Welcome to Africa Research Institute’s blog. Africa Research Institute is a strictly non-partisan think tank based in London. Our mission is to draw attention to ideas which have worked in Africa, and to identify new ideas where needed.

Friday 24 September 2010

Elections galore: quantity over quality?

Seven African countries are due to hold presidential or parliamentary elections over three months of 2010. Eight have already done so – nine if you count Somaliland, a state in all but recognition. With Kenya’s constitutional referendum, and ballots planned on new constitutions in Niger and Madagascar, more than one third of African nations will have held nationwide elections by the end of the year. Local elections have been organised in a handful more.

Strong on quantity, then, but what of quality? In most countries, voting was relatively well planned, free, and peaceful, and voter turnout was high. Rwanda’s presidential election, which took place in August 2010 was praised by election observers for being highly organised – electoral rolls reflected, by and large, the eligible voter population and there were no reports of people being unable to cast their ballot. In Kenya, the peaceful conduct of the constitutional referendum contrasted starkly with the violence of the 2007 presidential election. The result, lauded by the country’s former anti-corruption tsar John Githongo as an instance of “the ruled imposing their will on the rulers”, reflected widespread support for the democratic process.

Yet most of the elections which have taken place so far this year have fallen well short of ‘fair’. Incumbents have been the clear winners; in Togo, Sudan, Rwanda, and Burundi sitting presidents gained very comfortable majorities. Governing parties also won parliamentary elections in Ethiopia and Mauritius. In all these countries – with the exception of the Mauritius, number one on the Ibrahim Index of good governance – opposition leaders and parties were obstructed. Methods varied from the sophisticated, such as gerrymandering or the creation of ghost parties to confuse the electorate, to the blunt – arrest and intimidation.

Somaliland stood out from the crowd. Not only did the semi-autonomous northern region of Somalia, and wannabe independent state, pull off a reasonably free and fair presidential election, but its defeated president actually relinquished power. No government of national unity for Somaliland - opposition leader Ahmed Mohamed Mahamoud ‘Silanyo’ became the country’s third democratically elected president in June 2010, an achievement made all the more impressive given the ongoing civil war being waged in southern Somalia.

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