The growth and institutionalisation of democratic governance on the African continent is improving if we are to use the holding of presidential, general or parliamentary elections in 2019 as one of the measurements.
By the end of the year, 17 African Union member states would have headed to the polls with Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Comoros Islands, Benin, South Africa, Malawi Madagascar, and Chad holding elections in the first half of the year. So far, the optics look good and quite promising.
Tomorrow, it is South Africa’s turn as they head to the polls. In these bellwether elections, the more than 26 million registered voters will be choosing National and Provincial Assembly members.
According to the South African election commission (IEC), 48 political parties are contesting the national elections, although the major challenge is between the governing African National Congress party led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the Democratic Alliance led by Mmusi Maimane and the Julius Malema-led Economic Freedom Fighters.
The IEC revealed in March that of the 26 756 898 million registered voters, 14 716 879 million are women, constituting 55 percent of the voting population. The IEC also revealed that the largest section of voters are aged 30-39, representing 24.99 percent of the roll. Another interesting statistic from the IEC is that more than 9 million eligible voters did not register to vote, too big a number, when the country celebrated 25 years of democratic rule this year.
The May 8 elections, the sixth since the first democratic elections that ushered the first black President Nelson Mandela in 1994, are the most critical to be held in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region, since South Africa is the region’s largest economy.
Malawi goes to the polls on May 26. But the 9 million figure is troubling. What has happened to the Mandela aura? Has the post-colonial state, the liberation struggle narrative taken too long to self-innovate?
We all hope that the elections will be conducted in a free, fair and violence-free environment and that the Sadc election guidelines will be followed to the letter.
South African political parties sold their programmes in the past few months, and the expectation is that voters, guided by wisdom and knowledge, will exercise their right and choose the best from the marketed political documents.
Although unemployment is an issue the world over, it is an open secret that Africa has the highest jobless figures mostly among young people, the majority of them college graduates. As South Africans vote tomorrow, we ask whether political parties on the continent craft manifestos that are in line with the aspirations and wishes of this type of electorate.
Are they realistic manifestos that give room to innovation and also deal with long-term challenges faced by the continent or they are a cut and paste job every election season as some believe, which leads in apathy?
An example is the gender parity. Is there political will to ensure that the 50-50 scenario is achieved in all sections?
There is also the youth dividend which African countries have not fully taken advantage of in order to create a better tomorrow for future generations. These are also the touch button generation who are learning new approaches to problem solving, including governance.
How appealing are the current political states in order for young people to want to participate? In short, is politics as practiced today relevant to today’s generation?
Although elections are a way of fulfilling constitutional requirements and ensuring the growth of democracy, they should also give room for introspection on issues that are promised during every election season.
Review articles on the run-up to the South African election show that there is either apathy among the youth, while some have displayed a total disconnect to state affairs. This is not just an issue for South Africa, but for the whole continent.
The politics of the day must not only bring food on the table, create employment, but its relevance must be felt by diverse groups among the voting and non-voting population: women, the youth, the elderly, workers, and people in rural areas since in most countries, they are the majority. There should therefore be new ways of engaging these diverse groups.
As information, communication technologies continue to advance, this has also changed the way elections are conducted.
Social media has become central, but with it are challenges of fake news. Social media is the new propaganda machine used to frame agendas and manage perceptions. Are political parties moving with the ICT times?
Although there are thousands of election monitors and observers who ensure credibility, integrity, checks and balances of the whole process,
The electoral process would be incomplete without the role of the media.
In as much as politicians are under spotlight, so too the media, especially public media. Will the media play its oversight role without fear or favour?