The year 2018 will see general elections in a quarter of African countries. Zimbabweans have voted in the first election since the removal of former president Robert Mugabe. The election pitted 75-year-old President Emmerson Mnangagwa against 40-year-old lawyer and pastor Nelson Chamisa. Mali’s elections have pitted president Ibrahim Boubakar Keita against main opposition candidate Soumaila Cisse. Comorans has voted in a referendum to change the constitution while D.R. Congo is set to hold elections in December.
Public political spaces are gradually opening across Africa, giving citizens new avenues to agitate for political, economic and social rights, and accountability from their governments. What is lacking is capacitating of electoral bodies in terms of competent staff with skills to manage elections in a fair and credible manner; decisional and institutional independence to perform their functions without undue interference from the government; adequate resources, a system of accountability and an impartial disciplinary system to address wrongdoing and abuses. On the other hand, the electorate ought to be accorded a credible procedure that they can use to file complaints on illegal or unethical conduct. They must be adequately informed of voter rights and obligations, date and procedures of the elections, political party or candidate options available, and above all, the importance of participating in the exercise.
While many African countries have strengthened their democracies, the rise of ethnic-based political parties has become a major challenge to electoral processes. In addition, the challenge has always been for incumbent leaders to guarantee an electoral process that truly reflects the people’s choice, even if it is at the leaders’ own expense.