In Box

Africa’s Expat Politics

In most African elections, Big Men use coercion and bribes to stay in office. But since 2000, three major African nations have held real democratic presidential referendums. Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade ousted Abdou Diouf in March 2000. John Kufuor defeated Jerry Rawlings’ party in Ghana nine months later. And in December 2002, Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki triumphed ...

In most African elections, Big Men use coercion and bribes to stay in office. But since 2000, three major African nations have held real democratic presidential referendums. Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade ousted Abdou Diouf in March 2000. John Kufuor defeated Jerry Rawlings’ party in Ghana nine months later. And in December 2002, Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki triumphed over Daniel Arap Moi’s handpicked successor. All three of these opposition leaders are elderly statesmen. Wade was 74 when he was elected, Kufuor was 63, and Kibaki 71. One partial explanation for why old, familiar faces still win African elections comes in the pairing of two words rarely associated with Africa: Internet and democracy.

Ghana, Senegal, and Kenya all have large, wired, and relatively wealthy expatriate populations overseas. The expatriates want longtime tyrants out, and the Net offers increased electoral influence in the form of online fundraising. But living abroad, the only opposition candidates expats know are the old guard. Ghana provides the best example. In its 2000 election, an online expat group called the Ghana Cyber Group (www.ghanacybercity.com) raised $50,000 for Kufuor according to the group’s founder, Yaw Owusu. Cyber Group members also aggressively used the Net for grassroots campaigning: they organized calls to family and friends back home, in some instances even threatening to stop remitting money to local chiefs who didn’t go hut to hut rounding up votes for Kufuor.

Lacking centralized online campaigns, Kenyan and Senegalese expats have raised less money online than the Ghanaians in recent years. But Wade and Kibaki did use the Web more effectively than their opponents. Senegal was the first African nation to publish substantial election information online, and online discussions with expats were among Wade’s campaign tools (see, for instance, www.orange-info.sn). Kenyans relied on several electoral sites, including Donor Information Centre on Elections in Kenya, kenyaelections2002.org, and the Institute for Education in Democracy, www.iedafrica.org.

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