The year 2023 has begun with democratic elections for some African countries. Elections in every part of the world usually come with moods. Most times it’s a mood of hope and determination to bring to power a leader the people deem fit to take the seat of office. Other times, it is a mood of judgment where the electorate feel empowered to oust underperforming leaders with their ballot, even if it means seating a candidate that may not likely take them to their supposed promised lands. These are the basic mood of elections in many societies. But in Africa, there is always more.
This year, seven democratic elections are slated to happen across the continent- in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Madagascar, South Sudan and Madagascar. Election tensions are already building in some of these countries as voters get ready to exercise their constitutional rights.
For a country like Nigeria that has conducted its presidential elections, the mood is that of faith turned to despair as citizens dispute the electoral result that has named Presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the President-Elect. Not just them, leading opposition parties have also contested the result, accusing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of massive rigging following widespread complaints of a general malfunctioning of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), the device that was supposed to guarantee a credible election.
But the BVAS failure was not the only thing that changed the mood of elections in the West African country. There was tribal discrimination, deliberate marginalisation and threats to harm voters and even electoral officials by some party representatives across the country. Also, political hoodlums threatened many voters across the country to vote for their candidates in a bid to bring into power persons of certain tribes. Whereas, in some regions of the country, there were reports of how people were technically disenfranchised from voting by other violent voters. Thugs disrupted polling at some voting stations.
Nigeria has over 371 ethnic groups with Yoruba, Ibo and Hausa as its core ethnic groups. Technically, the country has the highest number of ethnic groups in the continent. While some groups have managed to dominate their regions, others experience marginalisation by neighbouring ethnic groups. But the subject of tribal sentiments during elections is not just a Nigerian problem. It happens in nearly all African countries.
A research paper supervised by J.O Okogu (PhD), a Senior Lecturer at Delta State University (Abraka), Nigeria, titled Tribalism as a Foiled Factor of Africa Nation-Building, submits that Africans in times past had suffered enormous attacks, injuries, losses, deaths, and destruction of properties and human skills and ideas due to the presence of tribalistic views in the governance of the Africa state. The paper defined tribalism as the state of being organised and advocating for a tribe. From a cultural context, it further defines the term as a way of thinking or behaving in which people are more loyal to their tribes than to their friends, countries or social groups.
This is true in light of current electoral occurrences across several regions of Africa. A typical example is the case of Jenifer Efidi, a Nigerian voter that was stabbed in the face by political thugs on Saturday, February 25th, at a polling unit in Lagos, during the presidential and national assembly elections.
Recently, DR Congo began the process of voter registration in preparation for its upcoming elections in December. As in the case of Nigeria, some of the marginalised tribes, particularly the Tutsis, began to receive threats from other groups so much so that they had to be guarded by armed police in groups as they registered to vote, according to a Reuters report.
This happened in the eastern town of Nyangezi, in Eastern DR Congo. A heated campaign of threats and violence was aimed at excluding these groups from exercising their civic rights. “One newly registered voter at the enrolment centre had a bruised face and cradled her wrist after she was allegedly beaten with sticks and rocks by youths on her way to sign up,” the report stated.
Tribalism is an agelong problem that Africans have had to bear. It comes into play during employment preferences in some organisations, marriage choice selection, and in nearly all aspects of life. As long as Africans continue to practise tribalism-consciously or subconsciously- during elections, African democracy will remain undermined.