By Prince Kurupati
2020 was a momentous year for Africa on the political front in spite of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic which threatened to halt all political events largely elections. Nothing exemplifies this than the presidential elections in Malawi. Malawi in 2020 became only the second country on the whole continent to reverse a presidential election and call for fresh elections. The country’s judiciary noted widespread electoral malpractices thus calling for fresh elections which were ultimately won by an alliance of opposition candidates.
The decision taken by the Malawi Judiciary was hailed by many political analysts and lovers of African politics citing that it provides a good precedent in a continent widely marred by reports of electoral malpractices. Going into 2021, African will once again witness several elections ranging from local government elections, House of Assembly elections to presidential elections.
Looking forward to these elections, we came up with this 2021 guide to political events in Africa which looks at the most important elections to watch out for in the New Year.
Angola – Local Government Elections – April 2021
Angola is one of Africa’s most centralized states – at least administratively. The country has four levels of government that is national, provincial, municipal and district. However, the last three do not enjoy any autonomy as they are all rigidly controlled by the central government in Luanda. The present system in the country does not permit senior officials of the three lower government levels to be elected by the people. Rather, the central government appoints all senior officials at the three lower levels. The president appoints the 18 provincial governors. They in turn appoint the 164 municipal administrators, who then appoint the 475 administrators of the districts. The party that wins the presidential election will, therefore, hold all political power across all the levels of government.
The country’s latest constitution which came into effect in 2010 recognized the need to ditch this system and introduce a two-tier governance system at local government level which comprise of one, an elected local representative body and two, decentralized local units of the central government. This effectively paved the way for the government to start conducting elections for local government. Since 2010, the central government in the country has been working on the legal and institutional frameworks to start conducting local government elections and the country’s president Joao Lourenco announced that the first municipal elections will be held in 2020.
That however did not come to pass as the government blamed the devastating COVID-19 pandemic as the reason why it was impossible to hold the elections. A new date was set and the elections if all things remain as is will be conducted in April, 2021. Apart from the presidential elections, the municipal elections will serve as a test to prove the popularity of the ruling party both in the urban and rural areas as the country gears up for the presidential elections in a couple of years time.
Benin – Presidential & Local Government Elections – April 2021
There have been a few countries in Africa that could pride themselves as models of democracy on the African continent. One such country is Benin. However, in the recent past, Benin has seen democratic decline. This best exemplified by the country’s fall on the Freedom House democracy rankings which saw Benin downgrading from Free to Partly Free in 2019. According to many political analysts, this has largely been necessitated by the current president Patrice Talon who is seeking a second presidential term. In the past elections, Patrice Talon barred some opposition parties from contesting. In the April 2019 parliamentary elections, only two parties – both of which loyal to Talon contested. In the 2020 local elections, only one opposition party was allowed to contest. In both elections, some key opposition figures were detained without cause.
There are many fears that the political and civil space in Benin will shrink further in 2021 as there is a huge possibility that only Patrice Talon’s name will be on the ballot – this, in essence, meaning a landslide win for the incumbent. This necessitated by a new electoral law adopted in 2019 which stipulates all prospective presidential and vice presidential candidates to be sponsored by 16 members of parliament or mayors. Since the opposition has no representation in parliament and does not hold 16 mayoral offices, it becomes a mammoth task for any aspiring candidate to meet the requirements to run for president.
Burkina Faso – Local Government Elections – May 2021
Burkina Faso conducted its presidential and parliamentary elections just as recent as November 2020. The electoral season, however, isn’t yet over in Burkina Faso as the country gears for another round of elections – this time, the local government elections. The country’s president Roch Marc Christian Kabore won comfortably in the presidential election as he was reelected and many political analysts are predicting another win for his party in the local government elections.
Cape Verde – Presidential & National Assembly Elections – Mar 2021
Cape Verde is widely considered as one of Africa’s most democratic and free nations. Unlike most elections across the continent, Cape Verde elections haven’t attracted much negative attention in terms of electoral malpractices and the like. The same is expected in the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for March, 2021. In the last election, the opposition candidate Mr. Ulisses Correia s Silva of the Movement for Democracy won the election. The incumbent will be seeking reelection and all indicators at the moment put him as the likely candidate to win the upcoming election. After the presidential election, the country using a closed list proportional representation system will elect the 72 members of the National Assembly.
Central African Republic – Presidential (Second Round) – Feb 2021
Central African Republic may conduct the second round of its general election on 14 February 2021. However, the country will only be able to conduct the elections if there is no outright winner (presidential candidate polling more than 50% of the votes cast) in the first round of the general election scheduled for 27 December, 2020. If an outright winner emerges during the first round, then there will be no election in 2021. 17 candidates will be competing in the presidential election. Namely, these include Faustin-Archange Touadera, Anicet-Georges Dologuele, Martin Ziguele, Sylvain Patasse, Mahamat Kamoun, Augustin Agou. Crepin Mboli Goumba, Serge Djorie, Eloi Anguimate, lexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, Abdoul Karim Meckassoua, Catherine Samba-Panza, Cyriaque Gonda, Nicolas Tiangaye, Kolingba Desire, Reboas Aristide, and Serge Bokassa.
Chad – Presidential & National Assembly/Local Government Elections – Apr and Oct 2021 respectively
Regarded as one of the most authoritarian states in Africa, Chad will be conducting two rounds of elections in 2021. The first election is the presidential race to be held on 10 April 2021. The second election is the National Assembly and Local Government race scheduled for 24 October 2021. For many political analysts, the result of the presidential election is a foregone conclusion as the incumbent Idriss Deby who has been in office since seizing power in a 1990 revolution will once again come out victorious.
In the last presidential election held in 2017, Idriss Deby employed some authoritarian measures to intimidate, scare and hurt his challengers. The main opposition figure Ngarlejy Yorongar was barred from running due to ‘administrative irregularities’. Journalists were prevented from freely conducting their work with TV5Monde, the French broadcaster having its equipment confiscated and the crew detained for filming at a polling station on Election Day. On the day of the election, mobile internet, fixed internet connections and SMS messaging were cut.
In preparation for the upcoming presidential race, Idriss Deby has already shown that he is eager to use the same intimidating tactics that he used in the 2017 elections. Under the guise of preventing the mass spread of COVID-19 and to prevent misinformation about the pandemic, Idriss Deby has already started systematic bans on gatherings and incarcerating government critics and opposition figures for ‘disturbing public order’. Just like the presidential race, many political analysts believe that the parliamentary race is also a foregone conclusion as Idriss Deby’s party is set to win the majority of seats.
Zambia – Presidential Elections – Aug 2021
In August 2021, Zambians will go to the polls to choose their next leader. The southern African nation is one of the emblems of democracy in a region that has often been marred by high levels of electoral violence – this, however, is not to say Zambia has had its fair share of electoral disputes more so during presidential elections. The biggest indicator of Zambia’s democracy is seen in the fact that the country has seen opposition candidates in the past defeating incumbents something which is very rare in southern Africa as revolutionary parties tend to win often.
The presidential race in Zambia according to many political analysts will largely be decided by the candidates with the most appealing economic blueprints. Zambia has regressed economically over the years, a development which led the country to default on its sovereign debt a couple of years back. The local currency, the kwacha has been losing value against top global currencies and a large proportion of the working population has been complaining over the erosion of disposal income. Currently, the country’s external debt stands at $12 billion which is roughly 80 per cent of the GDP. In the year ending December 2020, projections stated that the economy would shrink by 4.8 per cent.
With the economy looking all gloomy, the racing candidates will be hoping to come up with appealing economic blueprints meant at transforming the country’s economic fortunes. The incumbent President Lungu has already stated that he is going to prioritize negotiations with the IMF if reelected with the intention of seeking a solution to the country’s debt crisis. According to him, the only way forward for the country at the present moment is to address the debt crisis and possibly open more lines for credit with favourable terms. Main opposition leader who is expected to give President Lungu a run for his money Hakainde Hichilema just like in his previous manifesto that he presented towards the 2016 election says his priority is to diversify the economy moving away from copper which has been the country’s biggest export over the years but has recently been affected by low commodity prices. In doing so, Hichilema aims at increasing tax revenue thus putting the country on a better economic pedestal.
Though the presidential election is months away, political analysts predict a close presidential race which will likely be won by the incumbent.
Ethiopia – National (Prime minister) Elections – TBA
Ethiopia had set August 2020 to be the month in which the citizens would choose their next leader. However, that unfortunately failed to take place owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic forced the authorities in Ethiopia to postpone the elections to a later date in 2021. According to many people both within and outside Ethiopia, the incumbent Abiy Ahmed was likely going to come out victorious in the event that the election took place as scheduled owing to his popularity. However, that has all changed owing to the internal conflict in the country’s northern Tigray region which has been badly handled by the government.
While several regions in Ethiopia showed admiration towards Abiy Ahmed’s rule, one political party the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was becoming increasingly frustrated with Ahmed’s leadership. As such, they saw the looming elections as the perfect time to boot out Abiy Ahmed. However, when the government announced that owing to COVID-19 the elections were to be postponed, the TPLF was angered. In defiance to the stipulations of the federal government, the party went ahead with its regional elections something which in turn angered the federal government. Towards the end of the year, reports emerged that the Tigrayan ruling party had gone on a rampage attacking defense posts and stealing military equipment. The Abiy Ahmed administration response was to send in troops to calm the situation down. However, as soon as the troops arrived on the ground, it became apparent that the only way to deal with the Tigrayan ruling party was to engage in fighting. For several weeks, government troops fought with the Tigrayan ruling party leading many Ethiopians to be displaced from their homes.
While at the present moment the situation seems to have calmed down, analysts say the only permanent solution to the internal conflict is for elections to take place. The elections will most certainly take place in 2021 and Abiy Ahmed will be hoping to win his second term in office. While the internal conflict has certainly affected his image, analysts state that he is still the frontrunner to win considering his party the Prosperity Party merged with other parties including the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), Amhara Democratic Party, Oromo Democratic Party and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement.
Uganda – Presidential Election – TBA
One of Africa’s longest serving presidents will be hoping to win another term in 2021. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has been holding the highest office since 1986 and is looking to carry on. However, to do so, he needs to beat a charismatic and youthful presidential challenger in musician Robert ‘Bobi Wine’ Kyagulanyi. The opposition candidate Bobi Wine entered into an alliance with the losing candidate in the previous election Kizza Besigye and the two are hoping that their alliance will pay dividends.
The challenge for Bobi Wine and a plus for the incumbent Yoweri Museveni is how Museveni handled the COVID-19 pandemic. Uganda is one of the few African countries that have managed to contain the pandemic recording a little more than 200 deaths. Museveni has capitalized on the country’s successful handling of the pandemic constantly airing ads and documentaries detailing how Uganda is a global model in the fight against COVID-19. Daily contests are run on radio stations and televisions dishing out goodies to citizens who partake in COVID-19 awareness shows. Museveni and his administration are hoping that the goodies will help with vote counts come election time and if anything is to be taken from past elections, then Museveni is certainly on the right track.
Unlike Museveni, Bobi Wine has taken a different route when it comes to campaign strategy. Firstly, he sought to combine all opposition votes by entering into alliances with other opposition parties – something highly commendable but can be problematic if he wins when it comes to allocating political offices to other alliance members. Apart from this, Bobi Wine has also prioritized exposing Museveni’s authoritative tendencies as his campaign strategy often times telling his supporters the human rights violations that have been committed by Museveni. At his rallies, Museveni has actually played into the hands of Bobi Wine as government troops and authorities have often disrupted proceedings in some instances injuring and even killing the supporters of Bobi Wine. Bobi Wine is also relying on charisma and his energy as a youthful leader to emerge victorious.
Looking at the campaign strategies being employed by Museveni and Bobi Wine, it’s difficult to convincing conclude who will likely come out on top. However, when one considers the incumbent’s hold on state institutions, then the outcome will most likely be in Museveni’s favour. On this front, one just needs to take a look at the 2016 election in which international observers cited allegations of fraud and voting irregularities biased in favour of Museveni but the result stood.