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S.Africa Election: Lessons for Africa


Manoah Esipisu is deputy spokesperson at the Commonwealth Secretariat. He is co-author of “Eyes of Democracy: Media in Elections”. He writes in his personal capacity.

Next week South Africa will hold its fourth elections since the extinction of apartheid and the rise to power of freedom icon Nelson Mandela. The election will come four months after the cliff-hanger 2008 election in Ghana, and ahead of potentially critical elections in Angola, Malawi and Mozambique.

Elections do not have a very good reputation in Africa, and, in my view, there are seven reasons why.

Lack of political will

So profound and fundamental is this problem that if it is not addressed it can render all the others irrelevant. A botched election is as a result of a deliberate political decision by somebody to subvert the electoral process in their interest. For example, the (now defunct) Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) did not wake up one day and say “We think that we are going to change the results of this election. We think we are going to mess with the paperwork so no one will know what the result of this election was.” It is clear that there was a deliberate decision by a Mr X or a Mr Y to tell the Commission what to do or what not to do. And because of structural or other reasons beyond my immediate understanding, the Commission (as an institution and its leadership) was vulnerable to that kind of pressure.