Key elec­tions hold­ing in Africa

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

Oc­to­ber is cru­cial for democ­racy in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa as a num­ber of na­tions have al­ready held or are sched­uled to con­duct key pres­i­den­tial elec­tions this month. This mo­ment pro­vides each of th­ese coun­tries, though with var­ied his­to­ries and po­lit­i­cal back­grounds, with a rare chance to con­sol­i­date their democ­ra­cies and en­hance eco­nomic growth and shared pros­per­ity.

The se­ries of elec­tions across Africa this month are a re­sponse to the burn­ing hunger for gov­ern­ments that are le­git­i­mate, re­spon­si­ble and re­spon­sive to the peo­ple’s yearn­ings and as­pi­ra­tions. The chal­lenge how­ever is for the polls to meet ac­cept­able stan­dards and be de­void of vi­o­lence. Tan­za­nia and Cote d’Ivoire are due to hold their pres­i­den­tial polls on Oc­to­ber 25, the out­come of which will either con­sol­i­date democ­racy or bog down progress in the east­ern and western African coun­tries, re­spec­tively.

Since in­de­pen­dence in 1960 Tan­za­nia which has a strong tra­di­tion of peace­ful elec­tions and has man­aged to con­duct pres­i­den­tial polls ev­ery five years but this is its fourth tran­si­tion of power be­tween elected pres­i­dents. By re­spect­ing the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sion of a two-term limit, Pres­i­dent Jakaya Kik­wete, who is step­ping aside, has not only cre­ated a dy­namic and healthy en­vi­ron­ment for com­pe­ti­tion among po­ten­tial suc­ces­sors, he has also set a new stan­dard for sit-tight po­lit­i­cal lead­ers on the con­ti­nent. It is im­por­tant to re­spect term lim­its be­cause there is no mean­ing­ful democ­racy any­where in the world when lead­ers change con­sti­tu­tions mid-way for their self­ish or po­lit­i­cal ben­e­fit.

The elec­tions in Cote d’Ivoire will be the first since 2010 when the then in­cum­bent Lau­rent Gbagbo re­fused to cede power af­ter cur­rent Pres­i­dent Alas­sane Qu­at­tarra was de­clared win­ner, trig­ger­ing a civil war that lasted five months and claimed about 3000 lives. It is how­ever dis­turb­ing that Qu­at­tarra, who is seek­ing a sec­ond term in of­fice, is be­ing ac­cused of re­peat­ing his pre­de­ces­sor’s ac­tions. The op­po­si­tion has raised a num­ber of is­sues over the or­gan­i­sa­tion of the poll, in­clud­ing its pos­si­ble ma­nip­u­la­tion by the na­tional elec­toral body in favour of the in­cum­bent, an al­le­ga­tion that should be taken se­ri­ously. Though some think he should ride eas­ily to vic­tory in the face of a fac­ti­tious op­po­si­tion, it is im­per­a­tive that the coun­try over­comes the legacy of bloody polls of 2010 and con­tinue its po­si­tion as a re­gional leader.

Guinea, which is emerg­ing from the Ebola scourge, con­ducted its sec­ond demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial vote since it gained in­de­pen­dence from France in 1958, on Oc­to­ber 11. Euro­pean Union ob­servers who mon­i­tored the elec­tion said it was valid but there were se­vere lo­gis­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties. Some of the main con­tentious is­sues in the runup to the poll were the op­po­si­tion’s reser­va­tion about neu­tral­ity of the na­tional elec­toral author­ity, the Com­mis­sion Elec­torale Na­tionale In­de­pen­dente and fears of a pos­si­ble doc­tor­ing of the voter list in cer­tain re­gions to favour Pres­i­dent Al­pha Conde’s rul­ing party.

Pres­i­den­tial poll in Burk­ina Faso, also ini­tially planned for Oc­to­ber 11, was how­ever put off due to the vi­o­lence in the run-up of the vote fol­low­ing a coup d’etat in mid-Septem­ber. The elec­tions in Cen­tral African Re­pub­lic (CAR) ear­lier slated for Oc­to­ber 18 were again de­ferred due to es­ca­lat­ing vi­o­lence that first erupted on Septem­ber 26, and af­ter the head of the coun­try’s na­tional elec­toral body re­signed a few days to the vote, cit­ing pres­sure from CAR’s pres­i­dency and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

In spite of the glar­ing short­com­ings in the prepa­ra­tion for some of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, it is im­por­tant that los­ing can­di­dates owe it to their coun­tries to con­cede vic­tory and play con­struc­tive roles in find­ing and im­ple­ment­ing so­lu­tions to the var­i­ous chal­lenges con­fronting their dif­fer­ent na­tions. They can learn some lessons from Nige­ria which wit­nessed its first tran­si­tion of power from one party to an­other since in­de­pen­dence in 1960, af­ter the in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan ac­cepted de­feat in the March 28 elec­tion and ceded power to the op­po­si­tion leader Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari on May 29, de­spite pres­sure for Jonathan to hang on.

Though a free, fair and peace­ful pres­i­den­tial elec­tion may not nec­es­sar­ily guar­an­tee a suc­cess­ful democ­racy, it is one of the ma­jor yard­sticks of mea­sur­ing progress in a de­vel­op­ing na­tion. This is why th­ese polls and their fall­outs should be taken se­ri­ously and care­fully man­aged for Africa’s progress.

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