2015 is a defining year for Africa`s democracy, the African Union (AU) is celebrating 52 years of unity, and more than 20 African states are going to the polls.
Zambia, Togo, Nigeria, Egypt, Benin and Sudan have peacefully voted this year with no pre or post-election violence.
In Burundi, violence has preceded the election; the country is in flames due to constitutional abuses by the incumbent. President Pierre Nkurunziza has chosen defiance, by ignoring the constitution and running for a third term. His defiance has resulted in an attempted military coup leading to the firing of the army general. The attempted coup sparked violence and bombings by pro-Nkurunziza loyalists in the capital Bujumbura.
The dysfunctional norm of African heads of states imposing themselves as presidents for life has had far reaching consequences on Africa`s entrenchment of democratic principles.
In Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir has recently extended his 26 year old rule. President al–Bashir won 94% of the total vote in Sudan`s first election since the secession in 2011. Opposition parties boycotted the election due to lack of reform and the Sudanese people protested by not turning out in numbers to vote. According to the Sudan National Election Commission (NEC), only 46% of registered voters turned out to vote. The conduct and environment in which this election was held, is a major drawback for constitutional democracy in Africa.
“It is just a political charade…the government is trying to use it to legitimize another five years … we know the reality on the ground is, there is no election in any real sense”. Raga Makawi, (Political Activist); a sentiment shared widely by opposition leaders.
Sudan has a long turbulent history; the Sudanese army and its allied militias have been fighting the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army – North, (SPLM-N) rebels in Blue Nile and South Kordofan since 2011, including a group of armed movements in Darfur since 2003.
Darfur – a region in western Sudan – has been devastated by fighting since marginalized, mainly non-Arab tribes, took up arms in 2003 against the Arab-led government in Khartoum. The main rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army, splintered into two factions, the Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minawi (SLA–MM) led by Suliman Acrua Minnawi, and the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid SLA-AW, under the leadership of Abdel Wahid Mohammed al-Nur.
The SLA-MM signed the Darfur Peace Agreement in 2006. The agreement saw to the assigning of Minnawi to the position of Presidential adviser. Minnawi was isolated and made irrelevant as adviser and has since returned to fight against Omar al-Bashir. The rebel groups want the President ousted; they have joined the calls for intervention by the international community to nullify the election results and arrest the president for crimes against humanity.
Manipulation of sectarian and tribal divisions still hampers real prospects of peace; they are used to propagate divisions for political gain. The volatile state of Sudan has a long history; its future however lies in how the government observes the constitution moving forward.
Often the media misconstrues the Sudan debacle, making religious and ethnic differences the core of Sudan`s tension. The determinant to Sudan`s challenges is to a lesser extent bridging the sectarian and tribal variations, but the real determinant of Sudan’s future lies in how it regards its constitution. The presidency edits the supreme document like a eulogy; this makes it difficult for rebel or opposition leaders to trust the promise of a coalition. The abuse and disregard of the constitution in Sudan is one of the biggest tragedies befalling the nation. The culture of constitutionalism has been long lost in the institutions designed to uphold it.
President al-Bashir rose to power in a 1989 bloodless coup and declared himself Commander in Chief in 1993. Since that time, and despite the efforts of pro-democracy movements to change the status quo, al-Bashir has managed to maintain his monopoly on power.
In November 2013 President al-Bashir called on the Constitutional Emergency Committee (CEC) to draft constitutional amendments. A total of eighteen articles in the 2005 Interim National Constitution were amended. Three of these amendments were critical;
These amendments allow the president to have a circle of loyal governors in a regime protected by the NISS. The only amendment that seeks to achieve peace for Sudan is the DDPD. It came at a time when Darfur rebel groups requested to open the framework agreement for negotiations in a peace process mediated by the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP).
President al-Bashir`s ruling National Congress Party (NCP), controlled 90% of the 450 parliamentary seats prior its landslide 94% win in the April 2015 elections. With this kind of majority, al-Bashir`s next term will be governed by the NCP’s manifesto.
Sudan’s opposition parties are on the receiving end of this autocracy. They have protested – in vain – against the constitutional amendments, with members of the opposition People’s Congress Party (PCP) walking out of parliament during voting proceedings.
In Sudan`s status quo, neither protests nor boycotts seem to influence positive change. The African Union (AU) is continuing its concerted efforts towards the process of building effective response mechanisms; this will assist the continent in responding more effectively to constitutional abuses and conflicts within states. “President Omar Al-Bashir is the only sitting head of state wanted for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity” (Barnes 2011).
Constitutional abuses are one of the greatest setbacks facing democratic governance in Africa today; the lack of respect for constitutions is democracy`s greatest tragedy. Sudan had a one man election-the constitution was crafted in favour of the incumbent.
Africa needs to do more to consolidate her democracy. A deliberate investment in civic, private sector, government and institutional partnerships is paramount for building sustainable democracies. Deliberate steps in fostering these partnerships will give Africa more formidable processes in enhancing and strengthening democracy. For Africa to have a thriving democracy, these synergies will prove crucial in strengthening states and continental institutions` democratic capacity.