Africa Votes: these are the elections to look out for on the continent

With no less than five national elections taking place this year, 2017 is going to be an important one for electoral politics in Africa. The continent will see elections in Kenya, Rwanda, Liberia, The Democratic Republic of Congo and Somaliland. Fatima Moosa tells us what to watch out for.

Democracy in Africa has seen many challenges over the years, including post-electoral violence and election rigging. Just this month, Lesotho was forced to hold a snap election its third in five years – after a vote of no-confidence in its leadership in March.  On June 7 the opposition party All Basotho Convention won the election. It did not get a majority however, and will have to form a coalition government.

There has also been uncertainty over the results, with accusations of election rigging. Then, just a day before his inauguration, incoming prime minister Tom Thabane’s estranged wife Lipolelo Thabane was killed in what many suspect was a politically motivated murder. Whether Thabane will be able to bring stability to Lesotho remains to be seen.

Lesotho, however, is not the only African state where elections failed to go smoothly. Following elections in The Gambia late last year, former president Yahya Jammeh initially accepted the results of the elections. But a few days before the inauguration of newly elected president Adama Barrow, Jammeh refused to step down and called a state of emergency. After interventions by the Economic Community of West Africa, Jammeh fled the country, taking half the country’s coffers with him. Still, The Gambia’s elections were important because they allowed people to remove Jammeh, who ruled the country for 22 years.

And there are more elections on the way for the continent. In August, Kenya, Rwanda and Angola will be taking to the polls while Liberia will vote in October. Here’s what you need to know.

Rwanda, election date: August 4

The main reason this election is important centres around Paul Kagame, who was the commander of the rebel forces that helped end the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The current Rwandan president has made important strides to develop the country and erase Rwanda’s horrific past of genocide. There are some within Rwanda who believe a third term for President Kagame would ensure continuity of policies, and a referendum held in 2015 would allow him to do so. Others say it is time for him to step down.

However, with Kagame being re-elected as president at the RPF-Inkotanyi party’s congress on June 17, this seems quite unlikely. Despite this, there are those campaigning for drastic political change: 35 year-old Diane Rwigara has emerged as a challenger to the presidency, presenting a youthful vision for Rwanda.

Kenya, election date: August 8

The major fear around Kenya’s elections is the threat of repeated ethnic violence. In 2007, post-election violence broke out after the fairness of the elections was questioned by the opposition, displacing around 600 000 people and causing at least 1100 deaths. A more progressive constitution has since been adopted to introduce more checks and balances, and limit the powers of the president. However, there are still fears of violence breaking out. Kenya’s electoral institutions are considered weak and there is low voter confidence in judicial institutions like the Supreme Court, which may be called on to mediate the results of the elections.

With Kenya’s history of post-election violence, many will be watching the election closely.

Angola, election date: August 23

Angola’s elections will bring to the end one of the longest running presidencies in Africa.

Jose Eduardo dos Santos will be stepping down as Angolan president after 38 years. Dos Santos has already chosen defence minister João Lourenco as his successor for leader of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and Lourenco is likely to win the elections.

Dos Santos has previously been accused of nepotism by awarding his children cushy contracts as well as suppressing dissent.

Lourenco does not have corruption accusations hanging over him like dos Santos did, but Angolan opposition activist Nuno Dala says “Power in the country will remain in the hands of the military because Lourenco is a general.”

Liberia, election date: October 10

Not only is Liberia Africa’s oldest republic but it was also the first country to elect a female leader, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Now Liberians are tasked with replacing the first female leader of their country. Johnson-Sirleaf has done a lot during her time in office, including winning the Nobel Peace Prize, dealing with the Ebola crisis and passing a Freedom of Information bill. Hers will be a hard act to follow. The new president will not only have to fill those shoes but will also have to deal with a struggling economy which has been hit by low global commodity prices and a post-Ebola decline in official inflows.

Jackie Cilliers, a senior research at the Institute for Security Studies says recent claims of election rigging means the upcoming elections will be carefully watched. And although their outcomes will have an effect on the continent, Cilliers says they are unlikely to have a direct bearing on South Africa.

“South Africa has lately not taken an active role in promoting electoral democracy, human rights and governance in Africa. I think South Africa is so concerned with domestic issues leading up to December 2017 and 2019 that I don’t think South Africa will play a significant role in these elections and that’s a pity because Angola for South Africa is quite important,” he said.

Cilliers recently argued that South Africa should take a more active foreign policy role in Africa, but with domestic issues dominating this doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.

For a full view of African elections in 2017, check out this comprehensive interactive feature from the Africa Research Institute.

2017: Elections in Africa ARI’s interactive election resource

Featured image via Flickr