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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?

News and Information for Africa
Meanwhile in Tanzania the upcoming election has already been marred by violence between supporters of rival parties. And before the year is out election fever will also hit Ghana.

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.

Your reaction

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.
Richard D. Joh, Liberian in the USA

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.'
Pascal Bessong, South Africa/Cameroonian

All they do is make politicians richer, and the poor kill each other for nothing

Ross, Mozambique
They never solve anything. All they do is make politicians richer, and the poor kill each other for nothing
Ross, Mozambique

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.
Ian , Zimbabwe

Elections are very important. That is why even dictators cannot do without them

Kenneth N Ngwa, Cameroonian in the USA
Elections are very important. That is why even dictators cannot do without them. Because elections create an atmosphere of legitimacy, dictators sometimes try to get the fruit of elections (their ability to legitimize) without submitting themselves to the legitimate electoral process. Though this is an unfortunate situation, it remains a fact that elections do solve problems in principle; at least they create a situation where dictators can be checked. Elections help unmask and reveal those who represent or do not represent the interests of their nations and the continent; those who are (ir)responsible in public office and those in whose hands a nation should (or should not) entrust the highest office. Though problems may arise in the course of the elections, I do not recall one significant event in the life of a people that has benefits but no cost. It seems to me that we Africans will remain trapped in the vicious web of mediocrity, injustice, and oppression unless we are ready to believe in what we work for. Let us never forget that even the traditional form of ledership (chieftaincy) has a certain form of 'elections.' I hereby salute the courage and determination of our sisters and brothers in Cote D'Ivoire, who have shown to the rest of the world that it is possible for a people to believe in the truthfulness of elections to the point that they will not idly stand and watch the ferocious predator wolves in the highest office of the land snatch away their rights.
Kenneth N Ngwa, Cameroonian in the USA

Elections as a process improve when an electorate becomes less gullible

Richard Kimalel Walker, Kenya
The notable good about an election is that it's an alternative to violent change. Elections in Africa - and many other places - are not about getting the right person for the job. It's got more to do with creating a winning image. In Africa, politicians play the tribal card and manipulate our people's poverty and claim to work in their best interests. Elections as a process improve when an electorate becomes less gullible and can identify themselves with a clear path to make their lives better.
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.
Henry Williams, New York/Sierra Leone

In Africa, democracy is not voting, but counting the votes.
January Makamba, Tanzanian in US

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.
Tesfaye, Ethiopian, presently in Germany

For me what Africa needs is 'good dictatorship'

Sam Salifu Danse, Ghana
I am most convinced that democracy has not really solved our (Africa's) problems. It has created factionalism, division amongst people, reinforced tribalism and engendered corruption. The evidences are there to tell. When Rawlings first appeared in Ghana's political history, corruption was certainly almost wiped out. In a democratic dispensation, his government (not him) is one of the most corrupt and it is difficult for culprits to be punished. This gives people in Africa the leeway to enter into politics with the intention of making money and not to contribute to national development. For me what Africa needs is 'good dictatorship'. Democracy is not for Africa - it will continuously create chaos and division amongst us. It is neo-colonial and there is the need for us to rethink about it. If good dictatorship is well managed, it can yield resounding results for the poorest of the poor. This is the ultimate of each country.
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.
Sam S Saryon, Portland, USA, Liberian

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.
Manyuan Fahnbulleh, Liberia/Sierra Leone

Elections are useful for Africa, because they will infuse new ideas and energy to the continent and its people.
James Bonaparte, USA

I have always felt that positive and long term democratic and economic reform in Africa can succeed only when we have a Marshall plan for Africa

Ugo Harris, Nigeria/USA
I have always felt that positive and long term democratic and economic reform in Africa can succeed only when we have a Marshall plan for Africa like was planned and executed for Western Europe after the Second World War and Europe is better off today because of it. I cannot see how Ivory Coast was doing well, while almost every country around it was in crisis and war and it looked good to some people. I knew it was a matter of time before the good example of Ivory Coast would be under threat. African leaders need to come together and have long term plans instead of doing it alone, and besides that soldiers/military people cannot solve our problems. It is time to close the doors for soldiers/military because they destroy the societies when they take power - the example of Nigeria should teach Africans a lesson.
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.
Julia H. Shea, USA

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.
Romeo Yleah, Atlanta, U.S.A

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.
Ngoran Elias, Cameroon

It is high time we begin to question whether elections are relevant in Africa given their problematic nature

Gertrude Zulu, Zambia
Elections in Africa are a gateway to more problems as we are seeing in most parts of the continent. The question is how long this will continue and how we can change this. It is high time we begin to question whether elections are relevant in Africa given their problematic nature.
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.
Bate Arrah, Cameroon, liivng in the Ivory Coast, West Africa

In Rwanda the Tutsis were democratically exterminated by the majority Hutus. In Germany, Hitler was democratically elected to exterminate the Jews. Long live democracy!
John Mulenga, Zambia

We must try as much as possible to see ourselves as people of equal creation working for the good of human race

Oluwafemi Adeniran, Nigerian in Ghana
Ideally elections is to allow the mass of the people to have a say in the governing process and as such it grants a seal of authority to who ever is elected to exercise such power and authority as may be stipulated under the conditions of his election. For an election to be an effective tool for governance the people must be sovereign and no members of the society must be excluded from exercising their right to vote or be elected. The bane of African elections is the politics of exclusion and domination. We must try as much as possible to see ourselves as people of equal creation working for the good of human race. It is only then that elections will achieve their purpose in Africa.
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!
Sankara, USA

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.
Wilcliff Sakala, Zambia

The biggest problem is for the losers to accept defeat

Andrew Limo, Kenya
Electoral processes in Africa are often flawed but that does not mean they don't reflect the wishes of the majority. The biggest problem is for the losers to accept defeat. However corrupt an election process may be, the winners will always claim democracy has prevailed while the losers cry foul. Since tribal affiliations greatly influence the electoral outcome in Africa, every effort should be made to make them more representative. The present Kenyan constitution has a requirement that the successful presidential candidate must, in addition to getting most of the votes, garner 25% of the vote in at least five of the eight provinces. This ensures that whoever is elected has a following in all corners of the country. To go only by the might of the majority is to ignore the realities of ethnicity. This is where democracy is blind. It assumes homogeneity of societies where non exists. So there will always be discontent even where there was no rigging.
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.
Anton Nebbe, South Africa

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.
Christian N'Tamack, Cameroonian/ Nebraska, USA

A successful democracy is based on more than elections

Hassan B. Sisay, USA
Professor Donald Kagan in "Pericles of Athens and The Birth of Democracy", said that a successful democracy is based on more than elections. He maintained that an examination of the few successful democracies in history suggests that they need to meet three conditions if they are to flourish. The first is to have a good set of institutions. The second is to have a body of citizens who possess a good understanding of the principles of democracy, and who at least have developed a character consistent with the democratic way of life. The third is to have a high quality of leadership, at least in critical moments. Until the above has been fulfilled, the struggle for democracy in Africa will continue.
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.
Patrick Mweheire, Uganda

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.
Sadiq Abdullahi, Somalia

Leaders in Africa forget that the power they exercise is conferred upon them by the people

Thaelo Kebaagetse, Botswana
Leaders in Africa forget that the power they exercise is conferred upon them by the people. Once they are in power they tend to think they were born with it. It therefore becomes inalienable in their thinking. So anything that threatens to take away that power is vigorously resisted. Maybe the problem is that their bread comes from that power, without it there will be no bread.
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.
The probability that this possibility could be realised is high enough for us to have faith in elections and democracy. To take my own country, Somalia, as an example, there is no doubt that the leaders that could emerge from a free fair election held in Somalia at any time in the future would produce angels when compared to the current murderous warlords lording over Mogadishu and in other regions of my Somalia.
Omar Jama, Somalia

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!
Steven Gault, USA

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

Mhando Milton, Kenya
Fragile as is the concept of democracy and the respect for its institutions across most of Africa, elections - flawed and prone to abuse as they may be - serve as the most vivid symbol of a peoples hopes and aspirations.
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.
Muana Mboka, Congolese in the USA

Free and fair democratic elections are the only way out

Sheikh Sowa, UK
Elections are the main processes through which people can manifest their wishes as to who should govern them and who should not. Without them, African warlords, military leaders and other dictators will continue clinging to power without the people's consent. Free and fair democratic elections are the only way out.
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.
Hector Besong, Cameroonian, USA

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.
Rukara Ntambara, Rwanda

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.
Anthony Musonda, Zambian studying in Germany

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.
AbdiFatah, Somalian

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
Charles Biney, Connecticut/ USA

Elections are carried out just for formality's sake

Olagbuyi Oduniyi, Nigeria
Effective democratic elections can only be achieved in an environment where the following facilities that form the foundation of a democratic process exist: Freedom of press, transparent government and electoral policies, respect for human rights, confidence in the police and judicial service, true and fair elections, realistic constitutions, etc. Unfortunately, these basic things do not exist in most African states and elections are carried out just for formality's sake. Sadly, some voters cast their votes not because they believe in the electoral process but based on the political party that pays them most because they feel that whatever monetary gift they receive before the election will be the last they will get before the politicians start embezzling public funds.
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.
Kwame Rubadiri, Malawian in USA

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.
Kebba Dampha, Gambia

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.
Tagel Lenetsanet, Ethiopia

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.
N. Polley, South Africa

Africa needs leaders who care about Africans, not power or wealth

Mike Msuya, Tanzania/ Ivory Coast
The problem with most African leaders is that they forget the reason why they were elected once in office. One has to remember that the 'people' elected you to make things better for them and their children; it is for the greater good of all, and not for personal gain. Africa needs leaders who care about Africans, not power or wealth. There has to be more accountability, a president can no longer be above the law. If the case need be, he/ she should be impeached and have to let the 'people' know why he/ she has failed them.
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.
Mamadou Diallo, Guinea in USA

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See also:

24 Oct 00 | Africa
Ivorian leader told to step down
29 Sep 00 | Africa
Ghana's TV election head-to-head
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