nigeria election postponed PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images

West Africa’s Democratic Tipping Point?

This year and next, Nigeria, Senegal, and Côte d’Ivoire will hold general elections. Whether the votes reinforce or undermine progress toward democratic consolidation will depend not just on the commitment of national governments and the efforts of civil society, but also on the international community's support.

ABEOKUTA/MUNICH/FREETOWN/LILONGWE – The decision to postpone Nigeria’s presidential election, made just hours before polls were due to open, has raised fears about the integrity of the eventual vote. Those fears must not be realized – and not just for Nigeria’s sake. Just as a strong and stable democracy in Africa’s most populous country can serve as a powerful example for the region, a political crisis there would have grave consequences that extend well beyond its borders.

West Africa, home to about 362 million people, is on the path toward democratic consolidation. According to Freedom House, “Southern and West Africa have significantly improved their democratic governance.” This trend has enhanced stability in the region.

In 2019 and 2020, three West African countries – Nigeria, Senegal, and Côte d’Ivoire – will hold general elections, giving them the opportunity either to reinforce or undermine this trend. With elections in Africa having been known to trigger national crises, there is an obvious need for effective electoral management to ensure that the vote is a stabilizing force, not a destabilizing trigger.