Elections and the Peaceful Transfer of Power in Africa

Written by Osetemega Iribiri – September 5, 2022

The peaceful transfer of power is not a reality in all African countries. For instance, some elections result in military coups in Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali, and Sudan, and protests in Eswatini. Nevertheless, the situation is not all gloomy as countries like Zambia and Malawi have had peaceful elections. Similarly, other African countries are also making similar strides to ensure the gains in periodic elections are not reversed. However, in subsequent months, many Africans will be heading to the polls to elect their new leaders.

The most recent is Kenya. Kenya has the largest economy in East Africa. Therefore, the result of its election is very significant for national and regional stability. Kenyans went to the polls on August 9, 2022, with two (2) presidential candidates in mind: Raila Odinga and William Ruto, the vice-president. This election is particularly intriguing. The vice-president was in the opposition, while Raila Odinga, previously the opposition candidate to the current Uturu Kenyatta-led government, became the favorite of the seating president after years of vilification. Nevertheless, on August 15, 2022, Mr. William Ruto was declared the winner of the presidential election by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Although this election was described as peaceful, it was a sharp contrast to previous elections. Raila Odinga has described the election as marked with irregularities and challenged its authenticity at the Supreme Court.

Amidst these controversies, Kenyan youth are not particularly excited about the presidential elections, which is evident through their low participation. “Only 39.84 percent (8.8 million) of the total registered voters were youth, a decline of 5.17 percent from the 2017 figures,” said Ernest Bai Koroma, former Sierra Leone president, and leader of the African Union and COMESA observer team. This apathy stems from their dissatisfaction with the state of national affairs, including the high cost of governance, corruption, severe drought, rising debt, and inflation, with food prices soaring by fifteen percent in the last year. The close affiliations both presidential candidates have with the current government responsible for their harsh economic realities also contribute to the apathy. No matter how the Supreme Court decides, some wins can still be counted in the parliament. The general election saw the rise of new, young faces into the political landscape. Linet Chepkorir, 24, is the youngest female elected parliamentarian, and Martin Wanyonyi Pepela, 37, is the first elected parliamentarian with albinism.

This voter apathy is not common to Kenyans alone. Nigerians will head to the polls in February 2023. Like Kenya, the outcome of Nigeria’s election is significant as Nigeria is the most populous black nation and largest economy in Africa. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the institution constitutionally responsible for the conduct of elections in Nigeria, reported that it added 10.49 million new voters to its 84 million registered voters, with 84 percent of them aged 34 and below. Unfortunately, this increased voter registration is met by large numbers of young Nigeria leaving the country daily in droves due to a phenomenon called Japa. “Japa” is a term that describes the disillusionment of enterprising young Nigerians in the prosperity of their country due to persistent national insecurity and harsh economic realities leading them to seek favorable opportunities in other climes. According to Africa Polling Institute, seven (7) in ten (10) Nigerians are willing to leave Nigeria if given the opportunity. This further shows their dissonance in the governance system and hope for improvement. As young professionals continue to leave the country, a gap forms at various levels of society and the electoral system.

As Kenya awaits the verdict from the Supreme Court and the Nigerian election results, governments in Africa must begin to prioritize the use of technological solutions for the efficient, transparent, and swift collection of election results. It is also important to note that the use of technology is not a replacement for a system of integrity. Citizens must be confident in the democratic process and in the judicial and executive systems, who are obligated to defend their votes.

It is also vital that governments and civil societies do not slack in the continuous empowerment and education of voters. The leadership of national and regional bodies such as the African Union (AU), East African Community (EAC), and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is usually selected among presidents and leaders of represented countries. Therefore, if as a continent, development is desired, citizens should not be shortsighted in the selection of their representatives. Young people have a huge role to play in the development of Africa. With a sense of optimism, as this consistently happens, the flow of civilization in Kenya, Nigeria, and the whole of Africa will not flow backward.

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