A Look back at the 2020 Elections in Africa
By Mikhail Nyamweya
There has been a discernible shift in electoral patterns in Africa in the past few years. One such example is the comeback victory made by Malawi’s Congress Party (MCP) in the 2020 elections. This notwithstanding, elsewhere in the continent, there has been an unprecedented democracy rollback. This has been seen through presidents that have changed their countries’ constitutions to eliminate the two-term limit including Presidents Gnassingbè (Togo), Museveni (Uganda), Idris Deby (Chad), Paul Biya (Cameroon), Kagame (Rwanda), the late Nkurunziza (Burundi) and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Egypt), just to mention a few. There has further been ruthless crackdown on the opposition who have been labelled as dissidents by their respective governments and power consolidation guised as internal party reforms. Against these backgrounds, this essay examines elections held in African countries on a case-by-case basis to illustrate the fact that presidential term limits and free, fair and regular elections as the indicators of democracy have been undermined thus underscoring the notion that there is currently a democracy retreat within the continent.
Guinea went into elections in October 2020 with its President, Alpha Condè amassing a 59.5% of the vote against his opponent Cellou Dalein Diallo, who won 33.5% of the votes casted. Alpha Condè sought a controversial third presidential term which he argued, was occasioned through a referendum held in March that gave him way to do so. Violent protests erupted across the country and scores were killed. Diallo, as a result challenged Condè’s election victory in Guinea’s Supreme Court citing electoral fraud but the objections were found to be unreasonable and therefore upheld the latter’s victory, updating it to 59.5%, rather than the initial 50.5% arrived at by the election commission.
In Togo, elections held in February 2020 saw Faure Gnassignbè winning the elections having received a 72% of the vote against his major opponent amongst other five, Agbèyomè Kodjo who received an 18% of the votes casted. Faure has been the country’s president since 2005 after the demise of his father Gnassignbè Eyadema who ruled the country for 38 years. It is noteworthy to observe that similar to Guinea, there were constitutional reforms effected to enable Faure seek re-election and therefore cling to power until the year 2030 and this saw protests in the country between 2017 and 2018. Kodjo’s residence was surrounded by troops in what the government termed as a precaution while Kodjo looked at this as a chance for rigging of votes to take place. The Togo Supreme Court upheld Faure’s victory against what Kodjo believed, that his camp’s tallies showed his electoral victory with around 60% of the entire votes.
In Cote D’Ivoire, the October 2020 elections were characterized by a massive boycott of the opposition leading the incumbent president, Alassane Ouattara to win with a 94.27% of the vote according to the country’s electoral commission. His major opponent, an independent candidate Kouadio Konan Bertin garnered 1.99% of the votes. Protests and violence erupted in various parts of the country leaving more than 50 people dead as a result. Scores of opposition leaders were also arrested and held incommunicado as a consequence of challenging Ouattara’s victory. Like his Togolese and Guinean counterparts, Ouattara sought a third presidential term as the country’s president on the insistence that a 2016 constitutional change permitted him to seek the presidential seat again. It is for this reason that the opposition called for a boycott of the elections and despite challenging Ouattara’s victory in the country’s constitutional council, his victory was upheld by the council.
President John Magufuli of Tanzania’s longstanding ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) was declared winner in the October 2020 elections. Magufuli won with 84.4% of the votes casted while Tundu Lissu, under the Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) ticket garnered 13%, as was reported by the National Electoral Commission. Zanzibar, that has been a semi-autonomous island constituent of Tanzania exhibited similar trends where CCM’s Hussein Mwinyi was declared winner having garnered 76.6% of votes. However, the elections both in the mainland and in Zanzibar were reported to have irregularities thus bringing about poll violence and major opposition leaders were arrested and detained while others fled Tanzania and sought political exile abroad. The opposition fears that CCM’s victory would potentially vouch for a change in the constitution allowing Mr Magufuli seek a third presidential term.
Ėvariste Ndayishimye, was declared winner of the Burundian presidential vote on 30th May, 2020 by the country’s electoral commission. This comes after his predecessor, the late Pièrre Nkurunziza announced that he will be stepping aside after being president for three terms. Seeking the presidential seat under the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party, Ndayishimiye garnered a 68.72% of the vote in what was seen as poll fraud by the opposition leader, Agathon Rwasa from the National Congress for Freedom (CNL). Burundi’s constitutional court deemed the allegations made by the opposition camp as void thus upholding Ndayishimiye’s victory. Of essence is to note the technicalities that came along with the ascension to power of Ndayishimiye, these included infringement of human rights such as beatings, arbitrary arrests and killings during the campaigns leading to elections as well as media censorship during the electioneering period. A similar fashion of the same was witnessed in neighbouring Tanzania seven months later.
Elections are often times mistaken for democracy while there are several other indicators that signpost what an ideal democracy should be. However, arguing in this particular context of elections, it should be observed that changing presidents often does not change politics within a given country. Objectively, this has been seen in countries such as Zimbabwe, Burundi, Nigeria and Ethiopia. This article as such has used the indicator of presidential term limits and free, fair and regular elections to justify the democratic rollback in Africa. Against this backdrop, it can be argued that the concept of presidential term limits is inimical, however, it should be realized that longstanding African presidents in the past did not harmonize structures and institutions that would make processes and systems sustainable after their possible exit from power. Their successors, do not seem to be establishing any institutions and structures that would achieve the same.
Each society is unique and therefore, as argued by various scholars, the seemingly developmental state models viewed in Rwanda and Ethiopia cannot be used as a guarantee for the same concepts to succeed in other African countries. Therefore, no idea can be proposed that would out-rightly solve the concerns within these countries unless the ideas are unique to these countries. While this is the case, there is a greater need for an active and vibrant civil society and opposition that would see to it that basic democratic principles are upheld. As a result of media censorship in some of these African countries, the diaspora from these countries ought to create awareness on the un-doings back home. This will create international ostracism that pressurizes these states to be accountable. It is separately argued that the concept of democracy is a western concept, foreign to the African continent and for that reason, explains why it is not as successful as it has been idealized. This leaves the question whether Africa really needs democracy all the same.
Mikhail Nyamweya is an International Relations Student at United States International University-Africa (USIU-A). His study interests are in International Development, Democracy, Political Parties, Elections, Political Economy and Foreign Policy. He is a Tutor at USIU-Africa and a former United Nations Academic Impact Fellow.