On 16 September 2020, the Rift Valley Forum, in partnership with Heinrich Boll Foundation, hosted on online forum to explore the electoral atmosphere in the East and Horn of Africa region. The forum provided a critical space for the examination of contentious issues around elections scheduled for 2020 and 2021. The issues discussed included security, the role of the media, participation of women and the unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 poses for elections.
The forum was moderated by Rift Valley Forum Manager, Pauline Skaper, and drew perspectives from renowned experts. Mutriithi Mutiga (Horn of Africa Program Director, ICG) discussed the upcoming elections in Ethiopia and Somalia and the potential impacts on the wider region. Although several countries in the Horn were preparing for elections, Muriithi highlighted that in Ethiopia and Somalia, traditional elections would not necessarily be held but rather there would be a kind of political settlement to ensure stability. In the context of a high youth population in the region and increased access to social media and technology, Nanjala Nyabola discussed how these factors would affect future elections, especially in light of governments’ realization of the power of social media and, in turn, the increasing policing of this space. Political commentator, Patrick Gathara, explored the role of mainstream traditional media in the lead-up to elections, and the way in which voices are amplified or suppressed. Dr. Awino Okech, SOAS, discussed the value of protests, highlighting the importance of protests as a means of democratic communication with government and in particular, the role of women in organizing.