2017 Elections That Defined Democracy in Africa and Going Forward

By David Indeje / Published December 25, 2017 | 3:08 am

2017 Elections That Defined Democracy in Africa and Going Forward

Africa is doing better on the quality of its governance, according to the latest report by the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG).

However, the pace of progress had slowed in the past five years compared to the previous five.

“The slowing, and in some cases, even reversing progress in a large number of countries, or in some key dimensions of governance, is worrying for the future of the continent,” he said.

Three of the four pillars that feed into the overall index: human development; sustainable economic opportunity; and participation and human rights, have improved over both five and 10 years, albeit at a slowing pace.

Researchers from the Institute For Security Studies (ISS Africa) -Julia Bello-Schünemann, Jakkie Cilliers, Zachary Donnenfeld, Ciara Aucoin and Alex Porter in their policy brief ‘African futures: key trends to 2035’ write “Democracy is still not the dominant form of government in Africa” 

Their optimism though “The number of democracies in Africa is likely to increase, and levels of democracy are expected to continue to improve, even if slowly and from a relatively low base.” They cite public support for democracy in Africa as ‘particularly strong’. “However, since African countries are democratising at ever lower levels of income and education, democracy on the continent rests on fragile foundations.”

Interestingly, they observe that “The barriers to democracy are both deeply entrenched
and widespread in Africa.” “Eventually the question is if ‘output legitimacy’ will win over ‘input legitimacy’”..

Last year, Africa achieved its highest score in 11 years of tracking.

On this backdrop, 2017 witnessed more African countries conducting presidential, legislative and municipal elections.

Prof.Nic Cheeseman,  Professor of Democracy at the University of Birmingham wrote “The last twelve months have been a confusing time for African democracy. We have seen coups that didn’t look like coups and elections that didn’t look like elections. In this sense, it was a year of illusions.” 

Africa witnessed elections being held in Kenya, Rwanda, Angola, Somalia, Liberia

However, presidential elections that were to be held in The Democratic Republic of Congo have been scheduled for December of 2018. This is attributed to the ongoing conflict in the Kasai region and the need for a national registry of eligible voters and president Joseph Kabila refusing to step down.

Other elections that were witnessed in the continent were: Somali presidential election, Gambian parliamentary election, Algerian legislative election, Lesotho general election, Somaliland general election and Senegalese parliamentary election.

Notable elections were those in Kenya, Rwanda, Liberia and Angola.

Surprisingly, other developments were witnessed in Zimbabwe, Togo, Guinea-Bissau and South Africa.

The first major election saw the African Union (AU) elect  Hon. Moussa Faki Mahamat (Chad) as its new Chairperson replacing the outgoing Dr. Nkosazana Zuma during the Twenty-Eighth Ordinary Session of the Summit of the African Union.


Paul Kagame Rally in Kamonyi District – Kigali Today

Rwanda went to the polls in August where the incumbent President Paul Kagame won a third, seven-year term since winning the country’s second election in 2010.

A constitutional amendment allowed Kagame to run for this new term and two more five-year terms after that, meaning that he could stay in power till 2034.

The National Electoral Commission’s Executive secretary Charles Munyaneza announced that the incumbent had secured 98.66 percent of votes counted from Friday’s election, the 59-year-old former guerrilla leader had secured 98.66 percent.



Kenya went to the polls for its second General Elections after the promulgation of its Constitution in 2010 to elect its 5th president and fill the expanded political elective offices both at the National and Devolved County Governance structures on August 8. 

This was the most competitive elections with 14,550 candidates competing for the 1,882 elected posts of president, governor, senator, women representatives, members of parliament, and members of county assembly. In 2013, 12,776 aspirants competed.

Further, it is was most expensive election ever held with Kshs 49.9 billion that was expended by the electoral body, up from Kshs 35.0 billion in 2013, as per the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Report.

The Conversation termed ‘Kenya’s elections are much more than just a ruthless game of Thrones’ “Kenya’s electoral politics are not just an elite game of thrones; they are driven by the demands and concerns of ordinary people, trying to navigate their way to the uncertain promised land of development.” 

Death Sentence is Inconsistent With the Constitution - Supreme Court

Consequently, The Supreme Court of Kenya made history when it became the first judicial body on the continent to nullify the election of the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta.

The Court by majority ruled that the August Presidential elections contained “irregularities and illegalities” and ordered fresh new elections to be conducted.

The electoral commission had declared Uhuru, winner of the presidential vote after he garnered 8,203,290 (54.27 per cent) votes against Mr Raila’s 6,762, 224 (44.74 per cent).

In the repeat presidential elections, Uhuru won with 98 percent of the vote according to the IEBC.  A final tally of votes gave Uhuru 7,483, 895 votes (98.26 percent)  according to the  Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).   

The National Assembly Must be Impartial in Approving CS Nominees

The repeat polls were boycotted by the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition who withdrew demanding that electoral commission calls a fresh election.

Thus, Uhuru was sworn in for a second term in office and final five-year term.

However, Patricia Rodrigues an analyst at Control Risks, Nairobi calls for a cautious approach ‘on the activities of the opposition National Super Alliance, especially its campaign to boycott domestic companies perceived to be allied to the Kenyatta administration’. “In the event that such campaigns are successful, this would undermine social cohesion and raise political tensions.”


For the first time, Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, the second-longest serving African leader, stepped down  after being in power since 1979.

Joao Lourenco, the country’s defence minister won the August elections through the Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party taking 61.1 percent of the votes counted compared with the opposition UNITA party’s 26.7 percent.


President Lourenco was sworn in on September 26.


Africa’s first elected female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia is set to leave office, if one of the notable candidates ex-football star George Weah who was contesting the presidency for the second time after running unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2005 and the country’s vice president Joseph Boakai who had been fronted by the ruling party will be elected in the repeat poll.

The October 10 polls saw George Weah emerge winner with 38.4 percent of the vote against his closest rival’s 28.8 percent garnered by vice president Joseph Boakai.

George Weah (L) and Joseph Boakai via Reuters EPA

The electoral commission set November 8 as the date for the runoff, but these were disrupted by a court injunction halting the run off process. Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party petitioned the court calling for a re-run of the entire presidential poll, arguing that the process had been marred with fraud and electoral malpractices.

The Supreme Court heard the arguments of the plaintiffs and delivered its verdict on December 7.


The electoral commission has set December 26 as the date for the re-run.

Emerging Democratic Trends

Exit Mugabe, What Next for Zimbabwe, Hope or Mirage?
Robert and Grace Mugabe greet supporters at a national Heroes Day rally in Harare on 11 August. Mugabe named his 49-year-old wife as head of the ruling Zanu-PF party’s women’s wing.
Photograph: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

In November 2017 the Zimbabwe Defence Forces placed President Robert Mugabe under house arrest and subsequently leading to his resignation as president of Zimbabwe.

He was replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former vice President.

Two Analysts are of different views “ The intervention was cleverly framed as a corrective action to remove “criminal” elements around the president. In reality, it represented an effort by the military to protect its own political and economic interests,” wrote Prof. Nic Cheeseman.

Geoffrey York a journalist with The Globe and Mail’s Africa correspondent writes that “But every indication from Zimbabwe’s political and military elite is that the coup is simply replacing one faction in the ruling party with another. The personalities will change, and there will be some changes to economic policy, but the heavy-handed methods of running the country will remain.” 

General elections are scheduled to be held in Zimbabwe in 2018, and are likely to be held on or before September 2018.

Open Letter to South Africa's ANC President, Cyril Ramaphosa

In South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa was named the president of the African National Congress succeeding President Jacob Zuma as the party’s leader.

Reuters Africa report “Ramaphosa, a 65-year-old union leader turned businessman, is likely to become the next president after elections in 2019 because of his party’s electoral dominance.” 

In Togo, the citizens have been protesting against the regime of President Faure Gnassingbé calling for his departure.

Gnassingbé has been the President of Togo since 2005. Prior to his election, he was appointed by his father, President Gnassingbé Eyadéma, as Minister of Equipment, Mines, Posts, and Telecommunications, serving from 2003 to 2005.

The  Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) has urged political actors to hold an “inclusive dialogue” to end the political impasse.

What Next for Africa?

ISS Africa says “Strengthening governance is vital to all issue areas. Africa faces many challenges in the coming decades. Yet, the ongoing transitions each come with opportunities which political leaders must seize to transform Africa’s potential into tangible improvements for human development.”

Prof. Nic writes “The next 12 months are not likely to be kind to African democracy. Very rarely has the continent seen so many elections scheduled in such unpromising contexts.” “The next great democratic moment could be just around the corner.”

The US President Donald Trump’s administration has also taken note of the fragile state on the continent in its National Security Strategy.

It cites “corruption and weak governance”.     

Trump administration commits to encourage reform, working with promising nations to promote effective governance, improve the rule of law, and develop institutions accountable and responsive to citizens.

About David Indeje

David Indeje is a writer and editor, with interests on how technology is changing journalism, government, Health, and Gender Development stories are his passion. Follow on Twitter @David_IndejeDavid can be reached on: (020) 528 0222 / Email: info@sokodirectory.com

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