THOUGH hedged with uncertainties, the trend toward democracy is picking up speed in Africa.
From the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean, domestic and international pressures are forcing military and authoritarian governments to accept multiparty reforms. Even in Sierra Leone, a poor West African state about the size of South Carolina, leaders of last Thursday's military coup will face internal and external pressure to return the country to multiparty democracy, according to Western analysts.
"The forces that are pushing toward democracy are continuing to gather strength," says I. William Zartman, director of African Studies at Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS). "The authoritarian resistance continues to loose its legitimacy."
Fresh signs of progress toward democracy are evident in several countries.
In West Africa:
* Nigeria's presidential primary elections are scheduled for May through mid-June in the final countdown to a transition from seven years of military to civilian rule by the end of the year. But two previous civilian governments were ousted by the military, which claimed it was acting against state corruption.
* In Ghana, another military state, voters on April 30 adopted a new constitution providing for multiparty elections, which are expected later this year.
But Ghanain opposition groups claim head of state Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings will attempt to rig the elections. They are calling for an interim government to be set up to conduct the elections.
* Mali's military is preparing to step down, probably next month, following the country's first-ever democratic election for president April 26.
But Mali's current military head of state, Lt. Col. Amadou Tumani Toure, told the Monitor earlier this year he does not rule out stepping back into power, as Mr. Rawlings once did in Ghana, if the new civilian administration fails to uphold national security and the Constitution.
In East Africa:
* Tanzania's Parliament showed unusual signs of independence last week in that one-party state. In a debate on a bill the ruling Revolutionary Party had already approved allowing multiparty elections in 1995, some legislators delayed the vote in an attempt to get stronger provisions into the bill.
* In Kenya, authoritarian President Daniel arap Moi was greeted by a sullen crowd at a May Day appearance in Nairobi, the capital. By contrast, the next day, thousands of Kenyans lined the roads and gathered at the Anglican All Saints Cathedral to roar their welcome to opposition leader Kenneth Matiba.
Mr. Matiba had been in London recovering from nearly a year in detention in Kenya in 1990 for advocating democratic reforms. He is a strong possible presidential candidate in elections that must be held by March 1993, according to the Constitution.
In December, President Moi bowed to domestic unrest and international pressure to allow formation of opposition parties.
As for Sierra Leone, coup leaders are likely to face international economic pressure to restore democracy, observers say.
"I can't see any basis for a military regime holding on very long," says Christopher Clapham, professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Lancaster in England.
"The Sierra Leone economy is in desperate trouble." To get Western aid, the military leaders will have to move toward restoration of democracy, he says.
A State Department official, discussing the Sierra Leone coup, says United States policy now has an "[implied] direct link between democracy and the aid we provide." Restoration of democracy in Sierra Leone "would be our goal," the official says.
Professor Zartman, however, says aid should be continued to Sierra Leone as long as the coup leaders are moving the country back toward democracy.
The coup leaders, who vow to restore the economy and clean up government corruption, will feel pressure also from internal opposition groups, who blamed ousted President Joseph Momoh for delaying reforms, Professor Clapham says.
A US political scientist with extensive contacts in Sierra Leone says "the motive behind the coup was discontent. Soldiers were upset at delayed pay, poor food, inadequate ammunition, and poor leadership."
This analyst says General Momoh had agreed to multiparty elections, but was delaying them because the war against Liberian rebels in the south had created a domestic economic crisis.