Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Imani Tafari-Ama | Buy the ballot or bite the bullet

Published:Sunday | June 9, 2024 | 12:08 AM
African National Congress (ANC) party members protest as South African president Cyril Ramaphosa meets with senior officials of the ANC during the ANC’s National Executive Committee Thursday, June 6, in Johannesburg.
African National Congress (ANC) party members protest as South African president Cyril Ramaphosa meets with senior officials of the ANC during the ANC’s National Executive Committee Thursday, June 6, in Johannesburg.

General elections provide a weathervane for the political fortunes of officeholders. The power projects of the parties involved have varying impacts on the world stage. Since the 1990s, the right-wingisation of Europe has resulted in hardline policies on immigration with a white supremacy subtext. Of course, elections are not foolproof. Presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 elections in the United States (US) but the rest is history. President Donald Trump procured the critical electoral college votes to win the ballot.

Around the world, stringent differences among right, left and centre have practically dissolved, as ideological positions, self-interest, corruption, cronyism and manipulative systems of power have come to be closely associated with those who run for office. Were it not for the hardcore support of party bases, which is basically constant, the cynics who stay at home and do not vote are in significant ways responsible for greater upsets in polling outcomes.

The recent results in Mexico brought in a woman on a feminist platform for the first time. This victory came at a great price as Mexico, within the global context, runs foremost in recorded femicide crimes and was exacerbated by the 37 candidates who were assassinated in the run-up to the elections.

Despite Russia’s protracted war in Ukraine, and stringent Euro-American sanctions, Vladimir Putin was re-elected for a third term in office. Russia’s democratic process secured his political legitimacy ahead of the much-anticipated October summit of the nations, constituting the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) coalition.

This BRICS core group was expanded in 2023 to include Argentina, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, to form a politico-economic bloc. This group includes 60 per cent of the world’s population and is growing. Perhaps another acronym should be coined to reflect this broadening base. BRICS is expected to announce its use of a gold-backed currency to counteract the dominance of the US dollar as the standard for trade and investment, and may have implications for the impending war on Russian soil.


For the first time in the three decades since the African National Congress (ANC) came to power under the charismatic leadership of Nelson Mandela, the ANC lost its governance majority. The 40 per cent of the vote garnered by the ANC means it must broker a power-sharing agreement with stiff opponents like the Democratic Alliance (DA), which got 21 per cent of the oppositional vote.

Ex-President Jacob Zuma bounced back big, capturing 14 per cent of voter support for his newly formed uMkhonto we Sizwe Party (MK). This party name, meaning Spear of the Nation, was popularised by the Pan-African Congress during the anti-Apartheid era, preceding the first multiracial elections in 1994.

In India, a plural society which includes Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and other religious affiliates, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right wing Hindu campaign was a bruising battle. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) still hold a slim majority, they won 293 of 543 seats. Compared to the 2019 results, the BJP lost 60 seats.

The India Alliance, under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi’s Indian National Congress (INC), resoundingly voiced their opposition to Modi’s chauvinism with their votes. 640 million people cast their ballots and, with its allies, the opposition alliance won 232 seats. This showed far-reaching popular support and a more inclusive approach to governance. The INC won 99 seats, demonstrating its dominance.

If we could imagine this global political democracy platform based on the voting right to be a chessboard, we could understand that it’s all a game! The game includes institutions like the Church/religion (bishops), army and police force (knights), technocrats and civil society (rooks), and heads of governance systems (queen and king).


Chess is inherently violent. The pieces are at virtual war and winning is decided by the ability of the champion to effectively attack the opponent’s king, the most important power piece. Since she moves in any direction, the queen mimics the lines of the British flag. This metaphor of sweeping power was appropriated by the British monarch through colonialism and continued involvement through the Commonwealth – although wealth is far from common in these previously colonialised jurisdictions. In chess, the queen is optimal for any attack strategy, and works in tandem with the other pieces to defend the king from capture (checkmate).

Typically, pawns are the ‘collateral damage’ of the game. They are sacrificed in exchange for positions of power. However, they act in classical openings and, with good fortune, puny pawns can kill on the diagonal. They can also cross the board to enemy territory and become queens in their own right.

Pawns provide support for the king in stalemate situations. Chess theorist Phildor also famously described pawns as “the soul of the game”. Perhaps that observation came from this ability to transform one’s power from a negligible register to becoming one of the most influential pieces.

With all this consideration of power games and election contests, the November 5 USA presidential elections loom larger than life. The stakes could not be higher. Donald Trump’s conviction on 34 counts of falsifying his business records has made him a felon from a legal standpoint. Despite this, he was able to leverage his conviction to raise $141 million in the month of May, with a spike after the multiple-guilty verdict.

It is also ironic that Trump’s contender-in-chief, ‘the lesser of the two evils’ rival, President Joe Biden, is waist deep in misfortunes of his own making. His iron-clad support of Israel has made him complicit in the ongoing genocide in Gaza, which he cannot shake from his name. Neither can he deny that he may have compromised his victory with this stance. It is yet to be seen if he will be able to pull out minorities and the millennials with this undying commitment to Israel, much to the chagrin of both groups.

We cannot forget next-door neighbour Haiti in all of this. In response to the failure of USA cum United Nations (UN) multiple interventions, which amount to a protracted proxy war on the people of this beleaguered country, the USA has contracted William Ruto, Kenyan president, to deploy a thousand soldiers to Haiti. The mission is to establish law and order in the face of widespread citizen insecurity.

Ruto has been criticised as being the US pawn project. The court ruling in Kenya to support this initiative came at the expense of widespread public opposition. The president defended his mission, saying that Kenya’s experience of intervening in 47 countries showed that it is up to the task. The US$300-million price tag must be an incentive.

Jamaica has also pledged to send 200 soldiers to join this knight-pawn intervention in Haiti. The pressure brought on the Caribbean by France, Canada and the US is designed to ensure that black-on-black violence will continue to be the order of the day, even if Euro-American interests are the puppet masters. Jamaica is scheduled to go to the polls in 2025. Given our historical ties with Haiti, this political black-on-black execution-style drama could be our spiritual undoing.

Imani Tafari-Ama, PhD, is a Pan-African advocate and gender and development specialist. Send feedback to i.tafariama@gmail.com and columns@gleanerjm.com