The State of Democracy in Africa Amidst Upcoming Elections in 2024

Introduction

The upcoming general elections in various African nations this year 2024 present a chance to enhance, solidify, and establish democracy while reinforcing governance structures. Elections play a crucial role in the democratic process of any nation. They allow marginalized groups, including ethnic and religious minorities, to voice their concerns and interests, integrating them into the national dialogue and potentially influencing the national agenda. However, this can only be achieved through fair, free, regular, and credible elections conducted in countries with robust and credible democratic institutions (1). Elections play a crucial role in liberal democracy as they facilitate the smooth transition of leadership and serve as a tool for political legitimacy. The lack of successful elections often leads to the rise of political dictatorships and personalized rule in Africa. The recent surge in democratic movements has brought about competitive multiparty elections. However, the current state of elections in many African countries seems to be undermining the democratic process, putting the fragile project at risk (2). This year, 2024 is an election year in Africa with many nations engaging in general elections. Meanwhile Senegal just had elections on March 24th, countries like Burkina Faso, Rwanda are scheduled to hold elections in July, Botswana in October, South Africa, Algeria, Ghana will be organizing elections in December,  Namibia in November all of 2024. There are others like Chad and Mali which are equally expected this year, . In the course of this paper, we shall examine elections as a pathway to democracy in Africa, the place of the African Union in managing elections within the continent and finally make policy recommendations on how to have credible elections within the continent and foster democracy which is one of the pillars of the Africa Union Agenda 2063.

Elections a pathway to democracy in Africa. Looking at 2024 elections within the continent.

The world is keeping an eye on the elections in Africa. South Sudan will hold its first election since gaining independence in 2011, and it is anticipated that the non-electable governments in Burundi, Chad, and Mali will revert to civilian rule. Elections typically serve as a signal for term limits, though not all nations adhere to them. For instance, a number of mandates have been perpetually postponed (3). Five of the many countries that have scheduled elections—Algeria, Chad, Comoros, Rwanda, and South Sudan—have changed or removed their term limits.

In 2024, Africa is set to have a busy election calendar, with many countries preparing for either presidential or general elections. These elections vary greatly, ranging from highly competitive multiparty contests to mere formalities. Interestingly, the majority of these elections are concentrated in the final quarter of the year (4).

Within southern Africa, where one party has traditionally held power for an extended period, there is a possibility of witnessing the first transition of power. In other countries, these elections may lead to power-sharing coalitions, indicating a positive development in the practice of multi-partysm and encouraging innovative approaches (5).

Moreover, many Sahel countries that have witnessed coups in recent years have scheduled elections as part of their agreed-upon plan to return to civilian rule. The outcomes and processes of these elections will significantly influence the governance trajectory in this region and the growing security challenges it faces (6).

In recent times, there has been a surge in the democratization process worldwide, and the African continent is currently experiencing a renewed push towards the advancement of democracy and good governance (7). Across the North, East, South, and West of Africa, authoritarian regimes are gradually giving way to democratic governments. This newfound drive for democracy and good governance is spreading rapidly throughout Africa, akin to a wildfire, and numerous African nations have recently transitioned from authoritarian rule to democratic forms of governance, aligning themselves with the global trend.

Therefore, in as much as there is doubt as to the credibility of most elections in Africa because of the lack of independence of the electoral process, elections (regular elections) remains the lone pathway to democracy in Africa. Just like in America, despite the many calls for rigging, the mere fact that elections are held every four years signifies the presence of democracy.

The African Union and Election Management in Africa

Elections have played a crucial role in the global democratization process, serving as an institutionalized effort to realize the fundamental principles of democracy, namely, governance by the people, for the people, and of the people. However, many democratic elections in Africa have been plagued by controversy and violence. Corruption, widespread electoral fraud, ballot theft, political violence, and the winner-takes-all mentality have all had a detrimental impact on the democratic process (8). In numerous African countries, the announcement of election results is met with violent protests. Peaceful transitions of power from ruling parties to opposition parties are rare, and many leaders have assumed the position of life presidents. There is a prevailing sense of apathy among the electorate towards elections, particularly among those residing in rural areas, as they perceive the state as having little or no relevance to their lives. This sentiment stems from the state’s failure to provide social security or any form of social citizenship, effectively alienating a significant portion of the population. With a firm commitment to promoting the universal values and principles of democracy, good governance, human rights, and the right to development, and  with a determination to enhance and uphold good governance through the establishment of transparency, accountability, and participatory democracy, the African Union has adopted the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance (the Charter).

Agenda 2063 serves as the guiding document and comprehensive strategy to propel Africa towards becoming a dominant force in the world. It outlines the necessary steps and actions to achieve inclusive and sustainable development, embodying the ideals of unity, self-determination, freedom, progress, and collective prosperity that are central to Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance. This visionary blueprint paves the way for Africa’s transformation into a global powerhouse, ensuring a brighter future for the continent and its people (9).

 Africa has witnessed remarkable advancements in the establishment of electoral democracy in the last ten years. This progress is evident in the successful conduct of multiparty elections across the majority of African Union (AU) member states. The AU plays a crucial role in promoting electoral transparency by conducting African Union Election Observation Missions (AUEOM) (10). The primary goals of AUEOM include:

– To ensure precise and unbiased reporting or evaluation of the election, assessing how well the elections align with regional, continental, and global criteria for democratic processes;

– To propose suggestions for enhancing upcoming elections using the results obtained; and

– To showcase the AU’s commitment to assisting AU member States in their electoral processes and democratization efforts, aiming to guarantee that the organization of authentic elections fosters the strengthening of democratic governance, peace, and stability.

The AUEOM derives its authority from several African Union instruments, notably:

– the African Union Guidelines for Elections Observation and Monitoring Missions

– the OAU/AU Declaration on Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa

– the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights

– the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.

The African Union, through the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, aims to encourage each State Party to uphold the universal values and principles of democracy and human rights. It also seeks to strengthen the rule of law based on respect for the Constitution and constitutional order within the political systems of the Member States. Additionally, the Charter advocates for regular, transparent elections to establish the legitimacy of representative government and facilitate democratic transitions of power. Furthermore, it denounces any unconstitutional changes of government in Member States as a significant threat to stability, peace, security, and development. The Charter also emphasizes the importance of safeguarding the independence of the judiciary and fostering good governance through the promotion of democratic practices, the establishment of strong governance institutions, and the cultivation of political pluralism and tolerance (11).

Conclusion and Recommendations

The 2024 elections in Africa have the potential to influence current partnerships and vice versa. The nations undergoing elections collectively account for nearly a third of the continent’s GDP, with South Africa leading the group with a share of 13.5%. This year’s elections in Africa coincide with elections in key global trading partners like the EU, UK, Russia, the United States, and India (12). The emergence of new leaders could lead to shifts in relationships among all involved parties, and alterations in governance could either disrupt existing socioeconomic collaborations or foster new ones. Consequently, for the face of democracy in Africa to be sustained, the African Union election observer missions and national election commissions must do all it takes to ensure free, fair, transparent and credible elections.

Dr. Pippie Hugues
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Dr. Pippie Hugues is a Policy Analyst at the Governance and Democracy Division of the Nkafu Policy Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in International Law with specialty in Human Rights, Conflict and Peace building.

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