One-Party Dominant Systems and Constitutional Democracy in Africa: A Comparative Study of Nigeria and South Africa
Oseni, Babatunde Adetayo
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Democratization is a fragile process, easily reversed when and where its advance is most recent. African countries present particular challenges to democratization, given generally low levels of economic and social development, often combined with ethnic and cultural fractionalization. Debates about democratization have not been sufficiently developed with the African context in mind. In particular, assessment of the effects of presidential systems on democratization has not been sensitively applied to African cases where most regimes are Presidential. Moreover, a particular feature of African democracy, the dominant party within a multi-party system, also raises questions that have not been so pertinent elsewhere. Debates about the merits and demerits of electoral system options for democratic consolidation also require more empirical analysis in Africa. This study is based on the assumption that debates about the relationship between political institutions and democratization in Africa can only be advanced by recognition of the interactions that can be identified between the institutions of presidential, parliamentary and party systems, particularly within the dynamics of one-party dominance. Empirical leverage takes advantage of an important case with a parliamentary system and proportional representation: South Africa. The most appropriate comparator from the Presidential and majoritarian camp is Nigeria. These are the two largest and most important states in Africa, sharing a British colonial heritage and a federal system and each dominated by a single party for about two decades. The thesis conceptualizes democratization in terms of legitimation and institutionalization. Legitimation focuses on the micro-level: the quality of elections and the voting process, the presence or absence of government-sponsored violence or coercion, the extent of public confidence in politicians and public support for democratic principles and practices. Institutionalization is focused at the macro-level: elite compliance to constitutional norms, political accountability, and the absence of violent intervention against the state, by the military or other internal forces. The thesis finds that leadership transitions within the parties take place with more accountability in South Africa than Nigeria. While corruption is a problem in both countries, it is more pervasive and there are more incentives to generate it in Nigeria due to a combination of the candidate-centred nature of politics, the country’s great dependence on oil exports, and its lower accountability in leadership transitions. Mechanisms to promote consensus politics differ in both countries and within-party arrangements call into question an assumption that one-party government is necessarily majoritarian. Although the process of legitimation has advanced well in both countries, they share many problems associated with lack of development. The main threat to democracy in Nigeria lies partly in the mutual distrust occasioned by the unsettled issues of ‘power rotation’, ‘resource sharing’ as well as the widening economic disparity between regional blocs of the principally Islamic North and largely Christian South with possible central state responses that might increase rather than reduce the conflicts, while in South Africa the threat lies in the high level of inequality between the white and black communities. Radical political action to address this inequality might increase the already high level of violence in the country. Such tension could ultimately lead to the break-up of the ANC, but an end to dominant-party politics in South Africa could as well destabilise rather than consolidate democracy. Similarly, in Nigeria, a break-up of the PDP, which has been nearly made possible due to a crisis of confidence in an ‘elite consensus’ on power rotation among the regional blocs, could as well constitute a threat to democratic consolidation and national integration.
College of Social Sciences & International Studies, University of Exeter, UK
PhD in Politics