This Africa month, one must consider the possibility of democracy and governance for Africa, determined by Africans. Only Africans can understand the complexities and needs of its electorate, whilst maintaining a democracy that is characterised by changing dynamics.
Democracy is good for the continent. The introduction of multi-party politics has ensured that the appetite for coups has been limited. In addition, elections offer a better and peaceful method in which leadership can change, on the continent, bringing about stability, democratic and economic development. However, this does not mean that democracy, in its current form, is the best alternative for the Africa. Instead, the current brand of democracy is one which has been parachuted into Africa and dictated upon states. It is a democracy that is measured by foreign standards. This is a result of the fact that Africa does not have a barometer which it can use to determine the checks and balances that may be applicable to the African story. Therefore, barometers that are used, such as the Democracy Barometer; which is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and is a collaboration between the University of Zurich and the Social Science Research Centre of Berlin, skews the West’s view of democracy as expressed in the African content.
Democracy under neo – colonial circumstances
As the continent continues to include democracy, the rule of law and good governance in its narrative, it should not shy away from neo-colonial influences that are maintained through the planting and supporting of puppet leaders. For example, in Francophone countries, one can observe how commonplace it is for neo-colonists to support “puppet leaders” who serve their interest more than those of their citizens. Countries such as the DRC, Congo Brazzaville are in the clutches of French influence, whilst the citizens of these countries remain in poor conditions with little infrastructure and limited economic growth. The economy in most of these countries remains in dire straits, with the franc being the currency of choice. The infrastructure is unmaintained and dilapidated. Citizens live below poverty lines, with little hope for economic reform and emancipation. The African Union is expected to monitor these tendencies and take corrective action in ensuring that African countries are released from the controls of neo-colonialism.
Unabated interference of the West in African elections
During both the 2007 and 2013 elections, Western interference in the Kenyan elections was evident in the; financial investment and support towards a particular result. However, failure to garner intended outcomes left the West highly disappointed after the March 2013 elections. This dynamic was also evident during the 2013 presidential elections in Zimbabwe. Despite elections being hailed as free and fair, by the African Union Observers, the West remained adamant, through their various observer missions, that the elections were rigged and not a true reflection of the electorate choices.
Western countries cannot resist the neo-colonial urge of knowing what is good for Africans. Even when the implications are the support of atrocities against citizens through the influence of electing leaders who maintain a neo-colonialist agenda, in return for donor funding. The larger the donations received the bigger the influence and extraction of raw materials. It would be useful for organisations, such as the African Union to create a tool that effectively determines the nature of the donations to the various countries and fully interrogates the purpose those donations would serve, as well as the implications of them.
Unification of the Electoral System for Africa
Reports, such as the Electoral Integrity Report of Harvard and Sydney universities entitled (The Year in Elections 2014) hail South Africa, Tunisia, and Botswana as glowing examples of successful democratic processes that have resulted in free, fair and credible elections.
However, one is inclined to argue that the absence of violence in countries such as like Botswana, Lesotho, or Swaziland does not make an election free and fair, or credible. There are other factors that should be taken into account, for instance, adequate, unbiased and fair access to the media. The capacity strengthening and democracy building of; professional electoral administrative bodies, deep-rooted civic partnerships with the community, free and unrestricted campaign trails and transparency from the time of elections planning to the announcement of the election results.
In other words, the barometer by which African elections are measured should not depend on whether a particular country is deemed to be a ‘darling of the west’ or not. If the country dances to the expectations of the West, then no matter how flawed the democratic and election process is, they would always be regarded free and fair.
This requires the continent to set up its own electoral system that is reflective of the conditions and environment in which elections take place in Africa. This African Elections Barometer will be appropriate for the countries within the continent to be measured instead of using one that is adapted from European and American peers. Such a barometer needs to balance the weighbridges and set the tone for the effective and unbiased in the measurement of free, fair and credible elections. It would also place the continent on an equal footing as their global peers in elections. Most importantly, this will limit the amount of interference and meddling in African elections affairs.
Africa must find alternative solutions for the challenges it faces. As a continent, Africa must find its own voice, and dance to its own tune as far as elections, democracy, and good governance is concerned and not be burdened by the requirements and the measurement of what the global north deems to be ‘free and fair’.