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Africa’s Mirage: Democracy Without Development, By Owei Lakemfa

BALTIMORE, MD (AFRICAN EXAMINER) – 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 fifteen 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. 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 twenty five 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 fourteen 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 produce 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 fifty five 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.



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