end of the Cold War, a number of African countries have embraced multi-party
democracy. Several African officials
from the new democracies are observing the U.S. election season and VOA
Reporter William Eagle asked some of them for their views.
U.S. presidential campaigns are long and expensive. The Washington Post newspaper estimates that
this year candidates have raised hundreds of millions of dollars from
individuals and corporate interests in the United States. By contrast, in African democracies the
electoral machinery and political parties often receive support from foreign
Diop, Mali's ambassador to the United States, says "Here [in the USA] the amount of money by
each candidate or party is huge. It is
very impressive. Also, the primary
process has been long. For us, the
campaign is about 35 to 40 days. Here
it is almost two years of campaigning before the election."
other hand, Ambassador Diop is impressed by the commitment of many Americans to
work for free in support of their party's candidate.
level of volunteerism in U.S. elections impresses me," says Diop. "Many [campaign
supporters] pay their own [airline and hotel] and campaign door to door. I would love to see that in Mali - citizens
getting involved in that way."
observers note cultural differences among African and American voters.
A poll by
the Rasmussen publishing firm shows that about 61 percent of American voters
said the candidate's wife is somewhat important in determining their vote. Twenty-two percent said the spouse is very
A Significant Role for First Ladies
Ekweremadu is the deputy president of the Nigerian Senate. He is surprised at the amount of attention
given to prospective first ladies, who make prominent appearances at the
conventions and campaign stops.
Nigeria, attention is on the candidate, not on the spouse," says the Nigerian senator. "In Nigeria, it is a different marital
situation. Some [politicians] who are Muslim
have four wives. So where do you
start? Among the four wives, it might
not be clear who would be the first lady."
Ekweramadu says aside from corruption charges, moral values - such as
faithfulness to one's spouse - would not likely be on the mind of voters.
taxes, which are often at the forefront of the U.S. candidates' debates. Some of them argue that taxes are too high
and must be cut to stimulate economic growth.
Others argue that taxes should be raised to pay for deficits or for
Diop says in his own country, Mali, there is a strong demand from the state to
supply social services. But he says
Mali cannot raise enough in taxes to support all the development needed, so
politicians must look elsewhere.
can be an issue," says Diop, "but in our countries it is less about taxes than promising to
create conditions for better living for the population like building more
roads, providing water, and ... job creation.
It is more about improving the living conditions of the population, [and
not by bringing] down taxes."
The Power of Pundits
observers say they are surprised by the influence of U.S. commentators who
favor one candidate over another, and by negative advertising, which attacks an
opponent's record or character.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu says he does not think negative ads would go over in
He says, "Most
media houses would not have the courage to accept a negative advert. And ... in any lawsuits, the media house
must compensate you adequately. Most
media houses will not allow themselves to be used in that kind of negative
campaign because it could extract [serious] consequences."
The Press: Thorough and Accurate
U.S. journalists seeking to publicize a candidate's
record often rely on the Freedom of Information Act, which allows access to the
government's records. Nigerian reporters are also pressing for a Freedom of
Information Bill (or FOIB).
Senator Anthony George Manzo is the vice chairman
for the Nigerian Senate's Committee on Information and Media. He says
the bill is considered likely to pass, with reservations.
"We now are processing a Nigerian
Freedom of Information Bill in our committee," he says, "and we hope to pass it in some
form. But when you talk of the bill, public officials have a lot of anxiety. We
feel sometimes the press wants to enjoy freedom without the responsibility that
goes with it. The [press] should be
factually correct, verifying and re-verifying their sources. We should have
a FOIB passed, but then have strong libel laws to [ensure] people will have
ambassador Abdulaye Diop says he hopes the U.S. campaign will raise issues of
interest to Africans. That includes
continued support for the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which has led to
an increase in exports from the continent to the United States, and support for
stalled world trade talks.
Ambassador Diop is hopeful. He says the current administration has
tripled aid to Africa and both candidates have promised strong support.