More African countries have opted for the ballot box and constitutionalism over dictatorship, but the incapacity and legitimacy of state institutions still bedevil democratic culture and principles, a Johannesburg-based electoral think-tank says.
The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (Eisa) said that, at a very basic level, more African countries than ever before would be considered democracies. But Eisa programme manager Grant Masterson said even in many of the more established democratic states in Africa, democratic culture and principles develop unevenly.
“Many countries have regular elections, but the results of the elections are deemed inevitable for a range of reasons, including: dominant political parties, weak opposition parties, ethnic/tribal voting patterns, electoral fraud and patronage systems/corruption among others,” he said.
Many countries lack the institutional capacity to deal with elections because the state institutions, which implement policies that are the all important elements of a democracy, are unable to fully perform their functions.
The majority of African states hold regular elections and the greater number of these elections are largely uneventful. On an annual basis, there are about 15 to 20 elections across the continent. In any given year, there are problems in two or three elections.
“In many countries, the incumbent party/candidate is able to use/abuse state resources, a national profile, state media and other advantages to secure victory at the polls,” Masterson said.
Manifestos were rarely considered important and rarely was there clear accountability for promises made in election campaigns. In SA, the government was talking very seriously about elements in civil society advocating for “regime change” and proposing tighter legislation to control this.