African governments have been lauded for staging regular presidential and parliamentary elections. This year, more African countries will pursue the democratic path by conducting presidential, legislative and municipal elections.
On Friday, President Paul Kagame won a landslide victory to secure his third-term in office. On Tuesday Kenyans will go to the polls to participate in a closely contested election between incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and his opponent Raila Odinga.
Last year, a public survey of elections by the Pan-African research network Afro-barometer showed Africans distrusted national electoral commissions and the quality of their elections. Just over 40% of Africans in 36 countries believed that the last elections in their country were free and fair; whilst 25% said they trusted their electoral commissions. Many described elections as fraught by bribery, media bias, and electoral related violence. Last year, congratulations poured into Ghana after the country elected Nana Akufo-Addo as its new president.
Several incumbent presidents, including Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Zambia’s Edgar Lungu and Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon all won re-election too-despite protests from opposition members, violence, and internet shutdowns. In a major political development, Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, announced that he will step down at the end of the year.
Despite these challenges, some analysts acknowledge that elections across the continent are always markers of important democratic milestones
However it is still uncertain whether the Congolese will go to the polls in December. This after the DRC President Joseph Kabila indicated that lack of funds could further delay the staging of the crucial elections. The move has angered opposition leaders who have accused Kabila of reneging on last year’s December’s agreement to step down after extending constitutionally-mandated second term. Despite these challenges, some analysts acknowledge that elections across the continent are always markers of important democratic milestones. Director at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Human Rights Professor Frans Viljoen, addressed African parliamentarians about the need for electoral bodies not to allow the ruling elite to influence electoral outcomes. “Independence would mean an entity organising elections should not depend for its authority on the state, it should not be biased,” said Viljoen. On issues relating to justice, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights was established in 2004 to ensure the protection of human rights across the continent. The tribunal which is headquartered in Arusha, Tanzania, has been criticised of being ineffective in trying and prosecuting those accused of gross human rights violations. Out of the 54 member states of the African Union, only 30 recognise the court.
For instance, various human rights organisations have accused the court of failing to investigate atrocities committed in the Darfur region of the Sudan.
The country’s President Omar al-Bashir is the first sitting head of state wanted by the International Criminal Court. He has been charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.
He visited South Africa, a signatory to the ICC, in June 2015, but the government ignored the court’s arrest warrant and allowed him to leave the country.
It was widely seen as a public display of disrespect for the ICC. Professor Viljoen agrees that the African Court is hamstrung in dispensing justice to many victims of human rights abuses.
“To clarify today we have an African court on human rights in Arusha but it does not have a jurisdiction to decide on a criminal responsibility of any individual. For example President Bashir could never appear before in the court. But it will be unwise to leave the ICC because there is an alternative in terms of an African court that can fill the place of the ICC maybe in future.”
It has also been observed that limited resources impacted negatively on some government’s capacity to fulfil their obligations to ensure that citizens enjoys socio-economic rights such as access to quality education, healthcare and better living conditions.
– By Tshepo Ikaneng