The Structure and Performance of African Electoral Commissions (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


Electoral commissions are organizations responsible for the conduct of elections and referendums. Their performance level is of paramount importance for the development of electoral integrity and democracy on the continent. In Africa, electoral commissions largely belong to what is usually termed the independent model of electoral management, i.e., the electoral commissions are formally independent from the executive and other government structures. However, there are also examples of the so-called governmental model, where the election-conducting agencies are embedded in the executive, as well as the mixed model, where one finds a country-specific mixture of the two other elements. It has become commonplace to use the generic term election management bodies (EMBs) to cover all three models, as they to a very considerable degree have the same functions and responsibilities in relation to election management.African electoral commissions belonging to the independent model are a clear majority of electoral commissions on the continent and share important organizational features, i.e., a small policy-deciding commission, often filled with non-election experts, and a policy-implementing secretariat structured according to the tasks to be performed by the organization. However, the formal and structural similarities cover different realities on the ground, as African electoral commissions differ enormously in actual autonomy and performance. The usefulness of the traditional categorization of EMBs according to their formal independence and present data is unclear in light of the performance level of at least some African electoral commissions. African electoral commissions are assessed very differently by politicians, voters, and election observers.