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Monday, 30 October, 2000, 16:32 GMT
Africa: Do elections solve anything?
The attempt to return the Ivory Coast to civilian rule has ended in acrimony and violence. So do elections really solve anything or do they simply bring a new set of problems?
But do elections really solve anything or do they simply bring a new set of problems?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
It's very difficult to discuss the results
of elections along the African definition
because of many factors. In most, if
not all, African languages, the definition
of opposition is ENEMY.
So, if your opposition wins and you become
the loser your entire clan becomes the
victim. People from your region
will be subjected to persecution, torture
and any form of harassment.
Elections are the only way to get popular leaders, while education of the electorate is the only way to get a capable leader. The voting structure and path must be free and fair for all stakeholders. Until these three factors are combined and made to work, I am afraid, elections in Africa will remain like 'a basket that cannot hold water.'
The only way a voting system works is if the voters are educated. If the voters are uneducated, they can be manipulated by those already in power. Mugabe is an example of this. Education first - then no lies from the top - then you can have elections.
Kenneth N Ngwa, Cameroonian in the USA
Richard Kimalel Walker, Kenya
Africans have never learnt game spirit. Game spirit demands that one has to be the winner. In Western countries, game spirit is carried over to politics. In Africa, animosity grows whenever the opposing candidate fails. Unless this game spirit is taken into consideration, all are losers. Politics is a game and one must give up.
In Africa, democracy is not voting, but counting the votes.
It is hypocritical and mere racism to pose such a question. Why not? It took the West hundreds of years to democratise. And don't forget that Africa obtained its independence about 40 years ago.
Sam Salifu Danse, Ghana, currently in USA
In Africa, elections create more problems than they solve. Because when leaders are in power, they forget the problems of the people who elected them and see themselves as gods on earth. The West needs to cut aid from all African countries that failed to respect the will of the people otherwise we will not learn.
Political elections in Africa are becoming more and more of a side show as the years go by. Why is it that we Africans cannot have an election without a war breaking out. Have we forgotten what so many of our fathers fought so hard for? The freedom to vote for a ruler amongst our own people, rather than one from some imperial nation. What most African leaders who abuse their power fail to realise is that we, the people, are the ones in control. We are not fools to be manipulated, Africa has not overcome all that she has only to be destroyed by those who wish to obtain a position of power for their own personal gain. The sole purpose of elections is to allow people to vote for the person the feel is the most honourable and capable of serving in the best interest of the people.
Elections are useful for Africa, because they will infuse new ideas and energy to the continent and its people.
Ugo Harris, Nigeria/USA
As someone who lived in Cote d'Ivoire for the last 2 and 1/2 years, I am watching the current developments there very closely; albeit from the safety of my couch.
It seems that the general Ivoirian population understands the responsibilities of its government and elected officials. Where they once saw no recourse, they can now mobilise for social change. Such realisations are infinitely empowering, but reservation is still needed.
I am not concerned by the apparent ability or inability for democratic electoral systems to be successful in the African setting, but more so by the lack of understanding by the general population of the true indicators of economic and political change. Poverty can only be eradicated by the governments of our most poor countries through the creation of an inviting economic environment that lures a strong manufacturing base to its cities, instead of reliance on subsistence farming or the exportation of natural resources.
The means of election is the best and only way for the people to choose who they desire to have as a leader. When done fairly, this can lead to peace and stability in a country. The issue with Africa is not the question of elections as a solution or a complication. The problem with African elections is their lack of truthfulness. The greed for power in African leaders has made them so corrupt that they will do all they can to stay in power. I am so frustrated with my own people. A free, fair and honest election will solve the problem but a corrupt one will always complicate things.
I think that the world's media at large has played a predominant role in recent political over-turns in Yugoslavia and Ivory Coast. I wish this was the case in Cameroon after the highly flawed 1992 presidential elections. I hope the authorities in Cameroon are not going to attempt stealing any future polls. The opposition and the population should be right now in school preparing for any eventuality.
Gertrude Zulu, Zambia
Elections in Africa do one thing: they confer the title of "democratically elected president" which in turn opens the coffers of Brettonwood institutions. For long, financial institutions have equated this title to good governance, accountability, respect for human rights etc. But this is not true for most African rulers. Perhaps the IMF and other financial institutions need to watch the orientations of each elected president for at least two years before throwing the lids of their coffers open.
In Rwanda the Tutsis were democratically exterminated by the majority Hutus.
In Germany, Hitler was democratically elected to exterminate the Jews.
Long live democracy!
Oluwafemi Adeniran, Nigerian in Ghana
With greedy, grumpy, old and careless politicians fighting for power not giving any chance to the young generation, how will the elections solve our problems? Division is not a solution to our problems and elections in Africa cause division. Africa is too rich in natural resources to be taking orders from whom these resources don't belong. We need to be an independent continent and we need one leader for the whole continent!
Some African leaders have given elections a bad name by trying to manipulate the results to suit their dubious agenda. The best thing is to continue with the elections and ensure that leaders that are out to cause confusion are not allowed to stand.
Generally, there is nothing wrong with elections in a democratic society. What is wrong are the leaders that seek to manipulate the results of the elections to satisfy their dubious expectations.
Andrew Limo, Kenya
Had the colonial powers divided Africa along tribal boundaries, many of these problems simply would not exist - it's a deliberately oversimplified statement but true nonetheless.
Before going to the elections, some structures need to be put in place. Firstly, people should agree on the type of government - presidential, semi-presidential etc. The judicial, military and security structures should also be well defined. My vision is that the winner will select a dream team to take care of the country's affairs like a national football coach makes up his/ her team with the country's best players.
Hassan B. Sisay, Sierra Leone, but residing in the USA
This unfortunately is a validation of the theory that due to their dismal economic conditions, Africans simply cannot practice democracy. It always goes back to voting based on ethnic lines. Economic despair translates into ethnic hatred and it is always the other person's fault.
The reason why democracy will never prevail in Africa is because most of our leaders have no exit strategy. Once they come to power, it seems that the state belongs to them, not the people they represent and they use every trick in the book to stay there as long as they can.
Thaelo Kebaagetse, Botswana
Elections by themselves, and the coming to power of democratically elected men or women are no guarantee that things will always be better they were before. But it could be, given that the political system prevailing in a given country is functional and credible enough, and that honest and capable contestants stand for elections.
I have grown up all my life in Africa and democracy will not and can not succeed in Africa as long as there is poverty and tribalism. Many say that there is no more tribal warfare but I submit that most conflict in Africa today is a result of tribalism. Secondly, as long as extreme poverty dominates this continent, corruption will remain a barrier to true democracy!
By continually turning to the ballot as opposed to the bullet, people affirm their belief and will to ultimately control, change and direct their destiny. The seeds of democracy can take root and grow even on the rockiest of grounds. We just have to keep on ploughing away.
Mhando Milton, Kenya
I hope what just happened in Yugoslavia and Cote d'Ivoire will also happen everywhere else in Africa where there are military dictators clinging to power against the will of the people; especially in the "Democratic" Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Angola.
Sheikh Sowa, UK
So long as Africans continue to think in terms of tribe, they will continue to be manipulated by "leaders". If we considered ourselves as one, we would be able to stand up to any "leader" who does not carry out the wishes of the people who got him there. The voice of the people is the voice of God. Democracy will take root and succeed in Africa.
In some places like South Africa and Botswana it changes things. Unfortunately, it looks like another military snake is trying to force himself to be the head of an African country. We have had enough of military leaders in Africa. The best fighter or the top general in the country (who is usually unpopular among civilians) is not the best leader for the country.
Under conditions of underdevelopment and continuing economic crisis, where the state remains the primary source of material expectations and aspirations, multi-party elections in
Africa still solve little or nothing.
The expectation of a level playing-field for all political contestants remains a pipe dream under such conditions.
Most African elections mean nothing because "the so-called winner" has no intention of developing the country but only collecting the billions in his Swiss banks.
Yes, elections and democracy do solve problems. What you have in Africa today are military officials whose only true love for the continent is to loot its treasury.
True stability only comes from the ballot box and not through the barrel of the gun. Military men in Africa seem to believe that strong men as oppose to strong institutions build stability and growth, We Africans must dispel this notion to bring peace and stability/ economic growth to our continent
Olagbuyi Oduniyi, Nigeria
The problem is not the elections themselves, which are often tarnished by greed and intimidation, but rather with the personalities who assume leadership after the election. The continent must learn the basic lesson that we elect what we deserve when we do not require strict accountability of our leadership, our society or ourselves.
African elections can solve problems if they are free, fair and transparent from the onset. If you have an electoral process that is hijacked from the get go by a dictator (e.g. Ivory Coast), the elections will create more problems than they will solve. People who feel robbed by the dictatorship will try to take the law into their own hands. So long as African governments refuse to ensure a level playing field for all political parties, elections will continue to be a problem for Africans.
Firstly what type of election are we talking about? The fake election which gives unrest to most countries in Africa or the genuine democratic election, which most Africans are eager to experience. In short, this is to say that most of the elections in Africa, let alone solving anything, are one of the causes of unrest and conflict in most parts of the continent.
Africa's people have always been governed by the tribal system.
Democracy is an alien concept to Africa and although elections
may change governments, rural areas are still under autocratic
tribal leadership. Most political factions revolve around tribal lines and
it seems too much to ask for the leader of one political party to have all
of the people's interests at heart.
Mike Msuya, Tanzania/ Ivory Coast
There are no fair, free and transparent elections in Africa; it is just a waste of money and other resources. African leaders do not espouse political alternance. They hate to be called "Former Head of State". Once they taste the glamour, the illicit and illegal advantages of power, they think the country belong to them. Then arrogance, disdain and authoritarian rule take its course as the sole means to stay in power by rigging election for self-enrichment. This is the root of Africa's problem. As long as one leader can stay for decades as head of state, retrogression and civil wars will be Africa's daily problem.
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