Here, at last, we see the donor nations’ democratic chickens coming home to roost. For years the donors, the European Union (EU) countries and the US, Canada and Australia, have preached multi-party democracy at the developing world.
Elections were perceived to be a ‘Good Thing’, a final bridge to be crossed that would signal to the world in general and to the patrons in particular that this particular country had discarded its rotten ways and taken up wholeheartedly their beloved democracy.
To this end, elections were encouraged, even in countries like Sierra Leone which were still reeling from the trauma of civil war.
Inclusiveness and pluralism, capacity building, good governance, transparency were the mantras that provided the sweet-sounding backing for the main event: the general election.
This meant that workshops were held all over the country, explaining the electoral process; how to get on the register, how to get an ID card, how fraud could be avoided.
Come the day of the election and the voter was presented with a ballot paper some two-feet long. For every political maverick, every political whim, there was a party to vote for. While the voter pondered and tried to work out what all those weird letters stood for and then tried to decide which was worthy of a vote, the men in Madison Avenue ( where all this had been dreamt up, oh, yes, the business of peace is far more lucrative than the business of war) were probably exchanging smug and complicit grins. Now all shades of opinion were being polled, every Tom, Dick and Vladimir had an opportunity of having his say. No excuse for extremism anymore, is there?
What are the results? No change. The same powers who ruled before are still in power; or, as in Georgia, where a new pro-Western government won a landslide poll two years ago, the old tactics of rigging seem to be employed to make sure it stays in power.
The workshops, the drive for pluralism and inclusiveness are, you see, no more than an icing on the political cake, a kind of meretricious marzipan that melts away when the tear gas bites the back of the eyes and the rubber bullets start thudding into the crowd.
Workshops, training courses, have as many as you like, spend as many millions as you’ve got, but elections will never be abuse-free while vote rigging goes unpunished.
And this is what has been happening in election after election over the past 25 years in the developing world.
Vote rigging is neither a science nor a skill. It is done with the blatancy of power and the arrogance of experience.
In the recent severely flawed poll in Kenya, independent observers representing the donors (the EU countries and the US) were told to turn away as the final sums were being totted up in Nairobi. In Central Province, a Kikuyu stronghold of incumbent president Mwai Kibaki, the voting results were inexplicably delayed. Why? Because new ballot papers were being rushed into the area so they could be added to the poll.
For that reason, there is no mystery in all this. No science. No skill. It is just plain bullying of the ballot.
As for the observers and their much-touted independence, they really should be called to task. The observers lacked a common voice to point out what expired; they remained silent. Why should the innocent peasants continue facing or get punishments on behalf the power-hungry individuals? Hopefully, the Kenya lesson will serve as an example for the peasants to re-shape their opinions. And let this be another lesson - that those who instigate violence are rarely affected or wounded since they have all sorts of protection.
For years now the observers have rubber-stamped polls where the most outrageous excesses have been perpetrated against the voter. These excesses are normally acknowledged but given a low priority. They would not have influenced the eventual outcome of the poll - is the usual rider on their report.
I know for a fact that in the late 1990s, during Tanzania’s first multi-party democratic election, there were widespread abuses in Dar es Salaam during the election. A car whose boot was filled with completed ballot papers was intercepted as it approached a polling station. The crowd who were suspicious and rightly so, were jealously protecting their new-found status as first time voters. They attacked the car after some of them recognised that the driver was connected with the ruling party. The boot was forced open and there they found a ballot box, filled with papers already ticked.
The local press took photos and published the story. This caused an uproar and the independent observers who had up to that moment said that the election was good, had to climb down and acknowledge that there had been serious abuses. The election was ordered to be rerun.
Alas, this is but one example of true democracy in action. In every other case that I know of, elections which have been characterised by the most appalling abuses, have been cleared as being fair - witness the recent elections in Nigeria.
In Kenya at the height of the electoral crisis, who came out and declared Kibaki the rightful winner? The US, of course. The knee-jerk reaction was withdrawn less than 24 hours later when the EC pointed out that there was substance in the allegations.
So what message does this give to the mzees and bwana mkubwas, the big men of Africa and Eastern Europe? The answer is simple. Carry on rigging. It doesn’t matter how much money is invested in capacity building, as the donors tend to describe it, in setting up institutions to safeguard the election, in training the electorate to vote.
It also doesn’t matter how many people are internally displaced or become refugees in their own homeland with no basic health essentials as a result of rigging!
The party bosses know that the elections are theirs even before the very first vote is recorded.
For years the donors have been playing a game with democracy. Now they have created, in place of democracy, a dog’s breakfast. They have devalued the word election and more importantly the electoral process. What does it mean anymore? Nothing. Forget that wonderful feeling of political elation, of citizen’s power when the government you voted against is kicked out. Now it’s, courtesy of the West, mob rule and street chaos.