The Promise and Peril of AI in Africa’s Elections

By Verengai Mabika, Partner – Digital, Expectation State

In 2024, over 2 billion voters across 50 countries, including twenty in Africa, are preparing for elections. Amidst this global electoral frenzy, a contentious issue looms large: the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in shaping democratic processes.

While AI promises transformative potential, its ethical implications in electoral contexts have ignited a vigorous debate on fairness, transparency, and the integrity of democratic systems, particularly in Africa. This article highlights AI’s transformative potential in enhancing voter engagement and streamlining electoral operations. However, it underscores AI’s ethical challenges, such as misinformation propagation and deep fake technology to manipulate public opinion.

The prospect of AI influencing elections elicits a spectrum of reactions worldwide. Optimists envision enhanced voter engagement and streamlined electoral operations. Yet, alongside these hopeful perspectives, significant concerns persist, especially regarding Africa, where ethical frameworks for AI governance are still in their infancy.  The need for credible elections or to prevent AI manipulation could present an opportunity for robust sectoral AI policy-making in Africa.

The Threats of Unethical AI in African Elections

The unethical use of AI in African elections poses several threats. Foremost among these is the manipulation of AI algorithms to propagate misinformation and disinformation. Exploiting gaps in digital literacy among voters, such misinformation can skew public opinion, erode trust in electoral processes, and undermine the stability of democratic institutions. This manipulation not only distorts the democratic narrative but also poses a severe challenge to the credibility of election outcomes.

The rise of deepfake technology poses a significant threat to the integrity of elections in Africa, particularly by fuelling violence through the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Deepfakes, manipulated videos, or audio recordings that appear incredibly realistic, as many European Mayors found out, can easily deceive viewers and listeners, making them powerful tools for those seeking to manipulate public opinion and incite unrest.

In Nigeria (2019), for example, deepfake audio recordings purportedly of political figures making inflammatory statements were disseminated online, exacerbating existing tensions and contributing to a climate of distrust. In Burkina Faso (2023), deepfake videos featuring synthetic figures urging support for the military surfaced on social media. Though crudely made, these videos demonstrated the growing accessibility of deepfake technology and its potential use for political manipulation in the region. Lastly, in South Africa (2023), a significant rise in deepfake fraud was reported, with a 1200% increase compared to the previous year. This indicates a broader trend of deepfake technology exploited for malicious purposes, including potential political manipulation.

In the lead-up to elections, deepfakes can be used to spread false narratives about candidates, incite hatred between groups, and create a sense of chaos and confusion. The rapid spread of these manipulated videos and audio recordings through social media platforms further amplifies their impact, making it difficult to control the damage once the disinformation has been released.

AI-driven predictive analytics can also micro-target voters with tailored messages. While ostensibly increasing campaign efficiency, this practice risks exacerbating societal divisions and deepening political polarization. Such tactics not only compromise the integrity of elections but also contravene fundamental democratic principles of fairness, informed decision-making, and equal electoral participation. Yet, who is regulating against this?

Ensuring Ethical AI Deployment in African Elections

The ethical deployment of AI in African elections demands urgent attention and rigorous oversight. Policymakers must prioritize the establishment of robust regulatory frameworks that safeguard against AI misuse. Transparent guidelines for developing and deploying AI technologies should be established to ensure adherence to ethical standards and protect democratic processes from undue interference.

The African Union Commission has a critical role in ensuring ethical AI deployment in African elections and enhancing digital literacy among voters. This could include developing ethical guidelines, promoting transparency, building capacity, improving digital literacy, monitoring and enforcement, and fostering collaboration. By taking these steps, we can ensure that AI is used responsibly, strengthen the integrity of elections, and empower voters to make informed decisions.

Furthermore, efforts to enhance digital literacy among voters are imperative. By empowering citizens with critical thinking skills and media literacy, societies can become more resilient to the pernicious effects of AI-driven misinformation campaigns and propaganda.


While AI holds promise as a tool for enhancing democratic engagement and electoral efficiency, its misuse poses significant ethical challenges. Nowhere are these challenges more pressing than in Africa, where AI’s responsible and ethical use is crucial to preserving the integrity and credibility of democratic elections. As we navigate this critical juncture in the evolution of technology and democracy, vigilance, accountability, and proactive regulation are essential to ensure that AI is a force for positive democratic advancement rather than a threat.

Potential questions we should consider include: i) should we require political parties and campaigns to disclose their use of AI tools, algorithms, and data sources pre and post-election? ii) Is there a need for independent audits or assessments of AI systems used in elections to ensure they are fair and unbiased?