January 27, 2023

What maybe the African elections to watch in 2022-2023

Edward Mensah in South Africa

Africa can expect many challenges in 2022 and 2023 elections, with rising tensions that threaten the rich continent and its developmental appearance. Successive COVID-19 waves across different regions of the world, including Africa, will exact a detrimental economic impact. This will hinder job prospects for millions of people on the continent and leave millions more struggling to make ends meet.

A look ahead suggests that African countries need to do much more to reverse current conflict and crisis trends. Given the regional repercussions of many issues and the transnational nature of some, regional bodies and the African Union (AU) must act with more resolve and urgency. In the coming months and year, various countries will hold elections, which could raise tensions in the region. The idles of the elections in 2022 and 2023 cannot be ignored.

Polls in Kenya and Angola

Three major elections are scheduled for Angola and Kenya in August 2022, and Senegal in January and July. These elections will influence the political trajectories of the countries and are likely to increase tensions and violence, particularly in Kenya and Senegal.

Kenya’s last presidential election, in 2017, was a drama-filled saga that ended with the annulment of the results when the courts found serious irregularities in the electoral process. Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory was, however, confirmed following a rerun.

President Kenyatta, now unable to run for a third term, has sought to modify the structure of the executive and has tried to create a large coalition through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). The BBI set out, through a constitutional amendment, to create new posts, including those of prime minister and deputy ministers, to make ministers members of parliament and allocate a position for the opposition leader.

However, Kenya’s high court, then appeal court rejected the bid, which they deemed unconstitutional. Kenyatta vacating office leaves room for an open contest where former vice-president William Ruto and long-time opposition leader Raila Odinga appear frontrunners. This will be a turning point in their political careers, and probably the last shot at the presidency for Odinga.

The outcome of the election, however, will largely be decided by the direction of votes by Kenyatta’s constituency. Kenyatta will, therefore, want to leverage his ability to swing the votes towards a particular candidate. The collapse of the BBI has taken away the possibility of a larger executive where power is shared and Kenyatta has a position. This has upped the ante for the 2022 election, which is destined to be highly contested and disputed, with electoral violence expected.

Angola’s presidential polls will probably see incumbent João Manuel Lourenço seek a second term after he took over in 2017 from José Eduardo Dos Santos, in power for nearly four decades. Lourenço’s ascension to power was part of a People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) succession plan that established him as ruling party candidate. However, the polls were marred by irregularities that cast doubt on the integrity of the results, thereby initially chipping away at his legitimacy.

Although he has been praised for his reformist undertakings, particularly around combating corruption and relatively opening up the political space, Lourenço has also used reforms to consolidate power. The economic recession, poverty and inequality have been the country’s biggest concerns. Lourenço’s bid for re-election is likely to be a referendum assessing governance during his first tenure. It will also be another sure test of the country’s electoral process, which has largely favoured the ruling MPLA for several decades.

These, the first post-Dos Santos elections, will test the government’s claims of progress in political and press freedom. Angola’s political and governance direction could be determined by the quality of this electoral process.

Zimbabwe

With 14 months to go before Zimbabweans elect a president, members of parliament and local government representatives, the country is in full election mode. The ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has ramped up its campaign while a new opposition party has sparked hope of a meaningful democratic contest. But the political and electoral playing field remains deeply uneven and stacked in favour of the ruling party.

ZANU-PF’s campaign is a mix of state events and party activities, with the national broadcaster doing the party’s bidding. Meanwhile, Nelson Chamisa’s political opposition, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) – which put up a spirited performance during the recent by-elections – is trying to establish itself while simultaneously preparing for the 2023 polls.

The CCC, unveiled on 22 January, was greeted with excitement, and the new political outfit was emboldened by its performance in the March by-elections. Yet nuanced analysis of the political terrain after the by-elections shows that ZANU-PF’s position as the ruling party is safe so far.

The CCC’s performance was impressive. With less than a month to mobilise and gain traction, the party posted significant wins. It showed political prowess to turn the tide in the by-elections, winning 19 of the 28 seats up for grabs. However, its candidates were previous holders of 21 of 28 seats. In effect, the party managed to return 19 seats and lost two.

ZANU-PF on the other hand retained all the seats it previously held in both Parliament and local government, and took two more from the opposition.

As the country stumbles towards the 2023 polls, ZANU-PF’s dominance and the half-hearted implementation of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) election guidelines mean the journey will be arduous for opposition parties.

The political and electoral playing field remains as in the days of Robert Mugabe. The ruling party has all but perfected its messaging, its use of the law and security institutions against opponents, and the conflation of party and state resources to boost its position.

In these countries and many others on the continent, the AU needs to prevent electoral violence and help to deliver credible elections whose results are accepted by all. The wealth of knowledge and expertise the AU has accumulated over years of electoral observation should result in strategies that assist countries to deliver better and more credible elections. This should start with implementing the many recommendations made by election observers to ameliorate electoral processes in several countries.

Other measures could include discussions on electoral violence at the AU Peace and Security Council and actions to prevent continued electoral violence as a threat to peace and stability on the continent.