Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Interrogating the Credibility of Elections in Africa: Implications for Democracy, Good Governance and Peace?

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Interrogating the Credibility of Elections in Africa: Implications for Democracy, Good Governance and Peace?

Article excerpt


Elections remain the most acceptable means of choosing leaders and on it rest the concept and practice of democracy. On paper, elections are straightforward and simple. But in reality, various factors come to play and determine whether election is free, fair and/or credible. Since the replacement of direct democracy with representative democracy and its attendant benefits to those elected and obvious shortcomings to those being represented (electors/electorate)--as it is the aggregation of their opinions that the representative would defend,- more and more problems are becoming apparent with representative democratic elections. This is true of both developed and developing democracies/countries. But more acute is the problem of integrity and credibility of elections in Africa. The seemingly political economy of poverty resulting in sit tight syndrome, winning at all cost and do-or-die politics as well as the bogus allowances attached to representatives seats are all parts of the problem of credibility of elections. The huge salaries and allowances of the elected and non-elected officials relative to the low pay/salaries available to the generality of the people are part of why Africa is ranked low on electoral and governance scale (IIAG, 2016; Freedom House, 2015).

The different waves of democratization that has swept through Africa going past the third decade has not eradicated the problems of credibility of elections in Africa. Popular uprisings resulting in a 'more open' democratic and electoral process especially in North Africa and elsewhere in Africa, has not mitigated nor eradicated the problem of credibility of elections in Africa. Rather, more states are regressing into more problems and the electoral democratic space is getting constricted. Examples of such states include Burundi, Burkina Faso, Zambia and Uganda (Crisis Group Report, 2015). In each case/country sited, attacks on constitutionalism (lack of respect for the constitution), rule of law, restrictions on electoral choice and human/individual rights are rampart and without disguise. The high index of the problems of credibility of elections is what has been captured in literature and data and is raising serious concerns among scholars and policy makers within and outside the continent (Ham and Lindberg, 2015; Election Integrity Project, 2015; Norris, 2014).

It is certain that issues of credibility of elections has many implications including low participation of African people in the political process, resort to self-help and electoral violence, arbitrariness in the management of national resources and poignant absence of good governance as well as recourse to, in some instances, civil war between the warring parties. Thus, the presence of fraud and malpractices are certain to impinge on and raise questions about the credibility and integrity of elections. Of course, embedded in the credibility and integrity problems are moral, ethical and legal issues relating to elections. Inevitably, any empirical diagnosis of the conduct of elections and electoral performance/integrity would raise five basic questions. How free and fair have the electoral process and rules (electoral system) been in relation to how credible are the elections? Is the entire electoral process free and fair and is seen to be so?

Is the Election Management Body (EMB) impartial and independent? Are oppositions/opposing parties allowed in the process? Is the security and sanctity of the voter and the vote protected and guaranteed? These questions raise important theoretical and practical issues. It goes without saying that when electoral system and rules are cumbersome and restrictive, then the tendency is for low political and electoral participation with negative implication for peace and inclusion by various segments of the population.

This paper therefore, responds to these questions and issues by discussing and examining electoral movements in Africa, as well as the legal, moral and ethical issues of elections in terms of theoretical, philosophical and practical dimensions. …

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