The African continent will see two dozen elections in 2019. While many observers herald this year’s surfeit of political contests as a sign post of the “Third Wave of Democratization,” others are less optimistic, noting the violence that often accompanies putatively democratic elections across the continent. Indeed, the causes and consequences of electoral violence in Africa are currently at the fore of work in both academic and policy circles. And the focus on electoral violence is warranted—in 2019 alone, violence has marred the political process in countries as diverse as Senegal, Nigeria, and Malawi, among others.
The United States needs to safeguard the democratic process against foreign interference. It should ensure both the technical integrity of the voting system and that voters are not subjected to foreign influence operations that violate campaign laws.
Disinformation and distrust online are set to take a turn for the worse. Rapid advances in deep-learning algorithms to synthesize video and audio content have made possible the production of “deep fakes”—highly realistic and difficult-to-detect depictions of real people doing or saying things they never said or did. As this technology spreads, the ability to produce bogus yet credible video and audio content will come within the reach of an ever-larger array of governments, nonstate actors, and individuals. As a result, the ability to advance lies using hyperrealistic, fake evidence is poised for a great leap forward.
Democracy’s resilience into the 21st century is rightly questioned. In 2017, a host of countries worldwide saw threats to civil and political liberties, popular participation, and fundamental human rights. Corruption and state capture by predatory political elites led the news in old and new democracies alike. Verbal and physical attacks on civil society, the press, and minorities were reported in virtually all world regions. And new virulent, nationalist ideologies threaten human rights and the carefully crafted post-World War II international liberal order.
Featured on both wanted posters and campaign posters in Pakistan, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed is not alone. The founder of a group linked to the militant Lashkar-e-Taiba and now also the front of the Milli Muslim League party bears a striking resemblance to other rebels and terrorists turned politicians. Yet we have little systematic understanding of those candidates, or organizations, using armed and electoral strategies.