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The pain of elections in Africa

When discussing the state of world politics it is very common for people to dismiss the state of affairs in African politics. In fact, most people I have interacted with have always stated categorically that the African continent is a cursed one and that curse is a permanent one.

One political commentator went even further  to say that the curse that have afflicted the state of African people and its politics can be traced to the slave trade era through to more than hundred years of colonialism and further extended to post colonial Africa and beyond.

   I fully agree with him because after many African countries got their independence in the 50s, 60s and 70s many people wrongly thought that the time for true liberation and ushering of democracy had arrived. Lo and behold, the so called liberation heroes turned their backs on the very people they have claimed to be liberating. Corrupt, horrible dictatorships occupied the seats that rightly belonged to democratically accountable institutions. Elections in many African countries were declared a taboo and one party system of rule ensued.

The language of democracy, elections, accountability, and transparency disappeared into thin air and those who attempted to speak it became instant endangered species. Poverty reigned amongst the masses, while corrupt kleptocratic rulers’ Swiss bank accounts swelled with ill gotten wealth. In this kind of political environment, it was extremely impossible and dangerous for the people to use their voices through elections as there was no political platform that accorded elections any space. However, around the late 80s and early 90s a third wave of democratisation swept across the continent where a semblance of a multi-party democracy seemed to take roots. Long time dictators in diverse countries such as Zambia, Kenya, Malawi finally gave way (unwillingly of course) to new crops of leaders. Instead of these new crops of leaders resuscitating the collapsed democratic institutions they devised deceptive ways to stay forever in power. Constitutions were bastardised willy- nilly to create third, fourth or life terms. Democracy again was thrown to the back banner. Other leaders like Kabila of the DRC would even declare that there is no money to run elections! 

Those who opposed an extension of terms in office were either marginalised from mainstream political discourse and political sycophants masquerading as governments spokesmen were given acres of space in the usually state media to sell the idea of extending the incumbent’s undeserved shelf life in power. Painfully, some fake academics would come up with some “research polls” showing how popular the incumbent is and that the masses still need him at the top. If by a stroke of luck elections were conducted, they would always be a sham. Opposition cadres were often harassed and denied any space to campaign for votes. The military would become a sharpened sword of the incumbents. Bloodshed would reign until the incumbent is declared a winner (often with a landslide). The same thing or curse as my friends would put it, is still

very prevalent in African politics. In Africa election time is a nightmare for the citizens.

That’s when political insanity will reign with apocalyptic impunity. We still witness situations where every trick is used by incumbents to win power. These include manipulation of state media, conniving with corrupt Asian business communities within these countries to make some huge campaign contributions to buy votes. Mind you, these Asian mafias expect some kickbacks when the incumbent wins in the form of multi-million dollar contracts. In many instances the secret intelligence services are also roped in as destabilising campaign machines for the incumbents. All manner of propaganda is used via available media houses and most importantly social media. The situation becomes so crazy to the extent that the nation becomes so polarised. In the midst of all this madness, policy focussed debates between those who contest for elections is a non-starter. Wars of propagandistic rhetoric take centre stage much to the amusement of the equally ignorant African masses. In fact in Africa rhetoric is prized very highly! A policy focussed debater is deemed as uninspiring and boring, while Jacob Zuma- like “Mchini wam” populist antics are viewed as real “politics”.

After the election results are announced in many African states, there is always a huge cry from the losers on how unfair and not free the elections were. The so called independent observers from different organisations, whom I have always dismissed as mere tourists than real observers in many instances, will be quick to declare even the most unfair elections as free and fair! For example it was a shame that the European Union, African Union observers including a host of other like former US Secretary of State, John Kerry would declare a sham that was in Kenya as free and fair election. Thanks to the courts of laws, the election results were nullified (the first time in the history of this continent). To sum it all I can safely say that the pain of going for elections in Africa is unparralled anywhere in the world.

To make matters worse, the introduction of suspicious Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in some countries in Africa has added more uncertainty and anxiety to a lot of people. The post election chaos brought by lack of public trust in the use of EVMs in some African countries is a huge cause of concern for many people in Botswana that wants to implement that suspicious voting system. Mind you this is a country with a small population that has enjoyed relative stability in both pre and post election environment. I am praying daily that 2019 elections in Botswana do not turn the country into another African basket case.

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