Nic Cheese­man, pro­fes­sor, Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - Nicn Cheese­man Pro­fes ssor of democ­racy and in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment, Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham, UK

It is a tough time to be an African dic­ta­tor. Forced to hold elec­tions against their will by civil so­ci­ety groups and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, they now have to par­tic­i­pate in po­lit­i­cal pro­cesses that they nei­ther be­lieve in nor re­spect. Strong­man rulers are chal­lenged by in­creas­ingly as­sertive op­po­si­tion par­ties and the rise of so­cial me­dia. Hold­ing on to power has be­come more dif­fi­cult – es­pe­cially for the many coun­tries in which the econ­omy is fail­ing to cre­ate enough new jobs. With the rise of election ob­ser­va­tion and bio­met­ric tech­nol­ogy to pre­vent mul­ti­ple vot­ing, things now look very dif­fer­ent to the hey­day of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in the early 1980s, when ‘pres­i­dents for life’ were the norm. Fac­ing such a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment, despots risk be­com­ing an en­dan­gered species. But if you are an as­pir­ing dic­ta­tor, do not de­spair be­cause you still have plenty of op­tions left. Our new book, How to Rig an Election*, draws to­gether the great­est hits of the most cor­rupt and ve­nal lead­ers around the world to ex­plain how to ma­nip­u­late elec­tions and re­tain power. With this knowl­edge, even in­ex­pe­ri­enced au­to­crats like Edgar Lungu can stay in power. To fol­low in the foot­steps of past masters like Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mba­sogo or Idriss Déby, all you need to do is fol­low these five easy lessons:

1 Start be­fore any­one is look­ing

In­ter­na­tional ob­servers can re­ally un­der­mine au­to­crats’ ef­forts to con­trol an election out­come. Don’t worry too much about the African Union, you can rely on them to pull their punches. But if you end up with the Euro­pean Union and the Carter Cen­tre, you need to be more care­ful – not only will they try and catch you in the act on election day, but they will send long-term ob­servers to the coun­try a few months be­fore the polls. It is there­fore im­por­tant to start early. The best dic­ta­tors get their plans in place for the next election as soon as they have ‘won’ the last one. There is no time to waste. Tell the bu­reau­crats not to give out iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments to those liv­ing in op­po­si­tion-run ar­eas to make it harder for them to regis­ter to vote. And you should ex­tend gov­ern­ment con­trol over the banks so that only your al­lies get ac­cess to credit. With­out money, your ri­vals will find it al­most im­pos­si­ble to beat you! If you do this step well, ev­ery­thing else will be­come eas­ier – and the best thing is that these tac­tics go un­der the radar and are al­most never used as evidence that the election was rigged, so you have your cake and eat it.

2 Man­age the mes­sage

Your peo­ple will be less likely to kick you out of of­fice if they have no idea how badly you have been per­form­ing, so make sure you get tight con­trol of the me­dia. Savvy dic­ta­tors sub­sidise the state press through un­nec­es­sary gov­ern­ment ad­verts and get rid of op­po­si­tion me­dia by tar­get­ing them with trumped-up charges of defama­tion or tax fraud. Re­mem­ber that so­cial me­dia is not your friend. Left unat­tended, Twit­ter and Face­book will re­flect pop­u­lar opin­ion, which is a prob­lem be­cause many peo­ple do not like you. But don’t worry, you have more money than the op­po­si­tion, so use it to buy friends and have them flood so­cial me­dia with pos­i­tive mes­sages. Once these net­works are set up, clever dic­ta­tors use them to cir­cu­late fake news de­tail­ing their ac­com­plish­ments while dis­cred­it­ing their main ri­vals – a good story to start with is that the op­po­si­tion is funded by the former colo­nial power!

3 Get some­one else to do the nasty stuff for you

Us­ing phys­i­cal vi­o­lence all the time is costly and likely to up­set ob­servers. If you do have to use phys­i­cal vi­o­lence, the les­son from his­tory is to make sure that the blood doesn’t end up on your own hands. Use mili­tias and gangs be­cause you can give them money, send them out to do your dirty work and then deny all knowl­edge of it if any­one turns up ask­ing dif­fi­cult ques­tions. The fact that these

groups are not part of the state means that it will be harder for any­one to pin the blame on you. And even if the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court launches an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, they are un­likely to be able to get the evidence they need to se­cure a pros­e­cu­tion, al­low­ing you to get away with mur­der.

4 Pre­tend to be a re­former

Ev­ery­one loves a re­former, so give them what they are look­ing for. Tell them that you have changed, that you are an au­thor­i­tar­ian de­vel­op­men­tal­ist. Once they be­lieve you, per­suade your in­ter­na­tional al­lies that you would love to hold a more demo­cratic election but that this could gen­er­ate in­sta­bil­ity, un­der­min­ing the prospects for eco­nomic growth – and no one would want that, would they? If you are look­ing for a tried and tested catch­phrase as part of your re­brand­ing, try ‘open for busi­ness’ – it works like a charm. Spe­cial tip: As part of this strat­egy it is ad­vis­able to do some in­ter­views with in­ter­na­tional me­dia in which you can men­tion your as­pi­ra­tion to em­u­late the in­spir­ing ex­am­ple of Paul Kagame in Rwanda.

5 Use tech­nol­ogy to your own ad­van­tage

You might be think­ing that new election tech­nol­ogy will make it harder to ma­nip­u­late the polls in the same way as in the past. But don’t worry, the most cre­ative dic­ta­tors out there have al­ready shown how you can turn it to your own ad­van­tage. If you can’t avoid in­tro­duc­ing bio­met­ric ver­i­fi­ca­tion at polling sta­tions – thus mak­ing ghost vot­ing im­pos­si­ble – just en­sure that the of­fi­cials you ap­pointed to the elec­toral com­mis­sion know when to crash the sys­tem. Af­ter that, the com­mis­sion will re­vert back to its old man­ual pro­cesses and you can get all of your fake vot­ers through be­fore putting the elec­tronic sys­tem back on­line. Spe­cial tip: De­lib­er­ately buy new tech­nol­ogy so late that it can­not be prop­erly tested. That way, you can blame the prob­lem on an un­spec­i­fied ‘server er­ror’ and ev­ery­one will have to be­lieve you.

If ob­servers tell you that they want to con­duct a par­al­lel vote tab­u­la­tion to check that no one is fid­dling the count­ing of the bal­lots, don’t panic! Re­mem­ber that only am­a­teurs rig at this stage. The best in the busi­ness know that they have won the election well be­fore a vote was cast, so they do not fear a par­al­lel count. Af­ter all, it will just pro­vide ex­ter­nal con­fir­ma­tion that you got more votes than your ri­vals, while say­ing noth­ing about all the other strate­gies you have used to ma­nip­u­late your way into power. As a re­sult, as soon as the count is an­nounced, crit­i­cism of the election will melt away – leav­ing you with a demo­cratic le­git­i­macy you never dreamed of. Con­grat­u­la­tions – you are now free to gov­ern as a re­spectable mem­ber of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. *How to Rig an Election by Nic Cheese­man and Brian Klaas (Yale Univer­sity Press) seeks to ex­pose the way that elec­tions are rigged around the world so that we can learn how to bet­ter de­fend democ­racy.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Botswana

© PressReader. All rights reserved.