang up.
Multi-party democracy in fragile states can prove to be catastrophic. African countries have not yet matured to become democratic nations that respect the dictates and tenets of democracy that include aspects such as good governance, rule of law, human rights protection and promotion, inclusivity. It is still at a very elementary stage. Political parties are a crucial pillar for upholding these tenets. Africa is now witnessing a new conceptualization of political parties. Parties in Africa are now undergoing a political metamorphisis where parties are forming coalitions either before or after election. Post-election coalitions are as a result of competitive elections that hit an impasse and coalitions become necessary. We are now seeing a new dynamic of coalitions. Political parties are forming pre-election pacts so as to consolidate their strengths by pooling together.
Despite all this, political parties should make sure they are driven by a vision and mission. This has to do with the ideology or what the party stands for in terms of substantial beliefs, methods of propelling the country to economic prosperity, provision of social services and so on. The parties should also adhere to globally accepted norms of representation in terms of gender, youth, agenda and policy formulation.