As Africa rises, tolerance for strong-man attitudes in elections should decline, says ECA's Carlos Lopes


ECA Press Release 167/2012

Addis Ababa, 17 October 2012 (ECA) – UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ECA, Mr. Carlos Lopes has said that Africa’s rise may see a decline in strong-man attitudes during electoral processes. Mr. Lopes was speaking at the 3-day eighth edition of the African Governance Forum that ends on 18th October in Gaborone, Botswana. “As Africa grows, more and more of its citizens become better informed and urbanized; they will expect a bigger participation and a different political dispensation,” he said.

In remarks focused on elections and the intricacies of its recent developments in Africa, Mr. Lopes underscored that when elections are denuded of substance and value, they lose their intrinsic benefits. “Deep structural economic inequalities, social polarization amongst groups, communities, and individuals, or unstable political transitions can exacerbate electoral violence,” he said.

He informed the Forum that although elections have become more regular in Africa, their “quality and credibility are increasingly being called to question. Fifteen  presidential and 20 parliamentary elections were organized in 2011 and another 15 presidential and 20 parliamentary elections scheduled for 2012, said Lopes. These processes, are however, marked by confusion, technical difficulties, participatory and inclusiveness challenges or are conducted in a rush manner.

“When elections are fragrantly manipulated and rigged, when harassment, intimidation and blackmail characterize the electoral process, violence is around the corner,” stressed Lopes.

He also underscored the need to distinguish the various categories of problems in order to direct efforts to redress anomalies to the right places; and lauded the international Commission for integrity of elections led by former UN Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, as an excellent contribution of what needs to be done.

Citing examples from recent electoral violence in Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire and Zimbabwe, Mr. Lopes explained that electoral violence leaves countries worse off than ever before and in most cases, “decelerates the rate of economic growth, reduces the inflow of foreign direct investment, affects tourism, fuels inflation and unemployment, and generally impacts negatively on economic activities.”  

In the case of Kenya’s post-elections crises in 2007/2008, the economic cost of the violence was estimated at around $ 3.6 billion in addition to the social costs incurred, such as the destruction of lives and property, high incidence of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), general social dislocation, humanitarian crisis, and worsening inter-group relations in the country.

Although Kenya has recovered considerably since then, said Mr. Lopes, memories of the 2007 carnage continue to linger and are likely to result in further drops in tourism as the country draws near to another major national elections in 2013.

He pointed out that efforts have been made to address the cycle of electoral violence, such as through policy design and landmark political initiatives. These include “rescue’ scenarios, such as power-sharing arrangements, reform of electoral bodies and the judiciary and bodies such as the Kenya National Cohesion and Integration Commission, to prevent hate and inflammatory speeches that may instigate political violence.

“More recently we have seen the prosecution of perpetrators of electoral violence and measures to put possible perpetrators, including governments organizing the elections, on notice,” he said.

He outlined a number of preventative safeguards and policy measures with respect to the conduct of elections, in areas to do with electoral institutions, resources, transparency in counting and collating results; role of civil society, prosecution of perpetrators, and banning of leaders who mobilize for electoral violence from political process.

The African Governance Forum (AGF) is Africa’s flagship platform for intense and sustained policy debate on governance in Africa. Among other key speakers were Mme Dlamini-Zuma, AUC Chairperson and UN Assistant Secretary General, Tegegnework Gettu, who heads the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Africa Bureau. The forthcoming African Governance Report, to be co-published by UNDP and ECA explores many of the issue raised at this year’s AGF.
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© 2012 Economic Commission for Africa