I was fortunate to be smack in the middle of election season during the past week. The primary Presidential candidates were Ugochukwu Njoku (pronounced "Kingsley") and Amadou Abdou Kader (pronounced "Amadou Abdou Kader"), plus a lesser known candidate.
Normally, I gravitate toward the lesser known candidate. Heck, I think I can even name the last 3 Libertarian presidential candidates (Bob Barr, Michael Bednarik and Harry Browne) and the last 3 Green presidential candidates (Ralph Nader, Ralph Nader and Ralph Nader). As a casual observer, I found it much more interesting to follow the two major candidates who appeared to clearly define their differences.
One of Kader's campaign posters featured a picture of him in dressed in fine, traditional African garb overlooking a tranquil garden. It was a pensive moment meant to show his deep connection with nature. Another poster showed him dressed almost entirely in white standing next to a monument marking the founding of an educational institute. While his body faced the camera, his face was turned down toward the monument to show great respect for the institute. Kader is a slight man with handsome features, and comes from a family with obvious wealth.
Kingsley's campaign poster showed a picture of him surrounded by four loosely dressed women. He wore a black t-shirt and had a big toothy smile. Kingsley's campaign slogan was: "Vote Kingsley! Get Action!" and - judging by his entourage - Kingsley appears to be getting way more action than Kader. Physically, Kingsley is also a much larger man than Kader, so he dominated his campaign poster whereas Kader appeared to blend in with his surroundings.
The day of the elections was absolutely what you would expect from an African election and I was able to witness first hand one of the polling stations. There was a sheet of paper containing a list of all candidates for the Senate. Voters were asked to check off names from that list, fold the paper and place it into a can in a protected voting booth. Fair enough.
But, the election for president was organized in MUCH more different manner. Voters were asked to take a slip of paper with their choice for president pre-printed on the ballot and place it into the voting can. So, the election workers obviously knew which candidate you favored based on which slip of paper you chose. Voters could take slips from all three candidates into the booth to help keep their vote secret, but you can tell that a voter might easily be accosted after leaving the polling station because they would still have two slips in their pocket (unless they ate the unused ballots).
Election wardens checked off the names of registered voters as they took their ballots. No one checked ID's. Even I was offered a ballot, but I politely declined and said I was just an election monitor from America. Things appeared to be going smoothly until the wardens suddenly cut off the voting with at least 30 minutes left. The largest person in line - a thuggish looking man with Rastafarian dreadlocks who was an obvious Kingsley supporter - became very vocal with his displeasure and nearly started a physical confrontation with someone at the polling station.
The votes were counted and - by a narrow margin - Kader won the election. The Kingsley supporters were not pleased. Led by the Rasta-Thug, they did not demand a recount - they demanded a re-vote! - and took their case directly to the Office of the Secretary. Miraculously, the Secretary agreed with Kingsley and ordered a re-vote! The Secretary noted there appeared to be more votes tallied than the maximum number of registered voters, and declared the first election void.
On the second round of voting, Kingsley won handily. So, there you have it - everything you would expect in an African election! There was electioneering, shady voting practices, ballot stuffing, voter intimidation and - when the results came in unfavorabley to the more vocal party - an overturned election!
And this was just for the right to leade the Suffolk University Dakar Campus Student Government Association... a campus of 85 students.