chapter  1
19 Pages

Ethnic party bans in Africa: an introduction

ByMatthijs Bogaards, Matthias Basedau, Christof Hartmann

During the 1990s the number of African states1 holding multiparty elections increased dramatically. Paradoxically, the spread of democracy and the extension of political rights in sub-Saharan Africa has been accompanied in the majority of countries by legal bans on, among others, religious, ethnic, regional, and linguistic parties. The main official reason for such party bans has been the aim of preventing the politicization of ethnicity as this is feared to lead to ethnic conflict and political instability. In Africa, parties are not allowed to organize on the basis of a wide variety of socio-cultural differences, including, in alphabetical order, brotherhood, clan, community, ethnicity, gender, language, race, region, religion, sect, social condition, social or economic status, and tribe. For example, the Constitution of Burkina Faso of 1997 outlaws parties or any ‘political organization’ which are ‘tribalist, regionalist, religious, or racist’ (article 13). The Political Parties Act in Kenya, adopted in 2007, denies registration to any party ‘founded on an ethnic,

age, tribal, racial, gender, regional, linguistic, corporatistic, professional or religious basis or which seeks to engage in propaganda based on any of these matters’ (Art. 14). Already, in 1979, the Nigerian constitution had stipulated that political parties had to reflect the ‘federal character’ of this highly diverse country. As these party bans embrace more than ethnic groups in a narrow sense, we either have to employ a broad notion of ‘ethnic party’ in which ethnicity refers to any perceptible inherited social characteristic2 or use the generic term of ‘particularistic parties’. This term was first employed by Coleman to designate parties ‘having an ethnic, racial or tribal basis’.3