25.2 C
City of Banjul
Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Trials and tribulations of democratic transition in Africa: Are elections in Africa simply Machiavellian?

- Advertisement -

By Abdoukabirr Daffeh

This article is aimed at contributing to a comparative understanding of the challenges facing governance and democracy in some African countries. In this article, I shall focus on election and the democratization process in the Gambia, Cameroon, Uganda, Zimbabwe and some other African Countries. However, my study shall focus more on the election process and its impact on the democratization process in the Gambia and Cameroon.

It has been observed by Adejumobi that in most of these countries if not all, dominant party regime makes use of elections and other formalized elements of discreet democracy to maintain power without properly institutionalizing strong democratic structures. The conundrum aimed to address is why has election and electoral process in these countries failed to address the challenges of democratization and put up mechanisms for regime change?

- Advertisement -

The extent to which the democratic and electoral projects of most African states are, could hardly bring in any meaningful democracy and good governance in the continent. It is wise to note although the Gambia is able to free itself from the shackles of electoral fraud against former dictator Yahya Jammeh in the 2016 election, Cameroon will have to decide its faith come 2018 against Paul Biya.


The democratic project in most African states remains rickety and qualitatively stunted.
As contended by Adejumobi, in the Gambia and Cameroon, President Paul Biya and former Gambian dictator, Yahya Jammeh could best talk of façade democracy in which massaged elections were unwillingly arranged in pretense to deceive the international players that democracy does exist in their countries (Adejumobi 2000). According to Adejumobi, the participation of civil political tyranny under the guise of democratic rule with distorted and dressed elections results has been the hallmark of the electioneering process in most African states .This is obvious of both the Gambia and Cameroon.

- Advertisement -

In the Gambia, former dictator Yahya Jammeh has always claimed to be a “born again” democrat imposing himself on the Gambian people through a corrupted electoral process whose officials were hand-picked by him amidst massive condemnation by the international community and the opposition parties in the Gambia. It is without doubt, most African leaders have personalized the electoral system in their countries with election officials doing their bid to secure the interest of the incumbent.

In Uganda and Zimbabwe, callous authoritarian presidents Mugabe and Museveni have persistently declined to disengage from power and deliberately continued to subvert the electioneering process in their countries through annulment of results when the results run against them. President Museveni of Uganda in 2011 elections refused to surrender power enven though it was widely believed that he lost to Kizza Besigye (BBC Focus on Africa).This explains that elections in Africa are sham and never reflected the true aspiration of the electorates. Through a BBC interview, Museveni had acknowledged that the ballot will never see him out 0f power. This was also true of former Gambian President, Jammeh who in an interview with BBC’s Umaru Fofana in 2012 declared that election would never get him out of power. In his own word,” I do not come to power through vote, I will live power any time Allah wants me and I will rule this country for a billion years”.


These are clear indications that elections in Africa are never the manifestations of the peoples will.
Abdoulie Saine observed that in the Gambia and many African countries, elections are not held by incumbents to lose to opposition parties and their leaders. He maintained that even in countries were incumbents are defeated at the polls as it has been the case in Zimbabwe and Uganda, the incumbent leaders always refused to surrender power. It is without doubt elections in most African states are but a confirmation of PLO Lumumba’s argument “a form of ethnic census to determine which majority ethnic groups could form a government”. Most leaders in Africa are often prepared to put their countries into years of political crunch just to remain in power.

Saine argued that often defeated Presidents in Africa who refused to live power try to soothe their opponents by forming a unity government which often does not last. This was the case in Zimbabwe between Robert Mugabe and Mogan Tzangarai. This unity governments in the continent, does not often work well in the interest of the citizens. This experiment in Zimbabwe failed woefully.

Under former president Jammeh of the Gambia four (4) presidential elections were held from 1996 (Saine 2015).All these polls as Saine observed, defied the thesis of the characteristics of free and fair elections in both their conducts and outcome. This is largely because of the mistrust by the opposition parties towards the incumbent on what should constitute credible election. In the 2011 parliamentary elections in the Gambia, major opposition parties boycott participating in election citing that the process towards the electioneering procedure is not free and fair and called for a halt.

Notwithstanding, the Gambia’s election commission went ahead and declare all candidates of the former ruling APRC party winners citing that they were unopposed.
According to Abdoulie Saine, in the Gambia, elections continued to be concocted and “won” by the former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh from 1996-2011 with the support of his handpicked independent electoral commission(Saine 2015).Jammeh systematically succeeded to divide and weaken the opposition by increasing the election fees for presidential candidates in the Gambia for the 2016 election from previously 50,000 thousand Gambian Dalasi (USD 1,279 as of 2015) to 500,000 thousand Dalasi (USD12,740 as of 2015) this is more than 100% increment as the standard newspaper reported( Standard Newspaper 2015).This according to Jammeh loyalist and the handpicked electoral chief is to prevent unserious Gambians from becoming president in the Gambia.

It has been argued by Sait Matty Jaw in his thesis “Restoring Democracy in the Gambia” that outcomes of election results in the Gambia were known prior to counting the results. As a result, many Gambian become disinterested in voting. In the morning of the 2011 presidential elections in the Gambia, Jammeh was heard speaking to the BBC’s Umaru Fofana “do I look like a loser? I am going to win this election massively even the birds know that” (BBC Focus on Africa).This was a clear indication to all Gambians that the outcome of the 2011 election which many believed the coalition opposition party has a high chance of winning was going to be far from fair.

Similarly, in Cameroon, Uganda and Zimbabwe, citizens have become disenchanted and lack trust on the electioneering process knowing full well their presidents cannot live power through the ballot box.
The remark of Robert Mugabe’s wife that even if Mugabe’s copse contests election it will win, was a clear indication that elections are never a true reflection of the people’s choice in most African states. No doubt Mugabe was ousted through the people power.

The irony in Africa is that even when electorates turn out massively to vote, their mandate has always been thwarted by the incumbent. Sait observed that in 2011 election in the Gambia, Jammeh was declared to have ‘won’ 47 out of the 48 constituencies in the Gambia, winning even in the birth place of the opposition candidates. This comes with massive allegation by both the domestic and international observers that the election was marked with mass irregularity and deemed not free and fair (Jaw 2017).The leader of the Majority opposition party, United Democratic Party (UDP) Ousainou NK Darboe filed a petition at the supreme court of the Gambia to challenge the election results which fall in deaf ears.

Similarly, in Uganda, amidst widespread condemnation of the 2010 election results which the opposition leader Kizza Besigye was believed to have won, Museveni refused to live power and subsequently arrested Besigye on charges of treason (BBC Focus on Africa).

In Cameroon, Diom Richard Ngong argued that electoral fraud has been a common feature of the political history of Cameroon .He argued that even in the early days of political activities in the country, mostly in the Francophone part of Cameroon, electoral fraud to prevent free political expression of the electorates has been predominant. According to him, the electoral system in Cameroon is tailored to favour only the ruling party of Paul Biya (Ngong 2012). According to Ngong, elections in Cameroon are not considered credible. This lack of credibility, he maintained has been the explanation of the low voter turnout in Cameroon. He observed that the real rate of participation in election in Cameroon has been dwindling from one election to the other (Ngong 2012). This unfair electoral process is chiefly responsible for the slow development in Cameroon (Ngong 2012).This is because most leaders are wrongly elected and lacks the legitimacy to work effectively (Ngong 2012).

Mbapndah Ajony Laurean also argued that the 2004 presidential elections in Cameroon was deceptive and lacks credibility .He remarked that the whole voting exercise in Cameroon simply does not worth the pain (Laurean nd) .Paul Biya is widely believed to have always been supported by the electoral commission whose officials rig results in his favour. No doubt Laurean argued that Paul Biya hardly campaign in elections in Cameroon.

Nsom Joseph argued that election Cameroon has always works in the interest of Paul Biya to maintain him in power. He argued that there has been constant demand by the opposition of Cameroon for an independent electoral commission. However, Nsom maintained that to deceive the international community that Cameroon is advancing in Democracy, the CPDM government created the National Election Observatory (NEO) which in effect does not add anything to improving the electoral system in Cameroon.

It has been argued by Nsom that about 12 members of the Election Cameroon, are members of the CPDM political Bureau this affirms the fact that elections in Cameroon are never free and fair. Paul Biya is believed to have rigged the 2011 election and it is widely argued that the 2018 election in Cameroon will also be rigged by the CPDM government under Paul Biya who has been in power for 34 years.

Nsom maintained that Paul Biya would certainly prefer to die in power and is never prepared to ensure free and fair election in Cameroon. According to Nsom it is widely believed that the CPDM government will continue to rig election results in Cameroon. He maintained that the CPDM do not have any concrete achievement to count on (Nsom 2011). Nsom argued that corruption, nepotism, embezzlement and poverty are some of the sustained ills that characterized the CPDM government.

According to Nsom, it will be naïve for anyone to think that a transparent electoral system can be put in place in Cameroon by the Biya government
In the Gambia, a month before the 2016 presidential elections, hopes weren’t high for a peaceful transfer of power with crackdown on opposition leaders that result in the killing of Solo Sandeng the youth leader of the then opposition United Democratic Party by state Intelligence Agency and the imprisonment of the Leader of the United Democratic party (UDP) Ousainou Darboe and some top

members of his executive (Sait 2017).These coupled with the banning of international election observer mission in the Gambia and the shutting down of internet and all international call centers a night before the 2016 presidential elections in the Gambia was nerve -wrecking for many Gambians and a testimony that the election results weren’t going to be rig free. Even-though President Jammeh narrowly lost to a new comer Politician, Adama Barrow it doesn’t surprise Gambians and many who knows the political trajectory of Gambia that Jammeh would reject the outcome of the polls.

Suffice it to say, there has been a plethora of cases in most African countries where election results does not reflect the voice of the electorates. Most African leaders have become accustomed to stealing the democratic legitimacy of the people just to impose their self-perpetuating rule on the people. The 2016 disputed election in Gabon between Ali Bongo and Jean Ping was another scenario of façade elections in Africa .Amidst widespread condemnation by the international community and the oppositions on the lack of credibility of the election results, the courts went ahead and sworn in Bongo President. In Burundi also amidst allegation on the eligibility of Pierre Nkurunziza to run for his third mandate and the subsequent boycott of election by the opposition parties, the Burundi independent electoral commission went ahead and declared Pierre as the outright winner of the elections.

Similarly, the 2010 Presidential elections in Ivory Coast between former President Laurent Gbagbo and the then opposition leader Alassane Ouattara were also another testimony of façade elections in the continent and the refusal of leaders in the continent to peacefully step down from power through the ballot box. Even-though the electoral commission declared Ouattara winner, Gbagbo refused to live power peacefully claiming that he was the legitimate leader .This violent refusal resulted in the death of many innocent and civilian Ivoirians in cold blood.

In the April 2016 Presidential elections in Equatorial Guinea, amidst massive international condemnation on the lack of level playing electoral field in Equatorial Guinea and the boycott of elections by opposition parties to restore sanity in the electoral process, the electoral commission declared Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo as the President for the 7th time turning deaf years to the call of the international community and the opposition parties on electoral reforms.
By and large, it is without a shred of doubt that elections in most African countries are nothing but a sham and an attempt by leaders to steal the democratic legitimacy of the people.


Lessons learned and recommendations
For the first time in the Gambia’s history, the different opposition parties selected one flag bearer – Barrow – to go against an immensely sit tight incumbent. Barrow managed to defeat Jammeh largely because of the generous backing lent by the opposition parties to him, under the umbrella of ‘Coalition 2016’.
In April 2016, seven months before the election, a rare protest happened in the outskirt of the capital city of Banjul. This pro-democracy demonstration led to the detention and eventual death-in-custody of the youth leader of the main opposition party (UDP), Solo Sandeng, in addition to the arrest of several opposition leaders. This contributed towards the consolidation of popular antagonism against Jammeh. Naturally, many shifted their loyalty to the opposition parties.

It is important to learn that in life what goes around often comes around. History has sufficiently made lessons of ruthless dictators in the continent whose reign of power many think will never end.
Through the unquestionable verdict of history brutal leaders like Edi Amin, Mobutu, Abacha, Charles Taylor, Gadhafi and of recent the Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh have had their reign ended by the people power.
Therefore, the current dictators of the continent who are notorious of subverting the popular will of the people should know that history is watching and slowly but surely their reigns will come to an end.
Therefore, as Cameroon and Uganda will head to the polls in 2018, what Paul Biya and Museveni should do is to simply declare that they will no longer run for election and help to institute a strong and credible electoral system, independent of the parties and government. This will help restore democracy in their countries and give them a new face in the international community.

They should entrust the destiny of the country’s leadership into the hands of the electorates. This will be good for both Biya and Museveni as they will be able to build their lost glory and become among the respected elders of the world.

Similarly, this should be followed by all the dictators of the continent whose cases I have presented supra.
Moreover, there is a need for strong political coalition among opposition parties in the continent to help put a united force against dictators in the continent. This has worked well against President Jammeh in the Gambia in the 2016 elections.

It is also worth noting that the citizens of Africa particularly the young people and the African diaspora should begin to take active roles in the politics of their countries. They should begin to be critical and demand answers on the affairs of their countries. They should demand that youth participation in governance becomes a key value in their governance blueprints. This will put pressure on the governments of Africa to begin to think responsible and act responsible.

In other to end electoral fraud in Africa, the civil societies, schools and religious bodies should begin to speak critical of the status quo of their countries. There will be a greater need for civic education and awareness creation to make Africans become aware of the rights as trustees of power. This will make citizens of Africa think critical and be ready to challenge any form of electoral malpractices.

The African universities should begin to teach national values and raise critical issues within an academic lens that will make the African youth conscious of his or her right as a sovereign citizen of his country.
This popular approach to the democratic and electoral flaws of the continent will result in radical change in the democratization process of the continent and slowly but surely, the continent of Africa will dwell among nations of democracy with rights of all citizens to vote and be voted for, respected and guaranteed devoid of electoral flaws. This will bring in dignity, progress and prosperity for the continent.

However, unless this is done, my projection is that Africa will continue to wallow behind in the global process. It is therefore wise to conclude that for change in the democratic process of Africa to be realized through the ballot, we most all begin to act radical and demand that enough is enough. The African people most begin to take their destiny in their own hands and end self-perpetuating rule in their countries. The Africans particularly youths need to learn that only them can bring sanity in the electoral process of their countries. The young people must deny to be used as political capitals by the self-serving African leaders and be the architect of their destiny and the destiny of their countries.


Saine A (2015). Gambia’s deepening governance and economic crisis: World Press
Saine A (2009).The Paradox of Third-wave Democratization in Africa: The Gambia under AFPRC-APRC
Rule: Lamham, MD Lexing books
Adejumobi A (2000). Africa and the challenges of Democracy and Good Governance in the 21st
Century: Adisababa, Ethiopia
Jaw S.M (2017).Restoring Democracy in the Gambia? : University of Bergen, Norway
Laurean M.A (nd). Cameroon: Democracy at crossroad: Peace and Conflict Monitor
Ngong D.R (2013). How to prevent and combat electoral fraud in Cameroon: Fridric Ebert Stifting,
Yaoundé, Cameroon
Joseph N (2011). The visage of Cameroon in 2011, year of Presidential Elections: Yaoundé, Cameroon
BBC Focus on AFRICA (2016) .Interview with Yaya Jammeh: BBC, London
BBC Focus on Africa (2010) .Interview with Yeweri Museveni: BBC, London
The Standard Newspaper of the Gambia (2015) .Gambian election bill: Standard Newspaper

Join The Conversation
- Advertisment -spot_img
- Advertisment -spot_img