Saturday, September 19, 2020

2019: The year of elections

By Richard Moleofe

This year is not only special to this country but to the African continent -politically speaking. It’s a year in which many states will be going for elections. Elections in Africa always seem to have a completely different rhythm as compared to other democracies.

I grew up during the Cold War era where at the time we seemed to have been the only country in the continent which religiously honoured elections. I mean there were less than five countries which had a term elections in their vocabulary. This happened because post independence, civil wars unsettled countries like Angola and Mozambique. A lot of West African countries were either facing some form of insurrection or were under military rule.

This is why Botswana was known as a beacon of democracy. We no longer enjoy  that status anymore. This is the case for two separate reasons. Over the last decade, our democracy took a nosedive under the leadership of General Ian Khama. It has just come out of Intensive Care Unit and President Mokgweetsi Masisi will have tough time reversing the damage that we have already seen.

On the other hand, emerging democracies such as Namibia and Mozambique have relegated us to lower positions. They have put a lot of effort in maintaining democracy for what it really should be; the government of the people by the peopleand for the people. I am not mentioning South Africa deliberately in the list of progressive democracies. Theirs is a crazy democracy where rights to anything have no limits. Theirs will come to implode one day.

One other country to envy is Zambia. When we were the beacon of democracy in yesteryear, they remained a one party state under Kenneth Kaunda. But we must not think democracy as we know it is the best system of government for every country. I would argue that one party state has made Zambia what it is today.

A country with around a hundred and thirteen tribes would never be easy to rule. “One Zambia, one nation” was the national slogan which rallied all the tribes to know that they were one thing, collectively. Unlike in Botswana, their constitution does not spell out senior or junior tribes as ours does. This is where one party rule was needed to bring cohesion after independence in October 1964.

Despite the setbacks from the last few decades, ours is still a desirable democracy. We still can boast that there is still no political prisoners in this country. As of April last year we have recovered our freedom of speech. People no longer speak in hushed tones fearing that the notorious intelligence organ is listening. Intelligence can build or destroy any democracy.

Mozambique will be going for elections. For a country that has seen a bitter civil war for almost two decades, theirs is an impressive democracy. They have a thriving economy by African standards. And that’s what the people must get as dividends from democracy. The poverty levels are slowly dropping and jobs are created.

Angola has become an enviable country as well. Since the end of their civil war, they have seen growth in their economy and migrants have began to pose problems as they flock to the country. The growing economy is clearly a result of the booming multi-party democracy.

It defeats my mind that out of the fifty four African countries, elections will be held in thirty one of them. But that’s just a coincidence. So Africa will be the hotspot of democratic happenings this year and the world will be watching. Generally speaking, there has been a lot of improvement in the manner in which elections are conducted.

But it is not every country that is determined to conduct a peaceful election. The DRC has just finished voting for a new Head of State. The elections are not clean by any standards. There has been a lot of violence taking place and the elections were postponed by a few days in December. As at the time I was writing this piece, announcement of the results was suspended indefinitely.

Joseph Kabila is certainly playing monkey tricks with the world and the people of the Congo. From the way things appear, the Congo is far from peace. The elections were supposed to have happened more than a year ago.  Kabila being aware that he was no longer eligible for another term, refused to go by using a big loop-hole in the constitution. He has allowed the election to take place but what he is simply doing is playing a Putin.

Kabila is certainly playing the trick on the AU and SADC knowing very well that no one will stand up to him. These are the old tricks played by Robert Mugabe way back. It was only Botswana’s Ian Khama who refused to budge and yet his voice was drowned in the chorus of the many that supported their colleague who clearly rigged an election. 

The African Peer Review which was Thabo Mbeki’s brainchild has dismally failed. In fact it was a process created to normalise abnormal elections. Elections in Africa have actually become a barometer of our endemic corruption. African leaders have really become so exploitative around this ritual and they are conniving to rig the elections.

But in countries where there exist better liberties around electoral issues, the question is around the voting population. Electorates have allowed themselves to be taken for granted. Some will stoop as low as selling their vote for a pint of an alcoholic beverage. This is done in exchange of their children’s education, the infrastructure around them and as well as utilities which are a basic thing in most countries beyond our continent.

I liked this quotation from Professor Patrick Lumumba who says this on elections; “I held 250 town hall meetings. I articulated solutions to our problems in my constituency. My opponent did not campaign at all. He gathered money and showed up one day to elections. He distributed money. He won. Africans are not moved by ideas. Their stomach leads them.” That’s Africa for you!   

*Richard Moleofe is a security analyst

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