In an article, Democratic Elections in Africa — Opportunities and Risks, published on his blog, Zimbabwean born Mthuli Ncube, AfDB’s chief economist said it was crucial for the country to avoid a recurrence of the 2008 elections that were characterised by political violence.
“Avoiding a repeat of political violence that characterised the previous elections in 2008 will be especially crucial for the country’s re-engagement with the international community,” said Ncube, who also doubles as AfDB vice-president.
President Robert Mugabe and his long-time archrival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, settled for a coalition administration following a widely discredited June 2008 Presidential election run-off that was marred by political violence.
Tsvangirai had won the first round of elections although he did not garner enough votes to form a new government that would end Mugabe’s rule. He boycotted the run-off saying the environment had become unfavourable for the holding of free and fair polls.
The fragility of the inclusive government has resulted in Mugabe pushing for an early poll this year, a condition analysts and his political rivals say is unattainable. Regional bloc, Sadc, the guarantor of Zimbabwe’s power-sharing pact, is also demanding far-reaching democratic reforms ahead of the elections.
Ncube said free and transparent political elections, which permit citizens to effectively express their will and participate in the governance of their country, form an important part of sound democratic institutions.
He said democratic governance in turn, is critical in fostering economic growth and has been used as a barometer to assess ability of a country to effectively manage public resources and protect private property rights.
“Increasingly therefore, international investors use a country’s state of democratic governance in assessing the impact of political risk on their investment,” he said. Ncube said the continent had improved its democratic governance with respect to holding of regular elections although there was variations across countries.
He said the latest Economist Intelligence Unit report showed that only Mauritius was ranked in the category of “Full Democracy” regimes while 10 African countries were classified under “Flawed Democracy”.
The remaining countries were classified as either “Hybrid Regimes” or “Authoritarian Regimes”, both of whi-ch are regarded as non-democratic. “Although these classifications are based on opinions and may potentially ignore some achievements in a number of countries, they are nonetheless suggestive of the need to expand the democratic space on the continent,” he said.
Ncube said although the conduct of free and transparent elections is a necessary step towards democratisation, it is not by itself sufficient to consolidate democratic governance.
“Indeed, the empirical evidence is mixed on the relationship between elections and democracy. The irregularity of empirical findings may be explained in part by the fact that some elections have produced authoritarian regimes, mainly due to constitutional manipulations designed to perpetuate their hold on power.
“Thus, relying on elections to decipher democratic governance under such conditions may be a flawed approach,” he said.
Successful political elections integral
NCUBE said successful political elections could be an opportunity to rewrite a country’s new chapter. “In particular, following the departure of dominant political elites in Egypt and Libya, the elections in these countries offer incentives to break with past legacies and chart a new political and economic dispensation,” Ncube said.
“In Sierra Leone, the success of the third consecutive multiparty elections in 2012 since the end of civil war a decade ago will further cement the country’s democratic credentials and sustain the current momentum of foreign investment in extractive resources.”
Ncube said an election process must be accompanied by a broad spectrum of other democratic and governance reforms, including reforming the constitution to entrench a culture of tolerance for diverse views and protection of human rights.