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Why 2024 is a Key Year for Democracy in Africa

2024 is an important year for African democracy. At least 19 national elections are scheduled to take place this year. Not all of these elections will be free or fair — let alone competitive. Some of these elections will serve to ensconce leaders for life like Rwanda’s Paul Kagame. Others may serve to consolidate power following a coup. But genuine multi-party democracies like Ghana and South Africa are also headed to the polls in important elections.

Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Chad, Comoros, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, South Sudan, South Africa, Tunisia and Somaliland (not technically a country in the sense that it’s a UN member state, but quasi-independent, to be sure) are all scheduled to hold elections this year.

Joining me to discuss key trends in African democracy and some of the highlights on the African electoral calendar in 2024 is Oge Onubogu, director of the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. We kick off discussing Senegal, a once reliably stable democracy that has experienced significant backsliding and recently cancelled upcoming elections.

The full transcript is available immediately below the fold for paying subscribers. The podcast episode is freely available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere you get your podcasts.

Transcript edited for clarity

Oge Onubogu Across the continent this year we are going see 19 elections that are scheduled to happen. Not all of them might move forward.

Mark Leon Goldberg An important caveat!

Oge Onubogu Exactly! Mali or Burkina Faso, even though they’re scheduled to happen, may not necessarily happen.

In at least half of these countries we are unlikely to see competitive elections. In at least half of them, you see electoral management processes that are not necessarily transparent and that are often controlled by the incumbents. So it raises a question about what truly qualifies as a “real” election on the continent.

If we look at data over time, African citizens really prefer systems of democratic governance, but they are also questioning the validity of elections as they are conducted in their different environments. And once you have the legitimacy of an electoral process being called into question, then you begin to question the authenticity of it. At the end of the day, one thing that we see consistently is that there is a common yearning by citizens to see change, to have their voices heard and to be part of the process. And I think it’s important that you actually see citizens wanting to be part of the process by engaging in the electoral process.

In West Africa people often point to Ghana as an example of a stable democracy that should be emulated by other countries in the region. But if we look at trends over time of Ghana’s elections, we could see telling signs there too as well.

Also discussed:

  • The significance of Senegal’s cancelled elections
  • Why Ghana’s elections may be troubled.
  • South Africa’s elections, in which the long dominant party of Nelson Mandela, the ANC, is facing its most significant challenge since the end of Apartheid.
  • The prospects of election related violence in some countries.
  • Can elections reverse the trends of coups across Africa’s “coup belt”?
  • Other electoral contests that fly under the radar but are indicative of broader trends

The full transcript is available for newsletter subscribers.