Africa’s mirage: Democracy without development

By Owei Lakmefa
DRAMA is when the President of a country boycotts the elections being conducted by his government. This week, it was the turn of Sao Tome and Principe   to re-enact that   play which was last staged by the over-rated and over-indulged former Malawian President, Joyce Banda.   Manuel Pinto da Costa was Sao Tome’s founding President at independence in 1975.

The 79-year-old ruled for 15 years   before he was forced to give way in 1990. In the run of the mostly, meaningless elections in Africa, he rode back to power in 2011 having defeated his rival and former Prime Minister, Evaristo Carvalho by five points in that August 7 re-run elections.

(L-R) Benin's president Patrice Talon, Central African Republic's president Faustin-Archange Touadera, Burkina Faso's president Roch Marc Christian Kabore, Nigeria's president Muhammadu Buhari, Mali's president Ibrahim Boubacar look on during the inauguration of Chad's president Idriss Deby (not pictured) for his fifth term as president on August 8, 2016 in N'Djamena.  Chad's President Idriss Deby took the oath of office August 8 for a fifth term in power, facing dogged resistance from an opposition that alleges his re-election was a "political hold-up". With tensions high a day after the death of a protester during an opposition march, around 14 African heads of state attended the swearing-in ceremony, including the presidents of Nigeria and Niger, both, like Chad, battling the Boko Haram jihadist group.  / AFP PHOTO / BRAHIM ADJI
(L-R) Benin’s president Patrice Talon, Central African Republic’s president Faustin-Archange Touadera, Burkina Faso’s president Roch Marc Christian Kabore, Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari, Mali’s president Ibrahim Boubacar look on during the inauguration of Chad’s president Idriss Deby (not pictured) for his fifth term as president on August 8, 2016 in N’Djamena.
Chad’s President Idriss Deby took the oath of office August 8 for a fifth term in power, facing dogged resistance from an opposition that alleges his re-election was a “political hold-up”. With tensions high a day after the death of a protester during an opposition march, around 14 African heads of state attended the swearing-in ceremony, including the presidents of Nigeria and Niger, both, like Chad, battling the Boko Haram jihadist group.
/ AFP PHOTO

This week, the same re-run scenario was to be re-enacted by the same candidates. Carvalho, 74, had reportedly scored   49.8 percent in the July 17, 2016   elections and President da Costa, 24.8 percent. Actually Carvalho had reportedly scored over 50 percent before it was reviewed downwards. At least, a re-run was announced; had it been in Nigeria, the elections   would have been “inconclusive”.

When this Sunday, the re-run was due, da Costa announced he was boycotting because in his opinion, the first round was rigged to favour his rival. This is not unlikely because in many African countries, under the imposed Western democracy , elections are wars won by all means necessary. Election rigging is common   and the side that outsmarts or ‘out-rigs’ the other, is victorious in the winner-takes-all contest.

As in Sao Tome, leaders are endlessly   recycled, or at best, power rotates in the same circle of elites. What is, however, constant is the underdevelopment of almost all African countries. In the case of Sao Tome, a country of 960 square kilometres with a 194,797 population spread over the islands of Sao Tome, Principe, Rolas and Pedras Tinhosas, it is the familiar story of rich country, poor people.

The country produces coffee, palm oil, cocoa and   oil with an estimated crude oil reserve of 6-11   billion barrels. Yet its people are desperately poor with 80 percent of its budget coming from foreign aid!

As Sao Tome busied itself with another divisive and meaningless election, President Idris Deby of Chad was being sworn in for his fifth term in office. The last time I visited Chad was in 2014. The country remained a military camp as it has been for decades. Its people seemed under nourished with very deep North-South divide. Chad remains the largest French military base in Africa. After 25 years of Deby rule, the country remains on a war footing, expecting rival warlords or rebels to strike.   Soldiers in military camouflage are common sight on the streets of its capital, Ndjamena, which remains underdeveloped.

In the April 10, 2016 elections, a dozen candidates, including Deby, set out to secure the votes of over six million voters. With a reported 70 percent voter turnout,   Deby was scored 62 percent, and his closest rival, Saleh Kebzabo, 13 percent. The opposition, which claimed ballot boxes developed wings, described the elections as a “political hold-up” and mustered the courage to protest. Expectedly,   it   was met with force. After expending scarce resources on obviously predetermined elections that will add no value to the country’s development,

Derby spent more money hosting 14 brother Presidents at his August 8 inauguration. Obviously what he   did was to get Chad go through the motions of elections to fulfill all righteousness; at least Deby’s international allies, like France, will have a basis   to prop him up. So they did for Blaise Campore who had in October 1987 gotten President Thomas Sankara   murdered and reversed the latter’s pro-people policies.

In 1991, 1998, 2005 and 2010, Campaore held sham elections designed to give legitimacy to his regime . In 2014 he over-reached himself by seeking to change the constitution and elongate his 27-year-old rule. A mass uprising unseated him on October 31, 2014.

The latest elections in Africa, are going on in Zambia with 6,698,372 voters electing the President and   the 159-member National Assembly. The elections in Zambia produced the same results for the people except when Michael Sata of the Patriotic Force won elections in 2011 and threatened to call those who exploit the country’s resources, especially its mines, to order. He died in October 2014. In the new elections, his party man, Edgar Lungu defeated rival, Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development by 27,757 votes. The current election is expected to be a straight fight between the two men whose parties are employing as expected, violence and other weapons of war.

As in other cases, the election observers, usually funded by Europe are at hand. Their normal Report would be: cases of violence, electoral infraction, need to do better next time, but despite all flaws, the election results should be upheld.

This is the usual line because what the dominant powers in the international community want are the motions of elections and not fundamental changes. On the other hand,   the image the gladiators want to present is an improvement in the lives of the people or promises of an improvement. But in reality, nothing changes, if anything, things become worse and the people, poorer.

This is not pessimism, it is scientific; there can be no development in Africa if the same underdevelopment programmes   like market forces, trade liberalization, currency devaluation, privatization of public wealth,   commercialization of basic social services including water, electricity and education are adopted by all the dominant political parties.

We are 55 countries in Africa; at any given time, we are in election mode. Like an  ever flowing stream, elections, their preparations, results, and, swearing-in of assumed winners, are always in progress. But what is democracy without development? What is the sovereignty of the people if all they do is cast ballots every four or five years in circumstances where their votes may not even count? Elections for its own sake is a sham. It does not appear Western democracy as we know it, is working in Africa; any democracy that does not deliver on its promises and lead to development, is a ruse.

Africa’s mirage: Democracy without development on Vanguard News.

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