Types of Government in Africa

by Douglas Matus

Africa contains more sovereign nations than any other continent, with 54 countries compared to Asia’s 47. Africa’s tumultuous political history has resulted in extreme disparities between the wealth and stability of its countries. For example, populous and industrialized South Africa has a gross domestic product more than 530 times that of the Comoros. Despite its cultural and economic diversity, Africa contains only four different types of government: presidential and parliamentary republics, semi-presidential republics and monarchies.

Presidential Republics

The most widespread form of government in Africa is the presidential republic. In a presidential republic, an elected official -- the president -- operates independently of the legislature as the executive authority. In Africa, presidential republics vary in regards to the level of power entrusted to the electorate. Some countries, such as Nigeria, operate as true constitutional republics, with transparent elections and leaders beholden to the people. Others, such as Angola, function as virtual autocracies, with presidents who maintain power through force or coercion. Presidents on the continent have sometimes been installed by military coup or civil war rather than elections. Twenty-six African nations, including Zambia, Sudan, Kenya, Chad, Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe, have presidential republic governments.

Parliamentary Republics

Seven African nations possess parliamentary republic governments. Parliamentary republics differ from presidential republics in that executive authority resides in a cabinet of ministers, rather than the president. These ministers come from the elected legislature, which provides popular oversight to the cabinet’s power. Some African nations, such as South Africa, maintain parliamentary systems first established under the colonial rule of Great Britain. Other African parliamentary republics include Ethiopia, Somalia, Botswana and Mauritius. Libya instituted a provisional parliamentary government in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution that overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Semi-presidential Republics

A semi-presidential government combines elements of presidential and parliamentary systems. Semi-presidential governments have popularly elected presidents that serve as heads of state, and also cabinets beholden to the legislature. A widespread form of government in Africa, semi-presidential systems exist in 17 countries. In Egypt, a semi-presidential government developed in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak’s downfall and represented an attempt to curb the power of the presidential position. Algeria, Madagascar, Niger, Mali, Rwanda, Tunisia, Djibouti, Uganda and Equatorial Guinea all function as semi-presidential republics.

Traditional Monarchies

Monarchies, once widespread throughout Africa, now exist in only three countries. Lesotho, a landlocked sovereign nation entirely surrounded by South Africa, functions as a constitutional monarchy, with the king as the head of state and a prime minister as head of government. Another constitutional monarchy, Morocco, also has a hereditary king who shares power with an elected parliament. Swaziland, a small country in southern Africa, became a nation under the mid-19th century rule of King Mswati II. The king of Swaziland, the last absolute monarch in Africa, oversees all aspects of his country’s economy and military, and appoints a prime minister and cabinet to serve as advisors.

About the Author

Douglas Matus is the travel writer for "West Fort Worth Lifestyle" magazine, and spent four years as the Director of Humanities for a college-prep school in Austin. Since 2005, he has published articles on education, travel and culture in such publications as "Nexus," "People's World" and "USA Today." Matus received an Education Pioneers fellowship in 2010 and an MFA from CalArts in 2011.

Photo Credits

  • Anson_iStock/iStock/Getty Images