Augustine C. OhanweMonday, December 27, 2010



lection is one of the admirable democratic ingredients. It empowers The People to cast their votes in order to choose from multiple candidates, a person of their choice instead of one being imposed on them. Unfortunately the system has turned out to be one of the dangerous factor-generating conflict in Africa.


As we write, an unpleasant political scenario is unfolding in Cote d’Ivoire, a former French colony situated on the West coast of Africa. The events there is pregnant with explosive potential. What is disturbing in the disputed presidential election is that the UN, AU, and ECOWAS have not yet admitted that there were electoral irregularities in some parts of Cote d’Ivoire. Their collective silence over such issue is unnerving and the failure to inaugurate a panel to investigate the allegation does not bode well for a comprehensive peace in the ongoing political turmoil. Human cost of the political standoff mounts day by day as women and children trek many miles to reach Liberia for the refuge they do not know how long it would last. Much more worrying is the nefarious activities of humanitarian buccaneers. Watch out, they might be on the prowl. In the midst of political confusion they would evacuate kids to ”safer places” as noticed in Chad and Haiti.

The call by some stockholders to use military force to balance the stalemate is like using a sharp knife to cut off a bamboo tree that causes obstruction with the hope that everything has been solved. But when rain falls, the bud will give birth to another branch. The best solution is to cut the bamboo from the root. Ecowas has much to lose should it fail to grasp the structure of the situation in Cote d'Ivoire. It is an ugly situation happening in its backyard and falls squarely on its shoulder to fix it and prevent the unimaginable domino affect the situation would generate in the sub-region.

What is indisputable is that the political climatethere is tense, the structure of the political conflict, a bit complex and difficult but not impossible to solve. The stories reported by foreign media are quite false and sometimes exaggerated. Such vicious falsehood could easily act a match to a pile of straw.

Ecowas should therefore step in and "Africanize" the situation in Cote d’Ivoire. Article 52(1) of the UN Charter does recognise "the existence of regional arrangements or agencies for dealing with such matters relating to the maintain ace of international peace and security as are appropriate for the regional action." Ecowas is further given more teeth under Article 52(3), that it "shall encourage the development of pacific settlement of local dispute through such regional arrangements."

We are pretty sure that Gbagbo would be willing to dialogue with Ecowas than the UN on ways that could lead to the pacification of the volatile situation. The verbal canons being exchanged between the Ivorian leader and the UN will impede any form of constructive dialogue with the world body.

The prevailing sorry situation in Cote d’Ivoire can replicate in any part of Africa. Electoral fraud had happened in Kenya and it created an ugly spectre. While traders on single barreled gun and machetes became rich overnight, the carnage the urban gangs wrought with their wares nearly turned Kenya to a humpty-dumpty state. Thanks to Secretary-General Kofi Annan whose diplomatic intervention saved Kenya from national suicide.

What is comforting is that the sponsors of the urban political touts that carried out Kenya’s post-election massacres would not go Scot-free. The attackers did their proxy assignments. But the behind the scene group that incited, teleguided and bankrolled the barbaric slaughter have been isolated, and are cooperating with the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo. They now sleep with one eye open.

Election rigging is not limited to Africa. It had occurred in many other continents. What is disturbing however, is that it’s mainly in Africa that such malpractices generate unimaginable internal conflagration, often culminating in fatalities and casualties of a hair-raising proportion.

Is electoral malpractice a new comer to Africa? Let’s walk back in time, into the remote cobwebbed and dusty archive of Liberia’s past, to see how unfair electoral system had shaped that country for nearly a century of its existence. I chose Liberia because of its peculiar history and the political structure bequeathed to it by its founding fathers. We will glean some lessons from it and also understand how persistent electoral malpractices and other domestic variables inspired Master-Sergent Samuel K Doe to stage his successful military coup in 1980.

Electoral malpractice brought President Charles D.B. King to power in Liberia, in 1927. He was ten years in office and was re-elected after the end of his term. He received "43,000 votes" while his opponent had only "900" when in actual fact the total number of eligible voters at that time did not exceed 15,000. King received the number of votes that exceeded the number of possible voters. This corrupt electoral system was recorded in the Guinness Book as the ”most bent election of all time.”

The system did not stop with President King. It continued as a political culture. In 1943, James F Cooper, former Secretary of the Interior organised a political party called Democratic Party and contested presidential election against William V.S. Tubman. Cooper’s supporters fearful of electoral fraud from Tubman’s True Whig Party, requested that government appoint one judge and one clerk from the Democratic Party at each voting booth in order to achieve a fair play in the election result, but such request was not honoured. Tubman was alleged to have rigged the election and was declared the winner when the election results were released.

Fortunately Cooper’s reaction to the fraudulent result did not cause his supporters to engage in killing spree of their political opponents as was the case of Kenya and the prevailing situation in Coted’Ivoire. Instead, his grievances appeared in his paper, the Weekly Mirror on 7 May 1943. He alerted Liberians in this way: "The voting on Tuesday, 4 May 19943, was the most partial, the most brazenly corrupt and domineering in the long shady record of the True Whig Party, and in the history of the Republic."

Cooper also cited the case of dressed-up monkeys taken to the polls in Monrovia to vote. "One small precinct of two dozen dwelling houses, more or less in the territory of the Marshall, with a population in whole territory of less than 1,000 counting men, women, and children, including all domestic animals pulled 5,100 for the Whigs and 7 for the Democrats." Apes are not recognised as humans and have never being accorded the right to vote but they actually voted for President King.

However, the electoral malpractices under Samuel Doe was devoid of monkey voting system, but would be interesting. He came to power via military coup of 1980. Five year later he formed a political party called the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) and lifted ban on the formation of political parties. His unorthodox system rocked the political peace. He created an Interim National Assembly (INA) and appointed himself as the president. His political calculation in this regard was to contest the national election with the portfolio of an incumbent. Second, being pretty sure that he would rig the election and remain in power, he used his position as the Interim National Assembly president to change the Liberian constitution. Among other things, he extended the tenure of office of the president. He enshrined new clauses that would offer the would-be Liberian president executive prerogatives. By embarking on that path, he had feathered his nest. Third, Doe used his position as Interim National Assembly president to create the Special Elections Commission (SECOM). This institution, among other things, had the responsibility to screen all political parties intending to participate in the national election. Though proclaimed to be independent body, Doe controlled and manipulated SECOM for his own electoral advantage. He rigged the election which Jackson Doe was widely believed to have won.

There were reports that SECOM had ordered extra ballots from London printer, making the brought-in ballots more than the number of registered voters. There were confirmed allegations of opponents ballots being burnt. Liberians reported finding ballots strewn along highway in Margibi and other counties. According to the "result" of the election, the Chair of the SECOM, Mr Herman described the election as being "directed by the hand of God."

While Liberians are reeling from the misfortune of domestic conflict that visited them a few years ago, Coted’Ivore has now taken the centre stage. The question on our quaking lips is, which country next after Coted’Ivoire. Second, would there ever be a free and fair election in Africa, the type that does not wear the toga of "do or die" philosophy. Would there ever a be transparent election where the defeated will accept defeat and join hands with the victorious candidate to push the country forward?