Fatality of Democracy: Why Elections Are Rigged in Africa
Democracy in Africa is difficult to flourish, because there are too many kleptocrats, autocrats and opportunists flooding the political parameter. A free, fair and transparent election on the continent is rare due to anti-democratic precedents mostly devised by failed and corrupt regimes. Democracy in Africa is eclipsed by immaturity, impropriety and intolerance.
Africa has democracy in theory, but not in practicality. It is mostly in Africa that the interest of the minority supersedes the collective aspiration of the majority. Practicing politics in Africa means risking your life and your family. This I know for a fact! It is too sad that Africa is still at the backseat of the democratic plane. From my lenses, democracy in Africa is a government of the minority, by the minority and for the minority.
The lingering and vicious clash for state power and dominance among egoistic politicians in Africa has been creating a gloomy cloud of uncertainty over Africa’s young democracy. Heightening political crises and tensions have been seriously endangering the peace, security and stability of Africa. These conflicts continue to reverse gains made in dozens of nations across the continent.
Democracy in Africa is on life-support in most countries. This form of government which is supposed to guarantee the supreme interest and willpower of the majority has been experiencing serious miscarriage and mishap. Year after year, it is becoming convincingly glaring that the practice of democracy in Africa seems almost inapplicable.
The fatality of democracy due to all forms of electoral manipulation remains widespread and alarming. There are protests almost everywhere by opposition politicians and parties against vote rigging orchestrated by incumbent or ruling political establishments. The impact of such autocratic trend (vote rigging) is breeding chaos and crises across Africa.
The bias nature of electoral officers and monitors, coercion, secret ballots, late printing of ballots, inadequate civic education, ballot stuffing, disappearance of ballot boxes, vote buying, invalidation of votes, disenfranchisement, artificial result, confusing ballot papers, voter impersonation and inaccurate recording of votes are concocted and anti-democratic strategies employed by incumbent regimes to rig elections in most African nations.
Rigging elections nowadays is a common political phenomenon in Africa. Incumbent governments that have betrayed public confidence by failing to deliver on their promises to the people employ this crafty scheme (rigging elections) to forcibly detest the popular will of the people and retain political control by all means.
During this process of clinching unto power without the popular mandate of the people, they (incumbent regimes) gruesomely target perceived political enemies and crush key opposition figures either by intimidation, imprisonment or capital punishment. In some cases, they use the army and police to crackdown on mass gatherings geared towards protesting fraudulent electoral results.
Sometimes, these despotic missteps perpetrated by kleptocrats and authoritarians lead to massive electoral violence, bloody coup d’état and civil conflict (war). Africa and Africans have been severely victimized by this carnage and concatenation of political contention. The volatility and fatality of democracy in Africa has been fueled mainly by egotism, chauvinism, nepotism elitism and ethnicity.
African Politics in Review
It is good that I throw some light on how politics is perceived and practiced throughout Africa. This would give readers a depth of understanding about the political landscape of Africa and the perception of both politicians and electorates. It would also help to further widen the scope of the subject under discussion and help to divulge reasonable causes for rigging of elections and democratic fatality in Africa.
Politics in Africa has been given an unusual connotation or label for decades now. Across the political field of the African continent, it (politics) is tagged as a fierce and bloody battle between the incumbent and the opposition. In some regions, it is considered as a poisonous game of enmity, animosity and antagonism. It is also perceived in some quarters as a game between the ‘wise’ and the ‘fools’.
From my own judgment and relying on past experience(s), I can satisfactorily conclude that African politics is a fierce clash for power between political foes. I see it as a ‘do or die’ battle among political rivals and those with undying political interest. In this case, the ‘Machiavellian Theory’ takes center stage. The ‘end justifies the means’ becomes a prominent slogan. At this point of the discourse, the people are diametrically deceived and romanced by self-seeking politicians.
During most electoral processes in Africa, either the incumbent is at the throat of the opposition or the opposition is at the throat of the incumbent. Vicious personality attacks, character assassination and blackmailing usually defuse serious political conversations and debates based on the incubation of genuine vision and authentic alternatives. These are the hardcore truths and uncontested facts about African politics.
In my opinion, this style of practicing politics is not only farfetched, but it also undermines the stability of the continent. Politics should be about constructive engagements among patriotic forces and critical minds. It should be about microscoping series of options and selecting the best. It should also be about building national consciousness and upholding the tenets of democracy in the best interest of all nations.
Politics in Africa, especially during general and presidential elections, is mostly viewed from a narrow context and intuition. The platforms and manifestos of politicians and political parties in Africa are eye-catching to buy, but in most cases, they (platforms) really do not find concrete solution(s) to the despicable conditions of the people after the elections. After the deal is sealed by whatever means, the eyes of politicians become blind to the plights of the underprivileged and the marginalized. The voice of the majority becomes immaterial and noisy in the ears of politicians!!
Why are elections rigged in Africa?
If and only if African leaders across the length and breadth of Africa have been delivering on their promises and promoting public welfare through genuine policies and sustainable economic programs, I am sure that they will have no reason(s) to keep on rigging elections. In fact, there would probably be no opposition.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case over the past decades. Power is like honey on the tongues of African politicians. Their appetite for it (power) is unquenchable. Regrettably, in their naked quest to preserve this honey (power) continuously, they become obsessed by its sweetness and abandon the real essence of their mission or the people’s mandate.
Consequently, they dash the hope and aspiration of the people by performing dismally in the discharge of their functions. After failing the people, most politicians in Africa during elections become adamant to change or new options. This is when they consider ‘political power’ as an inheritance or absolute right.
In an effort to maintain their so-called political dynasty and hegemony, they lavish state-resources during campaigns to pursue continuity. When no amount of cash can find answer/solution to their political nightmares, they result into manipulation and machination. This is when elections are rigged without remorse for democratic values.
In my own judgment and considering prevailing political realities, I am convinced that the following are fundamental reasons why elections are rigged in Africa by most incumbent regimes:
- To maintain socio-economic and political supremacy
- To protect stolen wealth and protégés
- To sustain failed legacy and render the opposition impotent
- To crush democracy by discouraging mass political participation
- To perpetuate greed, elitism, corruption and conspiracy against the majority
Few facts (stats) about electoral crises across Africa
Post-election era in Africa has been characterized by violent clashes between opposition protestors and security forces loyal to ruling political hegemonies. These clashes are usually instigated by accusations of electoral manipulation and fraud (rigging elections). In the last 10 years, these are few facts of electoral crises across Africa:
- Recently (August 31, 2016) in Gabon, there were serious clashes between supporters of opposition politician Jean Pin and security forces after incumbent President Ali Bongo was controversially announced the winner of the August 27, 2016 election. Three (3) protesters were shot dead, dozens wounded and properties destroyed. Ali Bongo won with a narrow margin of less than two percent (49.80% to 48.23%).
- In March 2016, opposition leaders decried foul-play after Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso was re-elected to extend his 32 years in power. There were violent clashes in Brazzaville with heavy firing in opposition camps.
- In April 2016, there were series of protests by the opposition after the disputed re-election of the 26-year-old incumbent President Idriss Derby.
- In April 2016, opposition groups protested the re-election of Ismail Omar Guelleh after he won a fourth five-year term as president of Djibouti.
- There was sporadic post-election violence across Uganda after Yoweri Museveni was disputedly re-elected as President on February 18, 2016 for a fifth-term. At least 22 persons were killed. Main opposition leader Kizza Besigye and other opposition rivals said the election was rigged.
- Opposition supporters went on the rampage in Lusaka, Zambia after President Edgar Lungu was re-elected in a controversial poll on August 11, 2016. Main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema accused the incumbent of vote tempering.
- Between December 28, 2007 and February 28, 2008, Kenya experienced one of the most fatal post-election violence in Africa after incumbent Mwai Kibaki was declared winner of the December 27, 2007 presidential election. About 1500 persons died with 600,000 displaced. The main opposition leader Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement said the election was characterized by manipulation.
- Ivory Coast was severely engulfed by a post-electoral conflict for 4 months 14 days (November 28, 2010 – April 11, 2011). The crises erupted after the Constitutional Council announced President Laurent Gbagbo as the winner of the polls on December 3, 2010. At least 3,000 persons died with hundreds of thousands displaced.
Rising above some of these existing democratic threats, each nation in Africa must put into place the following:
- Establish strong and independent democratic institutions such as Elections Commission, Good Governance Commission, National Democratic Institute, Human Rights Commission, etc.
- Reform electoral laws, promote massive civic education and increase citizen participation.
- Strengthen Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Community Based Organizations (CBOs), Law Enforcement Agencies (LAEs), and anti-graft institutions such as Anti-Corruption Commissions, Auditing Commissions and Accountability Labs.
- Promote the Rule of Law and overhaul the Judiciary system by making it more aggressive, independent and unbiased.
- Build a non-police and an un-militarized state. (Security forces must play a neutral role during political crises).
- Establish office(s) of the Ombudsman and Public Protector/Defender to limit the abuse of power and public resources.
- Reduce presidential power and tenure to 4 years and a 2-term limit (8 years). (African presidents are too powerful, because they have a long tenure – 6 plus years per tenure).
The maturity and stability of Africa’s democracy predominantly relies on both incumbent and opposition politicians. But incumbent politicians have a more pivotal role to play during political transition. They must be willing and ready to accept what the people say through their ballots. They must not change the constitution when their tenures are over. It is time for African leaders to bury their naked pursuit for power and allow democracy to triumph. When the people decide that your time is up, respect them by allowing their will to prevail. Anything less than this, Africa is doomed!!
About The Author:
Martin K. N. Kollie is a global columnist, a Liberian youth and student activist who hails from Bong county, central Liberia. He currently reads Economics with distinction at the University of Liberia and has written hundreds of articles. Email: [email protected]