The History of Elections in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda: What We Can Learn from These “National Exercises”

A large literature has described the years after independence from colonial
rule as a period of ‘departicipation’. Africa’s new rulers – whether driven by
personal venality or a sincere commitment to nation-building – swiftly gave
up on elections, or at best held elections that, by denying choice, left violence
as the central dynamic of African politics. This article draws on the cases
of Kenya, Ghana and Uganda in the late 1960s to argue that the emphasis
often placed on the ‘speed and ease’ of this process has been overstated.
Instead, Africa’s politicians and civil servants valued elections as a means to
educate and discipline the public, even as they feared their possible outcomes.
Building on a literature that focuses on the individual experience of elections
rather than the presence or absence of parties, we argue that the rhetoric of
politicians and civil servants shows that they saw elections as ‘exercises’ – a
revealing term – that would train and test their new citizens. Yet this is not
the whole story: voters understood their participation in their own terms
and played a role in how early experiments with elections played out. The
political closures of these years were real, but their course was unplanned
and contingent, shaped partly by popular involvement. These points are not
only of historical value, but also provide important insights into the extent to
which contemporary elections are instruments of elite power or the drivers
of democratisation.

File Type: pdf
Categories: Journal of African Elections
journal of african elections vol20 number 2 transparent democratic governance in africa