Elections provide room for either the change of leadership or the retaining of the leadership which was there. Many African countries now profess that they have robust democracies and because of these they have elections as a tenet for democratic principles. When the elections are held, disputes often arise, and the animosity that emanates from such is at times too hard to fathom.
This has led many critics to be of the view that perhaps the form of democracy that was imposed on Africans due to colonial rule is not compatible with Africans. Others would argue with this line of thought, when they cite examples like Botswana where democracy is flourishing and is getting to be one of the strongest in Africa. They say that it is simply because African leaders have developed a very toxic form of refusing to leave power which is called the "sit-tight syndrome."
Democracy in Zambia has been improving, although there have been setbacks in the rule of incumbent president Edgar Lungu. In Zambia, the issue of electoral disputes rose in the last election, which saw Edgar Lungu triumphing over opponent Hakainde Hichilema by a very narrow margin. Hichilema raised the red flag after losing, alleging that the election had been rigged. For him, such a claim makes sense considering how narrow the margin was which he lost by. He challenged the results in the courts of law, but his applications were dismissed. It is an issue which has raised some credibility issues for Edgar Lungu, but he has been consolidating his power over time.
Electoral disputes remain a bane of African politics. There are instances where the world views a certain election in a certain African country as a step towards progression, only to be astounded when allegations of vote-rigging spring up and often times the clashes that result from these are deadly. African leaders have become very cunning, some of them, for example Robert Mugabe, employ various and unorthodox means of getting an unfair advantage in elections. The opposition's normal and impulsive reaction is to say the vote has been rigged. The opposition's supporters get entangled in violent clashes with the police and military. It is a usual narrative in Africa, one that results from electoral disputes.
The major source of these electoral fights is because of the underhand tactics which incumbent leaders use to remain in power, even in the face of mounting pressure to cede power. African leaders have gained the notoriety of refusing to relinquish power, they want to be in power forever. Because they use the advantage of being in power, they tilt the balance to favour their outcomes. The opposition being the opposition, have nothing to leverage on. Even in circumstances like Kenya's, where Raila Odinga decided to take the route of boycotting, it works to a very small effect.
In Liberia, a fresh electoral dispute has arisen. The runoff that was supposed to be carried out between George Weah for the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the incumbent Vice President Joseph Boakai for the governing Unity Party has been put on hold, with the Supreme Court having a decision to set a date for the runoff or to put it on hold indefinitely until the dispute is resolved. The dispute has been brought to the attention of Liberia, Africa and the world at large by The Liberty Party's Charles Brumskine, who is arguing that the election has been tainted by irregularities and fraud. These claims were supported by Boakai, but Weah denied them. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's name has been included in this, with reports that she meddled in the credibility of the elections.
In Kenya, there is uncertainty because of the re-run which was boycotted by Odinga, but in which Kenyatta won by a massive landslide. In 2008, Zimbabwe was locked in a state of chronic political uncertainty when Robert Mugabe called for a sham re-run after reports had said that he had lost the first round. Many opposition supporters were targeted this time as they were abducted, tortured and in other instances they even got killed. It took many months to resolve, and up to now the damage has been irreparable.
The electoral disputes that are in Africa are a direct result of flawed democracies. It is proving to be difficult to hold fair, credible elections in harmony. Other African countries have progressed in this regard, as was seen in Ghana's last election. The crisis in Gambia had threatened to destabilize the nation as Yahya Jammeh was reluctant to accept that he had been defeated. The examples are quite endless. What is evident is that Africa still has a long way to go when it comes to the issue of elections.
In many African countries, elections have been relegated to being a farce, to being a "mere formality," as Paul Kagame once remarked this year when he won the elections. African countries where elections are being difficult must take a leaf from their counterparts who have improved.