Troubled election season in Africa

Attia Essawi , Tuesday 27 Oct 2020

Holding onto power is an entrenched trend in African politics, regardless the chaos it causes, writes Attia Essawi

Troubled election season in Africa

“Africa doesn’t need strongmen; it needs strong institutions. Nobody should be president for life. Your country is better off if you have new blood and new ideas.”

A strong warning issued by former US president Barack Obama 11 years ago during his first tour of Africa, but it seems that some African leaders were not convinced and have seized every legal or illegal means to stay in office as long as they can, specially through amending constitutions that prevent more than two presidential terms.

Such has been clear in countries like Guinea, Ivory Coast and Uganda, a matter that invoked bloody violence. Above all, continuing violence and protests make the economic and developmental atmosphere unsuitable for foreign investment, or even official aid.

In Guinea, President Alpha Condé has won a controversial third term in office, according to preliminary results, amid violent protests across the country.

The Guinean electoral commission said he had taken 59.5 per cent of the vote while his opponent, Cellou Dalein Diallo, won 33.5 per cent of the ballots.

Gunfire erupted in the capital, Conakry, and the government deployed soldiers to assist the police in dealing with the protests against Condé.

Mr Diallo said he would contest the result, alleging large-scale fraud and declaring himself the winner. Condé says a constitutional referendum in March allowed him to run, despite a previous two-term limit. He added that constitutional changes were needed to usher in social reforms, especially to benefit women. Opponents say he is breaking the law by holding onto power.

At least 30 people have died since the vote and dozens have been killed in the months after Mr Condé said he would re-run. Ethnic clashes during the campaign raised fears of nationwide violence if the results were disputed.

Guinea has been beset by authoritarian and military rule since independence. Some fear the army might get involved in politics once again.

In Ivory Coast, where opposition supporters have been protesting against the president’s third term bid, the opposition rejected the government’s plan to reform the country’s electoral commission ahead of 31 October elections, declaring it will boycott the elections in which President Alassane Ouattara is vying for a controversial third term amid unrest in the country.

“Opposition candidates are maintaining their policy of civil disobedience and reiterate their request for international mediation,” Maurice Kakou Guikahue, a spokesperson for the opposition, told reporters.

In March 2020, President Ouattara stunned critics by announcing that he will not run for a third term, even though a recently modified constitution appeared to allow him that possibility.

The two main opposition candidates — former president Henri Konan Bédié and former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan — announced a boycott earlier in the month. They asked their supporters to block what they described as an electoral coup. Their declaration has raised fears of major political unrest.

The UN has expressed concern over ongoing violence that has in a few days left at least seven people dead and more than 40 injured.

Electoral violence when President Ouattara first took office in 2010 led to 3,000 deaths and half a million displaced.

In Central Africa, presidential and legislative elections will take place 27 December amid a state of political tension as some candidates have already questioned the viability of the peace agreement and suggested that it be renegotiated if they are elected.

The representative of the UN Secretary General Mancur Ndiaye, said that “Twenty months after the signing of the peace and reconciliation agreement between the government and 14 armed groups, the situation is still tense, although remarkable progress has been made, especially with regard to political reform, restoration of state authority and transitional justice.” He added that 16 candidates have registered to participate in the presidential elections, including three women, in addition to the outgoing president.

A report by the UN indicated an escalation in violence, particularly in the northwest. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated that nearly 2.6 million people need humanitarian assistance in the country, and 2.3 million people suffer from food insecurity.

In Niger, the first round of presidential and parliamentary elections will be held also on 27 December, and the second round in February 2021.

After President Mohamed Issoufou announced that he did not want to run for a third term, the ruling Niger Party for Democracy and Socialism chose Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum to represent him in the elections.

The European Union Mission in Niger announced that the government had received 4.5 million Euros of financial funding from the EU to support the elections.

In Burkina Faso’s elections, scheduled for 22 November, 13 candidates, including opposition leader Zephirin Diabre, have been cleared to run for the presidency against President Roch Kaboré, who is seeking a second term.

Eight presidential candidates and 22 opposition parties signed an agreement in August to rally behind any candidate who will reach the second round of the elections, to boost the chances of unseating President Kaboré.

In Ghana, a total of 12 candidates have been cleared to run for December’s presidential election, including incumbent Nana Akufo-Addo, who is seeking a second five-year term.

On the other hand, five presidential candidates have been disqualified from taking part in December’s election because their nomination papers included “defective signatures and fake endorsements” according to the country’s electoral commission. They have been referred to the police for further investigation.

In Tanzania, President John Magufuli, who is seeking re-election, is facing competition from opposition candidate Tundu Lissu and 13 other challengers.

The US last month expressed concern over “increased tension after 10 foreign missions in Tanzania jointly called for a free and fair election. There have been concerns by rights groups about increased repression of the opposition.

The ruling party’s Secretary General Bashiru Ally defended its record in government, pointing to infrastructural projects like roads, rural electrification, investment in public education and public health.

Tundu Lissu, who emerged as the leading opposition candidate, said his priorities, should he be elected, will focus on freedom, justice and people-centred development.

In the Seychelles, the opposition has taken power for the first time since 1977 following its victory in the presidential election where Anglican priest Wavel Ramkalawan defeated President Danny Faure by 54.9 per cent to 43.5 per cent.

In his victory speech, Mr Ramkalawan was conciliatory towards Mr Faure, saying there were no losers or winners.

Mr Faure was sitting close by, and nodded in approval as the incoming president spoke, Reuters news agency reports.

Mr Faure’s United Party seized power in a coup a year later, and retained the presidency in elections after multi-party democracy was restored in 1993.

The opposition coalition won the legislative elections in 2016 in an unprecedented event in the archipelago since the return of the multi-party system, while the People’s Party, which has been in power since 1977, won 10 seats.

In Cameroon, security has been tightened at strategic locations in the capital Yaoundé, with security forces carrying out searches in taxis, buses and private cars ahead of an opposition protest planned by the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (CRM) demanding institutional reform and the return of peace to the country’s troubled Anglophone regions.

CRM leader Maurice Kamto maintains he was the rightful winner of the 2018 presidential elections.

Civil society groups like the CRM and a number of opposition parties have threatened that unless 22 September protests are met with political reforms, they will demonstrate until President Paul Biya’s government is forced from power and a political transition is made.

Some 11 months before, Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu warned the judiciary that there will be chaos if he is barred from standing in the 2021 election, saying they should not “copycat” Kenyan judges who plunged the country into crisis after annulling President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in elections in August 2017.

Mr Lungu’s eligibility for the poll is being challenged by critics who argue that he is serving his second and final term, and cannot stand for re-election.

They say that the period he served after the death of president Michael Sata in 2014 counts as his first term.

Mr Lungu’s supporters maintain that he merely finished his predecessor’s term, and he has been serving his first term since his victory in the disputed 2016 election.

In Uganda, the chief justice said he bitterly regrets the removal of presidential term limits from the country’s constitution, according to the Daily Monitor newspaper.

Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo is quoted as saying the body he was part of made a mistake: “I wept for this country [over] the removal of the presidential term limits. That is where we lost it. The mistake we made in the Constituent Assembly was not to entrench, not to make it difficult for anyone to amend the provisions of the term limits.”

Separately, the issue of presidential age limits is controversial because long-standing President Yoweri Museveni is 76 years old, and the limit for re-election was previously capped at 75 until the ruling party successfully campaigned to remove it altogether.

Uganda’s constitution allows the amendment and removal of the presidential age limit without a referendum.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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