Are African Countries prepared to conduct free, fair, transparent and credible elections? Myriad multi-sectoral and logistical challenges make it almost impossible to conduct successful elections in Africa.
Logistical challenges have been a major hindrance to having credible elections in Africa. Voting materials and equipment have to be secured in good time to avoid delay of the voting process and the voters who are ready to cast their votes. In Nigeria recently, elections were postponed for a week and even after the extension, voting days were still extended due to logistical challenges in various parts of the country.
Electoral bodies ought to ensure that technicalities don’t arise before, during and after elections. In the recent Nigeria polls, the Smart card reader machines in some polling stations could not function. The voter register has to be audited prior to elections to ensure that names are not missing, there is no double registration of voters and technicalities that may lock out potential voters are addressed. Having systems which are verifiable and tamper proof gives the voters’ confidence thus having a high turn up to exercise their democratic right. The system of announcing results should be consistent with the actual results to avoid misinformation that can lead to transmitting conflicting results via the media outlets.
Security to the voters and members of the electoral body is paramount in preparation of elections. Cases of intimidation, murder and disappearance of voting materials have been on the rise during election periods in Nigeria, Senegal and Kenya. In Senegal, key opponents were barred from vying for presidency because of corruption allegations, cases that ought to have been cleared in good time to avoid political tension and protests which can create unnecessary anxiety. Many countries in the recent past have stepped up security especially in volatile regions.
Africa’s youthful population are important in the electoral process. Many youth are not proactive in matters of deepening democracy. At least 51% of the voters in the recent Nigeria elections were youth aged below 35 years. Across Africa, most presidential candidates who have been in power since independence have not enacted structures that would support youth to ascend to political power. Civic education can be a vital tool to unlock the untapped opportunities inherent in young men and women to ensure that they are incorporated in the agenda setting of respective countries.
The observer mission is also important in ensuring that election outcomes are free and fair. Prior to elections, observer missions should hold consultative meetings with key stakeholders to ensure that operation standards are acceptable for all the party candidates and advise on technicalities that may arise before, during and after the election period. Observer missions should stick to capacity building and give election process findings at the end of the exercise to avoid giving conflicting reports which may jeopardize the outcome of the election results.
As Nigeria and Senegal move closer to announcing the presidential winners, several states in Africa will be going to the ballot. It is important that electoral bodies plan ahead to pave way for free and fair elections. Putting strong systems and mechanisms in place will enable many African states avert political injustices and failed states tag.
Grounding democracy and promoting sound leadership is key to elevating African states to the global arena hence opening more opportunities for North – South relations, giving Africa a fair platform to meaningfully contribute to global trade, combating terrorism, managing migration crises and promoting equitable growth and globalization.
By Simon Achieno