The horrors and stupidities of electoral theft in Africa are now upsetting

But are these undemocratic tendencies putting boulders on the path of people's rights caused by stupidity or impunity? Wonders TOM ONIRO

Yet another one. And yet more electoral thefts are underway. Electoral theft is on the upward move. But all the AU and UN do is stare on. Perhaps the continental and world bodies even cheer up the electoral thieves and stir up the anguish of the electorate; only to wake up with trade mark statements ‘showing deep concern’.

Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki blazed the trail and got away with it. With ease, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe followed suit and now Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo is even more glaringly daring.  It is an amateurish style of electoral theft in Africa. Amateurish because Africa’s seasoned electoral thieves do not wait for the electoral body to announce legitimate results.  No, the ballot boxes are stuffed in advance with pre-ticked ballot papers in which even ghosts are ‘registered voters’. Then with the powerful hand of incumbency, the head of the pro-government electoral body announces, now fully cooked to imperfection, the skilfully doctored results with the precision that the usually foul-crying opposition shall have no evidence to present before the courts so as to overturn the final results. All the while, security apparatus will be on standby, in all likelihood ready to reinstate the incumbent president.

Could rushing to the Constitutional Council be an exposure of stupidity or impunity?

Maybe stupidity, which, in the context of the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English’s first entry is: "Behaviour or actions that show a lack of good sense or good judgement".  If the behaviour or actions of electoral thieves serve them better, why can’t they show sense or good judgement that the voters will have rejected them during an election? It is giving comfort to total impunity—doing something wrong or immoral…knowing there is no risk that you will be punished for it— because, in Africa, it is now ‘impossible’ for the incumbent presidential candidates to lose elections! Yet it is only gods and the dead who can seem perfect with impunity.

Though neither gods nor dead, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, and Rwanda’s pencil-sized but ‘strongman’ President, Paul Kagame, for example, have succeeded in perfecting the art of impunity. They are as alike as two peas. They first lock up their arch-presidential rivals and critics whom they publicly promise to ‘crush’ before going ahead to ‘win’ elections with landsides. Burundi’s Pierre Nkunzirinza was even bolder to go it alone when his closest challengers pulled out of the race with one opponent disappearing into the central African tropical forests claiming electoral irregularities prior to polling day.

In Uganda, another of Africa’s political melting pot, the incumbent there, like a destitute without an ancestral or acquired home, is asking the opposition and his critics where he should retire to other than State House. Ex-rebel leader, Yoweri Museveni, on the campaign trail for the fourth elective term which will usher him into 30 years of uninterrupted rule, in 2005, scrapped the constitutional clause on presidential two-term limits which inevitably makes him a life president.

And Africa’s leaders who continue dragging their countries by the collar, it appears, have a common denominator: the ‘law of power-grabbing’ as enshrined in Robert Greene’s book, The 48 Laws of Power.

It would seem this year 2000 edition of the publication is the ‘constitutional instrument’ using which Africa’s power grabbers flout respective countries’ laid down rules and laws.  Of particular renewed romantic reading is Law 8 which states: "Make other people come to you—-Use bait if necessary."  In this law, the tricks used by Kibaki and Mugabe to trap their opponents, now Prime Ministers Raila Odinga and Morgan Tsvangirai, are prevalent.

According to Greene, power is endlessly seductive and deceptive in its own way. "When you force the other person to act," writes Greene, "you are the one in control".  "It is always better to make the opponent come to you, abandoning his own plans in the process," he continues.

Odinga as well as Tsvangirai had promised voters to reform their respective countries. "Lure him with fabulous gains…you hold the cards," Greene assures. Typically, after crying foul of his stolen victory, Odinga and Tsvangirai have the task of following their presidents to their [presidents’] respective offices for meetings, consultations and not vice versa. "For negotiations or meetings," notes Greene, as if to imply the current practice in the coalition governments of Kenya and Zimbabwe, "it is always wise to lure others into your territory, or the territory of your choice. You have your bearings, while they see nothing familiar and are subtly placed on the defensive".

Incidentally, both Odinga and Tsvangirai have severally emerged from their bosses’ offices exuding confidence that their respective fragile coalition governments will survive the stipulated timeframe and political dispensation.  This is despite the fact that they may be burning with bile in their inside—stolen victory, pressure from supporters not to make concessions.

The law works: Following the bungled  December 27, 2007 presidential election results in Kenya, all manners of dignitaries were clamouring to meet Kibaki; the presumed power grabber. First was then AU Chairman and now retired Ghanaian president John Kufuor who was an unwelcome visitor to Kibaki’s handlers. In between went former Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, and South African business tycoon, Cyril Ramaphosa, hoping to pray and mediate in the stalemate but they were given no audience. In fact, one of Kibaki’s creepers suggested the duo be given coffee before they could return to South Africa immediately.

Next was the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan-headed AU Panel of Eminent Personalities comprising ex-Mozambican as well as South African First Lady Graca Machel, retired presidents Benjamin William Mkapa (Tanzania), Joachim Chissano (Mozambique), Sir Ketumile Masire (Botswana) and Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia).

Annan, up to date, strolls to Kibaki’s office to make "follow-ups" on progress of reforms inked in the National Accord that gave birth to that East African country’s coalition government.

Similarly, in Zimbabwe, when, in 2008, following the June 27 presidential election run-off that pitted Mugabe against himself after refusing to release, for months, results of the first round, again prominent personalities flocked to Mugabe’s office. This time Annan was on ZANU-PF radar for midwifing power-sharing in Kenya and therefore the ruling party disciples did not want to see his face in former southern Rhodesia. In went then South African president, Thabo Mbeki, to mediate the peace that resulted in the formation of the coalition government there in February 2009. In Mbeki’s place, South African President Jacob Zuma continues to look for Mugabe to resolve squabbles in the joint administration.

Again through  the AU, Mbeki has already met Gbagbo in his Abdijan presidential palace. But with the Gbagbo way of power grab, Africans will find it unpalatable to have another Kenya and Zimbabwe in that West African country.

For, the continental body has organs that should not see Africa sway in the direction of Ivory Coast’s bearings, in the first place. The Protocol Establishing the Peace and Security Council promises the ‘Panel of the Wise’ and an ‘Early-Warning System’. Entered into force on December 26, 2003, replacing its predecessor OAU’s Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution, "… The Peace and Security Council shall be a collective security and early-warning arrangement to facilitate timely and efficient response to conflict and crisis situations in Africa." So far where is the PSC’s ‘timeliness’,  ‘efficiency’ and ‘early-warning system’ when opposition sympathisers were being tortured in Zimbabwe before the 2008 elections, jailings in Ethiopia and Rwanda, opposition contempt for the electoral commissions in Kenya prior to the December 27, 2007 elections and presently in Uganda?

What peace and security, in the wisdom of the Council’s Panel of the Wise, is the continent headed for, when constitutional term limits are being scrapped; power-grabbing withstanding? As for the UN– although the truth is often avoided because it is ugly and unpleasant –it is a foregone conclusion: ‘There is no United Nations’. John Bolton dismissed its legitimacy before: "There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community led by the United States".

The grey-moustached former US Ambassador to the UN, in a February 3, 1994 speech to the World Federalist Association bashed the multilateral, international organisation dedicated to ‘collective security’;  underscoring that if the UN Secretariat Building in New York lost ten storeys, it would not make a bit of difference.

In a supreme twist of irony, however, Annan, the midwife of power grabbers in Africa, is described by Bolton as a power grabber as well. "In a 1999 article in the Weekly Standard titled ‘Kofi Annan’s Power Grab’," writes Tom Barry, Policy Director of the International Relations Centre in the US in Counterpunch.org, "Bolton laid out the neo-conservative position on US military supremacy with respect to what the neo-cons regarded as the outdated UN Charter."

Barry adds: "Bolton took issue with Annan’s description of the United Nations as ‘the sole source of legitimacy on the use of force’". According to Barry, in Bolton’s view, Annan had put his own legitimacy at risk by expressing his concern about the NATO bombing campaign over the former Yugoslavia.

"When visiting the war zone, Annan said: ‘Unless the Security Council is restored to its pre-eminent position as the sole source of legitimacy on the use of force, we are on a dangerous path to anarchy’."  However, the man at the helm of the AU’s massaging of the egos of power-grabbers, Mbeki, shall be judged by his actions. Having preached African Renaissance and that something new always comes out of Africa — possibly to include power grabbing –Mbeki is trapped by his engagements with Africa’s emperors who do not want to quit power willingly.

During a question and answer session, Mbeki was asked whether bad leadership that bogs Africa down was about to come to an end, to which the then South African deputy president replied: "I think there are better possibilities now to ensure that we don’t have the images of some of the kind of leaders we had in the past, who progressed from being a master sergeant in charge of a platoon and ended up proclaiming themselves emperors. I think that time has passed".

The April 9, 1998, United Nations University, Japan-speech had Mbeki reiterate: "…we come back to the point that, we, who are our liberators from imperial domination," he went on, "cannot but be confident that our project to ensure the restoration not of empires, but the other conditions in the 16th century described by Leo Africanus: of peace, stability, prosperity, and intellectual creativity, will and must succeed!"

Well past the cold war era, in the place of democracy are emerging emperors, yet Mbeki, in that speech reasoned that Africa was pinned on the ground by cold war-leaning leadership. "Some things are no longer permissible. I think we have the situation in which we live in the post-cold war world. And you know the instances on the African continent when people who were bad for Africa were maintained in power by various powers because they were useful in the context of that cold war contest".

Mbeki promised that Africa’s Renaissance "has come, is fundamental to the very conceptualisation of this Renaissance and the answer to the question: ‘Whence this confidence?’"  

Much as Africa is still infested with the Kibakis, Mugabes, Musevenis, Gbagbos, Zenawis, Kagames and the ilk abusing power in any shape and form, there is no confidence in Africa’s rebirth whatsoever.

Poses Mbeki: "Unless we are able to ask the question ‘Who we were?’ we will not be able to answer the question ‘What shall we be?’"

Well, Africa’s 4Ds—disaster, disease, destruction and death — shall remain.