24 October 2017

African Countries and the Printing of Ballot Papers Abroad

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Photo: UN Photo/Olivier Chassot
(file photo).

Why can't African countries print their ballot papers in their countries or on the continent? There has been a trend of printing ballot papers outside the continent. Nigeria, Kenya, and Zambia are some of the few countries that print their ballot boxes at huge costs outside the continent.

Election across Africa are usually far from being run smoothly and there is always interesting and embarrassing trends and cases which emerge during these elections. One case which many people still can't wrap their heads around is why ballot papers used during elections are printed in foreign countries. For the most part, it mocks the very fact that we inherit Western systems and principles and fail woefully to adapt or maintain them. Besides the fact that the printing of the ballot papers cost a whole lot of money; the dividends of democracy as the African Unions would like to espouse are hardly seen by citizens.

Few African countries print their ballot papers in their own countries. Many of the countries like Kenya and Nigeria print their ballot papers outside the continent. Kenya, in the process of conducting its second elections after the first was declared null and void by the Supreme Court engaged a Dubai-based firm to print its presidential ballot papers.

In Nigeria, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, explained that "local companies don't have the capacity to produce large numbers" of ballot papers within a short period. In 2014, under the then chairmanship of Attahiru Jega INEC contracted a foreign firm to print ballot papers at the cost of $16m (Naira 6 billion). Sahara Reporters reported finding the ballot papers at the premises of a local printer in London. A total of $25million (Naira 9 billion) was spent on printing ballot papers.

In Kenya, the printing of ballot papers for the annulled August 8 elections nearly derailed the elections. Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing a Dubai based firm was the centre of controversy. Kenya's opposition party the National Super Alliance (NASA) claimed that the printing company was linked to President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Zambia and Uganda were also recently embroiled in ballot paper sagas where the contracted printers were foreign based companies. The large sums of money used in the printing of the ballot papers does not translate to free, fair and credible elections. There are always complains that elections are rigged and after four or five years, a repeat process takes place with more money spent on sustaining a democracy that doesn't reflect in the lives of the citizens.

The need to involve local printers in the process of printing ballot papers is not necessarily a panacea to solving electoral problems. In a continent where the current mantra is "African problems, African solutions," the continuous printing of ballot papers outside the continent not only supports the economy of countries abroad, but it mocks us as Africans.

If our interest lies in creating sustainable structures for democracy and not relying on international observers and the importation of ballot papers from outside the continent, one major place to start is being self-dependent in the voting process.

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