Why Donald Trump’s Refusal to Concede Undermines Democracy in Africa?
Author: Jerry Locula
TRANSLATED INTO Spanish BY SILVANA GORDILLO GONZÁLEZ
United States Congress in 1845, selected the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November (timeanddate.com, n. d) to elect all public officials during election year. In 2020, the elections took place on 3 November.
However, with the coronavirus pandemic bewilderingly unleashing havoc in the world’s most powerful nation, total results of votes cast weren’t expected on elections night as it has happened in previously recorded elections in American history. The counting of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of absentee ballots and in-mail voting across the US were two principal factors responsible for delayed tallying and projecting the winner of the presidential election.
Consequently, all eyes and ears were fervently on the remaining states; especially the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania (Ballotpedia, 2020), which were yet totally their respective votes. Former United States’ Vice President, Joe Biden was in the lead but as prescribed by Article II, Section I, Clause II of the United States’ Constitution revised by amendments 12th and 23rd (NCLS, n. d), Biden required an overall 270 electoral college votes to win the white house.
On Saturday, 7 November 2020, when media outlets projected that Joe Biden would win the 20 electoral college votes from Pennsylvania, it became crystal clear that he has already won the election. Today, Biden’s electoral votes stand at 306 (Becket, Quinn, Segers, 2020), 36 more electoral votes than what requires to win the race.
Weeks have elapsed since the elections were held and Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes qualified Joe Biden for the presidency but President Donald Trump has yet to concede defeat as customarily prudent. More certifications of various states’ (Fessler, 2020) votes have further confirmed Biden as President-elect.
I agree that when a losing candidate concedes defeat during the presidential election in America, the concession is not binding by the constitution neither by any related legislation to the election (Wolf, 2020).
Nevertheless, it must be underscored that the concession of a losing candidate in the US presidential election is a genuine congratulations to the winner but at the same time, it is an inspiration for supporters to see their country as a common denominator to move forward. Americans have faith in this tradition and even the global spectators from afar.
Democracy, elections, and US foreign policy
The United States has for too long maintained its fingerprints everywhere in the world for and as a proponent of democracy but particularly with visibility all over Africa that I know so well. Propagating its message loud and clear – unceasingly beating the drum far and wide as it pitches democracy as unbending foreign policy, America has long emerged as a champion of the world’s greatest democracy at home and aboard.
In October, barely three weeks to the US 2020 elections, Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo sounded a caveat by announcing series of measures the United States would take against what he called individuals “interfering in the democratic process and sponsoring electoral violence” in Africa (Chanda, 2020).
Many African rulers have always blamed America for melting in African affairs. But as part of its foreign policy, the US has continuously forewarned of some sorts of international travel bands, sanctions, visa restrictions, or withholding aid package to African countries that renege on executing free, transparent, and credible elections.
The conduct of the regular presidential election as permitted by the 12th amendment of the United States Constitution (Legal Information Institution, n. d), allows and protects said procedure for duly electing a president and vice president; consequently replacing provision in Article II, Section I, in which the electoral college had originally functioned.
Also, the holding of free and fair elections; be it congressional or representatives, whether in midterm or regular elections, global audience; particularly the paramours and advocates of democracy have always applauded America for this effort. Respect for the rule of law, freedom of expression as guaranteed by the first amendment, and freedom of association primarily for the development of ideas and principles, have been at the heart of American democratic culture.
I mentioned the ‘electoral college’ above. In as much as I personally hold that the more than two hundred years old electoral college system maybe imperial, for the fact that a candidate can win the electoral votes and becomes US president without necessarily winning the popular votes, the greater majority of Americans believe in this system.
Accordingly, I am convinced that the American democratic culture which I have authentically followed for 20 years, is a remarkable institution that remains progressive and empowering.
American democratic principle potentially offers a far better hope and aspiration for its citizens than entrenched jungle democracy which comprises of brutal military rule, recurrence coup d’états, constitutional change, perpetuation in power, election violence, militarization, and vote riggings that occur in much of Africa in greater half of the 20th century and yet two decades in the new millennian.
Africa versus the US in electoral and crisis management
Military rule, constitutional change, (Bailie, n. d) encumbered with vicious internal and sometimes external elimination policies of both friends and foes, have formed the chemistry of the majority of African governance system. Especially, during the 1980s and up to the present, democracy has continuously had contradictory connotations to most African rulers and their ruling loyalists.
Nevertheless, electorates in the United States may take for granted the right they freely and duly exercise every four years to elect a president, vice president, congresswomen and men and representatives during regular or mid-term elections at national and states’ levels. Sadly, this is not the case in much of Africa.
In Africa, election means different things not only to voters but also to the voted. For those of us who valued the tenets of democracy and have always advocated for regular, transparent elections, participation, freedom of expression, and assembly in Africa, often but praiseful envy the United States.
Nothing is ever thinkable or probable that halts regular elections in America. Even in the midst of the most brutal pandemic in a hundred-year history that has unprecedentedly devastated America than any other country on earth, elections are still being held in America. This is democracy.
Another reality is, no matter how distinguished an incumbent US president serves when it’s time for the election, it must happen. When it’s time for an outgoing President to take leave of the oval office, he must go. This is a well-respected system by all. This is democracy.
Contrarily, if an African country was the one hard-hit by the pandemic as it has done to the United States, this could be an opportunity call for the government in power and the ruling elites to postpone elections, not simply because of the lack of infrastructure but as a result of corruption and gluttony to remain in power.
It is worth noting that the pandemic hasn’t affected Africa largely. However, in countries where there are current and upcoming elections in Africa, level political playing fields remain absent. It is not also just about hosting elections, but equal opportunity for all political actors, transparency, and credibility matter the most.
Dictatorship in Africa
Take a glimpse at a few of the dozens of countries where constitutional change, militarization, election violence, frauds, and other undemocratic doctrines have callously opposed democratic prospects in Africa:
In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni has been in power since 26 January 1986 (BBC News, 2016) to present. Militarization, intimidation has never given chance to free and fair elections in that East African State.
Not too far, in the 2016 election, indicative of Museveni’s dictatorial tendency since taking power, there were reports and eyewitness accounts of widespread terrorization, crackdown on opposition candidates, their strongholds, and harassments (Kaka, 2016) by state security forces.
As I letter this article, there is an upcoming election in Uganda, and the state’s police on 18 November 2020, arrested a popular opposition presidential candidate, Mr. Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu (Ntale, 2020). Known as Bobi Wine for his stage performance, the 38 years old parliamentarian of Kyadondo County East in Wakiso District was first arrested by security forces on 3 November, minutes after he was certified by the Ugandan electoral commission to contest the 14 January 2021 election.
Detention of political opponents without due process and using the military, police at any given place and time to terrorize potent opposition figures and their supporters during election time often take center stage in Uganda. This is how the political concoction of not only Uganda but in much of Africa looks like during election seasons.
Eritrea, another East African country, is also ruled by an obstinate dictator. Isaias Afwerki has been in power since 1993 following the country’s independence. Poverty, the absence of good governance principles; particularly arbitrary arrest and illegal detention of political challengers, lack of press freedom, involuntary and enforced disappearance, and other forms of human rights violations (Amnesty International, 2019) are at the helm of the regime.
Since its independence from Ethiopia when Isaias walked to national power, there have never been elections conducted in the country and the constitution has never been implemented (Human Rights Watch, 2005).
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been president of this West Coast Central African Country since 3 August 1979 when he first ceased power from his uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema. As in many African dictatorships, the constitution allows Teodoro to rule by decree, which is arguably a legal dictatorship. Legal dictatorship? Not only a shame but a scorn.
Teodoro has served seven strict and uninterrupted terms without a chance for democracy to breathe, and his so-called political party, the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea has incessantly governed every institution in the country.
Until recent months and years, dictators in Togo, Sudan, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Gambia, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Angola just to name a few, were clinched to power for a very long time. Of the 54 independent countries and two de facto states in Africa, there are nations where all forms of repressive regimes continue to rule apart from those already named. Today, in Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, Chad, Rwanda, Djibouti, again; only to mention a few, regimes in these African countries continue to rule through some form of dictatorships.
The majority of African leaders often embezzle their countries’ national resources to build for themselves fortunes at the detriment of the electorates. This is why most African rulers prefer their obituaries to be announced while they are still in power as a means to evade justice due to fear owing to greed, corruption, and exploitations they institutionalized throughout their hegemony.
The face of elections in most of Africa and the case of disenfranchisement
Most African elections have from time to time been marred by militarization, arbitrary arrests, and intimidation as a way to mount fear. Often, during election weeks and in most cases, on the eve of vote casting, the overnight deployment of heavy military is conducted; especially in the stronghold of oppositions which has the propensity to scare voters from leaving their homes not alone to go to polling precincts.
Very frequently, oppositions have complained and accused the power that be of pre-marked ballots in the interest of candidates contesting on ruling party’s tickets. Vote riggings have reportedly been commonplace in many African elections.
Given the violence that is associated with elections in most African countries, some families often moved to a third country; preferably a neighboring state to escape potential violence that often erupts in the course of elections.
Reminiscent of election associated violence, in late July, a friend of mine intentionally called advising that I consider temporarily relocating my family to a third country pending the 8 December 2020 senatorial elections in Liberia that has already been greeted by violence (Kokoi, 2020) in the campaign season.
But there is something wrong with leaving your country during elections. Temporary relocation of the family from their country of residence to a third country for security reasons during electoral periods in most African countries has ultimately disenfranchised citizens of voting rights. The fact that African countries are yet to institute absentee voting possibilities as in most western countries including the United States, is one-way voters are excluded from exercising their voting rights in many parts of Africa.
However, at the end of the day, one can reasonably argue that security comes first, and it’s only judicious to play safe. After all, your own vote can be a blessing or a curse but, in most cases, a curse because of the elected government’s failure to deliver the treasures of good governance to the electorates.
The message Trump’s refusal to concede tells African dictators
President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede defeat sends a message that is appropriate and sweet to the ears of African dictators. Despite Biden’s win, President Trump continues to undertake unsuccessful legal bottles calming voters’ frauds amid translucent certifications of votes cast in the 2020 elections. The US Department of Justice in fact, categorically announced no voter frauds (CBS News, 2020), while some states’ high courts have also ruled likewise.
From the backdrop of dictatorship in Africa, if the United States that serves as police in protecting democratic elections can arrive at a point where its sitting president has refused to concede, I think it is petrifying. The concession of a losing candidate is a positive attitude and custom that further legitimizes the election results, serves as a pathway to unity, and gives radiance to democracy.
Therefore, it is a dangerous predisposition Trump has availed and it obviously puts democratic practice in jeopardy; especially in Africa where democracy and elections are viewed from different political, dictatorial, and constitutional lenses.
Let me be blunt that President Trump’s defiance to concede defeat in addition to his disbelief in American democratic institutions further exposed how delicate democracy is, and everything must be done from time to time to protect it. All American democratic institutions; especially congress and the house of representatives must embark on frantic efforts not only to preserve the democracy they have grown over hundreds of years but to also prevent a future Trump from molesting democracy.
In many parts of Africa, America has continuously been castigated as melting in the domestic affairs of the continent as it relates to American foreign policy in terms of democratic tenets. Most dictators in Africa believe that the United States has been forcing western democracy on the continent where such democracy is unworkable.
Hence, the insane political scene orchestrated by Trump in the 2020 presidential election only gives rise to more undemocratic atmospheres in Africa where activists of democracy have most times used America’s democratic practice as a decent example. But now, America, the world’s greatest democracy is losing its place on the world’s stage in terms of democratic legitimacy.
Once dictators begin to celebrate America’s 2020 electoral impasse, enforcement of US foreign policy with respect to democratic culture including elections will now begin to face more unfavorable gestures. Rulers and dictators alike in Africa will increase telling America to first put its house in order before fixing someone else’s in Africa.
Upholding the long tradition in terms of concession losing American presidential candidates have articulated, has not only always legitimized the American elections. It has also permanently strengthened America’s democracy and henceforward built public trust in democracy worldwide.
Another disturbing aspect of Trump was, apart from his negation to concede, he also did not signal interest in early transition until 23 November when he finally announced on Twitter that he was approving the plan for his staff to begin “initial protocols” (The New York Time, 2020) for the process.
So, dictators in Africa maybe carousing in their closets on the ground that at the doorsteps of the proponent of democracy, the very democracy is disintegrating and they [African dictators] were winners and are now manifestly winning.
Donald Trump will exit the white house on Wednesday, 20 January 2021 on Biden’s inauguration day. But obviously, the global respect that American election demands and deserves, and America’s fight for democracy all over the world may now have a deep dark cloud hanging over it. Trump has fractured and compromised the integrity of American democracy.
Whether Trump attends Biden’s inauguration or not; or whether he concedes at a later date which seems unlikely, the damage is already done. While it is not a big deal for Trump to concede that he lost the 2020 election because it is not a legal obligation, the fact remains that his objection does not only catastrophically hurts and undermines democracy, it squarely legitimizes the corrupt place and undemocratic standing of dictators in Africa.
Jerry Locula hails from the West African State of Liberia. He is a peace, human rights and social justice activist, and former Human Rights Officer of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. His nearly six years of work in South Sudan was primarily monitoring and documenting war crimes and crimes against humanity and advocating for the rule of law. Jerry’s technical expertise assisted South Sudan Central Equatoria State’s Assembly to enact “Girl Child Education Art” consequently guaranteeing the rights of girls to education in that country. While in South Sudan, he helped fostered grassroot peace initiative between fighting forces and saw the return of peace in Yei River State. Back in his home country, Liberia, Jerry worked with the Independent National Commission on Human Rights as Director for the Department of Complaints Investigation and Monitoring where he spearheaded major investigations and reported on high profile cases of human rights violations in the country. He also worked with the Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Programme of the Lutheran Church in Liberia as Human Rights and Governance Officer at which time he conducted training in conflict resolution and human rights for crossed sessions of the populations including law enforcement personnel, traditional and community leaders. He led efforts in settling major land disputes between towns and villages in Liberia that resulted in peaceful coexistence. In 2005 and 2011 presidential and general elections in Liberia, Jerry traveled all over the country teaching citizens; especially women and young people about not only their rights to vote, but the power of their votes. Currently, Jerry is Founder and CEO of the Locula Foundation; a nonprofit organization he has set up to promote social justice, human rights and empower communities in Liberia. Jerry holds Master’s in International Law and Human Rights from the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org