One fundamental component of democracy world over has been -and still is- a free, fair, credible and verifiable elections with an accompaniment of a peaceful transfer of power. Africa, for the longest time now has been touted as a region that still lags behind in integrating this component into her ‘democracy’. One of the reasons being that, unlike the so called mature democracies where predictable processes can lead to unpredictable results -such as a Trump presidency- most of Africa’s ‘democracies’ are deep-seated in unpredictable processes that yield predictable results. Not until just recently when the paradigm seems to be shifting -with the most recent instance being elections in The Gambia.
Predictable results in this context being synonymous with incumbents retaining power whether they win or not -whether they manipulate election processes or not -whether there is conflict/ ethnic cleansing or not -whether the regional bodies, African Union and International community intervene or not.
Yahya Jammeh in his own wisdom or lack of, thought that even if he reversed his earlier concession, he still had the instruments of violence to at least allow him remain president. The worst that could have happened in case of conflict was a power sharing deal presided over by the regional body, African Union and the International Community. But ECOWAS would tolerate none of that.
At this particular period when Yahya Jammeh was illegally clinging onto power, the AU Peace and Security Council was also meeting. Issuing mild threats. That, among other measures, the AU will cease to recorgnize Jammeh as the President of the Gambia -and also warned him of ‘serious consequences’ should the situation degenerate into a crisis. . Although the AU pledged its support for ECOWAS, it’s highly debatable that it is this position taken that made Jammeh leave The Gambia. This is simply because the AU is becoming (in)famous today for issuing hot air as threats. Take Burundi for instance -or South Sudan.
After the 2011 elections in The Gambia where Yahya Jammeh allegedly ‘won’ the elections with 72% of votes, the West African region was keenly following the build up to the 2016 elections- main reason being that the region, especially Senegal, was already tired with the person of Jammeh with his illegal activities in the region. And ECOWAS was determined to right the wrongs in the 2016 contest. However, pre election interference was still evident. For instance, 18 months to the election, Jammeh had already made the Supreme Court obsolete. Meaning, in case the opposition wished to dispute the elections, they wouldn’t have an audience. This is against the AU Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. And pre-election interference is where trouble begins, and sadly also, where the AU absence seems to be so loud.
Thus, the AU needs to assert her presence in the Pre-election processes.
Pierre Nkurunzinza in 2015 manipulated the justice system to allow him secure a third term in office, clearly contravening the AU charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. Yet both the AU and EAC never seemed to be keen to do what is RIGHT and watched as he conducted ethnic cleansing pre-elections. Other argument indicate that actually at this time when the AU’s focus is pulling out of the Rome Statute, they need more of the likes of Pierre Nkurunzinza in office -since they support this mission- and that’s why the AU seems reluctant to act on such.
Now, this does not mean that an African Country cannot or should not extend or give an additional term to a sitting President -But agreed upon procedures in the statutes should be followed. For instance, holding of a referendum like it happened in Rwanda.
Pre elections, many Member States, including relatively democratic ones like Kenya will still contravene articles 12(3), 19, 28 of the AU charter on Democracy in relations to civil societies, media and expression which the AU should be seen to be vocal about. This in an attempt to prevent tensions moving into an election. It is still hard to believe that the AU in this 21st century will declare polls ‘free and fair’ amid media blackout, opposition intimidation and even ethnic cleansing that prevents perceived opponents from voting.
In the spirit of Pan-Africanism. The spirit of Kwame Nkrumah and Haile Selassie, the African Union in the spirit of the charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, should shift focus and act on behalf of ‘We the People’ as opposed to acting on behalf of elite leaders. One recent example of the importance of working on behalf of the people, is the example of Gabon’s Jean Ping. He ‘dutifully’ served as the Chair of the AU Commission in the periods 2008 to 2012. He was however viewed to side with African dictators and did little to build capacities in relations to elections. When he returned home to vie for Presidency in Gabon in 2016 elections, he could only wonder how Ali Bongo retained power in an election that ballots are burned immediately after elections -not giving room for any type of vote recount. With cases of 99.99% voter turnout.
In conclusion therefore, as much as Africa today is celebrating the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for their intervention in upholding Democracy in The Gambia, the African Union should reflect on asserting her presence on behalf of ‘we the people’ when it comes to Electoral Processes.
It is clear that we must find an African solution to our problems, and that this can only be found in African Unity. Divided we are weak; united, Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the World. Kwame Nkrumah.