n Africa Insight - The independence of the electoral commissions and election management bodies in an African setting - fact or fiction?

Volume 48 Number 2
  • ISSN : 0256-2804


The existentialist philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, defines conflict amongst the living as informed by competing interests. This conflict phenomenon is particularly manifested when competing for political power and influence. Consequently, a universal norm has evolved after emerging as part of the nation state system, whereby governance and political interests are mediated through the constitution, and the legislative and regulatory frameworks. On the African continent, since the introduction of democratisation during the late 1990s, aspiring candidates for political office have had to submit themselves to ‘regular, free and fair democratic elections’, as the preferred route to state power. This is a distinct departure from the previous one-party-state- system, in which the incumbent simply continued to reign after coming to power. In the new era, political succession is mediated through competitive elections, generally held every five years, and publicly funded and managed by an independent election commission (IEC) and supported by an administrative election management body (EMB). However, evaluation of the performance of the IEC-EMBs in the last decade -and- a -half has revealed serious cases of fraud, gerrymandering, abuse and sometimes collusion of the incumbent and the IEC-EMB to ensure a preferred electoral outcome. This has resulted in violent protests and political instability. The impact has affected sub-regions and forced the African Union’s Political Affairs Commission - responsible for continental electoral processes - to declare that elections have become the new site of potential conflict. Against this milieu of conflict and instability, this article critically examines the role and function of IECs and EMBs towards in consolidating just and equitable democracy on the continent.

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