In Democratic settings, elections are generally conceived as means of peaceful change of leadership. According to Wikipedia, an election is a formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office. An election is widely believed as a process of actualising representative democracy which exposes to the experiences of competition of power through balloting (Post and Vicars, 1973:19).
Undoubtedly, series of unfortunate manifestations have characterized the conduct of elections in Africa. Media reports had it that since the inception of our democracy in the late 50s and early 60s, elections have been marred by thuggery, rigging and violence. In the Nigerian milieu, observers from the European Union described the 2007 elections as the worst thing they had witnessed anywhere in the world.
It is imperative to emphasize that one of the strong pillars upon which democracy stands is the conduct of free, fair and credible elections. But alas! The African situation conspicuously negates this ideology. As stated above, elections in Africa have been prone to violence and manipulation. Thus, one might conclude to say that elections held in the continent are mere tools of political exploitation in the hands of the governing elite.
By definition, electoral violence could be seen as acts of coercion, intimidation or physical harm perpetrated to affect an electoral process. Basically, the sole aim of electoral violence is to alter the process in favour of some political elements. It is similarly conceived as a ploy by political actors using force in an instrumental way to advance their interests or achieve specific political ends.
Electoral violence can be manifested in various forms as physical assaults, arson, assassination of political opponents and the commonest, snatching of ballot boxes.
These acts, have not only threatened the sustainability of Africa’s renascent democracy but also infiltrated the stable polity thus promoting unrest and civil disobedience. Emphatically, if media reports of intimidation are taken cognisance of, a lesser number of people would partake in partisan politics; a development considered to be unpalatable to the polity.
Be that as it may, the scourge of electoral violence is a global phenomenon as no nation of the world is immune to its deadly venom. However, the fervency seems to be more pronounced in Africa.
The continent’s political history is replete with instances of electoral violence. For instance, the 2010 Guinean election saw widespread intimidation of voters and violent clashes between rival supporters of the two presidential candidates. Similarly, Sierra Leone experienced a violent-ridden election in 2012.
In Togo, the 2005 elections witnessed between 400 and 500 deaths and thousands wounded. Human Rights Watch reported that the 2011 post election violence killed more than 800 people in Nigeria. Obviously, it could be seen that wreaking of havoc has been a norm that seems inextricably tied to African elections.
Blatantly, the dire implications of electoral violence, political manipulation and gerrymandering are political instability, insecurity and underdevelopment. It equally accounts for legitimacy crisis in African nations.
Nonetheless, it is the concern of well meaning Africans particularly Nigerians to seek a lasting solution to the quagmire as we approach another election in 2019. Electoral violence, being an hindrance to our democracy must be dealt with before it disrupts our polity.
I’m of the strong opinion that it is high time we Africans exercise some level integrity in our electoral process. The conduct of elections should be devoid of violence and manipulation and equally reflect the wishes of the voting populace.
Essentially, the menace of corruption remains a topical issue that should be tackled by all and sundry. Over the years, it has been a cankerworm that has eaten deep into the fabrics of the African polity. Funds meant for developmental projects are embezzled and diverted for personal aggrandizement. Anti-corruption measures must be adopted and all governmental institutions must be strengthened to ensure that it is brought to the minimal level.
One other observable phenomenon is the high rate of unemployment among youths who in turn become tools in the hands of overambitious politicians. Yearly, our tertiary institutions produce thousands of graduates to the labour market and consequent of the continent’s poor economy, they are left to wander the streets jobless. An idle hand
they say is the devil’s workshop.
Youth empowerment remains the obsession of futuristic and idealistic nations therefore African leaders should prioritize the buildup of productive youths that would eventually shape a better future for the next generations.
Again, politics in the African milieu is viewed as a ‘do-or-die’ affair as political desperadoes spend billions to ensure their victory at the polls. And when money fails, violence is seen as the best alternative. Desperation to win elections remains an intractable phenomenon attached to our politics.
However, as we pursue the overhauling of our democracy, the promotion of accountability, social justice, transparency, rule of law, gender equality and due process must be emphasized. Equally, Good governance and effective leadership should top the agenda of policy makers in Africa.
There is a need for capacity building for the institutions particularly, the electoral bodies, the police force and other security agencies to ensure effectiveness in the discharge of their duties.
The electoral umpires must be persons of high integrity, intellect, pragmatism and uncompromising nature. Also, the electoral bodies must be well equipped with both human and capital resources.
On a final note, if these measures are effectively integrated, Africa’s renascent democracy would be consolidated and the conduct of elections would be violence-free.
Oloruntade Ganiu is an undergraduate of the Lagos State University where he studies Political Science. You can contact him on 08090985217
or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org_