East Africa or Eastern Africa is the easterly region of the African continent, variably defined by geography or geopolitics. it comprises two traditionally recognized regions: East Africa, made up of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda; and the Horn of Africa, made up of Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.
Eastern Africa consists largely of plateaus and has most of the highest elevations in the continent. The two most striking highlands are in Ethiopia and Kenya, respectively, where large areas reach elevations of 6,500 to 10,000 feet (2,000 to 3,000 metres). Twin parallel rift valleys that are part of the East African Rift System run through the region. The Eastern, or Great, Rift Valley extends from the Red Sea’s junction with the Gulf of Aden southward across the highlands of Ethiopia and Kenya and continues on into Tanzania. The Western Rift Valley curves along the western borders of Uganda and Tanzania. Between the two rift valleys lies a plateau that comprises most of Uganda and western Tanzania and includes Lake Victoria. The volcanic massif of Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, reaches 19,340 feet (5,895 metres) in northeastern Tanzania. The Horn of Africa, a major peninsular extension of the African mainland into the Arabian Sea, contains the vast lowland coastal plains of Somalia.
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In the UN scheme of geographic regions, 20 territories constitute Eastern Africa:
• Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi – in Central East Africa, are also included in the African Great Lakes region and are members of the East African Community (EAC). Burundi and Rwanda are sometimes also considered to be part of Central Africa.
• Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia – collectively known as the Horn of Africa.
• Comoros, Mauritius and Seychelles – small island nations in the Indian Ocean.
• Réunion and Mayotte – French overseas territories also in the Indian Ocean.
• Mozambique and Madagascar – often considered part of Southern Africa, on the eastern side of the sub-continent. Madagascar has close cultural ties to Southeast Asia and the islands of the Indian Ocean.
• Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe – often also included in Southern Africa, and formerly of the Central African Federation.
• Egypt, Sudan and South Sudan (newly independent from Sudan) – collectively part of the Nile Valley. Situated in the northeastern portion of the continent, and are often included in Northern Africa. Also members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) free trade area.
Due to colonial territories of the British East Africa Protectorate and German East Africa, the term East Africa is often (especially in the English language) used to specifically refer to the area now comprising the three countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. However, this has never been the convention in many other languages, where the term generally had a wider, strictly geographic context and therefore typically included Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan.

The decolonization of east Africa followed World War II as colonized peoples agitated for independence and colonial powers withdrew their administrators from Africa.
The only two world powers to officially and actively support African decolonization through the entire 20th century were the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China — all others varied their opinions from the strong and stubborn defense of colonialism to a half-hearted support to fait-accompli situations.
Ideally, political parties should be the institutional transmission belt that conveys the will of the voter to government and back. They are the vehicle through which popular sovereignty is expressed and then transformed into public policy and action. In addition, multiple parties provide a mechanism for competition, so that voters have a choice in conveying their mandate to the rulers. In and of itself, competition has an intrinsic value: it forces parties to provide a better ‘product’ to the voter. In a sense, therefore, it is difficult to conceive of a practical democracy without parties except in small communities where direct democracy may be still practicable
The East African countries have allowed considerable numbers of political parties to register. Again, Kenya leads the field with 66 registered political parties. At the opposite extreme, the seven main Sudanese political parties have been operating under such difficult conditions since 1989, when all secular political organizations were banned, that it would be difficult to describe the country as one that upholds a party system. Sudan is a one-party civil–military autocracy that justifies its rule on religious grounds. Since 2005, the ruling party has extended power sharing to some regional parties without compromising that basic position. Again, the other three countries fall in between. Next to Kenya, Tanzania has a relatively liberal party structure, with 25 registered parties. Uganda and Ethiopia have both allowed the registration of a plurality of parties but freedom for opposition parties remains severely constrained.


Uganda represents the global pattern of a dominant authoritarian party that is ill disposed to open and fair electoral competition from other parties. The Ugandan Government resisted the introduction of multiparty competition more strongly than any of the governments in the region, except Sudan’s. President Yoweri K. Museveni came to power in 1986 following a six-year guerrilla campaign against the central government. His position was that party competition was responsible for the country’s violent post-independence history. He was determined from the start that his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM)—an offshoot of the guerrilla army that brought him to power—would be transformed into an all-inclusive national political ‘movement’, not a party. Parties in Uganda, Museveni said quite rightly, had tended to be sectarian and ethnically focused in the past.
Nevertheless, pressure for political pluralism mounted, and a referendum inviting Ugandans to decide for or against a multiparty system was organized in 2000. Scared that multiparty politics would reintroduce violence, and partly because of electoral irregularities, Ugandans voted 90 per cent in favour of the ‘movement system’. But agitation for multiparty politics did not cease. Opposition parties began to operate more or less openly. In another referendum on the subject held on 28July 2005, 92 per cent of the voters opted for a multiparty system. This followed a 2004 court order declaring restrictions on opposition political parties unconstitutional. The dominant political party is the National Resistance Movement (NRM)

In one-dominant-party systems, political parties in opposition, although given free rein by the government, tend to be small, fragmented and ultimately ineffectual in providing a credible alternative to the main party in ideological and policy terms.
This was largely the case in mainland Tanzania (Tanganyika as it was then) in the two pre-independence elections (in 1958 and 1960) and also after multiparty politics was reintroduced in 1995 following prolonged agitation for political pluralism in the early 1990s.
The autonomous island of Zanzibar, however, represents a very different situation: essentially it has a two-party system that reflects a sharp ethnic cleavage between Africans in Zanzibar (represented by the former Afro-Shirazi Party, now the Revolutionary State Party (Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM))-Zanzibar, on the one International, and on the other Zanzibaris of Omani origin in alliance with Africans from Pemba Island (represented by the Civic United Front, CUF). Here yet again the FPTP majoritarian system has aggravated the political situation rather than help it.
Zanzibar’s party politics are as turbulent as those of the mainland are calm. The Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) was the party that won independence from the United Kingdom in 1961, under the leadership of the late President Julius K. Nyerere. It is remarkable testimony to the wide national following the party commanded even at the time that, in the election preceding independence, in 1960, it won 70 of the 71 seats being contested. The winner of the single seat won by a non-TANU candidate immediately joined TANU, leaving the country without a viable parliamentary opposition; he had stood as an independent candidate only because he was opposed to the official TANU candidate. President Nyerere won 99.2 per cent of the votes cast in the 1962 presidential election, compared to 0.8 per cent cast for the only opponent, Zuberi Mtevu of the African National Congress. By
the time Nyerere moved to declare Tanzania a one-party state in 1965, Tanzania had made it so by popular choice.

Multiparty politics was restored in Kenya in 1991 after prolonged demands for change, often violently suppressed. In August 1992, however, Kenya’s incumbent ruling party (the Kenya African National Union, KANU) amended the constitution to outlaw the formation of coalition governments, sensing that the divided opposition parties would go into the December 1992 elections separately

Party politics was unknown for most of Ethiopia’s history since it was an absolute monarchy until the 1974 revolution, when the Dirgue overthrew the government of Emperor Haille Selassie II. The Dirgue instituted single-party rule in 1984 after its first decade in power when it pursued a revolutionary socialist policy. Thus the Ethiopian Workers’ Party came into being after a decade when there were effectively no political parties of any description. It was modelled on the monolithic Soviet bloc ruling parties.
A more relaxed but never truly free party system had to await the violent overthrow of the Mengistu Haille Mariam government in 1991 by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition under the leadership of Meles Zenawi. The EPRDF had fought a protracted guerrilla war for 18 years against the Dirgue, principally in Tigrai. Like the NRM in Uganda, the EPRDF was a guerrilla army with a socialist revolutionary agenda that transformed itself into a ruling party.
Ethiopia is most accurately described as a one dominant-coalition party state. As constituted in 1991, the EPR DF is actua lly a coa lition of five parties united by their mutual antipathy to the Mengistu dictatorship. The dominant partner was and still is the Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) led by Meles Zenawi. The other four parties in the EPRDF are the Amhara National Democratic Movement, the South Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization, and the Ethiopian United Peoples’ Democratic Force. Apart from the TPLF, none of these parties commands support in its ethnic homelands or in the capital. The EPRDF is therefore essentially the TPLF in power, a minority regional party.

Sudan has strong tradition of active political parties—secular, religious and sectarian in origin—that have dominated the political landscape of the country since competitive politics was introduced by the British colonial authorities after the Second World War. Sections of these parties have tended to break away and fuse into others.
The military dictatorships—of Gaffar al Nimeiry (1969–84) and now Omar Beshir (from 1989 to the present)—banned these parties.
The most influential political parties in the dominant north of the country are sectarian-based, and their origins go back to the Mahdist uprising in the 1880s.
They are (a) the Umma Party, founded in 1945 on the foundations of the AlAnsar sect, pledged to upholding the strict Islamic teachings of the Great Mahdi who led the popular religious revolt in 1883 against the Anglo-Egyptian condominium then ruling Sudan; and (b) the Democratic Unionist Party (a fusion of the People’s Democratic and National Unionist parties of the 1950), fronted by the Khatmiyya sect. The latter were traditional rivals of the Mahdists, based on the Mirghrani family, who had favoured closer integration with Nasserite Egypt. Both parties draw their core support from the north. Successive military governments in the country have tried to play them off against each other.
This, then, is the picture of the party system in Sudan at the end of 2005—a military dictatorship in pursuit of an Islamic state, flush with oil money, bringing parties into partnership with the government or discarding them as and when it suits it.

Party leadership in East Africa is strongly associated with founding personalities or those to whom leadership is bequeathed by the original leaders. In Sudan we have already seen the role played by the el Mahdi family in the Umma Party and the Mirghrani family in the Democratic Unionist Party. In Tanzania, as long as Julius Nyerere was alive (even after he gave up the presidency in 1985) he wielded overwhelming influence over the operations and philosophy of the CCM; indeed, it was at his suggestion in 1991 that the party decided to open up Tanzania to multiparty competition. The Uganda People’s Congress consulted Milton Obote,
its founder, throughout all his years of exile in Zambia. When he died, the party nominated his widow as its presidential candidate. In Kenya, the Kenyatta family supported KANU both before and after the rule of President Daniel Arap Moi. Even when parties do not have a long history, they tend to be identified with strong personalities behind them—Yoweri Museveni with the NRM; Meles Zenawi with the EPRDF; and John Garang with the SPLM. Very often, the philosophy and the day-to-day management of the party depend on the leader. In his heyday in Kenya, Daniel Arap Moi ordered party branch elections on the basis of petitions addressed
to him personally. It was his personal decision, in December 1991, to yield to his critics’ demands for multiparty politics, an announcement that took many of his most vocal supporters by surprise.
This style of leadership selection and management may have the advantage of relying on tried and tested hands and of predictability. But on the whole we were not able to find any political party in East Africa that has held regular elections for the membership to choose its leaders. Even in the CCM, the most open and participatory of all of them, the leadership is chosen by consensus resulting from broad consultation, rather than open competition and voting.
This style does have severe drawbacks. The passing of a leader or his exit from power could put the party in jeopardy, if not practically destroy it. KANU in Kenya functioned for a while after Arap Moi left the presidency in 2003. It even held bitterly contested and divisive national elections the following year. But after an internal schism that saw the exit and registration of a ‘New Kanu’ faction, and defeat in several by-elections, in 2006 KANU was considering either merger with the resurgent opposition coalition, the ODM, or allowing its members to take out personal membership in the ODM and, in effect, belong to two parties at once. This split the party even more. In Uganda, Kabaka Yekka has proved impossible to revive without the personal participation of the kabaka (king) of Buganda. The fortunes of the FDC are closely tied to those of Kizza Besigye. The SPLM has been under internal stress after the death of John Garang. All these developments betray the lack of strong institutional foundations in East Africa’s political parties that can guarantee leadership from one personality to the next, and one generation to another.

As stated above, political parties are the Cinderella of democratization studies and funding in Africa. In a modest effort to close that gap, a considerable part of this report has focused on the political parties and party systems in five East African countries—Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. These countries have some similarities, but upon closer inspection there are also some gaping differences, especially on this subject. In this concluding section of the report, we attempt to flesh out some generalizations that apply to the region, and to account for the differences between countries, before proceeding to some suggestions as to what could be done to advance our understanding of party systems in Africa.
The capacity and effectiveness of party systems are strongly conditioned by the degree of political liberty and tolerance in a country. After 2002, Kenya seems to have made considerable progress in widening the scope of multiparty competition and individual freedom. This was the result of two decades of pro-democracy activism. Kenya’s lead is followed by Tanzania and to a lesser extent Uganda. The same cannot, however, be said of Ethiopia and Sudan. Opposition parties in Uganda and Ethiopia, in particular, operate under severe political constraints, and in Sudan
they can only resume activity at the pleasure of the government. The scope of liberal political activism (and of political parties) is narrowest in Sudan. Still, the party systems in the five countries bear some similarities.
• Fragility and structural weaknesses, particularly in parties that are not associated with the government in power. Parties in general lack strong organizational capability; recruitment of new members is intermittent; fund-raising is weak; and management is lax and often informal.
• Lack of adherence to formal rules, regulations, procedures and programmes. Practically all the parties have constitutions, but the operative procedures for internal elections, discipline and publicity are lax and often unwritten.
• Leadership centred on a dominant personality, family or clique, often commanding a substantial popular following. Major decisions are therefore made at this level.
Most parties are dominated by strong personalities (or families) for historical and social reasons. Followers identify parties with personalities and accord them support on that basis, not on account of the party’s platform or ideology.
• A strong tendency for parties to break up and fuse with others over and over again. Parties out of government are especially vulnerable to this endless fusion and fission. For this reason parties (in the formal legal sense) tend to have short lives, as they mutate into new coalitions, merge, or reinvent themselves. Almost the only thing that remains constant is the cultural and ethnic base.
• A weak and unreliable financial and human resource base. We encountered no party out of government that had a sound financial base as a result of membership support. As a result, it has proved difficult to recruit and retain qualified staff to manage the business of the party.
• The FPTP majoritarian electoral system. This seems to have a negative effect on the representation of political parties in government. FPTP systems have an inherent tendency to exclude even major parties from power, particularly in systems like those in East Africa (outside Tanzania) where membership is confined to regions or ethnic groups.
• Lack of a mass membershiprecruited from primary associations, notably ethnic groups, particular regions, traditional and religious groups, and social movements. Again, with the exception of the CCM in Tanzania, parties in East Africa tend to have a narrowly-based membership built on pre-existing social organizations.

1. United Nations Statistics Division – Standard Country and Area Codes Classifications
2. Robert Stock, Africa South of the Sahara, Second Edition: A Geographical Interpretation, (The Guilford Press: 2004), p. 26
3. IRIN Africa
4. Michael Hodd, East Africa Handbook, 7th Edition, (Passport Books: 2002), p. 21: “To the north are the countries of the Horn of Africa comprising Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia.”
5. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc, Jacob E. Safra, The New Encyclopædia Britannica, (Encyclopædia Britannica: 2002), p.61: “The northern mountainous area, known as the Horn of Africa, comprises Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia.”
6. Sandra Fullerton Joireman, Institutional Change in the Horn of Africa, (Universal-Publishers: 1997), p.1: “The Horn of Africa encompasses the countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. These countries share similar peoples, languages, and geographical endowments.”
7. “Eastern Africa Power Pool”. EAPP. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
8. CIA – The World Factbook
9. “East Africa”. The New Oxford Dictionary of English, Judy Pearsall, ed. 2001. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; p. 582. “The eastern part of the African continent, especially the countries of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.”
10. Robert M. Maxon, East Africa: An Introductory History, 2 Revised edition, (West Virginia University: 1994), p. 1
11. Mary Fitzpatrick and Tom Parkinson, Lonely Planet East Africa, 7th edition, (Lonely Planet Publications: 2006), p. 13
12. Stock, Africa South of the Sahara, Second Ed., p. 24
13. Somaliland is not included in the United Nations geoscheme, as it is internationally recognized as a part of Somalia.
14. “East Africa”. Merriam-Webster’s Geographical Dictionary, 3rd ed. 2001. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.; p. 339. “A term often used of the area now comprising the countries of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Somalia; sometimes used to include also other neighboring countries of E Africa.”

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