Consolidating democratic gains in Africa: Lessons from Kenya and Ghana

Consolidating democratic gains in Africa: Lessons from Kenya and Ghana

It is true that the relevance of democratic governance to the growth and development of every nation cannot be downplayed.

And democratic governance largely depends on fair, peaceful and violence-free elections towards smooth transition of power. The major and perhaps only threat to every successful election is the obsession for by some leaders to hold on to power and the desire to amass wealth. The late 1980s and 1990s were characterized by concerted struggle for democratization and clamour for good governance on the African Continent. The entrenched autocratic and repressive political culture, thirst for freedom and justice provided the incentive and legitimacy for popular democratic acceptance in Africa.

Recent assessment of African democracy suggests marginal progress and gradual consolidation of democratic gains. However, there exist several and formidable challenges in the consolidation of democratic governance in Africa.The 2011 report released by Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) shows that only Mauritius was ranked in the category of “Full Democracy”, while 10 African countries were classified as “Flawed Democracy”.

The remaining countries were classified either as “Hybrid Regime” or “Authoritarian Regime” both of which are regarded as non-democratic. Apart from these, coup de’tats and military ceasure of power is still prevailing in Africa. Rebels of Central African Republic have toppled government of that country after the Malian government was toppled in similar fashion last year sending very bad signals to the global community.

Elections in Nigeria were marred by post-election violence resulting to over thousand deaths in the Northern part of the country. Similarly, Democratic Republic of Congo’s election held in November 2011 nearly plunged the country into crisis threatening the return of civil war. Prolonged Cote D’Ivoire presidential election impasse led to armed conflicts resulting in deaths of thousands of civilians affecting the economy with a contraction of GDP by 7% in 2011. The examples are numerous and needs sufficed for space. The truth needs not be economized; Africa still has a long way to total democracy.

This makes the examples set by Ghana and Kenya in their elections quite outstanding and worth noting. The bad precedents notwithstanding, the truth needs to be told that Kenya and Ghana presented a new paradigm in the growth of democracy in Africa that must be given consideration. Ghana’s elections ended in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility and generally acclaimed by both local and international observer missions as the freest and fairest in the history of the West African country. Kenya followed suit and it was reported that the resource-rich has also passed the test of democracy as to have organized the most violence-free elections in the history of that country.

Massive voter turnouts
Democracy, they say, is as strong as how the people uphold it. The voter turnouts in the two countries during the election also point to one fact that holistic democracy in Africa can be a reality. Massive voter turnouts of above 80 percent were recorded in both countries showing the people’s belief in democracy and the power of their voice. To this, their leaders responded appropriately; making a complete whole! Though both elections encountered hitches, with Ghana’s running for two days due to machine failures and Kenya’s election results taking six days to be officially declared, there was general calm and patience with the help of leaders until the full outcome of the elections, the few pockets of violence notwithstanding. Africans must show interest in electing who leads them and not leave it to the few elite. This is the only way to ensuring popular participation in governance and libration of people from autocracy, dictatorship and subjugated rule.

Confidence in state institutions
Confidence in state institutions is by no means a critical requirement for the consolidation of democratic gains. What is most common to these two elections and perhaps the greatest lesson worth learning is that, main opposition parties in the two elections felt unsatisfied with the outcome of the elections. There was no resort to violence but petitions were laid at the supreme courts of the various countries to have their concerns addressed. Kenya actually had a peculiar case. Mr. Raila Odinga, despite the seeming inherent support from the west, still resorted to the supreme court of Kenya to have his concerns addressed alongside calming his followers. As both the elected president Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta and his vice Ruto face charges at the ICC for crimes against humanity, one can say any spark of atrocities could easily be attributed the two and Mr. Odinga easily vindicated could simply canvass the support of the west.

For instance in about one month to the Kenyan election US Assistant Secretary of State Jonnie Carson was reported as saying “We live in an interconnected world and people should be thoughtful about the impact that their choices have on their nation, on the region, on the economy, on the society and on the world in which they live. Choices have consequences” openly evidential of the States support for Odinga or at worst resentment towards the election of Mr Uhuru and his vice Ruto. A statement journalists say could be partly responsible for the overwhelming support of Kenyans for Mr. Uhuru and his vice. This can be said to mean Mr. Odinga had a door of opportunities to instigate his followers to struggle for power and perhaps topple the elected leaders of Kenya yet he decided to chatter the path to legally make his case.

This is even truer considering the fact that Mr. Odinga has loss the elections for the third time which could have made him more desperate ever than before. No wonder he made this historic statement after the ruling by the Supreme Court “my decision to file a petition in the supreme court to challenge the validity of the elections was a testament of my faith in the independence of our judiciary… the court has now spoken I wish the president elect and his team well”. This statement is and will remain historic for the numerous women and children of Kenya who would have suffered most if Mr. Odinga had thought and perhaps acted otherwise.

Thumbs up to Mr. Raila Odinga and his followers for the responsibility shown. Kenya will always remember and be grateful. It is hoped Ghana will follow suit after the ruling on their election too and that the entire African continent will learn great lessons from these two countries and be guided by the respect human rights and dignity in trying times. This is the only way for the democratic forward match of mother Africa.

The path to wholesome practice of democracy can be difficult especially on the African continent, but with tolerance, innovation, confidence in relevant institutions and willingness to place public interest above individual preference much would be achieved within the shortest possible time. We wish the presidents of the two countries well and hope much will be done towards strengthening relevant institutional structures to consolidate these landmark gains made.
Long live Africa, Long live her democracy!

By: Solomon Anzagra ([email protected]) and Samuel Appiah Adjei ([email protected])