Top Elections To Watch In Africa And Predictions For 2019

Kurt Davis Jr.
Written by Kurt Davis Jr.

A handful of high profile African elections are set to take place over the next year, with Nigeria and South Africa included in that list, so we took a closer look and made a few predictions for 2019.

Our election predictions for 2018 have thus far been on target, excluding any prediction on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The election is scheduled to happen on Dec. 23, with current president, Joseph Kabila, standing down and wealthy businessman Moïse Katumbi not able to contend.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 16: Dr Boyce Watkins

Jamarlin Martin talks to Dr. Boyce Watkins, founder and CEO of Watkins Media Group, about Black self-determination and Kanye West bangin’ for MAGA. They also revisit Bill Cosby’s “Pound Cake” speech, and whether he received a fair trial.


Thus last year’s prediction (and that of the year before) naturally will not be accurate. But with a little more than two weeks until the election, there is a second chance opportunity to make the right pick and go five-for-five on predictions for 2018. May similar luck be conferred on yours truly with the 2019 election predictions.

Here are the top elections to watch in Africa and predictions for 2019.

Nigeria

General elections will be held in February 2019 for the presidential office. More than 30 candidates have tossed their hat into the presidential contest. That number will likely drop as we approach February, particularly with several smaller parties already discussing a potential coalition.

This is the election that we should all care about but may not be as excited about, as the candidates for the two leading parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP), have not exactly riled up the masses.

The APC and PDP are the only two parties to have won the Nigerian presidency since the end of military rule in 1999.

predictions for 2019
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is running for re-election in 2019. Photo – AP – Evan Vucci

The APC is led by the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, and the PDP is led by Atiku Abubakar, who was vice-president under former president Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007.

Other interesting contenders in this election include Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate Donald Duke, who is the former governor of Cross River State, and Obiageli Ezekwesili, who is the former minister of education and former minister of solid minerals as well as co-founder of Transparency International.

Obiageli also creates intrigue because she is a former vice-president of the World Bank’s Africa division and was the 2018 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. Still, Duke and Obi face a tough challenge to unseat Buhari or beat Atiku, who have strong political party machines backing them.

The reality of the two-horse race sadly has Buhari and Atiku re-fighting the 2015 election where Buhari helped the APC defeat the PDP (led by Goodluck Jonathan at the time) with 54 percent of the vote.

The main difference in 2019 may be the change in perspective from respected former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who is now endorsing Atiku.

First, Atiku’s rise to becoming PDP’s candidate is impressive, considering he was one of the founding members of the PDP, then switched to the APC, and then came back to the PDP.

Secondly, Obasanjo, who endorsed Buhari in 2015, wrote an open letter to Buhari in January advising the president not to seek a second term, adding some very harsh language: “I knew President Buhari before he became president and said that he is weak in the knowledge and understanding of the economy, but I thought that he could make use of good Nigerians in that area that could help…”

Backing Atiku, Obasanjo seems intent on unseating Buhari, especially considering Obasanjo famously stated in August 2018 “If I support Atiku for anything, God will not forgive me.” Obasanjo, in the end, will have a mark on this election.

As far as the discussion on campaign issues goes, it also looks like 2015 again: poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism (all four topics also highlighted in Obasanjo’s letter to Buhari). The Boko Haram insurgency remains an issue, while the recent conflict between herdsmen and farmers has claimed thousands of lives.

Infrastructure requires more investment, the currency is fragile (with many businesses hesitant to make decisions pre-election), and the expectation of change is quite low (with many expecting the same old story, whichever way they describe it).

Who will win? Nigerians lose because the election is becoming quite expensive. Younger people seem uninspired by this election. Hopefully a consensus emerges around one candidate, possibly adding some energy and excitement post-election to a country that remains Africa’s biggest opportunity and most entrepreneurial. The feeling on the ground suggests that Atiku could win this election by a tiny margin (however, best to ask me again at the start of February).

South Africa

This election, similar to Nigeria, should be exciting but the mood is quite mellow. This will be the sixth election since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa, the fifth president of South Africa, will lead the ruling African National Congress (ANC) against the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (likely led by Julius Malema).

Jacob Zuma, the prior leader of the ANC, resigned in February with the party reputation in decline and South Africans frustrated with the current state of the economy, jobs, and life in general at home.

News reports talk of white flight, black flight, and Indian flight, with many South Africans looking to other parts of Africa and the globe for economic opportunity.

Ramaphosa is doing his best to turn the situation around. Living on the road, he solicits private investors and governments alike to invest in South Africa.

Although capital has come in, the economy still languishes between recession and limp growth. The poor economic growth is underscored in the country by the challenges with the public utility Eskom and national airline South African Airways to address balance sheet and performance issues.

A recent unexpected suggestion by the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) that it may not support the ANC went under the radar, likely because it is not true. But such language is a change for Cosatu, who have generally always supported the ANC. All this is to say that South Africa is facing tough times and people are searching for a better future in unusual places.

Who will win? The ANC wins with Ramaphosa leading the charge. He may not win with the same majority but hard to imagine the ANC losing this election.

Senegal

Little news is coming out of Senegal on the upcoming February 2019 election. That is largely due to the large support behind Senegalese President Macky Sall.

Attendees at his recent presidential announcement included Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, Gambian President Adama Barrow, and Liberian President George Weah.

Two leading opposition figures, Khalifa Sall and former minister Karim Wade, were not in attendance. Khalifa Sall is likely unable to run as the Senegal courts have upheld a five-year jail term against him. The famous mayor of Dakar claims the charges of fraudulent use of public funds are trumped up for political gains.

The court ordered Khalifa, along with three other defendants, to pay back approximately $3.1 million.

Minister Karim Wade, son of former president Abdoulaye Wade, has the name and experience but will have to clear his name of any charges that would prevent him from running.

He will also face an uphill battle in good economic times and sentiment in Senegal. Sall acknowledges that more can be done and claims he is the guy to do it and currently a lot of polling suggests strong support in that thinking.

Who will win? It is Macky Sall’s election to lose.

Malawi

The Malawi presidential election usually passes under the radar, but 2019 may be different. The incumbent Peter Mutharika will lead the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), ignoring calls for his resignation amongst mounting corruption allegations.

A leaked report from the Malawi Anti-Corruption Bureau accuses Mutharika of receiving nearly $200,000 in bribes from a contractor supplying the Malawi police force.

To his credit, Mutharika is actively stumping against corruption in the country, recently telling a crowd, “I know some of you go to companies saying I am the director in the DPP so give me business. I am warning you – you must stop. I know you.”

Mutharika will face a tough competition that includes Vice-President Saulos Chilima and former president Joyce Banda. Chilima broke ranks with the DPP and launched a campaign primarily targeting corruption and nepotism.

Skeptics believe his campaign will succumb to pressure of character attacks by the DPP, who will paint him as both trader of the party and part of the problem. If he wants to win, he will need an economic message (and a very good one at that) to energize Malawians in the cash-strapped African country.

Former president Joyce Banda may be the lead challenger for an election still six months away. She was the country’s first female president and only the second female president in Africa after Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, having assumed the office following the sudden death of President Bingu wa Mutharika (older brother of Peter Mutharika).

She was minister of foreign affairs from 2006 to 2009 and vice-president of Malawi from May 2009 to April 2012. Previously embroiled in a corruption scandal, she is not the easiest challenger to back for Malawians.

She lost re-election after officials in her administration were accused of stealing millions of dollars from public coffers, with Banda going into self-imposed exile until her legal cases were solved.

Banda’s economic record is mixed with the kwacha devaluation in 2013 not far from the public’s mind. She made great strides to grow government coffers and improve investment in the country but never finished the job.

Who will win? Former president Joyce Banda is back to finish what she started in 2012 and may be able to get over the hump for her first presidential election win. Peter won in 2014 with slightly over 36 percent of the vote. The next winner, regardless of who it is, may win with less than that number.

Tunisia

Considered a democratic success following the Arab Spring and the protests that toppled Zine El Abidine Ali in 2011, Tunisia is now facing mounting political tension as the ruling Nidaa Tounes party struggles to solve the country’s economic problems.

Sluggish economic growth, high inflation, and high unemployment coupled with increasing frustration with international lenders, in particular the International Monetary Fund (IMF), continues to fuel unrest.

Protests also erupted earlier this year when the government passed the Finance Act, which raised taxes on gasoline, housing, internet usage, and food (including fruits and vegetables) among other things.

Calls to postpone this election will not cease, but incumbent President Beji Caid Essebi appears committed to an election (albeit months ahead of the December 2019 date).

However, for Nidaa Tounes to maintain power, it will have to address internal fighting. The public battle between Prime Minister Youssef Chahed and President Essebi’s son, Hafedh Caid Essebsi, led the party to suspend Chahed.

The mood following these disputes is quite somber and, when mixed with the economic malaise in the country, could create, at the least, a more open and competitive race.

Who will win? At this stage, Nidaa Tounes remains a favorite. But it is too early to tell. In 2014, there were approximately 70 parties that ran electoral lists in the parliamentary elections. Expect a few unexpected voices to raise their hand and enter the contest.

Bonus: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Opposition parties have selected Martin Fayulu, a widely respected businessman and veteran parliamentarian to be the unity candidate against relatively unknown Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

Shadary, a former interior minister, is a loyalist of the current President Joseph Kabila, who is banned by the constitution from running for a third term. The U.S. and European Union, alongside regional players, also opposed Kabila running for a third term.

Moïse Katumbi, a wealthy businessman and former governor of the province of Katanga, would have been an intriguing candidate and was assumed to be a frontrunner in Kabila’s absence.

But Katumbi has been prohibited from returning to the DRC to file his bid as he faces several court cases in the country on charges he alleges are trumped up.

He remains in self-imposed exile in Europe where he has been for more than two years. Some political analysts believe he may return as an advisor or cabinet official if the opposition wins. His presence in the country would be welcomed by many in the local DRC and international communities.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former warlord and vice-president who returned to the DRC in November after being acquitted of war crimes by the international criminal court, would have been an interesting candidate despite the baggage and history, but was also ruled out on legal grounds.

The election thus comes down to three questions. First, can the DRC have a peaceful and fair election? It is an unfair criticism for an entire country because most Congolese want a peaceful and fair election.

But the introduction of new electronic voting machines will be controversial, which is what anyone would expect regardless of what country it is, let alone the DRC.

With Katumbi and Bemba not in this election, the opposition coalition is a fragile one largely negotiated in a Swiss boardroom and now placed in Kinshasa, where the political terrain will not be reminiscent of the Geneva landscape.

Second, did Fayulu connect with enough Congolese in a short period to build his campaign? The “I am not Kabila” campaign will not be enough in this country.

Kabila has his followers and elections across the global world have demonstrated that campaigns need a strong message to drum up support at home.

Third, how big is the Kabila loyalist base and does that base support Shadary? In other words, Fayulu needs a better than Hillary Clinton “I am not Trump” message while Shadary cannot use an Al Gore “you liked Bill, so you should like me too” message. Analogies aside, this election is hard not to watch.

Who will win? The DRC wins if this election happens. It has been a long time coming. Shadary wins by a very tiny margin. A Fayulu victory may excite outsiders but the feeling on the ground suggests Shadary is still running a stronger “get out the vote” campaign and has the Kabila network in place to get him over the line.

Kurt Davis Jr. is an investment banker with private equity experience focused on Africa and the Middle East. He earned an MBA in finance, entrepreneurship and operations from the University of Chicago and J.D. in tax and commercial law at the University of Virginia’s School of Law. He can be reached at kurt.davis.jr@gmail.com.

Sign up for the Moguldom newsletter — business news you need to know about economic empowerment for the digital age, delivered to your inbox.


About Kurt Davis Jr.
Kurt Davis Jr. is an investment banker with private equity experience focused on Africa and the Middle East. He earned an MBA in finance, entrepreneurship and operations from the University of Chicago and J.D. in tax and commercial law at the University of Virginia’s School of Law. He can be reached at kurt.davis.jr@gmail.com.