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Monday, 6 December, 1999, 20:14 GMT
Are elections a waste of time?



Namibia, Niger, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau are currently in the midst of elections. Western donors are very keen on them, often insisting on democracy before disbursing aid.

News and Information for Africa
But in many of Africa's elections, the incumbent is returned or the whole process thrown into disarray by a coup or armed insurrection.

So are elections in Africa worth all the time, energy, money and aggravation?





Your Reaction

Election are not a waste of time a long as all people who have a good ability to corrupt the government are gotten rid of. Africa countries sometimes cannot survive with their elected democratic leaders which is why they turn towards military leaders for hope.
Ali Madejah, Botswana

Elections, if merely for their own sake, are a complete waste of time in Africa, and the same would be true of anywhere else. As long as its so-called leaders continue to regard the basic needs of their people with so much contempt, Africa will always remain "the heart of darkness" in every imaginable sense.
Ubong Effeh, UK

"Are African elections a waste of time?" What a racist question that is! Certainly Africans can look at pre-devolution Northern Ireland, all the ex-Yugoslavian states, and Russia and ask, "Are elections a waste of time in Europe?" Certainly much remains to be done to help democracy take hold in many African countries- the establishment of the rule of law, greater economic integration, better access to education, and a more equal distribution of each country's wealth among its citizens, but we shouldn't presume that these countries are incapable of democracy simply because they haven't yet addressed those issues. Give Africa time: one day, it might just surprise us! South Africa was only the beginning...
Scott Ash, USA

Democracy, democratic elections are essential for all African countries. It is correct to tie in aid to the conduct of Africa's petty dictators. There must also be level playing fields for opposition candidates. No doubt Mugabe in next year's elections in Zimbabwe will use state resources, transport, radio, tv to influence the result. This kind of manipulation needs correction, otherwise Zimbabwe will experience just another sham election enabling ZANU PF to continue its corrupt rule.
Roger Strudwick, uk

Democracy in Africa is scarcer than the bread itself. The candidates wear different hats to remain 'diversified' - but in the end, the 'winners' represent the same old regime with a minor twist in their political agenda. The dictators have one thing in mind - OPEN a SWISS BANK - MILK as MUCH as POSSIBLE - and then - ASK FOR SPECIAL hospital admission to South Africa.
Ermias, USA/Ethiopia

I am amzed to see people living in the US, condemning democracy in Africa. I think these African who fled to US are mostly self-centered, who don't have any wish or will to participate in democratization in their respective countries. They are disillusioned, and believe democracy means American or Western style, but they did nor recognized how long it took for Americans to build the type of democracy they have. Try to contribute to democratization, have vision for your country, constructive critisim and solving problem thru dialog should be the only means to democratization in Africa. Stop sowing hatred and and antagonism. Thanks
GG, USA

When the winds of democracy swept the political landscape of the African continent in the early nineties, tears of joy gleamed in my eyes. But soon they became the whirlwind of tribal animosities and chaos. I love democracy, but Africa is not quite ready for the western model of democracy yet. Tribal ties are still stronger than the national ties. At the shout of the word "democracy!" Africans rush to their tribal roots, and more often than not the political parties so formed are heavily influenced by ethnocratic factors. Africans have to develop their own system of accountable rule to suit their uniquely different socio-political structure. Perhaps we may all do better applying Museveni's partyless democracy. Elections in Africa are just a waste of time and breed violence as dictators always try to rig elections to their advantage. Kenya is a sorry example of democracy gone haywire.
Atilio, Southern Sudanese living in the U.S

Africans do not have to accept wholly democratic principles enunciated by the West. Africa needs to scrutinise those principles and extract the parts that agree with our different African cultures and practices. We have our chiefs and elders to contend with and they need to be given special considerations in any democratic institutions that are set up. Right now democracy may give all powers in a country to young, unwise and inexperienced leaders. This may marginalise the chiefs, make them ineffective and even corrupt. Africa needs to adopt and adapt democracy to fulfil its needs and the West should eschew hypocrisy to help Africa along.
Tetteh Asagba, Ghanaian living in America

Elections are nothing but manipulated shams in every country not only in Africa, but also the rest of the world - if there are unfree and undemocratic processes used by those who are insecure and cling to power at any cost. If genuinely free and fair elections are held, then time will not be wasted.
Humphrey, Malawi

As important as voting is, elections have become more of a symbolic gesture that 'democracy' exists in most African states. One major problem is that most people who actually go to vote are 'politically illiterate.' They choose candidates by what contributions candidates made in the past to the cause for independence, and not what they plan to do when they come to power. This problem has been partially perpetuated by those in power who, despite their insistence on 'voter education', are passively insisting that the people are politicized as little as possible. In Zimbabwe, for example, there has been much talk about constitutional reforms, but ask most people what this current constitution contains, and they have no clue. It has never been taught in Zimbabwean schools despite the country having one of the highest literacy rates in Africa. How then can they positively contribute to the reforms going on?
Tendai Moyo, Zimbabwe (Currently in USA)

Elections are necessary, though not sufficient in and of themselves. If governing parties refuse to play the game fairly and insist upon using state institutions to harass the minority, elections will not work. If ruling parties show disdain for institutions, elections mean nothing. The problem with governance in Africa is that it is not representative of societies. Societies are inclusive and based on consensus. Governments are exclusionary and based on "if you're not for me 100%, you're against me." It should be no surprise, thus, that African societies function well and African governments function badly. If there is no spirit of inclusion or consensus, elections will have minimal impact.
Brian Farenell, USA

Democracy, democratic elections are essential for all African countries. It is correct to tie in aid to the conduct of Africa's petty dictators. There must also be level playing fields for opposition candidates. No doubt Mugabe in next year's elections in Zimbabwe will use state resources; transport, radio, tv to influence the result. This kind of manipulation needs correction, otherwise Zimbabwe will experience just another sham election enabling ZANU PF to continue its corrupt rule.
Roger Strudwick, uk

Perhaps African leaders should consider re-drawing national borders to fit the people. The present boundaries, set by Europeans in the "Great Land Grab", cut through different language, cultural and religious groups in a way almost guaranteed to cause friction. One has only to look at Yugoslavia as an example of the futility of expecting peace between widely divergent peoples. Democracy does not stand a chance where feuds go back for generations and the governing party is organized on a tribal/religious/language basis. The Rwanda bloodbath was just the latest example of genocide in Africa and wont be the last.
V.Wiseman, USA but lived in Africa for over 50 years

I have always insisted that democracy can only work if certain variables are fully in place. You can not expect a society to be fully democratic when the majority of its people are lavishing in poverty and illiteracy. Democracy and all other forms of freedoms that the West feeds as, are just SECONDARY needs in life. What African governments should do, is to solve the peoples basic needs like food, housing and education. When a society is free from worrying about what they will eat or where they will sleep, then that society can indulge in philosophy and creation. And from such things that society can find ways of survival and prosperity.
Chameleon, Kenyan, US

As long as you have those who preach democracy Like USA behaving two faced, on the one hand punishing Cuba in the name of democracy and the other hand making business in China and both of the country are communist. We don't call that democracy but hypocrisy so we don't need that kind of democracy we would rather have one strongman rule the nation and tell us to think at home what you want and most of all make money as much as you want. There is just one thing you can't do and that's challenge the leadership - I will stay out of your lives you stay out my job
Abdinasir Mohamed, Somalia

Elections are waste of time for the African countries, Only comprise will work in Africa. Take look at South Africa, yes there was an election, but without Nelson Mandela & behind the scene deal it wouldn't have worked.
Mohamed Somali, USA

I believe Africa is ready for democracy. With time, with the development of the people through well versed political and educational infrastructures, the importance of power in the hands of the people is not that far off. There is no doubt democracy will thrive. An economic base developed to alleviate poverty will also go a long way to play a major role. Patience and time is on the side of those African nations that have embarked on this journey of freedom and peace for their people.
Chris Itonyo, USA

In Africa honestly elections are a waste of time because nothing really changes when a new leader is in power. However if people are just content with a change in face of who is in power than its fine to have elections. All the countries in Africa which have had a change in presidents nothing has changed and that is a fact. The problem is that USA and UK think that everyone should do exactly as they do in order to prosper .These two countries don't believe that any form of governance can work other then their very own.
Lloyd Mhaka, USA


Elections have to be viewed as an integral part of good governance, or Africa will continue to endure political instability and under development.
Alieu Sarr, New Zealand
Democracy is a two-way double-standard hypocrisy used by the West. It is always linked to the Aid given by the West and its NGOs. If the elected leaders are not approved by the West that election is invalid like ALgeria, or undermined like Turkey, Malysia and so on. What matters is African people to be free to choose their leaders and I think in Africa people are nearly matured now and hopefully 5 to 10 years we will see more stability, political and economic maturity. But only if they watch out the masked friends who are handing out bread and loans to Africa with one hand and arms and mistrust with the other hand.
Eng. Omar Abdinur, Somalia, now in the West

In the rough and tumble terrain of African politics, there is no room for the 'benevolent' to emerge; rather its the mean and ugly who are able to box and elbow their way to the top. Therefore you cannot have a 'benevolent', but rather a malignant dictator. The only alternative to them is a 'democratic' election, no matter how faulty. With time, (since no President will live for ever) something will give and change will come gradually. Malawi, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Mexico, Argentina are examples of how change comes without violence on the long or short run, if the people are patient and persevere with democratic principles.
Eseosa Ehanire, USA

Richard Nixon once justified U.S. support for third-world kleptocracies and butcherships by saying "they weren't ready for democracy." Many Northerner liberals today are suckers for the "cultural imperialist" label these same monsters screech whenever we try to throw support behind the democratic process. We shouldn't be; if we're the best bet they have then we're guilty of abandoning the victims to the animals who call themselves their leaders. This was how Rwanda became a 1990's holocaust.
T.J. Cassidy, U.S.A.

I think nothing would prevent democratic systems in African countries, but we need to work hard to achieve such a system. For example in Ethiopia and Sudan they do election every five years but the same person wins for unknown reasons. This shows that we have not yet reach a good standard.
Tut Ruach, Sudan

The elections in African countries are not only essential for the process of democratisation, but also a means of empowering African people at grass-root level to voice their view in the political arena. These elections are not pointless: on the contrary, they represent a long overdue chance for people to have a say about their own destiny. I was born and bred in Guinea-Bissau, but moved to England in 1989. I recall the last general and local elections in this country in which there was a low turnout; in the last general election there was about a turnout of 50-80% and the local election in May 99 there was about 20-30% turnout, whereas in Guinea-Bissau, the turnout for this year general election is 85-98%. In this country many people do not take the opportunity that they have to vote seriously, that is, they have the chance but only a few take it, whilst in Guinea-Bissau people value it and some appear at the polling station two to three hours prior to the voting hours on election day. By comparison the amount spent at local and general elections in this country is greater than the amount spent in Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Niger put together.

The attempt to establish democracy in Africa often defaults because there are no sufficient resources to ensure that it is implemented. No other institutions are set up which would empower people in terms of information, civil society, educational programmes, media which can be appropriated to promote a culture of tolerance and contribute to the consolidation of democracy. These institutions would serve as a pointer where people could express their views to ensure that their democratically elected leaders remain accountable to them.
Jose Lingna Nafafe, Guinea-Bissau, living in England

I do not believe that democracy is waste of time in Africa. I share the opinion that democracy is still young in Africa. And it will gradually grow after some time
Johnson Adebayo Awofeso, Nigeria

Democracy as equated to Western institutions will never apply in Africa or for that matter other impoverished parts of the world. Sometimes I'm at the brink of believing that what these countries need are 'benevolent autocrats' who are selfless and committed to causing real change. Other than that, we will continue to observe the mockery of democracy by crooks.
Chilelwe Sumaili, USA

The election can succeed in Africa only if the power is returned to the people. The first thing to do is to allow political parties to freely operate, to give the opportunity to explain to the people their programs and their ideas. Government and political parties need to agree to educate people about electoral campaign and election. The debate must be allow to test politicians.
Matthieu W. Yangambi, USA.

Elections have never been a waste of time! I have great optimism that as time goes by, people of Africa will slowly come to appreciate what elections are supposed to be. This unfortunately is a slow process. I can't think of another sensible way of allowing people to take care of their business. Once people stage a political resurrection, politicians will cease to enjoy the opportunity of changing constitutions at will. Whatever little opposition, it is worth having.
Isaac Muhanga, USA

Elections are necessary in every country. The retention of the incumbent is common in the so called democracies. Bill Clinton was re-elected. Margaret Thatcher was re-elected and chances are that Tony Blair will be re-elected. What is needed in Africa is voter education. This would then promote informed elections. Finally, it is quite depressing to read all these patronising queries.
Patrick Masiyakurima, Zimbabwe

If the myriad of ethnic groups left within the borders of former colonies can live together in peace, elections are, no doubt, needed. If a country's is torn apart by hatred, there is no sense in organizing elections.
Andrej, Russia

It is important for us to understand that Democracy cannot be achieved overnight. Elections are only a segment, although a significant component of democracy. There is a social maturation process that would allow a contestant with 49.9% of the votes to yield to the candidate scoring 50.1%. There is the issue of contestants understand and committing to the political process as a continuum in that they can lose today and win tomorrow. People should be patient as well. No true political leader can achieve most of the expectations overnight. Mandela was expected to change South Africa overnight. It must be understood that the building of democracy is actually a process that involves pains and regrets. Elections, social movements and changes need time to mature in order to foster democracy. Let's give democracy a chance in Africa.
Dr. Joseph U. Igietseme, USA

If the raison d'e'tre of elections are upheld, that is, to put to work democracy, the Rule of Law and fair play then they are good. But if the contrary is the case, thereby, encouraging massive vote riggings then the purpose becomes an anathema to Good Governance, therefore, elections become a waste of time and resources to say the least.
OB Silla, USA

Elections are necessary for Africa not to drift back into the worst dictatorial regimes that plagued this continent after independence movement. For the first time Africans are given the chance to get involved in the choosing of their leaders and running of their governments. The problem with African democracy is that the masses expect a lot from their leaders. Unfortunately the leaders in return promise them the moon. Sooner or later the people get disillusioned when these promises are never fulfilled. This is understandable especially after coming out of oppressive regimes where the leaders did not even care about the local people. To ensure that democracy holds in Africa sound economic policies for Africa need to be formulated. Help democracy work in Africa.
Clement Terence Chiwaya, Malawian political science student in the US.

Democratic elections are important in any society if conducted in a free and fair fashion. But in most African countries most people are not well-informed and invariably vote on tribal or religious affiliations.
Madalfa Diallo Jalloh, Guinea/Sierra Leone

Democratic elections are crucial, no matter where they are held. If some African countries can't organise these elections, than we as western countries must intervene and help them with creating a stable democracy. It is the west's reluctance to intervene in anything African that has created a lot of problems. I don't know if this is fuelled by racism, I hope with all my heart and soul it isn't, but if it is, we must get rid of the politicians that refuse to take action. It is because of politicians like Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister of Canada, that many African countries are free today. The west needs to have more politicians like my nations Prime Minister and the recently retired President of South Africa if were going to succeed in the next millennium.
Shawn Meades, Canada

Even though I hope for the lasting peace and economic and technological progress in the new so called DEMOCRATIC countries (Nigeria, Niger). I cannot stop thinking that any day, anytime, some crazy guys will just burst into the PRESIDENTIAL PALACE and declare himself "the strongman".... But all in all, I hope a NEW VISION arrives for AFRICA
Gardefle, Somalia


Elections in Africa are worth all the time, energy, money, aggravation and more if they are truly inclusive. The disappointment in recent elections in Africa stems from a diminishing definition of what an election is. This is particularly tragic in the face of a growing popular expectation of what an election should be.
John Pritchett, USA
If it is achievable, democracy of the Africans, by the Africans, and for the Africans would be a step in the right direction. Anything short of this would be counterproductive. Democracy must not come because Western states are tying it to foreign aid. It should be advanced because Africans see it as a mechanism to bring together groups of different interests. Granted, Africans may not even need foreign aid (food and its likes) and other paternalistic exports from the West.
Abdul Kadir Mohamed Omar, Somalia

Firstly, let us dispel the notion that Africans are not rich enough for free elections. India, one of the poorest countries in the world for most of its history, has had free elections and a free-ish society for fifty years. No one in their right mind would doubt the hideous damage done to Africa by centuries of European exploitation, but it is time Africans stop blaming others for their problems and get their house in order. I think some Africans are already doing this. The more that they do, the better the prospects for the continent as a whole. Let us hope for the best.
Rath Andor, USA

Democracy is subject to definition - Africa's seemingly peculiar problems stem from the same reasons which puts the same part in power repeatedly in China, Japan, Korea etc: Culture. Each country can only be as democratic as its culture will permit, and in the case of countries comprised of many nations, what the highest common factor permits (rather than the lowest denominator).
Dee Adekunle, USA


Democracy, which is the aftermath of elections, is a joke in every developing country. Even the developed world is finding it hard to democratise before and after elections.
Henry Williams, Sierra Leone now in the US
Democracy, which is the aftermath of elections, is a joke in every developing country. Even the developed world is finding it hard to democratise before and after elections. Elections and democracy can only be meaningful if and when the electorates are educated to know their rights and obligations. Without this foremost prerequisite, it is only a joke. Elections could be free but never fair in that kind of scenario. The second foundation will be the economic viability of the electorate. What a poor and hungry electorate need here and now is to make ends meet. The highest bidders get the vote not knowing that they will in turn pay back every cent spent on them by hook or by crook.
Henry Williams, Sierra Leone now in the US

Until countries in that continent are self sufficient economically, the scramble for the national cake by the various ethnic groups, will always be a ground and real reason for their everlasting coups. Elections are only good in the eyes of those who want to demonstrate political correctness, but real democratic tenants are missing. Until the continent becomes economically self reliant, elections will always be a sham.
Sam, USA

Elections are part and parcel of the democratic culture. However, in several African countries it is a sham as the incumbents usually employ all the tricks in the book to perpetuate themselves in power, even to the point of changing the constitution. Moreover, elections and democracy can only thrive if the people are economically well off and until then we will continue having vote buying.
Kebby Mainga, Zambia

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