Tag Archives: elections

Africa – dangers of high-risk elections

Institute of Security Studies

Recent events in Burkina Faso, following the 16 September coup d’état, are a grim reminder of what can happen when the run-up to crucial presidential elections goes awry.

Eleven people were killed in the capital Ouagadougou before civil society and the army teamed up and threatened to oust theRégiment de Sécurité Présidentielle (the presidential guard, or RSP) responsible for the coup.

More violence was averted thanks to a critical intervention by regional leaders, who convinced coup leader Gilbert Dienderé to hand power back to the transitional government.

The African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) reacted swiftly and condemned the coup. On 16 and 18 September, the PSC met and suspended Burkina Faso in accordance with its protocol on unconstitutional changes of government. After the civilian government was restored, it lifted the suspension on 26 September and also put on hold the planned sanctions. Could the PSC be accused of dropping the ball after the popular uprising of October 2014, which drove out former president Blaise Compaoré?

There have been signs of trouble ever since members of the former majority party, who supported Compaoré’s third-term bid, were excluded from running in the upcoming elections. Conflict between the RSP and Prime Minister Isaac Zida also spelled danger.

Should more early warning work have been done in Burkina Faso?

The PSC held a number of meetings on Burkina Faso since the events of last October, but the country was pushed off the agenda by more pressing issues such as the crises in Burundi and South Sudan. Together with the Economic Community of West African States and the United Nations (UN), it set up the International Support Group to the Transition in Burkina Faso (GISAT-BF). In its latest statement, the PSC asked that the GISAT-BF reconvene to oversee a number of crucial outstanding issues, such as the reform of the security sector.

The jury is still out on whether more early warning work should have been done to prevent the situation in Burkina Faso from deteriorating to such a degree ahead of the elections. The polls, planned for 11 October, are now to be held at a later date.

In the Central African Republic (CAR), the possible postponement of the polls planned for 18 October, has also been mooted due to renewed violence. More than 20 people were killed in the capital, Bangui, following the death of a Muslim taxi driver on 26 September. The violence spread to other parts of the country and the death toll is nearing 60 people, according to government figures.

Those in favour of the elections going ahead say the situation in the CAR is extremely volatile and the administration has not nearly recovered from the 2013/2014 war, so postponing the elections would not make any real difference. Waiting until the country is ready could mean postponing the polls indefinitely, said CAR expert and Institute for Security Studies (ISS) consultant David Smith.

He explained that many identification documents were destroyed by the Séléka rebels in 2013, and that these would take a long time to reconstitute. ‘There has never been a proper electoral list. Now that birth certificates have been destroyed, it is almost impossible to know who is living in the CAR.’ Even before the current outbreak of violence it seemed clear the elections would be postponed, but they should take place soon, Smith said. ‘The transition should end so that there is an elected government that can be held accountable.’

Côte d’Ivoire’s elections have been described as a shoe-in for Alassane Ouattara

Speaking to media at the 70th UN General Assembly in New York recently, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza acknowledged that the situation was still extremely fragile. She pointed the finger at ‘former leaders’, reinforcing rumours that former president Francois Bozize might be behind the renewed instability in the country.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the presidential elections have largely been described as a shoe-in for President Alassane Ouattara, especially given the large coalition supporting him (the Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix, or RHDP).

International media have also been focusing on the huge economic gains made by Côte d’Ivoire following the 2011 political violence. Observers, however, warn that it will be difficult to prevent incidents of localised instability given that so many parties are questioning the conditions under which the elections are held.

Not all of the major political actors are behind Ouattara, even if he has the support of former president Henri-Konan Bedié, who leads the powerful Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI). A number of well-known political actors, such as former foreign minister and Organisation of African Unity secretary-general Amara Essy, and former president of the West African Development Bank, Charles Konan Banny, broke away from the PDCI and announced their candidatures.

Divisions within the main opposition party have aggravated the already-complex political terrain in Côte d’Ivoire. A section of the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) of former president Laurent Gbagbo is advocating participation in the elections. Others in the party are boycotting the process in protest against Gbagbo’s incarceration in The Hague by the International Criminal Court, and what they consider to be an uneven electoral playing field. Legal wrangling over who has the right to lead the party has aggravated the bitter dispute between those participating in the elections, led by Pascal Affi N’guessan, and the pro-boycott faction, led by Aboudramane Sangaré. In the last few months, these opposition politicians and groups have formed two coalition groups. Both Essy and Koulibaly have since withdrawn from the race.

ISS senior researcher and Dakar office head, Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni, believes the break-up of the opposition would be favourable to the ruling RHDP. Ouattara is campaigning for a first-round win and would like to avoid large-scale contestation of the results. ‘The RHDP is hoping for what Ivorians term a clean election,’ she said.

Many longstanding issues also threaten to derail the stability of Côte d’Ivoire over the long term. The reform of the security forces, national reconciliation, impunity for actors in past political violence, land ownership and issues around identity and nationality need to be resolved. ‘There is always the possibility that one of these issues can be exploited for political purposes,’ said Théroux-Bénoni.

Of all the polls in Africa this month, Tanzania’s election is the least likely to be derailed

Of all the elections taking place in Africa this month, the presidential election in Tanzania, on 25 October, is the least likely to be derailed. Tanzania has a strong tradition of peaceful elections. However, high drama within the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), one of Africa’s longest-ruling parties, has culminated in an unexpectedly tense electoral race.

At the beginning of 2015, it seemed clear that the main contest would be between the CCM, relying on its long tradition as a liberation movement, and the main opposition party, the Chadema.

Following a bruising process within the CCM, however, the cards have now been scrambled and the main contenders are the CCM’s John Magufuli and former prime minister Edward Lowassa, who had broken away from the CCM in July this year after losing his bid to lead the party to elections.

Many observers believe that Magufuli, the Minister of Works, is likely to win the elections, thanks to his reputation of largely steering clear of political bickering and the backing of his powerful party. Magufuli has also not been tainted by the corruption scandals that have marked the last few years of CCM rule.

Lowassa, however, is a colourful figure, who managed to secure the signatures of thousands of CCM members during the primaries. He can also count on the support of those who accuse the CCM of dragging its feet in the economic modernisation of the country.

Other problems that plague Tanzania include the reform of the constitution and the hotly disputed status of Zanzibar. Plans for a new constitution have been in the pipeline for decades and it was expected that a referendum on the constitution would take place before this election. This has now once again been postponed.

While post-election violence on the mainland is not foreseen, experts warn that the radicalisation of certain elements on the island of Zanzibar, with its proximity to Mombasa and Somalia, can create problems – as has been the case in previous elections.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS Consultant

Mali: Toure says he will step down and organise elections


Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré says he is willing to step down and hold democratic elections in June. In an interview with RFI’s Alain Foka, he said he would do everything possible to ensure Mali had a democratically elected president by 10 June at the latest.

Mali is facing a crisis in the north of the country where Tuareg rebels, boosted by the return of fighters for late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, launched an offensive on 17 January and have attacked several towns as they demand autonomy for their nomadic tribe.

Touré denies claims that he is willing to fight a war against the rebels in return for staying in power.

“If I had to chose between Mali and war, I would chose Mali. I am ready to go, I will go and I wish with all my heart that Mali has a democratically elected president,” he said.

He also rejected claims that he does not want to put an end to the Tuareg rebellion in the north and said those behind these accusations want to stay in power and do not want elections to be held.

Critics have also accused Touré of not taking a strong enough line with rebels belonging to Aqmi, al-Qaeda’s north Africa wing, who have led an increasingly violent campaign in the country over the ten years of the president’s term.  Read more…

Senegal’s election: a test for democracy

Reuters Africa

By Richard Valdmanis

DAKAR (Reuters) – Senegal is heading for its most contentious election in recent history on Sunday overshadowed by political violence and a constitutional row that could sully its enviable reputation as West Africa’s most stable democracy.

President Abdoulaye Wade is seeking a third term against a field of more than a dozen challengers and he appears to have the edge over a divided opposition.

His candidacy has sparked deadly protests from opponents who say it flouts a two-term limit introduced by constitutional reform, and has also drawn criticism from trade and aid partners France and the United States. Opposition figures have said they are concerned Wade’s supporters will try to rig the elections.

At least six people have been killed in street clashes between opposition protesters and police since late January, when a top legal council whose lead judge was appointed by Wade ruled the 85-year-old could stand again.

“I think it is a crucial election for Senegal… (either) consolidating electoral democracy in the country or, if it goes bad, then it could be a … regression in democratic progress in Senegal and in the region,” said Gilles Yabi, the West Africa Project Director for the International Crisis Group think tank.

The European Union’s observer mission for the February 26 vote said it was concerned about problems and delays in distributing hundreds of thousands of voter cards, and about transparency and a police crackdown against opposition demonstrations.  Read more…

Zimbabwe: Mugabe says there will be election this year

Mail and Guardian

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe said on Sunday he will “definitely” call elections this year to end a fragile three-year coalition with the former opposition, while describing as “cowards” politicians who say polls cannot be held until well into 2013.

In an interview to mark his 88th birthday in the state media on Sunday, Mugabe dismissed objections to early polls.
“That is what cowards say. Elections can happen at any time … Definitely, yes,” this year, he said.
Mugabe turns 88 on Tuesday. Speaking to the loyalist Sunday Mail newspaper, he said money will be found in the embattled economy to pay for the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party says polling cannot go ahead until constitutional reforms are complete and rights groups have warned of an imminent upsurge of election violence.
The interview will be broadcast on state TV on Monday. Read more…

Kenya: will Kikuyu loyalty be the key for Kenyatta?

Read this very detailed and thoughtful analysis of the political prospects for Uhuru Kenyatta – gives a range of iteresting and informed views:

Reuters Africa – Insight by James Macharia

By James Macharia

GATUNDU, Kenya (Reuters) – Next door to the mansion where Kenya’s richest man, presidential contender and now war crimes suspect Uhuru Kenyatta grew up near the capital Nairobi, stands Francis Karanja’s mud hut with a tin roof.

Father of two Karanja voted for the 50-year-old Kenyatta to be his member of parliament, hoping the son of Kenya’s founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, would help him rise out of the poverty that traps millions of Kenyans.

“As you can see, Kenyatta is my neighbour. I feel he has neglected me since we voted him into parliament. We still struggle to make ends meet,” said Karanja, 39, who ekes out a meagre living selling milk he pours from a large jerrycan into one-litre bottles for his customers.

But despite his disappointment, and Kenyatta’s indictment last month for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Karanja says he will vote for the Kenyatta scion in a coming presidential election.

“I feel sympathy for him because of the charges he faces and will vote for him again. We Kikuyu are loyal to our own,” said Karanja, referring to the largest of Kenya’s more than 40 tribes to which both he and Kenyatta belong. Read more…

Africa 2012: A year of opportunities and threats

Keith Somerville

A week into 2012 is a good point at which to stop and consider what the year is likely to hold for Africa, with of course the caveat that what holds for one state or region does not automatically hold for another state or region.

The continuing political evolution in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia may encourage popular movements in other north or sub-Saharan states, as people bereft of control over their futures and with detatched, distant, unresponsive and often rapacious governments decide that they too can bring about change.  Though as is developing in Egypt, that change may not be what protestors thought they had brought about or is more long-drawn out and violent than they hoped at the start of their “spring”.

In 1989 and the early 1990s, there was, to steal from Harold Macmillan, a new wind of change blowing through Africa – brought about b y many factors including the end of the cold war, the withdrawal of aid from socialist or western countries or the loss of strategic salience for some areas, and also a result of a slow build-up of anger among populations at the excesses and inadequacies of their leaders.

The results of that wave of change in Africa were patchy.  The USA and EU, often using aid or the threat of its withdrawal as a lever, sought above all else to encourage free market economic reforms and the holding of Western-style elections on timetables that were unrealistic and favoured incumbents who still had their hands on the levers of power.  President Omar Bongo of Gabon said in 1990 that the ‘wind from the east is shaking the coconut trees’.  He bent with the wind a little and survived with his auocratic rule intact – it is is still intact following his detah with his son in power and able to ensure victory in elections through his entrenched power, control of key media and immense powers of patronage.

Sections follow on Kenya, Somalia, South Africa and Nigeria. Read more…

Cote d’Ivoire polls open


N tanks are patrolling Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, Abidjan, as polls open for parliamentary elections, the first such voting since a disputed presidential poll one year ago sparked months of violence.

Officials hope a calm election on Sunday will bring help bring stability and usher in a period of economic growth in the West African nation.

Violence erupted at the end of last year after the incumbent president at the time, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to step down in favour of the winner President Alassane Ouattara.

Gbagbo is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of four counts of crimes against humanity.

He is accused of being an “indirect co-perpetrator” of murder, rape, persecution and other inhuman acts.


Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front party (FPI) has called for a boycott of the elections.  Read more…