Text Size

Faith and Elections in Africa


Seminar Report

Faith and Elections in Africa

‘A Critical Conversation / A Unique Combination’


26th November 2008

Cape Diamond Hotel, Cape Town

Hosted by AFCAST & CPLO


Chairperson: Fr. Peter-John Pearson

Keynote Address: Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Kenya Report: Mr. Maurice Amollo

Zimbabwe Report: Dr. David Kaulem

Zambia Report: Fr. Pete Henriot

The welcome and introductions was done by Fr. Peter-John Pearson

Participants and guests introduced themselves.

“In the light of the recent elections in many parts of Africa, and with the prospect of more critical elections looming over the next few months, it is clear that the faith communities have a role to play and that, while a theology to back that role exists, it often needs to be spelt out. This seminar seeks to enter a discussion in this regard.”



Healing Democracy’s Dis-Eases Democracy, Christian Social Ethics and Elections - Anthony Egan SJ, The Jesuit Institute, South Africa. (The full paper is attached)

Highlight of this paper is the need for a Christian social ethic of democracy, particularly electoral democracy, since electoral democracy seems to be in such a state of dis-ease. There is also a need to focus on the problems and ambivalences in constructing a specifically Christian or Catholic social ethic, given the uneasy relationship between many churches and democracy.

Opening Statement: “Electoral democracy, I would content, suffers today from a number of dis-eases, features that make it seem less effective In delivering ‘the goods’ to people. Even where there are regular elections – neatly defined by Justin Lewis as “simply attempts to quantify public opinion – to turn words into numbers as the basis for a rational system of government” – many people don’t vote, or vote out of habit or sentiment for parties rather than on issues.”

Throughout Christian history religious minorities did promote democratic values and practices. They did this by creatively re – reading the Scriptures and theology, drawing political analogies to biblical teachings about: (1) human dignity; (2) Equality of persons; and (3) Christ’s rejection in practice of a class / caste system and incorporation of the marginalized people, (women, children, Samarians, the ritually impure, and the sick).

Key insights and key themes that have developed that contribute to developing a social ethic of democracy. Within the examination of the paper’s topic the following three key elements are highlighted:

(i). Human Dignity: The sense that humans are made in the image of God. Human beings reflect in body and mind something of God’s very being and thus have, n the words of John XXIII “universal, inviolable, and inalienable” rights. The application of this theme is obvious: democracy – people power – affirms that people have worth and should be able to defend that worth through political activity that enhances and protects them as individuals.

(ii). Solidarity, Common Good and Participation focuses on individual rights and duties, right and obligations, and a sense of developing a common purpose and common project. All rights entail duties. Solidarity expresses the connectedness of each with all. This is not just a sentimental association: as with the Israelites at their best, and with the early church, community was formed for a purpose: worship, evangelization, protection. In short community exists to promote a common good. Protecting ones rights is more effective with support; discerning what is best for everyone is even better. This is facilitated through participation – particularly if one set of rights claims conflicts with another. Participation in government strengthens solidarity and gives us the opportunity to translate our desire for common good into practice by giving us a stake in the process.

(iii). Subsidiarity and the Proper Role of Government. Jesus was a master of what politicians call ‘devolution of power’, or what the Catholic Church calls subsidiarity. He devolved his power through his disciples. He inspired other – filled them with his powers to preach, teach and heal. Subsidiarity as a concept – the principle that power should be devolved – can thus be seen as part of Jesus’ own practice, one that CST advocates today. Particularly to challenge ‘totalitarian temptations’ to centralize authority and make people dependent. The democratic involvement of the maximum amount of people and the separation of powers in the political process is essential. Too much power in a few hands is both unhealthy and potentially very dangerous. The idea of occasional elections, voting and then sitting back and waiting for government to ‘provide’ goes against subsidiarity. Subsidiarity tells us that democracy is more than just voting. We have a responsibility.

Applying the Catholic Social Teachings to Electoral Democracy in Africa

“There is a danger, I think, that we trap ourselves in a kind of ‘African particularism’ – weather to condemn or excuse ourselves. As I suggested at the beginning the democratic dis-ease seems pretty universal. Even ‘particularities’ like political parties using their position to get rich, stolen elections in Zimbabwe or mass manipulation through appeals to the struggle in South Africa’s recent past are without historical precedent elsewhere.”

The moral challenge, inspired by Catholic Social Teaching and broader Christian ethics is to find ways to deepen and enrich the African (and global) experience of democracy.

Sr. Janice McLaughlin thanked Fr. Anthony Egan. John Courtney Murray is one of her heroes. She described the explanation of problems as inherent in party politics. The problems in democracy also describes the problems in the Church in relation to democracy. The problems and questions raised will lead AFCAST to point a way forward to something new. Sr. Janice mentioned President elect, Barack Obama, as someone instituting a new type of democracy. She is grateful for a model with international application that can she take back to her Maryknoll Community.


* Mr. Maurice Amollo, Kenya

* Dr. David Kaulem, Zimbabwe

* Fr. Pete Henriot SJ, Zambia

The dis-ease of democracy in Africa runs long and wide through the descriptions of the country reporters in the light of elections that recently took place in Africa, namely, Zambia, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Underlying factors of socio-economic issues in society that has not been addressed is also mentioned to have contributed to violence and undermining of democracy in these societies and countries.

A long list of challenges which endangers democracy was a thread which ran through all the papers including from questions and comments from participants:

* A system of violence and assaults on citizens;

* Abuse of power by ruling parties;

* The manipulation of democracy;

* The manipulation of compliant masses;

* Non-delivery on election promises;

* Mob psychology - elect the same people, who produce the same results – questioning of ‘saviour’ mentality those who brought liberation struggle;

* Autocratic leaders / liberation struggle leaders who hold on to power;

* The denial of stark naked poverty and suffering of people;

* Political parties become parties of patronadge;

* Elections simply become an attempt to qualify public opinion;

* Ill tolerance of new opposition parties and challenging voices;

* Threatening those who vote for opposition parties;

* When disagreement with ruling has the triple effect of harming individuals;(1) person in essence committing political suicide, (2) person labeled with various unkind terms; (3) person become enemy of the state;

* Opposition parties and critics of ruling party are demonized

* Theoretical one party systems where opposition parties are not tolerated (Are these countries still democracies. Sometimes doubtful what democracies are);

* Deliberate manipulation of the public;

* Blaming ‘others’, foreigners, ‘Makwerekwere’;

* Corruption;

* Organized crime;

* Exacerbated grievances and inequalities;

* Elicit trade and money laundering;

* The marginalisation and exclusion of peoples;

* Large disparities between classes;

* Huge destitution amongst most population is a threat to democracy;

* Lack of transparency and any attempts of the redistribution of wealth;

* Many government want to keep people poor and are only worried about their own survival not that of the poor. Leaders enrich themselves at the dispense of the poor;
* Tribal land issues;

* When political parties no longer represent the interests of their constituents;

* When parties tend to centralize powers around ruling elite or a leader that then dispense patronadge to loyal followers;

* Political intolerance and danger on ethnic nationalists dimensions;

* Serious assaults on the quality of life e.g. People dying from preventable diseases and hunger;

* Lack of Constitutional processes like the succession plan for a new state president when the state president dies;

* Lack of confidence in the Judiciary;

* The independence of the Electoral Commission;

* Rigging of votes and the voters’ role;

* Role of election monitors / (changing role of international monitors withholding real results, example made where this was done for sake of peace) (this issue need further discussion);

* The absence of justice;

* Relative stability but no peace (lack of war does not mean peace);

* Dealing with the crimes against humanity – fear of resurgence of violence if human rights abusers are apprehended;

* Levels of education of the electorate and how low literacy levels effect voting patterns;

* The attachments to our indebtedness for those who struggled for liberation;

* The question on the legacy of the colonialist past- what is past and which issues still effect Africa? Has it been used as a scapegoat when it suits Africa?;

* It is important to be vigilant against colonialism but we also need to look at what we are doing to each other and guard against ambivalence;

* Are we too pessimistic if we consider that African democracies are still very young versus European democracies that have had the growth from trial and error and experience, which strengthened their democracies?

* Global economic system and liberal policies are also a threat to democracy. Look at how our world is structured. Poor countries are told to open up their markets to conglomerates that do not invest in the interest of the common good. Trade pacts make industries vulnerable and do not contribute to the growth of the country;

* The Churches need to revisit its responses to the new circumstances in society – the right to life versus the quality of life. People die of hunger and curable diseases.

* . The outcome of Kenya’s election is a coalition. This has not solved the problems and it is setting a bad precedence that the losers still win. Maybe democracy is the best of the worse.

* Concerned about the culture of violence to retain power. Politicians are exciting people to commit violence. How do the Church handle this even before the elections to prevent violence? What are we saying as the Church? Worrying, need to take steps to prevent violence in processes.

* Europe moved and developed through a number of systems before reaching democracy. It seems as if Africa jumped a few steps. How can you achieve one nation if we are divided by tribalism in Africa?

* We sacrifice justice. Losers take power and continue to oppress. How do we deal with the question of amnesty and how do we deal with grave injustice? Regional and international mediation need to be addressed. SADEC made matters worse. We need to say when something is wrong and stick to the truth. Need credible leaders, not only in Africa but also in Europe. We are not solving problem we are digging.

Many of the above issues have been identified as factors that weaken democracies and lead to violence.


How do we practically implement the way forward? Suggestion, Comments and further Queries to consider


3.1 We need a research project to promote tolerance.


3.2 We can engage in civil society education before and after elections.


3.3 Embrace values of democracy. We need a culture of democracy.


3.4 All political candidates must sign a social contract before the elections (Do a compilation of the promises they made and keep the issues upfront, this is a contract for which people voted, keep the electoral promises alive). This also needs monitoring. Who will monitor?


3.5 Strengthen governance in Africa – (Africa is compared to thriving democracies in Europe grown over centuries of struggle – this is a fact often missed or ignored) We also need to take cognizance of the fact that there is also still flaws within western democracies; What is the gap within our analysis. Need to look at why some democracies are stable and thriving and other lagging behind. Example made of Japan as a successful democracy that was boosted by capital. Also take cognizance of why Botswana is the most successful democracy in Africa.


3.6 Corruption and Transparency: Parallel in terms of GDP’s Scandinavian countries comes up top. Also the highest taxed in the world. These are welfare state systems. These systems work because it has reached consensus over time. We do not have the time to spare. We need to find our own plan.


3.7 Westernization of the African culture to be addressed. As Africans we should respect our own culture.

3.8 How do we promote and develop democracy in a new society? How do we deepen the democratic processes? How do we inculturate democracy? We need to find / develop / implement an expanded the practice of democracy.

3.9 We need to get away from thinking of democracy as just an electoral democracy. It is more than just elections. It is a government of the people by the people for the people. But is also more than this. A country is not a democracy just because elections were held. What is the best functioning democracy in Africa? Botswana is. Africa is in need of prosperity. This enables democracy. We also need a culture of democracy. Church has difficulty to promote democracy as a non-democratic structure.

3.10 Elections are one process of democracy. It is a periodic event and process where citizens participate and indicate who they elect / what they elect. We need to evaluate / re visit the values inculcated in democracy education, deepen the process and hope this makes a difference.

3.11 What can churches do with the present economic situation and how it is impacting on individuals / society / countries. Churches can participate at all levels.

3.12 The question of Neo liberalism and its negative effects: Need to follow the Protestant churches example. If you want to be Christian you cannot be a slave trader or have supported apartheid. You cannot embrace neo liberalism and be a protestant. The Church must be much stronger on the issue of neo liberalism.

3.13 How do we guard against sacrificing justice? Are fragile compromises the answer when bloodshed and long periods of instability is feared? Is this democracy when losers are made winners by forming coalitions or is this a question of the greater good for peace, stability and the growth of a country. Can a democracy thrive under such circumstances?

3.14 South Africa – serious compromises of justice for the sake of peace and stability which has nicely been termed the South African miracle but which left many issues unsolved. Compromise seems inherent in reconciliation. What if someone threatens lives and difficult choices have to made? For the sake of the people of Zimbabwe let us compromise with the people of Zimbabwe. Churches have a dilemma – how do we advice and suspend the right to justice in order to normalize conditions.

3.15 Address regional and international mediation efforts and admit when they fail.

3.16 Need to be bold and state when something is wrong – our world is in need of credible leaders.

3.17 Integrity in public life is a prerequisite to sustain public life.

3.18 At end of the day we need simple decency – no matter what kind of system you have. Need basic decency values to restore dignity in Africa.

3.19 Now that we had this great conversation what does it mean to the three countries and SA who has an upcoming election in 2009?

Sr Lesa Kayula thanked the all the contributions on behalf of AFCAST.