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Webinar Recap: 2024 – Year of Elections in Africa

On Friday, 9 February 2024, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation organised a webinar discussing the massive year of election in Africa in 2024 as well as the world. The webinar served as an opportunity to highlight how monumental this year is in the governance of Africa and some of the key challenges related to elections in Africa.

The webinar was hosted by Tracy Kituyi, NGN lead at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, joined by Hoodo Richter, MIF Researcher, Dr Adeelah Kodabux, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Middlesex University Mauritius and Patrick Godi, Youth Representative at the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC South Sudan).

Hoodo provided some background data that outlined the current state of organising elections in Africa and some of the associated challenges and positives.

Here are some key highlights:

  1. Tentatively, there are over 70 global elections, 17 of which are expected in Africa
  2. Over 180 million people are eligible to vote
  3. Access, security, and safety of polling stations remain an issue
  4. Africa has the costliest elections globally

Sudan's First Election since Independence:

This election year serves as an opportunity for Sudan to organise its first elections since independence, and this brings to question the preparedness of the government, civil society, and the citizens. Considering this, Patrick mentioned the constitution of a national electoral commission inaugurated by the President ahead of the elections as a positive deed that needs to be commended.

However, various challenges still threaten the successful organisation of the elections. Among these challenges is the delay in the country's final constitution, which would then anchor all other electoral legislations. This remains the number one concern for all stakeholders, as without a permanent constitution, the legality of the electoral process is at stake.

Other barriers mentioned include lack of access to timely and predictable funding, lack of political will among signatories to South Sudan peace agreement, inclusion of IDPs, weak judicial system and electoral dispute resolution mechanism as well as threat of violence during elections, among others.

Procedural Challenges in the African Context:

Dr Adeelah highlighted two crucial procedural challenges that could hinder African elections. Firstly, the potential of politicians, including incumbent governments, to prioritise gaining political capital instead of seeing elections as a mechanism for good governance practice threatens the smooth delivery of effective elections.

Bear in mind, yes, it could be an incumbent government. That is the one responsible for announcing election dates. So, when they are in office, technically, they are public officers; they are delivering public service, but when it comes to election times, they transform into what they prioritise – because they are, after all, politicians overtime – they prioritise their attitudes as politicians
– Dr Adeelah.

Secondly, she recognised the importance of relevant autonomous electoral structures that can deliver an effective election. In addition, there should be an assessment of the level of public trust in said electoral structures, as an electoral body that is perceived as ineffective or prone to manipulation can hinder the successful delivery of elections. Without one or both, it is still possible to rectify the situation through a bottom-up approach where all stakeholders, including citizens at all levels and the electoral commission members, are involved in all relevant engagements.

Cost of Elections and its related issues:

According to Dr Adeelah, within the African context, the nullification of electoral results on allegations of crime and/or fraud leads to a high cost of elections. Cases in point are the 2022 Kenyan elections and the Malawian elections.

In addition, although there are advantages to high technology and means of voting, the cost of investment and importation of these forms of technology is exceedingly high for African countries to bear. Dr Adeelah also advocated that lessons be drawn from the 2016 Gambian elections, which relied on very traditional voting means, as studies have proven that simple voting systems are cheap and difficult to manipulate.

The most sophisticated equipment does not necessarily mean better elections
– Dr Adeelah.

Some related issues of the rising cost of elections include financial demand on electoral candidates leading to demotivation, promotion of elitist political parties as only the financially endowed candidates would be considered, questions of funding sources and promotion of gender disparities and inequalities in elections. These related issues need to be further analysed and not overlooked.

There is no such thing as free lunch. Whoever sponsors a political party to power, what do they get out of it?
– Dr Adeelah

Role of Young People:

Young people have to take an active role in monitoring electoral institutions but also the legislation because we see that many times, institutions in Africa and particularly in South Sudan do not go by the law
– Patrick.

Patrick enumerated several roles that young people can take on in their various countries to ensure the effective delivery of elections, and these roles include:

  1. Even before the polls, amplifying youth voices to bring transparency and accountability to the electoral process
  2. Support for electoral monitoring by young people during elections to bring credibility to the process
  3. Young people should take advantage of their numbers to change the trajectories of their countries positively
  4. Young people should partake in civic education to help raise the literacy rate of citizens, especially those in rural areas, on matters concerning elections

The panel collectively advocated for good governance, transparency, and election accountability. In summary, the 2024 elections in Africa represent a pivotal moment in the continent's governance. The stakes are high, with 17 out of more than 70 global elections expected in Africa. With 180 million eligible voters; access, security and safety of polling stations are key.