2019 will be a busy election year for millions of African voters.
There are general and presidential polls scheduled in Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Comoros, Algeria, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Tunisia, and Libya. Additionally, Madagascar, Benin, Mali, Chad, South Africa, Cameroon, and Guinea will hold parliamentary elections.
Among the most pressing issues for these election cycles are strengthening African democracies, national and regional security, trust in development and integration, as well as overcoming poverty, corruption, historical tribal rivalries, populism, authoritarianism, and economic stagnation. Another significant question will be how technology will support EMBs, voter participation, election integrity, and voters’ human rights. Fact-checking and monitoring social media election disinformation will be a critical theme this year.
Last November, the African Union (AU) showed its commitment to better support election management bodies and enhanced election observers’ missions. One of the goals is to improve publicly monitoring, assessing and reporting of election results in the continent. Will election technology become a top priority in 2019? Regardless of the answer, this year’s elections will be a unique opportunity to follow and evaluate African polls and the consolidation of democracy.
Four key elections to watch
· Nigeria – General Election, February 16.
President Muhammadu Buhari (76) is seeking reelection under the All Progressives Congress Party (APC). His leading rival will be Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party, former Buhari’s ally and VP. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, its largest economy, and its largest oil producer. The state continues to be plagued by internal violence, an under-performing economy, and high unemployment. The younger voters are advocating for changes in political management. Global news organizations and social media giants, such as Facebook have kickstarted initiatives to tackle misinformation and fake news in the upcoming elections.
- Senegal – Presidential Election, February 24.
President Macky Sall is seeking reelection, vying against four other contenders. Given that Senegal is one of the few African countries to have never experienced a coup, the 2019 elections hope to show the country’s consolidation of its democratic stability. Despite some 2018 controversies regarding corruption charges to renown politicians (potential contestants to incumbent Sall), prospering Senegal’s economy could play in favor of expected re-election.
· South Africa – General Election, May 5.
After former SA president Jacob Zuma resigned under a cloud of corruption, the May election is an opportunity for South African president Cyril Ramaphosa (since 2017) to legitimize his power and current reforms through the popular vote. The polls will be one of the most challenging tests (post-apartheid) of the voters’ trust in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party after alleged long disconnection with the population.
· Tunisia – Parliamentary (October) and Presidential Election (December.)
Incumbent president Beji Caid Essebsi (92) is the world’s oldest elected president. However, he is expected to run again this year. After coming to office in Tunisia’s first free and fair election in 2014, Essebsi is considered the leader of the Arab Spring’s lone democratic success. The 2019 polls will be the third round of national elections since the ouster of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, and it will mark another milestone in the democratic transition of the one North African country. The most significant challenges to campaign against will be the scarcity of jobs, rising costs of living, and the deterioration of the security situation in the nation.