The elasticity of Africa’s democratic fabric will be tested in 2023, with high-stakes elections slated throughout the year. Across the continent, 24 countries are holding different polls in 2023.
From national to local assembly elections, economies are forecast to experience minimal economic growth, to be compounded by effects of the Russian-Ukraine war. To boot, the respective currencies of these nations are forecast to continue depreciating against the dollar, amplifying inflationary pressures in tandem driving up dollar denominated prices of imports. This already has created a daunting ‘dollar doom loop’ quagmire, that has hitherto left a trail of devastation not only among these nations, but across the world, further retrogressing economic activities.
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The state of Africa’s democracy was concerning in 2022, due to the resurgence of unconstitutional takeovers by military coups. Burkina Faso experienced two takeovers. There were failed coup attempts in Guinea Bissau, The Gambia, and the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe. Previously, in 2021, there were six coup attempts in Africa, four of them successful. Whether this trend continues into 2023, remains to be seen but the AU has strongly condemned the unconstitutional takeover of governments.
During the recently held Africa-US Summit, US President Joe Biden met with leaders from the DRC, Gabon, Liberia, Nigeria, Madagascar, and Sierra Leone to discuss upcoming elections in 2023, seeking assurance there will be free and fair polls. He also revealed plans to avail around $1.6 M, to support elections and good governance in Africa. However, Kenya and Angola successful 2022 elections provided a ray of hope for Africa’s democratic processes.
One of the key aspirations of Africa’s Agenda 2063: is an ‘Africa of Good Governance, Democracy, and Respect for Human Rights, Justice and the Rule of Law’. To boot, Goal 16 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), advocates for the promotion of the rule of law to ensure equal access to justice. Furthermore, the 2021 democracy playbook, enumerates 10 commitments to advancing global democracy, advocates for commitment to enacting policies and electoral processes that promote equality, universality, and transparency, coupled with the protection of broad access to the vote and election data.
According to the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), among the 24 countries set to hold elections in 2023, the ones holding presidential elections include Nigeria, DRC, Sierra Leone, Gabon, Liberia, Zimbabwe and Madagascar.
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State of Africa’s Democracies in 2023
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation will head to the polls on the 25th of February, to elect a successor to the outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party, who concludes his second term and as the constitution stipulates is not eligible to run again. Albeit this was not the only prohibitive factor, given the country’s economic downturn, heightened insecurity and Buhari’s age (80 years), Nigerians could still have opted for a change in governance.
A majority of Nigerians look forward to the election, especially the youth who are eager to see change in education, employment and the rooting out of the country’s endemic corruption. Currently, inflation rates have been surging and the Naira continues to fall against the dollar, Nigerians hope the democratic exercise can usher in vibrant leaders who will restore the country’s economy.
The political contest is among three major candidates; Bola Tinubu of the APC, Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who lost to Buhari in 2019, nominated by the country’s main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi who has been attracting the youth vote. All of them living by the mantra of ‘age is but a number’ as they all over 61 years old.
Over and above, all the candidates have committed to bring in an economic change as the economy under Buhari has been largely defined by strict foreign exchange controls, border closures, coupled with import restrictions. The three appear to be in consensus to remove the multi-billion dollar per year petrol subsidy, improve the power sector and ease restrictions on investment in infrastructure projects.
Sierra Leone Election
Slated for June, Sierra Leone will hold its presidential and parliamentary elections, which will determine whether President Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party, will be re-elected for a second term. This comes nearly a year after the eruption of anti-government protests, which resulted in the death of at least 21 civilians and 6 police officers. What was a public outcry to protest the high cost of living amid tough economic conditions as inflation had hit an all-time high of 28 percent, was declared by President Bio an attempted coup to overthrow the government and was therefore handled with an iron hand.
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Five months from now, citizens of Sierra Leone will finally have an opportunity to be the jury that delivers judgement on Bio’s interpretation, of the tragic events that left the country shaken and tarnished his name leaving him slim chances of getting re-elected. Bio will be up against the opposition candidate Samura Kamara, a former Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs and also a former governor of the country’s Central Bank.
Famous for being home to one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe is scheduled to hold elections later in the year. This will make for the second national vote since the ousting of Robert Mugabe who had ruled the country for 37 years, but was deposed by a military coup in 2017.The country’s last election was in 2018 which ushered in Emmerson Mnangagwa as the President.
Popularly known as “Garwe“, or crocodile in Shona, after his days as a member of the 1960s Crocodile Gang that waged anti-colonial resistance acts against the white minority regime of the time; Mnangagwa was seen as a beacon of hope for a better Zimbabwe. However, with the passage of time he has come to be known as a political student of Mugabe, evidenced by his imposition of laws to thwart opposition groups.
In the forthcoming elections, 80-year old President Mnangawa under the ruling party ZANU PF will be taking on 44-year old lawyer Nelson Chamisa. This will make for a second time as he defeated him in 2018, in what was viewed as a flawed election rife with violence and irregularities reminiscent of Mugabe’s regime. Chamisa, running under the Citizens Coalition for Change party, hopes to right the wrongs of 2018 and instigate economic growth which has for long stagnated.
The country’s relations with the Western powers has continued to be defined by sanctions, despite President Mnangawa’s lobbying attempts of the AU to help free his country from the Mugabe-era sanctions; imposed on it for violating civil rights, including the forceful take-over of white-owned farms. By the same token, a transparent electoral process will be a prerequisite for the IMF and other donors to reengage with Zimbabwe.
Renowned as the ‘land of freedom’ or Africa’s oldest republic, Liberia’s presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for October. President George Weah has come under heavy criticism for both his absenteeism and failure to curb the country’s endemic corruption. He has done little to improve the country’s economy and instead is always travelling.
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In light of this, his recent visit to Qatar to watch his son play for the USA football team in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, while his country grapples with a collapsing economy, caused a public outrage with opposition figures saying it was a waste of scarce resources. Citizens gathered to protest against the soaring cost of living, a day before his return from a 48-day trip abroad which included Morocco, Egypt, France, and Qatar. The incident has since offered opposition politicians an effective line of attack against the absentee leader.
He will be seeking reelection against Dr. Jeremiah Z. Whapoe, the opposition leader under the Vision for Liberia Transformation Party (VOLT) .The presidential hopeful whilst on his campaign trail has been consoling citizens that the 2023 election, is a comeback for all Liberians to rewrite the history of the country and correct their wrongs for electing George Weah in the first place, who has been the source of their suffering.
Considered as Africa’s richest nation in terms of natural resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will hold a general election in December, to appoint a president, national assembly and senate. Incumbent President Félix Tshisekedi, who ascended to power in 2019 in the country’s first ever peaceful transition since independence will be seeking re-election.
He will be running against Martin Fayulu, Moïse Katumbi and former Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo and Adolphe Muzito by long shot. Fayulu lost a close election in 2018 to Tshisekedi with almost 35% of the vote against the winning 39%.
Tshisekedi has been committed to bringing peace as he promised upon his election in 2019. To this end, he has sought support from regional bodies such as the AU, East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community(SADC). This will make fertile ground for Tshisekedi’s premise to defend his presidency. Into the bargain, he will inevitably point to a strong economic recovery with an economic growth of over 6% in 2022. However, the majority of Congolese population remains among the continent’s poorest people, and expect to benefit from the country’s vast resources. The electoral exercise is expected to cost $ 600m and will be far from simple in the nation of 80 million people. Electoral delays are also a possibility, given that the 2016 election was postponed until the end of 2018.
The island nation of Madagascar will be holding elections later in 2023. Malagasy President Andry Rajoelina is running for a second five-year term. The political environment has been turbulent with anti-government protests against the high cost of living. As is the norm in many African countries, political repression in Madagascar occurs occasionally, with opposition activists sometimes facing jail time.
The major setback for Madagascar has been climate-induced natural disasters such as cyclones. In light of this, the race will likely be centered on economic rebound for the island nation, coupled with finding viable solutions to mitigate climate-change induced natural disasters such as the hunger crisis due to failed rains seven years on.
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President Rajoelina might face an alliance of former president Hery Rajaonarimampianina and another former president Marc Ravalomanana, who will combine their parties Tiako I Madagasikara (TIM) and Hery Vaovao ho an ‘I Madagasikara (HVIM) respectively. The two former heads of state also intend to lure smaller political parties to challenge Rajoelina, who is firmly in charge.
In Gabon, incumbent President Ali Bongo, will seek re-election, with heavy backing by members of his Gabonese Democratic Party. This despite his health concerns having suffered a stroke that left him struggling to talk. The president in Gabon is elected for a seven-year term in a single round of voting by plurality. His opposition for the seat Sosthene Orphee Lendjedi Ibola, of the Orientation Nouvelle party, was arrested and charged on terrorism charges in November. This was perceived as a move to sideline him from the presidential race later this year.
Other key presidential polls
According to EISA, other countries scheduled to hold national, local and regional elections in 2023 include: Benin, Central African Republic (CAR), Comoros, Djibouti, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Togo, Mauritania, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Mozambique, Mali and Libya.
Political stability largely dictates economic growth in Africa. Inarguably, elections on the continent are always highly volatile that herald impending doom or glory, depending on the electoral outcomes. Corruption, vote rigging, violence, and eruption of ethnic or civil wars are always a high possibility. Consequently, this presents business risks thereby repelling most potential investors.
If Africa is serious about reducing political violence and fostering fair democracies, it must do it through implementing laws and bolstering institutions that encourage openness, accountability, and the rule of law. Free and fair elections, safeguards for citizens’ rights, and judicial independence are all examples of what this can entail. Moreover, promoting peace and prosperity for all residents requires investment in areas such as education, economic development, and the elimination of poverty. Let’s hope the next set of leaders actually say what they intend to do.