18 January 2013

Africa: Post-Election Power Sharing Deals Undermine Democracy in Africa


Dar es Salaam — While African leaders have given power to non-elected persons in well-intentioned agreements to end post-election conflicts, analysts worry that such compromises are temporary stopgaps that contradict the principles of democracy.

In the latest example of such agreements, on January 11th, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) issued a communiqué commending the negotiation efforts between the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the March 23rd Movement (M23) rebels.

Although the negotiations averted an escalation of violence, some analysts say the news is not encouraging to democracy in Africa

"Africa has set a wrong precedent by encouraging power sharing," said former Red Cross International Lesotho Country Director Lauren Rugambwa.

He said in a number of recent elections in Africa, losing parties have been unwilling to accept election results. Some then have gone on to incite violence and instability as a means to create leverage to gain power-sharing agreements, and forcing SADC leaders to negotiate deals to avert more violence.

"This is not acceptable," Rugambwa said. "Power sharing agreements are killing democracy in Africa."

Trends emerging

Rugambwa told Sabahi the power-sharing trend started in Kenya in 2007. After losing the presidential election, now Prime Minister President Raila Odinga accused President Mwai Kibaki of rigging the election. Violent clashes between rival ethnic groups then began spreading around the country, causing over a 1,000 deaths and displacing over 300,000.

The escalating violence compelled Kibaki to sign a power-sharing agreement with Odinga, one brokered by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, to avert the possibility of increased instability.

Similar stopgap agreements were introduced in Zimbawe in 2009 and the Ivory Coast in 2010 to prevent escalating violence from opposition parties.

"No wonder we are experiencing coups d'états in [a number of] African countries because power mongering leaders know that after overthrowing legitimate governments, they will get the opportunity to be included in the government through power-sharing agreements," Rugambwa said.

To encourage democracy, African leaders should discourage power-sharing deals after elections and back the legitimate winners, Tanzanian parliamentarian John Shibuda Magalle said.

"I do not like the idea of power sharing," Magalle told Sabahi. "Yes, our leaders are enticing our brothers [in the DRC] to go that route, but I know democracy should be given the way. Whoever wins should be given the opportunity to govern."

"Power sharing erodes the demarcation on which party policies are served. It also silences criticisms from the opposition because they are included in the government," he said.

Meanwhile, Ugandan Minister of Defence Crispus Walter Kiyonga has been spearheading the negotiations between the DRC government and M23 rebels in Kampala since November, when the M23 captured territory in North Kivu Province.

M23 rebels have since ceased fighting pending the outcome of the Kampala negotiations.

Respecting electoral results

Regional leaders must back individuals who win elections since it is the only way the voting process will be regarded as meaningful and democracy will take hold in the region, said Mobhare Matinyi, a journalist for the Tanzanian newspaper The Citizen.

The M23 rebels' enthusiasm to participate in negotiations indicates their optimism to gain power because these sorts of agreements have emerged as the ultimate conflict resolution method throughout the continent, he said.

Bashiru Ali, a political science lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam, said post-election power-sharing deals should be used only as temporary mechanisms to resolve conflicts and not as a permanent system of governance.

"In 2007, the situation in Kenya by all parameters called for power sharing," he said, adding the situation in Kenya has improved enough since then to ensure a fair, peaceful election in March with a smooth transition of power.

"The lasting solution [to power struggles] is always popular democracy with governments that represent the people and address needs such as access to education, health, infrastructure and good governance," Ali said.

If these power-sharing deals go on unchecked, anarchy will likely reign in many countries because losing parties will know they can win power by creating chaos, he said.

Nonetheless, Tanzanian Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Bernard Membe defended SADC's attempt to broker peace through power sharing. He said regional leaders have the duty to resolve conflicts via diplomacy and hold military intervention as the solution of last resort.

"Diplomacy should always be choice number one," Membe told Sabahi. "It leads to consensus, unlike the use of force."

He said democracy is growing in Africa and while power-sharing deals are imperfect, they have achieved tangible results.

To resolve the DRC conflict, he said, regional leaders are using a dual approach, using both negotiations and military intervention in the form of a peacekeeping mission.

Tanzanian forces to remain neutral

According to Tanzania People's Defence Force spokesman Colonel Kapambala Mgawe, the Tanzanian contingent of the proposed peacekeeping force is ready to deploy, but is waiting for the UN and the DRC to finalise the process.

"Both sides have to be aware that we are bringing in troops and trust them as neutral players," Mgawe told Sabahi. "We are talking to both sides to let them know that we are going there to keep the peace and not to support either side."

"This stance [of neutrality] has earned [Tanzania] respect in Darfur and Lebanon where we have deployed our troops," he said.

The SADC has commended Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania for committing to send troops to the DRC, and urged other member states to join the peacekeeping mission.

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