3 November 2017

Africa Needs Mature Electoral Politics

editorial

The side-shows in a majority of African countries' electoral processes are costing the continent big in terms of development, especially economic development, for at the end of the day when elections have come and gone, people want to live better lives. The dog-eat-dog scenarios we have been witnessing in most countries make us wonder whether the people are still major stakeholders in the governing process, or it is those who want power who matter most.

Why also waste the voters' time and the countries' meagre resources, if all that we are going to hear from the losers is that the poll was rigged?

This well-choreographed sing-song of "We wuz robbed" has become all too familiar in many African countries' to the extent that we really wonder whether the cry-babies have the people's interests at heart.

Multi-party democracy has turned into a nightmare for the continent as we witness how burdensome it is with each general election, and how costly and an outright embarrassment for the continent.

Somewhere between fighting for independence, governing and ushering in multi-party democracy, there seems to have been an unwritten rule that the governing party must not win an election, and every opposition party that contests has the right to romp to victory, warts and all!

If they lose, it can never be their fault, but rigging and a host of other nefarious accusations levelled against the ruling party and the electoral bodies.

However, Africa's opposition parties cannot repetitively do the same thing, and expect different results. As long as they have that tunnel vision, and are externally controlled, they will continue to live with the notion that elections are rigged and not won -- credibly, freely and fairly too.

We do not discount challenges that can affect some electoral processes, but for once, we beg opposition parties across the continent not to hold people to ransom, for elections are a process not an end in themselves.

In a democracy, the people make choices freely. After casting the ballots, they expect their lives to move on as the winning party fulfils the promises it made during the campaign period. So too the losers. They should join hands with government and see how best the programmes set out produce the desired results for the nation.

The people are bigger than all these individuals, and their welfare in environments so full of challenges is of paramount importance. These are some of the fundamentals opposition parties in Africa forget completely, as winning becomes so central.

We have belaboured the point because this year alone there were presidential elections in a number of African countries. Somalia went to the polls at the start of the year. This element was not too pronounced since Islamic militants are a major destabilising force. Then there was The Gambia, which eventually had a smooth transition. So too Angola, which shocked the international community.

In June, Lesotho went to the polls. Sadly, the Mountain Kingdom is failing to deal with the power dynamics between the civilian government and the military. Then Rwanda went to the polls on August 4, four days before Kenyans voted.

The contrast between the Rwandan transition and the Kenyan scenario is a nightmare. Although President Uhuru Kenyatta had beaten his long-time rival Raila Odinga, the latter could not take it. Hours before the official results were announced, Odinga's alliance declared him the winner. When the electoral body finally declared Kenyatta winner, Odinga approached the Supreme Court that delivered a historic verdict as it annulled the August 8 poll and ordered a fresh election in 60 days among the top two contenders.

Odinga, probably knowing that he would lose the election, for the umpteenth time decided to boycott, plunging the country into a crisis. Although people voted on October 26, they did so against the backdrop of fear and uncertainty.

But Odinga it seems saw the loopholes to manipulate, and he knew that eventually the international community, including the African Union, would call for dialogue to heal the highly polarised nation.

The Kenyan scenario has its takers in Liberia since the recent election to replace President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has created a political impasse following claims of fraud in the first-round of voting on October 10. When the Liberian Supreme Court halted the presidential run-off pending its hearing of the challenge to the first-round results by disgruntled political parties, one Kenyan applauded: "If it was not for the Kenyan court, I do not think the Liberian court would have taken such a brave step. We gave them the precedent, now they can follow us."

Africa has to rethink how it handles its electoral processes. The one billion people on the continent need to be fed; they need well-paying jobs; water and sanitation; health care facilities; modernisation of both urban and rural areas, and more. These can never be realised when politics is deemed a zero-sum game!

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