Issues in African Elections

This article is considered necessary and useful in this contemporary world as Africans seem not to be getting it right yet when it comes to issues that get generated from our electoral processes.

Issues can be said to be an important topic that people are discussing or arguing about. Furthermore, issues are a subject or problem that people are talking about. Issues in African elections are those grey areas that have continued to taint elections on the African continent. Issues in African elections include violence and intimidation, corruption, manipulation of the electoral roll or register, vote rigging, vote buying, lack of institutional experience and the weakness of the free and independent media.

Various issues continue to trail elections on the African continent, even with the current democratization going on in majority of the African countries. These issues have continued to dent the image of Africa in its effort at entrenching democracy and ensuring that a conducive environment exist which will give way to credible, free and fair elections in Africa.

This article made an attempt to look into some of the issues inherent in elections in Africa;

a. Vote rigging: this is the manipulation of the election process to the advantage of a particular candidate or some candidates. (Kurfi, 1989). Johnson. A (2004) also defines rigging as the unauthorized increase or reduction of votes scored in an election to favour a particular candidate. He asserts further that rigging is a series of fraudulent electoral acts perpetrated by both the electoral officials and candidates to ensure the success of a favoured candidate at an election. Such acts include the inflation of the electoral register with the inclusion of non- existing voters who then appear on Election Day as voters to vote, disenfranchisement of qualified voters, or illegal printing of ballot papers, .falsification of results and inflation of vote and voters register, ballot box stuffing, ballot box hijacking, collusion between electoral staff and party officials. Vote rigging has continued to be a problem in African election since the process of democratization started on the continent.

b. Electoral Violence: Violence can be defined as the use of force to achieve compliance and obedience to a law or belief in a political system. (Johnson, 2004). Sisk. T (2008) opines that electoral violence consists of physical bodily harm, intimidation of electoral participant and threats of coercion often aimed to delay, disrupt or divert a poll to influence the electoral outcome.

Electoral violence is a sub- type of political violence in which political actors use force as a tool to foster their interest in order to attain political ends. Such acts include but not limited to assassination of opponents, arson or spontaneous fisticuffs between rival groups of supporters Violence can be targeted against people or things such as the targeting of communities or candidates or the deliberate destruction of campaign materials, vehicles, offices or ballot boxes.

However, there exist marked inequalities across the 54 African countries. Some have seen little or no incidents of election related violence, whereas others have a repeated history of violent electoral contests. However, electoral violence has continued to be a major issue in Africa. Countries like Zimbabwe, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone have all been characterized by election violence. Records of incidence such as election violence is so high in Africa that even an election considered being free and fair, the outcome may not have been free of violence.

c. Weakness of the Free and Independent Mass Media: the term mass media has been described differently by various authors and commentators. The mass media has been variously defined to mean channel, vehicle, medium, conduit, or any agency modern or traditional that is used by practitioner to inform a wide and diverse audience for the purpose of influencing the government or the people. The mass media includes the print media such as newspapers, magazines, journals, books and other forms of publications and the broadcast media transmitted through sound and visual images such as the radio and television (Janda et al 1998)

Breakthrough in technology has introduced new medium such as the internet. In Africa, it may include traditional media such as oration, poetry, folk, music etc. in the context of this article, the term mass media refers to medium of communication such as the newspaper, magazines, radio and television.

The mass media has long been a vanguard of social struggle and change on the African continent, because the mass media has long been controlled and censored by many governments on the African continent which have largely weakened the mass media in carrying out its duties.

d. Non-Independence of the judiciary: another issues that continue to bedevil elections in Africa is the non- independence of the judiciary. Independence of the judiciary is a principle of government which emphasizes that the judiciary should be free from legislative and executive control in the performance of their duties so as to provide an atmosphere where citizens enjoy their rights and freedom without any government interference (Johnson. A, 2004).

 In the process of an election, electoral disputes may arise and an independent judiciary is required for a contested election to be resolved effectively. An independent judiciary is an essential ingredient in a free and fair election. As Julius Nyerere (1968) argued that unless judges perform their work properly, none of the objective of a democratic society can be met.

The independence of the judiciary stem from the principle of separation of powers. Under this doctrine, the three arms of government- legislature, judiciary and executive are required to be autonomous in their work. This requires each arm to guard itself from undue influence by the others. The separation of power is very crucial in any constitutional state. Judicial independence is particularly important as without it, it would be difficult for any individual to ensure the protection of his or her human right from infringement by the state. Indeed, judicial independence is the lifeblood of constitutionalism.

Furthermore, the independence of the judiciary from the other arms of government plays a central role in preserving and promoting the integrity of courts. Independence also ensures that disputes are adjudicated based on their factual and legal merits, not on political consideration as the case is in so many African states. In other words, judges should be free to act on their own convictions without any apprehension of personal consequences to themselves.

The judiciary is charged with the responsibility of adjudicating the validity of an election as an objective decision maker, the judiciary must ensure not only that justice is done, but also seen to be done.


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