Log in

Reflections on elections and politics in Africa

At the time of filing this column, it is still early in the Kenyan elections. But it is highly unlikely that Raila O Odinga will overcome incumbency power to defeat Uhuru M Kenyatta.

Odinga may have had his clear victory in 2007, a feat he won’t repeat. There have been only a few cases where a sitting African president has lost an election, the most recent and infamous being Yahya Jammeh in the Gambia.

But even after losing, Jammeh attempted to cling on but for the threatening power of the West African regional bloc Ecowas. West Africa has moved ahead of the rest of the continent in passing the test of not who wins but who loses a presidential election.

To pass the test of consolidating democratic practice, it is critical that an incumbent party or leader loses power and bows out peacefully. In Rwanda last week, there was no contest at the ballot. In all ways, President Paul Kagame ran against himself and won resoundingly.

The idea that has been oversold is that Rwanda’s brand of democracy is built on consensus, and not contestation.

But there is an obvious oxymoron here: you cannot have elections by consensus! Elections by definition are competitive processes where a winner cannot be predicted in advance.

There has to be credible contestation with the real likelihood that all contenders can lose. Was there ever any doubt that President Kagame would be declared winner with over 90 per cent?

There is something quite enigmatic about Rwanda. Only time will tell. Many African countries routinely undergo election-like events. In February, there was such an event in Somalia, a country still lacking the basic rudiments of a functional modern state.

One wonders how elections can be conducted in the absence of minimum effective government and a functioning state system. Yet, on the whole, there has been a remarkable shift on the African continent from the era of rampant military coups in the 1970s and 80s to more routinized contests for power at the ballot box through open competition.

We have had not just a significant increase in the number of countries holding elections regularly; we also have had a commendable transformation in the quality of election management and the credibility of ballot results.

On the balance of things, therefore, one can say that the African continent is more democratically governed today than it was four decades ago. There has been incremental qualitative improvement.

A key pillar of democratic governance is elections. Elections, even though problematic, are by far the best way through which individuals and organizations seek and secure from citizens the right to manage public affairs.

Elections are a fundamental requisite for democracy, but they do not, on their own, produce democracy. In other words, you can’t have democracy without elections, but you can have elections without democracy.

A great number of African countries still fall in the latter category: there are frequent elections but there is a dearth of genuine democracy. The frequency of elections has been in tandem with the mastery of how to game and fix them especially by incumbent parties and leaders.

This has been partly fueled by expansion in competition. The higher the competition, the bigger the stakes and the temptation to subvert the very essence of electioneering, which is intended to give citizens the right to peacefully and transparently decide who to lead them.

Instead of peacefully campaigning and transparent conduct of polls, elections in many African countries have tended to stir up social tensions. They are conducted with a heavy tinge of fraud and the results, therefore, fall short of being credible.

Because of the continent’s high social diversity, both linguistic and ethnic, elections tend to generate social disharmony and ultimately violence as political actors mobilize and appeal to social differences so as to gain electoral advantage.

Rather than contest over policy and principle, there is more recourse to ethnic mobilization and religious appeal.

Also, electoral pressures and the distortions that attend seeking the people’s popular vote tend to compromise provision of public goods and services on the basis of rationale, competence and prudence.

Against the many problems associated with elections, some commentators and political actors have hurriedly concluded that electoral politics, and indeed democracy, is bad for Africa. Fair enough. But what then is good for the continent? I haven’t come across any persuasive alternative arrangement.

The one supposed alternative sold to Ugandans at the onset of the current regime, the so-called no-party Movement democracy, turned out to be no more than a deceptive scheme for consolidating a firm grip on power.

It was a fraud that laid the ground for successive rounds of fraudulent elections. The charges against elections and democracy are a little disingenuous. For one, there is a dishonest and rather self-serving claim that these are Western values and practices not suited to the African socioeconomic environment.

The issue can’t be the principle of elections and the value of democracy; the problem is how they are practiced as instruments of private benefits and narrow-group interests.

Why should we believe there is an African way of conducting elections and practicing democracy?

moses.khisa@gmail.com

The author is the interim secretary, Society for Justice and National Unity, a Kampala-based think tank.

Comments

0 #11 Didaz 2017-08-12 11:26
Auntie Lakwena, I like your view. If you throw your pearls at a pig guess you can imagine what might happen.

I think that anything we do without fully understanding it, accepting it or believing in it whether its indigenous or foreign it become a big joke.

The irony is that humans do or say what they real believe even if its accidental or intended. If the advantage such actions is for the benefit of our people
then that is brilliant.

The truth always comes out you see.
Report to administrator
0 #12 Ocaya pOcure 2017-08-12 16:41
Mw Khisa and fellow East Africans,
The bitter truth, I think it seems to be that both London and Washington do not want to see A RAILA WIN.

This has been and it is just my gut feeling. This means going at the polling centres in large numbers is one thing meanwhile voting and counting the votes with clear analysis are done on both the terms of Brits Pounds and US Dollars.

In clear political language Kenya is a quasi and speculative Capitalist effigy without its own real Capital industrial base! This is what I think must be in the mindset of most political pundits but not just wishful thinking.

AGAIN, let us agree to disagree, the infamous Cold War had never ended as we have been continuously since the bringing down of the Berlin Walls and the murdered of Soviet Union by both Yeltsin and Gorbachev!
Report to administrator
+1 #13 Ocaya pOcure 2017-08-12 16:46
The West Do not want RAILA Odinga To lead Kenya!

The policy of Cold War had continued to be used in selected countries in Africa, Latin America and even in Asia. This had been the policy used to deny RAILA Odinga to lead Kenya.

This had even been the very equation and policy used to block OLARA Otunnu to lead Uganda using the infamous political divides between the North versus the South in Uganda!

Clearly, it is not Kenyan decides, but it must be stated that both World Bank and IMF those are the deciding factors but not the very big rhetoric of Kenyan decides, which is itself speculative postures!

The unfortunate truth is that both US Dollars and Pound Sterling politics operations from both Washington and London that had given Uhuru Kenyatta so-called victory! YES, who on earth had seen the river tributaries flow uphill if not it is just flowing down the streams!
Report to administrator
0 #14 Ocaya pOcure 2017-08-12 16:48
The West Do not want RAILA Odinga To lead Kenya!

I think, this must be the meaning of the latest winning of the Kenyan general election’s interpretations but not the decisions of the Kenyan folks!

Frankly, Uhuru Kenyatta is one of the big fishes those are continuing to eat the small fishes as per the design of both the World Bank and IMF.

I must say, we must pathetically forget the unemployed folks of Kenya those according to both IMF and World Bank matters less and of no concern.

Well, Odinga might have articulated the concerns of the disparate Kenyans during the political campaigns but the big money politics had done the game.
Report to administrator
0 #15 Didaz 2017-08-12 20:55
Ochaya Your views on Kenyan election stir controversy.

There are always many truths from my school of thought reating to conflict.

This means you have to hear all parties involved in a disagrement from neuteral point.

You may remember a few years ago the Obama admnistration advised Kenyans about voting Uhuru Kenyata.Kenyans did the opposite.

I believe it had nothing to do with aid money why should it be now Sir?
Report to administrator
0 #16 Ocaya pOcure 2017-08-12 21:53
Kenyans did not decide but both IMF and World Bank politics

Clearly, it is not Kenyan decides, but it must be stated that both World Bank and IMF those are the deciding factors but not the very big rhetoric of Kenyan decides, which is itself speculative postures!

The unfortunate truth is that both US Dollars and Pound Sterling politics operations from both Washington and London that had given Uhuru Kenyatta so-called victory!

YES, who on earth had seen the river tributaries flow uphill if not it is just flowing down the streams! I think, this must be the meaning of the latest winning of the Kenyan general election’s interpretations but not the decisions of the Kenyan folks!

Frankly, Uhuru Kenyatta is one of the big fishes those are continuing to eat the small fishes as per the design of both the World Bank and IMF.
Report to administrator
+1 #17 Ocaya pOcure 2017-08-12 21:56
Africans can never move forward as we steered by IMF and World Bank,
I must say, we must pathetically forget the unemployed folks of Kenya those according to both IMF and World Bank matters less and of no concern.

Well, Odinga might have articulated the concerns of the disparate Kenyans during the political campaigns but the big money politics had done the game.
Report to administrator
0 #18 Lakwena 2017-08-14 08:20
Quoting Didaz:
Auntie Lakwena, I like your view. If you throw your pearls at a pig guess you can imagine what might happen.

I think that anything we do without fully understanding it, accepting it or believing in it whether its indigenous or foreign it become a big joke.

The irony is that humans do or say what they real believe even if its accidental or intended. If the advantage such actions is for the benefit of our people
then that is brilliant.

The truth always comes out you see.


In other words Nephew Didaz, although he is sponging a disproportionate amount Ugandans taxpayers money; it is Mr. M7's type of "belief" that he only fights for himself, and that he is not anybody's servant or employee, which put the Africans and their social and political economy on the wrong side of history.

But Didaz, where is uncle Websixties and your cousin Nakasero?
Report to administrator
0 #19 Didaz 2017-08-14 13:24
Auntie Lakwena In alot of ways your suggestions are true!

Sadly Web may be dead but I would want him to live to see how Uganda is doing its self in.

I also think he may have been put off the Observer online service when it broke down for God knows how long. He seems so high class you see!

As for the lovely Nakabasket he may resurface around Presidential election times.

I presume he os intentionally AWOL to recharge his batteries ready to fire Kagame style!
Report to administrator

Comments are now closed for this entry