Election Watch is back! I am excited to cover African elections again, and 2021 will give me ample opportunity to do so. By my count, at least 31 presidents, parliaments, and referendums will be on the ballot across the continent this year. You can find all of them on this list of upcoming elections.
I will resume the in-depth coverage of individual elections with the next edition of Election Watch. This week, I will instead look at the entire year and identify some of the most high-profile votes.
All eyes are on Uganda, the only African country to go to the polls in January. All seats of the parliament, as well as the presidency, are up for reelection on January 14. President Museveni is looking for his sixth term since 1986 and his National Resistance Movement for the continued dominance of parliament.
Museveni is challenged by Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, aka Bobi Wine, a 38-year-old pop star who was, like most of the country, barely born when Museveni took power after successfully staging a rebellion. Wine has a broad following among younger Ugandan’s and his “People Power” movement has celebrated some electoral successes in the past.
It is still unlikely that Museveni’s job is seriously in danger, though, if only because his regime has systematically harassed, persecuted, tortured, and killed Bobi Wine and his supporters for the past few months. So much so that Wine was dragged out of his car and teargassedwhile holding a live press briefing on filing a complaint to the International Criminal Court regarding this violent harassment. Just as in 2016, you can also expect widespread fraud during the counting of the ballots.
While Niger is holding its presidential run-off, Somalia will attempt to bring its delayed first round of elections over the line. Somalia was supposed to elect a new Senate, House, and president in October last year. But the government had to postpone all elections several times because of a political standoff between various political players. The Senate elections are supposed to go ahead first, but a new date is yet to be announced after the latest deadline for January 7–14 fell through. Tentatively, elections are now expected sometimes in February, although it is everyone’s guess if they will indeed take place.
All elections will be held indirectly, as the security situation and a lack of political consensus currently do not allow for a public vote.
Worth your time:
Garowe Online provides some background for the failure of the electoral institutions to hold elections on time, some of the reasons for the opposition to the electoral process, as well as the latest compromise between the speaker of the Senate and the government.
Brookings published a general overview of the political situation in Somalia back in November.
In Niger, incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou is not standing for another term. His designated successor from the ruling party PNDS, Mohamed Bazoum, only managed to get 39.33% of the first-round vote, necessitating a run-off on February 21 against second-placed Mahamane Ousmane of the opposition party RDR. If everything goes according to plan, Niger will see its first peaceful transfer of power between two (somewhat) democratically elected presidents.
Africa’s electoral year is kicking into gear in March. Côte d’Ivoire is electing a new National Assembly, the Republic of Congo holding elections for president and Cape Verde voting on both of these institutions. I will cover all of these races in detail. But the TLDR; on these is that while Cape Verde is widely expected to hold free and transparent elections, Congo’s presidential contest will be a total scam, and Côte d’Ivoire’s elections will almost certainly be substantially flawed.
Presidents in Djibouti, Benin, and Chad are up for reelection in April. No one expects anything akin to a democratic process in Djibouti and Chad, with the incumbents almost guaranteed to build on decades of experience of suppressing the opposition. The story in Benin is a bit more nuanced. President Talon is a first-term incumbent, albeit one with a keen instinct for power and how to retain it. A controversial campaign is guaranteed after the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights called for the annulment of a 2019 constitutional amendment on procedural grounds. Talon’s government has faced several rulings against it from the court but refused to heed any of them.
Somaliland was supposed to elect a new parliament more than ten years ago. In May, it may do it. The country’s three main political parties struck a deal in July last year to finally elect a new parliament together with local district elections. While Somaliland, technically a province of Somalia, is not recognized as a sovereign state by any other country, it is widely considered to feature a broadly democratic governance system. The outcome of the long-delayed elections will be essential to its ambitions to move from being a de facto independent territory to an internationally recognized nation.
In São Tomé and Príncipe, the presidency is up for grabs, while Ethiopia is likely to look at holding its postponed legislative elections during June. And in The Gambia, voters will be asked to pass judgment on a new constitution in preparations for presidential elections in December. Among these elections, all eyes will be on Ethiopia. In his almost three years in office, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been hailed as a democratic trailblazer, received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to resolve the long-running conflict with Eritrea, presided over the outbreak of civil war and the breakup of Ethiopia’s political power structure. If and how these elections are held will be essential in Ethiopia’s democratic trajectory.
Six years ago, South Sudan was supposed to hold legislative and presidential elections. The renewed civil war got in the way, though. After several extensions, the current terms of elected officials are now running until July, when elections are theoretically due. If they will happen is anyone’s guess.
Zambia has announced elections for both parliament and president to be held in August. The last elections in 2016 were a nail-biter, with incumbent Edgar Lungu scraping out a victory with 50.35% of the vote. All sides leveled allegations of voter suppression and violence against each other. The 2021 contest is expected to lead to similarly passionate arguments.
No elections are scheduled.
Chad and Morocco are expected to hold legislative elections, although Chad’s polls have already been postponed several times. As both countries are not exactly role models of democracy, results are unlikely to be consequential. In contrast, Cape Verde can usually be relied upon to hold elections on time and fairly and transparently. It will likely do so again in October to elect a new president.
No elections are scheduled.
The Gambia will hold presidential elections, while Libya has given itself the task to hold the first country-wide and fully democratic elections since the fall of Gaddafi in 2011. In both countries, successful and democratic elections would be the first after periods of enormous uncertainty and, in Libya, ten years of civil war.
Not scheduled yet or delayed
Algeria’s People’s National Assembly was supposed to face an early election last year after the country accepted a new constitution in a referendum. But the absence of the president due to a COVID-19 infection has led to postponement without a new date set. The legislative body’s term runs out in 2022, so in theory, the government could postpone the election until then.
Burkina Faso, Mali, and Libya all have long-running constitutional projects in varying states of completeness. Due to violence and instability in all three countries, referendums have been postponed repeatedly. Maybe some of these will see the light of day in 2021?
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