Democracy and Insecurity In Africa at Northwestern

Electoral Unfairness and Political Corruption: Impediments to African Progress

 As part of a program on Democracy and Insecurity in Africa, two forums will be convened at Northwestern University on Tuesday, March 7. They concern unfairness in elections and corrupt uses of government resources. The first forum will feature presentations on Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Somalia, and Uganda as well as a keynote address by Professor Attahiru Jega, the Chairman of Nigeria’s Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), 2010-2015. The second forum will feature a presentation by Professor Wale Adebanwi (University of California and Oxford University).[i]


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Image from “Democracy and Prebendalism in Nigeria: Critical Interpretaions”    Graphic by Will Speed (c) bluezace –


Attahiru Jega and Electoral Democracy in Africa

Scott Hall, Guild Lounge, 11:00 am- 1:45pm

601 University Place, Evanston, IL 60208 

In a New York Times op-ed on February 20, Ann M. Ravel, Vice Chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Election Commission, wrote of her imminent resignation from the Commission because of dysfunctionality, partisan gridlock, and the inability to fulfill “its mission to ensure fairness in elections.” Interference by intelligence agencies and the use of Internet software to harass opponents, infiltrate election systems, generate false news, and disguise illegal financing are growing practices in the U.S. and other countries. According to a recent poll of political scientists, “the most important element of democratic government was that elections are conducted and ballots counted without fraud or manipulation.” [ii]

In my 1991 article in the Journal of Democracy, “Africa: The Rebirth of Political Freedom,” I wrote:

“It has often been remarked that no African country, excluding the island of Mauritius, has experienced a change of government via elections in the post-independence era. This is no longer true….The March 1991 election in Benin, which led to the defeat of President Mathieu Kérékou by interim President Nicéphore Soglo, demonstrates that the democratic movement in Africa has come of age and could perform this most critical of tasks: the peaceful replacement of one government by another through general elections.”

Sadly, with regard to electoral fairness, the African record during the succeeding quarter-century has been disheartening. Although elections are frequently conducted, with intermittent exceptions, most fall below a minimum level of fairness. In this forum, we will review several country experiences, including the historic 2015 Nigerian elections and the unprecedented “peaceful replacement of one government by another.”

Order of Speakers

John Campbell, “Nigeria and South Africa: Electoral Democracy Compared”
Richard Joseph, “Ghana 2009/Ethiopia 2015: Obama Praises Electoral Progress and Retreat”
Moses Khisa, “Uganda, 2016: Electoral Unfairness under Yoweri Museveni”
Will Reno and Salih Nur, “Somalia, 2017: An ‘Election-Like Event’ amid Warfare”
Attahiru Jega, “Building a Fair and Resilient Electoral System: Nigeria, 2010 – 2015”
Rachel Riedl, Discussant

African Labyrinths: Corruption, Democracy, and Insecurity in Africa

Chambers Hall (Transportation Building), 2:00-4:30 pm

600 Foster Street, Evanston, IL 60208

In the same issue of the 1991 Journal of Democracy issue mentioned above, Larry Diamond wrote:

“As Nigeria wends its way toward its third attempt at democracy in as many decades, it confronts daunting challenges…No problem, however, is more intractable and more threatening to the future of Nigerian democracy than political corruption.”

Robert Kligaard followed in a similar vein: “Corruption is an embarrassing subject. Many citizens in developing countries are simply exhausted by it. They have watched their leaders posture and moralize and make half-hearted efforts against corruption, all to no avail.”

If African citizens were exhausted by the topic of corruption in 1991, how do they and their offspring feel today? When the behavior of Nigerian schoolchildren came up during the inaugural conference of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) in February 2016, a schoolteacher (present with her class of teenagers) taught me a new expression: “mechanism.” It refers to financial inducements given by families to teachers to ensure fair or favored treatment of their children. The consequence? More stimulants for educational decay. Similar observations could be made about myriad sectors.

In August 2006, during a visit to Kenya by then U.S. senator Barack Obama, he called corruption “The Fight of Our Time.”[iii] “The Panama Papers,” on the facilitation of money laundering by the law firm Mossack Fonseca, recently demonstrated the global sweep of this phenomenon. Brazil, Greece, Romania, Venezuela, and Ukraine are some of the countries enmeshed in systemic corruption, along with many African counterparts. Even the brother-in-law of the King of Spain was sentenced in February 2017 to a long prison sentence for corrupt activities, a story exhaustingly familiar to “many citizens in developing countries.”[iv]

Nigeria’s formidable literary critic, Biodun Jeyifo, has published a large collection of his journal essays with the title Against the Predators’ Republic (2016). To guide us in confronting the “labyrinths” hewed by corrupt practices in Africa, few scholars are better prepared than Dr. Wale Adebanwi, the recently appointed Rhodes Professor of Race Relations of Oxford University. His books, Authority Stealing and Democratic Politics in Post-Military Nigeria (2011), and the co-edited, Democracy and Prebendalism in Nigeria: Critical Interpretations (2013), are superb analyses of how Africa’s democratic and development prospects are hobbled by political corruption.

[i] For biographical sketches of the presenters, see


[iii] See my February 2012 Northwestern lecture, “The Fight of Our Time: State, Governance, and Development in Nigeria”,