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Gabon’s burning, but polls in Africa are not a joke 0

On Wednesday, the results of last Saturday’s elections were announced in Gabon. President Ali Bongo was declared winner, beating former African Union Commission chief Jean Ping by the slimmest of margins. Bongo won a second seven-year term with 49.8 per cent of the vote to Ping’s 48.2 per cent, a margin of 5,594 votes. So, no surprises there. And what followed was also not a surprise in African politics.

Ping said the election was fraudulent and “everybody knows” he won. Violence broke out, and angry protestors torched the parliament buildings in the capital, Libreville.

Then the government sent the security forces after the opposition supporters, and also raided the headquarters of Ping’s organisation. Again, par for the course.

There was one big surprise – the results were announced by the Interior Ministry! Most countries in Africa, except a handful of unreconstructed strongman states, have long moved to having electoral bodies that are separate from the traditional state structure. Some, like Nigeria’s and South Africa’s, are independent.

Others in, well, most of East Africa, are only 10-25 per cent independent, and in other countries they may be separate, but are actually less independent than government ministries.

The thing though is that even where governments won’t countenance independence, they go for the public relations value.

However, even where independent electoral commissions are subservient to the president, there is still progress. For example, these commissions are better able to make electoral registers, in ways government departments never could.

“Independent” electoral commissions, though, were just a small part of the broader shift toward semi-autonomous executive agencies – the revenue authorities, the civil aviation authorities, the communications regulatory commissions, the ICT boards, and so forth.

They have been perhaps the single most important factor in the progress, however modest, that most of post-90s Africa has made. And, though it may be hard to believe, looking at it from the outcomes today, Uganda was the early mover in East Africa and Africa with the establishment of the Uganda Revenue Authority in 1991.

It was the first in the region, and among the earliest ones out of the gate in Africa after countries like Ghana.

The URA’s electronic cargo tracking system, which enables electronic monitoring of cargo in transit, has for example reduced cargo diversion by a head-turning 90 per cent.

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By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi