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Mali, France, and Us

By Conflict, Coup, PoliticsNo Comments

In recent months, a growing number of civil society organizations and African political and intellectual classes have frequently expressed their disapproval of France’s policies in its former
colonies, particularly Mali which, for a decade, has been in the grip of an existential terrorist and
irredentist threat. This article presents an examination of the backdrop, circumstances, causes,
dynamics of, and stakes in the acrimonious showdown that has pitted Mali and France against
each other since May last year when their relationship suddenly deteriorated. It is suggested that,
on balance, the advocates of “democracy and development” in Africa should give the benefit of
the doubt to the leaders of the Transition, whose decision to shake up the status quo of security
relations with France seems have shaken to its foundations, and is likely to scuttle, Françafrique.
However, this solidarity must be accompanied by meticulous vigilance so that the Transition
results in a secure, stable state that is truly on the way to democratization.

Read the full article below

Internet Shutdowns Threaten the Functioning of Democracy in Africa

By Blog

That the presidential election which took place in the Republic of Congo on 21 March 2021 would re-elect Denis Sassou Nguesso was a given. Less certain was whether access to the internet, in particular access to social media, would be interrupted on election day, and in the days that followed as it was in 2016. In the end it was. For three days – as voting, counting and the results were announced – the internet remained switched off.

In 2020, several African countries including Burundi, Togo, Guinea and Tanzania cut off internet access during elections. The blocking of social media by the government is often justified on the grounds of “protecting national security”, or more recently, to “fight against the spread of fake news and hate speech”. In its recent decision to suspend and ban Twitter in Nigeria, the government justified its actions by stating that the platform was enabling “misinformation and fake news to spread… [with] real world violent consequences”.

But these sorts of justifications should not deceive anyone. Governments that block access to the internet or social media are in fact seeking to better control the flow of information online. But this choice to censor is counterproductive. Not only are the economic implications important – according to the latest estimates available, internet shutdowns have cost the continent more than US$2 billion – but as, if not more, importantly internet shutdowns disrupt democratic participation and processes.

The authorities and their enablers

The process that enables internet shutdowns is covered by a veil of opacity. Due to a lack of technical expertise, governments usually turn to internet service providers (ISPs) for help in disrupting telecommunications. But it is difficult to know precisely which authorities issue the order to shutdown or throttle the internet. Organisations fighting internet shutdowns must be resourceful to obtain this crucial information, which enables citizens to hold their government officials to account. In 2018, legal action brought by Internet Sans Frontières against mobile operators in Chad, obtained written proof of the order sent by the Ministry of the Interior to all ISPs.

Transparency from ISPs themselves can also help lift this veil of obscurity further. Under pressure from civil society initiatives, such as the Ranking Digital Rights project, many of these companies publish more specific information about the connectivity disruption orders they receive from governments. Orange issued a press released around the 2020 Guinean election to this effect for example. Understanding who orders and facilitates internet shutdowns is an important piece of the puzzle. But it is equally important to prevent the occurrence of these telecommunications outages in the first place.

Enhancing transparency

According to the UN Human Rights Council and the African Commission on Human Rights, cutting off access to the internet is a serious violation of the right to freedom of expression. This is even more so when this act of censorship takes place during an election period, a critically important moment in democratic life.

Faced with media landscapes under the strict control of autocratic governments, citizens of many African countries have found space for free expression online. For some, it is the first time that they can speak without filter on the governance of their country and question the government propaganda. The internet and use of smartphones are also key tools for opposition parties and civil society groups to collect and centralise information about anomalies observed during an electoral process.

The democratisation of online communication tools and access to bandwidth offers an increasingly formidable electoral transparency tool for civil society and citizens of African countries. Citizen electoral monitoring initiatives, have emerged in Cote d’Ivoire (2010), Togo (2013), Kenya (2017), and Guinea (2020), to give just a few examples. All have offered significant contributions to exposing the existence of fraud, which in turn have called into question the results claimed by the authorities. But blocking the internet or social networks during an election prevents them from being able to do so and degrades the credibility and sincerity of the vote. The #KeepItOn coalition, which was created to fight internet shutdowns, are campaigning for the inclusion of internet access in the assessment of elections by national and international observation missions.

Keeping it on

The internet challenges our existing social and governance structures to adapt or reinvent themselves. For some of them, the challenge seems insurmountable, and censorship becomes a refuge. But this refuge is only temporary. Governments that prefer to censor, for fear of a free flow of information online, would be better served by putting this energy into innovating in their relationships with citizens and voters. In the decades to come, and as more and more Africans come online, the internet must stay on.

Julie Owono is the executive director of Internet Sans Frontières and a member of the Facebook Oversight Board.

How Youth Can Reshape Political Participation in Nigeria

By Blog, Publication, Publications

By Chris Olaoluwa Ògúnmọ́dẹdé

Can Nigeria’s #EndSARS protests evolve into a force that can restructure electoral politics? Or will the protests, which culminated with the state opening fire on its own citizens in Lagos, simply become a dramatic, but ineffective interlude, to the status quo?

If recent electoral contests held in Lagos, Imo, Bayelsa, Plateau and Abia are an indicator, the civic awakening that seemed apparent at the height of the demonstrations in October 2020, has thus far failed to spill over into the electoral realm. Voter apathy, which typifies Nigerian elections, has been a notable feature of these polls. But as the 2023 elections draw closer amid a gloomy political and economic outlook, Nigeria’s young voters and activists are yet again being pushed to consider their role in politics while trying to navigate the relative power of protest and electoral politics as modes of civic participation.

Activists and organisers who participated in the #EndSARS protests must decide between redoubling their efforts or stepping back from all contentious political activity; whether, and how, to change tactics; what issues they should focus on; or if abstaining completely from electoral politics would be the most powerful statement. These questions are particularly pressing for Nigeria’s so-called “s’oro s’oke generation” or what I like to call the “70 Percent Club” – the cohort of Nigerians believed to be 30 years old or younger.

In a country as large and heterogeneous as Nigeria, these young people come from all walks of life and have different experiences, but they also share some important commonalities. They have no little to no memory of Nigeria under military rule, they increasingly reject the respectability politics that govern intergenerational social interactions, and they are very online. #EndSARS was undeniably their moment; their introduction to the world as a social force to be reckoned with.

Fresh voices

#EndSARS as a struggle in the public square coincided with the takeover of the virtual one, much of it driven by this “70 Percent Club”. Even as the protests gathered steam in early October 2020, the overwhelming majority of Nigeria’s print and broadcast media – whose ownership structure is largely concentrated in the hands of political entrepreneurs with close links to government officials and the Nigerian state – gave little to no coverage to the protests. But in a country where 61% of the population has access to the internet, these attempts to stymie the protests proved to be a miscalculation. Young Nigerians do not rely on newspapers, television and the radio for news and information to the same degree their parents and grandparents do.

According to 2019 findings by NOI Polls, 70% of Nigerians aged 18-35 have access to the internet compared with 56% of those aged 36-60. Roughly 20% of the Nigerian population has a Twitter account, with young people again the more likely users. WhatsApp and Facebook have even more significant numbers of users. During the protests, social media users got the #EndSARS hashtag trending globally. The millions of unique impressions on Twitter and other platforms, gained the attention of international celebrities and the Nigerian diaspora. Online spaces and new media platforms like Pulse Nigeria, Zikoko and The Native quickly worked to fill the gaps left open by legacy media.

The digital prowess young Nigerians displayed during the #EndSARS protests played a huge role in its reach, fundraising, coordination and message discipline. They used online platforms to share information in real-time, coordinate activities with protesters across the country, fight misinformation and document important events such as attempts by hired thugs and pro-government forces to subvert the protests and the fatal shootings in Lekki on 20 October. Women were at the heart of this movement, with The Feminist Coalition playing a critical coordinating role, alongside SARS victims’ mothers’ groups, in demanding transparency and accountability for victims of police brutality. 

The challenge now is how to institutionalise the vibrant online activism demonstrated during the #EndSARS protests into electoral politics and broader civic participation. The protests did a lot to dispel the myth of apathy among so-called “lazy Nigerian youths”, who have been forced to provide social goods and services for themselves amid a weak state incapable of meeting their basic needs. The immense strides the ICT and creative sectors have made in the last decade largely reflects the ingenuity and entrepreneurialism of the “70 Percent Club”. Far from being frivolous and lazy, young Nigerians have simply lost hope in institutions that do not serve their interests or reflect their preferences. Their low participation rates in electoral contests reflecting disenchantment with the ruling elites and the systems of governance they oversee.

But this disillusionment with the political system and the lack of trust in civic norms and institutions represents the best opportunity to reshape political participation in Nigeria. There is a need to shift Nigeria’s civic culture from one skewed overwhelmingly towards elections as the primary means of participation, and towards a system inclusive of mass civic activism designed to trigger long-term political development and social change. This effort must start with building the kinds of “mediating structures” Alexis de Tocqueville argued strengthened democracies by providing alternative loyalty bases and sources of information for citizens. These mutually reinforcing online and offline entities would serve as a bulwark against dominant political forces, and as intermediaries between citizens and the Nigerian state, who are socially distant from each other.

Learning from the past

A crucial mistake made after the collapse of military rule and return to civilian democracy in 1999 was the failure to connect institutional politics – understood narrowly as represented by political parties and elections – to the participatory ethos that energised the pro-democracy movement of the 1990s. Electoral politics returned to being the crown jewel of civic participation in Nigeria’s civilian democracy, with many democracy activists – some of them erstwhile politicians – running for and winning elected office, or getting appointed to government and party positions.

At the same time, civil society organisations (CSOs) arguably did not, and still do not, serve as intermediaries between citizens and state, acting more as entrenched, professional middle-class interests or even as an extension of the political class. Many CSOs rely on international donors for funding – when they are not covertly funded by political figures – and have come to prioritise access and closeness to government and foreign donors, raising questions among their critics about their ability to be effective intermediary institutions. The weakness of the rule of law and a culture of opacity in government, combined with the aforementioned tendencies, makes contemporary organised CSOs incapable of, and unsuited to, being a credible mouthpiece for young, socially-networked Nigerians.

Leaderless and decentralised

Historically, organised activism in Nigeria leaned towards centralised representation, usually in the form of professional organisations, trade associations and farmer, labour and student unions. The #EndSARS protests were structured differently, resembling the many “leaderless” movements that have emerged across the world in recent years. Although Lagos served as a sort of symbolic capital of the movement, the protests were decentralised away from any one geographic location or group and were truly national in scope. Nigerians in 21 of the 36 states participated in demonstrations, along with diaspora supporters in London, Johannesburg, Washington DC and elsewhere.

Time will tell whether this format of mass activism will become the norm in Nigeria, but its spontaneity, message discipline and organisational prowess caught the Nigerian establishment by surprise. This in part explains the violent crackdown that brought the protests to a halt, as well as the continued repression by state authorities against key organisers and ordinary protesters. Many demonstrators remain detained, with the whereabouts of more than a handful an open question. Others saw bank accounts frozen or had their passports seized.

Making engagement meaningful

Given the varied manifestations of poor governance across the country which the #EndSARS protests sought to challenge, it stands to reason that localised organising which reflects the reality of Nigerians in their immediate communities should drive the establishment of mediating structures. But if the broader trends which emerged during the protests are to have any significance during the 2023 elections, the demands of Nigerian political organising should not be directed solely at centres of power like the major cities and state capitals.

Although the #EndSARS movement drew on a cross-representation of Nigerians, the most dominant narratives and visible organisers emerged from Lagos, which served as the protests’ centre of gravity to a large extent. The emergent forums and collective platforms which formed during the protests demonstrate the necessity of broader inclusivity of Nigerians across different income groups, regions and communities. Mediating structures must be designed to broaden constituencies and bring in voices who may not be well-represented among Nigeria’s online population. The problems of governance in Nigeria might have similar dimensions across the board, but they manifest themselves differently everywhere and these mediating institutions ought to reflect these nuances. Solutions that might work in Abia might not be replicable in Zamfara, and vice versa.

With the myriad of challenges bedevilling Nigeria, efforts to resolve them cannot wait until 2023, and neither should Nigerians. While young people should be encouraged to register to vote and join political parties and other organs of institutional politics, these efforts should be coupled with a commitment to building long-term civic institutions that give youths a means of engaging political systems and actors beyond election day. More civic participation by youths will not guarantee better governance outcomes, but it does raise the odds of bridging the significant gap between those deciding policy and those who have to weather its effects. And that is a useful point of departure. 

Chris Olaoluwa Ògúnmọ́dẹdé is a foreign policy analyst, writer, editor and political risk consultant specialising in comparative authoritarianism, regional integration in the West Africa region and transnationalism in African diasporic communities. He is also an editor at The Republic, a pan-African global affairs publication. Follow him on Twitter at @Illustrious_Cee.

Editor’s note: This is the seventh article in a nine-part series in which leading thinkers and practitioners explore key questions and themes about the current state of electoral democracy in Africa. You can click to read the sixth, fifthfourththirdsecond and first.

Insecurity and Covid-19: Threats to Electoral Democracy in Africa

By Blog

By Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim

More than 13 African countries are scheduled to hold or have already held, parliamentary or presidential elections in 2021. Reflective of the democratic backsliding observed on the continent in recent years, more than a third of these polls are likely to be little more than political theatre – aimed at garnering a fig leaf of legitimacy for leaders need to be seen to have a popular mandate.

In Uganda’s January poll the same winner was returned for the sixth consecutive election following a campaign marred by attacks on opposition candidates. Measures put in place by the Electoral Commission for ‘scientific campaigns’ designed to limit the spread of Covid-19 were implemented more rigorously on opposition candidates, by security agencies who remained loyal to President Museveni. In November 2020, security forces clashed with protestors in Kampala demanding the release of opposition candidate Bobi Wine, after he was arrested for violating the guidelines that required presidential candidates to meet or address crowds of less than 200 people. Over 50 Ugandans were killed in the clashes. The combination of, and links between, Covid-19 and insecurity are an increasingly common challenge facing polls on the continent.

The coronavirus context

According to the 2016 Infectious Disease Vulnerability Index 2016, 22 of the 25 countries most vulnerable to infectious disease are in Africa. But to date, the continent has recorded a little more than 4 million cases of Covid-19 and over 100,00 deaths out of a global total of more than 120 million cases and more than 2.5 million deaths. But the social and economic impacts of the pandemic might end up having the greatest impact. The imposition of lockdowns, designed to restrict movement and slow down the spread of the disease, have equally affected jobs and livelihoods especially for the poor. These measures have also created opportunities for authoritarian regimes to restrict people’s ability to engage in civic and political processes like elections.

In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy’s tenure was elongated after parliamentary elections scheduled for August 2020 were postponed due to Covid-19. Despite opposition from the federal government, political actors in Tigray province opposed this decision and decided to go ahead with its own regional election. The region is now involved in an active conflict with the Ethiopian state, with the problematic elections one of several triggers for a multifaceted conflict that has drawn in actors from neighbouring countries.

For the most part elections did proceed as planned in 2020, even if scheduled by-elections were postponed in eleven countries – Botswana, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. But the health risks of doing so quickly became apparent. In Burundi, having stood aside after serving three-terms President Nkurunziza died in office, shortly before his elected successor was due to succeed him. Covid-19 was the suspected cause, though officially his death was ascribed to a heart attack. A similar fate befell President Magufuli in Tanzania last month, just five months in to his second tenure at the helm. Nkurunziza and Magufuli were both vocal deniers of the existence of Covid-19 and did not seek to introduce measures to stop its spread.

Elsewhere restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the virus have also impacted on the space for political discontent. It is not just the election campaign period that is being affected, restrictions on public gatherings can impact voter education efforts and wider demands for greater transparency and accountability in how governments operate. That is not to say that measures to limit the spread of the deadly disease should not be in place to protect voters and candidates alike during elections but that they must be balanced carefully with commitments to a fair and equitable process.

Growing insecurity

In contexts like Chad, Ethiopia, Libya, Niger, Burkina Faso and Somalia the challenge of holding elections during a pandemic has been, or will be, further exacerbated by prevailing insecurity. Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project data showed a steep upsurge in violent attacks taking place in March and April 2020 across Africa – when restrictive measures were first introduced to address the threat posed by Covid-19. This suggests that terrorist and non-state armed groups capitalised on the pandemic to increase attacks. If these trends continue, “Africa is at risk of losing ground to violent groups following years of counterterrorism advances alongside regional and international security partners” according to experts at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. Recent events in Niger are a concern in this regard.

On 2 April 2021, Mohamed Bazoum was sworn in as elected President of Niger. He took over from Mohammed Issoufou who stood down after completing his two constitutionally-mandated terms in office in what was the first ever democratic transition from one elected administration to another in country’s history. But Bazoum inherits an insecurity pandemic. In January at least 100 people were killed in a terrorist attack near the border with Mali: seven members of Niger’s election commission died when their car hit an explosive device on election day in February; whilst in March another 137 Nigeriens civilians perished in two separate attacks by gunmen on motorbikes. Niger has been troubled by insecurity for several years but the spate of attacks by hardlines Islamist groups in early 2021 seem to have been aimed at disrupting and undermining the election process.

However, Bazoum and the ruling party – to which he and Issoufou both belong – have also been able to utilise the prevailing insecurity narrative for political ends in recent weeks. After unsuccessfully challenging the election outcome at Niger’s Constitutional Court, leading opponent Mahamane Ousmane called for mass protests to overcome what he claimed was a rigged outcome. But the prevailing insecurity, including an attempted coup d’état on 30 March, created the conditions for the rallies to be banned by the government.

Prevailing insecurity also limited the participation of voters in Burkina Faso’s November 2020 poll. Although provisions were put in place to support voting for those internally displaced by insecurity, the amended electoral code stated that the more than one million IDPs were to be enrolled where they were displaced, and their vote counted in the constituency they currently occupied, not where they have previously lived. The impact of this was that under threat constituencies elected officials charged with trying to address multiple challenges, are now doing so with a very small popular mandate. Furthermore, voting amidst a string security presence can have implications for voters’ perceptions of freedom.

Invariably, the responsibilities of maintaining internal security, peace, order and justice within a country lies with the police. However due to the lack of an effective internal security mechanism, several African states regularly deploy the army to maintain internal insecurity and forestall instability. With military personnel that are usually earmarked for counterterrorism measures now being deployed, or having been deployed, to enforce lockdowns or implement pandemic response measures, in Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and Kenya, there are concerns about an oversecuritisation of key state functions, without an improvement in the prevailing security situation.

Implications for democracy

Politically, Covid-19 has created conditions that have worsened the state of insecurity on the continent. It has also impacted on the electioneering process and political campaigns by providing justification for leaders with authoritarian ambitions to restrict rights and oppress opposition. Selective use of pandemic control measures to restrict the ability of opposition parties to campaign poses a threat to multi-party democracy. While Africa has so far largely avoided the worst case Covid-19 scenario, the emergence of new variants could potentially create health, social, economic and political emergencies in the coming months and years, especially as vaccine rollouts remain slow. All with serious implications for democratic accountability.

But on a more positive note, the pandemic has increased the speed at which digital tools are being developed and deployed for democratic accountability. Notwithstanding the challenges, these have the potential to make African elections safer, cheaper, more efficient and more accurate. 

Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development

Editor’s note: This is the sixth article in a nine-part series in which leading thinkers and practitioners explore key questions and themes about the current state of electoral democracy in Africa. You can click to read the fifthfourththirdsecond and first.

How tenure elongation and a lack of term limits weaken the integrity of elections in Africa

By Blog, Publication, Publications

By Ayisha Osori

Until the late 1980s, Liberia’s constitution was the only one in Africa to provide clarity for presidential term limits. Without these limits, political succession was a major source of instability on the continent, with many countries dominated by a single leader who insisted on his – and it was always him – indispensability. The end of their rule was invariably by force. In 35 years from 1961 to 1997, Africa witnessed 78 coups d’états.

But by 1995, at least 33 countries had revised their constitutions to include presidential term limits. The Organisation of African Unity (as it then was) built on this trend by developing a rule against coups and what it called “unconstitutional changes in government” with the recommendation that “any manipulation of the constitution aimed at preventing a democratic change of government” be outlawed. By the 2000s elections and term limits had replaced death and coup d’état as the most common way in which African presidents and prime ministers left office. Term limits were one effective way of curtailing the excesses of all-powerful executives and a tool that allowed for greater investment in the independence of critical democracy strengthening institutions such as the judiciary, legislature and election management bodies (EMBs).

Fast forward to 2021, and 16 countries across the continent have either revised their constitutions to remove term limits or seen the extension of the tenure of the incumbent president against the spirit of term limits. A further eight – Eritrea, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Lesotho, Libya, Morocco, Somalia and Eswatini – still have no term limits, whilst another nine countries, have term limits that exist in law, but that has yet to be tested or applied in practice.

Electoral choice

According to academic Andreas Schedler, to qualify as democratic “elections must offer an effective choice of political authorities among a community of free and equal citizens”. He identifies seven conditions that should exist if regular elections are to fulfil the promise of effective democratic choice: empowerment, free supply, free demand, inclusion, insulation, integrity and irreversibility.

Empowerment and insulation speak to voters’ ability to vote freely without restrictions, fear or intimidation. In the January 2021 presidential elections in Uganda – where presidential term limits were removed in 2005 and age limits in 2017 – political violence linked to the election resulted in over 50 deaths, while more than 400 individuals have been forcibly ‘disappeared’ in a pre and post-election clampdown. In Guinea, after changing the constitution through a dubious referendum, President Conde contested and won, a third term in 2020 amidst sustained protests that saw at least 12 people killed.

Free supply, free demand and inclusion cover citizens ability to form, join and support opposition parties, candidates and their policies; and mitigate against candidates being prevented from participating in the elections through legal or pseudo-legal means. An increasingly common way of preventing candidates from participating in elections is the sponsorship system where presidential candidates are required to secure a minimum threshold endorsement of registered voters or elected representatives. This, along with high filing fees, effectively narrows the number who can contest.

Ahead of the 2020 presidential elections, Cote d’Ivoire’s election management body required that to be eligible candidates must secure the signatures of at least 1% of the electorate. This gave a significant advantage to the incumbent, Alassane Ouattara, who successfully secured a disputed third-term against reduced opposition. In addition to technical obstacles, more direct threats can be used by incumbents. Ahead of April’s presidential poll in Chad, the leading opponent to President Deby’s sixth term in office, Saleh Kebzabo, withdrew his candidacy after a deadly raid by security forces at the home of another opposition candidate.

The integrity factor relates to the election process, rules and execution. When EMBs or courts are perceived as compromised, the impact on the credibility of the electoral outcome is diminished. Like in Uganda in January, many voters in Congo Brazzaville cast their ballot on 21 March 2021 with continued doubts about the independence of the EMB given that nothing has changed since it oversaw a questionable outcome in 2016. An election that followed the 2015 removal of term limits, that gave President Sassou Nguesso the opportunity to seek a third term in his second spell in power. A fourth term is set to follow.  

Finally, the irreversibility condition covers the sanctity of the result and winners taking office peacefully. Elections should have the desired consequences, where the will of the majority of voters is respected. In 2016, Yahya Jammeh tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to ignore and annul the results of the election, but the EMB, supported by regional powers, held firm to force him from office after two decades at the helm.  

Limiting power

Those who argue against the imposition of term limits claim that they compromise the sovereignty of the people and their choice, as well as risk undermining the stability and continuity required for the development. They argue that instead of term limits, the focus should be on improving the integrity of elections. But a determination to stay in power predisposes leaders to oversee compromised polls. Presidents contesting for or having won, their sixth term in office in 2021 – Museveni in Uganda, Sassou-Nguesso in Congo Brazzaville and Deby in Chad – do not feel more secure. Instead, with each successive election the violence against the opposition, the rhetoric of intolerance and abuse from state security actors increases. As Schedler has argued, “the desire of those who manipulate elections is to enjoy the fruits of electoral legitimacy without running the risk of democratic uncertainty”.

But respect for term limits alone is not a vaccine against electoral authoritarianism. Niger’s historic transition in February affirmed its commitment, for the first time, to two-term limits, but the vote, which was won by the ruling party candidate amidst protests about the results and an internet shutdown, exposed the fragility of the country’s democracy. Despite adherence to term-limits in Tanzania, a change of the political party in power has not been forthcoming. In places where the ruling party never loses, there can be a systemic weakening of the checks and balances, and critical voices, required for a healthy democracy. Even in places where term-limits are in place and turnovers have occurred – Benin, Senegal and Nigeria – continued vigilance is required. There have been deep erosions to the independence of democracy strengthening institutions in recent years.

Innovative thinking is needed to tackle anti-democratic forces intent on capturing and controlling access to power whilst maintaining a veneer of electoral legitimacy. Africa still has more countries that have strengthened and upheld term limits than not. But constitutional power grabs are on the rise, particularly in West Africa, and the complicit silence of the Africa Union (AU), and regional bodies like ECOWAS, is a concern. In addition to considering the adoption of non-amendable presidential term limits, as has been proposed as part of Burkina Faso’s constitutional review, the AU should lead a collective review of the application of the non-retroactivity principle to constitutional amendments to make it explicit that leaders who oversee constitutional amendments cannot reset their tenures on that basis. The spirit of the principle is to prevent a retroactive application of punitive law and not to give sit tight men a window to legally hijack their countries.

Most importantly citizens must also be encouraged, and supported, through investments in organising and social movement-building to demand change. Afterall half of the dozen African leaders who have tried to evade limits over the past 15 years, were foiled by populations who rallied against these tenure extensions. Listening to, and learning from, the experiences of Burkina Faso, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Zambia can offer valuable lessons.  

Ayisha Osori is Executive Director of Open Society Initiative West Africa

Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in a nine-part series in which leading thinkers and practitioners explore key questions and themes about the current state of electoral democracy in Africa. You can click to read the fourth, thirdsecond and first.

Personal Data and the Influence Industry in Nigerian Elections

By Publication, Publications

An election officer verifying a voter using the Smart Card Reader. Photo credit: BBC

In Nigeria’s 2015 election, Cambridge Analytica (CA) spread targeted disinformation to suppress opposition votes and allegedly released sensitive medical and financial information about then opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari. In 2018, the Nigerian government formed a committee to investigate, amongst others, CA’s 2015 activities and promised criminal prosecutions if necessary.

However, two years on, there has been no update from the government committee. Furthermore, beyond a flurry of articles in 2018 that largely regurgitated what international media outlets posted, Nigeria’s media houses have largely left CA’s activities and the government committees promised investigations uncovered.

The lack of attention given to the CA scandal is worrying. If we assume that their notoriety derives in part from how egregious some of their tactics were, it is likely that other actors with morally questionable but less scandalous techniques are operating under the radar in Nigeria. It is therefore urgent that we have an overview of the use of data in Nigerian elections, as the first step to increasing awareness and activism. This report is an attempt to fill this gap. Using the framing introduced in Tactical Tech’s publication, Personal Data, Political Persuasion, this report combines interviews with various actors in the political influence industry and secondary evidence from journalistic sources to map the data-driven campaign techniques used in Nigeria. This mapping focuses on the 2015 and 2019 presidential elections but incorporates examples from earlier
and lower-level elections as needed.

The report then addresses a puzzle that the first section unearths: why does it seem that the formal political consulting industry in Nigeria is so small? To answer this, the report looks at the different actors in the influence industry, focusing on the kinds of political actors that hire them, the kinds of elections they tend to be involved in, and the techniques that they use in serving their clients.

The report finds that the use of data-driven campaigning in Nigerian elections is growing in prominence. Generally, political actors use data and digital technologies to fundraise, test for the resonance of campaign messages, target messages to specific geographic locations, and send out
bulk SMS, audio, and WhatsApp messages.


It is time to start taking West Africa’s legislative contests more seriously

By Blog

By Kojo Asante

Parliamentary elections were scheduled in as many as 16 African countries in 2020 but due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic four of these polls were postponed. In 2021, a further ten countries are scheduled to hold legislative votes. Despite the frequency of these elections, rarely do they attract significant international media coverage or scrutiny from election observation groups. In fact, legislative polls seldom feature in the planning of domestic or international election observation missions. Even though parliamentary processes are used as indicators for tracking fraud or the potential for conflict in presidential polls, particularly when the two are held concurrently.

Recent elections in Uganda are a good example. The international media was almost exclusively focused on the presidential contest between President Museveni and Bobi Wine. There was little mention of the process that produced 529 parliamentarians. Whilst in Uganda the majority of MPs elected were members of the ruling National Resistance Movement, in other recent elections in Africa the president’s party has not been able to secure a legislative majority. 

Ghana’s hung parliament

For the first time since the Fourth Republic began in 1993, Ghana has a hung parliament. Despite its failure to win back the presidency in the December 2020 polls, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) did claw back a 63 seat deficit in the parliament. Both it and the incumbent New Patriotic Party (NPP) won 137 seats, in the 275 member parliament. The single independent member has so far chosen to align with the NPP. But the Speaker of the House, Alban Sumana Bagbin, is a member of the NDC; elected after two members of the NPP broke rank and voted for him during the secret ballot process.

The current situation has already generated several contentious issues for Speaker Bagbin to resolve, including who should be the majority side, how should the allocation of committee members be done and who should chair which committee. The Speaker recently ruled that NPP shall be the majority side because of the independent MP’s formal request to seat with the NPP. But with the NPP and the NDC challenging 12 parliamentary results, the make-up of parliament could still change significantly.

There are parallels between Ghana’s current reality and the outcome of Sierra Leone’s March 2018 general election where, initially at least, the All People’s Congress’s candidate lost the presidential race, but the party was still able to maintain its parliamentary majority. Subsequent legal challenges changed those dynamics, handing the Sierra Leone People’s Party a slender majority in the legislature to go with its control of the executive. But these two recent examples, both in dominant two-party systems, raise important questions about voter choice and have implications for elections and governance in West Africa.

Sending a message?

A pre-election survey led by academics from the University of Ghana predicted that the incumbent NPP was going to face a strong challenge from the opposition in the parliamentary elections, but no one predicted just how strong. Several factors contributed to the unexpected result. First, many NPP candidates and supporters emerged from the party primary process deeply dissatisfied. In some cases, candidates with greater popular support were bullied or priced out of the contest by those with greater resources and the backing of the president or senior party officials. In other constituencies, ministers of state and existing MPs were shielded from a party primary challenge and were elected unopposed. Scholars working on electoral politics in Ghana have shown that parties suffer at the polls when they try to impose candidates on constituents and that voters become more sophisticated the more they participate in elections. In short, the NPP paid the penalty for the way it conducted its primaries.

However, this is not the full story. In several cases where the NPP parliamentary candidate was rejected by voters, the party’s presidential candidate was still favoured. Similarly, in some constituencies, voters voted for the NDC presidential candidate but elected an NPP MP. For example, in the Kintampo South constituency in Bono East Region, former President Mahama, the NDC presidential aspirant, took 52.99% of the vote but the same constituents elected an NPP MP with 49.44% of the vote. In Agona East constituency in the Central Region, President Akuffo Addo received 51.99% of the vote but a NDC candidate was elected as MP, with 50.5% of the vote.  This phenomenon of ticket-splitting – referred to in local parlance as ‘skirt and blouse’ voting – is becoming more prevalent. In 2008, there were 19 skirt and blouse seats, that rose to 26 in 2012, 28 in 2016 and 33 in 2020.

If the current configuration of Ghana’s parliament avoids governance gridlock and instead functions to promote stronger accountability and transparency, this type of voting may increase still further in Ghana in 2024. Speaker Bagbin’s remarks at the first sitting of the 8th parliament signalled his intention to steer the legislature away from excessive partisanship and gridlock; to ensure it can exercise its oversight responsibilities and assert its independence. If realised, the impact of this could be greater scrutiny exercised by a legislature that is not simply a rubber stamp approving the will of the executive. 

Parliamentary scrutiny

Credible elections remain an important mechanism for sustaining and strengthening democracy in Africa. Over the years, election watchers have been consumed by presidential elections, in part because of the dominance of the executive in many countries on the continent. As a result, parliamentary polls have not received the serious attention they deserve. But recent elections in Ghana and Sierra Leone underscore the growing importance of the outcome of legislative races for the way in which democratic institutions function in the periods between polls.

In Ghana’s most recent vote, as results began to trickle there was an increased focus on the parliamentary outcome among election observers. But moving forward, this focus in Ghana and elsewhere, should be embedded into the initial approach. Domestic election observation groups should mount special observation of selected parliamentary races in addition to the general presidential election watch, whilst international observers should send missions to watch parliamentary polls even when there are no presidential polls. Results at this level indicate an increased level of sophistication in how voters cast their ballots and offer a more nuanced indicator of people’s evaluation of a government. It is time to start paying more attention to what they tell us about the state of a country’s electoral democracy.

Kojo Asante is Director of Advocacy and Policy Engagement at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana)

Editor’s note: This is the second article in a nine-part series in which leading thinkers and practitioners explore key questions and themes about the current state of electoral democracy in Africa. You can read the first piece here.

The Futility of Elections: Rethinking Democracy in East Africa

By Blog

By Su Muhereza and Eshban Kwesiga

Despite their frequency and venerated place in the functioning of democracies, elections in East Africa are increasingly violent, plagued by coercion and widespread irregularities and tend to exacerbate existing socio-political tensions without resulting in meaningful political change, improved quality of governance or citizen participation. Recent polls in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, South Sudan and Uganda have all been heavily criticised. But with the elevation of elections as the most sacred anchor point for a functioning democracy, electoral “winners” can claim their victories as legitimate despite the dubious circumstances under which they are earned.

Democratic decline

In the 1990s and 2000s, participatory politics in Africa grew exponentially as the percentage of African countries holding democratic elections increased from 7% to 40%. In 2010, Freedom House classified 18 countries on the continent as electoral democracies. During the past two decades, the general trend in Africa has been towards demands for greater accountability from political leaders, whose domestic legitimacy is largely linked and limited to elections. However, the 2020 Freedom in the World report documented the 14th year of global decline in democratic governance and respect for human rights, with Africa contributing to the backsliding. Freedom House now ranks just seven countries on the continent,  none of which are in East Africa, in its ‘free’ category. The lowest figure since 1991. As elections have become more commonplace, the quality of public participation has declined.

While elections have advanced political participation in some African states, they have also been one of the major causes of instability and economic setbacks. Instability that has gone beyond the harassment and detention of opposition leaders, to outright clashes between voters, and between voters and security forces. In 2005, Ethiopia suffered 200 election-violence related fatalities. Over 1,000 Kenyans died during and after the country’s 2007 elections and triple that figure were killed in election and post-election clashes in Ivory Coast in 2010-11. In the run-up to Uganda’s recently concluded elections clashes with security actors, during riots sparked by the detention of opposition candidate Bobi Wine in November 2020, resulted in the deaths of 54 people.

There are economic electoral consequences too. 11 of the 13 elections held in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya over the last two decades have been accompanied by a fall in GDP during the election year or in the year after, with the raiding of central banks to fund increasingly expensive election campaigns a key driver of socio-economic pressures. Political instability and uncertainty also impact small and big businesses. Uganda’s 2021 election driven internet shutdown saw companies lose an estimated 66 billion Uganda shillings daily (US$17.9 million) according to the country’s Financial Technology and Service Providers Association. In this regard, elections risk undermining the very forces that help consolidate a democracy, such as access to economic opportunities and better standards of living.

The threat of election related violence, and the accompanying instability and economic uncertainty, bring into question the value of elections to a region grappling to consolidate democracy.

Elections in vain?

Elections as the basis of democracy is a strongly held global norm, defended and enforced by a wide array of individuals and institutions even though governments produced by credible polls can also be corrupt, short sighted, dominated by special interests and inefficient. Afterall, it was an electorate that chose Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro to preside over the United States and Brazil, respectively. But ensuring free, vibrant and informed mass engagement in political life and governance choices – key tenants of democracy – should not be conflated with the holding of regular elections.

In January 2021, Uganda held its sixth consecutive election – four of which have been held in a multi-party dispensation – but each resulting process has happened within a context of restricted political competition and limited changes towards an open political culture. Ahead of the 2021 poll, analysts and citizens alike questioned the value of holding an expensive election in the middle of a global health pandemic when the outcome was all but predetermined.

President Museveni’s 58% share of the vote – his nearest challenger Bobi Wine secured 35% – was announced amidst a five day internet shutdown. Procedural irregularities and claims of fraud by the opposition centred around failing biometric voter verification machines, videos on social media of ruling party agents ticking ballot papers in favour of Museveni and a lack of clarity about the way votes were tallied at the districts and announced by the Electoral Commission. Administrative hurdles, along with the internet blackout, prevented both international and domestic election observers and media from observing these processes across the country. Widespread claims of kidnappings and extrajudicial arrests of opposition agents and supporters charged with planning riots have been reported before, during and after polling day, whilst the house arrest of Bobi Wine from 14-26 January, continuing a pre-election pattern of detaining political opponents.

But despite violence and coercion consistently revealing themselves as the most relied on and direct means for changing power in Uganda, there is an almost unshakeable belief in, and need for, elections by all sides. Yes, elections provide an opportunity for yesterday’s losers to become today’s winners, but they also have downsides. While acknowledging that it is not elections that make bad leaders – it is leaders that make elections less than desirable and it is easy to blame political actors that have failed to play by the rules – we must also ask ourselves if ‘electoral fundamentalism’ prevents us from seeing the problems they produce.

According to David Van Reybrouck, author of “Against Elections: The Case for Democracy”, ‘electoral fundamentalism’ is an unshakeable belief in the idea that democracy is inconceivable without elections and elections are a necessary and fundamental precondition when speaking about democracy. Electoral fundamentalists refuse to regard elections as a means of taking part in democracy, seeing them instead as an end in themselves, as a doctrine with an intrinsic, inalienable value. They argue that at the very least elections produce some qualified politicians who act as democratic punching bags; representatives that can be held accountable and blamed for a lack of service delivery. But in Uganda, even this bare minimum has struggled to be realised. Most parliamentarians know they will likely only get one term in office and as such use that time to recover funds lost during expensive campaigns and to build connections to advance their own personal interests, rather than to improve service delivery.

Renewing democracy

Resistance to re-imagining political participation beyond elections does a grave disservice to the many ways in which citizens have found to participate in civic and political life within their communities beyond queuing at polling stations once every few years. In fact, it is electoral fundamentalism that has led to the destruction and delegitimising of alternative means for regular, iterative civic and political participation of ordinary citizens.

There are many examples of active citizen participation in political and civic life at the village level that go beyond the narrative of declining voter turnout across East Africa. Ugandans remain actively involved in village and municipal level politics, and interact regularly with leaders of local councils. Prior to the 2016 elections, 62% of respondents to a Twaweza public opinion poll said they sought information from their local council office, the smallest administrative unit in Uganda. In Rwanda, national and district youth councils channel the voices of young people into annual budget conferences and allocation cycles. In Kenya and Tanzania, citizens were an active part of constitutional review processes.

Despite the limited devolvement of decision making power and funding from central governments there is a real possibility for democratic decision making and citizen participation at village and municipal levels across East Africa. Examples exist of community innovation, participation and voice in transitional restorative justice practices and land dispute resolution mechanisms across Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya. Unfortunately, these types of civic organising and participation are overlooked by donors, civil society organisations and political parties working to advance democracy who favour a narrower focus on elections.

Beyond the ballot

What does it say for East Africa that recent elections have, by and large, failed to be conducted fairly, transparently, and peacefully? Or to produce outcomes that foster meaningful civic participation, improve the quality of governance and usher new voices and ideas into the arena of political participation? Acknowledging the limitation of elections as the primary institution of democracy would be a good start. Beyond that we must start to see them as a transient system in the organisation of human affairs.

Political analyst, Chris Ògúnmọ́dẹdé recently tweeted that “institutions are not organisms with supernatural, self-correcting powers. Institutions simply are collective agreements people come to. In other words, they can change over time and produce good or bad outcomes.” Even though the words “election” and “democracy” have become synonymous, elections alone cannot, and do not, adequately reflect the will of the people. Over the last decade citizens of 13 of 15 countries regularly polled by Afrobarometer have expressed a decline in support for elections.

The tendency to focus on citizen participation in elections has pushed aside local democratic and proto-democratic institutions such as village meetings, traditional conflict mediation or established jurisprudence even though they are valuable in encouraging a peaceful and collective discussion on the issues that affect people’s daily lives. Although they have not always done so, these institutions are perfectly capable of reflecting more inclusive values that acknowledge the equal status of women, youth and other excluded demographics.

Ultimately a democratic society should not be identified by whether or how it conducts winner-takes-all elections but rather how it allows for liberal freedoms such as political inclusivity, freedom of speech, media, expression, and association, access to property rights and judicial independence. Ensuring a combination of these elements supports greater everyday political participation and the building and consolidating of democracy, as opposed to a decisive vote once every few years in a sham election. To safeguard the democratic experiment in the region, we should begin to consider elections as a feature of, and not the basis for, democracy.

Su Muhereza is a Ugandan political analyst and tweets @suemuhereza.

Eshban Kwesiga is a development analyst and tweets @EshbanKwesiga.

Editor’s note: This is the first article in a nine-part series in which leading thinkers and practitioners explore key questions and themes about the current state of electoral democracy in Africa. 

Nigeria@60: In Unity, We Can Overcome Challenges of Nation Building

By Press Release


October 1, 2020

As Nigeria marks 60 years of independence today, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) congratulates fellow citizens on this milestone. Despite the myriad of challenges, which have hobbled the realisation of Nigeria’s very lofty potential, the CDD, has a message of hope.

The Nigeria of our dreams is possible, notwithstanding the problems, which have delayed the nation’s quest to take our rightful place in the comity of nations. While it may be true that the realities have dashed expectations and led citizens to question the very basis of Nigeria’s existence as a country, it is also true that if citizens unite, and bond together to speak and act with a common voice, the challenges will be much easier to overcome.

CDD remains optimistic that the diversity of Nigeria can be built on to become a source of strength despite the current situation in which our country’s diversity is being depicted as the source of unending sectarian conflicts and instability. CDD fervently believes in this possibility because there are many commonalities when the challenges facing the different ethnic nationalities in the country are closely studied. The same problems of hunger, poverty, malnutrition, maternal mortality, lack of infrastructure and human rights abuse, which are the reality for many ordinary Nigerians of Kanuri extraction, are the same challenges confronting other ordinary Nigerians of Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, and Ijaw extractions. The same consequences of lack of transparency and accountability in governance that are affecting the ordinary Nigerian in the South, are the same as what the people in North are facing.

CDD is of the view that Nigeria’s diversity, and its attempt to be a melting pot of various histories, cultures and identities, is not the problem. The problem is the lack of leadership and the right framework for governance to harness the vast resources inherent in these diversities. CDD believes the right leadership can harness the diversity, creativity and boundless energies of the Nigerian population and make these attributes the basis of a strong, stable and efficient federation anchored around the rule of law and popular participation. CDD is of the view that this generation of Nigerians must work to fulfill the mission of realising the manifest destiny of our country.

CDD believes the energy being expended by separatist groups for the purpose of the breakup of the country, would be better applied to uniting the country and making it work for the good of all. CDD strongly believes Nigeria’s democracy, if properly nurtured will become the instrument for the realisation of our long sought after national goals and aspirations. Specifically, the electoral process, which is the system which produces leadership at all levels of the country must begin producing credible outcomes at all levels. But the democratic process should not be reduced to the ritual of periodic elections. CDD calls on Nigerians to participate, and get their voices heard in order to ensure democracy delivers on governance. 60 years after the attainment of independence, Nigeria’s democracy should begin to head in the direction of delivering quality, efficient and effective social goods and services to the long suffering citizens of our country. Happy 60th Independence Anniversary! Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.


Idayat Hassan,


Elections, Democracy and COVID-19 in West Africa

By Publication, Publications

Based on its analysis of elections conducted so far in West Africa during the current pandemic, the Centre for Democracy and Development outlines the following considerations to guide the conduct of elections under the pandemic:

Tissued by national governments, public health authorities, and national task forces on the movement and safety of people should inform the decisions taken by governments and electoral management bodies to either postpone or hold elections. Actors should prioritize conducting the full gamut of electoral activities (voter registration, procurement, political campaigning, and electoral crisis management).

Decision-makers must consider the constitutional significance of elections and the originally scheduled dates by comparing the advantages and disadvantages of holding or postponing an election during the pandemic.

This is important if the legitimacy of the elections is not to be questioned or diminished.


Situation Analysis For Togo

By Fact Checks, GeneralNo Comments

The Republic of Togo has a complex political history marked by harrowing democratic transitions. The Eyadéma political dynasty has led the country for more than fifty years. Gnassingbé Eyadéma assumed office in 1967 and was president until his death in 2005.

He led as the head of a military junta from 1967 to 1993, and following the National Conference of Togo he was the democratically elected leader from 1993-2005. The ascension to multi-party democracy was heralded by the National Sovereign Conference of 1991. The Togo National Conference was said to be precipitated by a similar National Conference held in the Benin Republic in 1990.  

Late President Gnassingbé Eyadéma won all three elections held in 1993, 1998, and 2003, though each election was described as flawed by observers. The 1993 election was boycotted by the opposition. The 1998 election was marred by fraud and serious irregularities. For instance, in a usurpation of the powers and duties of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), President Eyadema was proclaimed winner of the election by the Minister of Interior and Security rather than by CENI.

This action was based on the judgement of the Constitutional Court of July 1998, which held that the Minister could replace the CENI. The 1998 election was judged to be fraudulent and violent with some casualties recorded on the opposition side.

The political impasse arising from the 1998 Presidential Election led to the signing of the Accord-Cadre de Lomé́ (Lomé framework Agreement) by President Eyadema and his political party, the Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) in July 1999 in Paris. The agreement, negotiated between the opposition political parties and international facilitators, agreed on the following:

  1. In accordance with Article 59 of the 1992 Constitution of Togo, President Eyadéma will vie for office as President in 2003
  2. The rights of political parties, media and others shall be guaranteed among many others.


COVID-19: Road to sustainable elections in Africa

By EventNo Comments

In an event which promises to be engaging and worthwhile, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CISS) will be discussing issues of democracy today, June 9, 2020.

Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the release of safety guidelines including social distancing as major tools to contain the spread, the electoral system will by no doubt face challenges which would affect the voting process in various countries.

The event themed: “Democracy And Elections In West Africa” will allow a platform for discussions surrounding the future of democracy in Africa following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic across the globe.

With Africa not excluded, scholars and experts from the CDD and CSIS will explore approaches and possibly sustainable recommendations which could guide the election process in the continent.

Speakers at the virtual event will include the chairman of Nigeria’s Independent and National Electoral Commission (INEC), Yakubu Mahmood; the Director of CDD, Idayat Hassan; the Director of Einaudi Centre John S. Knight, Rachel Riedl; the Executive Director of CDD-Ghana, Henry Prempeh and the Program Director for CSIS Africa, Judd Devermont.

You can watch the event live here:

Sorting Fact From Fiction : Nigeria's 2019 Election

By Blog, Nigeria Election 2019, PublicationsNo Comments

Nigeria 2019 Election Fact-File

The Centre for Democracy and Development’s Election Analysis Centre (EAC) for the 2019 presidential and gubernatorial elections, represented the first attempt in Nigeria at running a rigorous fact-checking process before, during and after the electoral process of both presidential and gubernatorial elections. CDD’s specific mandate was to provide a filter and check on viral stories, that were demonstrably false. Or to confirm, with sources and justification, if certain events were true or with fact (s). To do this CDD worked in collaboration with the National Democratic Institute and the Premium Times. However, there is scope for greater collaboration with other like-minded institutions such as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the future. Nigeria 2019 Election Fact File

Methodology: Nigeria 2019 Election Fact File

Our methodology to achieve ‘Nigeria’s 2019 election fact-file’ during the elections, was a highly focused version of our usual fact-checking process. A small team of seven individuals each had individualised functions. We had two spotters who monitored the online space, including Facebook groups, Twitter accounts and WhatsApp groups. The groups we monitored had already previously been tagged in our ever-expanding database as sources of disinformation, through research and online mapping efforts that will be described further below. The spotters would then forward news stories that were popular (for example over a hundred shares on Twitter) to the fact-checkers.
This ensured that we highlighted and countered stories that were significant and prevented us from popularising false information [without fact (s)] that may not have reached a wide audience until our fact-check. The process for checking the validity of a story during the elections was facilitated by our nationwide-wide network of election observers² in each of Nigeria’s 36 states plus the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). This meant that our fact-checkers could reach out to an observer in any state to confirm a story. Once the validity of a story was verified, the fact-check itself would be written and sent to our designer to be turned into an infographic. This infographic was published on Twitter³ with all the relevant hashtags to ensure better reach and visibility (Methodology employed for Nigeria 2019 election fact file).

Spotters vs Fact Checkers for Nigeria 2019 Election

Monitoring the online landscape is not just relevant for fact checking, but allowed our research team to collect examples of hateful, inflammatory or false content; find groups that were spreading it; and track trending topics and disinformation campaigns online. Groups and accounts that we initially found led us to more, which if significant were added to our list online sources to be observed in future. In our online monitoring, we were able to identify three key content types that we subsequently focused on:

  1. Election logistic
  2. Election-related violence videos
  3. Conspiracy theories

Images or videos were analysed using tools such as reverse-image search to verify their origins and see if the content had appeared elsewhere. The fact checking process for a single story could take up to one hour and involved detecting a trending story – sometimes shared on private WhatsApp groups⁴, reaching out to our observers in the field and then designing and publishing the fact-check. Our standard format was in the form of an infographic that clearly showed the material being fact-checked, whether it be a picture, or a headline or a tweet. We chose infographics because the format allows us to convey information in an easily consumable form. Our tracking showed that our infographics had on average, 20 interactions on Twitter. In looking for sources of fake news, we were able to map the partisan nature of the online landscape. (Nigeria 2019 Election Fact File)
Download: Sorting Fact from Fiction.
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WhatsApp and Nigeria’s 2019 Elections: Press Release

By Blog, Nigeria Election 2019, Press ReleaseNo Comments

WhatsApp both strengthens and undermines Nigerian democracy, says UK-Nigeria research team

Research findings were released today by a UK-Nigerian research team examining the role of WhatsApp in Nigeria’s 2019 elections. Drawing on citizen surveys and interviews with political campaigns, the report underlines the ways in which WhatsApp has promoted the spread of “fake news” around elections, but has also strengthened accountability and promoted inclusion in other areas.
At the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja, Nigeria, on Monday 29 July, researchers from the Centre for Democracy and Development (Nigeria) and University of Birmingham (UK) presented key findings from a WhatsApp-sponsored research project on the role of WhatsApp in Nigeria’s 2019 elections. The report, WhatsApp and Nigeria’s 2019 Elections: Mobilising the People, Protecting the Vote, is available in full at
WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in 40 African countries, including Nigeria, due to its low cost, encrypted messages, and the ability to easily share messages with both individuals and groups. The aim of the research project was to shed light on how the app is influencing Nigerian elections, particularly in light of concerns – in Nigeria, and across the globe – about social media usage and the spread of so-called “fake news”.
Dr Jonathan Fisher (University of Birmingham) led the research team, which included Idayat Hassan (Centre for Democracy and Development), Jamie Hitchen (Independent Consultant) and Professor Nic Cheeseman (University of Birmingham). The research consisted of 50 interviews with political campaigns, activists, scholars and experts in Abuja, Oyo and Kano and a citizen survey (n=1,005) and focus groups in Oyo and Kano states.
Focusing in particular on governor races in Oyo and Kano, the research found that:

  1. Organization: The political use of WhatsApp is becoming increasingly sophisticated and organized at the presidential level. By setting up multiple overlapping WhatsApp groups, organizations such as the Buhari New Media Centre (BNMC) and Atikulated Youth Force (AYF) – set up to support, respectively, the campaigns of President Buhari and his main opponent, Atiku Abubakar – can send messages to tens of thousands of people at the touch of a button by forming hundreds of groups of 256 members. Things look very different below the national level, however, where a significant proportion of activity remains informal. This limits the ability of formal structures like parties to set and control narratives at the local level. Dr Fisher says that:

“Our research shows that while WhatsApp replicates existing political patron-client networks to some extent, it is also helping less traditional power-players to enter the political arena – particularly tech-savvy youth.”

  1. Content: Different types of content shared via WhatsApp have varying impacts depending on who they have been shared by, and how they are presented to the user. Idayat Hassan says that:

“The format, style, source and the content of a piece of information shared or received on WhatsApp all have a critical impact on how far they reach, and how far they are believed…pictures and videos are increasingly influential.”

  1. Networks: Offline and online structures are interlinked, reinforcing and building on each other in ways that are important to understand. As a result, in many respects WhatsApp amplifies the significance and influence of networks that already exist within Nigerian politics and society. Jamie Hitchen says that:

“The interaction between information shared on WhatsApp and the offline context is a crucial part of the digital eco-system, and challenges claims that the platform has revolutionised political campaigning.”

  1. Impact: WhatsApp is used to both spread disinformation, and to counter it. One of the most notorious messages of the election – the false story that President Buhari had died and been replaced by a clone from Sudan – was widely circulated on WhatsApp. But candidates also used WhatsApp to alert citizens to false stories and to “set the record straight”. Professor Cheeseman says that:

“Social media platforms are both a threat to democracy and a way to strengthen it. WhatsApp is being used to spread “fake news” on the one hand, and run fact-checking campaigns and election observation on the other. The challenge is to reduce risks without undermining the way that social media can strengthen accountability and promote inclusion.”
The research also underlines that, particularly at the sub-national level, while WhatsApp gives candidates an electoral advantage, social media alone cannot win an election. Instead, the most important thing for a candidate is to be an authentic leader of the community – to be present and accessible. This means that a candidate’s ground campaign remains the most important thing to get right. Thus, while WhatsApp has transformed the electoral environment, it has not revolutionized it.
The research findings suggest both short- and longer-term recommendations:
In the short-term, making it easier for individuals to leave WhatsApp groups and report disinformation; reinforce the ability of group administrators to set standards; target digital literacy training to social influencers and strengthen WhatsApp’s ability to understand the risk of misuse by opening an office in the African continent.
In the longer-term, state and federal governments should invest more in digital literacy as part of the national curriculum, while political campaigns should develop social media codes of conduct for future elections. Online protection of data and civil liberties should also be enhanced in Nigeria, and beyond.
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Further information:

  • Media Manager (University of Birmingham): Hasan Salim Patel

Telephone:  +44 (0) 121 415 8134 / +44(0)7580 744943

  • Nigeria Contact (Centre for Democracy and Development): Idayat Hassan

Telephone/WhatsApp: +234 (0) 703 369 0566

  • UK Contact (University of Birmingham): Dr Jonathan Fisher

Telephone/WhatsApp: +44 (0) 7894 452 788

Sorting Fact From Fiction

By Blog, Nigeria Election 2019, PublicationsNo Comments

The Centre for Democracy and Development’s Election Analysis Centre (EAC) for the 2019 presidential and gubernatorial elections represented the first attempt in Nigeria at running a rigorous fact-checking process before, during and after the electoral process of both presidential and gubernatorial elections. CDD’s specific mandate was to provide a filter and check on viral stories that were demonstrably false. Or to confirm, with sources and justification, if certain events were true. To do this CDD worked in collaboration with the National Democratic Institute and the Premium Times. However, there is scope for greater collaboration with other like-minded institutions such as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the future.
Monitoring the online landscape is not just relevant for fact-checking, but allowed our research team to collect examples of hateful, inflammatory or false content; find groups that were spreading it; and track trending topics and disinformation campaigns online. Groups and accounts that we initially found led us to more, which if significant were added to our list online sources to be observed in future. In our online monitoring, we were able to identify three key content types that we subsequently focused on:

  1. Election logistic
  2. Election-related violence videos
  3. Conspiracy theories

Images or videos were analysed using tools such as reverse-image search to verify their origins and see if the content had appeared elsewhere. The factchecking process for a single story could take up to one hour and involved detecting a trending story – sometimes shared on private WhatsApp groups⁴, reaching out to our observers in the field and then designing and publishing the fact-check. Our standard format was in the form of an infographic that clearly showed the material being fact-checked, whether it be a picture, or a headline or a tweet. We chose infographics because the format allows us to convey information in an easily consumable form. Our tracking showed that our infographics had on average, 20 interactions on Twitter. In looking for sources of fake news, we were able to map the partisan nature of the online landscape
Download: Sorting Fact from Fiction.

[rt_animated_link_style animated_link_style=”two” animated_link_anchor=”|title:Sorting%20Fact%20from%20Fiction||” animation=”swing” extra_class=”link” extra_id=” Sorting Fact from Fiction“]

Nigeria’s constitutional reform process: The quest for a people-driven constitution

By Fact Checks, latestNo Comments

The Nigerian National Assembly has approved a number of constitutional reforms, and rejected some crucial amendments proposing devolution of power and quotas for the representation of women in the highest echelons of power. While the proposed changes could limit executive discretion, enhance the autonomy of local governments and state legislative assemblies vis-à-vis state governors, the reform process was conducted within the confines of the legislative chambers with no meaningful opportunity for popular and civil society consultation. These deficiencies have triggered suggestions for a national conference to engage in a comprehensive and participatory reform process– writes Idayat Hassan.

Many Nigerians consider the 1999 constitution military-driven and that the reference to ‘We the people’ in the constitution does not truly represent them. Various actors have therefore been advocating for change. Nevertheless, other than the firstsecond and third alterations to the 1999 constitution enacted during the Sixth Assembly (2007-2011), significant amendments have not been made. The Seventh Assembly (2011-2015) undertook a constitution review process, but it ran into a logjam despite the huge amount of state resources deployed into the process. The efforts represented the first genuine participatory process in constitution making since the country’s return to democracy with public hearings held across the six geo-political zones of the federation at both constituency and zonal levels. Nonetheless, one of the amendments proposed the removal of presidential assent from the process of constitutional amendment. Former President Goodluck Jonathan vetoed the amendments. Since all the amendments were submitted as a single bill, Jonathan refused to grant his assent to all the changes. Facing the threat of legislative override of the veto, Jonathan dragged the National Assembly to the Supreme Court to annual the amendments for failure to comply with the required supermajority. The Supreme Court directed the maintenance of the status quo, restrained the National Assembly from overriding the veto, and ordered the President and the Assembly to resolve their differences over the issues, which the Court said were simple. The saga occurred a few days to the expiration of Jonathan’s administration, and the veto was not overridden, thereby leading to the lapse of the amendment bills without the Court passing final judgment.

The Assembly adopted a piecemeal approach to this constitution review process, with each proposed amendment presented in separate bills.

Taking a cue from the last experience, the Eighth Assembly (2015-2019) commenced the review process with the establishment of two separate ad hoc committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate in January 2016. The Assembly decided to adopt a piecemeal approach to this constitution review process, with each proposed amendment presented in separate bills, to avert the fate of the last amendment proposals that were rejected en bloc. A total of 33 bills, some of which bundled together related bills making the total 46 bills, covering a range of issues were eventually considered.  On 26 and 27 July 2017, the Senate and House of Representatives respectively considered and voted for the passing of 41 distinct bills. The approved bills must still be endorsed in 2/3 of the state legislative assemblies (24 of the 36), before they are sent to the President of the Republic for his assent.

The amendments must still be approved by 2/3 of the state assemblies as well as be assented to by the President.

Although there are grey issues that have not been addressed, the proposed amendments should be commended as a step in the right direction. Some of the most laudable amendments include the reduction of eligibility ages to run for office, the introduction of independent candidacy, timelines for the appointment of commissioners and ministers, enhanced autonomy for local governments and state legislatures vis-a-vis the state governor, and the allocation of funds to the state judiciary as a first line charge from the consolidated account. Nevertheless, crucial proposals including quotas for the representation of women in the national and state cabinets, the devolution of powers to the states, and the separation of the office of the attorney general from the ministry of justice failed. The proposed amendments do not also include some major reforms approved in the Seventh Assembly, such as guarantees of some justiciable socio-economic rights. Moreover, the political actors dominated the reform process, with few opportunities for genuine popular and civil society engagement.
Proposed amendments related to the electoral process
Currently, individuals may only run for elected office if they are members of a registered political party. One of the proposed amendment provides for the introduction of independent candidacy in local, state and federal level elections. The proposal was also introduced in the 2010 constitution amendment process but was rejected by the state houses of assembly. Despite consensus at the federal government level, there is no guarantee that state legislatures will approve the proposal this time. If it passes, the amendment will be in-line with the decision of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights which found the Tanzanian constitutional ban on independent candidacy incompatible with the African Charter.

The proposed amendments would introduce independent candidacy, reduce the age limit to run for political office, and empower the Electoral Commission to deregister political parties. 

The reduction of the age of eligibility to run for office, popularly referred to as the ‘Not Too Young to Run’ bill, was one of the most advocated for issues in the ongoing constitution amendment process. The bill seeks to reduce the minimum age to run for the presidency from 40 to 35, for state governorship from 35 to 30, for the Senate from 35 to 30, for the House of Representatives from 30 to 25, and sets the minimum age for membership to state houses of assembly at 25. While the proposed amendment is a welcome development, it is unlikely to generate immediate results for inclusion unless conscious efforts are made in engaging young people in the democratic process. A quick review of the constitutions of the 15 member states of the ECOWAS reveals that over ten countries have the eligibility age for running for president at 35 years, which falls in the youth bracket, with the remaining 33% having the eligibility age pegged at 40 years old. However, the average age of a president in the region is 64.5 years. The continuous marginalization of the youth in occupying elective positions such as the presidency needs to be interrogated beyond age barriers and to the impact of socio-political and economic factors in each context.
In response to the judicial invalidation of a provision of the Electoral Act empowering the Electoral Commission to deregister political parties that fail to win any contested seat for federal and state executive and legislative organs, one of the proposed amendments seeks to constitutionalize the invalidated statutory provision. The Court of Appeal had ruled that the Constitution did not require political parties to win in elections to be operational. If it passes, the amendment would essentially reverse the decision of the Court. The procedure is intended to reduce the number of parties on the ballots and to promote institutionalization, and is likely to disproportionately affect small and new parties.
Enhancing autonomy of state and local authorities
The proposed amendments establish a special/dedicated funding account for local government. They also provide that only democratically constituted local governments may access allocation of funds. These amendments will guarantee the democratic existence of local government and possibly development at the local level. Currently, the state and local governments maintain a joint special account. This joint management of account whittled down all the powers of local government as the states not only refuse to appropriate monies to this tier of government, but also have on occasions failed to conduct elections at the local government level on the ground that elections are not feasible due to resource constraints or alleged security concerns. If the amendment passes, local government will have direct access to their allocations and this may promote local development.

Some of the amendments would enhance the autonomy of local governments and empower state legislators vis-a-vis governors. 

While the above proposal will enhance the autonomy of local authorities at the expense of the states, the National Assembly also approved an amendment that will ensure that state legislators obtain their allocation as a direct line charge from the federal consolidated account. Currently, state legislatures receive allocation at the whims of governors with the attendant effect of the state legislatures tied to the apron string of the state governor. If passed by 2/3 of the states, this provision may engender the independence of state assemblies.
Limiting executive discretion
A number of the proposed amendments will have the effect of reining in executive discretion both at the federal and state levels. One of the proposed amendments seeks to remove the veto powers of the president over constitutional amendments. This is crucial as the last amendment package failed after then President Jonathan vetoed the proposed amendments.
Another proposal reduces the period during which the President may withdraw funds from the consolidated account after the expiration of the annual budget from six to three months. While the Nigeria fiscal year ends in December of every year, it has become a norm for budgets to be signed late into the fiscal year. For instance, the 2017 budget was only signed into law on 12 June 2017, and the 2016 budget on 5 May 2016 after several allegations of budget padding. The new requirement will hasten the adoption of budgets.

The proposed amendments would remove presidential veto of constitutional amendments, constrain executive discretion in the approval of budget and the appointment of cabinet members, and limit their terms. 

One of the proposed amendments requires the President/governors to appoint ministers and commissioners within 30 days of inauguration to form executive councils at the federal and state level. There have been several instances where elected officials do not timely make these necessary appointments. For instance, it took more than two years for Governor Aregbesola of Osun State to appoint a cabinet after winning his second term. According to him, state finances could not cater for the payment of commissioners given the lack of resources. Similarly, President Muhammad Buhari, when asked why he was yet to name minsters five months into his administration, retorted that ministers are only there to ‘make a lot of noise’. The 1999 Constitution only requires the President to ‘appoint at least one Minister from each State, who shall be an indigene of such State’, without providing for a timeline. In addition, the proposed amendments also require the President/Governors to add portfolios to the list of appointees sent for Senate/State House of Assembly confirmation. Currently, names are just sent to the relevant house for clearance with no portfolio attached. If passed, the proposed amendment will effectively allow better assessment of candidates and ensure qualified persons are given the right portfolio.
There is also a proposal that seeks to ban anyone who succeeds a president or a governor and completes the tenure of such president or governor from contesting for that same office more than once.  In effect, under the envisaged amendment, when a deputy succeeds a president or a governor, the person is considered to be spending the first of the two-term constitutional limit, regardless of the length of the replacement period. The proposed amendment forecloses a situation that involved former President Jonathan following the death of Late President Umar Yar’Adua. His deputy, Jonathan, completed the remaining tenure between 2010 and 2011, participated in the 2011 election and won a four-year term, and still ran for election again in the 2015 election, which he lost. The proposed amendment would foreclose such a scenario.

A proposed amendment would guarantee immunity of legislators, without excluding responsibility for criminal offences. 

Another amendment proposes to include all past Senate presidents and speakers of the House of Representatives as members of the Council of State provided they were not removed from office through impeachment. The bill seeks to promote the inclusion of all arms of government into the Council, which is chaired by the President and includes former presidents and heads of state, former chief justices, incumbent governors and the federal Attorney General. Currently, the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives are only members during their term in office. The Council serves a policy advisory role and counsels the President in the appointment of the chair of the Electoral Commission, on award of national honors, prerogative of mercies and other issues around national security. While this proposed amendment has been criticized as self-serving by the legislature, it could foster equity and accord respect to all the three arms of government.
Immunity for legislators for speech in the course of duty 
The constitutional grant of immunity for members of the National Assembly in respect of words spoken or written at a plenary session or committee proceeding, which is currently only guaranteed in applicable statutes, has not been well received. Despite the concerns, however, the proposal only bans the use of words spoken or written during legislative proceeding against them in a court of law, and does not protect legislators against criminal offences. It is also not unusual in other democracies to constitutionally recognize the immunity of legislators for speech in their official capacity.
Salient amendment proposals that failed
Women’s Political Participation 
A proposal imposing a minimum requirement for women representation in all appointive positions (35% at the federal level and 20% at the state level) failed at the Senate and passed at the House of Representatives. Specifically, the amendment sought to guarantee the appointment of women as ministers and commissioners in the federal and state executive councils, respectively. The amendment is believed to have failed partly due to the religious, cultural and patriarchal tendencies of the senators.

Proposals to enhance women’s political participation, to devolve policing and fiscal powers to the states failed. 

Despite their demographic strength and historical roles of women in the country’s democratic development, the political participation of women spanning both elective and appointive positions has been on a downward trend.  Since the country’s return to democracy in 1999, the national average of women’s political participation in Nigeria has remained a meagre 6.7% in elective and appointive positions. At the legislative chamber, women constitute only 5.6% and 6.5% of the membership of the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively, which is far below the global average of 22.5%, African regional average of 23.4 percent and West Africa sub-regional average of 15%. Moreover, out of the 36 ministerial appointments made by the incumbent administration, only five, representing 13.8%, are women. Nigeria is yet to elect a woman governor in any of the 36 states (Dame Virgy Etiaba only served as interim governor between November 2006 and February 2007 in Anambra State following the impeachment of her principal Peter Obi).
A related amendment to grant women the right to adopt either the state of their husband or their state of birth for consideration for appointment/election also failed to pass. This is a big challenge militating against women’s access to political office. For instance, the appointment of Mrs. Roli George to the Board of Directors of the National Population Commission was challenged by three Lagos State senators claiming that Mrs. George was not an indigene of the state.

Proposals to remove the Land Act from the Constitution and to ensure the independence of Attorneys General also failed.

Considering the low level of representation of women in elected and appointed positions, the failure of the proposed amendments was a missed opportunity. The overwhelming influence dominant male political elites bear on the system and the sustenance of this uncultured and unpopular practice calls into question the capacity of Nigeria’s democratic project to promoting equal rights and the distribution of privileges. It is important that the Eighth National Assembly revisit its decision and devise alternative approaches to ensure that women are represented in the highest echelons of power.
Devolution of power and state restructuring
Many have described the centralized nature of the Nigerian federation as a major bulwark against equal development of states and the effective exploration of resources for development purposes. Nevertheless, a proposed amendment to move certain items, such as fiscal relations and policing, from the exclusive federal legislative list to the concurrent legislative list failed. The devolving of more powers to the states was one of the contentious issues as many saw it as a way to smuggle the state formation and restructuring agenda into the constitution. In fact, one of the approved amendment proposals seeks to remove state electoral commissions from the constitution, thereby undermining state autonomy in this regard. Despite persistent agitation, a proposal for the creation of new states and the restructuring of state boundaries also failed. Similarly, during the 2014 political confab, there were failed demands for creation of additional 18 states to the 36-state structure in existence.
Land Use Act
The Land Use Act, which confers ownership of land on the federal and subnational governments, constitutes a part of the Constitution. The Act particularly empowers the governments to control and manage land, and has been seen as an impediment to development including access to housing. Nevertheless, despite widespread criticism of the status quo, proposed amendment to remove the Act from the constitution failed. Removal from the constitution would have made needed reform less cumbersome and put the issue on the political agenda.
An apolitical Attorney General  
In what could possibly have enhanced the independence of the prosecution services, one of the proposals sought to separate the office of the Attorney General at the federal and state levels from the relevant minister or commissioner, which are political appointments, and to provide a fixed tenure and a stringent process for the removal of attorneys general from office. However, this proposal failed.
The strength of democracy is predicated on decision of leaders mirroring the voice and demand of citizens. The amendment process spearheaded by the Eighth National Assembly was conducted without due consultation with Nigerians. Unlike the last review process of the Seventh Assembly, there was no public hearing or direct engagement at zonal, state and local levels to elicit citizen opinions on key amendment considerations. The process was largely shrouded in secrecy and conducted within the confines of the two legislative chambers. Civil society actors and professional groups were not granted genuine space to lend their voice, to directly engage the relevant committees and influence the agenda, and to advise on the implications of some of the decisions eventually made. The openness of a reform process is central to broadening the agenda, and to building confidence and trust, while counteracting suspicion of the underlying intent of decision makers. For instance, the contentious issue of introducing a clause on referendum to legitimatize constitutional amendment processes has been severally canvassed since the return to democracy. Nevertheless, this was not seriously considered during the latest reform process and did not form part of the proposed amendments. The issue of referendum has become all the more important particularly with the recent agitation of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the South East on the need to vote to determine the continuous existence of Nigeria as an entity.

The process was shrouded in secrecy and conducted within the confines of the two legislative chambers, with little space for inputs from the people and civil society organizations.

As the quest for restructuring of the states continues to rend the air in various quarters in the country, with several people calling for return to the 1963 Constitution with the attendant regionalism, or the adoption of a new constitution, the constitution amendment process may not yet be over. The clamor for restructuring and other fundamental issues has led to calls for the consideration of convening a national conference to address all the nagging issues beleaguering the polity. Such a constitutional conference should not just be an assembly of elder statesmen, but one which will directly engage the citizens and other non-state actors. In the meantime, the introduction of a provision on referendum and the organization of a referendum could provide a modicum of legitimacy to the process and partly address charges that all constitutions promulgated since 1979 have been military imposed and not people inspired.
In terms of substance, some of the proposals could limit executive discretion, enhance the autonomy of local governments and state legislative assemblies vis-à-vis state governors, and open the electoral process to the youth and independent candidates. Nevertheless, the process failed to advance crucial goals of further decentralizing the Nigerian federation and improving the abysmal representation of women in high political offices. Moreover, the amendments must still be approved by 2/3 of the state assemblies as well as be assented to by the President. Considering that some of the proposed amendments seek to weaken the autonomy of states and presidential power and discretion, the fate of some of the commendable proposals is still uncertain.
Idayat Hassan is the Director of the Abuja based Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)
This article was first published by the IDEA