By Attahiru M. Jega, PhD, OFR
In the past two decades, the nature and character democratization and elections leave much to be desired in the West African region and among the ECOWAS member states. We have, no doubt, come some way from the post-independence and pre-1990s, period. However, progress has been slow, frustrating, even disappointing, approximating taking two steps forward and three steps backward.
The hopes and aspirations of Africans generally and citizens in the countries of West African region in particular, which have been significantly raised by the Third Wave of democratization in the 1990s, while not completely dashed are essentially, in second decade of the 21st Century, engulfed in a profound crisis of expectations. Democratic development is being remarkably constrained, if not obstructed, by authoritarian dispositions of elected governments and leaders. Democratic political culture and governance have not evolved sufficiently to withstand the ravages of clientelism, patrimonialism, prebendalism and negative mobilization of ethnic, communal and religious identities. Governance in particular has been characterised by weak institutional frameworks, poor leadership and the pursuit of self-serving objectives by elected officials through corrupt means.
Consequently, democratic development in the region is essentially hybrid (7 countries) – neither democratic nor authoritarian – and authoritarian (6 countries). Only 2 countries are classified a notch up, as “Flawed Democracies”, while none is considered as a “Full Democracy” (Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index 2020). The states are fragile, some woefully failing, if not totally failed, in discharging their functions and in satisfying the basic needs and aspirations of their citizens, and are also under the constant threat of reversal to authoritarian rule, of either the civilian or military variety. Tables 1 and 2 provides the ranking of ECOWAS member countries on the Economic Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Democracy Index 2020 and on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) 2019.
TABLE 1: ECOWAS COUNTRY RANKING IN EIU DEMOCRACY INDEX 2020
|Rank||Country||Political Regime Type/Classification||Index|
|1.||Cabo Verde||Flawed Democracy||7.65|
|SSA (44 Countries) Average||4.6|
Source: Economist Intelligence Unit, Democracy Index 2020. Wikipedia.webarchive
TABLE 2: ECOWAS COUNTRY RANKING: IBRAHIM INDEX OF AFRICAN GOVERNANCE (IIAG) 2019
|Country||Score over 100||2010-2019 Percentage Change||Ranking in Africa|
|African (54 countries) Average||48.8|
Source: Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) 2019. Wikipedia
Ecowas member countries rank slightly lower (4.4) than the African average (4.6) on the EIU Democracy Index. But they rank a bit higher (53.02) than African Average (48.8) on the IIAG.
TABLE 3: ECOWAS COUNTRY RANKING ON PERCEPTION OF ELECTORAL INTEGRITY INDEX 2018 – 2019
|AFRICA (49 countries) AVERAGE||48.80|
Source: Norris, P. and Max Gromping. Electoral Integrity Worldwide. PEI 7.0 May 2019, page 6.
Electoral Systems and Electoral Processes
In liberal democracies (the types that virtually all of the countries in the West African region have claimed to be), substantively, elections are the ways and means through which citizens as voters, elect their representatives (and leaders) choosing from among the candidates fielded by political parties, for governance, either as law makers in the legislatures or as policy makers and executers in the other arms of government. That is why elections are variously characterised as: “significant building blocks of democracy”; “the most important element in liberal Democracy”; the “bedrock of any genuine democracy”; etc.
To optimize citizens’ choices of representatives through the electoral process, elections need to be predicated on the fundamental principles and basic tenets of liberal democracy, as articulated in the body of literature on liberal democratic theories. Key among these are:
- Transparent preparation and conduct of elections that are free, fair and credible, by an impartial if not neutral, group of public officials, who have honesty and integrity, and who are either based in a government ministry or department, or as is increasingly the global best practice (especially among countries referred to newly democratising nations), located in an independent Election Management Body (EMB) created by constitutional provision or by an Act of Parliament. Thus, both the agents, agencies, procedures and processes involved with elections are required to have integrity, to ensure that electoral outcomes have requisite integrity to drive representative, liberal democratic development.
- Political parties, who nominate and sponsor candidates in the electoral process, from among whom citizens as voters make their choices of whom to vote for to represent them in governance, are supposed to field honest, qualified and competent people with integrity, from amongst their registered members, based on the interests, which they have aggregated and articulated in party manifestos and other electoral platforms.
- While the governmental system may be Parliamentary or Presidential (American or French or other variety), the electoral system may be either First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) System, it’s variants or the Proportional Representation (PR) System, or even varied combinations of these, referred to as mixed systems. The fundamental and basic issue is that in any case it is the people who should freely and fairly choose they want to represent them as legislators and executive officials in any governmental or electoral system.
- Governance led by people’s elected representatives should ensure that the state protects lives and properties of citizens, address their basic needs and aspirations, drive national economic growth and prosperity on the basis of equality of opportunity, and protect and defend the basic freedoms and fundamental human rights of all citizens.
Situational and Contextual Analysis
In general, in the past two decades, regular / periodic elections have been sustained in the ECOWAS member states. Election management bodies (EMBs), increasingly independent and removed from within the conventional state bureaucratic structures, have tried under very difficult circumstances to conduct free and fair elections, improving/increasing their competence, capacity, impartiality if not neutrality, and efficiency, even in some cases, cost effectiveness. Few absolute reversals have been recorded in the past 2 decades, as illustrated by the recent events in Mali and Guinea.
Fewer countries now use FPTP, single member constituency, with many using PR or mixed systems. Most now use Two Round system of elections. (See Table 4) There is wider recognition that a PR system may be more representative and more inclusive of minorities or hitherto marginalized groups. But in countries where FPTP system is entrenched as a profound electoral democratic legacy of colonialism, such as Nigeria, progress towards introducing PR or a mixed system has been frustrated.
However, serious challenges have continued to bedevil the electoral process as a whole. Elections have been more rituals than substance in the desired objectives of popular participation, representation and quality of governance. While some EMBs may have worked assiduously to conduct free and fair elections, others face serious challenges with regards to protection and defence of their legal autonomy, adequacy of funding, professionalism, use of technology, and even in terms of competence to deliver elections with integrity. And then, incumbent governments, political parties and candidates, in many if not most cases, continue to subvert the integrity of the process, through faulty candidate recruitment processes, unwholesome use of money and other fraudulent activities, and negative mobilization of ethno-religious, regional, communal and other primordial identities.
While few reversals have been witnessed, the threat of reversal is constantly present, like the sword of Damocles hanging over the democratic development processes of ECOWAS member states. Progress is akin to taking three steps forward and two steps backwards, or motion without movement.
Even more significantly, elections and their outcome have not translated into good democratic governance, with substantive value additions in the lives of the ordinary citizen. The leadership in governance, which elections have spewed out have fallen deficient in many fundamental respects; in addressing the basic needs and aspirations of the citizens, be it in protecting lives and property, guaranteeing basic human rights and freedoms and improving socioeconomic wellbeing. Thus, in many of the ECOWAS member states, poverty is endemic, corrupt practices by public officials entrenched, crises and violence almost perpetual, and national economic growth and development virtually stunted, if not arrested.
Clearly, therefore, two decades of ‘democratic elections’ in the West African region have been disappointing, and unable to put ECOWAS member countries decisively on a good trajectory of consolidated democratic development. This situation needs to change if member countries are to in the next few decades become substantively more democratic, with citizens reaping the desirable benefits and ‘dividends’ of democratic development.
Table 4: ECOWAS COUNTRIES
(Billion US Dollars)
|Type of government||Regime type||Electoral system|
|1||Benin||12 million||15.653||Presidential||Civilian||Two Round System|
|2||Burkina Faso||21 million||17.37
|Semi Presidential||Civilian||Two Round System|
|4||Cote d’Ivoire||26 million||61.35
|Presidential||Civilian||Two Round System|
|Presidential||Civilian||First Past the Post|
|Presidential||Civilian||Two Round system|
|7||Guinea||13 million||15.6||Presidential||Military||Two Round System|
|8||Guinea-Bissau||2 million||1.43||Semi Presidential||Civilian||Two Round System|
|9||Liberia||5 million||2.95||Presidential||Civilian||Two Round System|
|10||Mali||20 million||17.39||Presidential||Transition to civilian||Two Round System|
|11||Niger||24 million||13.68||Semi Presidential||Civilian||Two Round System|
|12||Nigeria||206 million||432.294||Presidential||Civilian||First Past the Post|
|13||Senegal||17 million||24.91||Semi Presidential||Civilian||Two Round System|
|14||Sierra Leone||8 million||3.865||Presidential||Civilian||Two Round System|
- https://www.indexmundi.com/benin/government type.html
Towards Reforms for Electoral Integrity and Democratic Consolidation
To record substantial improvements in deepening and consolidating electoral democracy, in its substance, not just in mere rituals, in say, the next 2 decades, there is need to focus and intensify effort towards the following:
- Improvement of the integrity of the preparation and conduct of elections. In this regard:
- only persons with unimpeachable character, who are not registered members of political parties, should be appointed into independent EMBs.
- the electoral legal framework need to be constantly reviewed with a view to strengthen the relative autonomy of the EMB, with adequate electoral accountability mechanisms.
- In particular, mixed or PR systems, which are considered more inclusive and representative, should be incorporated into the electoral legal frameworks.
- governments in the region must commit to adequate funding of elections, with little if any recourse to development partners.
- use of appropriate and adaptable technology need to be upscaled to remarkably improve the efficiency, transparency and integrity of elections.
- overwhelming negative influence of money in politics need to be curtailed, with strict requirements for transparency and accountability of campaign finances, as well as stiff penalties for abuse.
- There is need for a focus on eliminating/mitigating negative mobilization of ethnic and religious identities and the violence it induces in electoral politics, using public enlightenment as well as strong sanctions.
- Political parties need to be reformed and repositioned to ensure discharge of their proper role, in interest aggregation, interest articulation, recruitment and candidate selection for elections and leadership positions in governance; as well as appropriate citizen mobilization, as voters, for constructive engagement with the electoral process, such that they would be empowered to choose the best among those fielded by political parties for elections, devoid of the influence of money and other parochial, ethno-religious identities.
- The judiciary needs to be more proactive and assertive of its independence and impartiality in enforcing the rule of law, and in adjudication and legal interpretation, because of its crucial role in national democratic development and consolidation.
- Civil Society organizations need to engage more with the electoral and governance processes, and they need to do this with integrity.
- Elected public officials in both the legislative and executive arms of government, need to be selfless, not only in the discharge of their statutory functions, but also in support of democratic development and consolidation. They need to study and understand, the liberal democratic principles under-guarding democratic development in their countries, internalize the liberal democratic culture and act accordingly in their engagement in the political and electoral arenas, as well as in the sphere of governance. We cannot develop democracy without democrats. And both public officials and citizens need to made to become democrats who can contribute positively to democratic development, consolidation and sustainability.
Economist Intelligence Unit, Democracy Index 2020. Wikipedia.webarchive
Elections and Democratization in Nigeria: Revised Concept Note.pdf Unpublished. 2021. Unpublished. The Electoral Hub.
LeDuc, Niemi and Norris (Eds). Comparing Democracies 2: New Challenges in the Study of Elections and Voting. London: Sage Publications. 2002
Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) 2019. Wikipedia
Norris, P. and M. Gromping. Electoral Integrity Worldwide. PEI 7.0 May 2019
The author who is of the Department of Political Science, Bayero University, Kano in Nigeria made the presentation at the High-Level Seminar, Organized by the ECOWAS Parliament, on the Theme: Two Decades of Democratic Elections in ECOWAS Member States: Achievements, Challenges and the Way Forward, Winneba, Ghana, October 12 – 15, 2021. He is reachable via email@example.comfirstname.lastname@example.org. His presentation has been published in full in consideration of those who need it beyond the news, especially students of Election management.