Elections are a diversion to keep Africans happy, thinking they’re choosing their rulers

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Elections are a diversion to keep Africans happy, thinking they’re choosing their rulers

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By Jenerali Ulimwengu
THE EAST AFRICAN

Posted Thursday, December 15 2016 at 14:47
In Summary

  • If, from time to time, something neighbouring the impossible can be made to happen, wouldn’t the doubting Africans renew their faith in a moribund idea?


"Ex Africa semper aliquid novi,” says the Latin adage. Always something new from Africa. The Romans of antiquity were obviously referring to the never ending bounty coming from the continent, the flora and fauna, the strange-looking humans, their odd behaviour and traditions – things they knew very little about and which could not be explained by anything they knew then.

That adage still holds good, even though Africa is very much a known quantity, and there are few secrets it can keep from the world. But we can surprise the world by springing on it phenomena like Yahya Jammeh, the soldier boy who took power in a putsch more than two decades ago.

Every tongue on the continent was wagging. The thing was not that the dictator had lost an election after being beaten by the opposition candidate Adama Barrow, because that is not news, it being assumed that all along he had been losing but the results had been rigged in his favour. The surprise was that he had conceded defeat.

Not only that, but he did so without even first trying to prevaricate, to delay the hour of reckoning. The usual thing would have been to make sure that the electoral body did everything to avoid any accidents, that only the “correct” votes would count. And if the electoral body believed in this nonsense of “free and fair” then they would have been made to go home and stay there and see if they could eat “free and fair.”

And that would be magnanimous if he did not get them arrested and throw them in jail for being involved in actions likely to compromise the safety of the state.

Anyway, he just gets the news of this Adama character beating him and, like a good democrat, he says he will respect the will of the people? Balderdash! There has to be another reason.

One analyst suggests that the man was taken unawares. The story is that he had become so used to winning that he had forgotten to rig properly. He also had been used to facing a splintered opposition, and his sycophants forgot to inform him that this time the opposition had united, with the sole aim being his ouster. By the time it came, he did not see the punch landing, and it was too late to try anything.

Another theory is that his army, like his people, had long tired of an illiterate soldier who thought he was the messenger of the Great Wizard himself, and who honestly thought he was brought into this world to do the divine bidding. That is why, for example, he possessed a cure for HIV/Aids, which, strangely, he has never cared to share with UNAids.

He is on record as saying that if Allah wished it he would rule for a billion years. Now it would seem that it will have been a fraction of those billion years that he has been allowed to serve. And, honestly, it cannot be anything but good riddance to bad rubbish that the Gambian people will finally see the back of the man.

But you cannot suppress the conspiracy theorists in our midst, and one of them is a matron who thinks she can smell a rat. “Timeo Danaos et porta ferentes,” she reminds me: Beware of Greeks carrying gifts. Of course I remember the tale of the Trojan Horse, but I still do not understand. So she explains:

The electoral systems and processes in Africa have lost all their early sheen, and more and more people are seeing elections as an expensive diversion to keep Africans happy, thinking they are choosing their rulers while in fact the rulers are chosen by money and the use of force.

So if, from time to time, something neighbouring the impossible can be made to happen, wouldn’t the doubting Africans renew their faith in a moribund idea? And, what better example to use for that purpose than that of the more than slightly unhinged Yahya Jammeh?

Soon, remember, Jose dos Santos will retire, or so we are told, as will our dear Uncle Bob Gaby Mugabe. And maybe after that, Yoweri Kaguta and Paul Biya?

So that all would be best on the best of all continents.

Editors' note: Yahya Jammeh on Friday evening annulled the presidential election result, citing irregularities. He called for a rerun.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail:

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