The global north has in the last decade clung to elections, free and fair elections, as the number one marker of democratic progress. Problems however arise when categorizing an election as fair, and what happens when the fairly elected leader leads by patronage (that is placing the interests of his or her tribe or clan above everyone else's)?
An alarming amount of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have been suffering from post election violence in the past decade. Is this a cause for concern, or is this the sign of slight, although dangerous progress? And why are these events so different from what happened in Egypt and Tunisia of this year?
One thing we know for sure, according to Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), is the "need for adequate preparations for the polls and adequate conflict assessments to prevent the risk of electoral violence which could jeopardize the gains of democracy in the region... 2011 presents a busy schedule on West African elections calendar with presidential and parliamentary elections coming up in Niger, Nigeria, The Gambia, Cape Verde, Liberia, and Benin as well as in the neighboring Chad, Cameroon, and Mauritania."
Although there have been actual attempts by Sub-Saharan African citizens, like in Gabon, to bring down their corrupt leaders following the lead of Tunisia and Egypt. Or internal discussions and attempted organization like within the Congo, there doesn't seem to be much hope for drastic change. The demonstrations In Gabon have been met with much more state sponsored violence and lack of international reporting, for example.
So why is it that despite large amounts of election violence within SS Africa it doesn't appear to effect change like in Tunisia and Egypt? The short answer is a deeper level of poverty, a military typically strongly aligned with the governments, and a lack of a large working class that could financially squeeze the leaders out of office through effective strikes. According to CDD ethnic tensions also play a big role. Speaking about the Guinean election in June 2010, "The decision of Guineans to switch from a candidate who scored almost a half of the votes in the first round to another who scored a scanty 18 percent of the votes is explained by many as being caused by realignment of forces along ethnic lines."
Implications from Institute for the Future:
Within SS Africa our focus needs to stay with maintaining peaceful elections, and not trying to mimic wealthier and more stable Egypt and Tunisia. While getting swept up in the fervor of revolution is tempting, most countries are not yet "ripe" (A term first coined by William Zartman, an Africanist and conflict expert) for this move. That is to say, foundational factors such as a strong middle class are not yet present. Gabon my be facing all out war, which in turn may make democracy and the development most citizens expect to go along with this shift, impossible.
The international community also needs to place a stronger focus on punishing political leaders who stoke ethnic tensions for their own gains.
Center for Democracy and Development, Nov. 2010 pgs. 4-5:
Ripe for Resolution: Conflict and Intervention in Africa by William Zartman