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Key findings
  • On average across 34 countries, fewer than half (44%) of Africans say that elections work well to enable voters to remove leaders who don’t do what the people want. About the same proportion (42%) believe that their elections work well to ensure that representatives to Parliament reflect the views of voters, on average across 22 countries where this question was asked (Figure 1).
  • On average, three-quarters (75%) of Africans say they want to choose their leaders through regular, open, and honest elections, including 51% who feel “very strongly” about this issue (Figure 5).
  • More than six out of 10 Africans (63%) endorse multiparty competition as necessary to give voters real choices, while 35% say the presence of many parties just creates division and confusion. Opposition to multiparty competition is the majority view in just three countries, Senegal (53%), Tunisia (59%), and Lesotho (62%) (Figure 9).
  • Participation in elections is almost as high as support for elections: Almost three-fourths (71%) of Africans (excluding those who would have been too young to vote) say they voted in the most recent national election in their country. Participation in campaigns is far more modest, though about one-third (35%) say they attended a campaign rally and one in six (17%) report having worked for a candidate or party (Figure 11).
  • Almost nine out of 10 Africans (87%) say they feel “somewhat” or “completely” free to vote for candidates of their choice without feeling pressured, including clear majorities in every country (Figure 14).

For Africa watchers, the 1990s ushered in a period of democratic renewal (Joseph, 1997; Schraeder, 1995). Democracy’s retreat globally over the past decade (Freedom House, 2019) has touched Africa as well (Logan & Penar, 2019; Gadjanova, 2018), although Afrobarometer survey findings suggest that it’s in the delivery of democratic goods, rather than citizens’ aspirations, that democracy in Africa is falling short (Gyimah-Boadi, 2019).

Although elections do not equate with democracy, the holding of free and fair elections is recognised as a hallmark of accountability and a fundamental component of a functioning democracy (Lindberg, 2006). The African Charter on Democracy, Elections

and Governance (African Union, 2007) reinforces this link and sets electoral standards for the continent.

While elections are institutionalised in a majority of African countries (Posner & Young, 2007), analysts have argued that a change in leadership does not necessarily mean systemic change or greater democratic consolidation (Donner, 2020). Moreover, there has been concern that African elections are

becoming increasingly contentious and marked by fear (Jenkins, 2020). In some cases, elections have been little more than springboards for leaders who, once in office, subvert democratic institutions to consolidate their position (Onyulo, 2017).

In light of these developments, how do Africans perceive the quality and efficacy of their elections? Drawing on 2019/2021 Afrobarometer data from 34 African countries, we find that while most Africans believe in elections as the best way to select their leaders, popular support for elections has weakened, and only a minority think elections help produce representative, accountable leadership.

In line with Bratton and Bhoojedhur (2019), our findings show that voting and popular faith in elections get a boost if citizens believe that their elections are high-quality and effective tools for holding leaders accountable.

Fredline M’Cormack-Hale

Fredline M’Cormack-Hale is the co-national investigator for Sierra Leone.

Mavis Zupork Dome

Mavis Zupork Dome is the national investigator for Ghana.