Letter To Political Entrepreneurs In Africa: (What Recent Elections Have Taught Us)

Monday, 15 May 2017 5819 Views 7 Comments

Dear Political Entrepreneur,

It is with pleasure that I write to you this day, hoping this letter reaches you in perfect health and supreme wealth. For it is my conviction that when you have health and wealth as a political entrepreneur the one other important thing left is STRATEGY. (By political entrepreneur I mean any political party or any individual with a political ambition.)
I understand how hard it has been and still is for most of you to accede to the supreme chair of the land which I suppose is always the ultimate desire of every political person be it moral or physical. Over the years, our incumbent governments have repeatedly rendered this access to near impossibility much to their favour. And through this action some of you have lost your faith, fire or desire. (This doesn’t ipso facto exclude you from the culpability of fatal political sins that have further kept you far from your objectives.)
Well, I am neither a prophet nor a pastor but I’ve got good news for you. There is hope…I mean HOPE in capital letters.
Having observed the democratic strides of our continent and particularly the electoral play in the last decade, I dare say we have been greeted by some completely unprecedented outcomes.
We now have perfectly admissible evidence that the decade 2010 – 2020 is one filled with a plethora of unprecedented outcomes in the biology of Presidential elections both globally but especially africanly. Something that almost but not completely suggests to us the resurrection of the sanctity of the ballot box.
The simple fact that long time oppositions are now comfortably unseating ruling parties in the African context, is simply enigmatic to say the least.

o Never have we had soo many business gurus but political novices rise from grass to gracing the topmost post (BARROW, TRUMP, TALON);
o Never have we experienced such popularity of the independent candidacy; (TALON, ADJAVON, MACRON);
o Never have we registered soo many women get soo close to the supreme seat in the world’s most powerful countries (MAY, CLINTON, LE PEN);
o Never have we seen a youth of below 40 years old being elected as president of a major country not to mention, on an independent card;
o And lastly, never has it been soo popular to unseat an incumbent government through the polls in Africa.

These have raised a number of interesting questions. What happened? How did it happen? What changed? Who was involved? And a lot more. These and more are the subjects I intend to explore in the following paragraphs.
But before I get to the heart of it a brief on how Africa got to this situation will hardly be useless.



If we go down memory lane, say in the independence epoch of most African countries; the 1960s to be precise, you will notice that politics in Africa has come a long way (many may disagree). Significant achievements have been made nevertheless, the oliver-twistiness in us will always hope and ask for more.
Immediately following the years of independence, most countries saw their first leaders directly doctored, imposed or stage-elected by their colonial masters to take up rulership in the form and manner as desired and inspired by these masters. Unfortunately, most of these new leaders where not actually those who fought tirelessly for independence.
Most of them became dictators and I supposed this was viewed as a strategy to unify the young nations by a firm grip. This firm grip soon lost steam when a number of nationalists felt disgruntled with the status quo. Most were surely disappointed that life after independence had instead become tougher than they expected so they decided to challenge it.
This led to the first democratization experiment by the newly independent states but mostly within a restrained single party platform. This situation held for a while until people got tired of its limits. So challenges resumed as the people (usually opposition) started clamouring for a more meaningful and open democratic process. This was too much civilian fighting over power. As the fight exposed the civilians’ incapacity to handle power, the military soon took advantage of the situation.
During this time, the military rule became popular as coups d’états were en vogue. To rescue the young countries from the brink of complete extinction in the hands of selfish and incapable civilians was their mantra. However, due to the magnetic and corrupt nature of power, most of these military rulers soon got drowned in the same ocean of vomit they originally came to clean.
In most of Africa, the second attempt at democratization occurred in the 80s and 90s. This era ushered us into this present dispensation of multiparty politics in which the most sacred power instrument was to be the polls. Hitherto, access to political power would be regulated by the voice of the people, through elections and ballot boxes and not through the fist or gabarit of a dictatorial nincompoop and sustained via the mechanism of the tight one party system or the smoky pistols of the fiercesome uniformed men. The time for one party dictatorship was over, the time for military coups were over and the time for the polls had come and would last forever.
One would think this was an end to messy politics in Africa. But no way, it was just the beginning of another era, of course with its own realities and challenges to grapple with.
For elections to have the expected results, there needs to be a number of prerequisites sanctioning their form and quality. The simplest line to drive home the gospel of elections is the famous expression “free and fair”.
For elections to be seen to be credible they have to be seen to be free and fair. What does this entail? “A free and fair electoral process is one where the playing field is reasonably level and accessible to all electors, parties and candidates and includes: an independent, non-partisan electoral organization to administer the process and this process is free from violence, intimidation or coercion.” Courtesy of Mike Campbell Foundation, June 2004.
We will not get into an odyssey of African elections here. Nevertheless, from observation, there is no gainsaying that African elections have generally fallen short of the required standards. The effects are evident; in a multiparty democratic era, incumbent parties and rulers are still the rigeur, because electoral bodies have essentially tasted short of the salt they are worth. People have lost faith in the polls and this is evidenced by the high rates of voter apathy. It is exactly this phenomenon of the entire abandonment of the electoral process into the hands of these incumbents that has been the trump card for their eternal rulership.
Now, enough of the story. In the following paragraphs I will be exploring some winning strategies as experimented by political entrepreneurs mostly in sub-Saharan Africa in the current 2010 -2020 decade.


1) The Coalition of Opposition Parties in NIGERIA and The GAMBIA

Political parties have learnt the virtue, strategy and weapon of uniting as one man to incapacitate a common rival.
In the last Nigerian Presidential Election of March 28/29 2015, an opposition candidate unseated a sitting president through the ballot box for the first time. Opposition candidate Mohammadu BUHARI led a coalition called All Progressive Congress (APC); made up of four Major parties, against the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) that had been in power since the end of the military rule in 1999.
In the Gambia, opposition candidate Adama BARROW leading a coalition of seven political parties under the name Coalition 2016, unseated a long-term incumbent Yahya JAMMEH of the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC). It should be noted that this was the first time a president had been changed since a military coup in 1994 and also the first transfer of power by popular vote since independence in 1965.


2) Strategic Choice of running mates in GHANA and NIGERIA

In Ghana, the Presidential and parliamentary polls of December 7, 2016 saw the opposition’s New Patriotic Party (NPP) remove the incumbent National Democratic Congress (NDC). In my opinion, John Dramani’s policies had been largely regarded as unpopular and thus making him look weak as compared to past Presidents. Nana AKUFO-ADDO who had been running for his third time capitalized on this but his trump card was his choice of a running mate. The Muslim community is about a quarter (24%) of the Ghanaian population. Of all six parties and one independent candidate that participated, only Nana AKUFO-ADDO’s NPP took advantage of this pearl.
It must however be precised here that the phenomenon of having the opposition unseat an incumbent government is a regular phenomenon in Ghana. The NDC under President John Jerry Rawlings ruled twice from 1993 to 2001 then lost to the then opposition NPP’s John KUFOUR in 2000 who also ruled twice and it was only in 2008 that NDC regained power under John ATTA MILLS which still ruled twice with John MAHAMA finally giving up the space for NPP in 2016.
The Ghanaian political play is excellent and very unique, exhibiting an unwritten but sexy law of transfer of power between two major parties after every two terms of office. In this light, one can confidently predict when the NDC will thus return to power. That’s sometime in 2024; but that’s if and only if the ancestors of the Ghanaian electoral game are well appeased. Indeed, Ghana is Africa’s Democratic Valhalla. Yes, Ghana is the “warrior king” true to its Soninke meaning.
The Nigerian example is also relevant here. In as much as we applaud the strategy of the APC Coalition, one can’t also underestimate the significance of BUHARI’s choice of a Pentecostal Southern Pastor for a running mate.


3) Strategic Positioning in SENEGAL

In the last Presidential Election in Senegal 2012, the opposition’s Alliance Pour la République (APR) led by Macky SALL unseated incumbent Abdoulaye WADE of the Parti Démocratique Sénégalais (PDS) which had been in power 2000. WADE dropped in popularity when he in spite of constitutional provisions preventing him from bidding for a third term still went ahead to announce his candidacy and contested.
Prior to forming the APR, Macky SALL resigned as Prime Minister in 2008, and from the incumbent PDS taking away with him some key figures that heavily supported his consequential victory over his former boss. He strategically positioned himself for victory. As the saying goes, the person that can best beat you is that one who knows your secrets, your strengths and your weaknesses.
It should be noted that WADE’s PDS was Senegal’s major opposition party since creation in 1974 but only came into power after defeating the long time ruling incumbent Parti Socialist (PS) of Abdou DIOUF through a coalition of smaller parties called the Sopi Coalition. Sopi means “change” in Wolof.


4) The Magnetic Power of Independent Candidacy in BENIN.

In BENIN the presidential elections of March 6th 2016, saw an independent candidate Patrice TALON unseat Benin’s ruling party; Yayi BONI’s Forces Cauris pour un Bénin Emergent (FCBE) led by former French-Beninese Prime Minister Lionel ZINSOU.
It will however be shocking to learn that even a coalition of the ruling FCBE and the main opposition party, the Parti du Renouveau Démocratique (PRD) could not stop the change that was eminent in the Benin Republic. Note that after the first round of the elections, two of the top three were independent candidates (ZINSOU 28.4%, TALON 24.73% and ADJAVON 23%).
5) Respect of Term Limits and an Open Ruling Party in TANZANIA and KENYA.

In Tanzania the story was very interesting. Incumbent President Jakaya KIKWETE had already done two terms and was constitutionally barred from standing again AND HE RESPECTED THAT. His party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) chose Minister for Works John MAGAFULI as its candidate to the dissatisfaction of Edward LOWASSA, the former prime minister and front runner of the CCM. This led LOWASSA to decamp into the opposition party Chadema which made him their candidate. MAGUFULI finally emerged winner against LOWASSA.
Tanzania’s situation may look soo ordinary until one considers the heavy difference in the leadership style and sweeping changes and cleansing done by the new government in so short a time. It would require guts to believe that it is still the same party in power. In addition, the fact that some African presidents have a swag of disregarding constitutional term limits, when the opposite is seen, makes this worthy of some praise.
In the same light in Benin, Yayi BONI who was incumbent president had already elapsed his two terms of office and could no longer stand according to the Constitution. Good enough for himself, his country and our continent he respected the supreme law of the land unlike most of his selfish francophone colleagues.
In Kenyan 2013 Presidential elections, incumbent President Mwai KIBAKI had already served his two terms and was no longer eligible for re-election; AND HE RESPECTED IT. Giving way for The National Alliance (TNA) of Uhuru KENYATTA to defeat former Prime Minister Raila ODINGA’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). They were both backed by coalitions. The Jubilee Alliance for KENYATTA and the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) for ODINGA. Kenya goes to the polls for their next presidential election on August 8th 2017.


6) Daring Electoral Administrators

The role of the electoral organ in an election is capital to its outcome. If we have exemplary elections then we have exemplary electoral organs or commissions too. A body that is not sufficiently independent and impartial will not be seen to be credible and may hardly get satisfactory results. If these elections have been largely conceded by the losing sides it goes without saying that the electoral commissions did a good job. It usually starts from the selection of members to run these organization and then the rules upon which they operate. If members are of questionable character and their guidelines are not accepted by all parties you can bet the outcome will not be satisfactory.
An interesting situation occurred in the last presidential polls in The Gambia. It is true that Gambian citizens in their vast majority chose change over dictatorial stagnation in 2016. Nevertheless, the role played by the incorruptible Independent Electoral Commission Chairman, Alhadji Alieu MOMAR NJIE is unquestionable. Despite being a former mayor, thus having his integrity heavily criticized by Gambians, he shocked the world when he stood his grounds against a fierce incumbent like JAMMEH. That act alone was akin to putting the last nail on his own coffin, but he never went back; he was resolute. And today, The Gambia is smiling again because of him. This once again brings back the rule; judge the content not the container.


7) Massive participation of the Masses

People will run to register and vote if they feel that their votes will not be tampered with. And this comes naturally if they identify members of these electoral commissions as men and women of honour and integrity that are incorruptible. People will not ‘waste’ their precious time in a process they don’t trust or believe in. Getting people to vote is not a one day affair. It grows over time but must first begin from the most basic requirements. The minimum should be put in place to ensure credibility and transparency. When people see these positive actions they can only regain trust in the process and that’s how the number of voters will dribble and triple in subsequent polls. Most times, the level of voter apathy translates the level of distrust for the electoral process.
As it stands, only half of African citizens say they can trust their national electoral commissions. This was contained in a survey conducted in September 2016 by the Pan-African research network Afrobarometer. It also revealed however that more than 70% of African citizens feel elections are free and fair but with varying degrees of problems. (See http://qz.com/ ).
For example in the Nigerian 2011 Presidential election 73 million people registered and only 39 million voted giving a voter turnout of 54.07%. But in 2015, the number of registered voters dropped to 67 million and actual voters to 29 million giving a voter turnout of 43%. This could have several explanations ranging from President Goodluck’s dwindling reputation as per the economy and with the re-emergence of Boko Haram. However, I predict that since the process has proven to be able to unseat an incumbent government, the next polls will see a higher turnout because it is now seen to be open to real competition. (Courtesy of www.electionguide.org).
Meanwhile in Ghana, voter turnout since December 2000 has only been on high rankings fluctuating between 60% – 80%. Is there anyone who doubts why this turnout is soo high? Needless to repeat!!! (Courtesy of www.electionguide.org).


Conclusion and Recommendations

This article doesn’t in anyway mean there have never been free and fair elections in Africa before now. Far from it. Countries like Botswana and Ghana have always served as an epitome of African democracies. However, the last decade under observation has not only recorded some of the greatest democratic strides on the continent but has also served us with some of the finest political experiences.
Go check the records, most of these new generation of leaders within a very short time have made sweeping and applaudable changes that only lucifer himself can deny (MAGUFULI of Tanzania and TALON of Benin, BARROW of The Gambia).
So, whatever the reasons for your electoral abstinence, remember the golden rule of politics; EVERY PEOPLE DESERVE THE LEADER THEY HAVE. In other words, a good or bad leader will stay in power as long as his people want. In the words of Paul BIYA of Cameroon, “you don’t stay in power because you WANT, you do because you CAN.”
Permit me borrow these same wise words to say, YOU CAN’T HAVE CHANGE JUST BECAUSE YOU WANT BUT BECAUSE YOU CAN. WANTING is having the Will which is important but CANNING is acting on that Will and doing what it takes. ACTION is the condition sine qua non for real change.
In the light of all these, you are no longer justified if you think you are just a woman, if you think you are just too young, if you think you have no prior political experience to run and if you think because you don’t belong to a major party or any party you can’t run.
For this reason, I add my voice to the following campaign:

o I Support The-More-Women-In-Politics;
o I support The-Not-Too-Young-To-Run;
o I support The-Coalition-Of-Opposition-Parties;
o I support The-You-Must-Not-Belong-To-A-Party-To-Run;
o I support The-You-Must-Not-Be-A-Political-Expert-To-Run.

I pray countries who till date still prohibit independent candidates from vying for political office will update their electoral rules.
My fellow Political Entrepreneurs in Africa, you now have enough resources, examples and inspiration to create change via the ballot box IF YOU SO CHOOSE TO. Quit wishing for change. Start acting for it. Despite the usual electoral gimmickry by the incumbent, unexpected outcomes have still happened to the sheer shock of the incumbent. This proves that there is surely a bigger force at work, stronger than what we can fathom.
To all those who are yet to have elections before this enigmatic decade effaces, I tell you one thing; Whether you will register to vote or not is your full right. However, all have serious consequences for your tomorrow.
I don’t know if you see it like I do, but there is an incorruptible hand at work right now on our continent.

Thanks immensely for your kind attention.

Enjoy the CHANGE you create.

GOD Bless our continent Africa!


Election Administrator
May 2017

Yuh Acho

MY BIO. Yuh Acho is a freelance political analyst and researcher with special interests in political leadership and strategy though specifically passionate about the grooming of young leaders. He is a graduate of Political Science and Public Law and also an alumnus of the Young African Leaders Initiative, YALI.

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