Two-party system, panacea to political instability – Don
By; MATTHEW UKACHUNWA, Lagos
A Professor of Political Science has recommended two-party system as a panacea to Africa’s ethno-political challenges.
Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Chairman of Nigeria’s 2014 National Conference, made this assertion at Aelex Annual Lecture in Lagos.
“A two-party system, whether imposed by the constitution or evolving naturally is the best antidote to the invidiousness of ethnic politics,” he stressed while speaking on the theme, “African Countries: Politics, Democracy and Ethnicity.”
Akinyemi blamed African elites and politicians for using ethnic politics “as the equivalent of a water faucet to be turned on and off to satisfy the whims and caprices of the political elite.”
According to him, the main issue which confronts ethnicity in the electoral conundrum in Africa is how to build an inclusive electoral system which turns the ethnic kaleidoscopy into a positive factor.
He noted that African countries should take measures to play down ethnic problems and enthrone unity of purpose in politics. Among these measures is “one man one vote” electoral system.
However, the erudite scholar pointed out that “one man one vote” is yet to become universally embraced. “When we think democracy,” Akinyemi argued, “the practice of democracy worldwide is not based on “one man one vote.”
He justified his opinion by stating that countries that practice the presidential system come closest to the “one man one vote” paradigm.
On the other side, those countries which practice a joint Presidential/Parliamentary system, a straight Parliamentary system and proportional representation are very far from the “One man one vote”; but are “close to the Lincolnian definition of democracy as “government of the people, by the people and for the people’” he expatiated.
He said that a system that recognizes the plurality of the constituents of the population such as religion, ethnic origin, gender or any other is close to the essence of democracy.
Akinyemi was worried over the failure of African politicians in playing all-inclusive politics. According to him, “it is the failure of the African political system to interrogate the ethnic conundrum that still constitutes the major stumbling block to nation-building.
The professor also reviewed Nigeria’s efforts in getting rid of ethnic sentiments in politics. He disclosed that Nigerian political system, whether under the military or civilian, has adopted a balanced North/South, Christian/Muslim ticket at the federal level as a possible way out. Nevertheless, there are still forces opposed to any form of balancing in some states, he disclosed.
Other measures taken by Nigerian government to beat the divisive and imbalance nature of ethnicity include the Federal Character policy.
“There is another convention which has crept into use and that is the principle of rotation between the North and the South at presidential elections,” Akinyemi said. “The same principle has crept into elections at state levels, with candidates being rotated among senatorial districts and between religious divides.
He stressed that African states have made efforts to rid the continent of ethnic biases of its statehood, but regretted it has not been easy for this part of the world. He gave examples such as Tanzania, Kenya, among others. “The interrelationship between African politics, democracy and ethnicity is a very complex one!” he exclaimed.
Akinyemi enthused that the Organization of African Unity (OAU) can be regarded as an institutional response mechanism to solving ethnic problems in Africa. “Most African states are unitary, by constitution, even when some of these countries were multi-ethnic in nature. A few are federal states by constitution. To that extent, the federal structure may be regarded as an internal circle within a state as a response mechanism”.
Moreover, he emphasized that each African states has its own response to multi-ethnic politics.
The lecturer blamed ethnicity syndrome in Africa on colonialism and slave trade, describing them as “two relevant factors which have had overriding influences on the issues under discussion.
While Africans continue to anxiously battle the ethnicity malaise, the erudite political scientist calmed frayed nerves when he said “but, to put things in a broader perspective, this situation is not unique to Africa. Very few countries in the world are uni-ethnic”. Citing example he added “even now, it has become an open debate how long the United Kingdom would remain united in the face of a resurgence of Welsh and Scotish nationalism,”