"What African Politicians should Learn from the West"

By Finnigan wa Simbeye

The Perspective
Paris, France

May 13, 2002

"This poll has taken place in conditions not clear, not transparent. For the first half after the poll, it was clear that I was in the lead. I was the first, no doubt about it. Up to this moment, as you can see, I am absolutely calm, peaceful and I have appealed to my people to remain peaceful and calm," former Malian Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita who is disputing his elimination in the country's presidential elections after the first round of voting told Allafrica.com's Ofeibea Quist-Acton in an interview.

Keita or IBK as he is popularly known in Mali, was eliminated in the first round of voting in his bid to take over from President Alpha Oumar Konare when he retires later this month after coming third with 20.65% of the vote in April 28 elections.

IBK and his supporters have since launched a legal battle at Mali's Constitutional Court challenging results from the first round of voting that saw former military ruler Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT) lead the group of 24 aspirants with 27.98% of the vote followed by President Konare's Adema party candidate, former Finance Minister Soumaila Cissé who polled 22.74%.

While Malians are unsure of going to the second round of voting for their next president on May 12 due to the imminent legal battle, elsewhere in Africa, news of election result disputes is common place with serious concerns threatening island nation of Madagascar's national security and unity.

The people of Madagascar went to the polls in December last year in which incumbent President Didier Ratsiraka and mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, Marc Ravalomanana scored 42% and 46% of the total vote respectively, to win outright the highest public office. Election authorities ordered a second round of voting which was due to be held in January but Ravalomanana and his supporters disputed the poll results claiming that he had won the presidency outright with more than 50%.

Ravalomanana and his supporters forced Ratsiraka and some of his government members to flee the capital and declare port city of Tamatave as their new capital while tensions continue to rise in the island nation. President Ratsiraka’s supporters are alleged to be blocking Antananarivo from the rest of the country by blowing up bridges and mounting roadblocks.

In Zimbabwe where the presidential election attracted an amazing proportion of Western media outlets and governments due to President Robert Mugabe's move to address colonial legacy land ownership imbalances by adopting a fast-track land reform programme opposed by Britain and the West, tensions are still high between the government and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) whose candidate Morgan Tsvangirai lost the vote to Mugabe.

With a lot of Western support, Tsvangirai has gone to court to contest Mugabe's victory on grounds that the polls were marred by irregularities and massive rigging, an observation which was made by Commonwealth observer group some local prodemocracy activists and SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) parliamentary group.

In Zambia where general elections were held early this year with current President Levy Mwanawasa of Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) winning the much disputed results with 26% of the poll while the numerous opposition parties won legislative majority, leading opposition presidential candidate Anderson Mazoka and others are contesting Mwanawasa's victory at High Court. In Uganda, Clo Kiiza Besigye fled the country for the US after last year’s elections won by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. Besigye is still disputing the poll outcome.

It looks like a new pattern of election controversies is unfolding as disputes are everywhere on the continent as Western imposed democratic standards seems to be slowly finding their way into an established system of civilian and military dictators such as Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo)'s deceased President Mobutu Sese Seko and Malawi's Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda who declared himself life president.

Sandwiched in these numerous election disputes are the so called 'foreign observers' often from the developed world or local civic organisations financed by the West, who have since assumed excessive powers, often over and above legally established national electoral authorities.

From Tanzania (2000 elections) to the latest in Zimbabwe (March 2002) and probably Mali will follow after May 12, the role of foreign observers in backing the opposition against winning incumbents is a cause for concern as a new unofficial rule seems to be getting established among Africa's opposition leaders, that elections are neither free nor fair if won by the incumbents.

"You assume that if the ruling party wins then elections are not free and fair. That is ridiculous," Tanzanian President Benjamin William Mkapa was widely quoted as saying by the media in March after African leaders foiled an attempt by Britain to impose smart sanction and suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth following reports of pre-election violence and invasions of white owned commercial farms.

It's a dangerous culture being nurtured by Africa's opposition with the backing of the West, which is threatening the very future success of the continent's democratic transformation.

While analysts agree that there are no universal standards in the running of democratic elections world wide, the truth is that there are many shortcomings in Africa's infrastructure supervising the polls. Expecting African governments to conduct elections at same level of standards with the West is demanding too much of countries struggling to undo the legacy of civilian and military dictators most of whom were or are still being sponsored by the West.

What losing African opposition candidates need to learn from the 2000 United States presidential elections which were won by George W. Bush and Republican party with less than 5,000 votes even after Al Gore of Democratic party won the popular vote by over 300,000 votes, is to accept the verdict as sanctioned by legally empowered national institutions other than disputing results with foreign observers backing.

"We have never been invited to Western countries to observe their elections, so why should they be invited in Africa?" Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Secretary General Amara Essy told reporters in Zambia soon after the Zimbabwean election which the West has demanded a rerun. European Union (EU) and the US declared Zambia’s elections as not having been free and fair but fell short of demanding a rerun as is the case in Zimbabwe.

But many African opposition leaders can also borrow a leaf from current Senegalese President Abdulaye Wade whose peaceful pursuit of power in the country dates back to the days of Leopold Sedar Senghor in 1970s. Wade contested the Senegalese presidency twice and lost in what observers claimed were rigged elections against the then incumbent President Abdou Diouf in 1988 and 1993 before sweeping to power in 2000. It pays to be patient sometimes!

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