“It is election time? Stock up and stay indoors, it is that time of the year again!” This statement may seem like part of a script in a fictional movie but it is a reality for a large number of citizens living within various countries in the African continent. It is an open secret that election periods in these countries are characterized by violence, intimidation, flouting of laid down procedures and a myriad of other illegalities perpetrated by those seeking positions of power and their supporters.
Kenya, Zambia, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Uganda, Ethiopia, Republic of Congo, Chad and Gabon, to name but a few, are testaments to the violence that takes place before, during and after the elections phase. A simple online search will present any curious information seekers with stories, pictures and videos of both victims and culprits of these acts of violence. WHY THEN IS POST ELECTION VIOLENCE ALMOST A NORM IN THESE COUNTRIES? WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
There have been studies and researches that have been done, albeit a few, that give possible explanations for the “trend” of post-election violence. These include but are not limited to: poor governance, poverty, patronage systems in political structures, previous failed or flawed elections, electoral misconduct and weak or compromised institutions and laws governing the electoral process. All countries, the world over, are governed by laws that are aimed at ensuring that all possible injustices that could occur are prevented or dealt with so as to ensure that they do not re-occur.
The prevalence of post-election violence cases is therefore a demonstration of the absence of the rule of law in the respective countries within which they occur. The rule of law indicates that all citizens within the jurisdiction of the law are subject to it and abide by it. This means that all aspects of social, economic and political activities are conducted according to and within the confines of the law with no exceptions. Bearing these definitions in mind, it becomes apparent that there is a huge gap in the observance of the rule of law in the countries where post-election violence is rife and growing ranging from the laws themselves to the institutions charged with application of the law.
The inadequacy of the laws stem from the fact that they are not airtight i.e. there are many loopholes within the laws themselves that allow electoral malpractices to go unpunished. This is exemplified in cases whereby those who are suspected of engaging in electoral misconduct are set free based on technicalities rather than proof of innocence. Even in cases where the laws do exist, they are blatantly disregarded by those who are supposed to abide by them such as the electoral bodies, law enforcement agencies, the politicians and the voters themselves. Reported cases of harassment of opposition groups by police, misconduct by election officials and voter bribery (buying of votes especially from the poor sometimes even in exchange for a packet of maize flour) are just a few examples of well known “accepted” activities during electioneering periods that are against the law but seem to go “unnoticed”.
The lack of independence of the judiciary is also a huge impediment to free, fair and non-violent elections whereby bipartisan rulings in election petitions are the order of the day. This breeds distrust of the judicial process and as a result forms the breeding ground for frustration among those seeking redress from the courts. At this juncture where the aggrieved parties feel that their issues of contention cannot be fairly judged under the law, they tend to resort to violence.
All the issues discussed above are, in no way, meant to justify or excuse violence of any form, but are aimed at addressing the underlying issues so as to have lasting remedies to the challenges that exist within the electoral process. Apart from a review of the electoral laws, all the citizens need to have high levels of integrity so as to ensure that the electoral process is not compromised at any level; be it by the voters, politicians or the judiciary. There is need for a turnaround in the “normal way of doing things” to a progressive culture in which the focus is not only in the present but also in the future.