A Comparative Analysis of the Development of Political Parties in Congo, Kenya and Zambia

Sabine C. Carey. 2002. Democratization 9(3): 53-71.



This article compares the characteristics and development of the main political parties of Kenya, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, starting from their independence in the 1960s up to the late 1990s. It offers an exploratory analysis of the differences and similarities that might have led to the, more or less, successful establishment of political parties and democratic regimes in these countries. The parties are compared along four dimensions: colonial heritage, the saliency of ethnicity, political communication between the party elite and the periphery, and their link to civil society. The study shows that the development of national parties at the time of independence was severely hindered by the colonizers. The inherited political structures encouraged the exploitation of both ethnic and regional links and further strengthened patronage networks. But also in more recent years, political leaders have used ethnicity as a strategic tool to strengthen their position in power. The comparative analysis shows that in those countries in which ethnicity was most salient, political parties were less democratic and less favourable for democratization. The analysis also highlights that the country with the least active political communication had the most difficult path towards a multiparty system. Finally, the article suggests that a civil society that is truly independent from the government, and incorporates powerful players in urban areas, is most likely to contribute to the development of a competitive party system.