Foreign Policy Blogs

Democracy Without Independent Voters

Last Monday, August 9, 2010, Rwanda’s incumbent President Paul Kagame scored another landslide similar to his margin of victory in 2003. In Namibia, the ruling Swapo party smashed a fifth tsunami-like victory this past November. South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC), the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO) all hit their proverbial home runs in recent elections. Although a slightly different story in Zimbabwe’s last election, a crack started to open only after more than twenty years of landslide victories by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF. The story goes on…ruling parties are clinching consecutive earthquake election victories everywhere in Africa.

Pundits attribute Africa’s landslides to rigging, the weak electoral process, and weak opposition parties, but what has been overlooked is the role of the independent electorate–the missing link in Africa’s democracy. On much of the Continent, the distance between partisan and non-partisan politics is like that of Mars to Venus. In fact, one of the worst insults that can be thrown at a person is to enunciate that he or she belongs to the opposition party. As a matter of course, enmity is distinguished through political partisanship, in which someone belonging to an opposing political party is viewed and treated as an enemy. There are many stories where families don’t speak to each other as a result of the fierce opposition that accompanies political persuasions.

This is not to suggest that Africans are not independent or rational when it comes to political parties, but merely to state that Africa’s highly partisan environment is what is contributing to the unstoppable wins by the ruling parties. So it is not as simple as claiming that elections are rigged as we are told often. While I am not saying that rigging doesn’t happen, it is hard to find an undecided voter during elections in much of Africa. The reason: the absence of an independent electorate that has no vested loyalty in political parties. Party politics in Africa create strong loyalties that force voters to divide into two equally hostile political camps, making it difficult for voters to switch votes during elections. While party politics are important in any democracy, the increasingly strong partisan political environment that exists today in Africa is unable to perform the civic responsibilities of balancing power and governance. Instead what we have on the Continent is not only a winner-take-all mentality, but also less separation of powers in which ruling parties control the legislative, executive and the judiciary.

Therefore, what Africa needs is not only strong opposition parties, but also an independent electorate that has the same level of political interest in responsible governance as it has in rank partisanship, and that will cast votes based decidedly on the issues with which they strongly agree disagree.



Ndumba J. Kamwanyah

Ndumba Jonnah Kamwanyah, a native of Namibia in Southern Africa, is an independent consultant providing trusted advice and capacity building through training, research, and social impact analysis to customers around the world. Mos recently Ndumba returned from a consulting assignment in Liberia in support of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
In his recent previous life Ndumba taught (as an Adjunct Professor) traditional justice and indigenous African political institutions in sub-Saharan Africa at the Rhode Island College-Anthropology Department.

He is very passionate about democracy development and peace-building, and considers himself as a street researcher interested in the politics of everyday life.
Twitter: NdumbaKamwanyah