Democracy in Africa: Reality or Myth?

Published on 11th February 2014

Why is it that in Africa, millions of voters are not always satisfied and convinced with general election results? In almost all African countries, elections are characterized by massive electoral malpractices such as State engineered harassment and intimidation using security forces, vote rigging, multiple voting, ballot stuffing, bribery, and imprisonment of political activists perceived by incumbent leadership to be supporting their political competitors.

In countries where these malpractices are proven in the courts of law, voters wonder why there is no order for fresh presidential elections. In 2006, Dr Kizza Besigye, the then opposition leader, petitioned the Uganda supreme court, challenging the re-election of president Yoweri Museveni, All seven Judges, at the time agreed that the electoral commission failed to comply with the law on the disenfranchisement of voters, counting and tallying of results, and that the elections were not free and fair. On the presidential vote tally, electoral figures, four Judges were against the election results being annulled while three wanted them annulled. In his Judgment, professor Kanyeihamba, one of the Judges, who wanted the election results to be annulled stated that, “The illegalities, malpractices, and irregularities, reported and proved to the unanimous satisfaction of this court dug too deep in the foundations and legitimacy of presidential elections of 2006 and leave no shadow of doubt that election was fatally flawed and a fresh one ought to be ordered and held.”

Despite of NRM party always winning elections in Uganda, a section of Ugandans don’t believe that, it does it through fair and free elections. The same applies to Tanzania with their Chama Chama Cha Mapinduzi; Zimbabwe with ZANU PF; Rwanda with RPF, and Nigeria with PDP.

For a multi- party democracy to freely flourish, a country must possess a vibrant and free functioning media, judicial independence, freedom of expression, vibrant and free functioning civil society, strong and an independent electoral body, and strong political will. Unfortunately, in Africa, all these exist cosmetically. 

In Egypt, journalists are always harassed, tortured, imprisoned and killed on trumped up charges, while others have had to flee the country. The situation is no different, in Eritrea, Sudan, Angola, Rwanda, Gambia and others, where writing an article or airing out views perceived to be challenging the top leadership earns one an automatic imprisonment. Media owners in these countries operate under constant fear and harassment and are forced to disseminate content that pleases those in authority.

In most African countries, judicial decisions that threaten the political and economic survival of incumbent leaders are not respected. Judges in Africa are increasingly becoming political cadres working to serve the interests of political leaders in power. Opposition politicians and political activists are always in and out of court answering trumped up charges like, rape, disrupting law and order, talking to people without police permission, and others, which incumbent leaders use to cripple their political aspirations.

On the brighter side, it is only in Botswana, Cape Verde, and Ghana, where multi-party democracy is functioning, to the satisfaction of the country’s citizens. In these three countries, leadership is open to scrutiny, there is rule of law, strong and independent institutions in place and countries’ resources are benefiting all citizens.

Minus strong institutions in place where political parties are stronger than their leaders and institutions stronger than individuals who head them, attaining true functioning multi-party democracy will remain a dream.

By Moses Hategeka

The author is a Ugandan based independent governance researcher, public affairs analyst, and writer.

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