In 2023, presidential elections are planned to take place in ten African nations. These elections will both shape and be shaped by humanitarian crises.
With a few notable outliers, the elections will be held amid tension and unrest. There are no quick fixes for the underlying problems that lead to these crises. Credible elections, however, can support the state’s legitimacy in addressing the problems that lie ahead.
Therefore, it is the duty of politicians, people, and communities across Africa to ensure that the elections are effectively held. If this isn’t done, there will probably be more intense bloodshed and greater uncertainty.
The magnitude of the political and humanitarian unrest in some nations has already pushed back the date of the anticipated elections.
The South Sudanese presidential elections that were scheduled for this year have been postponed until 2024. The military-run government in neighboring Sudan has not yet announced a timetable for the transitional elections that were expected to take place in 2023.
Rival groups in Libya have also failed to reach an understanding on the dates for the transitional elections, which have been postponed since 2021 but are now anticipated to take place this year with international support.
The failure to set specific dates for the presidential elections in Gabon, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe so far is almost certainly due to the maneuvers of the incumbent president in those countries.
The Mano River nations of Sierra Leone and Liberia will hold their respective presidential elections on June 24 and October 10, which should help to solidify the political reconstruction of both nations following a protracted war. If the competitions are effective, they should protect both nations from potential spread of the unrest in Guinea’s neighboring constitution.
“Extremely dangerous” Nigeria
Nigeria doesn’t have this privilege as it launches Africa’s 2023 elections on February 25. The election for Nigeria’s next president will take place in the middle of the bloodiest armed conflict and violent crisis the nation has seen since the end of its civil war in 1970.
At least 10,000 Nigerians were slain in armed conflict and over 5,000 were kidnapped between January and mid-December 2022, according to a report from the International Crisis Group in December 2022. The group observed that between January and mid-December, “other data suggest that at least 550 of 774 local government areas saw incidents of armed conflict.”
Electoral infrastructure has been targeted by some armed organizations. The Independent National Electoral Commission recorded attacks on at least 53 of its offices nationwide in December 2022, and the violence is still going on today. Some insurgents have mandated that entire settlements not vote in some areas of Nigeria.
The situation in Nigeria is “extremely volatile,” according to Alice Nderitu, the UN’s special advisor on the prevention of genocide, who also cautioned that the elections could “trigger violence and even atrocity crimes.”
Only Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have more IDPs than Nigeria, which has over 3.2 million. It is almost certain that a sizeable percentage won’t be able to vote due to the dissatisfactory arrangements made for registering them and providing them with voter cards.
A currency and fuel catastrophe
The Nigerian government’s mediocre reaction to this humanitarian catastrophe has been made more difficult by self-created fiscal and financial crises.
Last year, President Muhammadu Buhari’s departing administration chose to deregulate petroleum prices due to its mounting debt burden. It also started a program to reform the money, which will remove the old notes from circulation at the end of January 2023. On the eve of the elections, the nation is in danger of degenerating into widespread unrest due to the resulting shortage of both gasoline and cash.
Any election held in such difficult conditions is almost certain to have significant credibility issues.
Nigeria may be able to surmount these obstacles and conduct a reliable election. It is more likely, however, that the nation will muddle through with unsatisfactory poll results and that the judges will create a judicial fudge of electoral legitimacy for a seriously flawed process, as has happened in the past.
The world requires Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in particular to organize credible elections and provide the victor with enough political capital to make the important decisions that lie ahead.
A path ahead?
There is still hope despite the difficulties caused by these humanitarian crises across the globe. Early protection of the voting process could help allay some of the worries about the validity of the results. Here are a few ideas:
First, election administration organizations should be much more upfront about the numerous difficulties they face as well as their own limitations, both in terms of resources and expertise. Both managing public standards and creating civic partnerships require this.
Second, the election authorities still have time to handle the fact that the majority of the public believes they lack the crucial qualities of independence and impartiality. These ideas can fuel violence and perpetuate the notion that elections are merely ceremonial performances that don’t give voters a real option.
Third, there must be mechanisms in place for citizens to seek effective redress in instances of abuse and clear rules of engagement for the security services assigned to safeguard elections. Such laws are essentially unknown in most nations.
Fourth, to address hate speech and ensure effective accountability for both election-related violence and its drivers, a proper collaboration is required between the political parties, civic organizations, communities, governments, and regional and international partners.
Effective abuse tracking will be essential for the upcoming elections in Africa. In the worst-case scenario, it might be necessary to draw the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court’s notice in order to give those measures some teeth.
Without credibility, the state’s authority will ultimately continue to decline as a result of these elections. This will not assist in making progress in addressing current and upcoming humanitarian crises.
Odinkalu, director of Global Rights and professor of practice in international human rights law at the Fletcher School. The New Humanist, with permission.