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Africa 2024 elections: Stability at stake?

Martina Schwikowski
January 3, 2024

Africa has a raft of elections scheduled for 2024, including in South Africa. Experts say the continent's economy is growing, despite instability in several regions.

A voter in Cairo casts her ballot in the Egyptian election
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi secured a third term in office in DecemberImage: Mohamed Elshahed/Anadolu/picture alliance

The new year is shaping up to be an interesting one in Africa. 

In West Africa, mass protests have already broken out in Senegal ahead of the election scheduled for February. President Macky Sall has withdrawn his candidacy for a third term, sending Prime Minister Amadou Ba into the race for the country's top job as his handpicked successor.

Police fire tear gas from the back of a pickup truck at protesters in Dakar on June 1, 2023
Unrest broke out in Senegal following the imprisonment of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, a candidate for the upcoming presidential electionImage: Guy Peterson/AFP

Jailed Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, a firebrand politician who came in third in the 2019 presidential vote, has so far been prevented from running.

Sonko was declared ineligible after being after being convicted in absentia, in June, of morally corrupting a young person and sentenced to two years in prison. Sonko and his lawyers have said the court cases are part of an effort to destroy his political career.

Heavy losses predicted for South Africa's ANC 

What's being billed as one of the continent's most important elections will take place in South Africa in May.

Many analysts are wondering if the ruling African National Congress (ANC) will be able to keep its majority.

Polls show that the party of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa could slip below the 50% threshold for the first time since the introduction of free elections in 1994. That would force the ANC to form a coalition with smaller parties to secure its hold on power.

African National Congress (ANC) President Cyril Ramaphosa gestures after being re-elected as the organisations on 4th day of the 55th National Conference in Johannesburg Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. Ramaphosa has won reelection as leader of the ruling African National Congress party. The results announced Monday showed an unexpectedly close race between Ramaphosa and former Health Minister Zweli Mkhize
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is under pressure, with his ANC party fighting for a majority in the May electionImage: Denis Farrell/AP Photo/picture alliance

The social contract across southern Africa — be it in Mozambique, Zimbabwe or South Africa — is based on the fight against colonialism, said Fredson Guilengue, of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Johannesburg, a nonprofit linked with Germany's socialist Left Party

"But today's generation is less connected to the past and expects different things from its leaders," Guilengue told DW.

Some 70% of South Africans are dissatisfied with the implementation of democracy in their country, according to a recent survey by the opinion research institute Afrobarometer.

South Africans consider high unemployment to be the most important issue in upcoming election, followed by crime and security, electricity, water supply and corruption.

South Africa's ailing energy supplier, Eskom, is tainted by corruption and maintenance problems that have led to power cuts across the country. A stagnating economy and mistrust in the government have added to the country's woes.

The situation is similar in Mozambique where people "are trying to vote more for the opposition," said Guilengue.

Supporters of the Mozambican opposition party Renamo celebrating what they believe to be their party's victory in the capital, Maputo.
In October, Mozambican opposition parties rejected official results which declared the ruling party Frelimo the winner in 64 out of 65 municipalitiesImage: Alfredo Zuniga/AFP

In October's regional election, Mozambique's opposition Renamo party accused the ruling Frelimo of electoral fraud. The official results — which saw Frelimo win 64 out of 65 municipalities — sparked violent protests that led to the death of a police officer and a civilian, according to the Mozambican Center for Public Integrity, an independent nonprofit entity.

Guilengue said civil unrest in Mozambique is likely to continue. 

West Africa remains volatile

Dissatisfaction with incumbent governments could lead to the transfer of power to opposition parties in countries like Ghana, which will hold its election in December.

The once flourishing West African nation is sinking into debt; investments are in a slump and living standards are in free fall. 

The Economist Intelligence Unit found that there is an increased overall risk that parliamentary majorities will shrink, for example, in Madagascar, Algeria and Tunisia, making it more difficult to govern and fomenting unrest.

The political situation in West Africa remains volatile. Military-ruled Mali is unlikely to return to civilian rule anytime soon. An election scheduled for February 2022 was postponed. But under pressure from the West African economic bloc ECOWAS, they were rescheduled for February 2024, allowing the organization to lift sanctions imposed after the military coup of 2021.

Alleging "technical reasons," the junta then postponed the polls again without setting a new date. 

Burkina Faso followed suit, after junta leader Ibrahim Traore initially promised to hold an election in July 2024. In September, he announced a postponement citing security issues, but did not "exclude" the possibility of holding an election before the end of 2024.

According to Alex Vines from the London-based think tank Chatham House, the entire Sahel region, which has seen a series of coups, will continue to be very fragile in 2024.

"Since 2019, we have seen coups in Mali, Niger, de facto in Chad, Sudan and Burkina Faso, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. There could be counter-coups," Vines told DW.

People hold up signs that read "vote no in the referendum" during a march against the new constitution organised by the Association of Imams, in Bamako, on June 16, 2023.
The military government in Mali alleged instability as a reason to postpone the February 2024 electionImage: AFP/Getty Images

In the coup countries, the aim in 2024 will be to negotiate a short deadline for a return to constitutional law, he said.

Africa's economy growing fast

Economies across the continent are experiencing a positive trend. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the continent will be the second-fastest growing major region in 2024 after Asia. Africa's growth is being fueled in no small measure by the services sector, especially in East Africa.

But some countries, like struggling Equatorial Guinea and embattled Sudan, are unlikely to benefit from these developments, Vines said.

While inflation, which exerted considerable pressure across the continent in 2023, will ease, it will continue to be a concern for many countries, including Angola, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, as well as Ethiopia, which, like Mozambique, is heavily in debt.

Africa 2023: Challenges for democracy, security, economy

The resumption of operations in the TotalEnergies gas project, one of the largest single foreign direct investment programs in Africa, could provide a boost for Mozambique.

But debt relief and debt restructuring will remain central issues for Mozambique and many other African countries in 2024, experts said.

Russia, China present geopolitical challenges

According to Guilengue, increased economic reliance on Russia and China will have an impact on the democratic aspirations of many African nations. As the influence of the two world powers grows on the continent, forming a counterweight to the West and its traditional pressure toward more democratization, some rulers may no longer recognize a need to comply with democratic rules in exchange for aid and investments. 

"Especially against the backdrop of increasingly volatile geopolitical competition between the major international powers, [Africa's prospects for next year] do not look good," analyst Priyal Singh of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria told DW.

The world has turned its attention primarily to events in the Middle East and Ukraine. More general hostilities between major powers and African conflicts are being overlooked.

"This was evident in the conflicts in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not enough attention is paid to such conflicts," said Singh.

This article was originally written in German.

Edited by: Cristina Krippahl 

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