By Christopher Fomunyoh. (Center for Humanitarian Dialogue Background Paper, July 2009)
Beyond major conflicts in Africa over the territorial integrity of states such as Sudan and Somalia, many recent conflicts on the continent are ignited by grievances over bad governance and exclusionary political practices. In many cases, flawed or failed elections have either precipitated political disputes or aggravated simmering tensions into an outburst of conflict. For example, in the last five years, violent conflicts have ensued from the competition for political power in Africa as demonstrated by dramatic election-related crises in Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe.1 While the magnitude of hostilities in all cases may not rise to the level of armed conflict or civil war, invariably, many lives are lost, property destroyed, societies are further polarized and democratization efforts are either stalled or reversed. In some cases, intense and long drawn-out disputes over electoral processes and outcomes raise questions about the legitimacy of the winning party and candidate through the duration of that candidate’s term of office.
While there is a general understanding that elections alone do not a democracy make, there is also recognition that multiparty elections are a necessary pillar in democratic governance. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides for citizens to have the rights to elect their representatives through regular elections. 2 As members of the United Nations, all African countries adhere to the Universal Declaration, and many of them cross reference its provisions in the preambles of their respective constitutions. Elections therefore serve a primordial function in every democratic society.