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Mapping Africa’s elections

Zambia’s Michael Sata, whose death last year triggered a presidential election Zambia’s Michael Sata, whose death last year triggered a presidential election Shutterstock
19 Jan
As eleven African countries prepare to go to the polls this year, a new election map will follow the action

Zambia will open a busy election year across Africa from 20 January as voters go to the polls to choose a new president.

The country’s ruling party, the Patriotic Front, will seek to retain the presidential office. President Michael Sata died last year and was replaced by Vice President Guy Scott, who cannot seek election as president due to electoral law requiring a presidential candidate’s parents to be Zambian by birth or descent. This disqualifies Scott, who has British parents. When he took office, Scott became the first white person to lead an African country since F W de Klerk stepped down as South Africa’s president in 1994.

There are 11 candidates are for president, with Hakainde Hichilema from the United Party for National Development the lead opposition candidate against the PF’s Edgar Lungu, the former defence and justice minister.

Eleven countries across the continent will also hold elections this year, a number that could rise if South Sudan and Somaliland also go ahead with planned elections. Security issues in South Sudan and political wrangles in Somaliland may delay the polls.

For those looking to follow the election action, the Africa Research Institute (ARI) has launched a map and interactive timeline that develops election-by-election.

Interactive timeline of Africa’s 2015 elections (Africa Research Institute)

‘We were trying to fill a gap: we noticed the absence of an online resources which visually presented Africa’s many 2015 elections,’ says Maya Prabhu, a research associate at the Institute. ‘The resource is interactive because we wanted the experience to feel exploratory – most people who follow African politics focus on one country or region.’

The hope is people will take the opportunity to tour unfamiliar political landscapes. ‘As the major regional economy and the site of the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency, Nigeria will top many observers’ lists,’ says Prabhu. ‘At ARI, we do a lot of work on urban Africa, and it will be fascinating to watch the electoral dynamics in a city like Lagos. The most populous, and most financially autonomous state, Lagos is a traditional opposition stronghold.’

Addis Ababa in Ethiopia will be interesting as well, says Prabhu. In previous polls, the city’s voters have been the only constituency to come close to breaking the overwhelming dominance of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.

Contests that are expected to lead to handovers of power are also likely to attract attention. ‘In Tanzania – which is also having a constitutional referendum in April – President Jakaya Kikwete has served the maximum two terms, but his party has yet to nominate a candidate to succeed him,’ says Prabhu.

In neighbouring Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza plans to stand for a third term despite constitutional provisions against three-term candidates. ‘In contesting the polls, Nkurunziza is likely to test the international community’s commitment to democratic values vis-à-vis peace and stability in the country,’ Prabhu adds.

The project will last beyond each country’s election night. ‘In contrast to the majority election reporting, which wraps up as results are announced, we will continue to feature stories on post-election political developments,’ says Prabhu.

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