Self-funded, free and fair polls ideal tool for silencing the guns in Africa

Tuesday February 08 2022
Soldiers in Guinea's capital Conakry on September 5, 2021, following the coup.

Soldiers in Guinea's capital Conakry on September 5, 2021, following the coup. PHOTO | AFP


A top security organ of the African Union is asking member states to embrace free and fair elections, financed from local resources, as a long-term tool to silencing guns on the continent.

At the weekend, African Union heads of state and government converged in Addis Ababa for the first physical summit since 2020. They met under the theme Building Resilience in Nutrition and Food Security on the African Continent: Strengthen Agriculture, Accelerate the Human Capital, Social and Economic Development. Meanwhile, five countries on the continent battle the aftermath of coups.

The AU Peace and Security Council, which includes 15 member states, says some of the coups could be avoided if elections ran as per local laws and were based on the country’s resources.

The Council met this past Sunday, chaired by Ghana. In a communique issued on Thursday from the meeting, the Council said the AU is “mindful of the significant contribution of credible, transparent, free and fair elections to conflict prevention, peace-building and political stability, as well as in promoting, deepening and consolidating democracy in Member States”.

Support for the people

The Council says the AU will continue to reject and condemn any unconstitutional changes, and “expresses full support for the general will of the people as democratically expressed through free, fair and credible elections and collective commitment of Member States to democracy, rule of law and good governance”.


In the past two years, countries that have experienced coups include Mali, Guinea, Sudan, Chad and Burkina Faso. Niger survived a coup attempt last November, and this week Guinea Bissau quelled a rebellion near the Presidential palace where the Cabinet was meeting. In most of these coups, bad governance was cited as a reason.

Ecowas summit.

The empty seat of the head of state of Burkina Faso at the second extraordinary summit of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) in Accra, Ghana, last month. PHOTO | AFP

Authorities’ failure to provide security in Mali and Burkina Faso, as well as a spiralling economic downturn in Sudan were also given as reasons. In the Sudan coup in October, the military junta accused the transitional government of wrangling and delaying the course of transition.

The AU says it promotes “good governance and the rule of law throughout the African continent”, in line with the AU Constitutive Act and the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. Both documents reject illegal changes in power.

The continental body though has been accused of looking the other way when elections are not free or fair, which eventually becomes a seed for conflict.

“The African Union must pivot away from its current status quo of political inertia. The AU must take a more assertive stance and approach to tackle the critical issues of the continent. Primarily, peace and security instabilities in the Horn and the recent military coups,” said Filsan Ahmed, a former Ethiopian Minister for Gender and youth, now an activist.

“A drastic push for peace across the continent is needed now, more than ever. The AU must prioritise citizens over propping up regimes under the pretext of pan-Africanism. If there is no peace, no human rights, no democracy, then there is no real hope for economic integration.”

Outside influence

Part of the problem, the Council admitted, is that most of the elections are externally funded, leaving the countries exposed to outside influence. The Council says there must be a “full ownership” of electoral processes “in order to reduce external dependence and the attendant vulnerabilities.”

In Mali, one problem has been the appearance of Russian mercenaries, something the French have been uncomfortable with. The Malian junta expelled the French ambassador to Mali this week. And the US Africom Commander Gen Stephen Townsend said the mercenaries will worsen the security situation.

“We think they (Wagner, the Russian mercenaries) are on the ground in several hundred and expanding to some unknown number, and I have watched this Wagner — this is not the Russian military we’re talking about.

“And I have watched this group of actors in Syria. I’ve watched them in Libya. I’ve watched them in Sudan. I’ve watched them in Central African Republic. And I’ve watched them in Mozambique. And they never leave the situation better than they found it. My experience is they will leave it much worse and they will also exploit the country at its expense,” Gen Townsend said.