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Copyright (c) 2010 Northwestern University, School of Law
Northwestern University Journal of International Human Rights

ARTICLE: Can African States Conduct Free and Fair Presidential Elections?

Spring, 2010

Northwestern University Journal of International Human Rights

8 Nw. U. J. Int'l Hum. Rts. 122


Edwin Odhiambo Abuya*



Can African States hold free and fair elections? To put it another way, is it possible to conduct presidential elections in Africa that meet internationally recognized standards? These questions can be answered in the affirmative. However, in order to safeguard voting rights, specific reforms must be adopted and implemented on the ground. In keeping with international legal standards on democracy, 2 the constitutions of many African states recognize the right to vote. 3 This right is reflected in the fact that these states hold regular elections. The right to vote is fundamental in any democratic state, but an entitlement does not guarantee that right simply by providing for elections. The crucial issue is the extent to which these elections meet national and international legal standards.

Although most African states recognize voting rights in theory, an examination of what states do in practice paints a different picture. It shows that the process faces several challenges as a result of human interference. Accordingly, this paper evaluates some of the institutional and legal reforms that African states could adopt to prevent voter fraud in presidential elections, and thereby promote democracy and the rule of law across the continent. This paper focuses on the recent presidential elections in Kenya in 2007 and Zimbabwe in 2008 as case studies. In many ways, these events support the argument that reforms must be made for elections in Africa to comply with international standards. Not only did these elections have an impact ...
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