Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Self-funded Elections in Africa, an Achievable Challenge

Article from AFRIC Editorial
The financing of elections is a major challenge faced by many African states. The expenditures for the organization of electoral campaigns range from the printing of ballot papers to the purchase of ballot boxes, ink, voting booths; not to mention the training of staffs, the equipment and ensuring the security of polling stations among others. According to the Independent Network for the Supervision of Elections in Africa (RISELA), "Any election, whether local, regional or national, must lead to three objectives: strengthening national cohesion, respect for the laws of the Republic and consolidation of political dialogue”. In this same light, many argue that elections in a country cannot be the object of foreign funding for the simple reason that the hand that gives is superior to that which receives.

Lacking the necessary resources to organize elections, several countries on the African continent have become accustomed to turning to foreign partners for aid. This aid is not without consequences. Among the partners solicited are many Western nations such as France, the United States and Canada or international organizations such as the Francophonie and the European Union. During the 2010 elections held in Côte d’Ivoire, foreign partners had achieved a funding record by providing the country with about 252 million euros. The interference in the elections, which ended in an unprecedented post-electoral crisis, proved that those who are suspicious of funding from foreigners are right, thus advocating that Africa must rely on its funds to free itself from these cumbersome donations. There are a few steps that can be taken to achieve self-funding of elections in Africa.

Creation of a bank to fund elections

At the Lomé Forum on Financing Elections in Africa held in April 2018, participants from about ten countries on the continent affirmed that the lack of means is the main reason that encourages African countries to seek foreign assistance for the organization of elections. As a way forward, they proposed the creation of a bank that will provide funds for organizing elections in Africa, whose funding will be provided by African organizations such as the African Union, the Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States (CEMAC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The equipment purchased will thus be used for the organization of several elections on the continent and will help to reduce expenditure.

Cutting election budgets

In Africa, elections are extremely expensive and election budgets vary from country to country. According to Abderrahmane Niang, a Malian elections expert, the presidential elections held in Mali in 2002 cost the state the modest sum of 20 billion CFA francs or 30 million euros.

In Cameroon, Elections Cameroon (Elecam), the body in charge of organizing elections, in its report on the 2018 presidential elections, reveals that the cost is estimated at more than 22 billion CFA francs an equivalent of 33 million euros.  In Nigeria, Kingsley Moghalu, former deputy governor of the central bank and candidate for the 2019 presidential election, complained about the exorbitant cost of the elections in his country, which he estimated at $625 million, an amount which exceeds the $600 million used in organizing the 2014 elections in India, a country whose population is 10 times more than that of Nigeria.

The excessive amounts spent by African states to organize elections are a cause for concern and contrasts with the level of underdevelopment in most of these countries. Cutting on this cost could be the first step towards finding a solution.

Voluntary contributions: the case of Burundi

The Burundians are gearing up for the presidential and parliamentary elections this 2020. Eager to do without the help of Westerners, who constantly criticize his regime, President Pierre Nkurunziza, who will not be standing for re-election, has decided to make the financing of these elections a matter for everyone in Burundi. From government officials to self-employed citizens, peasants, pupils and students, no part of society is spared by the appeal for donations initiated by the executive to cover the expenses related to the organization of these elections. To channel the contributions, the main account dedicated to the 2020 elections is  open at the Central Bank.

The official launch of the so-called “voluntary” contribution campaign took place on 07 August 2017 in the province of Ngozi. President Pierre Nkurunziza, preaching by example, deposited 5 million FBu an equivalent to 2,500 euros into the account dedicated to the financing of these elections, calling on his compatriots to do the same. To encourage the communes to contribute, the Burundian government created a compassionate system whose outcome would be to designate the commune with the highest collection. Amounts have been set according to population a category, which are 0.5 euros per year for school children and 0.95 euros per year for farmers. A variable amount was deducted from civil servants, depending on their income each month for two years (from January 2018 to the end of December 2019)

Last December, five months before the elections, President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to suspend the contributions, stating that the budget needed for the organization of the elections was almost complete. It is, therefore, a challenge won by this state in the Great Lakes region and a lesson for other African countries that continue to wallow in a position of eternal assistance.

Despite the criticism of a certain international opinion, which maintains that this national collection is a way for the government to extort money from citizens, the initiative of the Burundian state has been welcomed by many African countries including South Africa.

Burundi has, however, benefited from the financial support in the past, from foreign donors, technical and financial partners such as the United States and the European Union. In recent years, however, the country’s image has been tarnished by UN investigations and reports denouncing serious human rights violations committed in the country, and also by foreign observers who constantly warn of the risk of genocide on the eve of the elections. According to President Pierre Nkurunziza, this financial participation from all sections of society expresses a certain pride and patriotism of the Burundians. It is also a major response to the accusations of Western countries and organizations that decided to freeze their financial aid to Burundi in 2015.

Financing by State’s funds: DRC’s achievement

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is another African country that decided to finance the December 2018 elections, which were to pave the way for Joseph Kabila’s succession out of its pocket. In a cold war with many Western nations, the DRC wished by this step, to set aside any interference or external influence and show the world that it can assume its destiny on its own. The words of Lambert Mende, the former spokesman of the government, revealed that “We don’t want to relive past experiences where those who provide funding tend to want to influence the outcome of elections.

To reduce the costs of the electoral process, the Congolese government chose a revolutionary tool, the electronic voting system, to replace the traditional ballot papers. Before they were finally adopted, the famous machines made in South Korea were first rejected by some opponents, including Martin Fayulu, who saw them as instruments for electoral fraud.

Disregarding the numerous criticisms from the opposition, which dubbed these tools “fraud machines”, the government organized sensitization sessions across the national territory to explain to the population how the voting machines work while stressing on their virtues. Equipped with a printer, these machines allow voters to make their choice on a touch screen. Once the choice has been made, the voter’s ballot paper is printed and then inserted into the ballot box. The Congolese government claims that the famous voting machines saved CENI about $200 million. In addition to an automatic count at the time of counting, witnesses at the polling stations were able to access the time printed by the machine, which reinforces the credibility of the vote and facilitated the transmission of results, making them faster.

The use of the voting machine also enabled CENI to conduct both manual and automatic vote counting. A procedure that allowed a comparison of the results obtained through the ballots inserted in the ballot box and the choices made via the touch screen. They also have the particularity of being used several times, thus for other electoral events.

Nearly 40.2 million Congolese were called to the polls in December 2018. Despite the difficulties marked by insecurity in the east of the country, prey to numerous militias and the Ebola epidemic in its tenth recurrence, the DRC has succeeded in organizing presidential, legislative and provincial elections which at the same time allowed the country to experience its first democratic transition since 1968.

In its report titled Africa 2040 Vision of the Future, published following a forum focused on issues related to Africa’s political and economic development, held on 29 and 30 July 2019 in Berlin, the Association of Free Research and International Cooperation (AFRIC) looks back at the lack of sovereignty, a major obstacle in its view, to equitable and sustainable development of the black continent. In the report, the organization stressed the extraordinary influence that major powers such as the United States continue to exert on African countries through military and economic pressure to pursue their geopolitical objectives.

The examples are drawn from Burundi and the DRC, African states that decided to finance their elections with their funds to assert their sovereignty, demonstrate that Africa, with the means it has at its disposal, the willpower of its officials and its population, can achieve real freedom from the old habits that have made it an eternal recipient of aid; aid that has violated its dignity, a value without which it cannot achieve real freedom.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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