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Lessons for Africa

The circumstances surrounding the aftermath of elections in Kenya should be seen as very damaging to aspiring democracies in Africa. First, African leaders, be they incumbent presidents or opposition politicians should always pledge to abide by the basic principles of democracy irrespective of whether they win or loose elections. There is a tendency by incumbent leaders to temper with election results when they realise that the results are not going their way, thereby adulterating the whole process of democracy. In most African countries it is very rare for the incumbent to loose mid term elections and as such the tendency is to use every trick available in the book to secure another term in office through controversial elections resulting in their disputed legitimacy. By the same token in situations where elections are ‘transparent, properly and freely run,’ opposition figures should concede defeat as long as there are no significant voting irregularities. However, their conceding defeat is always marred by charges of lack of transparency and fairness, a major issue affecting electoral democracy in Africa.

Often in many African countries the opposition has been hopelessly fragmented, disorganised and prone to ramblings. Some of the opposition leaders are themselves closet dictators, exhibiting the same tyrannical propensity they so grudgingly denounce in the leaders they hope to succeed. Many are too obsessed with political power and are monstrously intolerant of criticism. It is correct to state that some of Africa’s opposition leaders have endured episodes of gross personal suffering under repressive regimes: detention without charge, police brutality, torture, exile, loss of earnings, loss of property and other forms of harassment. However, this may sound callous, but that does not give them ownership rights over the presidency of the country.

Second, in order to avoid political paralysis as happened in Kenya and other political hotbeds in Africa there should be a truly independent electoral commission running elections without interference from the State. The role of election observers should also be widened to include their involvement from voter registration to vote counting. For as long as the State plays an unnecessarily huge role in running elections in Africa, it will take a long time before problems of free and fairs elections and political legitimacy could be resolved.

Third, serious consideration should be made to the process of proportional representation in the legislature. This system may not be the best form of representative democracy but at least it makes everyone a winner of course with different magnitudes of power.

In the case of Kenya now, it may be necessary given that there is no outright winner to have a second round of presidential elections for Kibaki and Odinga and whoever wins should be declared president. It is true that the Kenyan situation could as well be a precedent in forthcoming elections in Zimbabwe, Angola and Malawi this year and 2009. As such the successful resolution of the election dispute in Kenya may help to create the necessary conditions for peaceful elections in the above countries. I believe that democracy is a process not an event and what happened in Kenya should be seen as a big lesson which every African country needs to learn from, so that the rest of Africa can develop to greater heights albeit there being pockets of resistance especially in Zimbabwe, Somalia, Swaziland and a few others. Finally, many BBC viewers would be interested to see bizarre Archbishop John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu, cutting another ribbon on live television only to wear it again once Mwai Kibaki has stepped down, an example of consistency.

Crisford is a political commentator based in London, England.


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