Does voting count in Africa?

An elderly Nigerian voter is helped to cast her ballot in Otuoke on March 28, 2015 Image copyright AFP

In our series of letters from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Farai Sevenzo reflects on the value of casting a vote in this year when there are so many elections in Africa.

Nigeria has voted. All the world's pundits expected the same scratched record to play out to its predictable conclusion: Incumbent stays put.

But President Goodluck Jonathan, defeated by Muhammadu Buhari, exhibited a rare grace by conceding and said he had kept his word about organising free and fair elections.

It was a fine example to set in 2015, year which sees many African nations go to the polls.

Zambia kicked off the year of the African votes in January, followed by Lesotho, where there was a snap election in February. This was after an attempted coup against Prime Minister Thomas Thabane which threatened to upset the peace of the mountain kingdom.

Farai Sevenzo:

Image copyright Farai Sevenzo

In some cases election winners can be challenged and are seen as weak, and democracy has sometimes given way to chaos

Elsewhere, African voters will be wooed with T-shirts and bags of rice and promises of every grain and shade in Burkina Faso, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Tanzania and Togo during the course of 2015.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir will be battling against the splintered opposition to maintain his grip on the presidency, now into its third decade.

Meanwhile, Africa's youngest nation, South Sudan, has postponed its first election since independence, due this year, until 2017 because of continuing violence and the spectre of another protracted war.

Over in the Central African Republic, 2014 was filled with bloody images as the country appeared to divide along religious lines.

July's vote should be where people declare allegiance to the religion of democracy but it is likely to be tense.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Free T-shirts and caps are a big draw at campaign rallies
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Burkinabes will soon be voting for a new president after overthrowing President Compaore in 2014

Burkina Faso will vote for the first time after a popular uprising which waved goodbye to President Blaise Compaore. You may think then that all will be sweetness and light there but the army, which had its say in the uprising, is still lurking in the wings.

Michel Kafando may be the president, but Lt Col Isaac Zida, who briefly took power after President Compaore's departure, has stayed close to power. He is currently the prime minister and the minister of defence.

There are more considerations, for example: Who will France and the US, both with special operations in the country, want to see in charge?

Not everything then is in place to ensure a free and fair vote in Burkina Faso. And in most places where there are upcoming elections there is reason for concern.

'Patience of Job'

Democracy gives African governments legitimacy, but what else does it guarantee?

The age of the despot getting 99.9% of the vote is a memory for most, but in some cases, especially in Libya, election winners can be challenged and are seen as weak. Democracy has sometimes given way to chaos.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Despite divisions the act of voting can bring the nation together
Image copyright AP
Image caption Nigerians celebrated after Muhammadu Buhari's historic victory

There was a lot of hope for South Sudan when it achieved independence in 2011 but democracy there has not yet borne fruit. The signs were always there, given the difficulty of her delivery, that Africa's youngest child would keep us all up for some time to come.

Nigerians exercised the patience of Job in their millions, orderly queuing as the bureaucrats sorted out technical faults and dealt with the grumbles over voters cards.

Many nations this year may not be as fortunate as Nigeria in her calmest election ever.

There will be the inevitable disagreements about the ballot and how it was conducted. Losers will cry foul.

So why do Africans in their millions bother to vote when so many variables can dilute the democratic exercise?

They cannot take for granted the right to vote which was denied for so long.

Despite the security concerns, and in some cases the futility of the exercise if presidents will not relinquish their grip on power, voting is still the only way to prove our citizenship.

It is also the only way to bestow legitimacy on our fledgling states.

The people want their right to make their mark, sometimes that mark is ignored, but in the best cases it brings about a momentous change such as in Nigeria.

Millions of citizens in Nigeria will now have a different perception of democracy.

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