Recent research on political parties and ethnicity has challenged the conventional wisdom about ethnicity as the major factor that explains voter alignment in Africa. The paper maintains that the cleavage model, although modified to include ethnicity, still provides heuristically the best foundation for the explanation of party formation and voting behaviour in Africa. It points out that inconclusive and contradicting research results about the salience of ethnicity can be attributed to a variety of unresolved methodological and conceptual problems linked to the ‘fluidity’ of the concept of ethnicity. To overcome these problems refined research designs and more sophisticated analytical tools are required. Finally, it is safe to assume that the relevance of ethnicity for the formation of party systems and voter alignment is not a uniform pattern across Africa, but will differ from one country to the other.