AFRICAN ELECTIONS 2004
What price democracy?
Elections are supposed to be a symbol of democracy. But for Africa, elections have been damaged by the bad image that hovers above them: vote rigging, intimidation and no change to the endemic poverty that haunts the continent's socio- economic and political landscape. Critical observers' eyes will be on the continent well-known for some of its corrupt and despotic political leaders - as old and young democracies of South Africa, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Equatorial Guinea, Algeria, Mauritius, Botswana, Niger, Tunisia, Guinea Bissau, Namibia, Mozambique, and Sudan go and cast their votes.
All 13 countries vary in their degrees of democracy. A case in point is Zimbabwe, a democracy for a little over 20 years, but in the throes of a now collapsing economy. Zimbabwean economist John Robertson says the economy shrunk by 19 per cent in 2003 and the inflation rate shot over 400 per cent. The situation has domino effects which have led to the acceleration of company closures and worsening countrywide food and fuel shortages. The Reserve Bank cannot keep up with the volume of cash as a
result of price hikes. A basic commodity such as bread sells for more than 1000Z$ a loaf.
On the other hand we have Botswana, South Africa and Mauritius, with the highest human development indices on the continent, with the person per capita standing at 3000 US dollars. Whilst Mauritius has diversified economies with low levels of poverty and unemployment, South Africa and Botswana find themselves in a paradox. They have good and growing economies, with high levels of unemployment and poverty and a huge gap between the rich and poor.
According to a study by FitchRatings International Credit Analysis analysts, Paul Rawkins and Veronica Kalema, Ghana has undergone significant political and economic reforms over two decades and growth in real income per head has outperformed much of sub- Saharan Africa.
Even so, as a low- income country, with a chequered history of macroeconomic stability, Ghana remains vulnerable to external shocks. Gold, cocoa and timber account for almost 70�/o of merchandise exports, foreign aid still features prominently in public expenditure, and debt is high. Such factors are consistent with 'B' sovereign ratings. Political risk diminished with the first democratic transfer of power in 19 years in January 2001.
The Kufuor administration inherited an economy beset by high inflation, wide fiscal deficits, high public debt and substantial payment arrears. A nominal public debt/revenue ratio in excess of 800% reinforced Ghana's case for external debt relief under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, leaving the government to tackle the domestic public debt burden through fiscal consolidation.
Early successes in 2001 were followed by mixed results in 2002, leading the government to take some bold remedial measures to restore
equilibrium. Aside from a sharp rise in inflation, reflecting moves towards full cost recovery in the energy sector, improvements in macroeconomic data in the first nine months have been striking, with the elimination of twin fiscal and current account deficits, net repayments of domestic debt and a rapid build up of international reserves to a record USDlbn plus. Ghana should have little difficulty meeting near- term performance criteria under a new three-year IMF facility agreed in May 2003.
Professor Hussein Solomon, director for the Centre of International Political Studies at Pretoria University says he sees two major problems with the upcoming elections. The first problem; is the resurgence of violence in Kwazulu- Natal and the second is voter apathy: "The voting public feels alienated from democracy."
As articulated by Jacob Zuma, South Africa's deputy president, at the launch of the AD in 2002, for the AU to have meaning in the lives of millions of Africans, it will have to create the right environment for these objectives to be realized. Zuma said the liberation of the continent did not automatically bring about peace and prosperity for Africa. A better life has
South Africa -February
Guinea Bissau -March
Mozambique -2nd half 2004
only become a reality in some parts of the continent. Conflict and wars have over the years led to loss of life, displacements and misery in many parts of the continent.
The need to solve, manage and prevent conflicts and to deal with other socio- economic challenges has become urgent, especially in the light of globalisation.
The Union has to continue to ensure unity while also accelerating the drive for sustainable economic development, peace and stability, and an improvement in the quality of life of all Africans. The ideal situation would be elections that are free and fair, that there is sufficient voter education and that government engages citizens in a process that is participatory and transparent.
The hard reality according to political experts is the existing newly established frameworks do not necessarily give any legitimacy to the elections. According to Professor Susan Booysens, from the University of Port Elizabeth, having 16 countries that have subscribed to the APRM can be seen as a barometer of political will.
The subscribers will expose themselves to being scrutinised by their peers while sharing and learning through each other. She says, however, that the biggest barometer of all is once elections bring about socio-economic development. "A system of an election in place is not enough, there has to be a follow up, there has to be a will from the people to pressurise government to change things. Since citizens and voters have been alienated from the political in most cases, they suffer from
voter apathy," she says.
Professor Guy Mhone from the University of the Witwatersrand's Graduate School of Public Management, does not see the socio- economic situations of any of the countries going to the polls changing in the near future. "There needs to be another step that goes beyond the elections. There needs to be substantive development policies that will influence the economy and thus the social situation," says Mhone.
The African National Congress (ANC), South Africa's ruling party has set itself weighty goals for 2014. According to the Election Manifesto 2004 - presented in Pietermaritzburg in the province of Kwazulu Natal, a stronghold of the ruling party's opposition, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP):
The manifesto says an ANC government would "improve services in health facilities staffed by adequate, well-trained and caring staff, with new funds added to the budget to recruit and retain health personnel, improve infrastructure, enhance health promotion and nutrition, promote awareness and provide comprehensive care, management and treatment of HIV and Aids". Community service in the nursing profession will be introduced for the first time next year.
The manifesto also promises voters "more than 150 000 police in active duty with more visible policing, better training, better management as well as community liaison at police station level".
Sceptics think the Manifesto is but a shopping list to attract voters to reinstate the ANC into power, while other segments of the population see it is a panacea against underdevelopment and possible economic stagnation. Whatever the odds, it remains to be seen if 2014 will see South Africa advance into a more prosperous democracy, or if greed and incompetence in power corridors will cripple the country into yet another African catastrophe.
An interesting challenge worth noting is that not all sovereign states are truly sovereign. Continental structures such as the AU make the significance and repercussions of the ballot to be cross-cutting between African States. We only have to look at the South Africa-Zimbabwe diplomatic relations to see how basic and yet detrimental the abuse of voter rights can be.
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