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African Elections - Gangs and Militia

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on October 2, 2020 15:14

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As a number of countries head towards elections some African countries have taken important steps to ensure that the people’s voice does not get drowned out. Memories of electoral violence guide electoral reforms.

Madagascar, Cabo Verde, and Comoros are not widely known as examples of constitutional reforms. However, some bad experiences in the past and lessons learnt from European disasters prompted governments, with support from regional organizations, to seek remedies.

Moroni, Comoros. Woodlouse/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0

The growth of fascism in Germany after World War One is well-studied. One of the forming elements was the doctrine of "working towards the Fürher." According to Ian Kershaw, Adolf Hitler did not directly guide the development of much of the popular action, for instance, against Jews. Instead he created an enabling and encouraging environment within which loyal supporters would do what they believed their leader would approve of.

In many African states, similar scenarios developed. In the Sierra Leone civil war, Charles Taylor ordered his militias to "eat their enemies" and told them their enemies "are no longer human beings." In Zimbabwe, the ruling party indoctrinated youth movements to see any opponent as an enemy. These "green bombers," so named for the fatigues they wore, became enforcers and thugs, used to terrorize and intimidate opponents and voters. They often worked in close collaboration with police and the military. During the civil war in Cote D'Ivoire, both sides used ethnic militias to intimidate and murder political opponents. The International Criminal Court, for instance, indicted the former First Lady, Simone Gbagbo, on counts of organizing forces to attack civilians believed to be supporters of the opposing presidential candidate.

War orphans in Sierra Leone with UN Peacekeepers. UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

In the Comoros, after a long history of coups and counter-coups, the president and ex-commander of the armed forces, Azali Assoumani, in the run-up to the 2019 elections, handed power to his Minister of Energy, to act as president. During a previous election, Azali assured African Union observers that the military would be confined to barracks in the immediate pre-electoral period, to ensure the integrity of these consultations.

In Ghana development projects are appropriated to benefit incumbent leaders as a means of buying patronage before elections. In Madagascar, during previous periods of political instability, popular demonstrations were used to great effect, but these deteriorated in the face of calls for revolt and civil disobedience. Elections became distrusted and violence was seen as a means to take political power. After changes to the electoral laws the incumbent president, seeking re-election, resigned two months before the 2018 elections, handing power to the President of the Senate. In Cabo Verde, after a period as a one-party state, similar changes to electoral laws caused the president's functions to be suspended two months before the elections.

Lemurs occur only in Madagascar. Treehgr/Wikipedia CC BY 2.5

While not a solution to all problems, these measures reduced violence and leveled the field. Elections should be about consulting the electorate, not about winning a contest. Sometimes small countries can show the way to do so peacefully.

Peaceful Madagascar beach. Aleix Garcia/Wikipedia CC BY 2.0
Coen Van Wyk

Posted on October 2, 2020 15:14

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Source: Reuters

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