Africans cast their votes, but the West determines who leads us

Deposed Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba. [AP photo]

Deposed Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba invited the world to make noise, having been toppled by his own army from power.

The shaken man, who has been in power for 14 years, for once found himself in unfamiliar space. Worse, he was separated from his family.

While several presidents in Africa have supported their deposed companion in fear of a similar fate befalling them, ordinary Gabonese have a different story to tell. A majority of them are happy that a puppet of the former coloniser, France, is down.

The Army General’s coming to power carries the aspirations of the citizens. There is a clear dissonance between the condemnation from leaders in power across Africa and ordinary citizens affirming the coups.

France, like Britain and other former colonisers, have remained firmly in control of their former colonies. They directly or discreetly decide and influence who becomes president. The US, which did not colonise African countries, has an even stronger dominance over several countries in the continent through financing, capacity building and other forms of cowing leaders to submission. Combining coercive diplomacy and financial lending, the West often decides who rules us.

Consequently, elections in Africa are generally a sham. A major reason the French empire in Africa is collapsing is that leaders are picked long before elections are held and imposed on people through a compromised electoral process.

Citizens are encouraged to vote even when it is well known by the powerful countries and unions like EU, not every vote counts.

As long as citizens are prevailed upon, often violently, to move on from scenes of electoral crime, normalcy returns with the promise that the lessons learned will be used to improve future elections. Of course, strategies change but losers are enthroned while winners are harassed, demonised and pushed to the much-discredited Opposition benches.

The international community in Africa should be ashamed of its covert and overt subversion of the will of the people in election outcomes. Duly elected leaders with legitimacy to rule will transform Africa and still collaborate with the international partners.

Paradoxically, it is the same powerful countries and unions that fund the civil society and even governments to carry out civic education so that people can elect leaders of their own choice. Talk of giving with the right hand while taking the same through the left hand. France should lick its own wounds for the rejection it is experiencing in its former colonies.

This is a pity because unlike Britain, US or other world marshalling countries, France embraces the philosophy of assimilation in which it integrates peoples from other countries and cultures to its own. Although assimilation is criticised as an approach to control rather than equalise naturalised citizens, it still has a human side to it that one does not find in the other former colonisers. However, the spirit of this philosophy is not applied to electoral processes in former colonies.

We thought that with independence, African countries will enjoy their sovereignty. Nah! Colonisation metamorphosised into neo-colonialism. The levers of power control changed from direct ruling of the African peoples to controlling the economic and political structures of the independent countries. The powers that be decide from a range of candidates who becomes the President.

The will of the people in far off countries becomes the will of the people voting. What is most ironical is that bodies like African Union, reputable election observation institutions and legal bodies of international stature bend to the will of the powerful countries to justify sham election outcomes, denying citizens their duly elected leaders.  

The rejoicing of citizens at the fall of leaders to coups is an indicator that were every vote to count, the face of leadership across countries in Africa will be very different. On their part, our propped up African leaders are not much different from the African chiefs who sold off their own to slave traders. We Africans can do better.

-Dr Mokua is the executive director of Loyola Centre for Media and Communication

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