The international donor community acting through the IMF and World Bank can force African dictators to declare multi-party elections, but can't make them lose. Foreign pressure cannot make the playing field level. It cannot ensure that the election will even be held.
President Daniel arap Moi of Kenya gave in to long and strong pressure from the United States and other donors, who withheld aid until he declared political parties legal, last December. With three quarreling opposition parties in place, he has dissolved parliament and scheduled an election for Dec. 7. If enough foreign observers pile in, the contest may be roughly fair. One way or another, the incumbent will probably win.
Mr. Moi succeeded to the dictatorship-presidency on the death of founder Jomo Kenyatta in 1978. There has not been a free election since independence in 1963. The ruling KANU party of the president has a monopoly on power. Even in sophisticated Kenya, human rights workers have been jailed and writers silenced. Like other African autocrats, Mr. Moi suggests that democracy is an alien import that can only bring out the destructive features of tribalism, and he does everything possible to fulfill his prophecy.
So don't cheer for Kenya's democratic victory yet. In Cameroon, an election was held Oct. 11, with many allegations of fraud and the dictator-president Paul Biya a putative winner over four others. The National Democratic Institute of Washington declared the election a failure and the results suspect. The victor has changed the rules to prevent a run-off and arrested the leading opposition candidate.
In mighty Nigeria, the military called off an election scheduled for Jan. 2, on grounds of corruption. In Malawi, the ancient dictator-president H. Kamuzu Banda acceded to pressure on Oct. 19, calling for a referendum on whether to hold multi-party elections. In Zaire, the hated President Mobutu Sese Seko resists calls for fair elections and hangs on amid anarchy. In Angola, where one of Africa's freest elections gave first place to Marxist President Jose Eduardo do Santos with a run-off necessary, former rebel leader Jonas Savimbi refused to accept the result.
The myths of one-party monopoly of power have been shattered in Africa. Dictatorship will not do. What must come is more diverse centers of power, freer discussion and the legitimacy of opposition and the press. Western models of democracy, however, are still alien grafts that are not sprouting unassisted from African soil.