Lessons from Electoral Management and Processes in West Africa

Image: Flickr, John Atherton

This paper is based on case studies from six West African countries (Republic of Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone).

It points out key historical and material forces that helped frame and shape the electoral management and processes of these countries. These are: the state as a site for zero-sum politics; the progressive violation of the principle of isolation of administration from politics; and the combination of political and legal influences that help foster a culture of impunity.

In reviewing national debates over strengthening electoral management and processes against the background of political reforms aimed at the democratic management of diversity, the paper focuses on five main challenges. These are, respectively: the preferred model of electoral management bodies (EMBs); the cost of elections; electoral dispute adjudication; EMBs’ partnerships with state and non-state stakeholders; and presidential term limits.

The trend is towards adopting one of the following EMB models: the single independent (Republic of Benin, Ghana and Nigeria); two or more independent (Sierra Leone); and hybrid or mixed (Cape Verde and Senegal). These three models seek to strengthen EMBs by entrenching them in constitutions (Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone); or creating them through ordinary processes of legislation such as electoral laws, as in much of francophone Africa. An apparent conflict of interest among incumbent public political elective officebearers remains a stumbling block in legislating reforms to make EMBs independent of party and political control. The paper also examines challenges confronting EMBs, including the increasing cost of elections, controversy over electoral dispute adjudication and institutionalising partnerships with stakeholders.

Noting gains and reversals in electoral management since the 1990s, the paper concludes that the major challenges facing African EMBs revolve around contradictions between the political economy and mainstream ethical values.