Magazine article New African

Election Fever

Magazine article New African

Election Fever

Article excerpt

Once again election fever will sweep over a substantial part of Africa. Over the next three months, August to October, millions of voters in four countries will exercise their democratic rights (give or take) to choose the set of men and women who will run the countries on their behalf.

Three of the four elections will be held this month: Rwanda, 4 August; Kenya, 8 August; Angola, 23 August and Liberia's on 10 October.

A survey of 36 countries conducted by the pan-African research network, Afrobarometer, last year showed that only 40% of the citizens believed that the last elections in their countries had been free and fair, although 25% said that they had a lot of confidence in their electoral commission.

Many of the respondents claimed that bribery and the threat of violence had been common and that the media has been biased.

There is no doubt that after this set of elections, there will be the by now usual accusations of electoral rigging and intimidation in some of the countries involved. The results, as has happened before, may be subjected to judicial review in the courts.

In the worst-case scenario, we could see a repeat of the horrific violence that swept Kenya after the elections there in 2007/8. It is now clear that the violence had been sparked by instances of fake news and incitement by politicians. It is our fervent hope that all parties will have learnt the lessons of that debacle and that this time around, a more mature attitude by both losers and winners will prevail.

Recent research has indicated that ordinary people are now aware of the disruptive effect of fake news and are therefore more sensitive to the sources of information that flow, often unbidden, into their mobile phones. It is to be hoped that this awareness will help them avoid being swayed by damaging propaganda and steamrollered into acts of violence or public disorder.

The mainstream media too, especially in Kenya and Liberia, where it enjoys almost complete freedom of expression, has used that power responsibly while being robust and fair in its reporting.

In Kenya in particular, the mainstream media had come under sustained challenges from sensationalist websites and social media trolls pushing one-sided and often completely made-up stories. It stuck to its principles by and large and the signs are that it has seen off these challenges, with an increasing number of people indicating that they trust their mainstream media much more than the fly-by-night 'news' peddlers which are often in the pay of various politicians. …

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