We need genuine political parties in Africa which can assert themselves and impose party supremacy over every member, but they should not be so powerful as to make the people weak. As the ANC slogan goes: “The people Must Govern!”


The ruling African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, and its Nigerian counterpart, the All Progressives Congress (APC) are each a ‘Congress’. However, while the ANC is a political party, which during the Anti-Apartheid struggle transformed into a peoples’ movement, the APC lays claims to what it is not – a political party. The fact that a butterfly has wings and can fly, does not make it a bird.

Founding South African democratic president, Nelson Mandela was as big as a politician can come; his image loomed large, not only over his country and Africa, but the entire universe. Yet he was contained within the ANC to the extent that when he was released, the position the party had for him was deputy president under the less charismatic and far less known Oliver Tambo. But Tambo was quite sick, and the party, in its wisdom, named the secretary general, Alfred Nzo, the acting president. This was more because Mandela had been in jail for twenty seven years and the party was not sure if, at that time, he was sufficiently abreast of the ANC’s principles and policies to lead it. Mandela himself was disciplined enough to understand that despite his overwhelming influence in the country and worldwide, he was not bigger than the party. In his autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom he wrote: “My first responsibility (after being freed) was to report to the leadership of the ANC.”

Mandela had all the characteristics of a messiah but what the ANC saw was a man; its cadre who had survived a long, harsh imprisonment for the struggle and had returned to join it. Outside the party, he repeatedly told people, he was no messiah. In contrast, even the APC chairman, Mr. John Odigie-Oyegun wants Nigerians to accept, even if they would not believe, that President Muhammadu Buhari is a messiah. Just six days ago, he told Nigerians: “I want to tell you that to this nation, God sent a messiah, God sent President Buhari to heal the wounds of this nation.” As for party discipline, in comparison to the ANC, it virtually does not exist. The APC is not a body that can exercise power and control over its members, be they poor or wealthy, elected or unelected. Party supremacy is, of course, non-existent, as there must first be a political party, before it can assume and assert its supremacy. So while the APC in 2015 had its official candidates for the Senate presidency and deputy, House speaker and deputy speaker, it was unofficial candidates opposed to the party leadership that swept the posts, and they remain in power till date.

…unlike South Africa, multiparty democracy in Nigeria is a mere nomenclature sanctified by a dependent electoral body that claims to be independent, propelled by underage voters, some less than half the official electoral age, dignified by leading political structures with an abiding faith in rigging elections…


Unlike the ANC in which the party leader leads, in the APC, the party leader concedes leadership, at least to both the president and the national leader. But this is not peculiar to the party; all the Nigerian registered political parties that I know, are like the APC, contraptions and makeshift political platforms for elections. The fundamental difference between the ANC and Nigerian political parties is that while the former was formed with the people, the later are formed for the people; while the ANC members own the party by paying membership dues and funding the party, almost all registered parties in Nigeria, including the APC and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), pay their members even to attend basic party functions, while their national conventions are avenues for the ‘members’ or ‘delegates’ to enrich themselves, to reap bountiful harvests where they have not sown. So unlike South Africa, multiparty democracy in Nigeria is a mere nomenclature sanctified by a dependent electoral body that claims to be independent, propelled by underage voters, some less than half the official electoral age, dignified by leading political structures with an abiding faith in rigging elections, and certified as ‘having substantially complied with the electoral law’ by observers funded by partisan donors, and blessed by the ‘international community.’

Despite its good pedigree and orientation, the ANC is exhibiting troubling signs that it can be both a good and bad example of party supremacy. Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa was sworn in as the fifth president of South Africa on February 15. But of the five presidents, Nelson Mandela is the only one with the peoples’ mandate to have completed his tenure and handed over to a successor elected by the electorate. When his successor, Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki lost the ANC presidency to his deputy, Jacob Zuma, the party, exercising its supremacy, could not wait to get him thrown out. With nine months left to complete his second term in office, the ANC forced Mbeki to resign on September 20, 2008. Apart from losing the internal ANC elections and being considered somewhat dictatorial and aloof, Mbeki had no known scandals, and internationally, had a good image. These rumblings led to a split with leading ANC members like former defence minister, Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota, former deputy defence minister, Mluleki George and former premier of Gauteng Province, Mbhazima Samuel Shilowa, breaking away to found the Congress of the People (COPE).

Another powerful party is the Zimbabwean African National Union (ZANU-PF) in neigbouring Zimbabwe. Exercising party supremacy, ZAPU-PF has dominated the country’s political landscape since 1980 and decides who runs for what office and who does not. In December 2014, it sacked Vice President Joice Mujuru.


The man who completed the Mbeki term was Kgalema Petrus Motlanthe, whom the parliament elected by 269 of the 351 votes cast. The fourth president was Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. His team lost the December 2017 ANC elections to then Deputy President Ramaphosa. For a man dogged by scandals, it was not long before the ANC, exercising its supremacy, demanded and secured Zuma’s resignation. With such culture, it is not unlikely that the ANC may in future force Ramaphosa out of office.

Another powerful party is the Zimbabwean African National Union (ZANU-PF) in neigbouring Zimbabwe. Exercising party supremacy, ZAPU-PF has dominated the country’s political landscape since 1980 and decides who runs for what office and who does not. In December 2014, it sacked Vice President Joice Mujuru. The party picked President Robert Mugabe as its presidential candidate in the scheduled 2018 elections and on November 6, 2017, sacked Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. All these seemed settled matters. However, the military, nine days later, organised a coup putting Mugabe under house arrest and forcing some powerful party leaders to flee. It forced Mugabe to resign and the party reconvened to appoint Mnangagwa as president. It then continued in its old tradition. This is to the extent that when on Wednesday, February 22, former President Mugabe turned 94, the day was declared a public holiday to honour him, acknowledge and propagate his immense contributions to the country and the Black Race.

We need genuine political parties in Africa which can assert themselves and impose party supremacy over every member, but they should not be so powerful as to make the people weak. As the ANC slogan goes: “The people Must Govern!”

Owei Lakemfa, former Secretary General of African Workers is a Human Rights activist, journalist and author.