Trends of Elections in Africa

By Omodunbi, Olumide

Election is very crucial to the principles and practice of democracy all over the world. And since the birth of modern state, elections has offered a way through which the people exercise their right to determine their rulers. In view of this, Omonijo et al (2007), opines that election is the act of choosing public officers by vote, which is also the act of electing those that governs a state. Elections are often conducted periodically and serve as a central mechanism of any democratic government. Owing to this fact, in a democracy power is derived solely from the consent of the governed which is legitimized in a free and fair election.

According to Johnson (2004), he defines election as a process by which the electorate or part of it, choose their representatives and exercise control over them. He asserts further that elections can be a device by which the ruling elites give the ordinary people some illusions of power and influence i.e. Election is ideologically a mere ritual because there may be no marked difference in the standard of living of the people or in the distribution of national wealth between the contending social classes regardless of the party that wins the election. This definition takes into cognizance the elite and the class struggle that existed in the society.

Mackenzie (1967) espouse that the following conditions were necessary in a democracy which guarantees free and fair election which are.

  1. An independent judiciary to interpret the electoral laws.
  2. An honest, competent and non- partisan administration to manage the election
  3. A developed system of political parties, well organized to put their programmes and candidates before the electors as alternatives between which to choose.
  4. A general acceptance throughout the political community of certain rather than vague rules of the game, which limit the struggle for power because of some unspoken sentiment that if the rules of the game are not observed more or less faithfully, the game itself will disappear amidst the wreckage of the whole system.

These requirements represent the ideal, and are very useful in anticipating the outcome of elections and to determine the health of an electoral system.

These ingredients for the success of elections constitute the bedrock of a democratic polity, and where they are lacking (Nigeria and many other African countries) the consequences are obvious neither can democracy be enjoyed, nor can its practices and culture be routinized.

The failure to guarantee these conditions partly explains the difficulty of establishing and routinizing electoral democracy in Africa. The difficulty in establishing an enduring democratic form of governance in Africa and the peculiar challenges of electoral democracy including the various forms of electoral malfeasance and violence tend to underscore the feel that citizens have not yet cultivated the civic culture underlying the success of western democracies.

READ ALSO: Issues in African Elections


The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary opines that a phenomenon moving in a general direction can be identified as a trend. Trend is not restricted to fashion or entertainment but covers all sphere of endeavours such as trends in the economics, social and political sphere.

A political trend tends to reflect a nations current political mood at a particular point in time which has to do with the way and manner the political system operates. Issues that determines the political trend of a country at any given period of time can be the system of government been practiced by the country which can either be military system or a democratic system, the political economy of the country, peoples participation in government and issues of human rights.

This article observed that the political trend in Africa as it obtains with elections can be broadly divided into two which are the;

  1. The Old Political Trend.
  2. The New Political Trend.

The Old political trends in Africa could be said to be that of a colonial foundation of politics which left behind a legacy of intolerance and authoritarian rule on the continent of Africa. This colonial background made the African nationalist that inherited power from the colonialist to resort to the use of naked power as a means of dealing with opposing views which usually leads to violence and force as a means of political survival. (Egwu, 2007)

Another old political trend in Africa was military incursions into the political realm which usually erodes any form of democratic principles. In the 1960’s majority of African nations gained independence from the colonialist, but before these countries could breathe a sigh of relieve, the military took over power in most African countries such as Nigeria. Scholars have identified some reasons why the military intervene in the politics of third world countries. According to Biodun Olamosu (2008), he opined that military incursion in the politics of third world countries is due to external factor, that is, imbedded in societal and structural weakness,  systematic defects and parochical levels of political culture which engenders the armed forces into power.

The New Political Trends sees many African states ignoring absolute rule to the embrace of a more pluralistic and democratic system of government. According to (International IDEA) the under listed were identified as important indices for governance.

  1. A constitution which guarantees elections and pay attention to civil and political liberties.
  2. The effective transfer of power and the renewal of democratic leadership.
  3. An electoral process that endears transparency.
  4. A more inclusive political system in which minorities and previously disadvantaged groups have gained access to elected and appointed offices.

Other factors includes an active civil society group, high level of political participation in many African countries especially places where the credibility of the electoral process may be questioned. This remains a positive landmark in Africa’s transition to democratic governance. The profoundness of democracy still poses a deep rooted problem of social political disarticulation that bedevils the African continent. Suffice it to say that states like Benin, Botswana, Ghana, Namibia and Senegal have shown an intense resilience in addressing this situation.

 The past decade has witnessed massive change in systems of governance at the economic and political administrative levels. It is particularly worthy to note that many African states have instituted various institutional and political changes. It has been observed that good governance and democracy are central to the issue of effective public service delivery, poverty eradication, peace and the rule of law. Many countries are boldly moving forward with reforms, liberalizing their economies and improving management capacity.


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