Election dilemma in Africa: Learning from the Nigerian Experience

By Dereje Seyoum*
Several African countries are holding elections in 2015. The election in Sudan is starting today, 13 April 2015, and Togo will follow next week. DRC, Egypt, and several others will take their turns in the following months. The election process and result in Nigeria has proved to be exemplary for other African countries holding elections this year. The defeat of the incumbent party in Nigeria is also a triumph over one party rule which is becoming a norm if not the rule in contemporary African party politics.
The purpose and the function of elections differ depending on the political realities of each country. Many countries conduct election for the sake of fulfilling their electoral calendar, without any significant outcome in the election result for the democratic process of the country. Elections are considered as a silver bullet for every legitimacy problem that a given country faces. Ironically, in all cases elections are conducted in a dilemma.
In a Post-conflict context, elections are considered as part of conflict-to-peace transition. In such countries it serves to terminate war (in its short term objectives) and, in the long run, to lay the foundation for the construction of a more stable and legitimate state. Consequently, elections legitimatize peace agreements and are used as a carrot to belligerent parties to lay down arms and compete for political power through peaceful and civilized means, to play by the rules of the game and participate in the politics of election. Election in such countries is also seen as the return of sovereignty and a sign for the reduction of international presence in a given country. It is an exit strategy for international and regional interventions present in a country through different forms, especially peace keeping missions (Lindberg, 2009).
In another context where governments are relatively stable but authoritarian, election is seen as having a democratization effect. However, except in few countries, the democratization effect of election is disputable as election sustains autocratic governments in power. Instead elections serve as a duplication of autocracy since elected authoritarian regimes can utilize elections for regime reproduction. The electoral track record in such countries indicate that elections have led to autocratization rather than to democratization (Gandhi, 2009).
In all contexts elections are conducted in a dilemma, involving many uncertainties and fear of post-election violence. There is fear that extremist groups might come to power and the dread of political polarization.
Against this norm in Africa, the election result and the reaction of Goodluck Jhonatan in upholding and respecting the people’s choice in the Nigerian election should remind those African countries holding election this year to use election for its democratization purpose. The Nigerian experience would probably also serve to ease the election dilemma in Africa. Good luck Buhari!!
*Dereje Seyoum (dereje.s@ipss-addis.org) is a Research Officer at the Africa Peace and Security Programme (APSP), a joint programme of the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) and the African Union. All views expressed in the AfSol blog are solely the views of the authors and do not in any represent the views of the IPSS or APSP. For more information on AfSol Blog, please contact research@ipss-addis.org.

2 thoughts on “Election dilemma in Africa: Learning from the Nigerian Experience

  1. Yes Dereje!

    Thanks for your piece! While we applaud Nigeria for the peaceful Election, One thing that remains a hurdle to the African Election process is embracing technology…technology failed big time.. leading to the process taking a lot of time. The case was the same in Kenya…among others…yet on the contrary we have a successful mobile money transfer service-MPESA.
    In the spirit of Afsol, we need to think globally and act locally…we are living in a global village where technology is the in-thing! How can we successfully embrace technology in our electoral processes?


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