Even the African Union praised the peaceful handover of power following the presidential elections in Senegal, after Abdoulaye Wade’s acceptance of defeat. The chairman of the Commission of the African Union, Jean Ping, said Wade’s stepping down showed the “maturity” of democracy in West Africa and is a “great victory for democracy in Africa”.
In genuine democracies elections are treated as a “human rights event”, which gives voice to the free political will of the people. The key lesson from Senegal is that for elections to be considered free and fair, they must be conducted in an environment which respects human rights and fundamental freedoms.
As a result, elections have become the first step to fulfilling people’s dreams as they give them their full right to elect their representatives in genuinely free and fair elections, a clear milestone for measuring the progress Africa is making towards respecting the will of its citizens and safeguarding their rights to take part in government; right to vote and be voted for and their right to equal access to public service.
While there seems to be an awakening with regards these issues in some African countries, the Zimbabwean government, in its inclusive form or at least a section of it, still totally rejects these values of civil liberties. Zanu PF’s calls for early elections are a clear indication that the will of the people is not the basis for the authority of a government. In Zimbabwe’s current political culture, it is the authority of the government that is the will of the people! The number of court cases pitting the state against the citizens of Zimbabwe on allegations of treason or undermining, or denigrating, or insulting the President is sufficient evidence that President Robert Mugabe lost his legitimacy a long time ago.
It’s testimony of a government that fears the will of its citizens taking shape; a government willing to thrive on fear and inaction as opposed to hope and action. Whenever organised and empowered citizens challenge this arrangement, an Orwellian agenda of denial and dismissal is rendered. Civic groups and opposition political parties are dismissed and threatened as “enemies”, “sell outs” and imperial “agents” of Western regime change agendas.
In Senegal, the fact that democracy is a culture and a way of life is self-evident. Wade’s decision to phone Macky Sall and congratulate him before definitive results were out was a precedent. In the 2000 elections, Wade received the same congratulatory message from the then Senegalese president Abdou Diouf. These are simple and seemingly mundane, and yet powerful democratic gestures of handing over power. In the build up to the Senegalese elections, there had been fears that the president would go the “Putin way”, to extend his stay in power. The fact that Wade won the legal battle for a third term but lost the political battle is a clear demonstration that democratic processes must build sufficient political level infrastructure such as powerful political parties, independent media, a strong and vibrant civil society. These institutions help to establish, maintain and defend the ideals from any political interests and authoritarian tendencies.
With the recent electoral events in Senegal, the people of Zimbabwe have been gifted with a more democratic and human rights-friendly African continent. Even the somewhat conservative Sadc Troika has been forced to give serious consideration to these developments as they mediate in the Zimbabwean situation.
There is also an increasing influence of social media such as Facebook, Twitter as well as the telecommunications industry on the African political landscape. These technological changes mean that authoritarian regimes are increasingly finding it difficult to monopolise propaganda or conceal issues of human rights abuses. Citizens now have more power to create and spread or access their own news at an insignificant cost in terms of real time and money. The influence this has had on the demand for human rights and democratic governance is at an unprecedented rate, pace and scale.
This is promising, particularly when Zimbabweans have to deal with a weak but authoritarian government that is not able to deliver adequate and quality public goods to the citizens. It is no wonder that despite the fact that Zimbabwe is a country endowed with vast minral resources, it still is unable to repair roads, provide clean running water, provide education and health to its citizens and most of all create employment for its productive population.
In such as scenario, even a Stone Age epidemic like typhoid has emerged as a major public health threat in the year 2011 to 2012. This should not be surprising at all.