Challenges facing Africa’s elections

Dr. Ferran Martinez i Coma, The Electoral Integrity Project, University of Sydney

Forthcoming elections in Africa face many challenges.[i] This includes the postponement of general elections in Nigeria due to violence from Boko Haram and technical delays in issuing voter id cards, the difficulties of establishing the first popular contests to be held in South Sudan, and elections with limited human rights scheduled to be held during 2015 in Togo, Egypt, Burundi, and the Central African Republic.

To understand what can go wrong – and what can be done to improve matters – we can look back at elections in the continent last year. A new report has just been published,   The Year in Elections 2014, developed by the Electoral Integrity Project at Harvard and Sydney Universities. This is based on the third release of the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity expert survey which covers 127 national parliamentary and presidential contests held from 1 July 2012 to 31 December 2014 in 107 countries worldwide.  Evidence about electoral integrity is gathered from a global survey of 1,429 domestic and international election experts (with a response rate of 29%).  In the continent of Africa, 245 experts evaluated 30 elections in 28 countries. Immediately after each contest, EIP send out an electronic survey about the quality of each election which is evaluated on 49 indicators. Responses are clustered into eleven stages occurring throughout the electoral cycle and then summed to construct an overall 100-point expert Perception of Electoral Integrity (PEI) index and ranking.

The study will continue to roll out the survey in subsequent years and consequently covering more countries on the continent and worldwide.

Which were the worst and best African elections last year?

During 2014, two of the five worst contests in electoral integrity were held in Africa. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and several other parties and groups were imprisoned, harassed, and restricted from running in the 2014 Presidential election and General Al-Sisi obtained over 95% of the votes.[1] The election in Mozambique also performed poorly in integrity,   and FRELIMO won with 57% of the votes (compared to the 75% in 2009). [2] In 2013, three of the elections with the lowest levels of integrity were also held in Africa: Equatorial Guinea, Djibouti and Zimbabwe.

A pessimist could say that the continent’s record is grim. And, indeed, at a first glance, the map points out to a not very attractive situation. Electoral integrity is generally strengthened by three factors; democracy, development, and power‐sharing constitutions. As Pippa Norris explains: “Longer experience over successive contests usually consolidates democratic practices, deepens civic cultures, and builds the capacity of professional electoral management bodies. Economic development provides the resources and technical capacity for professional electoral administration. Power‐sharing institutions, such as the free press and independent parliaments, serve as watch-dogs curbing malpractices”. A glance at Africa, points out that the three factors are weak, compared to the rest of the world.

But an optimist could say that there are several important exceptions. First, for example, in the continent, Tunisian elections have been successful. The results were hailed internationally for their viability as the only one of the major Arab Spring uprisings that is not convulsed by instability and turmoil.[3]  South Africa received a largely glowing report of the quality of the election from the African Union. [4]  Not only that, but also, some countries have improved. Although we do not have data for the 2007 Kenyan election, and although far from a perfect contest in 2013, Kenya’s last elections were improved by avoiding extensive bloodshed.

Indeed, when comparing the African countries among themselves, we observe a very important variation as the graph below shows. Besides the good performance of the PEI Index of the two Tunisian and the South African elections previously mentioned, there are others that have been evaluated above the world average. Among those are Mauritius, Namibia, Ghana, Rwanda and Botswana. Also, Sierra Leone, Comoros, Guinea Bissau or Mali are very close to the global average.



Second, a closer look at the problems of the region, points out that Africa’s difficulties of electoral integrity are very similar to the rest of the world, though at a different level. A comparison of the problems around the globe in the table below shows that the most important problems globally are campaign finance and voting process. Those are also most important for Africa. In the same line, countries around the world perform better in stages such as the results, vote count or electoral authorities and the judgments for Africa are accordingly also more positive.

Third, it is also worth to mention that when looking at the evaluations by regions, the differences among the experts’ evaluations of the most important problems are not very dispersed. Hence, while the average campaign finance score in the world is 60 out of 100, it reaches a maximum of 66 for Western Europe and South Asia but its lowest evaluation of 55 is for elections in West & Central Africa. The same pattern appears with voting process and an average of 51. Excluding Western Europe, the dispersion is low. The most important differences appear, though, when comparing with the rest of the dimensions such as party and candidate registration or electoral procedures.

Table 2: PEI by global region

Source: Electoral Integrity Project. 2014. The expert survey of Perceptions of Electoral Integrity, Release 3 (PEI_3.0). The regional classification is from World Bank World Development Indicators.


To conclude, African governments and parties still have a plenty of room to improve in many aspects of electoral integrity. However, many of the problems that they are facing are very similar, though in different degrees, to countries elsewhere around the world.


Further information, the complete PEI_3 dataset, a YouTube video presentation, and a copy of the Year in Elections 2014 report by Pippa Norris, Ferran Martinez i Coma and Max Groemping can be downloaded from

Scholars who are experts on elections and interested in participating in the survey are welcome to send us their contact details at



[1] International Foundation for Electoral Systems. 2014. Arab Republic of Egypt: Election for President. Accessed 28 August 2014.

[2] Mozambique New Agency. AIM Reports. October 31, 2014. Accessed 10 November 2014:

[3] and

[4] African Union. 2014. African Union Election Observer Mission to the 7th May 2014 National and Provincial Elections to the Republic of South Africa Preliminary Statement. Accessed 14 August 2014.


Catherine is a Mandela Fellow 2016, Women Deliver Young Leader and member of Youth RISE International working group. Catherine is a passionate young African feminist activist with over 7 years of experience in advancing gender equality, youth development and sexual and reproductive health and rights in the context of sustainable development through movement building, digital and social media, policy advocacy and capacity building for young women and adolescents girls. Catherine is currently Deputy Director at Dandelion Kenya, and sits on the SDGs Kenya Forum coordination committee. Catherine has engaged with various global and regional policy processes such as ICPD Beyond 2014 review, Beijing +20 and the post 2015 development agenda. She co-authored the article ‘Leave No One Behind; Will African Women be left behind in the post 2015 development agenda ,an article published on the East African Business Monthly in February 2015. Catherine launched the #SRHRDialogues, an online advocacy and awareness raising platform on SRHR and #YAFDialogues, an online platform anticipated to be a permanent mobilizing platforms borne out of an African feminist dialogue 2015 in Accra. Follow her on Twitter: @catherinenyamb1

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