Elections and Political Systems

The Africa Programme analyses developments during and between election cycles, and sets out the wider context, trends and influences behind the headlines.

Systems of government are diversifying and diverging across Africa and understanding the drivers of these trends is crucial if transparent and democratically accountable processes and institutions are to be fostered and sustained. 

Since its inception, the Africa Programme has produced regular publications and hosted events aimed at helping international policymakers better understand the domestic and regional implications of the increasing number of elections held on the continent. A 2017 event with the chairperson of the African Union, HE Moussa Faki Mahamat, considered options for strengthening democracy in the continent.

Programme staff also regularly participate in election observation missions across sub-Saharan Africa: most recently serving as members of the National Democratic Institute’s (NDI) International Observer Missions in Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria, and as a member of the Commonwealth Observer Missions in Ghana and Nigeria.

Through 2018 and 2019, elections and political systems across Africa once again exhibited diverging trends of upheaval and continuity. Examples of peaceful transitions of power took place in Liberia and Sierra Leone following presidential elections, whereas Cameroon saw its incumbent president elected for a seventh term amidst regional instability and allegations of electoral fraud.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a delayed presidential election in December 2018 delivered a first democratic transfer of power but would be widely contested in light of doubts raised by the country’s Catholic Church observers. The Africa Programme’s Elections in the DRC event series examined the preparations in the build-up to polling and discussed the way forward following the results.

Mauritania also witnessed a historic and largely peaceful first democratic transition in June 2019, which was the subject of a Chatham House report examining the unfolding landscape ahead of the elections.

As the ballot box becomes a more prominent part of political life in Africa, publications and events are investigating how the entrenchment of the rule of law and stronger institutions can take the heat out of political crises and support the consolidation of democracy and building of accountable governance.