Key African elec­tions to watch in 2019

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - By Abdi Latif Dahir, Yomi Kazeem & Lynsey Chutel

TENS of mil­lions of Africans will go to the polls this year in the hope of us­ing the bal­lot to deepen the qual­ity of demo­cratic gover­nance. From the ru­ral hin­ter­lands to ma­jor cities, from the con­ti­nent’s south to the north, at least 20 na­tions will hold pres­i­den­tial (Nige­ria, Tu­nisia, Mau­ri­ta­nia), par­lia­men­tary (Guinea, Cameroon, Mali) and coun­cil polls (Ghana, Niger).

For all the pos­si­bil­i­ties pre­sented by free and fair polls, un­cer­tain­ties con­tinue to loom over key ones like Libya’s pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary polls.

Di­vi­sions along re­gional and tribal lines have torn apart the north African state since Muam­mar Gaddafi was de­posed in 2011, leav­ing many peo­ple strug­gling to se­cure ba­sic ameni­ties.

The in­ter­sec­tion of tech­nol­ogy and democ­racy will also come to the sur­face in elec­tions, in­clud­ing South Africa and Nige­ria’s, where news or­gan­i­sa­tions and so­cial me­dia gi­ant Face­book have both kick­started ini­tia­tives to tackle mis­in­for­ma­tion and fake news.

In­ter­net shut­downs, which have be­come a re­cur­ring fac­tor dur­ing tense po­lit­i­cal times, could also be an is­sue in coun­tries like Mali, Chad, and Al­ge­ria who have pre­vi­ously dis­rupted con­nec­tiv­ity.

In a re­gion of lib­er­a­tion move­ments turned lead­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties, there are un­likely to be ma­jor sur­prises in south­ern Africa’s elec­tion sea­son.

South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Mozam­bique are all ruled by po­lit­i­cal pow­ers that have been in com­mand since in­de­pen­dence. De­spite po­lit­i­cal dis­sat­is­fac­tion, these po­lit­i­cal par­ties have al­ways been able to tap into the emo­tional con­nec­tion of his­tory, and the weak­ness of op­po­si­tion par­ties.

As African vot­ers face these is­sues and more, here are 10 elec­tions to watch in the next 12 months, listed in chrono­log­i­cal or­der:

Nige­ria (Fe­bru­ary) Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari, 76, is seek­ing re-elec­tion and will be up against his for­mer ally turned ri­val Atiku Abubakar, 72, who served as Nige­ria’s vice-pres­i­dent be­tween 1999 and 2007. Buhari is again run­ning on his anti-cor­rup­tion mes­sage, while Atiku is promis­ing to fix Nige­ria’s un­der-per­form­ing econ­omy and tackle high un­em­ploy­ment. But with an in­creas­ingly dis­cern­ing elec­torate, largely con­sist­ing of young vot­ers who are more vo­cal about the short­com­ings of the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, “third force” can­di­dates like #BringBack­OurGirls ac­tivist Oby Ezek­we­sili will be hop­ing to cause an upset. The pres­i­den­tial elec­tion takes place on Fe­bru­ary 16.

Sene­gal (Fe­bru­ary) Pres­i­dent Macky Sall will be seek­ing a sec­ond term in of­fice with a fo­cus on eco­nomic growth.

The 57-year-old for­mer ge­ol­o­gist kick­started his pres­i­dency in 2012 by launch­ing the am­bi­tious Plan for Emerg­ing Sene­gal, which aims to trans­form key sec­tors from agri­cul­ture to health­care, pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion and ed­u­ca­tion by 2035.

In a 2016 ref­er­en­dum, Sene­gal voted to re­duce pres­i­den­tial terms to five years from seven years, a pro­posal promised and backed by pres­i­dent Macky Sall. His re-elec­tion prospect was boosted by the rul­ing Benno Bokk Yakaar coali­tion’s sweep­ing par­lia­men­tary vic­tory in Au­gust 2017. Two lead­ing op­po­si­tion fig­ures, son of for­mer pres­i­dent Karim Wade and ex-Dakar mayor Khal­ifa Sall (no re­la­tion) will be un­able to con­test due to cor­rup­tion con­vic­tions. The elec­tion takes place on Fe­bru­ary 24.

Al­ge­ria (April) Two decades since com­ing to power, pres­i­dent Ab­de­laziz Boute­flika will run for a fifth con­sec­u­tive term in of­fice. The 81-year-old vet­eran politi­cian is frail and con­fined to a wheel­chair and last ad­dressed the na­tion six years ago. In 2015, spec­u­la­tion even sur­faced about an in­ter­nal coup sus­pected to have been car­ried by a clique led by Boute­flika’s brother who was said to be run­ning the coun­try on his be­half.

An­a­lysts say the rul­ing Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front party’s en­dorse­ment of the oc­to­ge­nar­ian sig­ni­fies its de­ci­sion to use Boute­flika’s pop­u­lar­ity and record of re­turn­ing peace and sta­bil­ity to Al­ge­ria to main­tain the sta­tus quo.

South Africa (May) As the old­est lib­er­a­tion move­ment on the con­ti­nent, the African Na­tional Con­gress’ roots run deep, but the orig­i­nal home of Nel­son Man­dela has be­come a party that is clearly strug­gling with in­ter­nal tur­moil. Tak­ing over right after for­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma re­signed un­der a cloud of cor­rup­tion, this elec­tion is also an op­por­tu­nity for pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa to le­git­imise his power through the pop­u­lar vote.

The party’s de­ci­sion to fo­cus on land re­dis­tri­bu­tion could be seen as a pop­ulist move to woo dis­en­fran­chised young vot­ers who may have gone to the more rad­i­cal Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers. While the vote is un­likely to af­fect the process al­ready un­der­way, it is a deeply emo­tive is­sue that may in­flu­ence vot­ers’ will­ing­ness to give the ANC an­other chance.

Malawi (May) The south-east­ern African state will hold pres­i­den­tial, par­lia­men­tary and lo­cal elec­tions on May 21, with pres­i­dent Peter Mutharika lead­ing the rul­ing Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party. The vote will take place amid mount­ing cor­rup­tion cases, with Mutharika him­self deny­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of bag­ging a kick­back from a $4 mil­lion gov­ern­ment con­tract.

Mutharika will be chal­lenged in the bal­lot by his own for­mer vice pres­i­dent Sau­los Chilima, whom he fired last Novem­ber and ex-pres­i­dent Joyce Banda, who is seek­ing the nom­i­na­tion of her Peo­ple’s Party and has called on the 78-year-old leader to re­sign.

Mau­ri­ta­nia (Mid-2019) Since com­ing to power in a putsch in 2008, pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Ould Ab­del Aziz has over­seen con­tro­ver­sial changes in the north-western African state, in­clud­ing abol­ish­ing the se­nate and in­sti­tut­ing a new na­tional an­them and flag. The 62-year-old leader has said he won’t defy the con­sti­tu­tion and run for a third term, but he’s yet to iden­tify a suc­ces­sor and state­ments from his own sup­port­ers have height­ened op­po­si­tion sus­pi­cion that he might run again.

But even if he doesn’t con­test again, an­a­lysts pre­dict he will be re­placed by a loy­al­ist from the rul­ing Union for the Repub­lic party, bar­ring any ma­jor po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic changes.

Mozam­bique (Oc­to­ber) Mozam­bique will hold pres­i­den­tial, leg­isla­tive and provin­cial elec­tions on Oc­to­ber 15, a poll where the scale of vic­tory will likely tilt to­wards pres­i­dent Filipe Nyusi’s rul­ing Mozam­bique Lib­er­a­tion Front (Fre­limo). The gen­eral elec­tion comes amid peace talks with the op­po­si­tion Na­tional Re­sis­tance party (Re­n­amo), which was in­volved in a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992. Re­n­amo is set to elect its head this month fol­low­ing the death of its founder Afonso Dh­lakama last May.

The elec­tion also comes as the south­ern African na­tion pre­pares to start ex­port­ing valu­able liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas from re­cently-dis­cov­ered huge off­shore fields.

Botswana (Oc­to­ber) The Botswana Demo­cratic Party has been in power since 1966 and has es­tab­lished a po­lit­i­cally le­git­i­mate suc­ces­sion plan that main­tains the in­cum­bent’s power. The pres­i­den­tial term ends more than a year ahead of the na­tional elec­tion, mean­ing a new pres­i­dent is elected by par­lia­ment be­fore the pop­u­lar vote takes place, and ef­fec­tively giv­ing the BDP’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, cur­rent pres­i­dent Mokg­weetsi Ma­sisi, an al­most guar­an­teed lead.

Namibia (Oc­to­ber) Land will also be a hot-but­ton is­sue in Namibia as pres­i­dent Hage Gein­gob and SWAPO (the South West African Peo­ple’s Or­ga­ni­za­tion) seek re-elec­tion. Last year, Namibia also an­nounced its in­ten­tions to be­gin a land re­form process like its neigh­bour, South Africa.

The is­sue has be­come a sym­bol of the slow rate of eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion where white Namib­ians, who make up less than 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, own 70 per­cent of com­mer­cial farm­land. Still, Namibia’s weaker-than-ex­pected eco­nomic growth is un­likely to un­seat SWAPO.

Tu­nisia (De­cem­ber)

At 92, pres­i­dent Beji Caid Essebsi has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the world’s old­est elected pres­i­dent and is ex­pected to run again after first com­ing to of­fice in 2014 as the win­ner of the north African coun­try’s first free and fair elec­tion.

Long touted as the Arab Spring’s lone demo­cratic suc­cess, the north African na­tion aims to re-es­tab­lish po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sta­bil­ity by hold­ing cru­cial pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

In re­cent years, scarcity of jobs, ris­ing costs of liv­ing, and the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion have prompted protests across the na­tion.

Just last month, a jour­nal­ist set him­self on fire to high­light dire liv­ing con­di­tions, a nod to the street ven­dor Mo­hamed Bouaz­izi who self-im­mo­lated and kick­started the Arab Spring protests eight years ago.

The de­spon­dency over the po­lit­i­cal process was high­lighted in the May 2018 mu­nic­i­pal polls, with just 33,7 per­cent of the vot­ers cast­ing their bal­lot.

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