Elections in African countries this year will be unlike many others as some of them are a response to coups, conflicts and other derailments of democratic processes in recent years, a report by the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies says.
Libya, Somalia, Mali, Guinea and Chad are all tentatively scheduled to hold elections that have been delayed or disrupted by coups or conflict. Other countries that will hold elections this year are Guinea, Kenya, Angola and Somaliland.
“Given the legitimising authority that a credible electoral process can bring, it is the manner in which these elections are managed, more than the specific outcomes, that will be significant for shaping Africa’s governance and security environment,” says the report.
Libya will hold presidential elections on January 24 and legislative elections on February 15, after they were postponed from December 24, 2021. The country will be going to the polls with concerns over election laws and eligibility of candidates.
Similarly, Libya lacks a clear plan for integrating the numerous militias dotting the security landscape into a cohesive national security structure.
Over 100 candidates have declared intention to run, exemplifying Libya’s perplexing electoral environment. These include divisive figures such as Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi — who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity — and Khalifa Haftar, the warlord based in eastern Libya who led an 18-month siege on the capital Tripoli.
Potential candidates include Abdulhamid Dabaiba — who is technically barred from running because he is the interim prime minister — and parliamentary Speaker Aguila Saleh, a key player in the electoral process and a close Haftar ally.
Somalia’s multistage polls
In the Horn region, Somalia will complete presidential and legislative elections by February 25 after failing to meet the December 2020 deadline.
Former presidents, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, as well as former prime minister Hassan Ali Khaire, are among the candidates challenging President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.
Somalia maintains an indirect multistage electoral system in which 54 senators are elected by five state assemblies and 275 members of Somalia’s Lower House of Parliament are chosen by delegates nominated by clan elders. These senators and parliamentarians then vote collectively to choose the president from a list of candidates approved by the Indirect Election Commission (IEC). The senate selection process was completed in November 2021
In Mali, 2022 will be a pivotal year in efforts to restore democratic rule following the two coups led by Col Assimi Goita in August 2020 and May 2021.
The February 27 elections date was set by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) during negotiations with the military junta to resume civilian rule. However, there are grand ambitions for the military’s role in Malian government and it has made a point of rehabilitating the images of past disgraced military rulers such as Moussa Traoré and Amadou Haya Sanogo. As a result, Mali is on the verge of a high-stakes conflict over vastly different visions of its governance trajectory.
According to the report, the Junta has shown little interest in preparing for the transition and is expected to try to avoid the February 27 election deadline. Instead, the Junta has proposed a five-year transition period that would end in 2026, a suggestion that was strongly rejected by the opposition coalition and Ecowas.
Guinea will hold presidential and legislative elections this March. The date corresponds with the six-month timetable established by Ecowas following the September 2021 military coup. The coup, led by Col Mamady Doumbouya deposed 83-year-old President Alpha Condé, who was serving a controversial third term in office.
However, the military has not handed over power to a civilian caretaker government. Instead, it has installed Doumbouya as interim president and taken few steps toward elections, indicating that it is vying for a multi-year military-led transition.
In Kenya, the country will be facing the fourth transition since Independence in 1963 and the August 9 elections will be highly contested. Some observers fear that this could generate a high-stake competition like was witnessed prior to the 2007/08 post-election violence.
“This vulnerability of the Kenyan political process is perpetuated by the organisation of political parties around ethnicity and personality rather than ideology, heightening perceptions of what is at stake. It has also perpetuated a seeming stasis of leading presidential candidates from election to election, handicapping prospects for more reformist candidates,” the report says.
It, however, notes that Kenya has a history of competitive elections and has been an outspoken defender of upholding democratic norms in the region.
Among a crowded field of candidates, the leading contenders are shaping up to be Deputy President William Ruto and former prime minister Raila Odinga. President Kenyatta is wide believed to prefer Mr Odinga’s candidature to his deputy’s.
The report by the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies and authored by Joseph Siegle and Candace Cook says Kenya’s democratic evolution can be attributed to the growing independence of the Judiciary, which has emerged as a critical check on the Executive.
Angola will be holding presidential and legislative in August, but the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) has maintained continuous control over Angolan politics since 1975 and appears intent on ensuring this remains the case as strongman President João Lourenço runs for a second term.
Through its deep influence over the courts, the MPLA has challenged the selection of new opposition leaders, Costa Júnior and Abel Chivukuvuku. This creates additional bureaucratic obstacles for the opposition, which has vowed to field a unified coalition in the 2022 elections. The opposition currently controls roughly a third of the seats in the National Assembly, despite allegations of widespread irregularities benefiting the MPLA during the 2017 vote count.
Vote counting for the 2022 elections will be done centrally rather than locally, defying electoral best practices and reducing oversight and accountability of these tallies.
Civil society leaders are also concerned that Lourenço will use constitutional amendments to reset the term limit.
Chad will be holding presidential and legislative elections between June and September, an attempt to move the country to a civilian-led democratic government following the death of long-time authoritarian leader Idriss Déby in April 2021.
The elections are needed because executive authority did not shift to the Speaker of Parliament after Déby’s death as constitutionally mandated. Rather, a military council of 13 generals seized power, dissolved the government, and selected his 37-year-old son, Mahamat Déby as the country’s new leader.
This extraconstitutional hereditary succession of power amounted to a coup, precipitating a negotiation with the African Union resulting in the 18-month transitional timeframe to the polls.
The report says that the inclusion of genuine political opposition in the transitional process, the opening of space for civil society and the media, and the establishment of an independent electoral commission will all be indicators of the junta’s seriousness in supporting a transition and the credibility of the 2022 polls.