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West African election very different from the western ideal

West Africa, due to unrest and other issues, has a very high rate of migration between countries. Add to that the issue of borders having been created across ethnic and tribal lines and you have an interesting set up for western style democracy.

West African migrants and refugees are being arrested for potential voter fraud. Governments are concerned that opposition parties can use refugees to inflate their vote by having them register. Other migrants are registering to vote believing they have lived long enough in their new country that they should be able to vote. For West Africans, as well as most Sub-Saharan Africans, the concept of a nation-state is more lax than for us in the West. Many Africans may feel more connected to their ethic group, that might live between a few different countries, than their state. In other words, ties within a nation (groups of people) are still at times stronger than ties within a state (a governed body).

The international community and democracy experts need to continue to broaden their concepts of democracy to fit in with the local situation. Presidential elections in late 2010 in Guinea were hailed as a success according to USAID, only to be followed by the first ever national request to the UN for support as a failed state. Ivory Coast, as we all know has fallen into a civil war due to an election gone wrong.

We need to reevaluate our focus on democratic elections and reorient our thinking towards grass-roots democratization, where democratization means building in a communication channel between elected leaders and the general population. The form this feedback loop takes, however, needs to be altered for each country according to their needs.

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Centre for Development and Democracy, April 2011, Pg. 5 – 6 and pg. 10

USAID's article on the Guinea election: