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The evolving state of African elections
General elections could take place this year in at least 12 African countries. Despite myriad social and political reforms, a smooth handover from one leader to a new one looks uncertain in some of the 12 countries, with sectarian conflict predicted in close to half them.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a vast country the size of Western Europe and one of the biggest in Africa, in December of this year elections are scheduled for the presidency, members of the house of representatives and hundreds of local office holders.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres informed the Security Council in June 2018 that progress towards elections has been made in the DRC, including redistricting. However, Mr. Guterres expressed concerns about the “distrust amongst political actors over several key issues, including the potential use of voting machines.”
Elections were initially scheduled for November 2016.
“The delayed elections in the DR Congo present formidable challenges,” said Rushdi Nackerdien, regional director for Africa at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), last February. IFES is a nonprofit organization funded by the US government that supports emerging democracies in organizing elections.
Mr. Nackerdien informed the UN Security Council that “the public has low levels of trust in the electoral institution, but high expectations that the ballot box will be a mechanism for reform and stability.”
The circumstances surrounding the DRC polls illustrate the continued challenges to holding free and fair elections across the continent. Disputes are common and unrest has also occurred.
In February, Djibouti elected representatives to their national assembly, Guineans voted for their local representatives and Sierra Leoneans chose a new president and parliamentarians. Around the same time, Egypt held presidential elections. In May, Burundians voted to amend their constitution.
In Mali, presidential elections were held on 29 July 2018 with the support of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, which provided logistical support, including transporting electoral materials across the country, as well as helping to secure the polling stations. Observers reported a low turnout but, “overall, the elections were peaceful,” said Boubacar Keita, a spokesman for West Africa Network for Peacebuilding, a regional peacebuilding organisation that observed the elections. However, incidents of violence were reported in parts of the northern and central regions.
The central government has little control over vast swaths of the northern and central parts of the country, and implementation of a three-year-old peace accord aimed at ending conflict and restoring legal authority in these parts remains deadlocked. In this circumstance, only people living in government-controlled areas could safely vote.
In Zimbabwe, elections for president were held on 30 July. “The elections [will] be credible, free, fair and transparent,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa had promised, ahead of the polls. About 44% of Zimbabweans had been concerned about the fairness of the electoral process, according to a poll by the Accra-based research network, Afrobarometer. Fear that the elections will be marred by violence had also heightened after an alleged assassination attempt on President Mnangagwa’s life in June. It is the first elections since Robert Mugabe quit power in 2017.
In Madagascar, the prospect of parliamentarian and presidential elections in December 2018 is in doubt following a dispute over parliamentary approval of new electoral laws. In June the Constitutional Court ordered the country’s president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, to appoint a new cabinet to resolve the impasse.
“The intent of this government is to organize an inclusive presidential election whose results have to be accepted by all,” Mr. Rajaonarimampianina said in a televised speech after appointing the new ministers.
Newly appointed prime minister Christian Ntsay has vowed to conduct an “inclusive presidential election.” Yet even after the president has confirmed that the elections will take place in November, there is still uncertainty as parliamentarians squabble over electoral laws.
“There is nothing more urgent than the holding of peaceful, free, transparent and inclusive elections,” the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said in June. He was referring specifically to the Congo, but his call is easily applicable to other countries.