2022 and Africa’s High-risk Elections

Akanimo Sampson

Akanimo Sampson

Elections in Africa

Not less than 18 African countries are scheduled to have their Presidential and National Assembly elections this 2022. They include Angola, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, The Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Libya, Mali, Mauritius, Republic of the Congo, São Tomé and Príncipe,  Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Sudan and Tunisia.

Already, a report by Institute for Security Studies (ISS) is saying that Africa can expect many challenges in 2022, as existing and emerging crises and conflicts continue to batter the continent and affect its developmental outlook.

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, various countries will hold elections, which could raise tensions. Warnings of political violence cannot be ignored.

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.

Tensions expected in Senegal

Senegal is set to hold local and legislative elections in 2022. This is three years after President Macky Sall was re-elected for a second term in polls that barred two would-be major competitors for suspected politically motivated criminal convictions. Tensions prevail, including riots in March 2021, sparked by the arrest of opposition figure Ousmane Sonko against the backdrop of socio-economic grievances.

The elections will also take place two years before a presidential election for which Sall is rumoured to be contemplating vying for a third term. Perception of judiciary disqualification of political opponents, problematic electoral and other constitutional reforms, and economic difficulties exacerbated by Covid-19 will test Sall’s government and Senegal’s political stability.

Senegal’s opposition has vowed to wage a serious electoral battle against Sall and his coalition Beno Bok Yakaar. The country is already seeing mounting tensions and violence in the run-up to the January 2022 local elections. More incidents and violence are likely to accompany the July legislative polls.

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.

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