By L. Muthoni Wanyeki
Nigeria, the anchor state of West Africa, is itself now unstable.
Its elections have been postponed, ostensibly to enable a decisive regional offensive against Boko Haram. Boko Haram’s violence has overshadowed the election-related violence that has built up over the past year.
Nigeria is across the continent. But how this is playing out is instructive. A third of all African states will go into elections this year.
In this region alone, Tanzania goes to the polls in March for a constitutional referendum and in September for a general election. In April, Sudan has its general election. In May, it is the turn of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. In June, failure to install a transitional government may mean that South Sudan too will go to the polls.
Meanwhile, electoral issues are already evident in both Rwanda and Uganda’s 2017 and 2016 elections. As in Ethiopia this year, it is not these elections themselves that are of interest but rather the goings-on within the ruling parties.
Ethiopia’s ruling party will finally, during internal party processes later this year, openly confront change-of-guard issues simmering since Meles Zenawi’s death.
In Rwanda, the RPF has begun early with an internal party debate on “continuity with change.” In Uganda, let’s just say that blood is thicker than water.
Meanwhile, in Burundi, the new head of intelligence has just been fired for apparently suggesting a third term for President Pierre Nkurunziza may not be a good idea.
There is the inevitable pushback against the freedoms of assembly, association and expression. Think here about Ethiopia and all the bloggers, journalists, opposition leaders and members now in jail. Or Sudan and the number of students added to that list even as the incumbent says it is supports “national dialogue.”
The opposition disagrees and is calling for a boycott of the election. Which, unfortunately, is a tactic that only works if everybody abides and in the absence of state-supported “opposition” parties. Somehow, more than 40 such parties could contest.
Then there is the pushback against external election observation teams. Except in countries that are still aid-dependent and prone to external influence. Like Burundi and the DRC.
Nobody expects more than the African Union and the Arab League observation missions in Sudan. Whether that is a loss or not is debatable — it is clear the sign-off of “free and fair” is only in relative, not absolute, terms. With stability mattering so much more than the value of the vote. As Kenyans came to understand only too well in 2013.
It will be a turbulent year. But maybe also a year in which we ask why this has to be so. If we do not believe in the purpose of elections and are unable to respect the idea of fair competition, elections are no more than a farcical routine that we force ourselves through only to create unnecessary stress and risk politically instigated violence.
Isn’t it time we admit that?
Photo credit: Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters