"Any way the wind blows" - Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
As a political scientist, especially one trained in Europe (the West?) elections are, for me, a central pillar of democracy and good governance. Working in development cooperation has only increased this – the cycle of elections and electoral monitoring seem to be a central point in all cooperation programs. 2018 has also provided its list of elections and foreshadowing for the future is also on its way. In Niger, just a glance in the local papers makes it clear that everything politically is seen through the perspective of the future elections (in particular the 2021 presidential elections).
Yet contested elections, in a context of severe credibility questions, have become almost a standard in Africa. Of course, there are exceptions such as South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana, and Senegal. But if we look just at some of the elections so far in 2018, it is clear there are many problematic cases. In Mali the elections took place in a country torn apart by conflict (and saw the re-election of an incumbent who’s had limited success; the results are not accepted by the entire opposition), Chad has announced that donors will have to pay for its elections (national assembly and local) or they won’t take place, Egypt and Zimbabwe elections took place in a highly authoritarian context which predictably saw the government candidate elected, and the DRC will finally (it seems) have its much delayed presidential election but the governing party is likely to win since all potential important opponents have been barred from registering and / or entering the country.
Elections, for all their limitations and flaws, are meant to express the will of the people for their leaders and policies. In turn, they are meant to legitimize the choices made politically. But is their any chance of this happening in these cases? Are we moving towards or away from democracy? What is the input of external actors such as donors? And how can African countries - also in the context of poverty and limited space and options for public debate - have real policy and political discussions?
Niamey, Niger, 05.09.2018