AFRICA: Democratic Governance On The Rise
Despite the gains, periodic elections may not necessarily translate into attainment of democratic values, even as the date when elections will truly represent a fair opportunity for the people to choose their representatives remain far.
FOR a continent where elections have become synonymous with disputes and violence, the last 10 months of 2015 may prove Africa’s best attempt at democracy, as ten countries successfully held elections, despite the Burundian attempt to mar the score sheet through controversial tenure elongation.
With the Zambian general election of January 20, 2015 kick-starting electoral year in Africa, nine other countries on the continent have followed in quick succession with elections recording fewer discords. In Cote d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Nigeria, Zambia, the losing political parties accepted the final results of the presidential elections. Only in Nigeria was the ruling party defeated. In the other countries, incumbent political parties were returned to power –– Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo. Change of leadership took place in Lesotho, Nigeria, and Tanzania.
If the Burkina Faso election billed for November 29 and that of the troubled Central African Republic (CAR), December 13, turn out as successful as the previous ones, Africa may have significantly come of age in managing its political differences without recourse to violent confrontations.
Despite the gains, periodic elections may not necessarily translate into attainment of democratic values, even as the date when elections will truly represent a fair opportunity for the people to choose their representatives remain. Yet, the modest achievement of having to go back periodically for the approval of the majority should not be discountenanced in the search for a more desirable end.
So far, in only one of the elections, Burundi, did law and order break down. The election of President Pierre Nkurunziza for a controversial third term mandate led to attempted coup, violent demonstrations, protests and re-enactment of ethnic tension. The post-election crisis has so far claimed more than 250 lives.
Zambia: Issues In Serving Out Sata’s Term
MR. Edgar Chagwa Lungu of the ruling political party Patriotic Front (PF) won the hotly contested January 20 presidential poll in a race that involved 10 other contestants. The opposition denounced the election but took no further action. The Southern African country had witnessed unusual deaths of two presidents in office in the past seven years. And Mr. Lungu was voted in to serve out the remaining term of President Michael Sata until next year when a new voting will take place.
Sata, Zambian’s fifth president, died at the age of 77 in London’s King Edward VII Hospital on October 28, 2014, where he had gone for medical check-ups.
He became the second president in the country to die while in office, following the death of President Levy Mwanawasa in August 2008.
Lungu’s predecessor had formed in 2001 the Patriotic Front shortly after leaving the then ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). Sata had three unsuccessful attempts at Zambian’s presidency before winning on his fourth attempt in 2011.
However, Lungu’s honeymoon may be gradually coming to a halt as rumples within the PF begin to unravel.
Lesotho: Change Of Guard
THE landlocked and mountainous country is a partial democracy of a monarchial and parliamentary blend. The initial vote on February 28 produced a deadlock, but was quickly resolved when opposition parties formed a coalition, which used its greater number to name Mr. Pakalitha Mosisili of the Democratic Congress (DC) as the new Prime Minister. Mosisili had served earlier as Prime Minister from 1998 to 2012.
Completely surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho held the election amidst palpable fear of post-poll violence, following the political instability and a coup attempt in August 2014.
Mosisili’s DC won 47 seats, one more than the All Basotho Convention (ABC), led by former Prime Minister Thomas Thobane. The DC, which had ruled the country for 14 years until the 2012 elections, subsequently formed a coalition government comprising seven parties, controlling 66 seats in the 120-member National Assembly.
Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Mr. Mothetjoa Metsing, whose defection from the ABC-led coalition government had preceded the 2014 political crisis, became Deputy Prime Minister in Mr. Mosisili’s new government.
The country had experienced political instability since March 2014. In the 2012 elections, Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC) became the largest party, but three smaller parties –– the ABC, the LCD and the Basotho National Party (BNP) –– formed the first ever coalition government in Lesotho.
Nigeria: Smooth Transition Amidst Tension
THE world waited with bated breath for the direction of the Nigerian general elections. Understandably so, the run up to the election had been characterised by acrimonious campaigns, with the unmistakably threat of violence always on the horizon. The country had long been under the threat of bad governance and divisive politics. The shift in the original date of the presidential poll from February 14 to March 28 only helped to accentuate fears of violence.
Eventually, the fear proved misplaced as the coalition of opposition parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) dislodged the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which had been power for 16 years, from office. The threat of fire and brimstone was largely put out by former President Goodluck Jonathan, who conceded defeat in a statesman-like manner. And the doomsday was averted to pave way for a smooth transition from ruling party to the opposition; the first of its kind in the country and only the fourth on the continent.
Togo: Perpetuation Of Dynasty
THE West African country, which witnessed the first military intervention on the continent, extended the tenure of the President Faure Eyadema in a poll conducted in April. Faure, who replaced his father, Gnassigbe Eyadema, who died in office in 2005, was re-elected for the third term. Combined, the Eyadema family have ruled the country for 48 years. The result was, however, largely dismissed by the opposition as “fraud.”
Faure was declared winner to the dismay of his main rival, Jean-Pierre Fabre, who described the polls as a fraud.
But the European Union, Togo’s leading international lender, said the election “went off calmly, confirming the Togolese people’s attachment to democracy.”
The African Union and ECOWAS also said the vote was free and transparent.
Opposition groups had previously protested at changes to the electoral law, which they said further, favoured the governing coalition, and at the absence of presidential term limits that allowed Faure to stand for re-election.
Sudan: No Vacancy
CONTROVERSIAL President Omar al-Bashir surprised no one in election where he polled 94 percent of the April general election, despite boycott by the opposition. President al-Bashir has been in power for 26 years. The election, the first of its kind after the separation of South Sudan, was originally scheduled for April 2, but shifted to April 13-15.
Al-Bashir was elected as the presidential candidate of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in October 2014. Fifteen other candidates registered to contest the elections.
The majority of opposition parties boycotted the elections, although a total of 44 parties put forward candidates. However, the ruling NCP opted not to field candidates in 30 percent of constituencies in order to allow other parties to win seats.
African Union (AU) electoral observer mission, led by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, said that voter turnout was generally low throughout the polling period, mostly because of opposition boycott.
The government has levied criminal charges against opposition figures, who urged Sudanese voters to stay away from the poll under the Sudanese Criminal Act of 1991, which carries the death penalty, according to the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS).
Ethiopia: Deepening Of Benevolent Authoritarianism
ON May 24, Ethiopia’s general election reconfirmed the position of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, which he ascended after the death of Zenawi Meles in 2012.
The ruling party, People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), and its allies achieved a clean sweep in the election, winning all 546 parliamentary seats, stripping the opposition of the one seat it had in the chamber.
Along with its allies, the EPRDF, has governed Africa’s second most populous nation for more than two decades.
The country, whose 1984 famine triggered a major global fundraising effort, has experienced near double-digit economic growth and huge infrastructure investment, making the country one of Africa’s top-performing economies and a magnet for foreign investment.
Ethiopia also remains a favourite of key international donors, despite concerns over human rights, as a bastion of stability in an otherwise troubled region.
But rights groups routinely accuse Ethiopia of clamping down on opposition supporters and journalists, and of using anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent and jail critics. There are growing concerns that elections in the horn of Africa are just an exercise in controlled political participation.
Burundi: Sour Grapes In The Basket
THERE have been protests in the country since President Pierre Nkurunziza said he would stand for a third term. Opposition groups said the president’s move was unconstitutional.
In July, Nkurunziza was re-elected for a third term with 70 percent of the vote. But ever since, turmoil continues to grip Burundi.
Gunfire and grenades can be heard almost every night, and in the morning, bodies are often discovered on the streets.
At least 252 people have been killed and 200,000 have fled to nearby countries since April, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, and speeches of hate from political leaders have generated fears of mass violence – and the threat of a return to civil war.
Nkurunziza ordered people to surrender their weapons or be considered members of an armed resistance. Hundreds of residents have fled their neighbourhoods in anticipation of the raids by security forces.
Analysts have warned that Nkurunziza –– along with the president of the country’s Senate –– had used language similar to that used in Rwanda before the 1994 genocide.
Guinea: From Ebola To Election Success
OVERSHADOWED by the devastating effects of Ebola, and in serious economic distress, the West Africa country had its election on October 11. President Alpha Conde was returned to a second five-year term. The opposition shouted fraud and refused to accept the results but their challenge in court failed.
Guinea holds one-third of the world’s reserves of the aluminum ore bauxite and also produces diamonds and gold. It is relying on mining to boost its economy, estimated by the World Bank at $6.6 billion in 2014, after a slowdown caused by Ebola.
More than 2,500 people have died of Ebola in Guinea since the outbreak was declared in March 2014, from a toll of more than 11,300 in three West African states.
The outbreak has dwindled virtually to zero, but two new cases were declared in Guinea after the polls.
In a country with a history of political violence, several people were killed in election-related clashes. But the margin of Conde’s victory may make it harder for opposition’s accusations to gain traction.
Conde took power in 2010, ending two years of military rule during which security forces massacred more than 150 people at a stadium in the capital. Guinea gained independence from France in 1958 and from then until 2008 it was ruled by only two presidents, both of who were authoritarian.
Tanzania: Tradition Of Peaceful Polls
AFTER 50 years of being in power, Tanzania’s ruling Chama Cha Mapinduizu (CCM) faced a stiff opposition led by Mr. Edward Lowassa, formerly a Prime Minister on the platform of CCM and right hand man of current President Jakaya Kekwete. But CCM candidate Mr. John Magufuli won the October 25 poll. Election results were cancelled in Zanzibar, a semiautonomous part of Tanzania. The opposition claimed that it had won the elections in Zanzibar, and refused to concede in Tanzania.
Historically, Tanzania has been one of the most peaceful and unified nations on the continent, an exception to the bitter ethnic rivalries that dog many of its neighbours. So far, this election has been mostly peaceful. But with the leading opposition party refusing to concede, many people are still worried about protests.
Cote d’Ivoire: Surmounting Violence Succession
HOLDING on the same day the Tanzania’s election, October 25, and its first election after its civil war, polls in Cote d’Ivoire returned President Allasane Outtara decisively to power for another five-year term, in an elections seen as key to cementing the country’s bid to overcome a history of electoral violence. Some key opposition figures had refused to take part in the elections saying that it was improperly organised. However, some opposition leaders accepted the results of the poll.
Outtara won a second term outright by garnering almost 84 percent of ballots. It is hoped that the country will return to its history of one of the most peaceful countries on the continent.