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Does Africa Require New Electoral System?

An electoral system is [merely] an administrative logistical process designed to ensure that an expressive choice by an entity is both registered and designated to a specific individual or organization without bias or any other form of administrative intimidatory malfeasance. Africa does not require ‘a new electoral system’ in that the fundamental civic electoral ontology of probity and trust is no different than that element of trust with the requisite administrative conduct which is required in other electoral jurisdictions whether in North America or Europe.

The civic electoral administrative system ought not be suborned to a particular geographic or ethnic region. An electoral system to be effective must be deemed ‘trust worthy’ and be held to strict public administrative disclosure ensuring that the expressive choice has been expressed in the manner indicated by the elector.

African electoral systems do require localized ‘tweaking’ to ensure that the local African electors are capable of registering their intent without fear or favour. Such tweaking may include pictographs for those people unable to read or write. Logistical extensions in terms of time may be built into the African indigenous electoral process recognizing that transportation of the electoral materials do require time, as local infrastructure may require additional time. Media and related public policy concerns must be addressed to ensure that the localized conditions are appropriately represented and addressed ensuring value neutral respect of the civic electoral administrative process.

This in no manner indicates that the essential electoral process is different or requires fundamental intrinsic modification as the essence of the process is no different. Choice registered–choice counted–choice expressed without any external bias or corrupt manner of practice designated to confer an unwarranted advantage to another.

In regions of political administrative fragility greater concern must be addressed to the electoral system fundamentals ensuring that the fundamental civic electoral integrity is not compromised which ought to be an essential consideration for all electoral systems in the world.

“Civitas” by Monte McMurchy

When an election “is seriously compromised” when suggested by Independent Observer Groups expressing concern in that thousands of eligible voters were disenfranchised for perhaps not supporting the status quo; the salient issue is: What can the International Community of Civic Civil Electoral Advisors do in addressing this combustive technical and public policy concern in persuading these National Electoral Commission’s to step up and take full civic electoral responsibility in investigating profound allegations of electoral fraud?

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The failure of young democracies [Liberia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Thailand, South Africa, DRC, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt] has enormous inter-continent consequences notwithstanding that the ‘democracy idea’ eventually and ultimately will be the end state of every nation on earth. This ‘democracy idea’ remains a most powerful seductive concept [Fukuyama]. In the long run, democracy is on balance the best political system—-not because it allows citizens essential fundamental freedoms but because democracy as a normative concept enhances transparency and rule of law which in the long run will foster and encourage prescriptive ordinal citizen prosperity—the fundamental ontological essence of ‘civitas’—- essential in pluralistic dynamic flowering and flourishing of values connoting and promoting respect, peace, and good order. Civic Institution Elements grossly lacking in many fragile social democratic societies today.

Good citizens who are alert, engaged and educated in the advancement of pluralistic common values should participate in a national conversation and reflect collectively upon the content and character of their shared national identity. In a prescriptive pluralistic society open to engaged polite debate, the motives of good citizens should arise freely; virtue cannot be the product of state civil coercion or servile civic indoctrination.

A liberal nationalist conception of civic virtue seems to imply some project of institutional design. The state’s institutions and practices need to be structured so as to cultivate and elevate civic virtue among its citizens. The most obvious realm is that of education. We cannot assume that citizens will fulfill their [civic] responsibilities. Good national citizens are more likely to be the products of just institutions and of active pro-engaged public polity participation.  Civic Education involves reconciling an interest in the social reproduction of citizens with three important values. The question of whether civic education might obstruct individual autonomy, by privileging civic conformity over critical self-direction.

Civic education must account for how parents’ interests in raising their children according to their beliefs and way of life can be accommodated, if at all any transmission of civic virtue should be consistent with the toleration of difference and cultural respect: civic education, most particular the content of school civic curriculum, must not involve the oppressive assimilation of cultural minorities.

When organized along liberal pluralistic rubric, civic education should/ought be guided by two ideas/concepts corresponding to ends and means. Respecting the ends, the liberal pluralistic nationalist should/ought to promote among future citizens a patriotic desire to contribute to a national tradition. This rules out one method of civic education favoured by many western type societies—a civic minimalism limited to basic political knowledge. Deliberative pluralistic democracy requires a more exacting standard of civic civil citizenship. Civic education should/ought involve an element/form of ‘national’ civic civil education, which equips future citizens with cultural civic civil literacy and which prepares them to participate in critical self-interpretation of the national civic civil culture.

The essential challenge for this civic civil educative program process is to ensure that any civic civil education is most sensitive to a normative value of cultural respect, which I believe has not historically been the case in many western civic civil education programs. Moral civic civil dialogue should/ought to be fostered and encouraged among all national participants. The young citizens over the course of their schooling and education should/ought have the opportunity to have multiple encounters with peers from divergent social backgrounds, and in the process forge/create/develop effective and affective ties of common fellowship with their future fellow citizens. Following this education rubric the potential exists in: will these future citizens be best equipped to participate in the kind of national-cultural dialogue conversation that defines a pluralistic national civil identity?

To conclude civic electorally speaking:

In theory, governance – once a constitution is in place – starts with elections. Let the people decide. But in Africa that great line from Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, The Poisonwood Bible, sums it up: “To the Congolese it seems odd that if one man gets fifty votes and the second forty-nine, the first one wins altogether and the second one plumb loses. That means almost half the people will be unhappy… and in a village that’s left halfway unhappy you haven’t heard the end of it. There is sure to be trouble somewhere down the line.”

This is especially the case in countries that are divided by ethnicity. Ethnic identity is deeper and stronger than national identity in many countries. In most, ethnic support in elections means the winner must reward that support by spending money in the region. Elections become a simple numbers game, a competition between ethnic-based parties. The winner takes all, leaving great swathes of Africa unrepresented and often ignored by governments.

Monte McMurchy LL.D.
Member UNDP Democratic Governance Roster For Electoral Systems
Member UNDP Expert Roster For Crisis Prevention and Recovery
Member UNDP Expert Roster For Parliamentary Development

fyi-I served in Liberia under the aegis of UNMIL and as Country Director under USAID/Liberia aegis

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