Michael McDonald | Credit: Oilprice.com - Photo: 2020

Traditional Polls Will Test Africa’s Resistance to COVID-19

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) – Africa’s infection rates are still relatively low to the wonderment of some in the western world who predicted infection rates in the billions. In fact, African governments in many cases took preventative steps – from closing borders, social distancing, shutting educational institutions and banning mass gatherings.

By April 19, the Africa CDC reported that 34 countries had gone further and brought in night-time curfews or partial lockdowns. Eleven brought in rules requiring people to wear face masks in public.

Still, there is a growing sense of urgency given the acute absence of health-care infrastructure on the continent and the prospect of 20 national elections scheduled in Africa during 2020.

With many countries banning public gatherings and restricting people’s freedom of movement, can these votes go ahead as planned?

Denis Kadima of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy Africa (EISA) shared some worrying thoughts keeping him up at night.

“The big test case is Burundi because they’re holding their election on May 20. In the traditional manner of elections, there have been big rallies by the ruling party and the opposition. They have not used the social distance requirements.

“That is a big test because we don’t know what will happen in a couple of weeks. If a few weeks after the campaign and after the vote there is an escalation of the disease, that will be a lesson that everyone will have to draw.”

Olufunto Akinduro, at the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, considers the structure of the election itself. “Let’s start, for instance, with voter registration,” she says. “Most countries still require you to come in person. Countries are doing biometric registration but what kinds of sanitary processes do you put in place?

“In Africa,” continues Kadima, “the only way of campaigning that people know is to bring the crowd around the candidate to pass the message. Who is likely to win? It’s the person who is filling up the stadium!”

“I don’t see a political party or a candidate that’s serious about winning not resorting to the traditional ways of campaigning.

“Postal voting or online voting could be a solution in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in the context of Africa, this would be new, untested and untrusted.”

“Does everyone have access to the internet across the continent?” Akinduro asks.

But if a country cancels election set down according to the dates set in the constitution, it could lead to violence, suggests Kadima, “because when the legitimacy of the rulers has run out, then they can’t stand there and tell people what to do.”

Meanwhile, African governments are generally maintaining the pace of testing and contact tracing with a goal of 15 million tests over the next three months. Lockdowns have been instituted, travel restricted, research funding redirected and donations from local and international funders directed to buy medicines, testing kits, ventilators and protective gear.

Upcoming elections in Africa within the next 12 months include Tanzania (October), Cote d’Ivoire (October), Egypt (November), Ghana (December) Chad (October), Central African Republic, (December), Niger (December), Guinea (October), Somalia (December), Liberia (October) and Gabon (later this year).

Meanwhile, ahead of presidential and local elections in Burundi, the African Union (AU) Commission and the United Nations urged the authorities to provide a safe and secure environment for citizens to cast their votes.

In a joint statement issued on May 17, the partners said they have been following the electoral campaign and remain concerned about reports of intimidation and violent clashes between supporters of opposing sides.

“The two Organizations encourage all entities involved in organizing the 20 May 2020 elections, the defense and security forces and state-owned media to fully contribute to preserving a stable and peaceful environment, pre-requisite for free, inclusive, fair, transparent and credible elections in Burundi,” the statement said.

“They urge all political actors to refrain from all acts of violence and hate speech, and resort to dialogue, to enable the holding of consensual and peaceful elections. They also encourage the Burundian authorities to ensure and facilitate the full participation of women during this electoral process.”

The AU Commission and the UN Secretariat also called on political parties to abide by the Code of Conduct which they had signed last December.

Authorities in the East African country were also urged to implement preventive measures to protect citizens from the COVID-19 pandemic. [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 May 2020]

Photo: Children fill their cups at a water point built by UNICEF at Kanyosha III primary school in Bujumbura, Burundi. Credit: UNICEF/UNI180029/Colfs

IDN is flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. Feel free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially. Please credit to the author and IDN-InDepthNews.

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