Elections are the bedrock of democracy, but in Africa, many countries struggle to conduct free and fair elections. The electoral process is defined by corruption, political intimidation, electoral fraud and violence. ⠀

In 2020, more than 20 African countries were expected to conduct national elections. Only 5 of them – Mali, Guinea, Burundi, Togo and Malawi – proceeded as planned.⠀

It is a new year and at least 18 African countries are expected to go to the polls in 2021. This is occurring amidst a second wave of the pandemic and ongoing political conflict in places like Chad, Ethiopia, Libya, Niger and Somalia.⠀

For many nations, campaigning strategies will have to adopt a different approach – moving from the streets to social media, thus highlighting the importance of press freedom and individual liberties. However, thinking back to what happened to Bobi Wine in Uganda last month, the situation does not look very promising.  ⠀

Some African leaders have used COVID-19 as an excuse to postpone elections. Last June, Idriss Déby Itno, Chad’s president, delayed an election, which was initially scheduled for 2015, for the fifth time. ⠀

In countries like the Republic of Congo, we see authoritarians desperately clinging to power. 2021 will mark Sassou Nguesso’s 37th year in office. Meanwhile, in Cabo Verde, Carlos Fonesca will be stepping down following the conclusion of his constitutionally limited 5-year term.

Before the arrival of the coronavirus on the continent, conducting free and fair elections was a herculean task for many African countries. Now, with a pandemic introduced into the equation, matters will be further complicated.⠀

Moving forward, the onus is on African heads of states to put in place structures and mechanisms to ensure that citizens exercise their right to vote while maintaining COVID-19 protocols. ⠀

The media and civil society groups also have a crucial role to play in fostering debates, monitoring activities, and demanding accountability throughout the electoral life cycle. ⠀

Now more than ever, Africa’s fragile democracy must be preserved if the continent wants to witness rapid growth and development in the coming years.⠀

Thanks for reading,

Stephannie