Out of Africa: Elections beget Bloodshed

6 Min Read

December 30, 2010 By specialguest

Guest Post from Andrew Field


The recent explosion of political malfeasance allegations in Ivory Coast hardly comes as a surprise. Why? Well Ivory Coast is in Africa, of course. This is just another nation, in a long list of authoritarian democracies, where strong men wish to sustain power, and at any cost too. The ethics of fair play, free and fair elections, and giving people their rightful choice simply gets rumbled out the kraal. This is because serving African kleptocracies cannot afford the transparency of defeat, certainly when it comes to their prior human rights abuses, corruption and all the other trappings of power in Africa.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2008 survey, there are only about 30 ‘truly’ democratic countries amongst the 167 countries surveyed. This does not shout too loudly for democracy as an acceptable form of government. Out of the 44 African countries surveyed (which excluded Ivory Coast) back in 2008 only one country, Mauritius, was considered a genuinely democratic nation. That is an appalling statistic.

The jigsaw of modern Africa is made up, mostly, from the squiggly pieces of Europe’s former colonial possessions. The nations which make up Africa seem to perform quite well, holding routine elections that is, but there are few of them that can boast a truly free and fair electoral process, without the vote rigging, while ensuring party political choice, or pluralism. Throw in the occasional coup d’état, one party states, and a few Emperors too … Africa is actually a democracy nightmare. Little surprise therefore that of the 51 authoritarian regimes across the globe, nearly half of those are in Africa.

Africans ruled themselves for centuries: before the first colonial gun boats ventured up its rivers, and before the first ox wagons crossed African plains from the south. There were African kings, emperors, and paramount chiefs too; and a hierarchy of political order throughout many hundreds of tribal fiefdoms across the continent. Power passed from father to son, often violently usurped by force or conquest, normally by those outside the bloodline. The ethos was, and seemingly remains, the strongest man rules.

The colonial system broke down these traditional ways of African rule, but not completely. The medieval ways of Africa did not conform to Europe’s modern ideas, aside the fact that Europeans really did not believe Africans could rule. After a century or so, the real crunch came, when the Europeans were blown out by the winds of change, leaving behind their political legacy, a thing call called democracy.

From the fires of Uhuru came modern African governments based on the Western systems of rule. History will show that along with this new power came corruption, coup d’état, purge and famine as African politics regressed. The strong man rules. Was Africa actually ready for this democracy, more so, did Africa really want it? Apparently not, if you are a strong man.

Given Africa’s traditional forms of government, before the colonial fly in the ointment, and given only a small minority of the World’s nations are true democracies: one has to question if in fact pluralism and electoral process actually have a home in Africa. Clearly not in much of the Middle East and some parts of Asia either. China, with a quarter of the World’s population, is the more notable. It seems that Africa is just not a ready destination for elections and pluralism, surely the core of democracy.

And so we return to the Ivory Coast. Good luck, Thabo Mbeki in your plight to mediate the fray. Even better luck to the winning candidate, Alassane Ouattara, who may never be permitted to rule. This has a familiar acrid smell… Kenya… Zimbabwe…et al. Mbeki’s track record, very true to African form, is of unashamed cowardice and collaboration with the strong man in control, irrespective of what the people want.

There is so much wasted blooded spilled on the soil of Africa for these false democracies. This will not be the last election to be rigged and fiddled, it will not be the last to see massive pre-poll intimidation, political violence, murder and destruction, oh no…there are far too many, long ruling, strong men in Africa. Unfortunately there are just as many weak men who suppose to mediate too. It makes one wonder if there was not more depth in Ian Smith’s “Never in a thousand years”.


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