A wide spectrum of credibility marks the 13 African elections slated for 2021. This has direct implications for the legitimacy of the leaders that emerge and their ability to navigate the security challenges they face.
African elections in 2020 will be a test against efforts to erode presidential term limits and other democratic checks and balances, with direct consequences for stability on the continent.
Two hybrid anticorruption missions in Central America offer valuable lessons for addressing this scourge in Africa. In its mandate to combat corruption and impunity, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) combined the efforts of the UN and the Guatemalan government, while the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) was a hybrid effort between the Organization of American States and the Honduran government. Though both experienced setbacks and faced difficult challenges, the CICIG and MACCIH contributed to strengthening the judicial system, while the CICIG exposed corrupt networks that included top state officials and party leaders, including three presidents.
African governments increasingly use internet disruptions as a tool to prevent information sharing and popular mobilization during elections or periods of conflict. In the first three weeks of 2019 alone, the governments of Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Sudan, and Zimbabwe blocked citizens’ access to the internet and social media. Over the last three years, governments in Africa that are less democratic or have been in power for the longest are more likely to order internet disruptions. All the African countries that have disrupted internet access in 2019 are authoritarian. Internet blackouts threaten election freedom and human rights and cause serious economic disruptions.
In 2003, African states formed the African Peer Review Mechanism to voluntarily self-monitor governance. Seventeen countries have undergone comprehensive reviews since then. When cross-checking these results with “free,” “partly free,” and “not free” designations by Freedom House three insights emerge. First, countries with constitutional protections sometimes do not robustly implement them. An independent media and vibrant civil society can mitigate this, however. Second, even in democratic countries, executive dominance can combine with “securitization” to allow leaders to justify abridging citizens’ rights. Finally, administrative dysfunction can seriously undermine the state’s ability to provide constitutional protections and lawful, civic freedom, even if it does not stem from active authoritarianism.
The ongoing rapid expansion of mobile telephony and social media in Africa has significant implications for political participation and citizen expectations. Many African electoral management bodies have already adopted some social media tools, opening new ways to register voters, stimulate public engagement, and counter misinformation and incitement. However, maximizing the potential of social media in elections management requires a clear strategy backed by adequate resources to manage high-tempo, iterative exchanges with a diverse audience.
It is well established that democracies exhibit improved economic growth, but debate sometimes continues as to precisely how. Bates et al. suggest that, in Africa, competitive elections result in leaders more responsive to rural populations and their agricultural concerns, whereas nondemocratic leaders tend to favor manufacturing in urban areas. The policies of democratically elected leaders then allow Africa’s large agricultural sector to flourish, raising incomes more equitably.
The institutionalization of democratic norms in Africa’s militaries is often lagging behind advances made in civilian institutions and civil society. In some situations, security sectors have actively aligned themselves with incumbent leaders seeking to stay in power or directly intervened in politics, thereby discrediting the entire security sector and marginalizing its role when transitions do occur. With national elections becoming increasingly routine and subject to stricter oversight, such dilemmas will continue to be front and center in Africa’s political development.
Efforts to circumvent presidential term limits in Burundi, the Republic of Congo, and Rwanda and the persistence of “big-man” politics have renewed questions over the viability of democratic governance models in Africa. These developments have overshadowed a deepening institutionalization of democratic processes in Africa over the past decade. The Arab Spring, likewise, sparked a broader debate about the legitimate claims on authority across the continent. These crosscurrents reflect an ongoing struggle for governance norms in Africa that will require active engagement from African reformers and international partners to sustain Africa’s democratic trajectory.
The success and stability of democratic transitions is often a function of the strength of prevailing social networks. Such transitions often face active resistance from vested interests. Yet, the cohesion of networks of civic groups, labor unions, business associations, and others with robust information-sharing systems permit the flexibility and resilience needed to realize genuine reforms and ensure stable transitions.
Recent and upcoming elections around Africa demonstrate that transparent and well-managed electoral systems are key to advancing transitional states, consolidating democratic progress, and avoiding destabilizing disputes. Current electoral management methods, however, frequently lack focused strategies that integrate electoral commissions, political parties, and civil society monitors to effectively assess, deter, detect, and mitigate fraud.
The African Union adopted the landmark African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance in 2007. While implementation still lags behind the principles outlined for holding elections, building state institutions, creating a democratic culture, and preventing unconstitutional changes of government, the Charter establishes an important normative and institutional framework for Africa’s still nascent democratic systems.
Good summary of the rationale for why democracies of all income levels tend to realize superior economic growth, development, and security.
Genuine democratization requires far more than a series of free and fair elections but also the establishment of many institutions and procedures such as independent and effective legislative, judicial, and investigative bodies within a state. Benin’s major democratic institutions are improving their effectiveness, but recent maneuvers demonstrate how “spoils politics” can disrupt positive democratic trends.
Good piece that thoughtfully links democracy, security, and development in Africa.
Security Topics: Democratic Trends