Africa, Headlines

POLITICS-AFRICA: Civil Groups Question the Merits of Foreign-Funded Polls

Noel Kokou Tadegnon

LOME, Togo, Apr 30 2003 (IPS) - Debates about foreign financing of elections in West Africa is beginning to take the central political stage, as civil groups question the merits of such funding. Take Mali’s 2002 elections, for example, which cost about 34 million U.S. dollars. More than a quarter of that amount, or 9 million U.S. dollars, was footed by foreign institutions and countries, according to Abderhamane Niang, an election consultant from Mali. ”Our elections are so expensive that they always drain our resources, but the foreign funding, which we receive for running such elections, undermine our national sovereignty,” Niang argues.

"West Africans should take their destiny into their hands and finance their elections, not foreigners," he says. To hold its parliamentary elections last year, Burkina Faso received 300,000 U.S. dollars from France, 1.1 million U.S. dollars from The Netherlands, 192,000 U.S. dollars from Sweden, 42,000 U.S. dollars from Canada, and 75,000 U.S. dollars from the Intergovernmental Agency of French-Speaking Communities. The money was used to pay observers, finance advertisements, and train electoral officials, as well as pay for equipment for the National Independent Electoral Commission. When the Togolese government encountered problems with funding its legislative elections last year, it revised its election budget downward. Initially set at about 7 million U.S. dollars, it was lowered to about 4.5 million U.S. dollars. Sega Sow, an election observer, notes, ”We need to think in terms of national sovereignty and set a deadline by which we’ll be able to finance our own elections”. ”It is the responsibility of our governments and citizens to agree on the need to hold credible elections. To begin with, African countries must find a way to finance the elections,” says Alele El hadj Habibou of the Independent Network for the Supervision of Elections in Africa, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which specialises in observing elections. Participants at last month’s forum, ”Critical Analysis of Election Processes in Africa”, held in Lome, the Togolese capital, recommended creation of a "voting-equipment bank", to be financed by African organisations. This equipment, they said, could be shared by several countries and reduce the need for each country to pay for its own. They also urged the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of the West African States (ECOWAS) and the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) to create a special fund to pay for election monitoring. The 200 participants, representing some dozen African countries, agreed that their governments lacked the resources to fully pay for elections. Falilou Kane, president of the Independent Network for the Supervision of Elections in Africa, said Africa’s democratic process over the past decade had not been perfect. ”The bodies responsible for organising the elections lack clear goals,” he argued. El Hadj Mbodj, a UN official, said the multi-party democracy introduced in Africa ”has been poorly enacted and poorly understood”. And for majority of Africans, he said, ”the democratic struggle consists simply of seizing power”. ”We still remember what happened in Cote d’Ivoire, where violence erupted during the 2000 presidential election,” says Koffi Mattey, a teacher in Lome. ”What is most deplorable about Africa’s elections is the fear of what may follow in their aftermaths, especially, the spectre of violence,” said Akila-Esso Boko, the Togolese Minister of the Interior. ”The election process could help consolidate our communities and keep the peace if only they would take into account our common interests”. Ibrahim Boubakar Keita, Speaker of Mali’s National Assembly, who is also the president of the Union of African Parliaments, deplored the lack of confidence possessed by most political actors in the bodies that organise elections in Africa. Niang believes poorly-organised elections serve as a pretext for political conflict, which, he argues, weaken African countries and slow down development. According to him, making election laws clearer and conducting polls properly make the holding of elections more credible. ”We want to hold elections which don’t end up in turmoil. Today, elections are universally-accepted as the only way to hand over power smoothly in a democratic dispensation,” said Koffi Sama, the Prime Minister of Togo. ”In this respect, we must remember that all elections, whether local, regional or national, should lead toward three objectives: strengthening national cohesion, respecting the laws of the land and consolidating political dialogue,” said Keita.

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