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Aspiring to Sustain Democracy through Credible Elections in Africa

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It is an acclaimed reality that the sole basis of conducting elections in nations the world over is to achieve participatory governance that is void of violence; through political rather than physical antagonism. This is also an ultimate aspiration of every country on the African continent.

When the late Ghanaian President, John Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), defeated Nana Akufo-Addo of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) by a negligible margin of 50.23 per cent against 49.77 per cent in the last Presidential election of Ghana, the handover to the new government was very peaceful and the entire world hailed the Ghanaians for the mature level at which they were nurturing democracy in that west African Country.

That election witnessed the second time that a ruling Ghanaian government had lost office at the ballot box in a decade with the peaceful conferrals of power on both occasions, offering an infrequent example of democracy in action in Africa.

Countries in Africa that have also proven to have moved “further along the curve” towards the development of democracy on the continent include South Africa and Botswana while Benin has joined Ghana as a democratic throttlehold in West Africa.

Though countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, only recently resurrected from the ashes of harrowing civil wars, have heralded elections as the sole legitimate mode of fostering and solidifying peaceful transition of power, they cannot be ranked with South Africa, Ghana, Botswana and Benin as they are required to hold four successive credible and globally acclaimed Presidential elections before they are categorized as being among the stable democracies on the Continent.

On the other hand, the goal of achieving participatory governance void of violence remained remote in Kenya where the aftermath of the elections of 2007 was the violence and chaos that left 1,500 dead and 300,000 displaced in 2007/2008.The International Criminal Court (ICC) is now probing the violence and bringing perpetrators to justice.

Elections in Zimbabwe also suffered from enormous sham and vicious destruction in 2008occasioned by reports of killings, torture and disappearances especially of civil society members, human rights defenders and members of political opposition. Polarization in Zimbabwe’s violence-marred politics remains a major challenge, a situation likely to hamper the conduct of credible elections in that country,

At least 3,000 people were killed and 500,000 people were made homeless in Ivory Coast in the violence that ensued after the 2010 elections in that West African Country. The (ICC) is also investigating perpetrators of the violence in that country.

In the State of Guinea, the National Assembly Election previously postponed from June 2007 to July 2012, has now been postponed indefinitely by President Alpha Conde on grounds that he wants to ensure that the election for the National Assembly is “Transparent and Democratic.” The last parliamentary election in that country was held in 2002.

Mali which was, until recently, rated as a shining example of democracy in action in Africa has now slipped into chaos, with the overthrow by the military of a democratically elected government.

In April this year, a factionalized army in Guinea Bissau muffled the democratic process of that country when it staged a coup d’état just before the conduct of a presidential run-off election, arresting and incarcerating the two candidates of the run-off election. An interim government now rules that country whose history shows that no elected President has completed his term of office (Three Presidents have been ousted by the military, one assassinated and another died in office).

While in Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza won re-election in July 2010 in an election boycotted by the opposition on grounds that they were fraudulent and lacking the essential elements of transparency. Elections in that country are now scheduled to take place in 2015.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the former Chairman of the African Union, and slain president of Libya suggested in 2009 that multi-party democracy in Africa can only lead to bloodshed, a suggestion that most African Countries are not ready for elections.

Irrespective of the violence that mutilate the conduct of elections in most African countries, the clamor for the use of elections as the sole legitimate means of ascendency to power remains wide-spread and the desire to replace  dictatorial and military regimes through credible elections remains the aspiration of citizens of countries on the continent.

This cry for change through a participatory process was loudest in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, with widespread protests against regimes whose legitimacies became questionable. These leaders were ejected from their offices by the ones they once ruled with iron fists in an uprising dubbed as the “Arab Spring”.

These countries have now “turned the corner” by allowing the voices of their citizens to be heard through the electoral process.

In November and December 2012, Sierra Leone and Ghana are due to hold presidential and National Assembly Elections while Mauritius, Madagascar, Kenya, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe have their general elections scheduled for 2013. The conduct of elections in these countries manifests their desire to use the ballot as the so legitimate mode of ensuring a participatory process, the process through which citizens can elect the individuals of their choice. The ones that are expected to deliver the basic social services to them.

This demand for the use of the electoral process for change of governments across the continent speaks to the fact that even though elections in Africa are often characterized by deceit and violence, Africans are now poised to manifest their quest for change through the electoral process rather than civil wars or military coup d’état as the case has been in past times!

By Joey T. Kennedy/ Cell +231-886-594-158

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