Some important elections took place in Africa in 2015. Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia and Burkina Faso (despite some stops and starts) all saw democratic transitions of power. No wonder, then, that more than half of the continent believe that they live in democracies.
Yet, elsewhere things weren’t quite so straight forward. In Burundi, a controversial amendment of the constitution paved the way for the incumbent Pierre Nkurunziza to seek and win a controversial third term that has embroiled the country in a crisis ever since. Meanwhile in Ethiopia the prime minister managed to return to power with a remarkable 100% of the vote.
So despite some movement towards electoral democracy, challenges still remain. And in 2016, there will be more elections to measure the continent’s progress in its pursuit towards a more democratic future.
Here are six that are worth watching more closely.
1. Country: Uganda
When: Feb. 18
Why you should pay attention: President Yoweri Museveni has been in power for about three decades and is looking to secure another five year term, which analysts expect him to win. But a challenge from Museveni’s former doctor Kizza Besigye and ex-prime minister Amama Mbabazi has made the campaign interesting. However, recent clashes between Museveni supporters and some members of the opposition has raised concerns that as the poll nears, things could deteriorate further.
Despite lagging its neighbors Kenya and Tanzania economically, Uganda plays a significant role in the region, especially on security issues. The country has contributed forces to the African Union (AU) efforts to fight al-Shabab and provide security in Somalia. And recently, Museveni hosted talks on Burundi to try and find a solution to the crisis that some fear could descend to a civil war.
What they’re saying: “From our observations, there is a great deal of anxiety among the public regarding nearly every part of the electoral process,” Dr. Martin Mwondha, national co-ordinator, Citizens Election Observers Network – Uganda.
2. Country: Niger
When: Feb. 21
Why you should pay attention: An ally of US counter-terrorism efforts in west Africa, Niger is part of a coalition of countries fighting Boko Haram militants in the region. But the country has also been battling to maintain stability back home. In December, president Mahamadou Issoufou announced the arrest of senior military officers for allegedly plotting a coup. The world’s fourth largest producer of uranium has also seen former prime minister Hama Amadou, who planned to vie for the presidency, arrested for child trafficking charges. Other candidates include former president Mahamane Ousmane and Seyni Oumarou, a leading opposition figure.
What they’re saying: “Issoufou has been under pressure from the opposition and civil society to make changes to the voters’ roll; he may want to use the pretext of a destabilization plot to avoid making changes that could be to his disadvantage in the election,” Francois Conradie, a political analyst for South Africa-based NKC African Economics.
3. Country: Zambia
When: Aug. 11
Why you should pay attention: President Edgar Lungu won power earlier this year to serve out the reminder of Michael Sata’s term who died in office. To secure a full five-year term as president, Lungu is going to have to convince the electorate that he is better placed that the man he defeated in 2015, Hakainde Hichilema, to fix the country’s huge challenges that include a chronic electricity problem and a struggling economy not helped by one of the worst performing currencies in the world. The continent’s second largest copper producer will also need to overcome a global commodities market that is markedly slowing down. Last January’s election was neck and neck and this one could be even closer.
What they’re saying: “In view of the fact that young people are the hardest hit by unemployment and the general economic woes, with the country’s youth dependency ratio officially standing at 91.3%, the majority of them are likely to vote on economic concerns rather than ethnic or party considerations,” Sishuwa Sishuwa, Zambian political analyst, University of Oxford.
4. Country: The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
When: Nov. 27
Why you should pay attention: One of the richest countries in the world, in terms of natural resources, the DRC faces a critical test in 2016. Joseph Kabila has ruled the country for 15 years and he is term-limited from running again. But the opposition has accused him of trying to amend the constitution so he can seek a third term. Meanwhile, the soccer mogul governor of the mineral-rich Katanga province, Moïse Katumbi, is rumored to be preparing a bid to succeed or challenge Kabila for the presidency. He is even said to have hired Washington consultants to help him in his bid.
What they’re saying: “I believe [Kabila’s] legacy is a legacy that is very important for the country, and that he has an opportunity, which he understands, to be able to put the country on a continued path of democracy,” John Kerry, the US secretary of state.
5. Country: Ghana
When: Dec. 7
Why you should pay attention: A model of political stability in a region that has sometimes struggled to project such a posture, Ghana has nevertheless had a difficult 2015. President John Mahama has presided over an economy that is beset by problems: rolling electricity blackouts, budget deficits, high inflation and declining growth that is putting his re-election in jeopardy. The economic problems forced Mahama to seek $1 billion worth of loans from the IMF. The man he defeated in 2012 Nana Akufo-Addo, by a mere three points, is expected to mount another serious challenge for the presidency. The economic headwinds could be too much to overcome for Mahama despite the advantages of incumbency.
What they’re saying: “The IMF deal is a bitter bill for Ghana to swallow. People are eager to forget the harsh economic conditions of the 1980s under structural economic adjustment programmes,” Akwasi Sarpong, BBC Africa.
6. Country: Somalia
Why you should pay attention: The political instability in Somalia that has characterized the last two decades, spawning militant groups such as al-Shabaab may be about to end. After the incumbent government of president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud earlier this year suggested his government is not yet ready to preside over a general election due to security reasons, things changed in September. Different political factions in the country came together and formed a National Consultative Forum (NCF) to decide on what format the polls will take. The challenge now is whether the agreed format will be decided soon enough so the elections could be held before the end of 2016.
What they’re saying: “The country in the past two-three years has come together quite significantly. It is both politically stable and developed as well,” Nicholas Kay, outgoing representative for UN secretary general in Somalia.
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