2015 will be a very important year for elections, and democracy in general for Africa. The Continent’s most populous nation, Nigeria, is due to take the polls.
The general election whose outcome will, or ought to have massive repercussions on matter ranging from the war against terrorism, to international investment on the continent and combating corruption.
Unfortunately that vote, previously scheduled for February 14th, has been postponed by 6 weeks, in light of the insecurity surrounding the Boko Haram insurgency.
In Burkina Faso there will be a vote to install the country’s first government, since the overthrow of Blaise Compraore.
President Jakaya Kikwete, who will be standing down this year without a fuss. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)There will also be polls in Tanzania where President, Jakaya Kikwete’s term in office will be coming to a close, following in the wake of a referendum on a draft constitution, meant to move the country forward from patch job constitutional arrangement installed in the 1970s, during the reign of the late Julius Nyerere.
There are also polls of various kinds scheduled in Egypt, Lesotho, South Sudan, Somaliland, Burundi, Central African Republic, Sudan, Comoros and Zambia.
So far, a lot of the coverage has centered around a number of ‘strong men’ who have been caught up in trying to change or bend the rules to extend their reigns.
Burundi’s, Pierre Nkuruziza has already had a go at extending his shelf life with failed constitutional amendments, Sudan’s Omal el Bashir is into his 25th year in office and not ready to move on and that is focusing on the Heads of State facing elections this year.
The real issue, however, runs deeper than whether some tin pot strong man wants to keep running the county himself or not. I feel what is being lost, when election coverage narrows down on these individuals, is how well these countries would function, with or without these ‘strong men’ in charge.
If Africa’s institutions, those that deal with overseeing the elections, like the various election commissions, and the judiciaries where necessary, providing security during the polls, like the police, and even contesting the elections, like the political parties, were stronger, would there be a gap for these ‘strong men’ to occupy?
Whether of not it is sedition, or treasonous to contemplate such an outcome, the fact remains that none of Africa’s Heads of State is immortal and regardless of how popular they may or may not be, they simply cannot rule forever.
The unsaid, or at least under-explored issue is that many of Africa’s nations are in need of deep, and comprehensive institutional reforms, on but not limited to those which touch on management of elections.
How many of Africa’s Countries can pay for their own elections out of their own tax revenues? How many political parties aren’t depending pretty much on the celebrity of a handful of wealthy ‘owners’ to win votes? How many countries in Africa can really claim that the political discourse runs deeper than ‘Its our turn to eat?’
Certainly, a regular changing of the guard would help a lot of these problems, but it is not the be all and end all of the political discourse on the continent.