A debate on whether elections really work for Africa is as good as the idea of protecting democracy.
Reports of Post-Election Violence in Zimbabwe reveal a chilling sense of familiarity.
While this is depressing, it is hardly surprising for reasons that: Africa’s Election Management Bodies (EMBs) suffer compromised capacity for competence; and equally, Africa’s electorate have established their capacity for barbarity.
Inescapably therefore, the election period is always Africa’s weakest and darkest moment. Elections are conducted under a climate of fear, and announcement of results is almost always accompanied by deadly explosion of violence.
ANATOMY OF VIOLENCE
A critical aspect of electoral violence in Africa, often left unattended, is the influence of post-election corruption in the subsequent electoral cycle.
Most of African countries suffer crisis of confidence in terms of good governance. Elections are therefore organized in the context of entrenched impunity and deepened corruption.
Political competition for control of the executive wing of government is often a fierce struggle for co-option into the club of resource managers, as opposed to honest belief in beneficial leadership.
While the concept of electoral democracy is fully established in most African countries, it is not for its historical and foundational justifications.
Elections in Africa, in the minds of the ruling elites, are necessary only for their political and symbolic value. The idea that Africa can hold regular elections continues to excite the minds of state elites for reasons that elections are considered as part of the nation’s necessary political accomplishment.
Further, periodic multi party elections bolster the ruling elites’ international legitimacy, and improve the ease of doing business.
However, the ruling elites, more often than not, are unwilling to lose elections. In most countries, elections are anything but free and fair. State elites convert electoral democracy into “electoral authoritarianism.” They employ subtle and crude maneuvers to subvert the integrity of the electoral process, and falsify the will of the voter.
Political actors across the spectrum understand the structured and systematic schemes to interfere with the electoral process and outcome, but still go into the elections hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.
Announcement of election results produce an ostensible winner, and a disgruntled loser. The consequence is an explosion of violence. At the centre of the electoral violence is the EMB.
While most EMBs enjoy institutional independence intended to insulate them from pressures of partisan politics and self-interest back-end lobbying; lack of personal responsibility and independence of EMB Members makes them responsive to external political stimuli, effectively eroding the core design of the EMB’s institutional integrity.
Since every stage in the electoral process is vulnerable, electoral manipulation is difficult to prevent or correct. To this end, it does not really matter that the judiciary is independent or “under the control” of the state. The twinning of election and violence becomes the curse of democracy, and paradoxically, a convenient pathway to negotiate a halfway settlement~governments of national unity, to preserve national tranquility until the next electoral cycle.
GETTING AFRICA OUT OF THE WOODS
Electoral democracy is founded on the safe [but limited] assumption that rulers will be good and decent people who have a sense of shame, and personal responsibility to and care for the interest of the people.
Constitutional control measures intended to circumscribe the exercise of power, so that power is applied to the objectives for which it was founded, and in the manner in which it was intended, can only work when when there is a confluence of moral and legal convictions to be bound and operate within the law.
Where leaders are determined to innovate outside the law, govern based on fear, raw power, passion and discretion; and only recognize the bindingness of the law when it is politically convenient, a system of structured impunity is entrenched. When the law is not the law, until it is adjusted to match political expectations, then the nation is under the curse of [pretension] of democracy.
At the level of renewal of mandate at the ballot, manipulation of the electoral process becomes the natural consequence of entrenched impunity; while violence completes the electoral cycle.
Accordingly, to limit electoral violence, voters must, in the first instance, agonize on how improve public choice processes through mechanisms such as social vetting, strengthening moral convictions and societal values.
In the second place, voters must understand the binary interest of politicians, namely, the stated interest to serve, and the undisclosed interest for personal aggrandizement; and elect those with demonstrable or measurable commitment to national values.