2023 promises to be a busy year for African politics and democracy as countries hold high-stakes elections.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Eswatini are five countries in southern Africa that are due to hold elections next year.
The DRC, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe will be choosing presidents during general elections. Eswatini, a monarchy, will be conducting the senate, house of assembly, uban local, and tinkhundla elections.
Mozambique will be holding local authority elections. However, no dates have been made public yet.
At the United States Africa Leaders Summit last week US President Joe Biden met with leaders from the DRC, Gabon, Liberia, Nigeria, Madagascar, and Sierra Leone to discuss upcoming elections in 2023, seeking assurance there will be free and fair polls.
He also revealed plans to avail around R2.8 billion to support elections and good governance in Africa in 2023.
Outside southern Africa, the most closely watched election is in Nigeria, the largest democracy on the continent, where they will be choosing a president, house of representatives, senate, state assemblies, and governors.
Nigeria’s February general election has raised a great deal of expectation among young voters who are eager to see the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s rule.
As the country grapples with an economic downturn and heightened insecurity, Nigerians hope that the exercise can bring in leaders with the vigour to tackle their country’s decline.
Peter Obi, Atiku Abubakar, and Bola Tinubu, are the frontrunners in the race to succeed Buhari.
Sitting president Muhammadu Buhari is finishing his second and last constitutional term. Tinubu would be under pressure to retain the presidency for APC, which is Buhari’s party.
The Nigerian elections will be held under the new Electoral Act of 2022. The new law will “reduce indiscretion in Nigeria’s elections and expand opportunities for transparency that will improve citizens’ participation in the electoral process”.
The law was first used earlier this year in governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states.
Like in Kenya and Angola this year, the role of technology will come under the spotlight in Nigeria where they are using the bimodal voter accreditation system (BVAS).
In Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa will be hoping to overcome a new challenge by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa whose Citizens Coalition for Change outfit has sought to galvanize the opposition and to correct the mistakes of 2018.
In power since Zimbabwe’s independence, the ZANU-PF party will be hoping to extend its rule over the southern African country. In Zimbabwe, a second showdown between Citizens’ Coalition for Change’s Nelson Chamisa and Zanu-PF’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa is guaranteed.
But once a date is announced, numerous fringe political parties, most of them sympathetic to the ruling party, will come alive.
A ballot paper in Zimbabwe will likely have more than 10 presidential candidates. This is despite the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) raising the fees for presidential candidates to about R350 000 to deter chancers.
Already, ZEC is under pressure to be transparent in conducting one of Africa’s most disputed general elections.
A leading elections watch organisation Pachedu has been exposing what it called irregularities to give the ruling party an advantage. Media reports in Zimbabwe alleged that there were revelations that ZEC was assigning old people’s IDs to young voters (voters with IDs issued before they were born) to facilitate rigging.
Tempers are already simmering with Zanu-PF supporters in their rallies chanting, “Forward with Chamisa’s death! Down with whoever mourns him.”
Chamisa tweeted: “In 2023 next year, the time Zimbabwe holds the general elections, I will be 45 years young. My competitor will be 81 years old. Give us another 5 years, I will be 50 years energetic and my brother will be 86 years tired.”
On the other hand, Mnangagwa called for a peaceful election despite his supporters acting differently on the ground.
In December, the Democratic Republic of Congo will hold a general election to choose a new president, national assembly and senate. In power since 2019, President Felix Tshisekedi is expected to seek a second term. Having fallen out with his predecessor whose support secured the presidency for him, Tshisekedi will have to find new allies to face an opposition which has long been doing its preps. Moise Katumbi has already declared intent to run.
With the east of the country embroiled in conflict, Tshisekedi might struggle to convince the Congolese he’s the change they seek.
Instability in the eastern parts of DRC could affect the holding of peaceful elections in the most volatile country in southern Africa.
Since the “Lumumba curse” of 62 years ago, when the country’s independence prime minister Patrice Lumumba was assassinated, DRC has not known peace.
The country has been ruled by coup dictators such as Mobutu Sese Seko, who renamed the country Zaire, to assassinated Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who renamed it DRC.
The later leaders Joseph Kabila and his successor Felix Tshisekedi have tried to bring back the country to democracy, however, continued interference from external forces has derailed this plan.
In addition, they too have been accused of ringfencing power and frustrating democracy.
As things stand, Rwandan president Paul Kagame accuses Tshisekedi of using the instability in east DRC to avoid a credible and transparent election.
If polls go ahead, 2023 won’t be an easy one for Tshisekedi. Moïse Katumbi, former governor of Katanga Province, intends to challenge for the top job.
Another opposition stalwart, Martin Fayulu, who lost to Tshisekedi in what was a disputed election in 2018, has his hat in the race.
Augustin Matata Ponyo, a former prime minister in DRC who beat a fraud wrap in 2021, said he will also be challenging for the top job.
The oil-gas-rich country will be electing local authority leaders on a date to be announced. The elections will be a forerunner for presidential elections slated for 2024.
The country’s National Elections Commission (CNE) said it needed about R5 billion for both plebiscite voter registration and other operations.
Ahead of these elections, freedom of expression is under pressure. The International Press Institute (IPI) said journalists in the country were faced with considerable legal, political, and economic pressures.
The challenges faced by journalists could affect them in executing their duties in trying to ensure democracy stays alive in Mozambique, a country with a civil war past.
For many, the election could present the biggest challenge to Filipe Nyusi’s Frelimo which has been in power since the country’s first multiparty election in 1994.
Renamo, which has for the greater part of its existence been a rebel guerilla outfit under the late Afonso Dhlakama, could capitalise on the “hidden debt scandal” that exposed massive government corruption that placed the ruling elite at the centre.
Malagasy president Andry Rajoelina met with Biden in Washington at the US Africa Leaders Summit. They discussed upcoming elections on the biggest island in the Indian Ocean.
“Although elections themselves do not equal democracy, President Biden underscored that holding elections is fundamental to a functioning democracy.
The US State Department said: “Together the leaders discussed the challenges of holding elections and exercising the right to vote, including foreign interference and political violence, and shared best practices for how to manage these risks and ensure transparency and public confidence in the electoral process.”
President Rajoelina might face an alliance of former president Hery Rajaonarimampianina and another former president Marc Ravalomanana, who will combine their parties Tiako I Madagasikara (TIM) and Hery Vaovao ho an’i Madagasikara (HVIM) respectively.
The two former heads of state also intend to lure smaller political parties to challenge Rajoelina, who is firmly in charge.
Like many African countries, there’s political repression in Madagascar with opposition activists jailed from time to time.
The race will likely be centered around turning around the economy, and how to deal with the impacts of climate change-induced hunger and natural disasters that have been part of a country with failed rains seven years on.
Since Eswatini is a monarchy, the only elections on offer are for the senate, house of assembly, urban local, and tinkhundla – an electoral system that serves as a form of governance, based on traditional, administrative subdivisions.
Eswatini has 55 tinkhundlas in the country’s four districts. There are 14 in Hhohho District, 11 in Lubombo District, 16 in Manzini District, and 14 in Shishelweni District.
The opposition and pressure groups in the country say King Mswati III uses the tinkhundla as a disguise for democracy.
In May this year, the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) called on the public to boycott and disrupt the “backward” tinkhundla elections process.
The Swaziland United Democratic Front said that to solve the political challenges in Eswatini the national budget should provide for a transitional authority – and not the 2023 tinkhundla elections.
There are growing calls to pressure King Mswati III to abdicate.
In June, Sierra Leone will hold presidential and parliamentary elections. President Julius Maada Bio is expected to seek a second term.
His Sierra Leone People’s Party will be hoping to retain its majority in the national assembly, which has been threatened by rising discontent over the high cost of living.
Africa’s oldest republic is slated to hold presidential and parliamentary polls in October in what will be a milestone for a country still recovering from years of civil war and a devastating epidemic. President George Weah has faced criticism for failing to tackle rampant corruption and for being away from the country to watch the World Cup in Qatar while the country faced an economic downturn.
President Ali Bongo looks set for re-election in Gabon after tacit endorsement by members of his Gabonese Democratic Party. Despite suffering a stroke which left him struggling to walk, the ruling party appears unwilling to retire its 63-year-old leader. The Bongo family has ruled over oil-rich Gabon since 1967.