Areas of focus:
*Problems concerning elections and politics
*Benefits of having elections
*The kind of elections & political system that is suitable for Africa
*How elections can help Africa achieve democratic success…..
With 54 independent states, only two of these, Liberia and Ethiopia were never colonised by any European country. Their vibrant political system and organisation had played a big part in their resistance against colonialism. For the rest of the 52 states, their election and political system were shaped and modified by their colonial masters who either included Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal and Italy. Before their intervention into Africa, there existed strong and powerful political organisation which was mostly hereditary and customary with chiefs, emperors and kings as the heads.
1900’s – 1960’s is the period when much of Africa’s political system was formulated and revived. This period was much characterised by struggles, resistances and revolutions against colonialism and for the independence of African states, for example, the Mau Mau rebellion of 1957 in British East Africa (now Kenya).
Several black political figures like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Milton Obote of Uganda, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Nelson Mandela of South Africa among others spearheaded these struggles for political independence.
By 1970’s the majority of African states were political, economically and socially independent. However to some countries independence meant the start of African style of political suffering and dictatorship against the will of citizens as this brought much suffering and miserableness to most of Africa’s young states like Zaire, Uganda and Nigeria.
Now here’s the question: What are the problems concerning elections and politics in Africa?
First, the organisational and leadership structure of election bodies or commissions which oversee and organise elections in their respective African states. It is noteworthy that these election commissions. Are controlled and financed under the management of the ruling governments. So such election commissions are not independent so they can not carry out impartial elections. This makes it easy for governments to interfere in the election commissions’ work and sometimes with either bribing or threatening them in order that they can easily be declared winners. In some African countries, the president is the one mandated to choose the chairman of the Electoral commission like it is here in Uganda.
Another is the weak political system in Africa. Some countries with authoritarian regimes are democratically weak with no vibrant opposition sides to pressure the ruling governments to carry out their obligations towards the promotion of democracy.
Intimidation and persecution of opposition politicians and denying them freedom to campaign freely and to criticise the weakness of ruling governments. By doing this many African governments have been able to silence the opposition.
Lack of sufficient resources needed to carry out free and fair elections. Most African states are economically backwards with no means to purchase modern voting equipment and money needed to finance voting leading to the poor participation and thus making it easy for the voting processes to be highly rigged.
Failure and refusal for the defeated candidate to acknowledge that they have lost the elections. In Africa its is rare for a defeated candidate to accept defeat and this is a barrier for the existence of a working and stable political system but instead chaos, riots and demonstrations follow for example the case of Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo who was forcefully evicted from power after losing the seat to his opponent Alassane Ouattara leading to a civil war.
Another question: The benefits of having elections in Africa?
Elections have helped to put an end to most of Africa’s long-serving autocratic regimes though a few of them have always refused to leave power despite being defeated in elections.
Elections play a big role in preventing civil war outbreaks and violence from happening or put an end to them because through elections Africans get to voice out their concerns on the political path that is right for them and thus preventing the possibility of civil wars from happening. The similar case when through elections that South Sudan became independent from Sudan and thus putting an end to a 20-year-old civil war.
Elections play a big role in promoting unity among Africa’s diverse tribes and ethnicities. An example is Uganda and Kenya with over 50 tribes each but come together during an election to decide and choose a single leader of their countries.
Elections promote the existence and functioning of democracy and constitutionalism in Africa. Many of Africa’s states would have been purely monarchical with no change of government or handing over power to another entity but with rulers and dictators in power for life! So elections define the real meaning of democracy when people have the power to change governments.
But we do well to ask ourselves: Are the existing kind of elections and political systems in Africa the ones that Africa truly needs? I guess not, not yet! Most elections in African states still lack transparency and full mass participation. The influence of the ruling governments in the work of Electoral Commissions during elections makes it harder to acknowledge that these are the kind of elections that Africa needs. In fact, many African Electoral commissions have played a big role in ensuring that the reigning governments do not leave power for example as the case is in Uganda and Zimbabwe!
Africa needs the kind of elections and a political system similar to that of the United States of America where the elections are free from government intervention, the participation of every citizen is assured and there is acceptance of defeat on the side of the losers. Therefore, Africa as a whole continent still has a very long way to go concerning the attainment of free, transparent, vote-rigging free, free and fair elections and a democratically functioning political system because almost all the existing ones do not match the true description of a democratically functioning political system.
There are several alternatives to be considered to Africa’s existing political and elections system. Some of them may include:
*Changes need to be made to all of Africa’s existing constitutions and laws so that they are modified to suit and match the electoral and political needs to develop a democratically stable country.
*Anyone should feel & also feel free to contest for any political office as long as he/she has all the necessary requirements. Anyone should be allowed to run for any political office without any barriers or threats against them.
*Africans need to be made aware of and also educated about their responsibilities and roles they can play in ensuring the existence of an electoral and political system that best suits them or benefit them equally. They have to know their personal rights to vote their candidate of their choice without being compelled, bribed or compelled by anyone.
*All of the country’s regions and areas should participate in the elections and define of national laws. No region should be ignored or left behind when it comes to national issues like choosing leaders. All regions should be treated equally.
So what is the way forward for Africa’s political and electoral systems?
Everyone must be free to participate as long as he is a consenting mature adult of voting age.
Africans should embrace the western political system in order for them to promote good governance and a vibrant multi-party political system.
Citizens must be educated and made aware of the role they can play in choosing the kind of government they want. No one should feel under pressure to support or not to support a certain political group.
African electoral commissions should be able to carry out their work without any external influence to ensure free and fair yet transparent elections!
With such ideas put into practice, all African states can be able to establish, formulate and embrace the kind of political and electoral systems that they freely want and that can best suit their personal and national interests!
God bless Mama Africa – Our much-beloved continent….
And always remember to keep the African dreams ALIVE!
(Special tribute to my friend Demetriy Vogranenko from Russia)