Nige­ria poll Africa’s ‘Bell­wether’

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

LA­GOS — Nige­ria’s elec­tion on March 28, al­ready post­poned once and fraught with ten­sion, may de­ter­mine in­vestor and for­eign lead­ers’ per­cep­tions of whether democ­racy has taken hold in Africa.

As the con­ti­nent’s most pop­u­lous coun­try, its big­gest econ­omy and top oil pro­ducer, Nige­ria’s con­duct dur­ing and af­ter the vote is be­ing closely mon­i­tored.

The West African na­tion hasn’t had a peace­ful tran­si­tion of power be­tween par­ties since in­de­pen­dence from the U.K. in 1960, with the Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party in charge since a re­turn to civil­ian rule in 1999. The PDP is fac­ing its tough­est con­test yet af­ter op­po­si­tion par­ties merged in 2013 to un­seat Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan.

“This elec­tion will be a bell­wether for the en­tire con­ti­nent,” Linda Thomas-green­field, the US As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State for African Af­fairs, told re­porters.

“The world is watch­ing, the con­ti­nent is watch­ing, Nige­ria’s neigh­bours are watch­ing this elec­tion.”

Elec­toral au­thor­i­ties post­poned the elec­tion one week be­fore it was sched­uled to take place on 14 Fe­bru­ary, fol­low­ing a re­quest from Mr Jonathan’s se­cu­rity ad­viser, Sambo Da­suki, who said the mil­i­tary was too stretched fight­ing an Is­lamist in­sur­gency in the north­east of the coun­try to keep vot­ers safe.

Civil-rights groups have warned of the threat of a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis if the vote is post­poned again or scrapped.

The po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty, cou­pled with a plunge in oil prices, caused the cur­rency to drop 18 per­cent against the dollar in the past six months, the worst per­former of 24 African na­tions tracked by Bloomberg.

Peace­ful Tran­si­tion Muham­madu Buhari, a for­mer mil­i­tary leader who aims to un­seat Mr Jonathan, said the elec­tion has “great im­pli­ca­tions” be­yond Nige­ria’s bor­ders and it will test the strength of the prin­ci­ple that vot­ers can re­place gov­ern­ments with­out pro­vok­ing vi­o­lence.

“Peace­ful al­ter­na­tion of power through com­pet­i­tive elec­tions have hap­pened in Ghana, Sene­gal, Malawi and Mau­ri­tius in re­cent times,” Mr Buhari said in a speech at the Royal In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs, also known as Chatham House, in Lon­don. “The prospects of demo­cratic con­sol­i­da­tion in Africa will be fur­ther bright­ened when that even­tu­ally hap­pens in Nige­ria.”

A sur­vey of 2,400 adults in De­cem­ber showed sup­port is evenly split at 42 per­cent for the PDP and Mr Buhari’s All Pro­gres­sives Congress, ac­cord­ing to Afro­barom­e­ter, a re­search group whose fun­ders in­clude the Mo Ibrahim Foun­da­tion and the US Agency for In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment.

Elec­tion Vi­o­lence Ivory Coast, the world’s big­gest co­coa pro­ducer, will hold a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Oc­to­ber, its first since a dis­puted bal­lot in 2010, when then-in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Lau­rent Gbagbo re­fused to con­cede de­feat to op­po­si­tion can­di­date Alas­sane Ou­at­tara. A five-month con­flict that fol­lowed left at least 3 000 peo­ple dead.

Burk­ina Faso is sched­uled to hold pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions on Oc­to­ber 11, al­most a year af­ter na­tion­wide protests ousted Pres­i­dent Blaise Com­paore fol­low­ing 27 years in of­fice.

A tran­si­tional pres­i­dent was ap­pointed about three weeks af­ter Mr Com­paore fled to Ivory Coast.

While do­mes­tic fac­tors are the main driv­ers of the risk of civil un­rest in coun­tries such as Guinea and Togo, which will also hold elec­tions this year, “there are signs of some em­u­la­tion within Africa,” Jes­per Cullen, a sub-sa­ha­ran Africa an­a­lyst at Risk Ad­vi­sory Group, a global risk man­age­ment con­sul­tancy, said by phone from Lon­don on 5 March.

be bad, they ex­pect un­rest.”

Guinea In­sta­bil­ity Ten­sion has in­ten­si­fied as the mil­i­tary strug­gles to con­tain a six-year in­sur­gency by Boko Haram mil­i­tants. The group’s cam­paign to im­pose Is­lamic law on the coun­try has spilled over into neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, in­clud­ing Chad and Cameroon, killed about 15,000 peo­ple since 2009, and forced at least a mil­lion Nige­ri­ans from their homes.

“The signs are that there is greater po­ten­tial for vi­o­lence and civil un­rest in Nige­ria than last time, and this time there is a much more se­vere threat of ter­ror­ism,” Mr Cullen said.

Else­where, Guinea, the West African na­tion hit by the worst-ever out­break of Ebola, is sched­uled to hold gen­eral elec­tions this year that “run the risk of in­sta­bil­ity and in­ter-eth­nic vi­o­lence,” ac­cord­ing to the Brussels-based In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group.

A leg­isla­tive vote in 2013 was de­layed by al­most three years as a re­sult of vi­o­lence af­ter the 2010 pres­i­den­tial bal­lot, the coun­try’s first demo­cratic vote since in­de­pen­dence.

Po­lit­i­cal Will The out­look isn’t all bleak, said Al­bert Essien, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Ecobank Transna­tional Inc., which op­er­ates in 36 African coun­tries. Burk­ina Faso’s rel­a­tively quick move to a tran­si­tional ad­min­is­tra­tion fol­low­ing Com­paore’s res­ig­na­tion shows there’s po­lit­i­cal will on the con­ti­nent to re­solve con­flict, he said.

“The good thing about Africa to­day is that when prob­lems arise, coun­tries come around quickly to work with stake­hold­ers in that par­tic­u­lar coun­try,” Essien said in a March 3 in­ter­view in Lon­don. “I am op­ti­mistic that Nige­ria will not turn into flames.” — Bloomberg

A dis­abled man ges­tures next to a ve­hi­cle with posters cam­paign­ing for APC can­di­dates Muham­madu buhari and Yemi Os­in­bajo dur­ing a street pro­ces­sion tagged ‘March for Change’ in la­gos on satur­day.

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