Everybody’s rigging elections, but will our kids be different?

03Sep 2017
Isaac Mwangi
The Guardian
Everybody’s rigging elections, but will our kids be different?

THAT the youth in East Africa hold the key to changing the region’s political and economic narrative cannot be gainsaid. 


Older generations spanning the pre- and post-independence era have largely failed to bring about tangible change to the governance of most African countries, and the focus must of necessity shift to the younger generations and those yet to be born. 

This is what makes the 2017 Regional Youth Consultations Forum held at the East African Community Headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania, particularly important. 

According to the organisers, the forum has been held in close collaboration with Regional Economic Communities (RECs), with the overall goal of providing a collaborative, open and inclusive space for young people to critically and objectively reflect on the progress made so far, challenges encountered, and prospects for enhancing meaningful youth participation in Africa’s democratisation processes, particularly in its electoral processes.

Indeed, the forum could not have come at a better time. Kenya and Rwanda have just gone through national elections in August. In the former, the contest was particularly bruising and ended up with a petition in the Supreme Court. Part of the evidence adduced by the petitioners – opposition National Super Alliance leaders Raila Odinga and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka – has been particularly damning.

Kenya’s Independent, Electoral and Boundaries Commission has all but had its reputation and public image torn to shreds. It will take a long time for the country to recover and for citizens to regain confidence in electoral and governance systems. 

Kenya has exhibited the sort of injustice and misadventure that breeds impunity and, with time, spawns violent revolution.Not that other East African countries are much better. The noise is louder from Kenya, however, because of the country’s stronger tradition of civil liberties. 

It is a tradition that has been severely tested, especially as the country’s media looked the other way when police used excessive force to quell the protests that greeted the announcement of Uhuru Kenyatta as winner of the presidential contest. Citizens were forced – for the first time in decades and since the end of former president Daniel arap Moi’s dictatorship  – to turn to foreign stations to know what was happening in their own country.

In actual fact, Kenya is among those countries that are often cited as “success stories” in Africa, so this tells us about what to expect in the failed states. Still, it cannot be denied that over nearly three decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Africa has witnessed a commendable shift in the process of leadership change, with coup-d’états replaced with competitive elections. 

Indeed, the continent continues to witness an increase in regular, credible and transparent elections – even if these are as shambolic as the recent Kenyan general election. The continent’s “transparent” elections have become an embodiment of Africa’s, and the region’s, democratisation progress. 

But for true progress, Africa needs to break away from the current hypocritical display of elections that fall far short of democratic standards, overcome the divisions put in place by elitist groups out to protect their unfair privilege, and embrace meaningful democratic principles and traditions. More attention must be paid to the nature of the circus we call elections with a view to making them truly democratic.

And this is where the youth come in. An increasing number of young people are trapped within the ethnic jingoism and religious hatred passed down from their fathers, who have long been brainwashed with foreign ideologies that have little relevance for Africa, if any. This is why they participate – with little prompting – in conflict and even genocide. They will need to be weaned from these foreign-instigated divisions if Africa is to make any headway in the coming years and decades.

To achieve this, the youth need to be encouraged to reflect on barriers and opportunities for meaningful youth participation in electoral processes at the individual, organisational and societal levels. 

Greater focus will also have to be placed on youth-led and focused organisations and networks with a view to enhancing their capacity to bring about greater youth involvement in matters of governance, including electoral processes at local and national levels.The overarching aim must always be to empower young people to meaningfully participate in political processes in general and electoral processes in particular.

 Not only this, the youth must be taught new paradigms and approaches that are more attuned to the unique situations facing their societies and disabused of the notion that Western values and standards are the ideal they should look up to.