Includes specific commentary on Uganda, Nigeria, Central Africa and Zimbabwe
Africa, it is said, is a continent always gripped by paradox. On the one hand, its people are resilient and hopeful while on the other, its leaders are self-serving and do not readily respect the will and aspirations of their people. Recent events on the continent appear to underline this perspective. After its election, Ivory Coast saw the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, nullify about 400,000 votes in order to declare himself the winner. The United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Commission of West Africa States (ECOWAS), a regional body, as well as the United States and European Union have all endorsed Mr. Alassane Outtarra, who was declared the winner by the Elections Commission, as the duly elected President of the country. Yet, Mr. Gbagbo has refused to cede power and step down.
As a result the country is gripped by a political impasse occasioned by violence which has resulted in hundreds of deaths. Gbagbo’s supporters including state security forces have been accused of committing most of the violence. The country appears to be on a precipice of returning to war. Numerous international efforts aimed at resolving the impasse have so far proven unsuccessful. Former President Thabo Mbeki was dispatched by the African Union (AU). The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sent a team of three African leaders from Sierra Leone, Cape Verde and Benin. African Union changed its mediator to Kenya’s Prime Minister, Raila Odinga. Then on January 29 AU appointed a panel of five heads of State to negotiate a solution to the crisis within a month. So far Gbagbo has refused to step down.
Meanwhile, in Tunisia, the people took to the street in protest against the military dictatorship of President Ben Ali, who came to power in 1987 following a bloodless coup d’état. He remained in power for more than 23 years through successive elections. All this time, he was supported by the European Union and the United States, which saw him as an ally in the war against terrorism. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) portrayed Tunisia as one of the most successful African countries given its obeisance to their policies , which included Tunisia accession to GATT and the WTO, by entering into a “closer relationship with the EU, under an agreement removing all tariffs and restrictions on goods between the two.” France and Italy are Tunisia’s two major trading partners.
As a further commitment to the orthodoxies of the IMF and World Bank, Tunisia adopted policies in the areas of “low public sector deficit, controlled inflation and renewed credit-worthiness.” The country proceeded to privatized “a total of 160 state owned enterprises; while its stock market “capitalization of the 50 largest companies listed on the Course de Tunis was worth US$5.7 billion by 2007.” All this time, the personal fortunes of the Ben Ali’s family were handsomely multiplied while greed and corruption pervaded the political landscape.
Meanwhile unemployment and inequality increased. As is central to the World Bank and IMF economic policies, the Tunisian government removed subsidies to the poor, resulting in “rising housing costs and weaker welfare protections.” Essentially, in Tunisia, as elsewhere in Africa, where these policies have been imposed, the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer.
It was within this context in the town of Sidi Bouzid that a young university graduate, Mohammed Bouzazi, an unemployed street peddler, found himself. Mr.Bouzaza’s produce had been confiscated by the police. Frustrated, forlorn and with no prospects in sight, he set himself ablaze in protest. This ignited what has been labeled the “Jasmine Revolution.” Word spread, people came into the streets and the President abdicated and fled to Saudi Arabia.
The Tunisa story has brought hope and reaffirmed the power of the people against dictatorial regimes, not only in Africa but elsewhere in the Middle East. The contagion has spread to Egypt resulting in the end of the three decade reign of President Mubarak, Egypt’s heavy-handed president. The people’s movement to end dictatorial regimes continues with the violence in Libya.
It is against this background that we analyze the presidential elections in Africa in 2011. It is commonly said that for every two steps Africa makes along the path to democratic governance one giant step is taken backwards. Though this may be true, it is not because Africans do not want control of their lives, but because of the prevailing circumstances with the body polity within the African continent – a result of history, greed, corruption as well as geo-politics, neocolonialism and the doctrine of the free market.
In 2011 African nations scheduled for presidential elections include: Djibouti, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Benin, Cape Verde, Gambia, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, the Seychelles, Madagascar, Zambia, Zimbabwe and maybe Egypt given the current crisis.
It may be helpful to very briefly examine the state of democracy in Africa more generally before attempting a cursory appraisal of the upcoming elections within some of the individual African countries mentioned. No doubt, the majority of African countries have, at least at the theoretical and rhetorical levels, embraced the concept that democracy is the way of the future. However, the content and character of that democratic agenda remains highly contested.
Leading African commentators, activists, politicians and scholars continue to debate what form or forms should democracy in Africa take. There are those who contend that Western Democracy is an imposition upon Africa. This view holds that given Africa’s history and the condition of state formation on the continent, western democracy is not the appropriate framework for governance. This view questions the relevance and efficacy of this form of democracy by pointing out a number of factors including the absence of class formation within which a given class interest is formed and then canvassed among the electorates by way of political party formations. It is furthered that in the absence of class formation, ethnicity becomes the vehicle for political mobilization resulting in conflicts, violence and civil war. This view, as well, points to the absence of a genuine African bourgeoisie or a middle class, as some would prefer, to lead the democracy project. In addition, they posit the lack of industrialization on the continent more broadly with the absence of a working class. It is suggested that given the fact that the vast majority of Africans continue to eke their livelihood through subsistence agriculture and live in rural environment, western democracy becomes anathema in such conditions.
Another point of view suggests that popular participation, sometimes referred to as participatory democracy, is the preferred paradigm best suited to African conditions. In the minds of its proponents, Africans cherish consensus over voting and that democracy, as is manifested in voting, is a zero sum game, where the will and interests of the minority or marginalized groups are vanquished. This view contends that community should be at the core of decision making simply because they are the ones most impacted by such decisions particularly when it comes to war, justice and peace.
And yet the situations of African peoples are not all that different from the rest of humanity. They have families, seek means of acquiring skills to become productive and strive to live a life of dignity. As a part of the human family, they are part of the world. They influence others and have been influenced by others. They have been oppressed, have struggled against their oppression and won their rights to self-determination, independence, freedom and justice. Therefore, it would appear most improbable for them to somehow not be able to fashion a system that would guarantee the dignified livelihood they have so valiantly and gallantly secured for themselves.
Therefore the debates about the nature, form and character of democratic processes in Africa have to, as a matter of moral imperative, be informed by a number of values and principles found almost anywhere else in the world and especially in Africa. These values and principle can be categorized as follows:
• A constitutional framework which guarantees and protect the basic rights of citizens including the rights to assemble, association, free speech and right to information,
• A political system with checks and balances, transparent and accountable, with institutions that ensures that rights are enjoyed by all and all are equal before the law,
• An economic justice system that assures affordable access to health, housing, education and opportunities to be productive,
• A secure environment that ensures the dignity of the human person, the right to a dignified livelihood, security and
• A developmental framework that takes into cognizance the protection of the environment or environmental justice and people-centered sustainable development.
Yet, as things now stand in Africa, these principles and values are either being paid lip-service, pursued haphazardly, if at all, or are ridden roughshod over by the powers that be. This is the case of Rwanda, Ivory Coast, the DRC and Sierra Leone to name a few. However, there may be some African leaders who are attempting to pursue these objectives tirelessly, but possibly unsuccessfully, given the global imperative that suggests the absence of an alternative to the free market paradigm. This then brings us to the cursory appraisals of some of the recently held elections and the upcoming ones.
In East Africa the most important election during 2011 may be the Ugandan Presidential and Parliamentary elections which are to be held on 18 February 2011. President Yoweri Museveni who has been President since 1986 is expected to win the Presidential election. Others contenders include Dr. Kizza Besigye, who heads the Inter-Party Cooperation, a coalition of several political formations; Mr. Olara Otunnu of the Uganda Peoples Congress and Mr. Norbert Mao of the Democratic Party. The Country’s 14 million voters, 3.5 million of whom may be voting for the first time, will also elect 375 members of Parliament. About 1,700 candidates are running for Parliament.
President Museveni seized power in Uganda following a civil war and has ruled the East Africa country ever since. He has been credited with maintaining the peace in most parts of the country, improved the economy+ and reduced human rights abuses. There is on-going conflict in the North where the Lord Resistance Army continues to pose major threats. A peace agreement between the government and the LRA was signed during 2008 but it has not yet come to fruition. In July 2010, Kampala, the capital, was a scene of a massive bomb attacks by Somali Islamist, who claimed they were protesting Uganda’s role as peacekeepers in Somalia. Recently, the Africa Union decided to increase their peacekeeping troops to 12,000, most of who will be contributed by Uganda. Uganda is a close ally of the US on its war against terrorism and has therefore received substantial support from the United States. High level American Officials including Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Mr. Johnny Carson and the Deputy Secretary of State Mr. James Steinberg, were recently in Kampala to meet with President Museveni and the opposition leaders.
According to press reports, opposition leaders said that a free and fair election in Uganda is not possible as President Museveni has established networks of supporters in order to rig the elections. They claimed that the voter rolls have been padded by “ghost voters”. Dr. Kizza Besigye threatened that if the elections are rigged, he will lead a protest movement as happened in Tunisia and is now happening in Egypt, to oust Museveni and end his more than 25 years rule.
The London-based Africa Confidential reported that about 18,000 “extra election constables” are being trained to man the polling stations. According to the paper, “the mass training of young men in military science and political education… is a throwback to old NRM mobilization.” The National Resistance Movement (NRM) is the guerilla army that brought Museveni to power in 1986. Opposition leaders believe that these “extra election constables” are militias which will be used to intimidate and harass them.
The discovery of oil in Uganda means that elections would be even more important as different actors seek to control the wealth which might emanate from its exploitation. This may render the politics more volatile. President Museveni has been unabashed about the oil discovery, telling some of his supporters that he can not now leave power after oil has been discovered and even if he did, he would ensure that a stalwart of the NRM takes over.
Uganda is one of the most important countries in East Africa and the result of the election is important in terms of stability in the region. East Africa is historically a theater of war and Somalia is a good reminder that peace and stability is a necessary condition for the people of the region. It is left to the powers that be in Uganda to hold credible elections or indulge in folly and rig the election thus creating the condition for violence in the country. With the discovery of oil the situation is rife for the return to full scale war. The stakes are high indeed.
Perhaps the most important election in West Africa may be the Nigeria elections slated for April 2011. Although the recent elections in Niger, which ended military rule and probably set the country on a democratic trajectory is very significant for the region as well. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, where internecine violence continues to undermine the search for peaceful co-existence among its more than 150 million people. In October, as the country celebrated its 50th independence celebration a bomb went off in the capital, Abuja. Scores were killed. A militant group in the restive Delta region was the alleged perpetrator. As recently as December 31, 2010, another bomb blast went off near a military barracks, also in Abuja killing more than 10 persons.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared his candidacy and will lead the ruling People Democratic Party. Amongst his rivals are: Nuhu Ribadu, the former head of Nigeria’s anti-corruption Commission under former President Olusegun Obassanjo. He appears to represent a generational shift in Nigerian politics. He is a much respected anti-corruption crusader; even though some Nigerians believe that his prosecution of corruption cases was selective, focusing primarily on those who were in opposition to Obassanjo at the time. He denied these allegations insisting that he only followed the available evidence. Another candidate is the former military dictator Mohammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change and Mr. Pat Utomi of the Social Democratic Mega Party. Observers believe that with the plethora of political parties and several presidential aspirants, the ruling party, could likely win the Presidential election.
The history of electioneering in Nigeria has been problematic and the up-coming election may not be an exception. It is common practice during Nigerian elections for politicians to go on a vote-buying spree, hire thugs to intimidate, harass or even assassinate their opponents. Nigerian courts have ruled against the ruling party for fraudulently winning elections in several states and those elections results were annulled. In some cases by the time the court reaches its decision, the election calendar has come full circle.
Nigeria epitomizes the tendency among African politicians to see the state as a vehicle for wealth accumulation. The country has some of the best educated citizenry on the African continent; its citizens are extremely enterprising and are not adverse to risk taking. It is amply endowed with mineral wealth including oil. However, the vast majority of its citizens have not benefitted from these attributes. Whereas, enormous steps have been taken, in the last ten years, to make public officials more accountable to the people, the scourge of corruption and abuse of power continue to pervade the political landscape.
Entrenching a culture of democracy, transparency and accountability in Nigeria will have significant impart in the region. It is not foolhardiness to suggest that if Nigeria can get its public policy to benefit the poor majority, the positive impact this will have on the rest of Africa will be impossible to miss. Will Nigeria and Nigerians step to the plate? Some would say, “Don’t hold your breath”. But as they say in some parts of Africa, “time will tell”.
In Central Africa, the Cameroon election is one to watch. But once you are thinking Central Africa, it is unavoidable that you have got to check out what is happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Of course, in the Central African Republic, the opposition is crying foul following its recent elections. Maybe, except for the opposition parties, everyone who cared to pay any scant attention to this forgotten part of the world knows that there will never ever be any free and fair election in the CAR until the status quo is purged as was recently and successfully done in Tunisia. (The Tunisia example is now the new thing in town and we will beat it to death.)
To be sure, Central Africa demonstrates a host of commonalities easily discernible in African politics and electoral processes. The first is that the incumbent will not entertain the idea of free and fair election. So we can expect Paul Biya to win in Cameroon and Joseph Kabila to win in DRC.
Second is the tendency in francophone Africa to consider the option of building a dynasty. Gabon, Togo as well as the DRC constitute this tendency. In all of these countries, the sons followed in the footsteps of the fathers, all of whom were, to be charitable, autocrats. In Senegal, it appears that President Abdullai Wade may in fact anoint his son to succeed him.
Third, the urgency is thrust upon Africa political analyst to consider examining opposition leaders who have been heads of their formations from inception. In the DRC, Etienne Tshisekeda has been in the opposition, from like when I first heard of the Congo, as far back as in the late 70’s. John Fru Ndi, a rival to Paul Biya for the presidency of Cameroon is another. He has led the Social Democratic Front in the last twenty years. Some of his colleagues have left and initiated new political formations including Kah Walla of Go Cameroon (Cameroon O Bosso), the only woman candidate for President in Cameroon with grassroots support. In terms of Francophone Africa, this trend needs unpacking given the contemporary history in that part of Africa. In Senegal, Abdullai Wade a long time opposition figure came to power. His pre-occupation since he got power appears to be a penchant for maintaining power. Alas, he wants his son to succeed him. In La Cote d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo was an opposition figure during all of Houphouet Boigny’s reign. He got power and as in the case of Wade, he seems pre-occupy with keeping that power. To hell with the country. Gbagbo just wants power. He held it for 10 years already but that is not the point.
In Central Africa, nothing new is expected to emerge from the electoral processes in Cameroon, and DRC. Central Africa Republic only just demonstrated that sad reality. Burundi and Rwanda offers the world a major challenge as well. In Rwanda, Paul Kagame continues to conduct the state of affairs on the premise that whoever opposes him is a genocidaire or intent on undermining state security. He is intolerable and takes extreme actions against his real and perceived opponents. Like Nigeria, political assassination appears to be a strategy in Rwandan politics. Recently, in South Africa, a senior military advisor to Paul Kagame was shot. He did not die. His wife publicly declared that the Government of Rwanda was responsible for the assassination attempt. In Rwanda, two journalists who have queried the conduct of the gacaca process, a government controlled transitional justice process, and/or criticized government policies are thrown in jail. No doubt the government would say, they broke the law and the court found the journalists guilty. This is the rule of law. As they say in South Africa “finish and klarr”.
Central Africa represents a cocktail of a complex and difficult politics in Africa. This condition is only made more alarming by the armed conflicts in the region including the on-going war in the DRC and the low-level violent conflicts in CAR and those straddling border areas in Rwanda and Burundi. The unconquerable and irrevocable prospects for democratic entrenchment in the region are yet to be demonstrated in the region.
Southern Africa is one region in Africa where tenets of democratic expressions are becoming routine. South Africa, Botswana and perhaps Zambia are clear signs of this. However, in Botswana, only the ruling party has governed the country since independence but they have had credible elections throughout and different personalities have governed the country and smoothly transferred power. Indeed the current President, Ian Khama is the son of the country’s first post independent President, Sir Seretse Khama. In South Africa, the Africa National Congress has been in power since 1994 following the collapse of Apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela. South Africa is probably the only country in Africa where the citizens protest in demand of the rights to housing, education and employment yearly and get a measured response from the powers that be. The ANC-led government is perhaps the only existing African government that has improved the social conditions of a significant section of its population since taking power. The government has constructed more than 2 million houses since 1994 for poorer and rural people. Recently, the government has committed itself to creating millions of jobs within the next several years. Its middle class is among the fastest growing in sub-Saharan Africa. The media is free and robust. Freedom of association is widespread. Political debates are informed, vigorous and robust. The country boasts the largest economy in Sub-Saharan Africa. That said, it is largely owned and/or controlled by a minority white interest.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe continues to pose the most difficulties in so far as the political and electoral processes in the region are concerned. President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, does not appear to be willing to relinquish power. The coalition government, an outcome of the last elections, whose results were largely condemned by the opposition and Zimbabweans opposed to Mugabe continued rule, is not accomplishing key mandates spelt out in the Global Political Agreement which came into effect in 2008. For example, recently the Movement for Democratic Change complained that Mugabe continues to name diplomats without consulting them. According to the MDC, the GPA noted that any diplomatic posting which becomes available during the existence of the unity government can only be filled as a result of consultation by the signatories to the Agreement. Recently, South Africa accepted a new diplomat named by Harare amidst protests from the MDC.
At the same time President Mugabe has said that he wants elections to be conducted in 2011. This appears not to be possible for a number of reasons. Primarily, there has to be a constitutional reform process, which may not be completed until September. A referendum on the new constitution has to be held. At the moment the Election governing body has said that it does not have the necessary funding to conduct a referendum. Without a new constitution which would include new elections laws, guidelines and mandates, a free and fair election in Zimbabwe does not appear possible.
Meanwhile, civil society organizations and human rights groups continue to call attention to the increasing violence in the country. They have suggested that supporters of President Mugabe are visiting mayhem and destruction on real and perceive opponents of their “dear leader”. The world-wide Anglican Communion, which represents about 77 million members internationally is said to have written a letter to President Mugabe in which the call on him to stop the harassment of their congregants in the country.
The process of entrenching democratic practices in a country certainly has its pros and cons. What is clear is that the possibility for improving the material conditions of African people can only come about once they are able to choose their own leaders, freely and fairly. The chosen leaders must be responsive to the real needs of the people in concrete ways by improving their living conditions and creating a conducive environment in which their children can grow with the hope that a certain and prosperous future awaits them.
You can read more of Ezekiel’s analysis on his blog: www.ezekielpajibo.wordpress.com