Military coups are back,” the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, assessing the state of democracy around the world, announced in September 2021. Since the start of the decade there have been successful or attempted coups in Mali, Sudan, Chad, Guinea and Niger.

The question now is whether those who forcefully took power in the last couple of years, and who committed to oversee a transition to civilian rule via the ballot box, will do so.

An important year for Mali

The transition to civilian rule in Mali is looking shaky. In 2020, following a coup, a military/civilian interim government agreed an 18-month timetable that should end with elections in February 2022.

In May 2021 the leader of the first coup, Colonel Assimi Goita, staged a second coup and appointed himself as interim President. Frustration with the slow pace of progress prompted ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, to sanction “all those implicated in the delay” in organising elections. In December 2021, Goita told ECOWAS he will provide a detailed timetable for the end of military rule by the end of January 2022. The UK Government remains interested in developments in Mali, not least because there are 300 UK armed forces personnel attached to the UN peacekeeping mission.

A second coup in Sudan lengthens the transition

The transition in Sudan is looking similarly shaky, albeit for different reasons.

The removal of long-time leader Omar al-Bashar in 2019 by the military, following months of popular demonstrations, marked the start of a two-year transition. The ousting of civilian leaders by the military in October 2021 prompted fresh demonstrations and the eventual reinstatement of the interim Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok.

Hamdok says the plan is for elections in 2023. But protestors continue to demand full civilian rule before then and disprove of Hamdok’s political agreement with coup leader Lt Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Sudan remains suspended from the African Union. In December, the UK urged Sudan’s leaders to “live up to the commitments made in the political agreement.”

Will elections change anything in Chad?

As expected, incumbent President Idriss Déby comfortably won a sixth-term in elections in Chad in May 2021. What was not expected was that he would die the day after the election result was announced. A transitional military council led by his son, Mahamat Idriss Déby, immediately seized power.

In July, the council presented a roadmap for the reintroduction of democracy, with elections slated for summer 2022. One analysis of the potential scenarios is not optimistic. Troels Burchall Henningsen, a specialist in the Sahel at the Royal Danish Defence College, concludes the most likely outcome is simulated political reforms that keep the ruling network in place.

Tunisia’s parliament suspended until elections at the end of 2022

Tunisia’s President, Kais Saied, declared a state of emergency in July 2021,  described by some as a power grab.  Saied says a referendum on constitutional reform will take place in July 2022 and fresh elections will be held by the end of the year. However, its Parliament will remain suspended until then.

Guinea’s election timetable

Guinea’s military leaders are under pressure to set out an election timetable following the ousting of President Apha Condé in September 2021. The UN, the African Union and ECOWAS all condemned the move and the latter two have suspended Guinea’s membership.

Other elections to watch

Kenya will elect a new President on 9 August. President Uhuru Kenyatta is coming to the end of his second and final term. William Ruto, his deputy president and fellow party member, and opposition leader Raila Odinga are the frontrunners. The election in 2017 was held again after Odinga challenged the result, though he then boycotted the rerun.

The UK Government identified Kenya as a partner in Africa in its 2021 Integrated Review of foreign and defence policy. Specifically, the Government pledged to deliver the UK-Kenya strategic partnership, signed in 2020, and move towards closer defence cooperation. The British Army has long had a training base in Kenya, although relations may be marred by allegations that a British soldier murdered a Kenyan woman in 2012.

Angola’s ruling MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola/Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) has been in power since it gained independence from Portugal in 1975. The Economist says the elections in August will be the first real test of President João Lourenço, who faces a united opposition from  a new coalition, the UnitedPatriotic Front. The Africa Report says the opposition “has the wind in its sails” while the MPLA is more divided than ever.

Elections in South Sudan, originally hoped to be held in 2022, have been postponed until 2023. At the time of writing it’s also unclear whether elections in Libya, scheduled for 24 December 2021, will go ahead.

The UK congratulated Somaliland on the successful conduct of parliamentary and local elections in 2021. This bodes well for presidential elections in November 2022. The Economist observes that, despite lacking statehood, Somaliland is “more democratic than many other parts of Africa.”

Looking further ahead, two of the largest countries in Africa (by population) go to the polls in 2023: Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Foreign Affairs Committee is using Nigeria as a case study for its current inquiry on the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

UK policy

New Minister for Africa, Vicky Ford says her number one priority for Africa is to strengthen freedom and democracy. This, she said, includes “encouraging the development of inclusive political institutions, a free media and an active civil society.”

Post-election Library briefings

The Library publishes briefings on selected elections across the world. These include Chad (2021), Côte d’Ivoire (2020) and Tanzania (2020).

The South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies has compiled a full list of elections in Africa.

About the author: Louisa Brooke-Holland is a researcher at the House of Commons Library specialising in Africa and defence.

Image: Hand casting a vote into the ballot box, © roibu- Adobe Stock #193580808

Related posts