Democracy in Southern Africa threatened by Aids

“Our voters’ rolls are bloated with dead voters,” said Monica Ngwembe of the Malawi Electoral Commission. “The number of registered voters that is on the voters’ roll is not a true reflection of what is on the ground.”

A pilot project in two of Malawi’s constituencies showed that about 100 000 voters, or 2% of the voters’ roll, had died of HIV/Aids-related diseases, Ngwembe told the Regional Governance and Aids Forum in Cape Town in the first week of April.

She said HIV/Aids-related deaths would undermine the entrenching of democracy as it was increasingly difficult to assess voter turn-outs and she called on other electoral commissions to start investigating the full impact of the epidemic on voters.

Without proper records of deaths to be compared with the voters’ roll, there was potential for voting abuses.

It is estimated that between 30% and 35% of people living in the Southern African Development Community are HIV-positive, even though the region’s population accounts for only 4% to 5% of the world’s total inhabitants.
The life expectancy in countries like Botswana has been slashed from about 70 years to as low as 29 years.

Approximately 70% of the world’s 40-million HIV-infected people, or about 30-million people, are living in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for just 10% of the total global population.

Concern that the HIV/Aids epidemic already threatens democracy and governance appears to be confirmed in research by the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA), presented at the conference hosted jointly by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa’s governance and Aids project and the United Nations Development Programme’s Southern African HIV and development project.

According to EISA not only were voters affected, but also the running of elections: as electoral staff died in the epidemic, crucial skills were lost.

HIV/Aids-related deaths would also affect the number of voters as the age group most affected by the epidemic was between 15 and 45 years. In its study of the Zambian elections in 1991, 1996 and 2001, the institute found not only a drop in voter turn-out, but also a fall in registered voters. In 1991 just over 2,9-million voters were registered for the presidential elections but this had dropped to 2,6-million by the 2001 presidential elections.

Meanwhile, HIV/Aids also posed a serious challenge to the institution of government: as more demands are being made on government services such as health and welfare — particularly the care of Aids orphans, who by 2010 could account for between 15% and 25% of all children in sub-Saharan Africa — the tax base to finance these services is shrinking. The epidemic affects predominately the economically active population.

By 2020 labour forces throughout the Southern African Development Community could shrink by between 32,6% (in South Africa) and 6,9% (in Angola, which is just emerging from a decades-long conflict), said the International Labour Organisation.

Additional reporting by Nawaal Deane

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