Category Archives: Africa

Incumbency and elections: the 2019 polls in Botswana and South Africa

On Saturday 31 March, Botswana’s Ian Khama stepped down as the country’s president and a day later Mokgweetsi Masisi was sworn in. In a region which has seen two of the continent’s longest running presidencies – Robert Mugabe (37 years) and José Eduardo dos Santos (38 years) – Khama’s decision to respect the country’s term limits and bow out after 10 years was widely applauded. Botswana’s ruling party faces an election in just 18 months, so why would the president step down before the election?

Incumbents win elections in Africa. When a sitting president faces an opposition challenger, the opposition wins just 12% of the time.[1] But when an opposition challenger competes in an open seat election (after the president has stepped down), the opposition’s success rate increases nearly fourfold to 45%.

Incumbents win more often due to the ‘incumbency effect’ – presidents can bend state institutions in their favour, frequently securing positive coverage in the public media, they use patronage and positions to buy loyalty, and they are able to introduce popular (or populist) policies to consolidate the ruling party’s vote base. In many cases, the president is also able to use state resources to campaign in the elections, severely skewing the playing field in their favour.

Khama stepping down 18 months ahead of the polls allows Masisi to increase his chances of being elected in 2019, by accruing the benefits of incumbency and thus perpetuating the survival of the BDP.

Protecting the Party in Botswana

Botswana’s presidential terms are disconnected from the five-year electoral cycle – a trend that began after Ketumile Masire introduced presidential term limits and stepped down for his successor after 18 years as head of state in 1998. Rather than a marker of democratic governance, the uncoupling of the electoral timeline and presidential term limit is a mechanism for ensuring the continued electoral success of the ruling Botswana Democratic party – in power since 1966.

History recalls Masire in a positive light, but his decoupling of the presidential and parliamentary terms was intended for the very purpose that it now serves. In 1997 when he changed the constitution, it was in response to the growing unpopularity of his ‘old guard’ due to serious corruption scandals; and it was done to stave off the threat of an electoral loss in 1999.[2]

Prior to Khama’s 2018 resignation, politics in Botswana appeared eerily reminiscent of the last days of Masire’s rule in the 1990s.[3] Khama’s administration had been accused of growing authoritarian tendencies, corruption and populism at home – though his foreign policy stances were widely celebrated abroad.

After 52 years in power, many Botswanans have begun to tire of the BDP. The party narrowly avoided defeat in the last elections, when they faced a more united opposition. In the 2014 elections Khama’s BDP failed to win an outright majority, garnering just 46.5% of the vote, while opposition parties shared 53.5%. The next 18 months will give Masisi time to consolidate his position within the BDP and take the lead on popular policies to address the corruption, inequality and unemployment that are seen to have increased markedly under Khama.

The South African Comparison

While South Africa’s presidential term depends entirely on parliamentary electoral cycles, the predominance of the ANC – in power since 1994 – allows the party to similarly short-circuit the party’s electoral accountability. The ANC’s constitution provides for just two presidential terms as party leader – a convention that has been respected until now, notwithstanding Thabo Mbeki’s attempt to change it and Jacob Zuma’s intention to install a proxy.

However, the party’s leadership renewal calendar installs a new party leader a little less than 18 months before the country goes to the ballot box. With the removal of Thabo Mbeki and now Jacob Zuma, the party has begun a similar (if less formalised) trend to Botswana, by delinking the presidential term from the electoral cycle.

Jacob Zuma – and to a lesser extent, Mbeki – was removed to allow the ANC to revive their waning electoral legitimacy and clean up the party’s image in the wake of damaging scandals.[4] After the party’s bruising loss of major municipalities in the 2016 local government elections and the decline of the ANC’s national tally to just 54%, most pundits predicted that the Zuma-effect would pull the ANC under the 50% threshold in 2019.

The coalitions formed by the opposition to govern in Nelson Mandela Bay, Pretoria and Johannesburg have been seen to presage the need for a national coalition after 2019.[5] The opposition Democratic Alliance was certainly hopeful.[6]

Instead, the removal of Zuma and installation of Cyril Ramaphosa as president led to a wave of positive sentiment – dubbed ‘Ramaphoria’ – which has bolstered the currency, helped stave off a downgrade to ‘junk status’ by Moody’s and left the middle class sleeping a little easier. The ANC hopes to capitalise on their renewed breathing space, and was reportedly considered bringing the 2019 elections forward to outflank the opposition.[7]

Introducing a new president – who is presented as a ‘new broom’ – ahead of an election can help revive the waning fortunes of a dominant party. This (to some degree) has helped reinvigorate the image of Tanzania’s ruling CCM which has been in power since 1962.  Both the ANC and the BDP will be hoping that their pre-emptive moves to renew public confidence will pay off at the ballot box next year. By never running an open-seat election, these parties are likely to maintain their longevity for as long as the public is willing to give the new leader the benefit of the doubt.

[1] Nic Cheeseman, “African Elections as Vehicles for Change,” Journal of Democracy 21, no. 4 (2010): 139–153.

[2] Kenneth Good and Ian Taylor, “Unpacking the ‘Model’: Presidential Succession in Botswana,” in Legacies of Power: Leadership Change and Former Presidents in African Politics, ed. Roger Southall and Henning Melber (Cape Town: Uppsala: Chicago: HSRC Press; Nordiska Afrikainstitutet; Independent Publishers Group, 2006).

[3] Joel Konopo, “Bad Khama,” August 10, 2017, https://www.businesslive.co.za/fm/features/africa/2017-08-10-ian-khamas-growing-intolerance/; Monageng Mogalakwe and Francis Nyamnjoh, “Botswana at 50: Democratic Deficit, Elite Corruption and Poverty in the Midst of Plenty,” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 35, no. 1 (January 2, 2017): 1–14, https://doi.org/10.1080/02589001.2017.1286636.

[4] For example, Mahlatse Mahlase and Lizeka Tandwa, “It’s Not a Matter of If, but When Zuma Goes – NEC Sources,” The M&G Online, January 9, 2018, https://mg.co.za/article/2018-01-09-its-not-a-matter-of-if-but-when-zuma-goes-nec-sources/; Mogomotse Magome, “Graft Charges Make Zuma an Electoral Liability,” IOL, May 2, 2016, https://www.iol.co.za/news/politics/graft-charges-make-zuma-an-electoral-liability-2016402.

[5] Marianne Merten, “Analysis: Coalitions No Easy Route Come 2019, as Current Co-Operation Pacts Wobble | Daily Maverick,” The Daily Maverick, October 8, 2017, https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2017-10-08-analysis-coalitions-no-easy-route-come-2019-as-current-co-operation-pacts-wobble/.

[6] “The ANC May Not Be the Government in 2019, Coalitions Are the Future for SA,” Democratic Alliance (blog), December 6, 2017, https://www.da.org.za/2017/12/anc-may-not-government-2019-coalitions-future-sa/.

[7] Sam Mkokeli, “ANC to Discuss Bringing Elections Forward to Capitalise on ‘Ramaphoria,’” Sunday Times, March 25, 2018, https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/business/2018-03-25-anc-to-discuss-bringing-elections-forward-to-capitalise-on-ramaphoria/.

Côte d’Ivoire’s Senate Elections: The Next Move on the 2020 Elections Chessboard

This is a guest post by Lindsay Robinson, Senior Program Officer at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Washington, DC

Many aspects of Côte d’Ivoire’s March 26, 2018 senate elections were surprising, from the results to the decision to swear in only two-thirds of the body. Many Ivoirians were surprised that the polls even took place at all. The elections put in place the country’s first-ever senate; the institution was introduced in the new 2016 constitution. It was one of the more controversial provisions of the document, with the opposition claiming that there was no need for an expensive (“budgetivore”) new senate and claiming that the mode of selection gave the president far too much power over the legislative process — only two-thirds of 99 senators are elected and the remaining 33 are chosen by the president. However, the National Assembly still takes “precedence” over the Senate, as it can pass legislation on its own if the two chambers cannot reach an agreement.

The Senate’s main role is to counterbalance the Assembly’s constituency-focused members, as senators are beholden to constituents at a regional level — senators (at least 66 of them) are elected indirectly by regional and local councilors. The remaining, appointed senators are intended to be chosen from among underrepresented constituencies. For example, activists promoting women’s political participation have called on President Alassane Ouattara to appoint women to these seats.

No one expected these elections. Côte d’Ivoire’s new Constitution stipulated that any first cohort of senators would be elected only through 2020, at which time fresh elections would be called along with the next National Assembly elections. Article 90 states that an “organic law” will outline the Senate’s membership, eligibility criteria, and election procedures; this type of law is passed by the National Assembly. When no law was passed in the year after the constitution’s promulgation, many Ivoirian analysts assumed that the elections would not be called until 2020, thus avoiding a short two-year term. It therefore came as a surprise to many when on February 14 President Ouattara issued an executive order that served the same purpose as the “organic law” but without being passed through the legislature, followed a week later by an announcement of the election date. The administration justified the urgency by pointing to the constitution’s requirement that the senate be seated seven days after the start of the National Assembly’s first annual session, which in 2018 fell on April 2. But it is unclear why there was not similar urgency ahead of the 2017 session.

No candidates or voters from the opposition participated. The opposition contested the government’s reasoning. They had counted on participating in local elections in mid-2018 and winning enough seats on local and regional councils to influence the outcome of the Senate’s indirect races. Instead, the voters in the March senate elections were the local and regional councilors whose mandates expire in April 2018, and who were elected in 2013 local elections that the opposition boycotted. Thus there were no voters in this election from the country’s main opposition parties.

Furthermore, the opposition has been increasingly vocal about its lack of confidence in the independent electoral commission (CEI) and called for a new dialogue and consensus about its composition. The president of the main opposition party the Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI), Affi N’Guessan, deplored that “today the governance in our country is the product of illegitimate institutions that have come from an illegitimate CEI.” Opposition parties refuse to acknowledge the validity of any elections (including this Senate race) that the CEI organizes with its current composition, which between the RHDP and the government is controlled by partisans of the majority. The African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights found in November 2016 that the composition was not in conformity with the country’s international commitments to create an impartial body and ordered it be reviewed within a year, which has yet to happen. The lack of both opposition voters and candidates paved the way for an overwhelming victory by the ruling coalition, the Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), which took 50 of the 66 seats up for election.

The RHDP ran unopposed by a competing party — but it still lost nearly a quarter of the seats to independent candidates. These were not political newcomers — the independents almost all come from the ruling coalition. There were major upsets in Côte d’Ivoire’s political capital  Yamoussoukro, where a member of the Rally for Republicans (RDR, President Ouattara’s party) and of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI, the second-largest coalition member) ran together as independents and won against the list presented by the RHDP. In Bouaké, the country’s second most populous city, PDCI members did the same. This echoes the National Assembly elections in 2016, when more than a third of all elected legislators had run as independents. At the root of this  phenomenon is an Abidjan-based candidate selection process that leaves many locally popular candidates sidelined. As happened in the National Assembly, the elected “independents” are likely to retake their party names and join the RHDP for votes.

Only 8 women were elected despite the new constitution’s call for greater women’s political participation. It is somewhat ironic that the ruling coalition that paved the way for the 30% gender quota law that will soon be introduced into the legislature only presented 8 female candidates out of 66 (or 12% of its candidates).

RHDP leadership is uncertain ahead of landmark 2020 elections. So why did President Ouattara proceed with the senatorial elections at this time? The indirect nature of the Senate elections means there is little benefit to be had from electing senators now so that they might have incumbent advantage in the 2020 elections. The impact on the president’s legislative agenda of having a friendly senate will also be fairly minimal; the National Assembly will retain primacy in passing legislation.

Instead, the reasons for this move likely have to do with the president’s plans for the RHDP coalition ahead of the 2020 elections. The RDR and PDCI, as well as a faction of RHDP headed by the National Assembly President Guillaume Soro, are vying to control who will select the coalition’s presidential candidate in 2020. Soro has clear ambitions for the post, while the PDCI believes it is “their turn” to provide the nominee after Ouattara’s (RDR’s) two terms. Meanwhile, Ouattara professes to want a unified party that presents its best candidate, regardless of party origin — although there are a number of RDR members he likely thinks fit the bill.

The Senate helps President Ouattara on a number of fronts in this battle over succession. It is a counterbalance to the politically powerful Soro, who no longer speaks for the entire legislative branch. President Ouattara’s close ally Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio was elected unanimously as Senate president. Ahoussou also comes from PDCI, which helps improve relations there. Ouattara also has an opportunity to nominate 33 individuals and turn potential rivals into allies; he chose not to appoint these senators before the senate opened, justifying the delay by a desire to provide only elected senators a say in the leadership election. These seats can be powerful “carrots” in the effort to create a unified party.

Uganda – On Presidents, policing and power

On 4 March, Uganda’s President Museveni made the surprise announcement that he was firing both his Inspector General Police (IGP), Gen. Kale Kayihura, and his Security Minister, Lt Gen. Henry Tumukunde. This came after months of infighting between the two men and their respective agencies, the Uganda Police Force (UPF) and the Internal Security Organization (ISO).

Despite initially dominating headlines, the two-man feud is not the sole reason—or perhaps even a particularly significant reason—for the shake-up. Other factors include the police’s increasing involvement with criminal organisations, public frustration with police incompetence, and perhaps most significant, Museveni’s apparent misgivings about Kayihura’s loyalty.

None of these concerns, even the last, can be remedied through a simple reshuffle. They thus invite further reflection, particularly regarding President Museveni’s past management of security in Uganda, the growing partisanship and impunity of the police force, and what new security strategy Museveni may now adopt.

The rise and decline of the Uganda’s police  

Professionalism in the Ugandan police declined as it became more of a partisan fighting force, a transformation that former IGP Kayihura largely oversaw.

Veteran journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo gives a particularly trenchant analysis of this process, although other observers also offer useful summaries.

In brief, the Ugandan Police Force first underwent a process of professionalization through the 1990s and into the early 2000s. The two IGPs during this period were both career police officers and succeeded in turning the Force from “a mess” into a “boring place”, run in as “technocratic” a manner as it has ever been.

Some analysts contest this reading, noting that the Force, even in the 1990s, was not without controversy. But this initial period of institutional consolidation and professionalization certainly contrasts with what followed.

The first key change came in 2001 with the transition to IGP Wamala who, rather than a professional police officer, was a military man. But it was Kayihura’s accession to the IGP position in 2005 that marked the real watershed. Under his leadership, the Force became increasingly politicized internally and more overtly partisan in its actual policing.

The reasons for the change were multiple. They included Museveni’s frustration with a police force know for voting “badly”.

But the change in policing came alongside a more fundamental shift in the NRM’s overall security strategy.

As Onyango-Obbo argues, by the early 2000s, Museveni was increasingly keen to distance the military from overt partisan activities, easing its metamorphosis into a seemingly more professional force worthy of taking a lead in regional peace-keeping efforts.

This withdrawal of the military left the police to handle partisan issues at home, and this even as the political threat posed by the opposition grew.

This threat, along with Museveni’s personal trust in Kayihura, helps explain why the annual budget for the police exploded under his watch, going from Shs58b (£11.2m) to Shs600b (£115.5m).

Flush with cash, the Police spent some of it on new equipment, thus becoming increasingly militarised. This trend only grew more pronounced following the unprecedented 2011 “walk to work” protests, which Kayihura was instrumental in suppressing.

Ahead of the 2016 elections, Kayihura invested in a new initiative, the build-up of the so-called “crime preventers”, a community policing force that supposedly numbers 12m (but undoubtedly far less). Made up of young, largely untrained recruits, the “crime preventers” have been used in partisan policing efforts, often more as a threat.

Where to from here?

With the transfer to a new IGP, Okola Ochola, some observers are hoping for reform in the police.

Ochola is the first career policeman to serve as IGP since 2001, and his early actions do appear aimed at restoring a degree of professionalism.

Only a few weeks in the job and Ochola has already redeployed seven officers, most of whom were previously deployed to the IGP’s office “as a punishment” due to Kayihura’s distrust of them.

He has also indicated his distaste for the “crime preventers” and declared that he will weed out police officers deemed unfit. These will presumably include many of the younger recruits Kayihura brought in to serve as his loyal base whilst undercutting older, more experienced officers.

Much more needs to be done, of course, to bring about a change in the Police. Some also doubt that this change is likely to occur.

They point, in particular, to Ochola’s new deputy, Brigadier Sabiiti Muzeyi, who they suggest could scupper reform efforts. Muzeyi previously commanded the Military Police and his rapid rise within the UPDF was aided by Museveni’s son, Gen. Muhoozi.

But even if Ochola were to professionalise the police, this would raise fresh questions. Would a more professional force retreat from partisan policing? If it did, who would take over the partisan dirty work?

While it is far too early to say, a more professional police under Ochola could make for a more overtly partisan military, reversing earlier efforts to limit the UPDF’s domestic political interventions.

Only this week, Museveni declared that the crime preventers will now serve under the military and that the new crime preventers team should meet the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Muhoozi.

Museveni went further, insisting that crime preventers was nothing new and had been part of the National Resistance Army going back to the 1980s.

Even as we contemplate the possibility of another shift in Museveni’s security strategy, one thing about which we can be sure is that security forces will continue to be used for partisan ends. The only change may be which kind of officer—military or police—holds the gun.

Niger – Battle for the budget

Who would have thought a finance law could ignite such fervor, bringing thousands to the streets of Niamey and other cities of Niger in demonstrations for and against the national budget?

Since October 2017, a coalition of civil society groups, opposition parties and labor unions have mobilized against Niger’s 2018 budget law which they label as “antisocial.” The 2018 budget extends taxation into the informal sector, including the transportation sector, and raises taxes on the trade and service sectors, among other measures. It also provides for reduced taxation of the mobile sector, notably by eliminating the tax on incoming international calls (TATTIE), which was a significant source of revenue (about 20 billion FCFA). The government of Niger was reportedly under pressure by the international mobile phone companies and the World Bank to eliminate the TATTIE which according to Minister of Finance Hassoumi Massaoudou is not applied in any other country member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union.

The finance law was adopted in November 2017 without changes proposed by the opposition. Since then, there have been regular demonstrations against the 2018 budget, which have continued into 2018. Protesters argue the law affects the poor disproportionately, while favoring foreign firms.

In early March, pro-government parties organized a massive counter demonstration in support of the budget and President Mahamadou Issoufou. The government argues the tax burden remains at its 2015-level and that the budget has no negative impact on the rural sector where 80% of Nigeriens live. Instead, according to the Minister of Finance, the 2018 budget seeks to extend taxation to the large informal sector in the urban areas that amounts for 59% of GDP.

This budget battle is a product of and illustrates the significant external and internal pressures the government of Niger is facing.

Insecurity is an existential threat, with terrorists infiltrating and attacking the country from neighboring Mali, Libya and Nigeria. Just this past week, three armed police officers (gendarmes) were killed in Goubé, at 40 km from the capital Niamey, by assailants crossing over the border from Mali.

As a result of the regional insecurity, 15% of the national budget now goes to the security sector, while spending on public services such as education and access to clean water has had to be reduced proportionally. Falling prices on uranium and oil, Niger’s primary exports, have contributed to the country’s significant dependence on foreign aid which in turn limits the government’s policy options.

At the same time, the government of President Issoufou faces a very determined opposition led by the largest opposition party, MODEN/FA Lumana. Lumana’s leader, former Prime Minister and former Speaker of the National Assembly Hama Amadou, is in self-imposed exile in France after being sentenced in absentia to a year in prison for child smuggling – a charge Hama Amadou and his supporters argue is politically motivated. The opposition is boycotting the newly reformed independent election commission where it has refused to take up the seats reserved for it. The opposition also stays away from meetings of the National Council for Political Dialogue (Conseil National pour le Dialogue Politique – CNDP), a forum under the auspices of the prime minister created to facilitate inter-party dialogue outside of parliament. Instead, as we’ve seen, the opposition is taking to the streets, forming an alliance with some of the largest civil society organizations of Niger.

In a country with a rich history of military coups – the latest as recent as 2010 – and facing significant security threats, there is reason to worry about the apparent inability of government and opposition to engage in dialogue. In early March, after the pro-government counter demonstration, the Islamic Associations of Niger felt compelled to issue a statement condemning the marches for or against the 2018 finance law and calling on Nigerien elites to come together “to protect the sovereignty of the nation, social cohesion and to ensure sustainable development.” They also declared their availability to serve as mediators. The statement may have contributed to the civil society-opposition coalition calling off its plans for the organization of a “ghost town operation” (general strike) on March 15. However, the protesters against the finance law have maintained their call for a large manifestation on March 25.

The situation in Niger merits greater attention than the country generally gets. An apparently banal budget battle could well degenerate. The use of the streets to demonstrate political muscle illustrates how polarized the situation is, and the inability of existing institutional fora to appropriately channel political dialogue.

Kenya – President Kenyatta does a deal …

For the past year, Kenya has been on a worrying political trajectory. Following disputed elections in August – which were nullified by the Supreme Court in September – the political system has been on an uneven keel. Having boycotted the “fresh” elections in October, opposition leader Raila Odinga refused to recognise the legitimacy of president Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory that, in the absence of his main rival, was inevitably won in a landslide.

For his part, Kenyatta, having won the repeat poll and sensing that international donors had little appetite to support Odinga’s claims to power, demonstrated no inclination to compromise. Instead, government rhetoric suggested that while the president might be willing to sit down and talk to the opposition about how to achieve development, the 2017 elections, and the quality of Kenyan democracy, was off the table.

This political impasse had begun to generate considerable political instability. Over 100 people died in protests and clashes relating to the election controversy, significantly increasing the political temperature. Moreover, while an opposition ceremony to swear Odinga in as the “People’s President” passed without incident once the government made the decision to remove the security forces from the streets, the aftermath of the inauguration demonstrated that this was not part of a broader process of reconciliation.

Instead, the ruling party quickly moved to criminalise the National Resistance Movement that Odinga had launched to contest Kenyatta’s victory, and deported Miguna Miguna, the controversial opposition leader who had presided over the ceremony. Although these steps were triggered by the inauguration, they were part of a wider pattern of democratic backsliding that has included:

  • Verbal attacks on judges following the nullification of the 8 August election, and continued political pressure on the judiciary to rule in favour of the government.
  • Ignoring court orders relating to the detention and deportation of Miguna Miguna – which the High Court has now ruled was illegal.
  • The further politicization of the media, including threats to journalists writing stories that would embarrass the government and pressure on newspapers to cancel the contracts of critical columnists.
  • Forcing three TV stations– KTN, NTV and Citizen TV – off-air so that they could not cover Odinga’s swearing-in ceremony, and then keeping the broadcasting ban in place for almost a week.

Against this backdrop, a prolonged political crisis appeared to be a genuine risk. Instead, backroom negotiations – in part spurred by the efforts by the international community to negotiate a compromise ahead of the visit of the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – led to an unheralded breakthrough. Following months of bitter disputes, on 9 March 2018 President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga announced that they had made up and were now “brothers”.

However, while the agreement was welcomed by many Kenyans as it promised to give rise to a period of greater political stability and cohesion, it raised as many questions as it answered. Although it is clear what President Kenyatta has gained through the deal, most notably recognition as the country’s legitimate executive and an end to opposition protests, it is unclear exactly what the deal will deliver for Raila Odinga. The agreement that has been circulated is low on details and includes no firm commitments that would bind Kenyatta’s hands when it comes to media freedom, respect for the judiciary, or even electoral reform.

In turn, this has raised questions about whether the deal between Kenyatta and Odinga is based on a compromise about the reforms needed to strengthen Kenyan democracy, or represents a personal deal between the two leaders to work together to protect each other’s political interests. Those close to Kenyatta and Odinga have suggested that the agreement is rooted in their concern for their legacy and desire to avoid conflict. But a more cynical interpretation is possible, namely that one of the main gains the two men have realised by joining forces is to outmanoeuvre rival leaders from their own alliances who hope to replace them as presidential candidates come the next election in 2022.

For Kenyatta, the potential of a longer-term political alliance with Odinga reduces his dependence on two of his potential successors within the Jubilee govermment – Gideon Moi and Willian Ruto. Similarly, the deal benefits Odinga by easing his reliance on Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula – three supposed allies within the National Super Alliance (NASA) who failed to turn up to support his inauguration, prompting widespread rumours that the opposition coalition had fragmented.

As Kenyan political leaders begin to adjust to the latest in a long line of reconfigurations, there is only one thing that can be said for certain: further political realignments are likely, and the parties and alliances that contest the next elections will not be those that competed in the last ones.

Nigeria — Bandwagoning, Election Sequencing, and an Executive-Legislative Tug of War

What has happened:

On February 6, Nigeria’s Senate voted in favor of amendments to Nigeria’s Electoral Act, the law which governs key aspects of the manner in which Nigeria’s national elections are conducted. Though the proposed amendments contain a number of interesting provisions, one provision in particular —which relates to the sequencing of Nigeria’s presidential, state, and parliamentary elections —has become a source of controversy.

At the heart of ongoing debate is the fact that the bill approved in the Senate proposes to upturn the order in which elections are held such that elections for members of Nigeria’s National Assembly will now be conducted first while State elections and Presidential polls will subsequently be held.

Nigeria’s electoral management bureau, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has already released its polling time-table which, drawing on precedent, stagger the national elections—with the Presidential election holding first followed by those for the State and National Assembly. If the bill is passed the INEC will therefore be forced to reverse its calendar. The implications of this reordering have been the cause of much speculation and scrutiny given the fact that Nigeria’s next national elections, scheduled for February 2019, are barely a year away.

Moreover, passing these amendments brings the Senate in line with the House of Representatives, Nigeria’s lower chamber of parliament, which unanimously assented to the same amendments in January. Their approval in the Senate thus means that the President Buhari’s signature is the final hurdle in the path for the acceptance of the amendments into law.

What is at stake:

The passage of this amendment in both chambers of Nigeria’s National Assembly sheds light on a number of important developments. Firstly, as has been noted in the Nigerian press, the proposals reveal the National Assembly’s recognition of the importance of the ‘bandwagon effect’ in Nigerian elections. The bandwagon effect is a phenomenon wherein voters cast their ballots in favor of the party they consider the most likely winner of an election. [i] This effect has been particularly pronounced in national elections in Nigeria where elections are staggered, and where it is common for the party which wins the Presidential election, typically held first, to not only win a majority in subsequent State and National Assembly elections but also to win over members of the opposition party who frequently defect to the winning side [ii]. Given President Buhari’s popularity and his likelihood to seek a second term, this is a factor which could have a significant impact on the composition of the next National Assembly. The current National Assembly’s decision to pass this amendment thus appears to signal its desire to at least limit, if not reverse, the influence which the outcome of the next Presidential elections will have on the National Assembly races.

These amendments also signal increasing factionalism in Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). President Buhari is the de facto leader of the APC, which has reportedly endorsed him for a second term. The APC also commands a majority in both the Senate and the House of representatives and is represented in the leadership of both houses. The fact that this bill nonetheless garnered enough APC votes in order to pass in both Houses suggests that APC members in the legislature may no longer see their fate as tied to that of the President. Instead — and perhaps as a third implication of the passage of the amendment — this suggest that members of the legislature are seeking increased independence from the influence and control vested in the executive branch. An increasingly independent legislature would mark a significant development in Nigeria’s Democracy, in which, given its enormous powers, executive influence has typically been all-but-insurmountable.

What happens next:

For precisely the above reasons, it is safe to assume that President Buhari is likely to veto the National Assembly’s proposed amendments. The president will see the upcoming election as an opportunity  to shore up his support in the legislature and to limit the sort of independence which has allowed the National Assembly propose this amendment in the first place. Assenting to the proposed electoral schedule which could rob the president of influence is for this reason certain to be a none-starter.  In the event of a presidential veto, it is also likely that the legislature will seek to override the president, a highly plausible scenario given the bill’s popularity in the National Assembly thus far. What is likely to happen beyond this point is difficult to precisely estimate. However, whichever direction the resolution of this debate ultimately falls will certainly play a significant role in the management and outcome of Nigeria’s upcoming elections.


[i] Morton, R. B., Muller, D., Page, L., & Torgler, B. (2015). Exit polls, turnout, and bandwagon voting: Evidence from a natural experiment. European Economic Review, 77, 65-81.

[ii] Omilusi, O., P. (2015). “The Nuances and Nuisances of Party Defection in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic.” International Journal of Multidisciplinary Academic Research, Vol. 3, No. 4.

Guinea’s long-awaited local elections – A step backwards in its troubled electoral history?

Guest post by Ulrike Rodgers, Senior Program Manager, National Democratic Institute (NDI)

On February 4, the nearly six million Guinean registered voters were called to elect 7012 local councilors in 342 districts (communes). Nearly 30,000 candidates, including independents, ran for local office. After 13 years in the making, the elections were to be an important milestone on Guinea’s bumpy road to democracy that began only in 2010 with its first multiparty presidential election since independence from France 52 years earlier. However, an exhausted electorate, frustrated by years of political wrangling marked by spikes of deadly violence, and a lack of economic and social progress, responded less enthusiastically to the call to elect their local leaders than in previous elections. Just under 54 pour cent of voters turned out, according to the National Independent Electoral Commission’s (CENI) estimates, a decline from over 64 percent in the September 2013 legislative elections, and over 68 percent for the 2015 presidential elections. The ruling party failed to win an overall majority of councilor seats and lost the capital Conakry to opposition parties and independent candidates. Moreover, doubts remain over the integrity of the election, mainly linked to allegations of irregularities after polling stations closed.

Guinea’s troubled electoral history is rooted in the decades of autocratic single-party rule, marked by political violence and military coups, which stunted the development of a political culture striving for consensus over confrontation. Guinea began engaging in democratic reforms nearly 20 years after many other African countries. The first round of the 2010 elections resulted in a runoff between former opposition leaders Alpha Condé, briefly jailed by then-president Lansana Conté in 2001, and Cellou Diallo Dalein, Conté’s prime minister from 2004 to 2006.  The second round was postponed for months because of deadly violence between supporters of the two finalists. Condé won the second round with 52.52 percent in October 2010, which surprised many as Dalein had led after the first round with nearly 44 percent, trailed by Condé with 18.25 percent. To this day, many of Dalein’s supporters feel that the election was stolen from them. These resentments flared up violently in the lead up to parliamentary elections in September 2013 and led to over 100 dead. The elections were postponed several times until the United Nations brokered an agreement between government and opposition. The international community supported a large international and domestic contingent of election observers to enhance trust in the electoral process and prevent violence. Domestic and international non-partisan observers as well as Guinea’s courts deemed the elections legitimate, but the opposition alleged that the government had manipulated voter lists and misused government resources to fuel its campaign.

President Condé was re-elected for his second term in October 2015 in the first round with 58 percent of the vote. Observers deployed again in large numbers.  Despite serious deficiencies noted during the electoral campaign and shortcomings on election day, domestic observation groups and the European Union, in its post-election report, concluded that the process was overall valid.

Local elections were to be held shortly afterwards, but were postponed several times due to controversies over the CENI’s impartiality, the integrity of the voter registry, lack of resources, and because of the Ebola epidemic that ravaged the country from 2014 to 2016. Guineans had elected their local leaders for the last time in 2005. That year, to quell any political opposition, and risks of instability seeping in from Guinea’s war-torn neighbors, Sierra Leone and Liberia, Lansana Conté organized local elections to consolidate his party’s control of local government, which it won handily with over 80 percent of the votes. In the years prior, his regime had violently cracked down on Guinea’s historically powerful traditional and ethnic local leaders, often stoking ethnic tensions to its advantage.  To this day, many Guinean families harbor deep-rooted suspicions against the central government in Conakry; ethnic divisions remain prevalent across the country.

In the absence of local elections, Guinea’s local governments were run by central government appointees (Délégations spéciales) from 2010 to 2016 after their mandate had expired in 2010. Rejected by the opposition as illegitimate, they were a source of recurring political tensions. In October 2016, government and opposition reached an agreement to replace them with interim delegates appointed proportionally according to the votes obtained by each party in the legislative elections, while preparing for local elections.

The local election campaign opened in early January, 2018. Many described the atmosphere in the capital Conakry as muted, whereas the regions reported an unusually high influx of political personalities, mainly belonging to the ruling coalition. Violent incidents remained rare in the lead up to February 4. Election day was also largely calm. Domestic observer groups commended the Guinean people on a peaceful election, whilst deploring organizational shortcomings such as a lack of voting materials and late openings of polling stations. However, as the votes were still being counted, opposition parties alleged widespread fraud, including the stuffing of ballot boxes. Violence in the days following the elections cost ten lives. Unclear procedural instructions have since resulted in a number of contradictory decisions by local courts on election-related complaints.

The CENI’s provisional results indicate that President Conde’s RPG took 1.35 million votes, electing some 3,284 councilors (47 percent).  Cellou Dalein Diallo’s Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) won 893,000 votes to gain 2,156 councilors (31 percent). Former Prime Minister Sidya Touré’s Union of Republican Forces (UFR) won 190,000 votes, resulting in 447 council seats (6 percent). The remaining 1,125 seats – or 16 percent of the total, a significant minority – were won by candidates from small parties or independents. Over the coming weeks, Guinea’s communes will choose their mayors and deputy mayors. The mayors will then proceed to elect eight regional councils and, at the local level, designate ‘neighborhood leaders’ (chefs de quartiers).

Although the ruling party obtained a relative majority at the polls, it lost the capital Conakry, where over a quarter of Guinea’s population live, to the opposition and independent candidates. Pending the availability of additional data on voter turnout, the results could be an indication that voters are tired of campaign promises that remain empty and the political elite’s disconnect from their daily struggles.  Especially in the larger communes, campaign themes focused on high unemployment, poor public health care, education, widespread corruption, and Conakry’s ever-growing mountains of garbage. They resonated well with voters, prompting them to elect independent or small party candidates, for example in Beyla (N’Zérékore), Coyah (Kindia), Kaloum (Conakry), Faranah and Siguiri (Kankan).

Guinea’s governing and main opposition parties may be well advised to start listening up to citizens’ concerns as they start preparing for legislative elections later this year, and presidential polls in 2020. Moreover, the lack of trust in the local elections’ results, mainly linked to allegations of fraud after the closing of polling stations and a lack of transparent communication by the CENI, has cast renewed doubts on Guinea’s capacities to organize transparent elections in the future without substantial international oversight. The anticipated coalition negotiations could provide a sneak preview on potential future political alliances ahead of the next legislative and presidential polls.

Cameroon – Coercive Legacies and Innovations

 Cameroon’s record of political and civil rights remains one of the most challenging in sub-Saharan Africa. President Paul Biya, now 85 years old and in his 36th year in power, is likely to run again this year. The ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) and its predecessor the Cameroon National Union (CNU) has held power since 1972. Freedom House consistently ranks Cameroon as “Not Free,” and there have been numerous reports on the harsh state of human rights from organizations like Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Human Rights Watch. Cameroon consistently ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in Africa. The regime is also currently facing an outright insurgency in English-speaking regions, and an ongoing violent conflict with Boko Haram in the north.

Many observers emphasize the multiethnic nature of Cameroon’s ruling coalition, and Biya’s informal role as the kingmaker that holds this tenuous situation together. Indeed, the Cameroonian regime has been able to eschew many of the economic reforms demanded by lenders in the 1990s. Buttressed by minor oil reserves, the regime maintains a monopoly over political advancement, and can use hundreds of positions within the ruling party, government, and military to position supporters. Cameroon has the largest cabinet on the continent, with over 60 ministers, secretaries, and delegates. Certain positions like Speaker of the National Assembly are informally given to representatives from the north, while an Anglophone has been Prime Minister since 1992. Southern politicians, Biya’s home region, hold many senior positions.

However, while this massive patronage apparatus undoubtedly buttresses the regime, a powerful security apparatus also gives the regime significant leeway. Many of the privileges that Biya enjoys as president are constitutional, and are tied to legacies of French colonialism and its fight against an uprising of the Union of Peoples of Cameroon (UPC) in the 1950s. These coercive capacities have persisted, and indeed have also expanded in response to new security threats. In the late 1990s banditry and criminal activity in rural areas was the catalyst for the creation of new military units. In the 2000s the threat of Boko Haram has likewise led to new laws and coercive institutions. At each stage, these tools have been used outside of their original intent to deter and intimidate political opposition.

The Historical Origins of Coercive Capacity in Cameroon

The foundation of the modern security state in Cameroon can be traced to France’s suppression of the UPC Rebellion between 1956 and 1960. UPC nationalist agitation was primarily located in the Littoral and Western regions, where the French High Commissioner enforced official pacification zones (ZOPACs) that gave the military the ability to create ad hoc detainment camps and launch raids. These powers were then essentially transferred to Prime Minister (and later president) Ahidjo during the interim period prior to independence between 1958 and 1960. French input into the interim government was substantial, and the High Commissioner retained the ability to intervene on behalf of public safety. Law 59/33 issued from the interim National Assembly also gave the Prime Minister the ability to declare ambiguously phrased states of alert or warning in UPC-held territories. Thirteen such decrees were issued between 1958 and 1960.

These emergency powers have since been enshrined in every constitution, and used quite extensively. Section 20 of the 1960 constitution gave the president and assembly the ability to declare states of exception and emergency. The government could restrict freedom of movement, prohibit meetings, and ban certain publications. From 1960-1961 a state of emergency covered all of French-speaking Cameroon. Following unification, a new “Supreme Law” gave Ahidjo the enhanced ability to single-handedly declare states of emergency. In both Eastern and Western Cameroon states of emergency were repeatedly extended up to the abolishment of federalism in 1972. Subsequently, the new unitary constitution maintained these privileges and was used to issue no less than 20 decrees between 1972 and 1982. When Biya succeeded Ahidjo, 9 states of emergency were issued between 1982 and 1986. In December 1990, a new law (90/047) reduced the length of states of each emergency and siege, but they could still be extended in perpetuity.

In addition to the creation of these emergency powers, the French also bequeathed a unique array of coercive institutions to the independent Cameroonian state. In response to the UPC rebellion, the French facilitated the creation of a number of new military units, which were largely recruited from the Cameroonian population, but with significant French influence. These include Cameroon’s ubiquitous military-police force (the gendarmerie), and a feared intelligence gathering force called the Service des Etudes et la Documentation (SEDOC). Following independence the SEDOC was converted into the Direction Général d’Etudes et de la Documentation (DIRDOC), and later into the Centre National de Etudes et des Recherché (CENER). French financial assistance also helped fund a presidential guard, as well as a new special force called the Brigades Mixtes Mobiles (BMM).

 Continuity and Innovation During the Multiparty Era

The multiparty era did not bring with it significant constitutional reform that would limit presidential authority, and actually led to the creation of some new coercive institutions. For instance, in October 1992 Biya used a state of emergency to place Northwest Province under curfew for two months, and to place his primary political opponent John Fru Ndi under house arrest. The 1996-revised constitution failed to delink these powers, and still maintained ambiguously defined wording regarding states of emergency and siege (Section 9). In fact, the constitution simply proclaims that “when circumstances so warrant,” the president can decide to issue a three-month state of emergency.

Another constitutional provision that became very crucial in the multiparty era was the ability to direct delimitation during elections. The Ministry of Territorial Administration (MINAT) was able to redistrict based on the peculiar interests of any constituency. Following the 1997 election districting began to take into consideration not just population, but also geographical size. Cameroon uses a mixture of single and multi-member districts to populate its 180 member national assembly, and their size and ratio have since changed with major consequences for party competition. Urban areas like Mfoundi or Wouri are underrepresented by at least 10 seats, while rural areas in Central and South regions are overrepresented by between 5 and 8 seats.

A significant innovation during the multiparty era was in response to the deteriorating security environment in rural parts of Cameroon. The economic downturn of the 1990s and civil wars in Chad and Central African Republic led to an influx of combatants, particularly in Extreme North region. In the late-1990s highway banditry, livestock poaching, and hostage taking, were rampant. In response, the government created the 7,000 strong Rapid Intervention Brigade (BIR). While the security threat was real, the BIR has since been used for other tasks. In 2008 the BIR was deployed in Yaoundé and Douala to suppress youth riots. The BIR has also been recently deployed to the North West and South West regions. According to Amnesty International the BIR is responsible for over 700 deaths and has been implicated in pervasive prison torture.

The War on Terror and New Coercive Capacities

 The difficult security situation in Northern Cameroon was worsened by the rise of the terrorist group Boko Haram. The group has likely been active along the Cameroonian-Nigerian border since 2004, but began to engage in terrorist attacks in Cameroon starting in 2013. Today, approximately 15% of Cameroon’s military, including a newly created BIR division called BIR-Alpha, is now deployed in the north. The conflict has taken a heavy human toll. The governor of Extreme North and local prefects now have emergency powers that allows them to set curfews, conduct ad hoc road inspections, monitor and inspect mosques, and even ban the burqa in public settings. Many of Cameroon’s military units have now been further bolstered by military aid from France and the United States.

 One of the most significant developments to emerge from this situation was the anti-terror law of December 2014. The bill defines the term act of terrorism broadly to include “any activity which can lead to a general revolt of the population or disturb the normal functioning of the country” and allows some crimes to be tried via military tribunal. Critics note that the anti-terror bill has consequently been used repeatedly to silence journalists and researchers, especially those covering the situation in the north and the crisis in English-speaking areas. Importantly, the anti-terror bill was used to imprison Anglophone activists Felix Agbor-Balla and Fontem Neba. Both were charged with fostering hostility against the government and encouraging succession. Both were held without bail for seven months until their release in August 2017.

The use of crisis to generate new coercive state capacities is of course not unique to Cameroon, and is increasingly a challenge for democracy advocates in the era of global terrorism. But the combination of patronage and coercion stands Cameroon apart from other African countries. Moreover, this also suggests that authoritarian regimes do concern themselves with some sense of formal legalism. Laws like the 2014 anti-terror bill have been widely condemned, but might help protect regimes from international criticism, assuage certain internal critics, or convince parts of the public of the legitimacy of their actions.

Continuity and Change: Presidential Succession in Southern Africa

At the risk of using a tired cliché, it would appear that the winds of change are blowing across Southern Africa. On Wednesday 14 February 2018, South Africans awoke to the news that there had been a dawn raid on the Saxonwold compound – derisorily referred to as the ‘Saxonwold Shebeen’ – owned by the Gupta family, close friends of President Jacob Zuma. It was the clearest sign yet that the president’s powers had faltered and his time was drawing to a rapid close. Having lost the succession battle at the ANC’s elective congress in December 2017, speculation had been brewing that he would soon be removed by the ruling party. With most of his friends and allies having shifted positions to the new sheriff in town – newly-elected ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa – Zuma’s days in the presidential residence seemed to be numbered. On 13 February, after more than a week of negotiations between Zuma and Ramaphosa, the ANC National Executive Committee formally requested that Zuma resign the presidency, in an apparent repeat of Zuma’s 2008 removal of former President Thabo Mbeki. They gave him until midnight on 14 February to do so. In a late-night address, Zuma resigned on Valentine’s day; Ramaphosa was sworn in less than 20 hours later.

On South Africa’s northern border, events in Zimbabwe have also heralded spectacular changes. Following the November ‘soft coup’ that removed Robert Mugabe from power after 37 years at the helm, new President Emerson Mnangagwa has spent three months on a major marketing drive, trying to convince the region and the world at large that he is setting Zimbabwe on a new course. The UK has been eager to re-engage, with several high-profile visits to Harare, and moves suggesting that the country will soon re-join the Commonwealth. But having been burnt before by promises and intransigence on the part of the ruling party, all eyes are on the general elections to be held later this year. The full normalisation of relations with Harare is largely contingent on the holding of a ‘fair’ and peaceful election. But the same day that Jacob Zuma was facing down a recall by his party, 65-year old Zimbabwean opposition veteran Morgan Tsvangirai passed away in a Johannesburg hospital. Despite his two-year battle with colon cancer, Tsvangirai had been tipped as the presidential candidate for the opposition’s 7-party coalition, due to fight the upcoming elections in less than six months’ time. The week prior to his death was marred by a very public succession battle between the MDC-T’s three vice presidents – something that will no doubt hurt the party and the coalition’s electoral prospects. The Zimbabwean opposition’s prospects look dire – Tsvangirai’s unmatched public profile and failure to pick a successor has left the coalition rudderless, while changes instituted by Mnangagwa have taken the bite out of the opposition’s ‘change’ mantra. It’s unclear whether the fractious opposition can regroup, rebrand, paper over their squabbles and develop a positive messaging platform in the months before the looming polls.

Meanwhile, change is also afoot in the rest of the region. Botswanan President Ian Khama announced that he will be handing over power in April 2018. Khama, the son of Botswana’s independence President Seretse Khama, is stepping down after ten years at the helm. When he steps down, the Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, will automatically succeed him until the 2019 general elections. But Masisi won’t necessarily be the ruling party’s candidate for those elections as the party will go to a special elective congress in 2019 where several high profile government leaders have thrown their hat in the ring to succeed him. In Angola – Southern Africa’s largest oil producing nation – President José Eduardo dos Santos handed over power in 2017 after 38 years at the head of the country’s ruling MPLA, after anointing his successor, João Lourenço. When Lourenço won the August elections, few predicted that he would follow through on his promises to clean up the MPLA and the state. However, in a shock move, he removed the former president’s daughter – Isabel dos Santos – from her position at the head of the state-owned oil producer Sonangol. Lourenço also removed the heads of police and intelligence, governor of the Central Bank, head of the country’s diamond company and the boards of all three state-owned media companies, as well as dos Santos’ son who was head of the country’s sovereign wealth fund.

However, despite all the apparently positive changes across the region and some significant reasons for optimism, there is a need to maintain a cautious stance. In Angola, many remain sceptical of Lourenço’s moves, arguing that it resembles a “dança das cadeiras” – a ‘dance of chairs’ or little more than a reshuffling of the political deck. Whispers in Gabarone suggest that Ian Khama is hoping to position his brother, Tshekedi Khama, to take up the presidency. Having tried to anoint his brother in 2014 (after making him a Cabinet minister in 2012), but facing outright revolt from the ruling party, Khama backtracked. But he has one more chance to secure the dynasty in the ruling party’s special congress next year. If he is successful, three of five of independent Botswana’s presidents would be from the Khama family. In Zimbabwe, following the possible collapse of meaningful opposition in the wake of Tsvangirai’s death, Mnangagwa may feel little pressure to make substantial changes to the state, and will instead continue along the well-worn path that ZANU-PF has tread for nearly four decades.

As for Ramaphosa, he is riding high on a wave of public optimism and international goodwill, but he will need to prove that he is serious about rooting out corruption in the state by removing Zuma’s key backers through whom public finances were so wantonly squandered and misappropriated. But over the longer term, serious questions remain over whether Ramaphosa’s business- and market-friendly approach will be sufficiently flexible to make the necessary policy changes to tackle the country’s burgeoning inequality and mass joblessness. With the possibility of a Congolese election (or mass uprising in the absence of an election) at the end of 2018, what is certain is that the Southern African region will look very different at the end of 2018 to how it looked just more than a year before. But it remains to be seen whether these changes will be thoroughgoing, or if it will be little more than a dança das cadeiras.

Yonatan L. Morse – Presidential Power and Democratization by Elections in Africa

This is a post by contributor Yonatan L. Morse, based on his article ‘Presidential Power and Democratization by Elections in Africa’ that will be published in the journal Democratization

In traditional studies of democratization, elections are generally the end phase of a prolonged process of liberalization and political opening. However, in recent years political scientists have also entertained the idea that elections might actually be the starting point of a process of democratization. In foundational work on Africa by Staffan Lindberg, he contended that repeated consecutive elections could create self-reinforcing mechanisms that deepened democracy over time. This approach is intuitively appealing for an era in which elections are commonplace, yet many countries still fail to live up to democratic standards. And expectedly, this thesis has been subject to quite widespread replication, scrutiny, and criticism.

In new research, now published online by the journal Democratization, I engage with the democratization by elections thesis in Africa, and argue that repeated elections can induce some forms of democratic behavior but face real limitations when formal presidential powers are strong. This is because under certain conditions strong presidentialism reinforces incentives for elections to become opportunities for clientelistic exchange, rather than moments of self-expression. Powerful presidents that control legislative agendas, access to political appointments, and the purse strings, might lead certain actors to behave more democratically during elections, but not necessarily to develop more robust notions of citizenship. This holds true in Africa because levels of economic development and inequality reinforce the role of clientelism as a central way elites and citizens access their government.

A caveat is in order here first. If the democratization by elections thesis has been so heavily scrutinized (in Africa and elsewhere), what is there to add to the debate? Other studies have generated, at best, mixed results. For instance, in Latin America democracy was restored in the 1980s after periodic interludes of authoritarianism. Therefore, many of the indicators of democracy simply jumped back to their prior levels, and have in fact declined since in many countries. Most importantly, in many countries repeated elections seemed to reinforce rather than undermine authoritarianism. Referred to as electoral or competitive authoritarian regimes, in these cases repeated elections appear to offer incumbents the ability to reshuffle their coalitions, gather information about their levels of support, and generate international legitimacy. In one study of Africa, the authors found that democratization by elections could only truly be found in a handful of cases.

The problem with previous studies is that they often mischaracterize what the democratization by elections thesis is actually about. Lindberg makes a crucial distinction between the “process of democratization” and a “transition to democracy.” Regimes can show improvements in specific indicators of democracy, while not necessarily transitioning to a new regime. Indeed, autocratic regimes can exhibit more or less democratic behavior. For instance, when actors participate more, compete more effectively, or appear to accept the legitimacy of the election process, this is a sign of democratic progress. Specifically, for Lindberg this is evidence of how elections create self-fulfilling expectations. Elections might also lead to improvements in other realms of democratic life like the protection of civil liberties. This indicates some form of socialization by elections, whereby citizens learn from election experience to demand voice in other realms of life. Using this more limited definition of democratization yields quite different results from previous studies.

My contribution is therefore to stress which factors condition the impact of repeated elections on much more specific democratic outcomes. I gathered information on 679 African elections since 1990, and combined this information with data from the Varieties of Democracy (V-DEM) and Presidential Power (PRESPOW) datasets. These data offer new ways to explore both numerous democratic outcomes, and to compare and contrast the extent of formal presidential power across Africa. The V-DEM data includes measures of electoral participation, competition, and legitimacy. But, it also includes indexes of many non-electoral elements of democracy like the protection of civil and private liberties, civil society participation, and equal protection under the law. I controlled for numerous other factors like executive years in office, levels of economic growth and development, foreign aid, ethnic heterogeneity, religion, and historic experiences with democracy.

A key utility of this study is its use of formal measures of presidential power in Africa. In many studies of African politics the focus has often been on the various ways in which presidents violate constitutions and operate through parallel informal institutions. This approach is mistaken for a number of reasons. First, it is equally clear that African presidents routinely amend constitutions, which means that the formal powers of presidents are not trivial. Second, using formal measures of presidential powers limits the risk of endogeneity in a study. For example, if a president unconstitutionally repeals legislation, this is often coded as both a violation of the democratic process and stronger informal presidential power. It is difficult to know what factor is influencing what factor. By focusing on the formal attributes of presidents, this risk of conflation is mitigated.

The analysis shows that improvements in the election process do not depend on levels of presidential power. Using Lindberg’s criteria, with more experience African elections become more participatory, competitive, and legitimate. This validates the notion that elections reinforce actors’ expectations and conditions them to accede by the rules of the game if they want to get ahead. On the other hand, presidential power significantly conditions the impact of repeated election on civil and private liberties, civil society participation, and equal protection under the law. When presidents are formally strong, repeated and consecutive elections limit the ability of elections to socialize more participatory and democratic behavior. These results hold up to various statistical models, and even the inclusion of a measure of the unfairness of the election.

This corresponds with expectations regarding the intersection of presidential power and clientelism in Africa. When levels of access to a system of spoils define the political game, and when presidents control that access, elections become devoid of deeper civic meaning. Rather, actors decide to accept electoral processes because fighting the system keeps them excluded. These results do not reject the democratization by elections thesis, but rather shed light on its limitations. Moreover, it also corroborates that the problem of democratic progress is not only due to the fact that elections themselves are unfair. In many cases the playing field remains heavily tilted toward incumbents, but clientelism and powerful presidents exist in diverse settings and exert an independent impact on democratic outcomes. It is not enough to just get the elections right, the disproportionate formal powers of presidents need to be tempered too.