Africa Update

Ivory Coast For the first time in three decades, opposition parties are being allowed to apply for legal standing to challenge the ruling party. At least five opposition parties had formally registered as of last Friday.

The ruling Democratic Party has dominated this West African nation since independence from France in 1960. But ``the national consensus on which the [ruling party] was based seems to be broken,'' a Democratic Party statement said, referring to recent protests. Opposition parties were legal under the Constitution, but none had been allowed to operate.

President F'elix Houphou"et-Boigny acted after several weeks of violent protests last month that were triggered by his proposed austerity measures. Demonstrators initially opposed wage cuts, but then began calling for the president's removal.

Ivory Coast's changes follow similar moves in Zaire, Gabon, and Benin, where public protests forced former one-party states to accept opposition groups.

Liberia

Americans and other foreigners began leaving Liberia last week to escape fighting between rebels and President Samuel Doe's Army which has continued since rebel leader Charles Taylor invaded northern Nimba county in late December.

An American Peace Corps volunteer and three relief workers were kidnapped by Liberian rebels last week, a French relief agency reported. Hundreds of Liberians have been killed in the fighting and more than 150,000 have escaped to Guinea and the Ivory Coast.

President Bush suspended Liberia from US trade benefits because of its failure to observe human rights standards.

Zambia

President Kenneth Kaunda, facing growing opposition to his one-party rule, has promised to call a referendum on whether the country should adopt a multiparty system.

``This should be decided by the people themselves ... I am a democrat through and through,'' Mr. Kaunda said. He has ruled Zambia since independence from Britain in 1964. The last referendum, in 1969, adopted a one-party state.

Only last month, Kaunda had publicly rejected the idea of a multiparty system.

Zaire

President Mobutu Sese Seko offered reassurances last Thursday that he would not reverse his surprise decision to convert this Central African nation to a multiparty system. Mr. Mobutu, who has held absolute power since Nov. 24, 1965, last month appointed a transitional government to oversee elections to install a democratic government within a year. Mobutu says that he will remain head of state because the Zairean people ``want me to continue to oversee the destiny of the country.''

Sierra Leone

President Joseph Momoh, citing the Constitution's establishment of a single-party system, said last week ``those who are thinking of a multiparty system have to hasten slowly.''

Gabon

After months of antigovernment protest, President Omar Bongo agreed last month to end single-party rule and permit democracy in the West African country.

The Gabonese leader says that multiparty rule is not a miracle cure. Nevertheless, he agreed to demands that parties be allowed to form immediately to contest legislative elections later this year.

Kenya

Last Thursday, two powerful former Cabinet ministers called for an immediate end to the one-party state in Kenya. Kenneth Matiba, a former transport minister, and Charles Rubia, the first black mayor of Nairobi, said in a joint statement that ``we believe our single party system is the root cause of the political, economic, and social woes we now face.''

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