Tags: Africa | Offers | Poll | Monitors | U.S.

Africa Offers Poll Monitors to U.S.

Thursday, 16 November 2000 12:00 AM

Some of America's traditional critics are having a hard time hiding their glee at the drama unfolding in Florida. Still, most African analysts and officials are worried about the possible consequences of the growing constitutional crisis in the U.S., because of the country's significant influence on the international scene.

With each passing day in the election saga, the U.S.'s international rating is rapidly being eroded in many Third World countries, particularly in Africa. Some of them have already offered to send their own poll monitors and experts to solve the mystery of the 43rd U.S. president.

"Perhaps it is time for Africa also to send former presidents, like myself, to monitor the process," Kenneth Kaunda, former Zambian head of state, said at a media forum in Lusaka last weekend.

Noting that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was frequently sent to Africa and other continents to monitor elections, Kaunda described the post-election situation in Florida as "chaos" and even suggested that the U.S. administration may need international help.

A government-controlled daily in Zimbabwe, The Herald, published a letter Tuesday to the effect that American and other Western poll monitors, whom it described as "self- appointed, self-styled high priests of human rights and democracy," always used to be sent to developing countries.

"The hypocrisy and double standards of these so-called democratic institutions is never called into question when it comes to developing countries and yet none has ever told the world of the distortions to democracy arising out of power of the media and the power of money in the industrialized countries," the paper added.

In an earlier comment, The Herald claimed that "The drama and intrigue of election irregularity allegations is not a monopoly of the Third World, as elections in America have proved."

Even at first glance, it is clear to see that the most critical comments and reactions in the African press have come from those countries whose elections were pronounced more or less flawed by Western observers.

As expected, this was the case with Zimbabwe, where parliamentary elections took place in June of this year. President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU (PF) party secured a narrow victory over its main opposition rivals, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Most Western observers criticized the country's violent pre- election campaign, which resulted in the deaths of more than 30 people, mostly MDC supporters, including several white farmers.

"Even by Third World standards, the irregularities and alleged electoral fraud are inexcusable," said the Panafrican News Agency (PANA) in its analysis of the U.S. presidential election.

In an article titled "Democracy Dealt A 'Low Blow' On Home Soil," PANA claimed that "democratic behavior is never a genetically conditioned, innate or inherited faculty that can be transplanted."

PANA also warned, "It is hoped that wrong, unintended signals have not been given to power-hungry despots to cite the American 'mistake' in engineering electoral confusion for personal interests in the Third World."

Most African analysts are at a loss to understand how a candidate who supposedly won the popular vote could still lose the U.S. presidency because of Electoral College votes. In most African and Third World countries, a "one man, one vote" system decides the fate of presidential candidates.

In an editorial, The Point, a newspaper in Banjul, Gambia, questioned the wisdom of a system in which one can numerically defeat his opponent nationwide and then have to submit to the Electoral College.

"We are encouraged and, in fact, sometimes coerced to ensure that our democracy is representative of the will of the people ... and for people to be governed by consent through direct participation," wrote the paper.

"We are sure that many Americans harbor these thoughts, more so in the context of the current 'democratic crisis' prevailing in Florida."

A Nigerian paper, the Post Express, based in Lagos, also felt that the difference between the popular vote and the Electoral College votes was confusing for most common people, not only in Africa.

According to this paper, "The stalemate in the presidential polls is a chink in the pride of Americans [that] demonstrates clearly human fallibility.

"It would appear that the interest of corporate groups who provide most of the electoral funds is being allowed to distort the democratic will of the citizens. ... The world cannot but wonder whether Americans were so comfortable and have therefore taken democracy for granted that they would sanely exchange a party of prosperity of the people for a party of prosperity of the monied men.

"What is indisputable is that the Americans are also human after all. ... They need to pay as much attention to democracy as everybody else in the world," the Post Express concluded.

Several African newspapers pointed out that the post-electoral developments in Florida, particularly the public debates, were a valuable lesson for many African leaders.

A Senegalese daily, Le Soleil, wrote, "America's lesson deserves to be emulated by the category of Africans always ready to hold a country to ransom to contest a verdict."

A similar view was expressed by a Kenyan daily, the Daily Nation. The paper noted: "Our habit seems to be to ignore every complaint made by candidates. ... True, many complaints are too flimsy to waste time on, but many others are serious and require immediate action."

Some African newspapers have carried an interview with the president of the Washington-based Foundation for Democracy in Africa, Fred Oladeinde. He said, "Fledgling democracies in Africa have a lot to learn from the hitches emerging from the U.S. presidential election, including the fact that electoral problems can be resolved peacefully."

Most African analysts believe that the Americans will manage to pull out of their post-electoral mess sooner rather than later. However, a large number of Africans also strongly feel that it is not just the Third World countries that can learn a lesson from the drama in the Sunshine State.

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Some of America's traditional critics are having a hard time hiding their glee at the drama unfolding in Florida. Still, most African analysts and officials are worried about the possible consequences of the growing constitutional crisis in the U.S., because of the...
Thursday, 16 November 2000 12:00 AM
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