Oct 17, 2023 | Blog

Empowering Fair And Inclusive Elections: How AI Is Shaping The Future Of Democracy In Africa

Empowering Fair And Inclusive Elections: How AI Is Shaping The Future Of Democracy In Africa

This is the 27th post in a blog series to be published in 2023 by the APET Secretariat on behalf of the AU High-Level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET)

The African Union (AU) has a comprehensive mandate that encompasses the establishment, maintenance, and advancement of democracy within its Member States. Since 2000, the AU has continuously expanded its mission to promote democracy on the continent, introducing innovative measures to combat unconstitutional regime changes and foster the growth of democratic institutions.[1] Particularly, the AU’s development roadmap, known as the AU’s Agenda 2063, emphasises the pivotal role of democracy as a fundamental prerequisite for sustainable human development across the continent. This commitment is further evident in frameworks such as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which actively stimulates Africa's economic growth and development by advocating for citizen participation and enhanced cooperation and integration among AU Member States.[2]

Elections stand as one of the pillars of a well-functioning democracy, playing a pivotal role in shaping a nation’s political landscape and determining its destiny. Beyond the mere act of casting votes, elections are integral to the core principles of democracy, exerting a profound influence on the effectiveness and integrity of a society. Furthermore, elections empower citizens, foster accountability, and promote transparency, thus impacting a country’s overall development and governance. Their significance extends far beyond the ballot box, encompassing broader ideals of democratic governance, the rule of law, social inclusivity, economic progress, and the safeguarding of human rights. In essence, active participation in elections serves as a catalyst to combat marginalisation, prejudice, and inequality, while concurrently upholding essential human rights such as freedom of expression, access to education, and the right to peaceful assembly and association.[3]

Furthermore, elections serve as the cornerstone for selecting and appointing leaders within democratic societies. In representative democracies, transparent and equitable elections are indispensable to the functioning of democratic governance. These electoral processes empower the populace to exercise authority in choosing leaders and representatives while simultaneously holding them accountable for their actions.[4] Flawed or absent electoral systems can lead to political authoritarianism and the dominance of individual rule in Africa. Unfortunately, the mechanisms governing elections and the principles and procedures that underpin them on the continent frequently deviate from established standards, resulting in practices such as lawlessness, violence, and election nullifications within African democratic societies. Conversely, when elections are conducted fairly and freely, they contribute to the promotion of peace and stability, attracting investments that, if properly managed, can facilitate economic growth.[5]

The continent faces two paramount challenges that often result in elections being deemed neither free nor unfair: these are the lack of voter engagement and low voter turnout. Voter engagement and turnout hold immense significance as elections serve as the cornerstone of decision-making in contemporary democracies. When turnout remains low, the votes cast represent only a small fraction of the entire population. The factors contributing to this issue are multifaceted.[6] Notably, voter apathy is a concern, where citizens feel disconnected from the political process and doubt the impact of their vote. This disillusionment can deter them from engaging and participating in elections. Furthermore, specific demographic groups, such as young people, minorities, and those with lower incomes, often exhibit lower voter turnout rates. Legislative measures that restrict voting rights, such as voter identification requirements, voter roll purges, and felony of disenfranchisement, can discourage eligible voters from exercising their right to vote.[7]

Fundamentally, high levels of political polarisation can lead to divisive and unproductive campaigning, disenchanting voters and fostering a sense of disillusionment. Additionally, voter suppression tactics further exacerbate the challenges, impeding the free and fair conduct of elections. Therefore, addressing these multifaceted issues is essential for promoting genuine democracy and ensuring that elections truly reflect the will of the people.

The African Union High Level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET) has recognised the potential significance of artificial intelligence (AI) in the facilitation of free and fair elections across Africa. AI refers to the capability of digital computers or computer-controlled robots to perform tasks typically associated with intelligent beings.[8] APET highlights that AI can revolutionise the way governments engage with voters and enhance voter participation in democratic elections. Particularly, AI’s capabilities, including personalised outreach, predictive analysis of voter behaviour, real-time information dissemination, social media sentiment monitoring, targeted voter registration efforts, and the combatting of voter suppression, collectively contribute to a more robust and inclusive electoral process. As technology continues to advance, AI is poised to assume an even greater role in shaping the future of democracy, ensuring that every eligible voter can actively participate and have their voice heard.

In the African landscape, numerous pioneering startup companies are harnessing the power of AI to advance and enrich voter engagement, showcasing the multifaceted applications of AI within the electoral domain. For instance, iVerify, based in Nigeria, employs AI as a formidable tool in the battle against election-related misinformation and critical issue inaccuracies, ensuring voters' access to trustworthy information.[9]

Moreover, the Voter Turnout Project, a non-profit organisation also based in Nigeria,[10] leverages AI to pinpoint unregistered voters and establish meaningful connections with them, simplifying the voter registration process.[11] To facilitate accessible information dissemination through mobile applications, Election Buddy in Kenya offers a mobile app that equips voters with vital election-related details, such as polling locations and candidate profiles.[12] In contrast, Ghana’s Politburo introduced a mobile app designed for voter registration and monitoring of registration status, streamlining the electoral procedure.[13]

In South Africa, Vote Compass operates a website that empowers voters to scrutinise candidates’ stances on pivotal issues, promoting well-informed decision-making.[14] Additionally, Ghana's Voter Registration Drive utilises AI to discern and target prospective voters, tailoring messages to potentially encourage voter registration.[15] In Nigeria, Vote Compass enriches personalised voter education by employing AI to facilitate voters’ understanding of candidates and issues, aligning voters with candidates who share their convictions.[16] Additionally, mobile money platforms such as M-PESA play a crucial role in simplifying voter registration processes. In Kenya, M-PESA collaborates with the electoral commission, making it possible for citizens to register as voters and cover election-related costs conveniently via their mobile phones.[17]

APET emphasises the significance of AI-powered predictive analytics, aiding campaigns in pinpointing probable voters and refining resource allocation for mobilisation endeavours. Furthermore, chatbots and virtual assistants interact with voters, delivering essential details on registration, polling sites, and elections, thereby simplifying the entire process.[18] AI's capacity to monitor social media platforms for real-time public opinion assessment equips campaigns with the agility to tailor strategies based on sentiment analysis. Moreover, AI automates vital election administration functions, encompassing tasks like voter registration and ballot tallying, elevating efficiency, and precision in the process.[19]

APET underscores that these initiatives emphasise AI’s transformative potential within the electoral arena, reinforcing the dedication to enhancing the accessibility, inclusivity, and efficiency of elections. Nigeria’s remarkable use of AI to combat misinformation during recent elections exemplifies the positive impact of AI on voter participation. As AI technology advances, APET foresees the emergence of increasingly inventive solutions aimed at revitalising voter engagement and reinforcing the pillars of democracy. By harnessing AI's capabilities, AI-related innovations aspire to make elections more accessible, inclusive, and efficient, ensuring that the voices of all citizens resound. As AI technology progresses further, APET anticipates a continual stream of innovative solutions designed to foster voter participation and fortify the democratic processes.[20]

Finally, APET recommends that African governments, policymakers, and implementers boost voter participation through AI by investing in research and development to support innovative solutions. Furthermore, through establishing a regulatory framework to ensure fair and transparent AI use, forging partnerships with the private sector and civil society for AI-powered solutions and educating the public about AI’s role in elections to build trust. The specific AI-powered solutions that should be considered include voter registration systems that streamline the registration process, voter education tools that provide personalised information, voter mobilisation campaigns targeting potential voters, and tools to detect and combat misinformation.  It cannot be overemphasized that AI holds significant potential to enhance voter engagement, thereby making elections more accessible and inclusive, ultimately ensuring that all citizens’ voices are heard in the democratic process.


Featured Bloggers – APET Secretariat

Aggrey Ambali

Justina Dugbazah

Barbara Glover

Bhekani Mbuli

Chifundo Kungade

Nhlawulo Shikwambane 


[1] https://www.idea.int/sites/default/files/publications/promoting-democracy-and-peace-in-africa-the-role-of-the-african-union.pdf

[2] https://au.int/sites/default/files/treaties/36384-treaty-african-charter-on-democracy-and-governance.pdf

[3] https://www.ohchr.org/en/topic/democracy-right-participate-and-electoral-process

[4] https://www.britannica.com/topic/election-political-science/Functions-of-elections

[5] https://www.ohchr.org/en/topic/democracy-right-participate-and-electoral-process

[6] https://www.idea.int/sites/default/files/publications/voter-turnout-trends-around-the-world.pdf

[7] https://www.kas.de/documents/261596/10543300/The+South+African+non-voter+-+An+analysis.pdf/acc19fbd-bd6d-9190-f026-8d311078b670?version=1.0&t=1608

[8] https://www.britannica.com/technology/artificial-intelligence

[9] https://blog.google/intl/en-africa/company-news/technology/nigerian-fact-checkers-fight-election-misinformation-with-full-facts-ai-tools/

[10] https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/top-news/586193-analysis-trend-of-low-voter-turnout-continues-in-nigerian-elections.html

[11] https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/160603087.pdf

[12] http://www.electionaccess.org/en/resources/voter-education/voter-education/521/

[13] Baguma, Rehema & Eilu Phd, Emmanuel. (2015). Using Mobile Phones in Elections in Developing Countries: Opportunities and Challenges. 251-265. 10.1007/978-3-319-08239-4_12.

[14] https://www.1news.co.nz/2023/09/10/vote-compass-how-do-party-policies-line-up-with-your-views/

[15] Christopher Appiah-Thompson. (2023). Contentious Biometric Voters Registration and Democratic Politics under COVID-19: The Myth of ‘Social Distance’ in an African State?. Qeios. doi:10.32388/9MXB5L.

[16] https://www.wfd.org/story/improving-voter-education-increase-voter-turnout-nigerian-elections

[17] https://www.reuters.com/article/oukin-uk-africa-phones/africas-upwardly-mobile-money-idUKTRE55002N20090601

[18] https://www.podium.com/article/conversational-ai/

[19] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/unleashing-power-ai-benefits-using-predictive-analytics-akoh-onate/

[20] https://dgap.org/en/research/publications/transformative-role-ai-reshaping-electoral-politics