Changes in African political structures after independence

Changes in African political structures after independence

Evolution of Political Structures

  • The period following decolonisation saw the birth of new political systems in Africa, with many newly-independent nations experimenting with different forms of governance.
  • Leroy Vail’s theory of ‘the invention of tradition’ points to the influence of colonial legacies on postcolonial political structures, with many African countries often reverting to reconstituted traditional political models.

One-Party States

  • One common feature was the formation of One-Party States, with ruling parties presenting themselves as a unifying force capable of transcending tribal and ethnic divisions.
  • Countries like Ghana under Nkrumah and Tanzania under Nyerere employed socialist-inspired political systems with a single dominant party.
  • In this system, the opposition was often suppressed, contributing to a deficient democratic process.

Military Rule and Coups

  • In several instances, political power was seized by the military through coups d’etat, a reflection of the instability in many post-independence nations.
  • Nigeria, Ghana, and Uganda among others witnessed military coups that displaced democratically elected governments.
  • Typically, these coups were justified with promises to eradicate corruption and establish order, but often resulted in authoritarian regimes, perpetuating political instability.

Multi-Party Democracies

  • A few African countries managed to establish multi-party democracies where power changed hands among different political parties via free elections.
  • Botswana is a leading example of a successful multi-party system that has maintained stable governance since independence in 1966.

Independence Movements transforming into Political Parties

  • Numerous independence movements transitioned into political parties, maintaining their central role in post-colonial governance.
  • The African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) in Zimbabwe are key examples of this trend.


  • A political system called Neo-Patrimonialism has also contributed to governance in post-colonial Africa, where power is centralised around a single leader who maintains authority through patronage networks.
  • This system can breed corruption and inefficiency, as leaders often reward allies with public resources causing economic instability.