United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. (2013). An African Governance Report III: Elections & the Management of Diversity, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: UNECA, 2013.
A Report Review by Mwalimu George Ngwane (Presented at Hotel Sawa Douala on 2nd December 2014).
In the past three months, I have been solicited to do book reviews for three different publications. The common thread that runs through them is Governance.
I am honoured and humbled to be here to review this Report and wish to thank the organisers for placing confidence in my task to share my thoughts on the latest African Governance Report whose focus is “Elections and the Management of Diversity”.
Like I mentioned earlier the three publications I have had the opportunity to review all dwell on the theme of Governance. This indicates the importance and impact Governance has on the lives of both leaders and citizens especially in Africa. Governance still remains an inclusive democratic architecture which is informed by what Environmentalists call “Thinking Globally and Acting locally”. Governance still remains a development entitlement that speaks to the welfare, sustainable livelihood and economic empowerment of the common weal.
Coming from a civil society background, I see Governance as a Project with Aims, Objectives, Goals, Outcomes, Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation.
After reading this Report I came out with the following questions:
i) Why is this Report RELEVANT?
ii) What makes it RELIABLE?
iii) Why is it UNIQUE?
iv) Why is it worth READING?
v) What makes it a RECOMMENDATION Toolkit?
Why is the Report relevant?
Written in 262 pages and thoroughly laid out in eight thematic chapters, this Report is inspired not only by its past Reports of 2005 and 2009 but is rooted in comptemporary problems and opportunities that are embedded in the best practices or poor conduct of elections in our continent. Whether at the micro or macro level the word election either triggers testosterones of faith or adrenalin of fear. Those who tried running for or followed the run-up to the elections in the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon quite recently or the now postponed FECAFOOT know what I am talking about. In most of our Election matches either they are no well demarcated lines on the playing field or the goal posts are being shifted each time an undesirable element is about to score. Not to talk of the case where the referee and one of the teams involved in the match share the same party triumphalism or ”victory at all cost” mantra.
This Report dwells on the state and future of Africa’s democratization; the state and future of elections and the need for leadership to weave our diverse ideological, ethnic, linguistic and religious strands not necessarily into a uniform web of unity but at least into a rainbow symphony of consensus. In this respect I agree with the authors that while our liberal democratic space has been considerably widened, our social democratic content still needs to be deepened. By drawing country-specific examples, the Report initiates a conversation that holds a mirror up on our choice between window-dressing structures solely for international posturing or pro-people reforms inherent in system delivery policies, a choice between obsession with the routine and regular process of elections or fixation with the pragmatic and periodic end-product of elections; a choice between decrees that only widen the stomach infrastructure of our rent-seeking elite or laws that serve to consolidate the gains of electoral governance whose beneficiary is the electorate. Elections for whom and for what? Let us not make the mistake, even my grandmother can tell when elections are flawed. Today the common discourse is about the Arab spring of people’s power that began in 2010 but the sub-Saharan Africa had had its black winter of discontent that thawed earlier attempts at authoritarian and despotic regimes in the late 80s and early 90s. The one-party system was ferociously fought against even if it has like the thief next to Jesus Christ on the cross stolen its way in a new paradise called the dominant party system. These people’s power struggles especially in Africa are done because we want to silence the bullet and summon the ballot. The Report therefore makes this pertinent observation “Although performances differ, the challenge for African countries is to raise governance outcomes so that the democratic project has tangible meaning in the lives of their citizens”. I dare add that this principle of democratic development must not only be a challenge, it must be a commitment.
Why is this Report reliable?
The Report’s use of empirical data, verifiable statistics, country reports, Expert opinion surveys, respondent feedback, focus-group discussions are some of the scientific-evidence based milestones which compel us to rely on its credibility and ingenuity as well as the possibility to differentiate facts from opinion and emotive political rhetoric from rational established conclusions. By being analytical and prescriptive, the authors present country-specific examples around holistic global African trends without losing the pattern of a pyramid structure that showcases the success stories and the sleeping giants. By being frank and dispassionate and being diplomatic but unapologetic the authors have used the tools of guarded optimism and soft politics to tell the sordid story of a rising continent whose citizens are still caught in the maelstrom of democratic development. That is why The African Governance Report is seen as the most comprehensive Report in governance in Africa.
Why is the Report unique?
Most political narratives on Africa base their premise on the blame game with colonialism taking the brutal brunt. Granted, colonialism and its attendant mutations have had a toll on Africa’s Governance project. Yes, the reversal of fortunes in Zimbabwe, Mali, Libya, Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa Republic just to name these few have a direct correlation with the geopolitical power play, the ill-advised Structural Adjustment programmes, the inhuman resource conflict and the one-track regime change mindset that the West continues to foist on the rest of us. And the Report acknowledges this dispossession of Africa under Colonial misrule in its first two chapters albeit timidly. But fifty years after Independence whether real or nominal the paradigm shift of governance fragility, futility or failure must be centred on what the Report calls “the successor elite”. A clear case where the successor elite have managed their multi-layered identity into a harmonious tapestry is Rwanda. The Report provides a table that shows Rwanda standing tallest, like her President, in the overall index of governance trends in Africa with 70%. Like the Somali proverb goes “Africa must learn to retrieve from the ashes what has been lost in the fire”. The inclusion of civil society, marginalized groups and indigenous people as potent partners in Africa’s governance in this Report is significant. That the Report provides more answers than questions is laudable. Above all this pertinent observation in this Report calls for reflection. “The depth and scope of electoral, constitutional and political reforms shall depend on the state-society dynamics with the latter exerting affirmative action for greater reforms”.
What makes the Report worth reading?
With a simple style and the minimal presence of political cant, the reader is at ease with the subject matter of this Report. One does not need to be rocket scientist, a Carlos Lopes, a Mo Ibrahim, a Charles Soludo or a Jean Emmanuel Pondi to decipher its content. One only needs to be a keen observer of the instrumentalisation of elections in Africa. One only needs to follow our usual flawed electoral process, the fettered and fraudulent elections and the post-election security hold-up which not only constitute elements of structural endemic violence against peace-prone citizens but which like the Report suggests engenders “sectarian mobilization, intimidation, and social dislocation”. This Report engages the reader in their African view of our political DNA with its consistencies and contradictions, its benchmarks and fault lines, its best practices and poor performances. As a vigilant reader you will not fail to capture the authors’ centrality of elections and the Election Management Board especially in Chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6. Elections and the Election Management Board can either be the glue to the diverse fissures of any country or the tinder box that blows up the pent up can of divergent worms in the country. That is why I have reservations when the Report asserts in Chapter 5 that in the past ten years most elections have improved hugely with peaceful and satisfactory outcomes the norm. Ladies and Gentlemen as a student of conflict Management I have learnt not to confuse positive peace with negative peace; let us not take for granted the people’s resignation to butter and bread issues and their electoral fatigue because they now know they are mere canon fodders for too many politicians across the political divide who are chasing too little political ideas; let us not ignore voter apathy and party politics apprehension by citizens who have resolved to think more of the next generation rather than what Professor Ali Mazrui calls the next “cancer of electoral chaos”. When the vote ceases to be the voice of the citizen, post-election conflict sometimes becomes unnecessary. However the recent case of Burkina Faso is indicative at least in two ways (i) that people can be fed up with tele-guided or stage-managed elections (ii) that people can be irritated with longevity of leadership no matter how benevolent. In either case, elections should inform our leadership that governance is not necessarily about the quantity of years you put in power but the quality of service you give out to the citizens. That is why in the light of the revelation of Reverend Jose Chipenda in a 1996 Report that since 1990 African countries have spent over one billion US dollars on elections, and even though I agree with this African Governance Report when it says “elections are central to democratic governance and the political management of diversity in Africa’ in my quiet moments of meditation when I allow my imagination to take flight I sometimes wonder whether we should not give elections a break may be for ten years or so, so that all these resources used for pre-election sinecures, election allurements and post-election discriminatory compensations be traded off for balanced development. In a continent where leaders bowed to liberal democracy out of convenience than conviction and concession without conversion, elections may have to be an exercise in motion without movement.
Why is this Report a Recommendation Tool kit?
The whole Report is spiced with valid Recommendations but if you are a reader with a pedagogic mind just turn to Chapters 7 and 8. You will not be disappointed. But my take home Recommendations are: Modify the electoral system towards a first past the post and mixed or proportional representation systems; level the democratic playing field through guarantees of equitable access to election stakeholders; redesign Election Management Boards to strengthen their institutional and financial Independence; promote internal democracy in political parties; encourage the state’s capacity to respond to the democratic dividends; the need for a bottom-up and people-driven approach in constitutional engineering; the need for Regional and International Peer pressure to be exerted on democratic deficient and electoral delinquent countries and the need for relevant training and policy-oriented research.
I do understand and having not read Governance Reports I and II that this Report focuses on Elections but one would have loved to read the nexus between elections and Independent candidates; the significance of referendums as a vector of managing diversity; and the present constitutional violation born out of this desire to elongate terms of office. For like the Report confesses “Elections are not enough to address all the demands of diversity management in a plural society but when backed up by constitutional and political reforms they may ensure efficient and democratic diversity management”.
Be that as it may be, the task ahead of us is how we move this Report from its brilliant Policy recommendations to a robust Policy Advocacy weapon. For indeed Africa has never been in short supply of Recommendation commodity from Lagos Plan of Action in 1980 through African Economic Community Treaty in 1991 to NEPAD in 2000 among others. What we lack is the political will to walk the talk on the one hand and on the other hand, the physical resilience to transform benign visions into concrete realities. May this Report be our Transformative Tool.