The flexibility of democratic elections in Africa: Manipulation in the interests of factional protection or people-oriented security?

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The discussion starts off with the assertion that many states in the world, including some African states, are no longer fully complying with the requirements of free, fair, and valid democratic elections. The question arises as to whether democratic electoral processes in some states in Africa can still be in the interest of the well-being of all the people in a state. The aim of the article is, therefore, to determine how electoral manipulation by rulers in Africa promotes the interests of a ruling faction instead of the well-being of all people in the state (citizens of the state and others). To achieve this aim, the discussion analyses theoretical concepts applicable to the discussion: democratic elections; de-securitisation; liberal democracy; human security; national security; oligarchic dictatorship; social democracy; electoral democracy; representative democracy; securitisation; and stabilisation.

The author applies these concepts to different African contexts by referring to examples of electoral manipulation, including the case of South Africa as a liberal-democratic state in Africa. The discussion focuses on the underlying issues of electoral manipulation in Africa, in such a way that the article makes a contribution to political science as a general academic discipline and specifically to related disciplines such as public policy, peace studies, and security studies. The intention is also that the article will contribute to the strategic thinking of practitioners involved in avoiding and managing conflict while searching for solutions amid autocratic and oligarchic challenges. 

The author argues that a political ruling class has emerged in African states to protect the interests of their loyal supporters first. In these cases, the prosperity of all the citizens of the state is not the main consideration and ruling class governments do not succeed in addressing poverty and violent conflict. Incumbent governments rather fall back on electoral manipulation and intimidation to stay in power in the face of losing power through democratic elections. Election manipulation can be a combination of a change in legislation, manipulation strategies that include exclusionary tactics, intimidation, violence and even military intervention, as well as illegal tampering tactics at the technical level.

Indications are that autocratic states rely heavily on ethnic sentiments and ideological loyalties to consolidate a political ruling class. This argument is supported by the integration of literature research over a period of several years, own views based on the interpretation and physical observation of elections in Africa at different times and different settings over the past 40 years, as well as participation in conferences and training programmes over the past decade.

The discussion makes special reference to the work of experts from Africa, who base their knowledge on research conducted within the African field of knowledge to soften the usual dominant views from the Western world. This mitigation is done without ignoring valuable work by experts from outside Africa. The author expands on how democratic elections are manipulated and electoral fraud is committed by autocratic governments in Africa, without claiming that fraud takes place in all African states. In the discussion, events such as the Arab Spring that began in 2010 in North Africa and the Middle East were taken into account. 

The author found that liberal democracy, according to Western expectations, where human freedoms are constitutionally guaranteed (as in the US and Europe), has not reached full maturity in Africa. Although elections are held according to internationally accepted principles, and election fraud or manipulation is illegal, rulers aim to eliminate political competition to protect the interests of their loyal supporters. In such cases, the well-being of all the citizens of the state is not the main consideration of rulers (as in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Egypt). In states like these, representative democracy is compromised and governments fail to address poverty and violent conflict. Rather, governments of the day fall back on election manipulation to stay in power at all costs, knowing that the support of the majority of citizens is not guaranteed and that incumbents can lose an election.

Manipulative activities are accompanied by changes in legislation (such as in Egypt), manipulation strategies involving exclusionary tactics (such as in Ghana and Tunisia), intimidation and violence that may even include military intervention (such as happens regularly in West African states), as well as illegal tampering tactics at the technical level (such as in Nigeria and Zimbabwe). At the same time, efforts are being made to consolidate a ruling class based on ethnic sentiments and ideological loyalties (such as in South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe). The author predicts that tendencies towards oligarchic dictatorship in Africa will continue and that the public space will probably be increasingly dominated by a political ruling class. This new political class is likely to pursue material wealth for itself while the multifaceted inequalities that exist in African societies will not be successfully addressed. A political ruling class in Africa is likely to come increasingly into conflict with a neglected civil society. Incumbent governments will depend on control over the legal system, institutions such as electoral commissions, and security forces to manipulate elections and intimidate voters.

Expanding the discussion to South Africa as a specific case study, the author investigates the risk of election manipulation in South Africa by presenting a political background and cites recent election experiences as well as the approach of the current South African government. In the case of South Africa, he finds that there are no indications that the government of president Ramaphosa will seek to change electoral legislation, or that a manipulation strategy is unfolding. However, a risk remains that people inside and outside the state structures, with suitable technical capabilities, may be ready to tamper with or illegally manipulate election results. The risk of manipulation will increase if the ruling party develops the perception that it will lose the election or suffer unacceptable losses at the ballot box, in which case loyal party cadres will maintain control over state security mechanisms and be ready to intervene if necessary. It is therefore important that all citizens of states in Africa, including security observers and activists in the run-up to elections, develop mechanisms to observe and detect indicators such as an effort towards legislative changes, policy statements, manipulation strategies, tampering and interventions that entrench the interests of a ruling class during elections at the expense of the people.

Keywords: democratic elections; de-securitisation; electoral democracy; human security; liberal democracy; national security; oligarchic dictatorship; representative democracy; securitisation; social democracy; stabilisation


Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans

Die buigsaamheid van demokratiese verkiesings in Afrika: Manipulasie in belang van faksiebeskerming of mensgerigte veiligheid?

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