NDERITU: Who has failed the democracy test? Politicians or voters

Thursday December 05 2019

A voter casts his ballot. Voters should watch and scrutinise political parties. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


A number of African countries will have elections in 2020. They include Cameroon, The Comoros, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Tanzania and Togo. Although many people often see the test of democracy narrowly through an electoral lens, quite a number of the upcoming elections bear watching.

Cameroon’s national assembly, senate and local elections, postponed for the third time from 2018 to October 2019 will now kick off, hopefully, between January and March 2020. The postponements came in the wake of displacements and deaths amid calls for secession in two anglophone regions and heightened Boko Haram attacks in the North. Last year, President Paul Biya, 85, controversially won a seventh, seven-year term.

The Comoros islands with a history of attempted secessions and coups too, will be electing a Union Assembly in January 2020.

In April, Egypt led by Retired Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as president will elect its House of Representatives. There is interest in how the voice of political opponents and civil society will manifest in the coming elections.

Mali is currently one of the most affected countries by the current wave of lawlessness sweeping across the Sahel countries. The Government and coalitions of armed groups signed the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation three years ago.

Security concerns caused the move of Parliamentary elections to May 2020. Violence in the North and Centre has risen despite concerted peace efforts. The legal framework determining functioning of political parties, the Political Parties Charter promotes political pluralism and prohibits creation of political parties on an “ethnic, religious, linguistic, regionalist, sexist or professional basis”. This, however, has not stopped political party organisation around personalities, mainly because without funding sources, politics gravitate around those with money.


In Ivory Coast, incumbent President Alassane Quattara announced he would not be running for President after two terms. Quattara came to power after a bloody electoral conflict between him and former President Laurent Gbagbo saw an estimated 3,000 people killed.

The medemer political experiment in Ethiopia is worth watching too. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has spearheaded a political liberalisation campaign at home while mending relationships with neighbours.

The Prime Minister’s political philosophy of medemer, meaning inclusion, intends to prove Ethiopia can be both pluralistic, embracing all ethnic groups and unified.

Medemer has gained ground with the recent creation of the Prosperity Party through the merger of three of the four ethnically based political parties. The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front is the fourth party not in the merger. In May 2020, Ethiopia goes to the polls to elect a House of People’s Representatives and Regional State Councils.

In May and June 2020, Burundians will elect a president, National Assembly and Senate. The UN Secretary General on instructions from the Security Council reports on the situation of Burundi every three months, “including on public incidents of incitement to hatred and violence.” The latest report issued in October points at concerns that the ruling party is yet to designate a presidential candidate for the next election although President Pierre Nkurunziza has “reiterated on several occasions that he will not seek another term in office.”

Voters are often swayed by sentiment, sacrificing vigorous research on candidates and engagement with political structures yet the people elected into office have a profound effect on everyone’s life.

Voters should watch and scrutinise political parties depoliticising politics to advance personal interests. Take note too, of leaders, who promote fundamentalist positions on ethnicity and religion. They will not change after elections.

Political party manifestos are often spiced with words and phrases like diversity, peace, reasonable hope for the future and balanced development for all regions. The gap between this wish list and implementation lies in those we elect.

Wairimu Nderitu is the author of Beyond Ethnicism, Mukami Kimathi: Mau Mau Freedom Fighter and Kenya: Bridging Ethnic Divides. E-mail:  [email protected]