Review of 2010 Presidential Elections in Africa

The year 2010 has been a landmark year for elections in Africa, with 11 countries holding presidential elections and others waiting to follow suit. Burkina Faso is slated to have elections in November 2010 and other nations including Nigeria, Cape Verde, Chad, Egypt, and Madagascar are selecting their national leaders in 2011. The presidential elections of 2010 saw a number of incumbents returning to power. Some incumbents ran unopposed due to boycotts and were charged with irregularities; some other nations administrated elections that were declared free and fair by international bodies.

The question arises, with all this political activity in African states, has the continent become more democratized? Is the rule of law, security, freedom of press, and good governance more entrenched in the culture of various African nations[1]? A year ago, it appeared that there was a regression to the ’80s landscape, where coup d’états were the norm in Africa. There were coups in Guinea, Mauritania, Madagascar, and Niger. Despite these seeming setbacks, there has been a positive turn. The nations that experienced coups have begun the process of returning power to the people–Mauritania being the possible exception in that the coup leader also won the presidential election. The West African regional governing body, ECOWAS, has played a role in restoring order some of these nations.

The table below is a scorecard of the 2010 elections. It is worth noting that there were other general elections and parliamentary elections in various African states this year. Those are not addressed in this write-up.

Burkina Faso Nov 2010 President Blaise Campaore, who has held the position since 1991, is expected to win again for a fourth term. His opposition is the same as those who ran against him in 2005, when he won with an 80% majority.
Burundi Jun 28 2010 Presidential election won by incumbent Pierre Nkurunziza, who ran unopposed. The election was boycotted by opposition candidates who accused the electoral council of fraudulent district level elections, held in May. In that election, the ruling party had secured a large majority win in district level positions.
Central African Republic March 2010 The presidential elections have been postponed to January 2011 due to unpreparedness for the ballot.
Comoros Islands Nov/Dec 2010 The president had attempted to extend the presidential term until Nov 2011, which was ruled unconstitutional by the constitutional court.
Cote d’Ivoire Oct 31 2010 This election, which had been postponed up to six times, had an 80% turnout. President Laurent Gbagbo came up with 38%, Alassane Ouattara, 32%, and Henri Konan Bedie, 25%. A runoff is slated for Nov 28th between the top two contenders.

 In the runoff, Alassane Ouattara was proclaimed the winner by the electoral commission and UNOCI while incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo had 500,000 ballots thrown out by the Constitutional Council, which then declared him the winner. As of January 8, 2011, Gbagbo has not relinquished the presidency.

Guinea Jun 27 2010 The elections were held in June. Cellou Dalein Diallo and Alpha Conde emerged as frontline candidates. Due to violent contentions that arose, the runoff was pushed back indefinitely. Elections just occurred on November 9, and results are trickling in. General Sekouba Konate has been the interim leader since Dec ’09, after Dadis Camara, the junta leader, received a gunshot wound to his head.
Rwanda Aug 2010 The incumbent, Paul Kagame was re-elected with a 93% majority. All significant opposition candidates were prevented from running for various reasons. It is notable that the vice president of the opposition party was found dead in the run up to the elections as was a journalist who published potentially damning evidence about the government. President Kagame has been quoted as preparing a Singaporean-type government, which is more authoritarian than democratic.
Somaliland Jun 2010 The elections had been originally scheduled for Aug ’08. The defeated incumbent, Dahir Riyale Kahin, stepped down for Ahmed Mahamoud Silanyo in a widely commended move. Silanyo won 50% of the vote.
Sudan Apr 2010 President Omar al-Bashir won, but most of opposition boycotted elections after alleging widespread rigging. The elections had been originally slated for July 2009. President Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for his role in the Darfur crisis.
Tanzania Oct 2010 President Jakaya Kikwete, the incumbent, won with a 61% majority. There was a low turnout and opposition candidates are calling for a repeat election, citing irregularities at polls. The SADC observer mission to Tanzania stated that the National Electoral Council “conducted its work in a transparent and professional manner, despite some challenges which were addressed as the election progressed.”
Togo Mar 2010 Won by incumbent, Faure Gnassingbe, by a 61% margin. Gnassingbe had taken over from his father in 2005. Elections were largely peaceful, but there were allegations of irregularities by opposition candidates.


Africa is rising and though elections alone are not a satisfactory index of development, the absence of elections would definitely be a worse scenario. A positive trend in recent elections has been the presence of international watchdog organizations and even more significantly, regional governmental bodies. Even if the jury is still out on whether this is a clear sign of progress, a general observation of the continent shows that there is a greater acknowledgement by governments of the need to create space for others in the political sphere. The picture of the African despot, while still existing in a few countries like Zimbabwe and Cameroon, is a diminishing reality and is no longer the norm.

[1] While it is important to remember that Africa is not homogenous and that each country has unique characteristics and experiences, generalizations are made in this write-up for the sake of simplicity.

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