Elections in Africa: Are they a make or break process?

A preliminary statement on the recent general elections in Nigeria by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) Joint Observation Mission led by former Malawi President Joyce Banda observed that “despite the much-needed reforms to the Electoral Act 2022, the election fell well short of Nigerian citizens’ reasonable expectations. Logistical challenges and multiple violence overshadowed the electoral process and impeded substantial number of voters from participating.” This is not to talk of the violence that characterized the process in some parts of the country.

Ms. Banda’s observation describes elections in Africa in a large measure. Unfortunately, in most of Africa, election reforms are a constant feature to right the wrongs of the process but the reforms are mostly carried out in the breach. In Nigeria itself the wrongs in past elections provide the lessons for reform but elections 2023 indicate that none of the so-called reforms prior to the elections impacted the process this year and most candidates are threatening legal contest of the verdict.

In Ghana, following violence and intimidation of opposition NPP by the NDC led by the late J. J. Rawlings in 1993, the NPP refused to accept the results of the maiden elections for the 4th Republic, calling it ‘a stolen verdict.’ In its reaction, the NPP with the exception of one member refused to take its seat in Parliament for the entire four-year term.

In 2013 the opposition NPP led by its flagbearer, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo contested the 2012 general election and lost in a flawed verdict. The NPP, assiduous in its submission produced evidence enough to show the flaws in the conduct of the elections but the Supreme Court panel overlooked the evidence and decided against the NPP. The most poignant observation by the Court, however, was its advice to political parties that elections are won at the polling station. As a result the collation document known as the ‘pink sheet’ became an important document in the election process.

When Ghana’s general elections in 2020 registered a win for incumbent President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo the opposition National Democratic Congress decided to go to court to challenge the results of the elections but lost largely because the party could not produce any evidence of their claim. The NDC could not submit any numbers to prove its victory over its opponents. The party’s resort to the courts for redress could not be anything than an equalization of the NPP’s petition of the results of the 2012 general elections. From the drama that occurred at the hearings, the NDC was not prepared for the onslaught. In a Trump-like manner former President John Dramani Mahama would hear none of it and continued to protest both the verdict and the election results and till date never concede defeat.

Recent results in most other countries where presidential elections have repeatedly been held paint a worrying picture of democracy. In Burkina Faso, Burundi, the CAR, Chad, Togo, and Rwanda elections results were highly predictable: percentage of votes won by the incumbents either remained the same or even rose. Holding regular elections where the incumbent is always victorious does not always portent an improvement in the democratic process. It could be disastrous for a harmonious existence among political parties and the body politic itself. Politics is personalized and conflicts arise.

The European Union and the USAID among other aid groups from the developed world continue to train politicians in how to reduce conflict and ensure that the democratic element in elections are maintained at all costs. Election reforms continue to be carried out with the cooperation of the Africa Union and the various regional bodies like the ECOWAS but not much impact has been achieved.

In countries where existing religious differences often manifest in violence and animosities elections could provide the vehicle for violence. The Nigerian public and the political parties have worked out a temporary system called religious balancing in which a Christian candidate chooses a Muslim deputy and vice versa. In 2023 the country is facing two Muslims as president and vice president. The risk is high, and the security of the nation could be compromised.

An aspect of elections in Africa most risky and dodgy is the selection of the management of the election process, namely, the electoral commissioner or the independent national electoral commissioner, as the case may be. When Professor Kwadwo Afari Gyan retired after many years and Ms. Charlotte Osei, a lawyer, was appointed by the Mahama administration the opposition NPP cried foul and had her removed when the party was elected in 2016. Even as she delivered her mandate and conducted the elections fairly and declaring for the NPP, trust in her had already eroded following some allegations and perceptions held by the NPP. In a large measure the perception is that the referee determines who wins and who loses.

17 countries are slated for national and parliamentary election in 2023 and observers are inquiring if they will significantly impact the continent democratically. The Economist Intelligence Unit warns they could generate volatility and the high risk of political protests, mass demonstrations and strikes in several countries. Others also suspect a continuation of what they called the 2022 coup drama or whether 2023 will mark a break with the phenomenon.

And what about 2024?

Posted by on Mar 11 2023. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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