Views from Fiona: Democracy in African States
President Mwai Kibaki(L),Raila Odinga(R) and the violent clashes of the December 27, 2007 parliamentary elections in Kenya.

Views from Fiona: Democracy in African States


Is Africa's experiment with democracy going wrong?

By Fiona Abaasa
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First published: January 29, 2008


Africa, being relatively new to the concepts of democracy and the rule of law, is grappling with the idea of free and fair elections. This hardly has anything to do with the number of years Africans have tried democracy, but rather, their ability to accept results after voting exercises. Graceful acceptance of defeat is quite alien in public elections all over Africa.


The recent parliamentary Bye-election in Bugweri, Iganga District turned ugly. With Uganda's President, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni throwing his weight behind his party's candidate, Ali Kirunda Kivejinja, who was running against the Forum for Democratic Change's Abdul Katuntu, the scene for political skirmishes was drawn. Katuntu beat Kivejinja in the Bye-election (he had earlier, in the courts of law, successfully challenged the 2006 voting results in Bugweri which gave Kivejinja a win). However, as expected, Uganda's reigning government (National Resistance Movement) refused to accept defeat gracefully. It vowed try to overturn the results.

For the last one month, neighbouring Kenya has been besieged by ethnic violence that started when Mwai Kibaki declared himself the president-elect and swiftly formed a new government in what was generally perceived as daylight election robbery. What did the average Joe Public in Kenya do when his right to elect a new leader was cruelly violated? He took to the streets to protest and the result in Kenyan towns is extreme anger borne out of pure frustration at getting any form of justice. Kenya, hitherto one of Africa's most peaceful nations, is now grappling with the worst violence it has seen since the days of the Mau Mau rebellion. While Mwai Kibaki tries to run a new government and mediation efforts by Kofi Annan (the UN's ex-Secretary General) are underway, the opposition is on the streets protesting and more mayhem seems to unravel every day.

What is happening in Kenya is not new to Africa. It has happened in Zimbabwe, Nigeria and other countries. Just before the general elections in Nigeria last year, leading opposition candidate and former Vice-President Atiku Abubaker had to fight off trumped up charges of corruption. Even when Nigeria's Supreme Court absolved him of any wrong doing, the state saw to it that he did not get enough time to canvass for votes from the electorate, thus smoothening Obasanjo's anointed Y'aduar's ascent into the presidential seat.

These recent developments expose Africa's fragile and weak democratisation process(es). The arrogance and self-serving agendas drawn up by Africa's current crop of leaders exhibits their belief that without them in power, their the nations would plunge into an abyss. It is hardly surprising therefore, that even when the writings are on the walls, most of Africa's leaders still won't budge an inch from their coveted seats. Out of selfishness and myopic thinking, they build walls around themselves and drown in beliefs of their own invincibility.

However, when the winds of change come, nobody - absolutely nobody can stop the will of the people. How Kenyans really feel about Kenya is now very evident. Africa needs to learn a lesson from Kenya and Zimbabwe. Once people are oppressed, their will to press for change should neither be ignored nor trampled upon. Today, Kenya is raging with riots and ethnic cleansing 'operations' that have resulted in many needless deaths and masses of refugees. Another African nation may follow next. Many more cases similar to what is happening in Kenya will happen unless leaders learn to respect the rule of law.

The optimists among us were excited and believed that Mo Ibrahim's peace prize would sped up democratisation a little in Africa. Apart from previous leaders like Mandela and Chissano (maiden winner), it will be a tough call for the Mo Ibrahim Foundation panel of experts to find any other worthy winners in Africa in the next few years. Let us be honest. When you look at Africa's current leaders, who merits the award? I certainly don't envy the panel of judges because theirs is an almost impossible task. God Bless Africa!

By Fiona Abaasa
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First published: January 29, 2008
Fiona Abaasa is a visitor of UGPulse.com.

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