Key elections holding in Africa
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.