Voter intimidation rife in African polls



DESPITE 46 African countries, including Zimbabwe, having signed the African Union Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) and 33 ratified it, elections in most African countries are still bedevilled by issues of voter intimidation, rigging, vote buying and other ills.

Article 17 to 22 of the ACDEG stipulates that State parties should hold free and fair elections, ensure fair and equitable access by contesting parties and candidates to State-controlled media, establish national mechanisms that redress election disputes and establish and strengthen the independence of electoral bodies like the Zimbabwe Elections Commission (Zec).

Presenting the preliminary findings on a continental citizens’ report on ACDEG implementation to journalist during an Actionaid workshop on ACDEG in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Actionaid (Mozambique) Pan African governance adviser Johannes Chiminya, who is a Zimbabwean, said they found that most elections in Africa were affected by electoral violence.

“We found that in most African countries there was no freedom to conduct elections without interference, intimidation, and that there were also high rates of vote buying, vote rigging and bribery of voters,” Chiminya said.

“There has been a trend of heavy deployment of security agents and intimidation of citizens by security services, for example, in Zimbabwe six civilians were shot dead by armed soldiers during post-election demonstrations by the main opposition MDC Alliance,” he said.

Chiminya said the only countries where elections were run smoothly were Ghana, Tanzania and Sierra Leone, where people adjudged them as free and fair.

“However, in most countries electoral management bodies are also infiltrated by the ruling elite sympathisers,” he said.

While Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections environment improved in terms of opposition political parties being allowed to campaign freely and given a bit of coverage by the State media, they were marred by chaos after elections and allegations of rigging.

African Union peer review mechanism liaison officer Batloka Makang said there was also a tendency by African countries to do unconstitutional removal of governments, which was effected, during the early days of independence of these nations, by the use of mercenaries to overthrow heads of States through coup de tats.

“During the 1960s to 1980s there was predominance of coup de tats, but there was a shift during the Algiers Declaration (2000) and there are certain instances where they cannot classify whether it is a coup or unconstitutional change of government.

“When former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was removed, the African Union first said it was a coup because Mugabe fired the then Vice-President Mnangagwa and Mnangagwa was no longer in a constitutional set up of VP when he and the military put Mugabe under house arrest until he resigned,” Makang said.

“However, Mnangagwa’s issue was legalised in that they accepted that he was unconstitutionally removed as a VP,” he said, adding that in Africa there were other dubious situations, for example, in the Kenyan 2007 elections where after declaring the presidential elections winner, the President was sworn in within two hours.