Rigged Re-Elections  and the Legitimacy of Democratic Regimes in Africa  


Rigged re-election as a threat posed to the legitimacy of democratic regimes . It argues that most African governments perform poorly on public affairs, and yet continue to renew their mandates using power of incumbency and state machinery, including the election bodies. These governments are often declared winners even though the elections were not free and fair.

The democratic practice in Africa is characterised by people who are dissatisfied with their government, but , they continue to renew their mandates during election. This case becomes more perplexing where even the international election observers validate the elections as free and fair which clearly shows the elections have been rigged by the incumbent government. For instance, the Kenyan election of 1992 international observers admitted that the incumbent government had influenced the conduct of the election to its advantage. This is not different from the case of the 2007 general elections in Nigeria, the reason has been argued that during elections voters are more interested in what they receive from incumbent government rather than what they hope to get when voted for in power, they therefore vote for the party that lavishes them with money and goods during elections. Theefore, competitions for political offices as avenues for accumulating private wealth is the reason why elections are contested, manipulated and rigged particularly by the government in power.   

They believe that these competitions are even peculiar in second elections, where the success of government in power to retain its position even when it’s not performing well in office necessitate the use of manipulation like the case of Zambian election in 2001. Nigeria had a very long history of multi party democracy which has faced a number of problems in various election even when electoral processes have constantly been modified to tackle issues of election rigging in the country it has continued to persist. This brings us to the question; is the problem of election really not within the electoral system  or in the problem lies in the socio-political and economic system? Should the government continue to restructure the electoral process instead of restructuring the socio-political system which encourages election rigging and other abnormal voting behaviours in African democracies.  

Conceptual Clarification on the Relationship between Democracy, Election and Legitimacy     Democracy is a system that allows citizens constitutionally to participate in governance through elected representatives. This notion derives its legitimacy from the peoples’ acceptance. Democracy is that institutional arrangement in which individuals acquire political power by means of a competitive struggle for the peoples’ votes. This definition has been accepted by theorists as the most empirically functional conceptualisation of democracy.  That mass control is built into the electoral process in which leaders compete for the people’s votes. Democracy therefore, is distinguished from other political systems through its competitive elections.   

Electoral competition make leaders responsive and accountable because voters are free to make choice and support any party or leader they wish to elect. African democracies are hardly faced with the issue of fear that they might lose voters support over their opponent. Since in the absence of free and fair elections most leaders do not depend on the votes of the electorate to win elections, this brings up the question of legitimacy. Legitimacy is the prerogative of the people to grant or withdraw legitimacy from government, this depends on the citizens whether they are satisfied with the government performance or not. In Africa, most governments’ begin their term with very high level of public acceptance and subsequently due to policy failure they lose peoples’ acceptance which ultimately de-legitimise their regime.           

Re-election process in Africa is highly characterised by rigging and manipulation, this is not far from the reason that government officials when elected into office, perform poorly and in spite of this citizens are unable to vote them out of office. These officials still get re-elected into power, re-election in Africa Nations witnessed so much public misconduct, corruption and lawlessness even though these misconduct are overshadowed by ethnic and regional considerations.  African Nations major political parties mobilised ethnic support and manipulated elections vigorously to retain control of their regions, while they attempted to make incursions unto other regions

That the re-occurrence of the problem of re-election of poorly performing government might erupt citizens’ anger as time goes on.  Absence of legitimacy is a very crucial issue because re-election of such government will be very difficult with the emergence of a promising opponent.

By Honourable Brown C. Kapika

President for Adedo – Zamucano Political Party (Zambia)

President for ‘Beweging voor Burger -en Mensenrechten’ Political Party (Netherlands)

(Partij voor de Burgerlijke -en Mensenrechten)