By Chris Odinaka Nwedo
Why are there great obstacles in deepening democratic culture in Africa, and why is democratic space kept contracting and devoid of credible dividends notwithstanding the continuous democratic ‘investments’? This paper examines the factors that affect evolution of genuine democracy in Africa. It shows that democratic elections in many African states are basically instruments that confer legitimacy to tyrants and their malevolent politics. It also reveals that Africa is not the only continent where democratic politics is stained and obstructed by sinister power related aspirations of the wrong and strong elites.
The delirious waves of democratic changes which in the past seven decades astounded and swept away in absolute terms the capricious control of authoritarian regimes across continents have not significantly impacted most nations and Africa exclusively. This is in reference to the fact that in these nations’ democracies are only given lip services in the forms of multi party political events and the holding of regular elections. Regular elections ideally should be credible platforms for free and fair selection of political representatives. These elections though fundamental in the democratization processes do not automatically make everything right about democracy. In some instances, the elections are strategized paraphernalia for bequeathing political legitimacy to totalitarian structures and practices. This coherently demonstrated that political pluralism and regular elections are just important elements of democracy, but not sufficient for the realization of genuine democracy. The participation of civil political tyranny under the guise of democratic rule with distorted and dressed elections results has been the hallmark of the electioneering process in most African states.1 PLO Lumumba said elections in Africa are forms “of ethnic census to determine which majority ethnic groups could form a government. Most leaders in Africa are often prepared to put their countries into years of political crunch just to remain in power.2
The facts that elections are insufficient are logically validated by premeditated disfranchisements and\or criminal disruption of the procedures to facilitate victory for the dictators and their cronies. The dictators are the ones with vast resources and latitude for vote buying and rigging. These are subtler tactics of messing the sanctity of the democratic elections. In addition to the above are expressive intimidations, fracas and heavy violence that provide dispositions for ballot box snatching and stuffing. The clear objectives of these are landslide victories for the rulers out side the scope of democratic thinking. “Of course corruption and insecurity are major reasons as to why the economy has stagnated and why there is such widespread disillusionment, displacement, poverty and despair.3
Demonstrative cases in point are that elections in Nigeria have constantly been marred by momentous violence and intimidation while large numbers of voters are denied of opportunities to cast their votes for strategic reasons. The reasons include late opening of polls, severe shortages of ballot papers, the widespread intimidation of voters, the seizure of ballot boxes by political mercenaries, gangs of thugs, vote buying and other irregularities. “Instead of guaranteeing citizens’ basic right to vote freely, Nigerian government and electoral officials actively colluded in the fraud and violence that marred the elections.4 In brief, Nigerian elections have perpetually failed standards of credibility. As the election fail credibility tests, the governments formed on the pretenses have also failed the people.
According official magazine of the International Strategic Studies Association, “massive, consistent, and comprehensive, deliberate manipulation and distortion preceded, attended, and followed the Nigerian Presidential and National Assembly elections of February 23, 2019, and gubernatorial elections of March 9, 2019.5 Corruption, insecurity, social disharmony and dying economy have continued because there has never been credible elections and robust democracy in Nigeria. The despotic system has been empowering deficient folks to take over and occupy various strategic national positions and this is why we have disgracefully derogatory results. “Corruption has flourished. There has been massive fraud in military procurement. Government funds have been secured on the basis of fake contracts for provisions and equipment which were never delivered – everything from food and ammunition to firearms, helicopters and Alpha jets, totaling as much as US$15 billion.6 “Armsgate” is the reason why soldiers are being deployed into conflict zones with insufficient rations and malfunctioning weapons; and why those who survive return defeated and demoralized. It is why insecurity has escalated to crisis levels.7
Elections in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 and with despotic reign of Robert Mugabe have been “a sham”, and “a huge farce”, tainted by “monumental fraud”. The country has been off and on in chaos as a result of election related controversies. The politics stirred controversies had and is still having disastrous consequences on the country.8 “By almost all measures, Mr. Mugabe’s record as a leader is abysmal. In 1980, Zimbabwe was sub-Saharan Africa’s second richest country, but his stewardship has seen the economy whither, halving in size in the decade leading to 2009. People have searing memories of the hyperinflation of 2008, reaching 231 million percent by some measures, with prices doubling every day – it only ended with dollarization under Morgan Tsvangirai’s government. And Zimbabwe was a pariah state, subject to sanctions by the European Union and the United States, including a travel ban on Mugabe and his inner circle.9 “Until November 2017, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, 93, was the only political leader – prime minister, president – that Zimbabwe had known. He came to power in 1980 as Prime Minister after the country gained independence from the British. Seven years later, Mugabe was elected the first president of independent Zimbabwe. He was seen by many as a liberator of his people…10
A dethronement of Mugabe, eventually, though an enduring aspiration was a surprise to many it took a succession struggle and the intervention by the army to oust a man they had for years worked to protect. Mugabe’s firing of his Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa who was seen as an obstacle to the presidential ambitions of his wife Grace was an opportunity waiting for his humiliation.11
A recently concluded presidential election in Zimbabwe that enthroned the former Vice Mnangagwa, ended in deep controversy as the main opposition candidate, Nelson Chamisa, rejected the outcome describing the event a fraudulent and insisted that he will not accept the country’s election commission awarding a “fraudulent” victory to his rival Mnangagwa and ‘neither will the people’. The warning by the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), added fuel to an already combustible situation after an eruption of violence in which many people were shot dead by troops following street protests. The MDC has repeatedly accused the Zimbabwe Election Commission of manipulating the process in favour of Mr. Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF and allowing rigging. The opposition also accused the government of cracking down its supporters.12
Zimbabwe remains pulverized by sterile politics that props wrong candidates through flawed election processes. According critics, Mugabe ruined the country by means of “shameless electoral swindle at almost every level while maintaining the mere façade of an orderly poll on the day itself”. According to The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), the barefaced manipulations of the electoral results are started with state’s media bias, misinformation, campaign of intimidation in rural areas and the use of security services as rigging accomplices. In 2008 when Mugabe lost an election to an opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai, he became fierce and uncontrollable and allegedly authored violence using his henchmen. Pedzisai Ruhanya from the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute described Mugabe’s coming back to power by means of an election he lost the mandate as a master class in electoral fraud. A chicanery, an organised theft and electoral authoritarianism.13 Insensitive and authoritarian rulers “Mugabe and Museveni have persistently declined to disengage from power and deliberately continued to subvert the electioneering processes in their countries through annulment of results when the results run against them. President Museveni of Uganda in 2011 elections refused to surrender power even though it was widely believed that he lost to Kizza Besigye.14 Abdoulie Saine (2015) in Daffeh argued that often defeated Presidents in Africa who refused to leave power try to soothe their opponents by forming a unity government that often does not last. This was the case in Zimbabwe between Mugabe Tzangarai. This unity government in the continent, does not often work well in the interest of the citizens. This experiment in Zimbabwe failed woefully.15
Somali has been a failed State for decades. In fact, “Somalia has lurched from crisis to crisis since 1991, when the central government disintegrated, clan-based warlords tore the country apart and a famine broke out.16 Somali “which has languished without a functioning central government for more than 25 years was propped up by billions of dollars of American aid for organising an innovative, closely watched presidential election that United Nations officials have billed as a ‘milestone’. 17 However for “several analysts, investigators and some Western diplomats, the election turned out to be a milestone of corruption, one of the most fraudulent political events in Somalia’s history. According to sources, an estimated $20 million were employed for rigging and fraudulent manipulation of the election process.18 “The entire process was so bad, several analysts said, that the Al Shabab militant group, one of the deadliest Islamist organizations in the world, is not even trying to derail the vote because the corruption free-for-all almost makes the militants look upstanding by comparison.19 For decades, the world has poured more blood and treasure into Somalia than practically anywhere else outside of Iraq or Afghanistan. Somalia’s political dysfunction has caused epic suffering and death, and its problems tend not to respect its borders.20
To many Gambians, democracy and elections end in campaign slogans in favour of Yahya Jammeh, voting and eventual of landslide victory for the despot. All through the periods of his infamous ‘seizure’ of the Gambia, Jammeh strengthened what seemed to be mortal grips on power through periodic elections in which he determined his victory. The dictator had strategies to dominate and rule perennially by “…changing the rules and electoral laws to open up holes in the electoral system that could make it easy for him to win the worst of seemingly contested elections.21 Prior to the election in 2016 that humiliated Jammeh, most political pundits were already convinced that the dictator will win the election with landslide but “not through the popular choice but through grand schemes blatantly pioneered by the National Assembly where the dictator controls with absolute majority and what appears like a lack of fighting bones among the opposition to defiantly oppose and combat the open fraud in the electoral system.22
Jammeh has always claimed to be a ‘born again’ democrat imposing himself on the Gambian people through a corrupted electoral process whose officials were handpicked by him amidst massive condemnation by the international community and the opposition parties in the Gambia. It is without doubt; most African leaders have personalized the electoral system in their countries with election officials doing their bid to secure the interest of the incumbent.23 Abdoukabirr Daffeh noted, “the extent to which the democratic and electoral projects of most African states are, could hardly bring in any meaningful democracy and good governance in the continent. It is wise to note although the Gambia is able to free itself from the shackles of electoral fraud against former dictator Jammeh in the 2016 election, Cameroon will have to decide its faith against Paul Biya.24 Under Jammeh, four presidential elections were held from 1996 but all these polls defied the thesis of the characteristics of free and fair elections in both their conducts and outcomes. This is largely because of the mistrust by the opposition parties towards the incumbent on what should constitute credible election. In the 2011 parliamentary elections in the Gambia, major opposition parties boycott participating in election stating that the process towards the electioneering procedure is not free and fair and called for a halt. Most Gambians are disinterested in the country’s elections because of the predictability of the outcomes and consequently care less about voting. Votes do not count there are widespread self-disfranchisements.
Correspondingly, in Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda and Zimbabwe, citizens have become disenchanted and lack trust on the electioneering processes because of dispiriting realization that ballot boxes are devoid of power for political changes that are so imperative. “The remark by Mugabe’s wife that even if Mugabe’s copse contests election it will win, was a clear indication that elections are never true reflections of the people’s choices in most African states.25 This fact is palpable in Zimbabwe. It was because the votes cannot change Mugabe’s leadership and political directions in the country that the senile despot was surreptitiously ousted by the military. It was the same soldiers that insulated him against massive rejections through the ballots that conspired to dump him and emancipated the country from fatal grips of political errors. It was clear to all and sundry that it was not ballot papers but death that has the power to prevent Mugabe’s repressive rule. In 2011 election in the Gambia, Jammeh was declared to have ‘won’ 47 out of the 48 constituencies in the Gambia, winning even in the birthplace of the opposition candidates. This comes with massive allegation by both the domestic and international observers that the election was marked with mass irregularity and deemed not free and fair 26