Time for Change in Africa

October 17, 1990

Kenneth Kaunda has been Zambia's president since soon after he led it to independence in 1964. Julius Nyerere was chief minister of Tanganyika after the election of 1960, president since 1962 and president of Tanzania (incorporating Zanzibar) since 1964. They are founding fathers still ruling, the last of the giants who brought English-speaking Black Africa to independence. Though each has recognized his rule is obsolete, they have reacted in different ways.

Both made their countries one-party states early on. They contended that British-style parliamentary democracy did not transplant to Africa, that tribalism cutting across national boundaries made it unworkable. But now the era they ushered in appears to be ending. Both acknowledge that not all is well. Tanzania is corrupt and economically unworkable. Zambia was beset by unrest all summer. In each country, something had to give. It was not the same in each.

Mr. Nyerere, at 68, says it is time to step down. He is one African leader who can be overthrown, not by coup or election, but by his own judgment. He gave up the presidency in 1986 to Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who has started to undo some socialism. But no one thought Mr. Mwinyi came from the right tribe to lead the country and Mr. Nyerere remained leader of the ruling party. Last month he gave that up, too. But he denounced any idea of ending one-party monopoly. There is some doubt about his retirement, a suspicion that, like Deng Xiaoping in China, so long as the Teacher lives, he is the country's senior leader.

Mr. Kaunda, at 66, has no intention of stepping down. But in the summer, he reluctantly granted a referendum on whether to bring back multi-party democracy. After postponing the referendum he abolished it and agreed to hold multi-party elections within a year. The ruling party agreed to give up its monopoly, and will enter the election with Mr. Kaunda its candidate for president.

These men outlived the eras of colonialism, of British-model democracy and, now, of great-man paternalism and one-party monopoly. What's good for Britain may not have been right for Africa, but what's bad for Eastern Europe is clearly wrong for Africa. For the moment, Tanzania maintains that the man is not indispensable but the party is, while Zambia clings to the opposite. Yet both regimes are conceding the need for some kind of change. With wisdom, which both have displayed in their day, these founding fathers should understand that a follow-on political system is for others -- the children of their revolutions -- to design.

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