Why do we waste our time on elections?


Events which unfolded in Uganda are a replay of how elections have always panned out in most African countries. Uganda was a stark reminder of how elections in post-independence Africa can never work.

A lot has been written about 50 or 60 years after independence in Africa, but one of the many things that have not worked and yet underlies everything else are elections. Why then do African countries waste time and resources pursuing an ineffective project?

Yes, I say post-independence because even the colonial systems have allowed elections to take their course and respected their outcomes.

Yoweri Museveni Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

Africa is independent today because the colonial systems, despite their racist and oppressive tendencies, have showed great respect for elections and the views of the people. It can be argued that most colonial systems had more power, resources and influence to rig elections but they chose not to do so and bowed down to pave way for normalcy, which has sadly transformed into dictatorial democracy in Africa today.

For African leaders, the formula of staying in power is simple. Hold elections regularly. Use all the power and State machinery to sway election results in favour of the sitting President.

Arrest opposition leaders for breaking laws and on flimsy charges. If they insist, give them the treason albatross to weaken them ahead of the next elections.
Delay delivery of voting materials and stifle the voting system in areas where they are not popular. Meet opposition anger with State violence. Ask your security chiefs to instil fear in people by announcing that anyone against the victory of the sitting President will be dealt with decisively.

Water opposition supporters with cannons and smoke them with teargas. That way no-one will have wounds, bruises or broken bones as evidence of State brutality.

In the absence of such evidence, declare the elections violence-free and announce the results after making sure there are armed security personnel at every corner of the streets. Prepare a statement thanking everyone who supported the election process and tell people that it is time to unite and rebuild the country.

Tell international election observer missions to stop meddling in internal affairs and instead acknowledge that elections were free and fair and that we have come a long way and are a living example of how elections are concluded. Opposition activists are released as a gesture of reconciliation.

This summarises how most African countries run their elections. Sadly, such election processes tend to influence the development of the countries or lack of.

The million dollar question today is why have we wasted our time and resources running elections? Did Kizza Besigye (Ugandan physician, politician and former military officer) honestly think Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni would hand over power through the ballot? Does MDC-T Leader Morgan Tsvangirai and the rest of our opposition leaders think power will be given to them because they have more numbers on the ballot than the current system? Do opposition parties in Africa think that those in power are ready to hand over power?

This reality is yet to dawn on our politics, including western governments, who have, year after year, funded elections as part of promoting the democratic project for over six decades. But investing for 60 years in an ineffective project is just questionable unless the thinking is that African politicians are yet to be domesticated for the current world. If that is the thinking, then it is flawed as it has propped up dictatorships.

But then what are the options? If we dump elections what else is available to challenge the status quo, which is not war? How else can we make sure that at least leaders deliver development to their people?

Africa is hungry for change, but that change is arrested in the corridors of dictatorship. It is only in Africa where democracy deploys dictatorship to run elections and to promote change. Both elections and violence have failed Africans.

Both have caused so much suffering and led to loss of many lives and stalled development. We have been raised in a context where elections are needed even when they do not work.

Turning to our own domestic politics, once again, the question why we waste our time on elections still endures. If events unfolding in Zanu PF today had started in 2000, perhaps the country would have been different.

Perhaps, if the MDC, the labour unions and those farmers did not challenge the status quo, we might have been somewhere. But then again, it is the same events that forced the status quo to desperately embrace the moles into its veins and arteries of power, which has reconfigured the party into what it is today.

Reading from today’s events, it can’t be denied that Zanu PF needed itself to destroy itself. With the way these events are unfolding, there is likely to be more Zanu PF outside Zanu PF than inside. Can this be that moment when the opposition must be told to remain silent as any noise may reunite, rejuvenate and strengthen Zanu PF?

●Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa


  1. Mahwani wamai. This about sums up Africa’s tragedy and what has made most of our countries an utter disgrace when it comes to elections and democracy.

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