OPPOSITION POLITICS IN AFRICA By Tony Ademiluyi

The opposition or the government in waiting plays a vital role in the political development of any country. It exists to offer constructive criticisms and prevent the ruling party from getting disconnected to the people. However in Africa it is seen as an evil that has to be dispensed with. In the aborted first Republic in Nigeria, the ruling Northern Peoples Congress clipped the wings of the powerful Action Congress led by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. It sent Awolowo fondly known as Awo who was the leader of the opposition in the Federal House of Representatives and the other party leaders notable among them were Lateef Jakande and Anthony Enahoro to gaol for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government of Tafawa Balewa. This greatly weakened the party and led to the creation of the Mid West – a reduction of the size of the Western region while other regions were left intact.

In Ghana, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah outlawed both the trade unions and the opposition parties making his Convention Peoples Party the only legal party in the country once known as the Gold coast. The passage of the Preventive Detention Act which gave the President discretionary powers to imprison political opponents weakened the base of the opposition. Opposition leaders such as Kofi Busia who later became Prime Minister were forced to go into exile while Joseph Danquah of the United Gold Coast Convention who played a prominent role in the independence struggle died in detention in 1964. The lack of a prominent opposition in parliament made the Referendum for Nkrumah’s Life Presidency smooth sailing.

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has effectively muscled out the opposition in the country once known as Rhodesia. Political pundits watched with consternation of the way and manner Joshua Nkomo, a fellow liberation struggle fighter who was even more popular but had the misfortune of hailing from a minority group was schemed out of political power. Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change has been to hell and back in his role as the country’s major opposition leader. He was charged with treason in 2000 but it was dropped. In 2002, he was charged with a plot to assassinate Mugabe but was acquitted. He was tortured in prison in 2007 – suffered a cracked skull and passed out three times. He was detained while campaigning for the presidential election in 2007 and his bodyguard, Nhamo Musekiwa was murdered in questionable circumstances. Elections have been consistently rigged in favour of the Zimbabwean National Union-Peoples Front led by Mugabe who is allegedly plotting to hand over power to his ambitious wife. The opposition MDC is a mere shadow of itself.

The thirty year rule of deposed Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak saw the muscling of all opposition parties in the cradle of the world’s civilization. The National Democratic Party was the only legal party allowed to operate and consistently returned Mubarak to power. The Arab Spring expanded the space of the opposition and saw the rise of the most vociferous – The Islamic Brotherhood who nearly took over power in 2012.

Togo has largely been in the grip of the Eyadema’s since 1967 – the late Gnassingbe and his son Faure. The opposition led by Gilchrist Olympio, the son of the assassinated first Togolese President, Sylvanus Olympio has been through hell and high water especially while Gnassingbe Eyadema held sway. Violent acts were meted to the younger Olympio with constant threats to his life and his forced exile made the elections in the former French colony worse than a farce. If not for the intervention of ECOWAS, the country would have been surreptitiously turned into a monarchy as Faure took over after his father passed on in the most undemocratic manner. He still later won the elections despite his father’s misrule and high handedness. It was clear that the opposition was non-existent in the tiny West African country.

The fate of the opposition in most African countries has been pitiable. Independence only created dictators out of many rulers who outlawed any form of dissent which the opposition represented. Felix Houphet-Boigny of Cote D’Ivoire, Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal, Paul Biya of Cameroun who has been in power for 33 years now, Yahyah Jammeh of the Gambia, Sekou Toure of Guinea, Mbasogo Nguema of Equitorial Guinea amongst many others hated the opposition and made life an existential hell for the dissenters.

Is it all doom for the opposition in Africa? There is a glimmer of hope. Who could have believed that the National Democratic Congress founded by Jerry Rawlings would lose the 2000 elections when it fielded the late Professor John Evans Atta-Mills as its candidate despite the looming image of Rawlings who was known by the masses as Junior Jesus? Atta-Mills was later to defeat Nana Akufo-Addo of the National Patriotic Party whose party was in power under John Agyekum Kuffour. In Cote D’Ivoire, Alassane Quattara was able to defeat the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo in 2010. The success of the opposition is still moving at a snail speed but with grit and determination, we shall get there.