Picture: REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/Poo – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meet with Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh, Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit 2022 in Washington, U.S., December 13, 2022.
By Sizo Nkala
THE UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the German Federal Foreign Office recently launched the Africa Election Fund.
Boasting an initial commitment of E3 million (R56m), the fund is earmarked to support electoral processes in Africa. It is believed that this support will go a long way towards improving the electoral environment, promoting democracy, and averting potential conflict which has often followed disputed elections in many African countries.
The new fund is the latest in a long list of Western interventions in Africa meant to promote democracy dating back to the early 1990s.
There are several other schemes that already exist such as the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) funded by entities including the USAID, Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office and the Australian Aid, among others.
IFES has worked in more than 20 African countries to improve the electoral processes. The US Department of State recently announced its intention to fund so-called democracy practitioners like non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in African countries scheduled to hold elections in 2023.
The UNDP’s Elections Assistance Programme has been providing electoral support to African countries for many years. After the end of the Cold War in 1989, Western countries embarked on a democratisation crusade in African countries and former communist states that broke away from the Soviet Union.
More and more countries in the Global South became electoral democracies, holding elections regularly from the local to the national levels of government, including in African countries.
The world’s new and emerging electoral democracies needed international support to conduct credible elections before, during and after the voting process.
This saw elections attracting about 25% of all official development assistance at the global level. Support came in the form of preparing for the elections, logistical support during the elections and vote tallying and dissemination of the results after the elections.
The basic rationale behind electoral aid on the continent has been that electoral processes are expensive ventures and most African countries don’t have sufficient resources to fund election processes. The equipment and human capital required to run elections may be beyond the coffers of many African states.
Moreover, ordinary people often do not have the resources in terms of time, information and even money to participate in elections.
Hence, the donor community chips in with their resources to enable more participation in democratic processes through mobilisation and voter education.
That said, the utility of and the motivation behind funding African elections by international donors has been questioned. The channelling of substantial amounts of official development assistance towards elections by the West is by no means an altruistic gesture.
Through these massive investments in Africa’s election infrastructure and processes, the Western countries hope to export their own political systems and political values to Africa.
The kind of democracy that is promoted through these donations and funds is not rooted in African history and socio-political conditions. It is a democracy informed by Western history, values and experiences that is imposed on the African masses.
The West’s democracy crusade in Africa feels like the modern-day civilising mission which paved the way for colonialism in the late 19th century. More often than not, elections are funded with the hope that they will deliver governments and regimes pliable to Western interests.
Indeed, the donor community at times has been accused of picking sides in certain electoral contests in African countries. And when the outcome is inconsistent with their wishes, they are always ready at hand with self-serving declarations claiming that the elections were neither free nor fair.
Such pronouncements are usually intended to delegitimise the winners and their governments, thus risking political instability in the countries.
Moreover, the West’s interest in funding African elections should be seen in light of its geopolitical battle with other major powers such as China and Russia.
Western countries have accused Beijing and Moscow of exporting authoritarianism to Africa and have taken it upon themselves to export their competing ideologies.
Western initiatives, such as the Partnership for Global Investment in Infrastructure (PGII), which is widely seen as a rival to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), are predicated on promoting Western forms of democracy and freedom.
The recently released US Strategy towards sub-Saharan Africa, which openly portrays China and Russia’s involvement in Africa in a negative light, also promises to promote democracy in Africa. It goes further to say that the US can only work with countries it considers democratic.
It seems the West’s emphasis on democracy is a way of undermining China and Russia’s influence in Africa.
Hence, initiatives like the new Africa Election Fund, which is cleverly placed under the umbrella of the UNDP, could be part of the West’s toolkit in its geopolitical battle with Russia and China.
It is important that Africans find ways and means of funding their own electoral processes to avoid being pawns in a broader geopolitical game and also to protect their sovereignty and independence.
Nkala is a A Research Fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Africa-China Studies