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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.

Crafting Credible Election Commissions in West Africa

By Blog, Publication, Publications

By Professor L. Adele Jinadu

The crass and partisan manipulation of African electoral management bodies (EMBs) was a central feature of the legacy of abuse that successor regimes to colonial rule in Africa inherited and perpetuated. Embedded in partisan politics through “outright control” by successor regimes, EMBs became “ineffectual mechanisms for democratically managing diversity”.

To lay the ghost of such partisan political abuse, and to nurture and strengthen trust in electoral commissions, the democratic transitions of the 1990s stipulated new norms and rules for redesigning competitive party and electoral politics and systems. These norms included democratic political succession, entrenched provisions for the periodic conduct of credible elections, in the case of presidential systems, fixed presidential term limits, the promotion of diversity, civic participation, and engagement, especially through an increased role of civil society and marginalised groups and the establishment of independent EMBs.

Indicators of what credible EMBs and electoral integrity should look like were set out in African codes and standards such as the African Charter on Popular Participation in Development and Transformation (1990) and the African Charter of Democracy, Elections, and Governance (2007) to name just two. But has the objective of nurturing credible EMBs and electoral integrity been achieved?

Multiple management models

EMBs in Africa are currently either a single, independent body; comprised of two or more bodies with shared responsibilities for election management; or a hybrid government-civil society EMB under an independent oversight supervisory body of experts, usually judges. Non-autonomous or fully government controlled EMBs inherited at independence, notably in francophone and lusophone countries, have been replaced with autonomous or semi-autonomous ones. But within these classificatory models, structures and composition vary significantly, dictated by each country’s constitutional and political history, and the interplay of contending sociocultural forces and prevailing circumstances.

However, appointment processes and the tenure terms of the chair and members of election commissions are problematic areas across the continent. Concerns remain about the transparency of the nomination, appointment and removal process of EMB members according to a 2013 Economic Commission for Africa expert opinion survey. It found that “in only 10 of the 40 African countries surveyed did more than half the respondents consider the procedure to be mostly or always transparent and credible…[with] serious implications for the integrity of elections in Africa.”

Renewal under consecutive fixed tenure for members tends to enhance EMBs’ credibility, but remains problematic and is diminished by the power of appointment and renewal, which is also the power of removal. This power can be used to remove members perceived as resisting or not pliable to executive branch partisan influence, or who, by general perception, have not lived up to the integrity expectations of their office. In Nigeria and Sierra Leone, EMB members have been removed before their tenure expired. To pre-empt such a possibility, it has been suggested that the tenure of EMB members should be fixed, like judges, to their retirement age, except for cause, as is the case in Ghana.  

Autonomous actors?

Recent studies of West African EMBs distinguish between their formal, administrative and financial autonomy. The level of autonomy varies not only from country to country but also within country over electoral cycles according to a 2019 study of six West African countries comissioned by the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC). The study explored factors driving or constraining the autonomy of the EMBs and how these impact election integrity.

In Benin, the financial autonomy of the Commission Electorale Nationale Autonome (CENA) is constrained by attempts by the Ministry of Finance to exercise a priori control over its expenditure. This leads to dysfunctions in the electoral administration process. Another problem is the dependence of the CENA on the executive to obtain electoral funds. A challenge that confronts many EMBs in the ECOWAS region. Furthermore, in Senegal, the 2019 ECONEC study found that when the funds were released, almost half the election budget was spent by the other institutional actors such as the judiciary and security agencies.

But formal autonomy on paper does not always translate into practice. In West Africa, several EMBs have almost identical legal provisions protecting their independence, yet they have widely differing degrees of autonomy. An EMB, like CENA in Benin, made up of members nominated by political parties, whatever its defects, has sometimes conducted elections with more independence and competence than an expert commission such as Nigeria’s. Cape Verde’s EMB has a longer tradition of effective performance and independence in action than Senegal’s. Even though both exemplify the same classificatory model.

Although the different systems of appointment and composition do have an impact, institutional partnership and collaboration – like the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security established by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) – between EMBs and other institutions with election-related mandates, can play an equally important role in shaping perceptions of EMB capability. Issues like a country’s size, the relative balance of powers among political parties, the internal security situation, and the strength of courts, the civil service and civil society, are critical for the conduct of credible elections.

In short, an autonomous EMB is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for conducting credible elections. An anti-democratic political culture of impunity characterised by abuse of power by incumbent parties for partisan electoral gain; a zero-sum approach to electoral competition that ignites and fuels electoral violence; and high-levels of vote-buying and voter-intimidation create an environment in which conducting credible elections is difficult, regardless of the technocratic skills and technological innovations deployed. This is the experience in Nigeria, where controversial elections were held in 2015 and 2019, despite the popular perception of INEC as increasingly credible after it invested in technology such as smart-card readers and undertook internal administrative and financial reforms, after polls in 2011, to try and limit the space for electoral malpractice.

Advancing credibility

Enhancing the application of ICT and internal administrative reforms that improve the transparency of EMBs has improved electoral transparency in Ghana and Nigeria. So too can enhancing the administrative and financial independence of EMBs. This can be done by vesting in them powers to recruit their own staff, professionalise their bureaucracies, and make their annual budget and election budget direct charges on national consolidated revenue funds. Reforming EMBs also requires removing their members’ appointment and reappointment process from political officeholders and vesting them in independent, non-partisan individuals or bodies.

But election commissions need to be supported in their efforts to conduct credible polls. Partnerships with civil society organisations can improve civic awareness and tackle prevailing problems such as vote-buying. Allying with impartial security actors can also discourage campaign and election-day violence, whilst regular dialogue with all political parties can go some way to reducing the zero-sum, winner-takes-all approach to politics. They also must continue to learn from each other. ECONEC, and the Electoral Commissions Forum of Southern African Development Community countries, are constantly sharing experiences that can shape regional best practices.

The impact of these discussions and dialogues become clear on election day, but the work to get there is ongoing and unending. Maintaining credibility does not just mean standing still. Election commissions across West Africa must be constantly evolving if they are to do their part to oversee elections that reflect the will of voters.

Professor L. Adele Jinadu is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Democracy & Development, Abuja, Nigeria.

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 third, second and first.

Judgements and Jurisprudence: Presiding over presidential petitions in Africa

By Publication, Publications, Uncategorized

By Dr O’Brien Kaaba

In 2017 the Kenyan Supreme Court became the first court on the African continent to annul a presidential election following full due process. In February 2020 the Malawian High Court, sitting as a constitutional court, followed suit in cancelling the results of the May 2019 presidential election. Not only did the judges demonstrate extraordinary courage in pronouncing these verdicts, but they demonstrated what a competent and independent judiciary can do to ensure democratic electoral processes are free, fair and credible on the continent.

Hiding behind technicalities

For the most part courts across Africa have been unwilling to reverse electoral outcomes, preferring instead to seek refuge in technicalities when casting judgement. This reflects poorly on judicial independence, and brings to the fore the reality that many judges are appointed as a reward for their loyalty to those in power, not because of their competence and capabilities.

The first of these is the use of procedural technicalities to dismiss the case, thereby avoiding hearing its merits. In 2016, the Zambian Constitutional Court decided to abandon the election petition, without determining its merits, on the pretext that the 14 days set by the Constitution, during which the case should be heard and determined, had elapsed.

Another technicality used by courts is simply to abdicate judicial responsibility and avoid rendering a judgment. This has been a common approach deployed by the Zimbabwean judiciary. Following the 2002 elections, a petition was filed in the High Court by losing opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai seeking the nullification of the presidential election results on the grounds that the election was characterised by widespread violence and intimidation, corruption, voter fraud and ballot-stuffing. After hearing the case for seven months, Justice Ben Hlatshwayo, in a terse one-page ruling, dismissed the allegations and promised to render a reasoned judgment in two weeks. The judgment never came.

The 2013 Zimbabwean elections were also challenged in Court. To prepare their case, the petitioner made a preliminary application to the Court to allow him to have access to election materials. The Constitutional Court reserved ruling on the application and by the time the hearing of the petition commenced, had still to take a decision. This forced the petitioner to withdraw the petition, indicating that it was going to be impossible to substantiate the allegations of irregularities without access to election materials.

A final, and arguably most common technicality, is to misapply the materiality test, also known as the substantive effect rule. This rule is premised on the idea that some electoral irregularities may be minor and inconsequential, while others may be significant enough to have a bearing on an election’s fairness and legitimacy. Inconsequential mistakes, omissions and commissions should not lead to an annulment of an election, provided that its overall fairness was not vitiated. But the substantive effect rule has provided an escape route to timorous or compromised judges who prefer to defer to incumbents.

In Uganda, successive election petitions by opponents of the incumbent have been unsuccessful, ultimately because the petitioners have been unable to prove, quantitatively, that the alleged malpractice has substantially affected the outcome of the election. This focus on numbers can effectively legitimatise large scale election cheating. But proving substantive effect is difficult. It is further complicated by short timeframes and the fact that the data that can be used to validate the claim is often in the hands of the electoral management body and that some irregularities, such as political violence, are not susceptible to numerical quantification in relation to election results. Interpretations of the substantive effect rule have been applied in judgements that confirmed the outcome of recent elections in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Historic decisions

In August 2017, the Kenyan Supreme Court made a ground-breaking decision when it annulled the election of Uhuru Kenyatta. By a majority of four to two, the court held that the presidential poll was not conducted in accordance with the Constitution and the applicable laws, rendering the declared result invalid, null and void; that the irregularities and illegalities in the election were substantial and affected its integrity, the result notwithstanding; that Uhuru Kenyatta was not validly declared as president-elect and that the declaration was invalid, null and void; and that the electoral commission should conduct fresh presidential elections in strict conformity with the constitution and applicable electoral laws within 60 days.

The Kenyan Court’s decision demonstrated the value of proactive adjudication. Prior to the elections, the 2011 Elections Act was amended to introduce the Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System. This was intended to be used in biometric voter registration and, on polling day, in voter identification as well as instantaneous transmission of election results from polling stations to the Constituency Tallying Center and the National Tallying Center. The transmission of results required the use of standard forms – Forms 34A and 34B – but in many instances the results were not transmitted in the manner required by law.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) gave no plausible explanation for this, while the petitioners alleged that the system had been hacked and results tampered with in favour of the incumbent. The Court appointed its own IT experts to assess the IEBC servers and report their findings. However the IEBC, in violation of the court order, declined to give the court-appointed IT experts access. The Court held that the failures by IEBC were a clear violation of the 2010 Constitution and the Elections Act (as amended). It raised serious doubt as to whether the election results could be said to be a free expression of the will of the people, as required by the Constitution. 

Perhaps the judgment’s greatest contribution to electoral jurisprudence in Africa was its correct application of the substantial effect rule. It held that elections are not just about numbers and that the quality of the entire process matters when gauging whether the result reflects the will of the people. In the words of the Court, “even in numbers, we used to be told in school that to arrive at a mathematical solution, there is always a computation path one has to take, as proof that the process indeed gives rise to the stated solution.”

Similar jurisprudence was applied in relation to Malawi’s 2019 presidential election petition. The Court found that election results forms, which were used to tabulate national figures, were pervasively altered unlawfully. Based on adduced evidence, it concluded that a substantial number of the official result sheets had results altered using correction fluid, popularly known as Tippex. The judgement reached was that the Electoral Commission had failed to preside over a free and fair election, that the electoral process was compromised and that it was conducted in a manner that violated electoral laws and the Constitution. It nullified the election and ordered a new election to be held within 150 days. The re-run saw opposition candidate Lazarus Chakwera win 58.6% of the vote to comprehensively defeat incumbent, and winner of the 2019 poll, President Peter Mutharika.

In terms of the threshold for the integrity of the election, Malawi’s High Court, followed the Kenyan precedent of 2017, in agreeing that it is not just numbers, but the quality of the electoral process that matter in determining the substantial effect of irregularities on election results. This is an important recognition that the judiciary must consider the context in which an election is held in order to determine if the will of the people could have been exercised freely.

Continuity…for now

The decisions reached in Kenya and Malawi demonstrate the capacity of what competent and courageous judges can do to enforce electoral rules. The judgments also pose a challenge to other African judges: will they follow in their footsteps or will they choose to hold fast to the archaic and pro status quo jurisprudence that has prevailed up to now?

Early indications suggest that continuity, rather than change, continues to prevail. Recent electoral decisions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia have continued to produce judgements that look for substantive effect on the outcome, and less on the process. In Uganda, a petition to challenge the outcome of the January 2021 presidential election was withdrawn over concerns about the judicial independence.  

Nonetheless, the verdicts handed down in Kenya and Malawi serve as landmark decisions, that over time will serve as a yardstick of contextually relevant presidential election jurisprudence in Africa. Both set a precedent that the quality of an election and the environment in which the election is held matter, and have a bearing on the outcome, regardless of numbers.   

Dr O’Brien Kaaba is a lecturer at the School of Law at the University of Zambia and a senior research fellow at the Southern Africa Institute for Policy and Research.

Editor’s note: This is the third 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 second and first piece.

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.

Qu'a Dit Le Ministre De La Défense?

By Fact Check


Selon Libre Info, le Chef de File de l’Opposition Zéphirin DIABRE a indiqué être inquiet au vu d’un certain nombre de faits constatés sur le terrain. Il affirme : ‘dans la zone de l’Oudalan, dans la zone de Gorom-Gorom, il semble que le ministre de la défense et ses services ont procédé à la suppression de beaucoup d’endroits où on devait voter parce qu’il semble que l’opposition est forte là-bas et autorise de voter’.


Selon le point focal de la CODEL dans la province de l’Oudalan, l’armée a indiqué que la situation sécuritaire ne lui a pas permis de convoyer le matériel et le personnel dans des conditions sécurisées au niveau de la commune de Tin – Akoff ; Elle a donc suggéré la délocalisation des bureaux de vote qui s’y trouvent. En outre, le point focal après avoir contacté le HC qui a souhaité se rendre à Tin-Akoff pour constater la situation dans ladite zone, n’a pas pu le faire pour raison sécuritaire. Elle a avancé ne pas être à mesure d’assurer la sécurité de l’autorité. En rappel, un détachement militaire de Tin-akoff avait essuyé une attaque le mercredi 11 Novembre dernier avec un bilan de 14 morts et 8 blessés dont 3 graves.


Au regard de nos vérifications, le ministre de la défense n’a pas ordonné la fermeture des bureaux de vote. Cependant nous n’avons pas pu vérifier si la zone est acquise à l’opposition.

Est-ce Que Le Bureau De Votes Á Gossina A Suspendu Ses Votes?

By Fact Check

Verdict: Unconclusive


Selon ce qui est écrit sur le mur de Aminata Rachow, « De source sûre, nous informe que le bureau de vote à Gossina, dans la province du Nayala aurait suspendu ses votes pour manque de bulletin législatif. Elle poursuit en indiquant toujours selon ses sources que les bulletins se trouveraient toujours à Dédougou.

Les faits

Quant au point focal de la CODEL à Gossina dans le Nayala que nous avons pu contacter sur place, le vote a effectivement commencé et tout se passait bien jusqu’à ce qu’aux environs de 07h les bulletins législatifs soient en rupture. La CECI a renforcé en apportant à nouveau des bulletins. Selon toujours le point focal, le stock des bulletins législatifs est à nouveau épuisé. 

La conclusion

Au regard de nos vérifications, l’information donnée par Aminata Rachow est avérée mais est incomplète.

CDD Election Statement Burkina Faso

By Press Release

Political Context

With Burkina Faso set to hold presidential elections on 22 November 2020, there are fears of the widespread inability of accessing polling stations due to the presence of extremist groups that have disrupted voter registration in many parts of the country.

The incumbent, President Roc Marc Kabore is seeking a second five-year term in office with the ruling People’s Party Movement for Progress. The two emergent factors of peace and security, have dominated the headlines as the country finds itself in the grips of insurgency.

Kabore was voted in after the popular uprising in 2014 saw the removal of former president Blaise Campaore, who ruled Burkina Faso for 27 years after the assassination of Thomas Sankara. The wave of optimism that greeted his election in 2015 has been muted this year as the increasingly frequent attacks have dampened the electoral campaign.

The volatile security situation has resulted primarily from insecurity in the western Sahel region spilling into Burkina Faso. In recent year, the country has seen attacks form various terror groups including the militant Islamist JNIM from neighbouring Mali, and the Islamic State.

Internet penetration in the country remains low, however it remains an extensive source of misinformation and disinformation. As the globe continues to battle a global pandemic, online sources have been awash with information either proffering cures, both in French and in local languages.

Despite the low internet penetration in the country, which stands at less than ten percent, there have been increasing reports of false information being dispersed on various platforms such as radio, messaging platforms like WhatsApp, and Facebook, which commands the largest share of online users in the country.

Fighting Disinformation

For the general elections of November 22, 2020, CDD has developed a strategy allowing it to adequately observe the information ecosystem and assess both the levels of disinformation, but also the effect. The methodology adopted, based on our continued work in the field of countering fake news and disinformation will make it possible to actively monitor sources of information on online platforms that are false, correcting those false narratives and shortcomings throughout voting day.

Specifically, monitoring will allow:

  • The collection and analysis of information on the conduct of the elections in real-time in order to assess the credibility and veracity of the information on social media.
  • optimize a fact-checking system on election day;
  • help correct any false information observed on election day by providing fact-checks in real time

Since the start of the process, CODEL has been able to carry out several observation and monitoring activities:

Establishment of the Election Analysis Centre

On the eve of these November 22 elections, CDD is pleased to announce the establishment from November 21 to 23, 2020 of its Election Analysis Centre at the Spendid Hotel. Established in partnership with CODEL (Convention des organisations de la société civile pour l’observation domestique des élections).

The Election Analysis Centre established by CODEL and CDD is an opportunity to establish a dedicated hub to countering fake news and disinformation. This will be the first of its kind and will create not just a database of sources, but will also begin to counter and fact-check election related disinformation.

Based at Splendid Hotel, the Centre will be operational the 21st, 22nd and 23rd of the month of November 2020. The main aim of the Centre will be about collecting all information that may be false, and identifying and establishing the sources and proceed to the verification. For the day prior to the elections, the work will be devoted to creating a channels inventory (TV, radio online’s press social network and so on).


The political environment in Burkina Faso is fragile and is steadily proving to be vulnerable to the threats of misinformation and disinformation. The general elections on November 22, 2020, while ordinary supposed to represent a history moment, have instead raised more questions as the country’s delicate state of security, political disenfranchisement and high number of displaced persons point to an election that will be vulnerable.

CDD is hopeful that this partnership with CODEL and other relevant stakeholders will come together to address the potential dark spots that will be exploited by fake news and, doing so, brighten the prospects for the conduct of not only peaceful but also free and fair elections in Burkina Faso.

Tackling COVID-19: Finding West Africa's Path

By Publication, Publications


The days when COVID-19 was only a distant threat to West African countries are over. It is now evident that the virus is here to stay and
must be addressed with practical responses that take into account the West African settings. Although the infection curve is not exponential, community transmission is beginning to gain ground in the region, with countries such as Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, and Senegal at the forefront with the most cases.

The lack of testing capacity in many countries suggests that the
estimated number of cases are most likely understated. Currently,
there are three factors that give the region an advantage in the fight against the novel disease. First, is its youthful population. The average age of Africans is below 20 years, and available data suggests that the risk of serious medical complications and death is
lower among younger people.

Furthermore, warm weather in the region could potentially reduce the spread of the virus, although this fact is remains unproven Lastly, as a result of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, it could analysts have argued that the region has some experience confronting infectious diseases.

While these factors might allow the region to avoid the worst of the pandemic, it also faces grave challenges that could overwhelm these advantages They include high levels of poverty densely packed urban areas and weak health systems and insecurity.

As the number of COVID 19 cases continues to increase, it will become increasingly difficult for the fragile healthcare system and economies of the region to withstand the effects of the pandemic This is because overall healthcare financing in most west African countries is relatively low at an average of US 292 per capita, thus, indicating a major constraint to effective healthcare service delivery.


Shin Majalisar Dattawa Taki Tantance Lauretta Onochie Dan Nada Ta a Matsayin Kwamishina a Hukumar Zabe Ta Kasa INEC?

By Fact Check

Gaskiyar Magana: Labarin Yana Cike Da Rudani

Tushen Magana:

A ranar Alhamis, 15 ga watan Oktoban da muke ciki, masu tantance sahihancin labarai na Cibiyar Bunkasa Demokaradiyya da Cigaba (CDD) sun gano wani labari da wani azure yanar gizo mai wallafa labarai mai suna Wazobia Reporters ya wallafa inda yake ikirarin cewa majalisar dattawan Najeriya taki tantance Lauretta Onochie dan nada ta a matsayin kwamishina a hukumar zabe ta kasa INEC da Shugaba Muhammadu Buhari yake son yi.

Labarin ya kara da cewa majalisar dattawan ta nemi fadar shugaban kasa ta sake nazari akan yunkurin nada Lauretta Onochie a matsayin kwamishina a hukumar zaben kasa INEC.

Labarin jingina madogararsa da wata jarida mai suna Nigerian Daily a matsayin inda ya samo labarin.

Gaskiyar Al’amari:

Bincken da CDD ta aiwatar ya gani cewa labarin dake cewa majalisar dattawan Najeriya taki tantance Lauretta Onochie dan zama kwamishina a hukumar zabe ta ksa INEC labari ne na bogi.

A ranar Talata, 13 ga watan Oktoban da muke ciki, Shugaba Buhari ya zabi Onochie da wassu mutane uku wato Mohammed Sani daga jahar Katsina, da Kunle Ajayi daga jahar Ekiti da Saidu Ahmed daga jahar Jigawa da nada su a matsayin kwamishinonin zabe a hukumar zabe ta kasa INEC.

Binciken da CDD ta zurfafa game da batun ya gano cewa jaridar da Wazobia Reporters sukace sun samo labarin daga wajen su wato  Nigerian Daily basu buga wani labari makamancin wannan ba. Saboda haka labarin da Wazobia Reporters din suka buga labari ne na karya.

Idan Shugaban Kasa ya gabatar wa majalisar dattawa jadawalin mutanen da yake so ya nada a wassu mukamai, majalisar zata mika sunayen ga kwamitoci daban-daban dan gudanar da binciken kwa-kwaf akansu.

Bayan kamala bincike game da mutanen da Shugaban Kasa ke san nadawa a mukamai, kwamitoci zasu gabatar da rahoton su ga majalisar dattawan dan daukan mataki na gaba. Kuma kawo yanzu ba’a kamala wannan aiki na bincike ba kuma bada wata matsayarta game da batun tun bayan sanar da cewa Shugaban Kasa ya aiko sunayen mutanen da yake son nadawa a mukamin kwamishinoni a hukumar zaben a ranar Talata, 13 ga watan Oktoban da muke ciki.


Labarin da ake yadawa cewa majalisar dattawa taki tantance Lauretta Onochie dan zamowa kwamishina a hukumar zabe ta kasa INEC karya ne.

Har yanzu majalisar dattawa bata dauki kowane irin mataki ba game da sunayen da Shugaban Kasa ya aika mata a ranar Talata, 13 ga watan Oktoban shekara ta 2020.

Kuna iya aikowa CDD labarai ko bayanan da kuke da shakku akansu dan ta tantance muku sahihancin su. Zaku iya turo labaran ta wannan lamba: +2349062910568 ko a shafukan mu na Twitter a @CDDWestAfrica ko @CDDWestAfrica_H

Center for Democracy and Development West Africa| CDD West Africa

Polls in Peril? West Africa's 2020 elections

By Publications

In the last quarter of 2020, five of the 15 Economic Community of West African States member countries are facing important elections. In   October, presidential elections will take place in Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire (October), with general elections to follow in Burkina Faso November), Ghana and Niger (both December).

This edition of West Africa Insights starts with a regional overview of the state of democracy in West Africa by Idayat Hassan. She underscores the threats posed by constitutional and military coups and the need for renewed regional resolve to uphold democratic values and ensure that development and democracy go hand in hand. Four further pieces provide in-depth analysis on the upcoming elections in the region.

Jessica Moody unpacks the threats that could see violence be a key feature of Cote D’Ivoire’s 31 October election, where President Ouattara  is  standing  for  a controversial third term. In Burkina Faso, violence is also threatening to impact on the November poll, with voter registration having not taken place in parts of the country where insecurity is rife. Wendyam Lankoandé reflects on how a flawed electoral process could further erode trust in the country’s political institutions.

In Ghana, George-Bob Milliar discusses the importance of grassroot political party structures for political success and explains why both formal and informal mechanisms can be key to delivering desired electoral outcomes.

Finally in Niger, Hailmatou Hima analyses some of the key issues that will shape an election that will mark the first peaceful transfer of  power in  the  country, as President Issoufou  steps  downs  having served his second, and final, term in office.


Cote D’Ivoire’s High‐Stake Presidential Election

By Publications

Ivorians will head to the polls to vote in a presidential election on 31 October 2020. The election is already causing severe tensions along long-­ standing political and ethnic divides, raising security risks in the country. With only a few weeks to the elections, the president of CEI announced that the 2020 provisional electoral list, indicating a 14% increase in the number of registered voters from 6,595,790 in 2018 to 7,500,035 voters in 2020.

A total of 1,645,693 new requests were processed, although more 60,000 were rejected for non-­‐compliance. On 14 September, the Constitutional Council approved four presidential candidates and rejected 40 candidates ‐ three representing the major political parties and one independent.



By Publications

Cote d’Ivoire is one of six ECOWAS member states scheduled to hold elections in 2020. The 31 October vote will be the fifth presidential election since the death of the ‘pere foundateur de la nation’ (father of the nation) Felix Houphouet Boigny in 1993. It will be held against the backdrop of 2011 post-electoral crisis, which revealed a deep-seated cleavages among the
ethnic groups in Cote d’Ivoire.

The poll is expected to be keenly contested between leading political parties; the Parti Democratique de la Cote d’Ivoire – Rassemblement Democratique Africain (PDCI), Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) and ruling coalition, Rassemblement des Houphouetistes pour la Democratie et la Paix (RHDP).

The political context

In recent months the Ivorian political context has been characterised by contestation among the political stakeholders on matters around the electoral code, the eligibility of presidential candidacies, the voter register, implementation of the constitutionals reforms and the composition of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC); which opposition parties have
denounced as non-inclusive, imbalanced and partisan.

Though the African Court on Human and People’ Right has ordered the government to amend the relevant provisions of the electoral code relating to the composition of the IEC, recent reforms by the government have not appeased the opposition parties complaints. Despite the re-composition of the IEC to allow for a fairer representation of political parties, PDCI has refused to send their representative to the central IEC.


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: