Free and fair elections are clearly the sole determinant of democracy in every country!
Most democratic countries in Africa have held elections pretty much since attaining their independence. Many Africans believe that, if people can vote and choose their leaders freely based on what matters to them, then democracy is definitely working. Although in between, many leaders resorted to amending their countries’ respective Constitutions to serve for longer terms then stipulated, thereby influencing the choice of the voters.
If elections are viewed as the main yardstick for democracy, the main determinant of a democratic country, the main characteristic and basis of democracy, Africa will thrive.
In Africa though, elections are characterized by many things, voter intimidation by leaders, violence, media threats, fraud, poll rigging and vote purchases, which undermine and influence the results of the elections and very much change the perception and clear choice of the preferred candidate for the voters, as they vote with so much fear and influence from the candidates that contest the elections.
Getting elections right in Africa is not as easy as it sounds. The playing field is not always level between incumbents and oppositions parties. Observations during elections, tight security and control over the activities and influence on voters should be reinforced and closely checked. The electoral commissions in different countries are dependent, unprofessional and mostly politically appointed. Election observer missions have failed to find the means of responding to different election situations, to guarantee free, fair or even peaceful elections. As it is, in Africa, many believe that if there was no violence during elections, then basically it was good election and democracy is exercised.
No one wants a bad leader. But as Dr. Terence Mcnamee puts it, ‘we need to care more about how elections are won, and not just who wins’. Furthermore, democracy should be more than just choosing leaders freely and fairly. It should be about everyday life, it should be about community engagement, about personal confidence and belief, it should be about daring to stand up and be counted and it’s about the art of life and living together in the twenty-first century. Democratic politics has become a toxic brand and it needs to re-brand itself by offering a new and fresh account of both the challenges and opportunities that undoubtedly lay ahead.
Democracy should not only be about convincing people to vote for you, making empty promises, getting majority seats in parliament. It should continue past elections, it should be about nation-building, accountability in individuals and state institutions, it should be about good governance, independence and democratic public institutions or parastatals, it should be about responsibility and respect for the voters and subjects of the voted candidates. Most of the African leaders quickly dismiss and forget the voters when they get into power, forgetting the promises they made to get the voters to vote for them, clearly thinking they are only important during elections and therefore not needed after, look at Namibia and South Africa, the ruling parties in these countries are so receptive and generous to their voters when it’s time for election, offering attractive and colorful campaigns, well written manifestos and promises to introduce new policies and bills all in the interest of the public, like the pension increment, just to mention a few. Immediately after they have won the election they turn their backs on the electorate and go back on their words and instead focus on themselves as individuals, involved in corruption, nepotism and personal enrichment and ignorance and disregard of the constitution and the rule of law, look at Jacob Zuma!
Democracy should be about protecting the people, including citizens’ access to every opportunity; the government should respect human rights and rule of law and offer them protection that they otherwise need and require from all the government institutions.
If democracy is to work, citizens must not only participate and exercise their rights. They must also observe certain principles and rules of democratic conduct. People must respect the law and reject violence. Nothing ever justifies using violence against your political opponents, just because you disagree with them. No one should denounce a political opponent as evil and illegitimate, just because they have different views. People should question the decisions of the government, but not reject the government’s authority.
When you express your opinions, you should also listen to the views of other people, even people you disagree with. Everyone has a right to be heard. Democracy requires compromise. Groups with different interests and opinions must be willing to sit down with one another and negotiate (oppositions and governing parties).
Many countries in African countries have invested millions of dollars in the deployment of technology EVMs, BVR etc. Roughly half of all national-level elections in Africa now involve digital or electronic machines for elections.
Deployed efficiently and operated effectively, these machines can work to the advantage of all citizens and to the political well-being of the whole country. I feel though that, more money should be spent on education for voters and making all the citizens aware of their right and responsibility as citizens, because until the conditions that give rise to politicization and manipulation are addressed, not even electronic voting/elections can guarantee free, fair, peaceful or decisive elections. In the process citizens are also denied the very right they are entitled to of choosing their leaders democratically without interference.
The hard slog of institution building-developing constraints on the executive by judiciaries, and legislatures, safeguarding the rights of citizens, building an informed society has taken a back seat to elections, an event that comes around only every other five years.
The quantity of elections and people’s voting has not matched the quality of democracy. In Africa since independence we have had multiple elections, presumably to indicate and emphasize on the practice of democracy and the importance of having these elections in democratic countries. As much as elections are important to our fulfilment of democracy, democracy is much more than just voting and should be exercised as such.
By Jesaya Michael
Gradute In Public Management And Pursuing His Sudies At Unam In Media Studie