By Bunmi Makinwa
Predominantly, African countries are known as places where electioneering and political elections are synonymous with riots, fighting, violence and killings. Some of that is changing, but many things remain the same.
Holding elections to elect representatives of the people does not equate attainment of democracy. There are countries where elections are organized to legitimize authoritarian, despotic and dictatorial regimes.
However, to some extent the process of organizing and holding elections can often reveal the quality or extent of democratic principles in a country. Elections can expose governments to closer scrutiny than they would have wished for.
During 2015 in Africa, ten elections were held to date and two more are expected in November and December. In only one of them, Burundi, did law and order break down. The election of President Pierre Nkurunziza to a third term mandate in Burundi has led to violent demonstrations, protests and more than 200 deaths so far. And problems continue in the landlocked, historically troubled East African country, bordered by Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The parliamentary and presidential elections that returned President Pierre Nkurunziza, 51, to power for a third time were widely criticized. Opposition parties claimed that the amendment of constitution and subsequent favourable decision by the court to allow the President to contest after the stipulated ten years in office, was manipulated and against the wish of the generality of the people.
Paradoxically, the East African leaders who have championed a process to negotiate a rapproachment between the belligerent parties in Burundi are themselves compromised by circumstance. Of the four other countries in the regional group, only Tanzania and Kenya have constitutions that mandate a maximum of two terms in office for their presidents. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni, the doyen of the East African Community, has been in power for 29 years and will contest the 2016 elections. In Rwanda, the lower house has given the nod to President Paul Kagame, 58, to contest the next elections for another seven year term, and possibly to stay on till 2034. He has been heading the country since 2000.
Zambia, which had witnessed unusual deaths of two Presidents in office in the past seven years, was the first African country to hold an election this year. On January 20, its presidential election saw Mr. Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front party winning a hotly contested poll of 11 candidates. He will serve out the remaining term of the deceased President Micheal Sata until 2016 when a new voting will take place. The opposition denounced the election but took no further action.
Lesotho, a landlocked country, completely surrounded by South Africa, held its general elections on February 28. When no clear winner emerged, opposition parties formed a coalition and used its parliamentary numbers to name Mr. Pakalitha Mosisili of the Democratic Congress party as its new Prime Minister. Mr. Mosisili had served earlier as Prime Minister from 1998 to 2012. The small country of about 2 million, with more than its fair share of political turbulence, had a smooth election. Generally though, “Big brother” South Africa sleeps with one eye permanently open to moderate political crisis of Lesotho.
With bated breath, Nigeria held its elections in February and March. Despite reported incidents of violence and upheavals in some parts of the country, the much-feared conflagration that some predicted did not happen. The major opposition party coalition of the All Progressives Congress won and former military leader General Mohammad Buhari came into office as President after running unsuccessfully for the post in three previous instances. The ruling party lost and accepted defeat.
In April, both Togo and Sudan held elections and re-elected sitting Presidents Faure Eyadema and Omar Bashir, respectively. President Eyadema, who succeeded his father who died in office, was relected for a third term. The Eyadema family has ruled Togo for 48 years. President Omar Bashir had ruled Sudan for 26 years and he won by 94 per cent in a poll that was largely boycotted by the opposition. In both Togo and Sudan, results of the elections were dismissed by opposition parties.
Ethiopia’s elections on May 24 was a reconfirmation of the position of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn which he assumed in 2012. After 17 years as Prime Minister, Mr. Meles died in 2012 and the ruling Ethiopian People’s Republic Democratic Front (EPRDF) replaced him with the then deputy Prime Minister Desalegni. The EPRDF won 500 parliamentary seats of the 547 positions, further demeaning a largely non-existent opposition.
Guinea, reeling from the effects of Ebola, and in serious economic distress, had its election on October 11. President Alpha Conde was returned to a second five-year term. The opposition shouted fraud and refused to accept the results but their challenge in court failed.
Both Tanzania and Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) had general elections on the same day, October 25. After 50 years of being in power, Tanzania’s ruling Chama Cha Mapinduizu (CCM) faced a stiff opposition led by Mr. Edward Lowassa, formerly a Prime Minister on the platform of CCM and right hand man of current President Jakaya Kekwete. But CCM candidate Mr. John Magufuli won the poll. Election results were cancelled in Zanzibar, the small island complement of mainland Tanzania. The opposition claimed that it had won the elections in Zanzibar, and refused to concede in Tanzania.
In Cote d’Ivoire, a first election after its civil war returned President Allasane Outtara decisively to power for another five-year term. Some key opposition figures had refused to take part in the elections saying that it was improperly organized. However, some opposition leaders accepted the results of the poll.
In Cote d’Ivoire, Lesotho Nigeria, Zambia, the losing political parties accepted the final results of the presidential elections. Only in Nigeria was the ruling party defeated. In all other countries, incumbent political parties were returned to power – Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo. Change of leadership took place in Lesotho, Nigeria, and Tanzania.
Two very important elections are still in the horizon for 2015. On November 29, a reawakened Burkina Faso will go to the polls after a people’s uprising that pushed former President Blaise Compaore into exile after 27 years in power. A similar mass uprising this year routed the short-lived coup by the Presidential Guards and returned an interim government to manage the country.
On December 13, wobbling under heavy load of violence since 2013 and amidst uncertainty, Central African Republic plans to hold its general election.
Elections in 2015 have been more or less good stories out of Africa. There has been improvement over the past situation, both in electioneering and polling. Political analysts will look deeper into whether the situation marks a turning point, what changes there are, factors responsible, among other questions. However, the road is far yet when elections will truly represent a fair opportunity for people to choose their representatives.
Makinwa is a communication for leadership entrepreneur based in South Africa and Nigeria.