chapter  9
18 Pages

Party assistance and the crisis of democracy in southern Africa

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The end of the cold war was to bring about significant changes at the political level in Africa. No longer prepared to prop up dictatorial regimes that had served their strategic interests in a battle against communism, Western powers now turned their attentions to the promotion of ‘democracy and good governance’ as an accompaniment to the neo-liberal ‘structural adjustment’ programmes of economic reform that they had been imposing upon client states since the 1980s. The prodding of oneparty and military governments into moving towards competitive multipartyism consequently became increasingly central to donor countries’ activities from the early 1990s, with the logic of such ‘democracy assistance’ requiring that recipient countries redesign their political institutions to reflect the liberal-democratic values that now became the global referent. The outcome was uneven, not least because many countries in Africa remained mired in internal conflict and vicious wars. Nonetheless, there was a broad shift throughout the continent towards democratisation, not least because the opponents of incumbent regimes took good advantage of the increased political space to challenge governments, and in a substantial number of cases, to displace them by defeating ruling parties in competitive elections (see Chapter 8). Yet donor-driven reform programmes do not always work out as originally intended. Hence, while democracy assistance in Africa has sought to steer diverse countries towards competitive multi-partyism, the new rules of the game have been simultaneously manipulated by governments to consolidate their support: the universalising norms of liberal democracy are thus now utilised to buttress distinctly illiberal regimes. Meanwhile, the continent faces a new challenge in the form of the renewed interest of global powers in Africa’s resources, notably of oil, energy and minerals, the scramble for which may overwhelm the aims and objectives of ‘democracy assistance’.