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Africa waves some leaders goodbye but is the democratic deficit any narrower?

In Kenya, Chris Msando, head of information, communication and technology for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, was tortured and murdered a week before the presidential election.

Following the august 8th polls, the opposition coalition known as NASA and led by Raila Ondinga, contested the reelection of incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta. Despite international observers (including the African Union) finding no major issues with the polls, the Kenyan Supreme Court annulled the results and called for a new election in October.

Uhuru Kenyatta was eventually reelected president in October, after NASA’s refusal to take part in the election without addressing the key issues raised about the electoral commission.

Kenya has since sunk into a political and institutional crisis, aggravated by the recent inauguration of Odinga as  the ‘peoples president’.

Africa’s presidential electoral year ended in Liberia, on 28 December, with the passing of the baton between the ruling-party’s candidate Joseph Nyumah Bokai and Georges Oppong Weah.

The former soccer star turned politician and senator, won in the second round with more than 60% of the votes taking over from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s 12 year rule. He will have to redress the resource-rich but yet poor nation, in the wake of a debilitating Ebola outbreak.

In the three emblematic cases of ‘handover’ – Angola, Zimbabwe and The Gambia – it’s difficult to say whether the democratic deficit is less serious today. But if ZANU-PF and the MPLA don’t renew themselves, systems that don’t have a stellar record in the rule of law and good governance departments could easily be perpetuated.

Gambians, for their part, can hope that the coming to power of a novice in politics will bring them a better life.

Ensuring democratic and good governance, free and fair elections, and peaceful transitions to power are no longer optional.

Stability in several countries will indubitably be jeopardised in 2018 if some governments do not deliver free and fair elections. Similarly, undertaking constitutional changes that contradict the rule of law, the separation of powers and don’t uphold political agreements, will further entrench instability.

From this point of view, Africa’s regional organisations will have to manage the post-electoral crises from previous years – including Kenya – and try and prevent those on the horizon this year.

The African Union must, more than ever, have all its member states sing to the tune of democracy. This can be facilitated by a reform of the organisation. But this, in turn, hinges on the political will of those who will have to endorse the necessary changes. Unfortunately, they remain, for the moment, the guardians of the old order.


By Mohamed M Diatta. This article was first published by the Conversation


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