Elections and electoral crises in Africa

Keywords : Cote d’Ivoire Human and trade union rights

Elections and Electoral Crises in Africa

Election and electoral crises in Africa

Since the wave of elections that brought multi-party democracy to Africa in the 1990s, there have been significant advances made in consolidating democracy. Military rule have been successful fought and defeated by the people and it has been settled that never again will martial rule be accepted. Accordingly, African people and societies have embraced democracy as ‘the only game in town’ and that mandates and legitimacy for leadership will only be given to individuals and political parties through the ballot box. All of these were driven in part by the conviction of the African civil society that a plural democratic society will greatly contribute to the promotion and attainment of good governance.

But barely a decade after this renewed hope, developments from different countries on account of elections and outcomes have combined to continue to dash these hopes. Furthermore, experiences from Somalia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and now Cote d’Ivoire show that developments from electoral conducts and outcomes are posing strong and real threats to democracy, peace and stability within the countries in particular and Africa in general. This assertion and apprehension is more real and urgent when one takes accounts of the fact that some 20 elections are billed to hold in Africa in 2011.

Cote d’Ivoire as a sign post

Following the November 28, 2010, presidential runoff election in Cote d’Ivoire, the United Nations, charged with validating the electoral process, along with the Independent Electoral Commission, proclaimed Alassane Ouattara the winner, with 54.1 percent of the vote, over Laurent Gbagbo, the sitting presi¬dent, who had received 45.9 percent of the vote. However, the Constitutional Council annulled results in 13 constituencies, alleging fraud, and proclaimed Gbagbo the winner, with 51.4 percent of the vote; Ouattara was given 48.5 percent. Both Ouattara and Gbagbo were sworn in as president by their supporters. Thus, Cote d’Ivoire with two Presidents is currently embroiled in a delicate political quadmire.

Most in the international and regional communities recognized Ouattara as the winner, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) suspended Côte d’Ivoire membership. Gbagbo’s calls to investigate election fraud, recount the ballots, and craft a power-sharing arrangement have been rejected by the international and regional institutions. Instead, ECOWAS and AU envoys have urged Gbagbo to step down, financial and travel sanctions have been placed on him and his associates, and ECOWAS threatened military intervention.

Fighting (as at the time of writing this report) has broken out among the military and the Young Patriots militia supporting Gbagbo and the Forces Nouvelles rebels supporting Ouattara. The streets of Abidjan and elsewhere in other towns have become battle fields once again. Another civil war looms. The human and societal costs of these attacks are disturbing and piling.

Some of the questions the Ivorien case posed include, what is and how can African States achieve free and fair elections? How do we prevent the winner-takes-all approach of African politics? How do we react to candidates who react violently to election results? And in more broad terms, how can leaders be encouraged to accept defeat? How should the international community respond to leaders who use violence to hold on to power? How should we as Africans (and in particular trade union organisations) react when electoral disputes occur? These questions will lead to touching on briefly one phenomenon that has been arranged as a solution to electoral dispute- ‘power sharing’. Perhaps, also critical for analysis and deeper comprehension of electoral violence is the issue of the attitude of politicians.

Some causes of electoral violence and crises

General Attitude of Politicians

Election has increasingly become a do-or-die situation with politicians using all means including unfair tactics to ‘capture’ power. The electioneering languages are increasingly becoming inciting and violent with less restraints and consideration. There is the notion that election is war and only the winner is a good strategist. Those who lose are left to rue their losses and are treated as enemies of the government and the state.

There is also the culture of not accepting defeat. Almost all elections contested on the continent have been disputed by the opposition and those who lost the votes. And rather than working together to move the country forward after elections, precious time and resources are wasted by candidates and parties undermining each other and further dividing their supporters and the general citizenry.

The urge to win-at-all cost and the huge democratic governance deficits currently on display give credence to the notion that election is a mean to power, which is then used to plunder the commonwealth of the countries by the elected politicians. Politics, elections and leadership are seen as means to wealth. And so all seems fair to politicians in their quest to win including, but not limited to using ethnicity and religion as vehicles for mobilisation of supports and votes.
Weak electoral institutions and legislation have also been identified as causes of electoral crises on the continent. This is the case in the Ivoirien situation where the rules were not exclusively spelt out and the electoral body not effectively empowered. For instance, the rules were ambiguous in terms of the roles of the electoral body, the constitutional court and even that of the UN observer body. Politicians are quick to catch in on these lapses, which they cannot be absolved of helping to create in the first place.

Some of these causes give vent to the argument of having a regional electoral body that will be charged with the roles and responsibility of conducting elections for all countries on the continent. It would be an African Union structure with relative autonomy and power. Members of the AU will also have to cede some of their sovereignty to the structure. And by this, further integration process will be enhanced, cost of conducting individual elections largely reduced and disputes and crises would have been tackled.

Power sharing, a dangerous precedent

In 2010, opposition candidates claimed electoral fraud and irregularities in every presidential election in Africa—in Guinea, Togo, Sudan, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Comoros, Tanzania, and Rwanda. Historically, in many cases of electoral fraud, the challenger urges demonstrations or refuses to recognize the results. In prolonged and violent standoffs mediators have been dispatched, as occurred in Guinea 2010, or a power-sharing agreement has been negotiated, as occurred in Kenya and Zimbabwe in 2008, in Togo in 2005, in Madagascar in 2002, and in Zanzibar in 2001.

While the power-sharing arrangements in those five cases aimed to stop the violence and address some of its underlying causes, such arrangements could have long lasting implications, and shorter, transitional measures might be considered instead. Granted, an electorate can vote for a power-sharing or proportionally representative government.

However, experiences from power sharing arrangements in Zimbabwe and Kenya have left much to be desired. Besides, the power sharing arrangement is seen more as issues for resolution between and sometimes among the contending candidates and their parties. Other important stakeholders have largely been left out during and after the negotiations. What one sees is that rather settle down to governance in the interest of citizens, beneficiaries of the power sharing arrangement are busy engaged in schemes to undo and undermine the other partner and party in the arrangement.

Also, problems can arise when power sharing is imposed as a solution when there is a clear winner. This could weaken the purpose of an election in the case of a clear winner. It could also encourage fraud and win-at-all-cost disposition, especially when the winner cannot be determined. And when there is postelection violence, it may demonstrate that violence pays. It should therefore be worrisome when candidates and political parties now begin to engage in election with a mind-set that a power-sharing arrangement could be a back-door to power.

The General Council is called to also consider the issue of accountability and justice on accounts of election violence. Victims of election violence in Zimbabwe, Guinea, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire (for recent cases) have largely been denied justice while perpetrators roam loose and free.

Similarly, the General Council should note that for the remainder of 2011, Africa faces over 30 elections and referenda in 23 countries, including some that have a history of violence and weak democratic institutions, such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A power-sharing norm, in the event of violently contested election results, could be a dangerous precedent.

However, the General Council while continuing to commend and applaud the progressive and patriotic roles played by trade union organisations in Guinea and Niger recently, must also resolve to identify, borrow and replicate lessons learnt from their interventions to achieve similar outcomes.

The role of the civil society- trade union

Political and geographic divisions make it difficult for the Ivoirian civil society to act as a joint force for peace. Moderate voices, willing to bridge regional and political divides, are not being heard. It is important to note that Ouattara did not obtain a landslide victory. A substantial number of voters, nearly 46 percent, supported Gbagbo. Their reasons for supporting Gbagbo reflect amongst others the existing regional, ethnic, and religious divisions in Côte d’Ivoire. Whether Gbagbo or Ouattara emerges as winner from the current stalemate, the next President will face a sharply divided electorates that will challenge his rule. Thus, this election, which was meant to repair the divisions between the north and the south, will have failed to do so. At the very least, a key ingredient for avoiding war in Côte d’Ivoire is to reconcile these divided communities. Civil society’s moderate voices can play a critical role in starting the reconciliation process. This was seen in the Kenyan case where the trade unions under the national trade union centre donated its platform to rally the people and the international community to prevail on the politicians and political parties. Efforts from trade union organisations in Guinea and Niger have emerged as strong evidence of the efficacy of the civil society and moderates in dousing tension and achieving free, fair and acceptable electoral outcome.

Sadly and troubling, the current political, social and economic situations in Cote d’Ivoire continues to deteriorate and fears of impeding civil war is strong and loud in the air. Urgent actions are needed and trade union must provide the voices and platform such actions as it has done progressively, and sometime successfully in the past.

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