African Countries Begin to Revive Democratization Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A number of African countries—including Zambia, the Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Mali, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and the Central African Republic—established democratic governments, setting the example for other African governments to follow suit.

Summary of Event

The exhilaration of freedom from European colonial rule and the initial hopes for a prosperous, harmonious, and democratic future in sub-Saharan Africa proved to be short-lived, crumbling under the realities of military coups, one-party dominance, authoritarianism, and lingering internal enmity among various ethnic groups. This resulted in impoverishment in nearly every region of the continent. Democracy;African nations [kw]African Countries Begin to Revive Democratization (Aug., 1991) [kw]Democratization, African Countries Begin to Revive (Aug., 1991) Democracy;African nations [g]Africa;Aug., 1991: African Countries Begin to Revive Democratization[08160] [g]Malawi;Aug., 1991: African Countries Begin to Revive Democratization[08160] [g]Zambia;Aug., 1991: African Countries Begin to Revive Democratization[08160] [g]Madagascar;Aug., 1991: African Countries Begin to Revive Democratization[08160] [g]Congo, Republic of the;Aug., 1991: African Countries Begin to Revive Democratization[08160] [g]Ghana;Aug., 1991: African Countries Begin to Revive Democratization[08160] [g]Central African Republic;Aug., 1991: African Countries Begin to Revive Democratization[08160] [g]Mali;Aug., 1991: African Countries Begin to Revive Democratization[08160] [g]Mozambique;Aug., 1991: African Countries Begin to Revive Democratization[08160] [g]Guinea-Bissau;Aug., 1991: African Countries Begin to Revive Democratization[08160] [c]Government and politics;Aug., 1991: African Countries Begin to Revive Democratization[08160] Banda, Hastings Kamuzu Kaunda, Kenneth Ratsiraka, Didier Zafy, Albert Sassou Nguesso, Denis Rawlings, Jerry John Kolingba, André Traoré, Moussa Vieira, Bernardo Chissano, Joaquim

As Africa became increasingly involved in global Cold War politics, strong-armed despots who claimed to be anti-Communist secured money, arms, and even military support from the United States and Western democracies because Western nations feared that strategic areas would fall under Soviet influence. Other tyrants—notably those in Guinea and the Republic of the Congo—chose to play on self-proclaimed Marxist and Socialist credentials to secure Soviet support to retain power. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War by the early 1990’s had a triple effect: Western governments were no longer inclined to prop up repressive regimes, assistance to Soviet client states gradually dried up as the Soviet Union weakened, and—inspired by the downfall of the Eastern European one-party states—dissident groups in Africa were emboldened to greater militancy in their demands for more freedom. While most international observers focused on the liberation struggle in South Africa as it developed during the years following Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the subsequent dismantling of apartheid, less-publicized democratization movements taking place in other parts of Africa achieved varying levels of success.

In Ghana, Ghana, government the first sub-Saharan state to achieve independence from colonial rule, the Provisional National Defense Council, under the leadership of Jerry John Rawlings, wielded absolute power beginning in 1981. In 1992, a largely peaceful but persistent campaign by Adu Boahen provoked a constitutional transition to a multiparty system. The stage was set for a presidential election between Boahen’s newly legalized New Patriotic Party (NPP) and Rawlings’s political apparatus, which was now called the National Democratic Congress (NDC). Rawlings, a charismatic and reasonably likable personality, retained enough popular appeal to prevail in the voting to remain president for another nine years.

In contrast, one of the more violently repressive regimes in Africa, that in Mali—which had held sway since a military coup on November 19, 1968—was led by former army Lieutenant Moussa Traoré. His Democratic Union of the Malian People (UDPM) was the only sanctioned political party. By 1990, the National Committee of Democratic Initiative (CNID) had been formed to challenge the UDPM’s stranglehold on power. A demonstration in the capital city of Bamako, organized by the CNID and student activists, culminated in an uprising that raged through the streets from March 25 to March 29, 1991. Although the military ultimately crushed the insurgency, Traoré was arrested and deposed. A temporary government striving for national conciliation drafted a constitution in August of 1991. It established a multiparty electoral system. On April 26, 1992, Alpha Oumar Konaré was elected president of Mali. Mali, government

The government of Guinea-Bissau, Guinea-Bissau[Guinea Bissau];government formerly known as Portuguese Guinea, had been monopolized by Bernardo Vieira and the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) since 1973. Multiparty politics were allowed in May of 1991. It was not until July 3, 1994, that free elections were held, however, with Vieira the clear victor. In contrast, Benin’s unpopular dictator Mathieu Kérékou triggered strident protests and was repudiated emphatically at the polls in 1991, in favor of Nicéphore Soglo.

In the Central African Republic, Central African Republic, government the military strongman André Kolingba clung obstinately to power initially, but then was forced by the French government—which had previously bankrolled his regime—to hold elections. In October, 1993, Kolingba was decisively defeated by longtime opposition leader Ange-Félix Patassé. Patassé, Ange-Félix The neighboring Republic of the Congo was a Marxist-Socialist state that had become unviable by 1991. Again, the French were instrumental in compelling the dictator, Denis Sassou Nguesso, to hold democratic elections. In July of 1992, Pascal Lissouba Lissouba, Pascal won a runoff presidential vote.

The oldest dictator in Africa was Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, who, by 1992, was approximately ninety-four years old and had ruled in an increasingly iron-fisted manner for twenty-eight years. Although his physical vigor and grasp of reality had markedly declined, he adamantly resisted change until strikes, riots, and foreign condemnation made him set up elections. In 1994, Banda was voted out in favor of Bakili Muluzi. Muluzi, Bakili

Kenneth Kaunda came to power in Zambia Zambia, government at the same time as Banda had in Malawi and assumed similarly notorious status. Kaunda had assumed the presidential office immediately following his country’s independence from Britain and, from 1964 to 1972, Zambia operated under a multiparty system. However, Kaunda and his United National Independence Party (UNIP) systematically intimidated and legally obstructed all opposition factions until Kaunda proclaimed a one-party dictatorship in 1972.

By 1990, discontent arising from Kaunda’s increasingly repressive methods, and the country’s economic malaise that resulted from Kaunda’s semisocialist policies, brought about the illegal formation of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMP). After food-price riots and a nearly successful military coup, Kaunda acquiesced to holding elections. In October, 1991, MMD leader Frederick Chiluba Chiluba, Frederick was elected overwhelmingly to the presidency.

In 1992, Mozambique ended a lengthy civil war between the warring FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique, or Mozambique Liberation Front) FRELIMO and RENAMO (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana, or Mozambican National Resistance) factions. RENAMO Mozambique;government The subsequent elections of October 27-29, 1994, resulted in a victory for FRELIMO and its leader Joachim Chissano, who continued to serve in the presidential seat he had held since 1986.

In Madagascar, former Lieutenant-Commander Didier Ratsiraka’s military regime had control. In 1989, a rigged election ignited riots and an international outcry for change. A transitional government planned and held elections in February, 1993. Albert Zafy assumed the presidency after winning by a substantial margin. Madagascar, government

Democratization was also implemented with relative ease and minimal resistance in Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Guinea, Cameroon, Gabon, Burundi, Angola, and Kenya. Similarly, from February, 1990, to March, 1992, these countries agreed that new constitutions, establishing multiparty systems with reformed—in some cases, monitored—electoral procedures were to be included and set into operation. Even in the autocratic state of Equatorial Guinea, a liberalized constitution and free contested elections were promised.


The impact of the democratization revival of the early 1990’s varied from one nation to another. In some instances, it appeared that little lasting effect was achieved: Vieira in Guinea-Bissau, Sassou Nguesso in the Congo, and Ratsiraka in Madagascar all eventually returned to power. By 2007, Guinea, Chad, Niger, and Mauritania had reverted to authoritarianism. Kenya’s reforms proved merely cosmetic. Equatorial Guinea’s democratic vision never progressed beyond lip service, and oppression remained the norm.

Democratization struck deeper roots in Ghana, Benin, and Mali. The ultimate success or failure of the early 1990’s movements that instituted multiparty civilian governments in Africa remained ambivalent. Democracy;African nations

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Allen, Philip M. Madagascar: Conflicts of Authority on the Great Island. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1995. Clear, concise summary of the political disturbances in an enigmatic and little-known land.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gocking, Roger. The History of Ghana. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2005. Jerry Rawlings is credited with influencing the direction of Ghanian democratization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Meredith, Martin. The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair: A History of Fifty Years of Independence. New York: Public Affairs, 2005. Provides excellent analysis of postcolonial Africa. Directly links the colonial legacy with the problems experienced in establishing democracy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shillington, Kevin. A History of Africa. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Presents a summary of the rise of authoritarianism and the counteractive democratic surge of the 1990’s.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, Malinda S., ed. Globalizing Africa. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2003. Expresses a more pessimistic view than most sources and depicts the democracy movement as a long-term failure.

Organization of African Unity Adopts the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Chissano Succeeds Machel in Mozambique

Rawlings Wins Reelection to Ghana’s Presidency

Democracy Returns to Nigeria

Categories: History