Date:23 Jan 2017
FIVE AFRICAN ELECTIONS TO WATCH IN 2017
Some significant elections took place in Africa in 2016 with mixed evidence for democratic progress. Elections in Ghana, Equitorial Guinea, Cape Verde, Djibouti, Sao Tome and Principe, Niger, Gambia, Chad etc. saw some presidents retaining power and others saw democratic transition of power. For instance, the 7th December, 2016, general elections in Ghana ended successfully and the good people of Ghana accepted the outcome of the polls. It is worth mentioning that Ghana has maintained its enviable reputation as the beacon of democracy in Africa and beyond. The 2016 polls was the seventh presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana, since the inception of the 1992 constitution.
Yet, elsewhere things were not quite so straight forward. In Gambia, Yahya Jammeh is contesting the outcome of the December 1 presidential elections. Yahya Jammeh, the Gambia’s autocratic president, who once claimed he had a “billion-year” mandate to rule, lost the elections to a real-estate developer, Adama Barrow. Jammeh had kept the tiny West African under an iron grip for more than two decades, and there were fears that the eccentric 51 year old would use violence or fraud to maintain power. Yahya Jammeh who became a rare dictator to accept defeat in any democratic elections agreed to hand over power to his contender Adama Barrow. In latest development, Jammeh who had conceded defeat changed his position rejecting the results of the presidential election leading to ECOWAS (the West-Africa regional bloc) to give Jammeh an ultimatum and also use military intervention to oust him from power.
Despite the gains achieved with some of the elections on the continent towards electoral democracy, challenges still remain. And in 2017, there will be more elections to measure the continent’s progress in its pursuit towards a more democratic future. Here are five elections that are worth watching more closely.
1) Kenya General Elections – 8th August, 2017
Kenya will hold its sixth general elections in August 8, 2017. Much attention will be on Kenya given its history of electoral violence. Already there is tension heating up around this year’s presidential poll. Last year a special sitting of parliament to debate changes to the electoral law ended with a fist fight on the floor of the house. With less than eight months until the general election, Kenyan politicians are wrangling over how the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) should carry out the process.
In September last year, members of parliament from both sides of the political divide passed electoral reforms, following weeks of protests demanding the electoral commissioners to step down. The commission was accused of favoring the ruling Jubilee Coalition administration. At least 22 million voters are expected to cast their ballots in the upcoming general elections to elect new leaders after the IEBC set the date for the elections. Despite efforts by the MPs to move the polls to December the electoral body fixed the date to August 8, 2017 as directed in the constitution.
Raila Odinga, opposition leader for Coalition of Reform and Democracy (CORD) alliance and Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent president are the main contenders for the upcoming general elections. Security and corruption are likely to be prominent issues to dominate this year’s campaign. 2016 has been a dark year for Kenya in terms of security as terrorists group (al-Shabab) launched several attacks within and outside the borders targeting Kenyan interests. Kenya walks the tight rope and depending on how the IEBC conducts the election, might see it maintain its fragile democracy or slide into yet another gloomy post-election period.
2) The Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR)
Since the assassination of Lumumba in February, 1961, the DRC has never had a peaceful regime transition. After years of political uncertainty and continued secessionist attempts, Joseph Mobutu, Lumumba’s military chief of staff, took control of the government in military coup in 1965 and ruled through to 1997. During this time, Mobutu changed the country’s name to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the richest countries in the world, in terms of natural resources. The DRC faces a critical test in 2017. Joseph Kabila has ruled the country for 15 years and his term of office expired in 2016. Elections were supposed to be haven held in the country on November 27, 2016 to produce a successor to Joseph Kabila, whose second and final term in office ended at midnight on December 19, 2016. However, the country’s electoral authority (Commission électorale nationale indépendante—CENI) indicated it had decided to postpone the elections because the country had not yet successfully conducted a census to provide it with an accurate number of voters. In addition, the CENI stated it did not have the adequate financial resources required to conduct a credible elections. Despite the fact that Joseph Kabila’s reign has been marked by increasing sectarian violence, deepened poverty, high levels of corruption, a worsening job situation (especially for urban youth), and a tendency for the government to respond to citizen dissent with violence, since 2006 the country has been somewhat of an “electoral democracy”, although “fragile and dysfunctional”. The hope is that this election, especially if it is undertaken peacefully, fairly, and in a way that is considered credible by the majority of Congolese, could go a long way to consolidating the country’s embryonic democracy.
There is optimism among many observers that new elections would provide the people of Congo with the opportunity to choose new leaders who can unite the country and create an enabling environment for peaceful coexistence, investment and job creation, and a general improvement in the quality of life of citizens, especially that of the bottom half of the population.
3) Liberia General Election – October 10, 2017
In October 2017, Liberians will go to the polls to elect a new Head of State. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president was elected by Liberians in 2005 following a brutal 14-year civil war in which around a quarter of a million people died. She was re-elected for a second term in 2011 and is due to step down in 2017, as the Liberian constitution limits heads of states to two consecutive terms. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf leaves office after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, dealing with the Ebola crisis, passing Freedom of Information bill, and taking on the taxing effort of rebuilding a country ravaged by war.
George Weah, an ex-footballer who is considered by Fifa as the highest ranking African footballer of the 20th century, and whose first presidential bid failed after he lost to Sirleaf has announced his second attempt to become president of Liberia. The 1995 World Player has confirmed he will be contesting as a candidate in the 2017 elections. Weah could also face off with Jewel Howard-Taylor, the ex-wife of former Liberian president and warlord Charles Taylor. Jewel, considered the second most powerful woman in Liberian politics, is a twice-elected senator from Bong County, which has the third highest number of voters in Liberia. Joseph Boakai, the current vice president will also run for president on the government’s record. The election is a significant one as it remains to be seen who will fill the void that will be left by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf described as the iron woman and also if Liberia can be counted as part of the few Africa Nations to have a peaceful transition from one elected government to the another.
4) Rwanda General Elections – August 4, 2017
Rwandans will go to the polls on 4th August, 2017, to elect the Head of State in the country’s third multiparty presidential elections. Paul Kagame’s Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) seized power in July 1994 in the wake of the state-sponsored genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people, mostly Tutsi. Kagame has been president since 2000. A referendum in 2015 approved the constitutional amendment that allows incumbent president Paul Kagame to run for the third term in office in 2017, as well as shortening presidential terms from seven to five years, although the latter change will not come into effect in 2024. President Paul Kagame is the first president Rwandans have had who is not involved in any political divisive agenda. He is widely admired for ably leading a very complicated liberation struggle, stopping the genocide against the Tutsi, rebuilding the nation, building national unity and dealing with the consequences of the genocide. Kagame has transformed the country in just less than 20 years. His vision for Rwanda, his dream, focus, resilience to the core principles of the liberation struggle, all put him above the rest. Rwanda is a secure country and has become an icon of peace and security in Africa and beyond.
Rwanda is a small landlocked country in East Africa. Despite the difficult global economic environment, Rwanda’s economy has expanded at an average annual rate of more than 8 percent during the past five years. Rwanda still faces significant challenges. The institutional foundations of rule of law are fragile. While the overall security situation has become more stable, the absence of a well-functioning legal system and lack of transparency keep the judiciary susceptible to political interference, holding back anti-corruption efforts. Development indicators tell a story of significant changes in education, public health and the economy – Rwandans are living longer and are better off economically than 20 years ago – but extreme poverty remains a reality for more than 60% of the population. Rwanda tops the global league tables for the percentage of female parliamentarians. Fewer than 22% of MPs worldwide are women; in Rwanda, almost 64% are.
5) Angola General Elections - August 2017
Angola an oil rich southern African country will go to the polls to elect parliamentarians who will in turn elect the president. Jose Edurado Dos Santos, second longest serving president in Africa surprised many observers by announcing in December 2016 that he will not be contesting the upcoming elections after serving 37 years in power. He will, however, be under intense spotlight to ensure a smooth transition of power for the first time in 37 years. The MPLA, Dos Santos’ political party, have announced current prime minister, Joao Lourenco as the presidential candidate for the party. The 2017 elections will only be the third time the country will be heading to the polls after the civil ended in 2002. In Angola, the leader of the party that wins majority seats in parliament automatically becomes the president. But Angola is still dominantly a one-party state, ruled by Dos Santos and his family who have amassed wealth and power over the last four decades. Yet, the fourth elections in the country since it gained independence from Portugal in 1975, come at a time when the country has been hit by the slump in global crude prices – diminishing its foreign exchange revenues. The 2017 elections will test the maturity of Angola democracy and if successful, confer a measure of legitimacy on its government.
Africa has long been considered politically unstable and fragile due to preponderance of unconstitutional regimes such as through military coups. Since the early 1960s, Africa has experienced frequent and intermittent coup d’états. However, recent years have raised hope for improved political transition and stability across the continent. Free, fair and transparent elections constitute an important and significant step towards successful democracy. Over the past year’s elections and peaceful change of government have become more the norm. Africa as a whole is becoming more democratic, stable and prosperous as a results of frequent elections.