Democracy in Africa, an important dialogue for all citizens

Post-election violent conflict along ethnic lines is the greatest threat to Africa’s stability and consolidation of democratic institutions and culture. It is with this in mind that on Wednesday, 14th December 2016, an important gathering – known as Maendeleo Policy Forum will take place in Nairobi.

A brainchild of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Maendeleo Policy Forum was launched in 2015 to provide space for African leaders, international mediators and negotiators, researchers, policy makers, development practitioners and writers on African issues, to debate on critical issues of development in Africa. This particular edition is designed to collate lessons and good practices in election management from past polls in Africa to inform democratic consolidation in countries like Kenya.

Key speakers drawn from across the continent will also identify early-warning indicators and undertake analysis of risk to Kenya’s stability before, during and after the 2017 election. The ultimate goal is to share these good practices and lessons with policy makers and relevant authorities as the country strives toward a credible and transparent poll.

The forum comes against the backdrop of rising optimism across the continent as well as some disturbing signs ahead of elections scheduled for 2017. The concession by the incumbent President in The Gambia is a breath of fresh air and opens up positive prospects for the many elections anticipated across the African continent.

Elections in Africa, like anywhere else, are supposed to be instruments for resolving differences. Unfortunately, they have ended widening long-standing social, political and tribal fault lines, thus triggering mayhem in proportions that had never been witnessed before.

Elections have generally failed to harness diversity and nourish cohesion. Africa like other continents faces a problem of managing diversity. As the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon rightly observed, “diversity may be a source of creativity and positive growth” but when poorly managed, it “often becomes a source of unhealthy competition, conflict and instability.”

Further, a credible election process can only take place if democratic institutions are well managed, supported and nurtured. Developing their capacity and capabilities and strengthening of election management bodies can, therefore is crucial.

Many African countries should be commended for making good strides in reforming electoral institutions as part of deepening democracy and ensuring inclusivity in Africa.

But will these processes bring the desired result? Will the players involved in this process succeed in eliminating all the loopholes which have sparked violence such as Kenya’s 2007-2008 chaos or Zambia’s post-election violence in 2016?

It is time to reflect on what needs to be done to take a path of prosperity and peace for present and future generations. The Maendeleo Policy Forum – which is taking place in Kenya for the first time – is therefore a golden opportunity to share the lessons learnt and good practices among experts, the policy community and practitioners.

Kenya can after all can serve as a beacon of hope in a fragile and tense neighbourhood. We need a Kenya that inspires hope and confidence and be a model that will be emulated by others.

Let’s unite to ensure a free, fair, credible and a violence free elections.

(Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative)

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