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Are more African leaders ready to give up power?

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  • Are more African leaders ready to give up power?

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    It has been a mixed electoral year in Africa, with peaceful handovers of power, alongside allegations of rigging and incumbents refusing to accept defeat. The BBC's Dickens Olewe looks at the state of democracy in Africa.
    The unexpected outcome of the election in The Gambia is by far the biggest political story of the year.
    Long-serving strongman President Yahya Jammeh was defeated in an open and free election and willingly conceded to the opposition candidate Adama Barrow.
    Even though Mr Jammeh subsequently rescinded his concession and has challenged the results in court, this has failed to dampen the symbolism of his defeat and the confidence it has given to many in Africa that a ballot revolution is possible.
    But did this moment, widely celebrated across the continent, represent a political trend?
    Two trajectories
    "We have two trajectories, one in which autocratic leadership is becoming more entrenched and it is undermining independence of electoral commission and in another where there is democratic consolidation and leaders are more willing to step down like in countries like Nigeria," Nic Cheeseman, associate Professor in African Politics at Oxford University, told the BBC.
    He says that African countries need to build institutions and insulate them from the influence of political leaders.
    Electoral commissions also need to be well funded and protected by the law and allowed to be in charge of their own activities, like registering of voters, he says.
    Key African elections in 2016:
    February:
    Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni won a fifth term in office in an election marred by violence and allegations of ballot fraud.
    Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou won a second term after his main opponent Hama Amadou, who is serving time in jail, pulled out of the runoff.
    April:
    Chad's President Idriss Deby beat his opponent Saleh Kebzabo to win a fifth term in office.
    August:
    Gabon's election was marred with violence and vote-rigging. President Ali Bongo won by 6,000 votes, after officially getting 95% of the vote on a turnout of 99% from his home province of Haut-Ogooue.
    December:
    The Gambia's President Yayha Jammeh lost to property developer Adama Barrow and conceded. He later withdrew the concession alleging that there had been voter fraud. He has since gone to the Supreme Court to challenge the results.
    Ghana's President John Mahama became the first incumbent to lose an election since Ghana returned to democracy. Opposition candidate Nana Akufo-Addo also made history by winning on his third time of trying.
    In Ghana, The Gambia and Nigeria last year, the electoral commissions received a lot of plaudits for overseeing free, fair and verifiable elections.
    Despite the political challenges, electoral commissions have to work to earn their credibility.
    Demystifying elections
    Dennis Kadima, an election observer at the Electoral Institute for Southern Africa (EISA) recalls that leading up to South Africa's local elections in August the electoral commission was facing a crisis of confidence but ended up conducting a free and fair election, a situation that has reversed its public perception.
    Political competition in most African countries is seen as a winner-takes-all competition.
    Michela Wrong's book It's Our Turn to Eat about corruption in Kenya captures perfectly the overall guiding reason for winning power.
    Ken Opalo, from Georgetown University in the US, says there needs to be a process of demystifying elections.
    "African countries need to get out of the business of treating each election as a one-off event."
    He adds that allowing for continuous registration of voters and staggering some elections would help manage the perceived stakes.
    Only seven countries in Africa are listed as "free" by the 2016 report of the think-tank Freedom House.

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    Adama Barrow's win in The Gambia has inspired many in Africa that a ballot revolution is possible
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