Prisoners’ right to vote in Africa [19 November 2020]

Webinar Invitation: Prisoners’ right to vote in Africa
  • When Nov 19, 2020 from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM (Africa/Johannesburg / UTC200)
  • Where Zoom (Virtual meeting)
  • Contact Name
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“The universality of the franchise is important not only for nationhood and democracy. The vote of each and every citizen is a badge of dignity and of personhood. Quite literally, it says that everybody counts.” - [Sachs J, paragraph 17, August and Another v Electoral Commission and Others 1999]

Broadly speaking, universal suffrage refers to the right of adult citizens to vote. However, this right has always been restricted to a greater or lesser degree in democracies. Being of majority age, or of sound mind and not being a convicted prisoner are some examples of restrictions. Proponents of extending voting rights to prisoners rely on international, regional as well as domestic human rights standards recognising political participation as a fundamental human right.

In Africa, the right of prisoners to vote has been successfully argued before courts in South Africa, Malawi, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, and Uganda. In Mozambique, while the courts have not yet dealt with the issue, a request was placed before the Ombudsman and the National Human Rights Commission to express an opinion on the matter and a recommendation has been made to put measures in place to allow prisoners to vote in future elections.

In the course of 2020, 21 African countries were due to hold elections, however, only nine took place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Interestingly, in Malawi, one of the few African countries that proceeded with the elections and where prisoners have the right to vote, a re-run presidential election took place in June 2020 and prisoners were provided appropriate COVID-19 personal protective equipment enabling them to vote despite the pandemic.

Even when courts have allowed prisoners to vote, delays in amending enabling legislation and resource limitations are often cited by governments as reasons for preventing prisoners from voting. This webinar will reflect on the state of play concerning prisoners’ right to vote in Africa and also cast a light on near-future elections, such as in Uganda and Zambia scheduled for 2021. We intend to review how countries can navigate some of the challenges facing prisoners’ right to vote.

Facilitator: Janelle Mangwanda (ACJR)


• Tina Lorizzo – REFORMAR (Mozambique)

• Victor Mhango – CHREAA (Malawi)

• Lukas Muntingh – ACJR (South Africa)

• Peter Davis Mutesasira – Uganda Christian University (Uganda)

The ACJR factsheet ‘The right of prisoners to vote in Africa’ can be found here



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