Elections are a sham, we only hold them because we love doing meaningless things

Saturday February 20 2016


By Jenerali Ulimwengu

It’s official, it is not working, it just isn’t. It is this election thing that I’m talking about. It clearly is not working for us at all though, like the proverbial madman, we keep repeating the same thing the same way every day, expecting different results.

Whoever introduced elections to Africans was either ill-informed about our fundamental philosophical infrastructure or ill-intentioned and wishing us to be stuck forever in a dysfunctional mechanism taking us nowhere.

The Ugandans have just concluded another one. The Tanzanians had theirs late last year. The Kenyans will be doing the same thing next year, and after that the Rwandans will hold one the year after. We know what happened — and is still happening — with the Burundians.

Over the coming year, several African countries will be engrossed in this exercise that mobilises such intense emotions but produces such miserable results that one should be asking whether it is worth all the bother.

Nominally, an election is supposed to be the yardstick by which suitability for office is established between competing interests, groups and individuals in an open contest. Africans have made complete nonsense of that notion by resorting to all manner of subterfuge to gain undue advantage over their opponents.

Of course, we cannot claim absolute exclusivity in stealing elections, because other continents have produced their own versions of corrupted electoral processes. You could cite the Chicago voter-manufacturing machine of Mayor Richard Daley from the 1950s to the 1970s. He emptied Chicago’s cemeteries every polling day to allow dead people to vote.

This trick not only helped him hold onto the mayoral office for two decades, but apparently also aided John F. Kennedy in beating Richard Nixon to the White House in 1960. We also know about the more recent 2000 Florida charade, in which G.W Bush, aided by his brother Jeb, “won” the presidency against Al Gore.

Still, when it comes to electoral fraud, Africans simply take the cake. The patron saint of all African election thieves has of course to be the Liberian politician, Charles D.B King, who in 1927 “won” the presidency by polling more than 230,000 votes from an electorate of a mere 15,000. It is the kind of arithmetic that makes us geniuses, whether we like it or not.

So, know all ye who have such ambitions, the bar was raised to great heights a long time ago.

But we still try. During last year’s electoral process in Tanzania, a young political honcho was quoted as saying that his party would win “even if it is by a handball goal,” clearly inspired by Maradona’s 1986 “Hand of God.”

A Kenyan professor declared the last election “won” three months before the polling stations were open, because of the “tyranny of numbers,” that is to say Tribe 1+Tribe 2=Victory.

A Ugandan politician (name withheld) declared in public that since he had taken power through warfare, whoever wants to replace him in power will have to go to the bush, “like myself.” A section of Zanzibaris say openly that what was taken through bloodshed cannot be given away on “a piece of paper.”

So, why bother to go through the motions of holding elections? Perhaps it is to please the donors who predicate their continued economic assistance on our good behaviour, and regular elections show we are well behaved. Perhaps it is precisely because they mean nothing, and we Africans love doing things that mean nothing.

Perhaps it is because they cost us little, seeing as most of our elections are bankrolled by the same donors who insist we must do elections. Plus, elections can be stolen, and so they are always stolen. Africans are compulsive election riggers: An African politician will rig an election even when he/she is the sole candidate, either just “to make assurance double sure,” or simply because the urge is too strong for him/her to resist.

I will not hazard an alternative to elections as a way of choosing our rulers, although I may try some time in the future. Still, I think elections such as I have understood them in the African setting are dangerous activities that turn us all into zombies, drain us of all intellectual energy and lower our integrity levels to near zero. They should be abolished.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court. E-mail: [email protected]