THE BOOBY-TRAP HIDDEN WITHIN AFRICAN ELECTIONS MUST BE DEFUSED
by CAMERON DUODU
‘I was extremely pleased to read on the Daily Graphic website on 16 August 2014, a report entitled “ Establish West Africa Electoral Commission”.
The report read: “Participants in a national stakeholder workshop on electoral reforms have called for the establishment of a West Africa Electoral Commission (WAEC) as an over-arching authority on elections in the sub-region – from registration to the declaration of results.”
The workshop, according to the Graphic, was organised by the Ghana Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), under the auspices of the Ghana Political Parties’ Programme (GPPP). The participants included representatives of the IEA-GPPP, namely, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), New Patriotic Party (NPP), People’s National Convention (PNC) and the Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP). The leadership of non-parliamentary political parties, including the Great Consolidated Popular Party (GCPP), Progressive People’s Party (PPP), United Front Party (UFP) , were also present.
Unfortunately, the Graphic, in line with the poor reporting that is characteristic of news reporting in Ghana today, failed to report the reasons which the participants gave for proposing that a West African Electoral Commission should be set up. But no matter – I have written extensively about the same subject in the past, and I am only too ready to raise my voice again in support of the proposal made by the stakeholders.
When Ghana swore in a new president, thelate Mr John Atta Mills, in 2009, it installed an opposition candidate who had defeated the candidate of the incumbent government. This was the second time such a thing had happened in Ghana andwas an extremely significant development, which, added to the earlier example of political musical chairs that had occurred in the year 2001, testified to the political maturity that seemed to be emerging steadily in the country.
However, beneath the surface, all was not well. In 2013 — only four years later — an election dispute over blatant electoral abuses had to go to the Supreme Court for adjudication. Thankfully, although feelings ran high when the Supreme Court “corruptly” (according to rumours) gave a decision in favour of the incumbent government that many people found unconvincing and very disappointing, there was absolutely no suggestion of a reaction that would include violence. This was due, in large part, to the enlightened attitude of the defeated candidate, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo, who refused even to seek a review of the Supreme Court judgement by the “full bench” of the Court, though he was constitutionally entitled to do that.
People in other African countries will have marvelled at the Ghanaian approach, especially those in Kenya, whose elections in 2007 were marked by massive bloodshed. The people of Zimbabwe must also have wondered how an African country like their own could hold elections in which not a single life was lost, while in their country, the opposition presidential candidate of 2008, Morgan Tsvangirai, said of the election: “This is not an election, but a war!”
That is not to say that the Ghana elections have not thrown up scary moments of their own. In particular, delays in the announcement of results have always resulted in tremendous social tension, as rumours opf rigging make the rounds and create fears that Ghana too would descend into an ethnic maelstrom.
What has became clear from Ghana’s recent elections is that despite over five decades of independence and our boast that our country was the first British African territory south of the Sahara to gain nationhood, our ethnic divisions are almost as sharp as ever. The fears of the NPP and the NDC about each other’s “strongholds” – the Volta region and the North for the NDC and the Akan areas for the NPP – are rooted deeply in fact. It is like a boil on Ghana’s foot, which has swelled into an ulcer during each election, since way back in 1969. Unless an ingenious way is found to lance the boil, it will one day grow big enough to cripple Ghana altogether. And that awful day may not wait for another 30 years to pass before it makes its terrifying appearance.
The strength of feeling that rises to the surface of African society at election time – even at the primary level, where candidates are merely adopted without any assurance that they will be actually elected – suggests that the template on which the superstructure of elections is planted — originating from the colonial period and continued, with a few modifications, after independence — is flawed and must be re-jigged. It goes without saying that any system that lends itself to constant suspicion that elections are rigged, cannot be taken to be a genuine test of the popular will.
Yet, in Africa, the stakes at election time are very high indeed, due to the enormous difference that political power makes to the economic welfare of both persons – and areas – that ‘win’ or ‘lose’ elections. It is thus time for Africa and the international observer bodies that keep an eye on African elections to acknowledge that national election commissions can no longer be entrusted with the life-or-death responsibility of deciding who has won or lost an election. In politics, perception is extremely important, and if huge chunks of a country’s electorate believe, for whatever reason, that they have been robbed of “electoral victory”, then the stability of the society is undermined from the first day the allegedly “unelected” government assumes office.
Inevitably, the existing election machinery is entirely dependent on the degree of credibility the machinery is accorded by the electorate. Where the electorate suspects that the electoral commissions are not completely insulated from local political pressures, trouble lurks just around the corner. This risk to political stability is quite unnecessary and must be rooted out.
How can that be done? Well, the UN has a great deal of experience of organising or supervising plebiscites, referendums and post-conflict elections in some of the most volatile situations: for example: plebiscite to decide whether Ghana and Togo should be joined together or gain independence separately (1956); Nigeria-Cameroon (1961); Namibia (1989); Haiti (1990); Angola (1992); Cambodia (1993); and Mozambique (1994). The UN was also partially involved in Eritrea (1993), South Africa (1994) and Malawi (1994). In each case, the election was perceived to be a success.
The African Union (AU) should now, in collaboration with the UN, create permanent international electoral commissions, one for EACH REGION of Africa, which will use the mechanisms perfected by the UN to reach free and fair results acceptable to all parties, in future African elections. For once an election result is seen to have been produced by an incorruptible process, ethno-political sentiments, no matter how bellicose, cannot be invoked against it. Our Supreme Courts will not be required to intervene often in elections, and that can only strengthen the judiciary. (The scandalous rumours circulated by some Ghanaians about bribes offered to, and accepted by, some of the judges of our Supreme Court, to reach their decision on the election petition, delivered on 29August 2013, cannot but have done permanent damage to the public standing of the Ghana Supreme Court. Yet, that is the only body constitutionally empowered to be the final arbiter in all political and social disputations in the country.
What I am proposing here is not impractical, for already, many international organisations have set aside enormous sums with which they pay observers to witness all African elections. The observers cannot change the decisions arrived at by national electoral commissions, even if they disagree with such decisions. So, essentially, the international community is just invited to witness a political hanging – in many instances. A better and socially more useful approach would be for this money to be pooled together and given to AU Regional International Election Commissions, whose neutrality cannot be disputed by anyone in any country.
Additional funds can be requested from the IMF and the World Bank, both of which have not been exactly silent in preaching about the relevance of ‘good governance’ to economic progress and social development.
In any case, such a system ought to be able to save the world a great deal of future expenditure on the care of refugees and persons internally displaced as a result of the violence that often results from killings that occur during or after particularly litigious elections in Africa. And, of course, African governments themselves will be saved from the political inertia, as well as the huge amounts of both money and judicial time that are currently expended on disputed election results. The Ghana Supreme Court, for instance, took nearly nine months to pronounce on the 2013 election. During that time, Ghana’s so-called “Acting Government” was not taken seriously by foreign investors and potential foreign aid donors. Is that desirable in a country crying for economic development?
Surely, national pride alone – the main obstacle to placing elections in the hands of international bodies – is not half as vital in importance, as saving the lives of potential victims of election violence?