Ballot Power: Wasted, Abused in Africa

McDike Dimkpa
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As we go from one election year to another in different African countries, one thing that is obviously common to all of these elections, besides how the electorate does not fully utilise the ballot privilege they have, is the heavy contention between allowing true democracy guide the elections and the creativity of politicians in truncating those same democratic guidelines.

Creativity, because politicians have been buffeted by a rise in both internal and external pressures to follow due processes in elections; so, when following that process looks like undermining their chances, they creatively circumnavigate the processes  and it appears they are trying to follow the due process. They create some problems along the line and make it look like it is next to impossible to avoid such ‘electoral’ problems. that is why elections are hardly free of violence; less transparency….

Somewhere in the background, there is the undecided electorate, the very ones who are supposed to, with their votes, employ the politicians into the various political offices. The same electorate still has the power to fire the officers, if at no other time, during another round of election. However, given the mix-ups in electioneering, it is usually difficult to say that the voters are actually responsible for the results that are announce afterwards.

Days ago, there was an anti-Biya protest in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde. That was after a previous day’s protest in Daoula. The reason for the protests was not really clear. Or so I thought. Probably, still, the protests should not have been tagged ‘anti-Biya’ because it was against the electoral body who handled the election. Biya ‘did not’ do anything: he was just a candidate who got more votes. He did not declare himself winner either, so? Why was the protest ‘anti-Biya’?

If ever there was to be such protests, the Cameroonians should have protested both before and during the election, with their votes. But coming to have protests after a victory looked like medicine after death. Or is it that the other ‘millions’ who voted for Biya were not affected by his ‘misrule’? Perhaps, there is no misrule anywhere; it is all fake news.

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In Nigeria, one of the western states, Osun, held a gubernatorial election in September. The outgoing governor had not been the best of governors and as expected, his party, the APC, was to be voted out in the September 22 election. The votes actually said so, as the APC candidate lost by a close margin which gave room for a rerun, before he finally won. The case is being disputed though, after accusations of fraud.

While the electoral body with the federal government are being accused of colluding to rig the election, there is need to take another look at the electorate. Rauf Aregbesola, the previous governor, was so ‘hated’, based on his arguable poor leadership, that many Osun people were even ashamed to call him their governor. I did meet a few like that. Before the election, it was almost a surety, that his candidate would lose as people said it was over with the APC in Osun. But who were those people who voted for the APC still?

This is the same question one may want to ask the Malians, the Cameroonians, the Zimbabweans, probably in future too, the Congolese, who will also ‘decide’ in December. How come the same electorate that complain over leadership still vote for the same leaders again and again? It just shows how the continent is not using the power of the ballot to stamp their authority on them, leaders.

Paul Biya has been in the office of Cameroon’s presidency before every Cameroonian under the age of 36 was born. That means whatever negative story is told of Cameroon, Mr Biya would have either masterminded it or been incapable of bringing solutions. If therefore, the country has not been on a positive trend all these years, how could he have won another election when the electorate has been complaining of misrule?

Emmerson Mnangagwa was in the cabinet of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe throughout those Mugabe years. He was never far from the government as he headed different ministries, served in the parliament, became First Vice President to Mugabe before they fell out. That means Mnangagwa shares fully, in the failures of Mugabe, if Zimbabweans see their former president as such. Should they have voted Mnangagwa again? Well, maybe, he is a different individual after all. We will see about that as his governance unwraps itself by the way.

Elections are, one hundred percent, exclusive recruiting platforms for the voters to recruit leaders. But the processes are almost always hijacked by the recruits themselves. In the end, the people lose the power they are supposed to have on their leaders because the voters themselves are sharply divided in expectations and demands from their governments. Good governance, which is supposed to be understood in simple terms, is subjected to these divides. It is very difficult to have such people pulling their strength in one against self-serving leaders.

It is normal that people are divided on choices. But when such choices are about common needs, there is a need to come out of sentimental convictions to give a job to the person who is fit to do it. People choose skilled artisans to do some works for them, in disregard for relatives who are not so skilled in the same industry because they want a job not just done but well done. Why then do sentiments take over when it is time to choose people who should steer a collective destiny?

Africans choose with so much sentiments hinged on religion, ‘experience’, ethnicity, etc. During an election, such issues are discussed: this person is/not our person and core discussions of how that person would do what, are not highlighted. And after an election, the same people who were not interested in governance, will begin to complain of bad leadership. Funnier, when another election comes, those same complains will be successfully de-emphasised, again!

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Hunger does not respect ethnicity. Power failure does not know a Christian or Muslim compound. Lack of basic health amenities does not save the relative of a governor from dying in a badly run hospital. It is puzzling hen, why the electorate cannot decide to have a future and kick out docility from their government houses.

The influence of the ballot in building a people’s future cannot be overemphasised. But Africans need to make good use of that influence. Why should an incumbent have another tenure if a first tenure is abysmal? President of Mali, Boubacar Keita, could not have a great outing since 2013 over, at least, the insecurity plaguing Malians. Did he deserve another term? That is left to the Malians.

These are no longer the times of military intervention for a country to be luckily gifted leaders like Thomas Sankara or Murtala Mohammed. If Sankara was a young politician today, there is a possibility that he may not be voted into the presidency because he would be accused of lacking the experience. He may only get such nods if he was an ally of the ‘experienced’ ones that would have ended up changing his mindset.

Africans need to look down and see those who want to salvage this region. Africans need to set out job descriptions for their leaders and do the hiring and firing when need be. But  where the leader sets the job description, hires himself and, really, nobody fires himself, it becomes difficult for the electorate to put their welfare back into the picture.

Beyond the altercations on Twitter and Facebook, youths have to concentrate on issues that are sacrosanct and avoid towing the sentimental lines all the time. They need not repeat the same mistake their parents made. In the past, today did not feature in politics. Now, it is either we bring in tomorrow into our politics or that future will still be deferred.

That a Paul Biya is still winning elections in Cameroon is a shame on contemporary Africa. Modern Cameroonians delayed their future when they had the October 7 opportunity to change a not-so-good narrative in their country’s history. It is such indifference of the electorate that emboldened Mrs Grace Mugabe to declare that her husband could win elections in Zimbabwe even on a sick bed. Such an insult on the purpose of government!

That is also why a Nigerian minister would declare that Muhammadu Buhari, even while receiving medical treatment, is healthier than many Nigerians (who cannot afford foreign medication, I guess) and so is fit to be Nigeria’s president forever.

African leaders will continue to take their people for rides until the people realise the enormous power they have in the ballots and use it. We must give red cards to anyone delaying our rise with unhealthy politics. If after one tenure, there is no sign of improvement, we should try another candidate, that is the purpose of elections.

Africans must kill political apathy. This situation where only a quatre or half of the country’s  population participates in an election should no longer be.

I have discussed with many fellow Nigerians who do not want to have anything to anything to do with elections. Some possess their voter’s cards for documentation reasons, nothing about elections. The fear is that ‘they will still rig their election’. Their election. These ones have to know that when they see elections as belonging to the politicians, that is a perfect example of truncating the very opportunity they have in controlling the politicians.

It is not their election; it is our or everybody’s election. That constitutional right to use the ballot and choose who does what in which capacity must be utilised fully, otherwise, we are light years behind our own salvation.


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