There are still 13 presidential and legislative elections to be held in Africa this year. Of particular interest at the moment are the presidential elections in Benin and Chad, partly because of their implications for Nigeria and the West Africa region. For Chad, the results of its presidential election would have an influence on the fight against radical Islamic insurgency in the Sahel, and for Benin, trade with Nigeria.
Elections in Africa have often been marred by violence, malpractice and fraud. However, the story seems to be changing. Since February 2020 to the time of this report, there have been 18 national elections (presidential and legislative) across Africa and there will be another 11 before the end of 2021. Election observers generally lauded the conduct of some elections on the continent; however, some others were met with violence.
In Guinea, the aftermath of the controversial presidential election was greeted with violent clashes, resulting in the death of at least 30 people. The Ghananian presidential election also witnessed some level of violence. The Ghana Police Service noted about 60 incidents and a few casualties.
Uganda was not left out of the mix. During the build-up to its presidential election, the country saw some of the worst election violence of 2021. Human right groups accused the Yoweri Museveni led government of rights abuses and voter intimidation. Cases of arrests, killings and beatings of protesters, opposition members and journalists by security forces abound. In a rally on 18 and 19 of November 2020, security forces clamped down on protesters, resulting in the death of at least 54 persons and the arrest of opposition leader, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, AKA Bobi Wine.
Chad borders Nigeria to the southwest along the Lake Chad basin and is one of the countries in the Sahel currently battling a territorial and security threat posed by Islamic extremist groups. A lot is riding on this election, including the country’s economy, which has been hard hit by the Coronavirus and climate change along the Chad basin.
For its 2021 presidential election, President Idris Deby is aiming for a sixth term as Chad’s president, having taken power in 1990 after a coup. He has also needed French help to hold on to that power, having survived at least two coup attempts.
In Benin, the odds of Patrice Talon losing are practically nil, and his reforms to the electoral code are the key reason why. Benin Republic is a country that has taken Mao’s exhortation to ‘let a thousand flowers blossom’ literally, with up to 200 political parties in a country of only 12 million people.
Since Mr Talon took power, there has been a huge hike in the fees required to contest for political office, and parties with less than 10% of the national vote are also barred from entering parliament. Mr Talon and his supporters contend that these measures are necessary to streamline the country’s democratic practice, but all his opponents see are obstacles being put in the path of anyone who would go against the president.
With the exception of monarchies in the Kingdom of Morocco (constitutional), the Kingdom of Eswatini (Absolute) and the Kingdom of Lesotho (constitutional), many African countries subscribe to democracy as their system of government with term limits.
To maintain a grip on political power, some African leaders have continued to employ tactics to suppress voting and intimidate opposition parties. For instance, in the just concluded presidential election in Burkina Faso, about a third of the population were disenfranchised due to insecurity. President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré’s opponent raised concerns over the validity of the electioneering process, which was later dismissed by the electoral commission.
Ghana’s democracy, which for many years has been the envy of sub-Saharan Africa, met a rocky turn during its presidential and parliamentary elections. Even though the elections were generally praised by international observers, the opposition party, National Democratic Congress (NDC), raised doubts about the conduct of the elections and promised not to concede defeat.
Benin and Chad are at different points on the march to authoritarianism. Idriss Deby begins his fourth decade as Chad’s president with an apparently undiminished appetite for continued power. Despite various crackdowns on dissent, there is little international pressure for him to allow greater democratic competition. The preference for stability by foreign powers, led by France, usually takes precedence over democratic principles, especially with a raging insurgency in the Sahel to worry about. The effects of a post-Gaddafi Libya are still very much with us. There is little appetite to remove a strongman who is helping to keep a lid on a full blown security crisis in a vast, ungoverned part of the world.
Nigeria’s so-called ‘37th state’ could be on the verge of a Deby-lite autocracy of its own. Patrice Talon has already turned a pledge to serve only one term into a certain re-election. Main opposition leaders are either in jail or in exile, the parliament is full of his supporters, and the constitutional court is led by his former personal lawyer. If he decides to run again in 2026, there appears little – except mass protest – to stop him, especially given the barriers to political entry that are already in place.
The result will be a shrinking democratic space that actually makes societies more fragile.
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