Home > News > Webinar H. : Elecciones 2021 en África, una mirada a la política y a la democracia. Por Isaías Marcano

Hay 13 elecciones nacionales programadas en África.  Aproximadamente la mitad de ellos se encuentran en el Cuerno y el Sahel Central, donde cinco países, que se presentan a las elecciones de este año, se enfrentan a conflictos armados. El pasado 28 de febrero, Harambee organizó un seminario web para analizar el estado de salud política y democrática de África, en el que participó Isais Marcano, consultor internacional y experto en economía rural con especial atención a la agricultura familiar. A continuación, un resumen.


This paper analyzes the current political situation in Africa, and the African elections that will take place in this year 2021. The text is seeking to study its political and economic implications in this period, where the continent is facing the economic crises caused by the pandemic Covid-19. Despite the several political instabilities across African countries, the continent has all the abilities and potential to face its future.  “Paths of hope will be discovered by fostering dialogue among the members of its constituent religious, social, political, economic, cultural and scientific communities” (Pope Benedict. AM, 11).  Africa needs an education that does not neglect the culture, but an education that can make the culture more mature. It is important to know well the challenges and the values of African culture, as we say “coconut water is best when drank directly from the coconut”. To understand the African situation, it is important to emerge ourselves and to experiment the challenges that Africans population face in their daily lives.

 Historical analysis
In the last decades, Africa has undergone constant transformation in terms of economic and political integration. During the colonization, the tribes as well the continent were united for freedom against the colonization. The continent was aware that our freedom, depended on peace and free coexistence of colonial oppression. The independence gave the continent economic, political and socio-cultural purpose that can be summarized as freedom, equality, justice and dignity for everyone. However, right after the decolonization in the continent arose a new problem. Few people divided the power, justice and freedom were for few peoples, while major people were left in the measurable condition. In the last decades the continent sank in the problems. The new African leaders declare themselves single party, devising new laws that would allow them to stay in the power for the entire life.

In the continent arose second round of conflicts, people struggled against single party, and these conflicts have been described as tribes, civil or religious ideologies war. However, no matter the circumstances, this was the war of people looking for freedom and democracy in trying to end the single party in Africa. After years of conflicts, some dictators abandoned the single party, giving way to multipartyism in the country. African people obtained the democracy, people were free to vote their president and to create their own party and to be voted. However, in the meantime, these democracies have also failed. The politicians, even if they are chosen by the entire nation, they are interested in promoting development of people of their own ethnic, tribe and region. Others tribes and ethnic are totally excluded in the political of development.  Some presidents across African countries, consider themselves a President for life. Even if the constitution is clear, allowing two mandates divided into five years each. At the end of second mandate, they do everything to change the constitution to remain in power.

All of this indicates that the real “fundamental difference between a socialist and a capitalist society lies not in the methods that each of them uses to produce well-being but in the way in which well-being is distributed” (S. C. Turrin 2012: 54). Today we cannot say that African culture or democracy are in crisis, perhaps the previous models used to describe democracy as no longer valid. So, it is the models that are in crisis and not the democracy.

The relationship between the tribal and western democracy
As we know democracy is “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections” (Merriam-Webster). In African according Ubuntu “I am because we are”, for African tribe’s leader, is a work for the common goods, and everyone is called to promote the principle for the common good, which is peace and justice. Which indicate that, the task of tribe’s leader in Africa, is to promote peace and justice to the family, village, at tribe level.

This helps to understand that we are not crossing the crisis of democracy. Even before the African countries were in contact with western democracy there has a democracy as we understand it now.  The problem is not how to export democracy in Africa, it is how to enlarge the democracy for the entire country. African leaders maintain the power for their tribe, promoting peace and justice to the family, village and tribal level.

The problem in Africa is conflict among tribes. let’s keep in mind that in Africa tribes could be considered as a country with specific borders, and each tribe considers itself totally different from other tribes. The tribal wars are wars of family honor. This is the reason why, which tribe reaches to the power remains for life, and the power is passed within the family. Therefore, the elections only serve to confirm their leadership in the entire country. All of these democratic practices are often condemned by the Western countries. As well the African Union (UA), in his constitution “condemn and reject of unconstitutional changes of governments” (C. AU Article. no. 4p).

African countries that will hold an election in 2021.
In this year 2021, there are 13 African countries that will hold an election: Uganda, Somalia, Niger, Republic of Congo, Cabo Verde, Chad, Djibouti, Benin, Ethiopia, São Tomé e Principe, Zambia, Gambia and Libya.

All of this election “has direct implications for the legitimacy of the leaders that emerge and their ability to navigate the security challenges they face. Reflective of the democratic backsliding observed on the continent in recent years, more than a third of these polls are little more than political theater, aimed at garnering a fig leaf of legitimacy for leaders who arguably lack a popular mandate” (Siegle and Cook)

Some of these countries are banning opposition parties, or criminalizing critical media reporting, to clear the electoral playing field. “Five countries undertaking elections this year are facing armed conflict (Chad, Ethiopia, Libya, Niger, and Somalia). The legitimacy these leaders may gain by winning popular endorsement can be a powerful tool for navigating these conflicts. Conversely, perceptions that entrenched leaders cannot be removed constitutionally via the ballot box will likely only fuel the grievances that lead to more violent forms of confrontation” (Siegle and Cook)

For example: Uganda: Presidential and Legislative Elections, January 14

President Yoweri Museveni, “who is 76 years old, he has been president of Uganda since January 1986 after having actively participated in the struggle to free the country from two dictators, Idi Amin in 1979 and Milton Obote in 1985. After having amended the Constitution twice and having implemented a ferocious repression of dissent, managed to get himself re-elected for a sixth term” (Nigrizia Journal). And Museveni, won the election amid violence and allegations of fraud.

Before the election the opposition candidate Bobi Wine was arrested for allegedly violating COVID-19 protocols during his presidential campaign in Uganda. This led to violent protests in the country more people died and others were injured.  After the result was proclaimed, Wine refused the result in allegation of fraud. The police putted him under house arrest, as well they cut off the communication of social media.

For some African scholar; this same issue could happen across African countries in this year. On the other hand, some countries, the population seems indifferent. Many people have left to participate in the election campaigns as well in the voting system. People claims that the elections do not change anything in the country, it is like political theater. And others, the biggest problem is not the permanence in the power of some leaders for a long time, as long as one does the good for the entire nation, the biggest problem, is that they accumulate everything for themselves and for their tribe leaving others in poverty.

The pandemic in Africa
Besides the political instability in Africa. The continent is facing pandemics which decimate its population, such as malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis, and now with the new pandemic Covid-19. In response to the pandemic Covid-19, “several African governments introduced severe restrictions on movement and the freedom of assembly, and in cases full lockdowns. Their enforcement triggered arbitrary arrests, beatings, torture and extrajudicial killings by government forces in Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and SA” (Mausi Segun).

As well some “governments did not provide adequate assistance to cushion the impact of the economic downturn, which has had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups, and low-income workers, and has worsened existing challenges such as child labor, poverty and inequality across Africa” (Mausi Segun).

Before the pandemic, people who were excluded from government development policies, they have been adapted themselves thanks to the internationals associations that in recent years have entered Africa in support of local development. Now because of the pandemic the associations have reduced their activities, the vulnerable groups have been left alone, and beyond all policies of development in this time of pandemic.

All of these issues, have increased violence across Africa. “The pandemic exposed serious gaps in health services, injustice and inequality in the whole dimension, reinforcing the need for investments to improve access to quality health care”, and good distributions of goods across Africa.

Development in Africa
Despite the situation, there has been a significant step of development, some countries have implemented great policies of infrastructure, roads and bridges have been developed that have boosted people’s lives. In addition, schools, and the increased communication of mass media, are helping the young populations to inform and to connect themselves internal and with the globalized world. The mass media especially the new social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp is accelerating the process of political transformation and democratization in Africa.

African perspectives
However, in Africa, there are places with no electricity as well lack of communication. People are dying because of hunger and malnutrition, some young people are lucking in education, villages are lucking in infrastructure.  In addition, the political instability across African countries provokes young migration. To deal with these problems, we must recognize our cultural values in which the sense of family is very important. We must avoid the tribal discrimination in the same country and to start looking as one nation. Therefore, cultural differences must be recognized, to foster good intercultural relations by overcoming the idea of the other, to create a reciprocity of new cultural dynamisms, in safeguarding of peace.

The real problem in Africa is how to do things as a team. The development in Africa needs the know-how as tribes, and a good networking among tribes can improve democracy and development in the continent. “An enabling social, economic and political environment is a prerequisite for family farmers to lead the transformation towards zero hunger and poverty, sustainable and healthy food systems, and an inclusive and resilient society” (FAO. FM 22). Family Farming provides a major source of food security in many African countries, as well as a chance to earn a decent living

It is important to increase investment in rural infrastructure, to give people the right tools and the right skills, so they can be able to make better decisions. This will help us to understand that “African are not poor because their populations are lazy, “on the contrary, people are lazy because they are poor” (Chang 2008: 7). It is important to improve the international cooperation: cooperation based around shared interests and values will enable to achieve common goals and to tackle global challenges. “African youth and women must be capable of doing the jobs that will become available; they must be equipped with employable skills and be trained to master the many different tasks, responsibilities and roles that Africa’s modernization and industrialization will engender” (African Bank).