Counting on African electoral bodies to get it right

OVER THE past decade, Africa has seemingly presided over a handful of peaceful elections. The same period also saw a transformation with Africans themselves intervening and ostracising those attempting to take power by force. This in itself could be considered a serious achievement if we did not have a long way to go and institutions to strengthen.

With African leaders at least now respecting the fact that their citizens are entitled to peace, security and the right to choose leaders of their choice, the onus now lies in the hands of those institutions tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that citizens are part of the democratic process and leaders are legitimately elected.

In this edition Abdi Latif Dahir, writes that  last year, a public survey of elections by the Pan-African research network Afrobarometer showed Africans distrusted national electoral commissions and the quality of their elections. Just over 40 percent of Africans in 36 countries believed that the last elections in their country were free and fair; 25 percent said they trusted their electoral commissions “a lot”; and many described elections where bribery was rampant, media bias persisted, and voters were often threatened with violence at the polls.

What the respondents to the above-mentioned survey are saying is basically that the majority of Africans do not recognise the legitimacy of those elected into public office, a situation that only Africans and those they entrust to manage their democratic institution can change. It is time that we change such perceptions within the continent. Such can only come when electoral officials conduct themselves in a manner depicting that they are indeed serving the voters and not hidden political interests.

Last year saw a number of countries conducting what was considered ‘free and fair’ elections. Although the countries did not implode, some of the elections have been challenged in court, while others are still disputed. All this was made possible by the lack of confidence in the continent’s electoral oversight bodies.

This year, a number of high-profile elections are expected to take place and it does not help Africa nor its people if some of the elections are already perceived, rightfully or wrongly, to have predetermined results. Continental bodies like the AU and SADC should also do more to ensure that elections are credible.

Surely, history has proven that parachuting, retired former Heads of State, to observe elections a few days before an election and declaring the process free and fair, before a thorough verification process is adding to the problem. We also do not agree with outsiders coming to dictate how Africans should conduct themselves, but if we keep failing at running our own affairs, outsiders will want to meddle. 2017 is the year that Africa will get it right this time around.

January 2017
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