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Elections & Democracy in Africa

 "Re-thinking the meaning of elections and democracy in the continent"

THURSDAY 20 JANUARY, 6PM @ The Africa Centre

(Organnised by the Africa Centre)

 With over 17 African countries hosting presidential elections and various others holding referenda, municipal, regional, and local elections this year, 2011 is set to be a "bumper election year" for the continent.

The crowded political calendar points to a clear rise in the periodic hosting of multi-party elections. But as the current critical stand-off in Côte d'Ivoire shows us, there are clear limits to electoral politics.

In Africa, there is still an overwhelming need for 'free and fair' elections whose results are incontestable and are respected by both citizens and leaders alike. There is also a growing insistence by African voters on having a say in their governance and an increasing number of civil society organisations are putting pressure for governments to return more accountable leaders, but that is yet to be achieved.  So what is the exact relationship between elections and democratisation in the continent? Are elections a true measure of a country's state of democracy?

Our diverse panel of speakers will debate the current state of democracy in the continent, highlighting the main problems of this fragile governance system, whilst exploring the possible solutions to these. Topics that will be covered in the discussion include: the role of elections and the latter's relationship to democratisation; "replica democracy" versus democracy as a true African form of government; the role of civil society and international observers; Nigeria and Somaliland as case studies; the problem of accountable leadership; and the problems engendered by the 'winner-takes-all' first-past-the-post electoral system used in many African countries.

Panel to include:

  •  Professor Stephen Chan - Professor of International Relations at SOAS
  • Patrick Smith (TBC) - Editor-in-Chief of Africa Confidential and The Africa Report
  • Sylvie Aboa-Bradwell - Executive Director of African People's Advocacy
  • Remi Okunlola - Lawyer & Executive Director SeaWolf Oilfields 
  • Vuyiswa Ngqobongwana (chair) - Writer, Broadcaster & Presenter of Africa Today (Sky channel 515)

ADDRESS: The Africa Centre, 38 King Street, London WC2E 8JT

This event is free but a £3 donation is recommended. Please RSVP to ensure your place by emailing: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Please arrive for 6PM for a 6:30PM start

*Countries hosting presidential elections in 2011: Benin;  Cameroon; Cape Verde; Central African Republic; Chad; DRC; Djibouti; Egypt; The Gambia; Liberia; Madagascar; Mauritius; Niger; Nigeria; São Tomé and Príncipe; Seychelles; Uganda; Zambia; and Zimbabwe. For the full African election calendar, visit the Electoral Institute for the Sustainability of Democracy in Africa: http://www.eisa.org.za/WEP/calendar2011.htm

 
 
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Panel Discussion

Written by APF   
Monday, 06 December 2010 14:59

Panel Discussion: "Democratisation in Africa, Challenges and Opportunities"

Dr. Fomunyoh has just ended another successful tour across the United Kingdom, where he gave talks to three different audiences.During the tour that kicked of at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS); University of London, Dr. Fomunyoh gave an academic talk to a mixed audience of Staff members and students from SOAS and the London School of Economics, as well as other Africanists and Policy experts from across the UK.

His participation at the panel discussion as a panellist and guest speaker follows an old SOAS tradition of hosting senior and distinguished policy experts and practitioners on African policy. The event organized by the African Policy Forum in partnership with SOAS invited the panellists to discuss the democratic process in Africa, in the midst of all the challenges and opportunities.

Together with Professor Stephen Chan, a senior professor of International Relations at SOAS, the duo engaged the highly interactive audience into a lively discussion that lasted for over two and half hours. In his introductory remarks, Prof. Chan introduced Dr. Fomunyoh as a true advocate of democracy with extensive field and scholarly knowledge on issues pertaining to democratisation in Africa especially the Sub Saharan Africa.

Dr. Fomunyoh, on his part began by, acknowledging the progress that has been made thus far in the process of enhancing democratic governance and strengthening democratic institutions on the continent. He gave a compelling analysis of where the continent is coming from, where it currently stands and what the challenges are as the process continues.

He cited Ghana as a looming example where the country has emerged from a period marred with under development and poor governance under military rule to what is now considered as one of the young democracies in the world. He pointed to President’s Obama’s first state visit to Ghana as an acknowledgement of the progress being made to foster democratic governance in the country. He compared the current political situation across Africa to that back in the 90s when only three head of states where known on the continent to have relinquished political power wilfully at the end of their term. These were Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Léopold Senghor of Senegal and Amadou Adhidjo of Cameroon. Comparing it to the current situation he said:

Today if you look at Africa, there are over 45 individuals who have served in state houses
as head of states and who have now relinquished power. Many of whom were term limited with the constitutional setup in their respective countries not allowing them to continue to maintain themselves in the office, some of them because they lost elections and accepted the outcome and even a few of them voluntarily relinquished power”. This he continued has uplifted the African continent and improved its position

He also took note of the emergence of the civil society and the important role they now play on the African continent. Amongst the challenges facing the continent today. Fomunyoh singled out the problem of political alternation where citizens have the opportunity to change power through a political process, but are more often than usual obstructed by those who want to perpetuate their stay in power. A well known problem across the continent today is that of manipulating the society through staged elections aimed at giving the impression that the country in question is on the democratic path. On this, Fomunyoh reiterated that “organising elections from time to time does not automatically qualify a country as a democracy”. He did however acknowledge the fact that elections constitute an important pillar in the whole career of democratic institutions.

Countries that have had credible election have had an easier time consolidating their political gains whereas those that have had flawed elections have more often ended up in conflict or have had a harder time putting in place their democratic institutions. On this he said:

“Elections are the one public contract that governments negotiate with their citizen in the public sphere i.e in the view of everyone both domestic and international. Thus a government that steals an election will find it much easier to violate the other norms of democratic governance”.

Prof. Chan on his part, speaking as some one who has been involved with Africa since the 80s especially with devising, organising, deploying and anchoring one of the very first international election observing group in Zimbabwe after independence, he sounded on a more sceptical note when the leadership in Africa is compared to others around the world.

He stressed three key areas where Africa as a continent was lagging behind the rest of the world when it came to democratisation. First on his list was the problem of gerontocracy. He lamented the current political structuring across Africa where vibrant and proactive youth are prevented from attaining the political leadership. Secondly Prof. Chan noted the role of women in the political setups across Africa. Though he acknowledged the progress made thus far in a few countries such as Rwanda and Liberia, he made it clear that there is still a vacuum when it comes to women’s participation in politics across the African continent. He cited Rwanda where the role of women has become extremely important, and noted that women stand to play a more positive role in the society if given the opportunity. Comparing the situation to the rest of the world, Prof. Chan said Liberia (with a female head of state) seem to have come close to balancing the equation of gender participation.

The third and last point he discussed was the use of new technology in the democratisation process. He made it clear that Africa still hard a long way to go when it came to employing and using the current technology in advancing democracy.

In the Q&A session, Dr. Fomunyoh answered questions ranging from the role of international organisation such as NDI in Africa to whether it was time for such international organisations to shift their attention away from the general liberal market consensus.

 On answering a question from the audience on what his organisation (NDI) was doing to address the issue of constitutional amendments aimed at perpetuating some leaders in power. Dr. Fomunyoh began by condemning the act in the strongest possible terms. He did acknowledge the frustration vetted toward the international community’s inability to prevent or punish such moves. He cited Cameroon as a case study where such constitutional amendments have led to a situation where the country is being governed by individuals who

are over 70 years of age and who constitute just 4 % of the population. He reminded the audience that international organisations and NGOs such as NDI are not enforcement agencies and therefore have their limitations.

In the closing remarks, Prof. Chan thanked Dr. Fomuyoh for his in depth analysis on Africa especially his strong optimism on the situation on the continent. He equally thanked him for his knowledgeable approach to presenting the facts on Africa especially his ability to use a pool

of good examples from many different countries across Africa in delineating the actual situation on the continent.

Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 23:46
 

Security in Africa

The security challenges facing Africa are enormous and multifaceted. These challenges are both conventional and non conventional, e.g violent extremism, insurgency, armed robbery, piracy, narcotic trafficking, human trafficking, post-conflict stabilization, resource, identity conflict and other forms of organised crime. Terrorism is also on the rise in some regions of the continent.

Given this wide array of challenges, coupled with the high level of unemployed youth and bad governance across most of the continent, there are growing concerns of a long term deteriorating effect.

On one hand proponents of democracy have argued that good governance is the key solution to this problem while on the other hand, development experts see the problem through a different prism. They argue that under development and the lack of opportunities for a better life are the driving factors behind much of the insecurity on the continent. The struggle over scarce and natural resources has been identified as the core of the major conflicts in Africa.

Oil, Gold, Diamond, Bauxite, Timber and even water are some of the many resources that have recently pushed countries and communities across Africa into costly wars. The rise of piracy in the Somalia waters has opened a new front that needs urgent attention.

Both regional and international partners are engaged in a fierce battle to curb and mitigate as well as prevent all these security concerns. The rise of political instability as a result of bad governance as well as bad diplomacy by the international community in some cases is exacerbating pressure on these efforts.

How the continent will fairy and overcome these security challenges over the next years is an issue occupying the minds of most Africa security experts.

Making Africa safe is fast becoming a priority to many external partners given the strategic importance of the continent as the world economic dynamics continue to evolve with the compass pointing toward the continent.

It is in this light that the Africa Policy Forum has made security one of its core are areas of interest. We shall be engaging our experts and partners in this field for insightful debates, as well as making available selected publications on the issue for our audience.

 
 

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