The sixty years of Africa’s decade of independence (1960’s) equally means sixty years of democratic experimentations in most of the African countries. Though some of these African countries have seen their democratic journeys interrupted by many years of military rules and subtle dictatorship, democratic elections have remained the legitimate mode of selecting political leaders in the continent.
However, despite the massive supports enjoy by democracy all over the world, there are some certain unpopular opinions and points of views against Africa’s continuous embrace of western-style democratic system.
It has been said that democracy does not dovetail with the history, culture and conditions of the African continent (whatever that means). And hence its continued failure to engender development in the continent, though there are still gray areas on the nexus between democracy and national development.
Nonetheless, despite critics and criticisms, want of viable and practical alternatives, have sustained the endless dominance and acceptance of democracy and electoral politics in Africa. Though elections on their own would not make any country democratic; it has been identified as one of the necessary conditions for democratic consolidation, more so when it is free, fair and credible. About thirty-one (31) of the fifty-four (54) countries in Africa have conducted or would be conducting democratic elections in the continent between 2018 to 2019.
My objective here is to explore the takeaways from the recently conducted elections in the continent and also to discuss the rhetoric surrounding the most imminent elections in the continent.
Takeaways from Nigeria and Senegal
Like Nigerians, Senegalese also went to poll to elect their president for the next five years. But unlike Nigeria, Senegal is often referred to as the continent’s poster boy on matters connected to democracy. The just concluded elections in the country further sustained the claim that Senegal is one of the stable democracies in the continent of Africa. More so, the country has not experienced any disruption of its political system since independence from France in 1960 which further emphasized the strength of its democratic institutions.
The election was contested by the incumbent, President Macky Sall, Idrissa Seck, Ousmane Sonko, Issa Sall and Madicke Niang. Though the country still awaits the official results from the electoral body, the prime minister, Mahammed Dionne citing a provisional tally has already proclaimed the incumbent, President Macky Sall as the winner of the elections with 57% of the total vote cast.
The peaceful manner through which the election was conducted was soiled by pre-election issues and incidences where best-known opposition figures (Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade) were barred from running for the office of the president because of allegation of corruptions which both have dismissed as politically motivated. This has been said to represent crackdown on the major oppositions who could have given the incumbent a tough time at the poll.
Nigerians experience at the poll was entirely different. Comparatively, the just concluded election represents further crisis of democracy in the continent`s most populous nation. Like previous elections, the 2019 election in Nigeria was not violence free. We have already witnessed flashpoints of hatred and ill-tempered often characterizing electoral politics in Nigeria.
So far, 39 people have been killed in violence connected to the electoral processes. In some parts of River State, the electorates would have to reconvene to cast their votes due to violence. Lagos and Osun were also not spared of election induced violence.
The major opposition in the election, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP has already rejected the results of the election which returned the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari for another four years citing riggings and electoral malpractices. He has vowed to take legal actions, but can the court system in Nigeria gives justice? Especially when the justices are popular for corruption. I don’t think so. Of course, this further exemplifies the deepen crisis of democracy in the country.
But all is not miserable for Nigeria as far as democratic governance is concerned. Democracy in Nigeria is emerging. Though Atiku has rejected the results, he has only vowed to seek redress in the court of law. So it is less likely that we are going to experience any post-election violence in the country.
Compare to previous elections in the country where politicians failed to absorb electoral losses, but spitted fire and incited violence through their utterances. Also, the peaceful reactions of popular losers in the 2019 general elections like Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State and Senator Bukola Saraki have further ascertain the growing democratic culture in Nigeria.
For Senegal, though the election was largely peaceful, the crackdown on the opposition prior to the conduct of the election by the incumbent put a question mark on the perceived strength of democracy in the country. In Nigeria, the election was marred by irregularities, violence and incidences of electoral riggings, conditions that have continued to be present in any democratic elections in the country since 1999 till date. But democratic gains were also recorded especially in the light of the peaceful countenances and reactions of the losing sides in the elections.
Forthcoming Elections in Algeria, South Africa and Malawi: The Existing Rhetoric and the Future of the Continent
As 2019 rolls on, further elections will be conducted in the continent of Africa, starting with Algeria in April. But Africa is yet to completely free itself from mystification of political leaders and personalized power. Before, it was done through the barrel of the gun and military intimidation. Now, democratic institutions like the constitutions have been faintly manipulated to give democratic face to such scenario. This is exactly what is happening in Algeria as president Abdelaziz Bouteflika runs for a fifth consecutive term in office since about two decades of coming to power.
The April 18 election in Algeria will not be any different from the previous ones if the 82 years old president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika decided to contest in the election. Expectedly, he will be contesting against former prime minister, Ali Benflis, Ali Ghediri and the leader of the moderate Islamist party, Abderazak Makri. The health status of the incumbent, president Abdelaziz Bouteflika has further cast enough doubt on his ability to govern the oil-rich country.
The president has been confined to a wheelchair since suffering stroke in 2003 which has further limit his effectiveness as the president of a nation. His last address to the nation was more than six years ago. In a saner clime, such person should not even be the head of a medium scale business not to talk of a country.
General elections will be held in South Africa on May 8, 2019 to elect a new National Assembly and new provincial legislatures in each province. In the election, the incumbent President, Cyril Ramaphosa will be leading the ruling African National Congress (ANC) attempting to retain majority status and a full time in office as the president.
South Africa practices a parliamentary system of government which means that the president would be elected by the National Assembly after the National Assembly election. The election will be largely contested between African National Congress (ANC) and Democratic Alliance (DA)
With loss of legitimacy suffered by the ANC under the leadership of Jacob Zuma who resigned in 2018 following allegation of corruption, the Democratic Alliance is in a good position to challenge the dominance of the ANC in South Africa.
Nonetheless, the DA needs to convince the black population that it is not a white party. As a matter of fact, race still plays critical role in electoral politics of South Africa. And the major parties, ANC and DA have continued to aver their commitment to non-racial and equal south Africa where everyone, black or white will enjoy equal opportunity.
Both parties have embraced or lay claim to Mandela’s historic missions of creating a non-racial society. In an effort to win votes and appeal itself to anti-migration South Africans, the major opposition, Democratic Alliance has released immigration plans for the country. But in a country where xenophobic attacks are well known and where citizens are uncomfortable with the current migration patterns, the DA appears to have played the right card in order to win elections.
Elections will also be held in Malawi on May 21, 2019 to elect president, National Assembly and Local government councilors. For the presidential election, a total of nine candidates would be competing with the incumbent president, Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) would will be running for a second term in office.
The incumbent vice president, Saulos Chilima of the United Transformation Movement (UTM) would also be contesting the election. Other candidates in the election include, former president Joyce Banda (People’s Party), Lazarus Chakwera (Malawi Congress Party) and Atupele Muluzi (United Democratic Front).
The various allegations of corruption levelled against the incumbent, Peter Mutharika of the DPP have reduced his popularity and dampened his chances of re-election. Calls for his resignation have been mounting in recent times, but the president has held on. The vice president, also contesting for the position of the presidency had broken rank with the DPP to join United Transformation Movement (UTM) citing corruption and nepotism.
The candidate of the People’s Party (PP), Joyce Banda and also the former president of Malawi has also been formally and formerly implicated of corruption which was said to have contributed to her defeat in the 2014 general elections in the country. At best, the Malawi election of May 21, 2019 can be said to be a contest between a corrupt incumbent president, fraudulent former president and disgruntled vice president. This further highlights the crisis of governance in Africa.
Africa on the Right Democratic Path?
2019 is perhaps an evidence that the continent of Africa will continue to journey on the path of democratic experimentations. But for how long do we need to journey before we begin to experience evidence of democratic consolidation? elections in the continent are still largely riddled in controversies marred by electoral irregularities. African politics is said to be vulnerable to demagoguery, debauchery and divineness.
The hit maps of the 2019 presidential elections in Nigeria have already shown evidences of ethno-religious sentiments. Votes were cast along regional lines with the South East and South South largely voting for the candidate of the opposition parties who had “their” man as his running mate. The incumbent and the declared winner of the elections, president Muhammadu Buhari rode on his popularity in the North, while Southwest divided their votes. But democracy is only a game of numbers and its forgives the incompetence of the voters.
In Algeria, what can be called “gerontocratic democracy” has been instituted. But it is not much about the age of the incumbent, president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, but about his health condition and capability to govern. How can one possibly govern when he his trapped to the wheelchair? In Malawi, it is more likely that a dishonest woman or an unethical man would be elected as the president of the country come May 21, 2019. This is how we presently roll in Africa.
Democratic progress has been slow in Africa, but the continent is moving. More so, the problem lies more with democratic institutions in the continent including the political parties and the constitutions. Path to further progress will not be smooth, but the democratic journey has been worth it so far.
Ebenezer Makinde is a contributor to The African Progressive Economist and the opinions expressed here are his own. He is graduate of University of Ibadan.
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