As elections become more regular in Africa, so has intolerance of diversity

Lusaka, Zambia 6 November 2014 - Elections have become more regular in Africa, but no less problematic, often exacerbating the challenge of diversity. This is according to findings of the third edition of the African Governance Report (AGRIII), a joint report of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and UNDP which promotes electoral inclusiveness, social cohesion and diversity in African countries.

Elections have become combustive tools in the electoral process in some African countries, with debilitating consequences for the management of diversity in Africa as the mobilization of sectarian identities of ethnic, regional, gender and religious forces are undertaken especially at election periods to win votes.

Speaking during the launch of the report in Lusaka on 28th October, ECA Southern Africa Office Director, Said Adejumobi said that elections in Africa were marred by conflict and divisions “Rather than bring us together, be an exercise in fanfare and create social harmony and cohesion; elections largely splinter us apart, create divisions and antagonisms, polarize society, exacerbate our differences and generate conflicts” he said. 

The report which covers 40 African countries found that most African countries prefer a shift from 'first past the post' electoral systems to mixed forms of proportional representation system. The report makes several recommendations to reform the electoral system in many African countries to better manage diversity and promote inclusiveness.

Among others the report recommends for affirmative action policies to promote the inclusion of minorities and vulnerable groups in the electoral process in particular, women, youth and the disabled. 

It also recommends for constitutional guarantee of inclusiveness, fairness and justice for all communities and groups in African countries.

Meanwhile, Minister of Home Affairs Ngosa Simbyakula during his key note address said elections could become costly liabilities, than opportunities if not properly managed. “It is for this reason that since 1991, Zambia has been committed to holding regular, free and fair elections based on secret balloting, the rule of law and respect for fundamental freedoms, and human rights,  as provided for by the constitution”

Simbyakula said that although the continent held elections more regularly; diversity and inclusiveness remained un-addressed. “Women hold just one-fifth of parliamentary seats and ministerial positions in sub-Saharan Africa and we only have two female presidents in the entire continent” he said calling for deliberate policies to address inclusiveness.

The launch was chaired by Justice Irene Mambilima Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Zambia.

UN Resident Coordinator for Zambia, Janet Rogan in her remarks reiterated the need for electoral reforms on the continent and pledged continued support to improve electoral and democratic institutions in Zambia. The launch was attended government officials, member states, civil society and other stakeholders.