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Democracy needs strong institutions for healthy politics

By Gerald Lepariyo | January 16th 2021
Donald Trump, Bobi Wine and Yoweri Museveni. [Courtesy]

Countries with mature democracies are believed to have stable political systems that choose and replace leaders through free and fair elections. There is also active participation of citizens in political processes and civic liberty, protection and respect of human rights of all citizens and abide by the rule of law.

The laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens. Globally, credible elections are usually viewed as a symbol of democracy where leaders respect the outcome of an electoral process and pave way for smooth transitions of power.

In Africa, the journey to strengthen democracy has been marred by struggles and setbacks. In 2017 for example, Kenya became the first country in Africa to annul a presidential election. This was seen as a milestone in advancing democracy in the continent. But does that mean the rule of law can help bring in true democratic change? It, however, demonstrates that legal and established political frameworks can bring sanity in our electoral processes.

That same year, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) successfully supported the Gambian people to end Jammeh’s 22-year authoritarian regime. For the first time in decades, there was also relatively peaceful transfer of power in the republic of Somalia that made Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo the President. Lesotho also elected a new Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, who had spent two years in exile.

In Rwanda, the re-election of President Paul Kagame, extending his 17 years in power, came as no surprise to many. He is considered widely popular among citizens. He has been credited with reducing poverty, increased literacy level, improvement in the country’s GDP and embracing information and communication technology in Rwanda.

Nonetheless, Kagame’s rule has also faced mounting criticism for human rights violations, media censorship and intolerance for political dissent.

Last Thursday, Uganda held presidential and parliamentary elections in a tense political atmosphere. Long-serving President Yoweri Museveni faced a stiff challenge from pop-star singer Bobi Wine.

Ahead of the polls, social media platform Facebook censored a network of accounts in Uganda, including a number of them belonging to Uganda’s government officials, accusing them of attempting to manipulate public opinion.

Opposition leader Bobi Wine campaigns were marred by attacks by Uganda’s security agencies with his supporters arrested and some 54 killed. Security agencies also detained about 600 people attending Bobi Wine’s rallies, allegedly for violating Covid-19 restrictions in mass gatherings, and Bobi Wine himself was arrested three times.

Democracy is central to a healthy political climate that increasingly helps in putting stable governance structures both in developed and developing democracies. The political polarisation in the US and its fragmentation of democracy over the last few years, calls for governments to have strong independent institutions that can’t be swayed by the system in power.

The unrest in the US Capitol needs swift action by the incoming President Joe Biden administration to bring back the country’s democratic gains.

Finally, for countries to have stable political systems that obey democratic will of their citizens, independent institutions like competent election management bodies and an independent Judiciary must be strengthened. Democracy also requires commitment from political leaders.

The danger of ignoring these norms can have serious implications on nations with fragile political systems. The veracity of functional independent institutions and respect to democracy for example, during Kenya’s 2013 elections, the opposition candidate CORD’s Raila Odinga, eventually conceded after the Supreme Court upheld the presidential results following an election petition.

-The writer is Ilchamus community youth leader and a political commentator. @Lepariyo

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