Category Archives: Africa

Acting with Impunity: Who Can Force Paul Biya’s Hand?

In the midst of the most serious crisis that Cameroon has faced since the 1950s, with over 1,850 people killed, 500,000 displaced, and perhaps as close as 4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, President Paul Biya decided the time was ripe to vacation at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva. The location is not new. Over his 35 years in power, Biya has spent approximately 15% of his time abroad, often in Geneva, at an astonishing cost of $50,000 a day. During this visit, over 250 Cameroonian demonstrators greeted him, and were dispersed by Swiss police using teargas and riot gear. A petition by Swiss parliamentarian Sylvain Thévoz to oust Biya from Switzerland went nowhere. Biya returned to Cameroon, where he is expected yet again to postpone legislative and municipal elections

The impunity with which Biya has been able to operate is remarkable. Almost two years into the crisis, the violence continues to take a heavy toll. Human Rights Watch has documented several new instances of abuse by security forces, including indiscriminate shooting, arbitrary arrests, and scorched earth tactics. Separatist groups still attack security forces, but have increasingly turned toward kidnapping and intimidating civilians. John Fru Ndi, the once venerated chairman of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), was kidnapped twice in the span of two months and pressured by separatists to authorize a recall of his parliamentarians. Meanwhile, political rights remain heavily constrained, and 350 supporters of imprisoned presidential candidate Maurice Kamto were arrested in June. The president has delegated the new Prime Minister, Joseph Dion Ngute, to visit Anglophone regions on a peace-seeking mission, but has also refused to support efforts to create an All-Anglophone Conference that could bring various groups together into dialogue.

What would lead to a breakthrough that could bring some modicum of dialogue and solution to the crisis? The gaps between Anglophones and the regime are large. The Anglophone movement now consists of numerous armed groups, a government in exile, civil society organizations, churches, and the SDF. These groups have held positions that range from addressing cultural grievances to decentralization to federalism to separatism. On the other hand, the government has vehemently rejected any changes to the structure of the state, and has only offered half-measures in support of decentralization, like constrainedregional elections. The government would have to be pushed to consider genuine decentralization, and Anglophone groups would be forced to coalesce around the idea. Moreover, it is not even clear what set of confidence-building measures any side would agree to, just to get people to the table. Sisiku Tabe, the imprisoned former president of the Ambazonia Interim Government, has called for the complete retreat of armed forces and civil servants from Anglophone regions and the release of all prisoners as a precondition for internationally sponsored talks. The SDF has specified a less stringent set of requirements, but these are also not likely to garner any regime support.    

There are signs that the international community is beginning to take this crisis more seriously. In February, the United States withdrew $17 million of military aid, and in March the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, visited Cameroon for the first time. The EU representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, described the situation in Anglophone areas as unacceptable. In May, the United Nations Security Council held its first informal meeting on the crisis.  The UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned of escalating violence and criticized the security force’s scorched earth tactics. These efforts have not yet borne fruit, and to some are unlikely to unless international actors, and particularly the United States, significantly increase pressure on the Biya regime

But, the reality is that Cameroon has always been an astute player of international affairs, and has been able to position itself as a key strategic ally. The “special relationship” between Cameroon and France is well documented. After colonialism, France made it a key priority to maintain political support from Cameroon, in part because of existing economic interests (particularly French oil companies), and in part because it wanted Cameroon’s support in international organizations. Throughout the current crisis, France has maintained a lower profile, and presented itself as more diplomatic and private in its approach, in contrast with the growing public criticism and condemnation from other international actors. While French diplomats have privately pushed the regime toward some concessions like releasing prisoners, this is not backed up with any real pressure on the regime to enter into negotiations. This relationship limits the efficacy of other international pressure, and the ability of international institutions to coordinate a response.   

The United States was once a vocal critic of Cameroon, and withheld aid from Cameroon from 1992 to 2001. However, the second Iraq War and the global war on terror brought Cameroon back into the American fold. In my other research, I note how Cameroon was heavily lobbied by the George W. Bush administration to abstain on an Iraq War resolution, when Cameroon held a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. The United States returned the favor with support for Cameroon during the Bakassi Peninsula dispute. Cameroon has also developed elaborate security ties with the United States, as part of the coalition to combat Boko Haram and terrorism in the Sahel. Cameroon banks on its image as an “island of stability” to maintain these security ties. By the same token, Cameroon has spent large amounts of money on US-based lobbying and PR firms to bolster its image abroad. In one of the more blatant examples, in 2004 Cameroon paid $80,000 for an election observation mission organized by the US Association of Former Members of Congress. In my research, I also document how local embassy staff was acutely aware of the contradictions of their mission in Cameroon, and the difficulty of balancing national security incentives with a commitment to democracy and human rights.  

Changing these geopolitical incentives and perceptions of national security is quite difficult, absent substantially more lobbying and advocacy. But, might the mechanism of accountability instead come from insidethe regime? There is actually a divide in the governing elite of Cameroon’s ruling party, the CPDM. Most Francophone leaders are quick to defend the government’s military solution, and those who are critical of the government are not likely to express that sentiment publicly. By contrast, many Anglophone CPDM MPs have deep reservations about the government’s strategy, but little credibility among the Anglophone population. During the last legislative session in March (which I attended), the Anglophone MPs had basically decamped from their home regions to Yaoundé, and felt that it was unsafe to return to their constituencies. Fearful of massive public backlash, there was likely lobbying on their part to postpone the legislative elections. This divide extends to the military, where there is evidence of disagreement among senior officers about the sustainability and utility of the anti-insurgency campaign, absent greater political dialogue or strategy.

One visible internal effort at pressuring the Biya regime is the NW/SW Peace Movement, founded by Chief Robert Nangiya Mbile (a former MP and the son of a known CPDM elite from Ndian) and current CPDM MP Francis Ndi Enwe. The movement takes the position that the Cameroonian parliament should openly discuss the Anglophone crisis, and that it should be open to meeting with all leaders, including those who are jailed or in the bush. This places them at odds with the government’s attitude, which demands a full ceasefire before negotiations and refuses to recognize separatist groups. Nonetheless, the movement has been met with extreme skepticism from Anglophones, who doubt Enwe’s credibility and capacity to pressure the Biya regime. This is a valid criticism, especially given fear that the regime implicitly supports these kinds of initiatives as a way to stall and buy more time. The movement, while perhaps laudable in its goals, is unlikely to gain much traction under the current circumstances.  

These dynamics have emboldened the Biya regime. Stronger international pressure, seen by many as an essential step, is difficult to fathom without a change in how international actors view the question of regional stability in Central Africa. Highlighting the internal divisions within the CPDM also faces a problem since anyone associated with the regime (including opposition parties) are now viewed with intense suspicion by Anglophones. Solutions might only be possible in that ever-elusive “post-Biya world.” In the meanwhile, as the country burns and the economy suffers, Biya knows that he can wait all of this out with a taxpayer-funded vacation to Switzerland. 

South Africa – Ramaphosa faces populist pushback

This is a guest post by Dr. Jason Robinson, Oxford Analytica

While trying to inspire a nation, President Cyril Ramaphosa is hamstrung by those within the ruling ANC and outside who are seeking to derail reform efforts.

Two months on from the May general election, an ongoing populist pushback led by allies of former President Jacob Zuma (2009-18) is distracting Ramaphosa’s focus and posing serious governance risks.

Restoring the state

Voters and investors alike hoped after the May 8 polls that Ramaphosa would quickly move to unveil various measures to reform government, boost economic growth and curb unemployment. However, such hopes have largely been dashed.

Key turnaround plans for state-owned enterprises such as power utility Eskom and South African Airways (SAA) have yet to be unveiled, while Zuma’s allies in the ANC, in particular Secretary-General Ace Magashule, are regularly undermining Ramaphosa’s authority with statements contrary to party and government policy, spooking both markets and citizens alike.

Even some of his supposed allies are causing Ramaphosa problems, with the president recently forced to take national and provincial officials to task for contrasting public utterances on controversial e-tolls.

All the while, economic growth remains stagnant, rampant unemployment persists, and high crime and insecurity is a pressing (longstanding) concern; troops from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) are shortly about to deployed to gang-plagued areas of the Western Cape province after a recent spike in killings.

Many of the predicaments facing Ramaphosa are undoubtedly not of his own doing, but rather the damage wrought by what he has previously dubbed ‘nine wasted years’ under Zuma.

Key among these are the corrosive undermining of key institutions through ‘state capture’, including the country’s law enforcement and anti-corruption agencies.  

Since taking office 18 months ago, Ramaphosa has begun to repair their functions, with a newly installed head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) bolstered by a new anti-graft unit.

Similarly, an overhaul of the South African Revenue Service (SARS), once a shining light of South African governance but gradually decimated during Zuma’s tenure, should gradually help overturn declining tax returns and help to improve currently subdued growth prospects.

Shortly after the May election, Ramaphosa appointed a new streamlined cabinet, trimming the number of cabinet ministers from 36 to 28, with an avowed goal of more effective governance and service delivery, and giving long overdue policy certainty in key sectors.

Nevertheless, undoubtedly cognisant of his still precarious hold over his party and forced to placate the ANC’s alliance partners, Ramaphosa was forced to keep the same number of deputy ministers, in addition to retaining several poorly performing officials (including Zuma allies) in the interests of increasingly illusory party ‘unity’.

Similarly, tainted ANC figures pervade parliament, with several of those implicated in ongoing state capture revelations recently selected to head up various legislative committees, reaffirming public perceptions of a largely unreformed ANC.

Populist pushback and attacks from within

Yet while core state institutions can, over time, be repaired, perhaps one of the most problematic legacies of the Zuma tenure is the stifling of South Africa’s policy space replete with a populist resurgence.

For all the goodwill that Ramaphosa still has both at home and abroad, even as the hopes of quick post-election reforms have largely been dashed, this pushback represents a dangerous long-term challenge.

Not only does it threaten to derail Ramaphosa’s reform programme but, in the worst-case scenario, it could leave openings for his ouster and space for a populist figurehead to ascend to the ANC leadership once more.

Such infection of public discourse has been evident in the recent (largely redundant) debates over the the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), with Magashule and others resurrecting the trojan horse of altering its scope and mandate, including a potential policy of quantitative easing, which sent markets reeling and the South African rand tumbling.

Similarly, a renewed clash between Public Protector Busisiwe Mkwhebane and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, a key Ramaphosa ally, reflects the latest deflection tactics on the part of the Zuma-aligned elite.

In a July 5 report on alleged maladministration at SARS, Mkhwebane accused Gordhan of creating an illegal ‘rogue unit’ during his time as SARS commissioner (1999-2009), and separately that (as minister) he lied over meetings with the controversial Zuma-aligned Guptas, after previously stating that he had not met members of the business family, but later clarifying that he may have on one occasion.

Mkhwebane mandated the president to take disciplinary action against Gordhan within 30 days; the latter has lodged an urgent court application to interdict the report and its remedial findings.

While Mkhwebane’s charges against Gordhan may come to naught, amid apparent investigative failings and questionable understanding of both the law and her constitutional mandate, they are an unwelcome distraction for Ramaphosa given the host of pressing political issues currently facing him.

Although Mkhwebane is viewed as a Zuma surrogate after repeatedly erratic and politicised findings, she has received the backing of the populist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who have long tried to sideline Gordhan.

Last week, EFF legislators called Gordhan a “constitutional delinquent” and attempted to disrupt his budget speech, before they were removed from parliament.

In bitter contrast, Mkwhebane’s predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, showed just how South Africa’s Chapter 9 institutions (eg, independent electoral commission, human rights commission) could hold the executive to account, when led by a capable individual.

When the ANC stood firm behind Zuma as graft and state capture allegations proliferated during the end of his tenure, it was Madonsela who shone a light on the unconstitutional upgrades to Zuma’s personal homestead at Nkandla, and later the problematic state capture allegations involving Zuma, his associates and the Gupta family.

Mkhwebane’s approach thus puts Ramaphosa and his allies in a substantial institutional and public relations bind.

Should the president push for her ouster by the ANC in parliament, something backed by several opposition parties, Ramaphosa will be accused of the very kind of executive overreach perpetrated by his predecessor. Similarly, given Mkhwebane is shortly expected to release a report into donations to Ramaphosa’s 2017 ANC leadership campaign, such a move could be portrayed as politically motivated.

Plus ca change?

In his State of the Nation Address last month, Ramaphosa outlined key strategic goals for a prospective two terms and ten years in office, including tackling hunger; getting 2 million more young people into employment; raising economic growth above that of population growth; halving violent crime; and improving child educational outcomes.

However, like so many of the government’s stated aims over the past decade, the problem is not for want of ambition, but rather governance and implementation. While Ramaphosa has taken steps to halt the rot across national government, corruption pervades at the provincial and municipal levels: only 18 of 257 municipalities received a clean audit in fiscal year 2017/18.

Ramaphosa’s allies speak to a calculated long game in the president’s cautious and methodical approach, arguing the consensus-seeker and pragmatist will ultimately (indirectly) sideline many of his enemies as the capacity of law enforcement agencies are gradually restored, and anti-corruption cases gain traction.

Nevertheless, while the deflection tactics of Magashule, Mkhwebane and the EFF may be transparent to most outside observers, they are successfully muddying the waters and distracting the president’s focus. 

EFF leader Julius Malema has suggested that Mkhwebane’s forthcoming report into Ramaphosa’s leadership campaign will damage the president and could even prompt his replacement by controversial Deputy President David Mabuza, a provincial powerbroker and former Zuma ally with a questionable past.

A continual whittling away of Ramaphosa’s pro-investment mantra and overall authority, coupled with still dormant economic growth, ongoing insecurity and high unemployment, risks ever increasing voter apathy and disillusionment with government over Ramaphosa’s first full term in office.

All the while, Ramaphosa’s enemies will be circling, hoping to undermine his good governance mantle and hasten his downfall.

Dr. Jason Robinson is a Senior Africa Analyst at Oxford Analytica. All opinions expressed are his own.

Twitter handle: @SpeedTrials

Guinea headed towards controversial constitutional change

It appears to be official. For months rumors have been swirling that President Alpha Condé was planning a constitutional referendum to adopt a new constitution and by the same token remove presidential term limits. Condé, who is 81 years old, is currently serving his second five-year term which will end next year. According to Guinea’s 2010 constitution, “no one may exercise more than two presidential mandates, consecutive or not.” The constitution also provides that “the number and the duration of the mandates of the President of the Republic may not be made the object of a revision.” So, logically, the only means of amending the presidential term limits is through the adoption of a brand new constitution.

On June 19, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Guinea reportedly issued a note to the country’s diplomatic representations across the world, confirming the government’s intention of submitting a new constitution to a referendum, and laying out the reasons for this initiative. The official reasons for the adoption of a new constitution include among others:

  • That the 2010 constitution was elaborated and adopted by a transitional council and not submitted to a popular vote;
  • That the roles and responsibilities between the president and prime minister are not clearly defined in the existing fundamental text;
  • The cumulatively short duration of legislative sessions during the year;
  • The need to reformulate the articles governing the constitutional court; and
  • The absence of a more elaborate bill of rights, including environmental, defense and women’s and children’s rights.

Interestingly, the note does not make reference to changing presidential term limits. However, revising term limits for the incumbent president is among the changes supported by Conde’s ruling RPG which include the following:

  • Replacing the prime minister with a vice-president;
  • Replacing the existing economic and social council with a senate;
  • Increasing the number of legislators and allowing for independent candidates;
  • Facilitating greater gender equity in elected positions;
  • Reducing the minimum age requirement for presidential candidates from 35 to 30 years of age; and
  • Allowing the incumbent president to run again.

Guinea’s opposition parties are, not surprisingly, less than thrilled with plans to change the constitution and allow President Condé to run for a third term. A coalition of opposition parties, civil society groups and trade unions have come together to form the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), in an effort designed to counter initiatives to change the constitution.

In the context of West Africa where countries have been gradually consolidating mechanisms for the peaceful transfer of executive power, notably through presidential term limits, Guinea would be rowing against the tide. Currently, President Faure Gnassingbé of Togo is the only president serving more that two terms in the subregion. Moreover, Togo just recently reintroduced presidential term limits – though they will not apply retroactively to the sitting president. In The Gambia, ongoing debates on constitutional reform are centered on entrenching, not eliminating presidential term limits. Even in Mauritania, not otherwise known for a stellar democratic record, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is stepping down at the end of his second presidential term, following presidential elections held on June 22.

Guinea is headed towards turbulent times, with presidential elections on the horizon for October 2020. Given the country’s history of violent demonstrations, significant loss of life is to be feared should the referendum to change the constitution proceed. Even if term limits are not revised, the adoption of a new constitution can reset the term limit counter, as we saw President Abdoulaye Wade argue in Senegal when he ran for a third term in 2012. Tensions in Guinea over the constitutional change debate have already boiled over with deadly consequences. At least one person was killed in clashes between police and demonstrators against a third term in the south-eastern city of N’Zerekoré earlier this month. As the announcement of the constitutional referendum becomes official, more violence is likely to follow.

New Research: Dynamics of Electoral Authoritarianism in Africa

Since the end of the Cold War, terms like competitive or electoral authoritarian have abounded to describe countries with regular multiparty elections that do not live up to commonly held standards of freedom and fairness. Africa is no exception to this trend, and is home to a significant proportion of electoral authoritarian regimes. Many of these countries have grabbed headlines lately, whether it is the stronger turn towards authoritarianism under John Magufuli in Tanzania, or the continued entrenchment of the Paul Biya regime in Cameroon. 

Yet, despite the prevalence of electoral authoritarianism, not all unfair elections are created equally. A closer look at Africa reveals a range of practices that range from more drastic forms of manipulation like stuffing ballot boxes or arresting political opponents, to less obvious subversionsof the democratic process. These differences reveal very important information, and can tell us something deeper about how authoritarianism is structured and operates.

In my new book How Autocrats Compete, I explore these differences across Africa, and use in-depth case studies of Tanzania, Cameroon, and Kenya. I make the argument that decisions about manipulation in unfair elections are shaped primarily by the ability of autocrats to rely on consistent elite and voter support. The key question is how do autocrats secure this consistent support? A related question is what happens to electoral authoritarian competition if autocrats cannot rely on that consistent support? 

Credible Ruling Parties and Authoritarian Uncertainty

In the book I draw attention to what I call a credible ruling party to explain when an autocrat might manipulate less, but nonetheless win elections decisively. Tanzania provides the prototype for this kind of ruling party. The country’s eminent father figure once wrote, “no party which limits its membership to a clique can ever free itself from fear of overthrow from those it has excluded.” And indeed, for many reasons detailed in the book, the ruling party in Tanzania, CCM and its predecessor TANU, was exceptional and helped mitigate key uncertainties of authoritarian rule.

First, CCM developed an internally coherent party. The party held lively national congresses and competitive primaries for decades before elections were even held. In 1985, Nyerere took the unprecedented step of stepping down and introducing a competitive primary system to select the presidential candidate. These qualities limited a number of tendencies that characterize other autocracies. To succeed, elites had to play by rules. The president, while powerful, had to cede some independent authority to the party. While corruption became a major issue, the party fought to keep its institutional processes intact. 

Second, Nyerere also approached the question of popular support differently. CCM is a remarkably large party, with offices in place for every ten-homes. This put everyday citizens in daily touch with the party. Nyerere also deliberately targeted rural constituencies with public goods, regardless of their ethnicity. This fostered a relationship with the ruling party that did not depend on the identity of the person in charge, but the continued presence of the party in power. 

Both factors influenced how CCM contested elections in the multiparty era. In my research I show how CCM elites express fewer grievances and are less likely to defect than in other countries. The party frequently inserts itself into local disputes, especially during contentious nomination processes. Crucially, the presidential primary system has neutralized a key source of tension – succession. This was clear in 2015 when several presidential candidates, including the frontrunner Edward Lowassa, were removed from consideration due to violations of the party’s bylaws. While Lowassa defected, few other elites joined him.

My research also shows that CCM’s popular mobilization strategies have paid off. CCM keeps a general rural electoral edge, but it wins particularly big in areas that benefitted from a specific phase of economic planning in the 1970s. Opposition parties often make reference to the closed mindset of voters from these areas. This is quite different from other African electoral authoritarian regimes, where autocrats could only rely on their co-ethnics for support. 

These features of the Tanzanian case meant that the regime could contest elections with greater ex ante guarantees of electoral victory, and therefore did not have to manipulate elections as heavily. The regime could rely on an extensive cadre of elite support that was invested in the long-term survival of the party, and could mobilize a significant proportion of the populace based on their historical record of distributing government services and goods to them.

Electoral Authoritarian Competition without Guarantees

Credible ruling parties such as CCM are rare. In the book I note Mozambique, Senegal, and Seychelles as comparative examples. However, more often than not regimes are left with fewer institutional guarantees. In these cases, electoral authoritarian regimes are much more dependent on the traditional tools of autocracy – repression and cooptation. In these cases the outcome is much more predisposed toward more overt and stark manipulation of the electoral process, which also means that the utility of these strategies is less certain. 

In Cameroon we find a regime that has been in place essentially since independence, but entered the multiparty era without a credible ruling party. As expected, Cameroon’s initial experience with elections was turbulent. Many elites defected from the ruling party, and cited the opaque standards for candidacy. Likewise, the ruling party relied heavily on the backing of voters from Paul Biya’s co-ethnics in the center and south. The ruling CPDM and Biya eked by with a paper-thin victory, and amidst heavy condemnationof the electoral process by international observers. 

However, since that foundational election in 1992, Cameroon’s electoral authoritarian regime has rebuilt political support. In October last year, Paul Biya entered his 36thyear in office with over 70% of the vote, and the ruling party currently holds 78% of the legislative seats. Does this mean that repressive strategies are effective in the long-term? 

My answer is that only under specific conditions. Cameroon has deployed a wide range of manipulative processes without much international pushback. In fact, I argue that Cameroon has been the beneficiary of authoritarian international patronage, primarily from the French, but also from the United States. These actors have shielded the regime from the downsides of repression, provided critical financial assistance, and used rhetoric to maintain Cameroon’s public image. Relatedly, opposition parties in Cameroon have had few opportunities to build their international reputation. 

Some examples help to make this point. Compared to Tanzania, Cameroon has garnered far less international attention during its elections, and has some of the least observed elections on the continent. Compared to the average African country, Cameroon has liberalized much less of its economy and has maintained nearly 50% of its state-owned enterprises. This was accomplished due to French financial assistance during periods of economic crisis. Cameroon is also not a frequent subject of international discourse, and maintains a key role in France’s international relations and the United States’ War on Terror. 

Why Understanding How Autocrats Compete is Important

There are a few lessons about authoritarianism that the book provides. First, we should not conflate a seemingly less repressive election with a greater propensity toward democracy. In fact, a historically less repressive electoral regime like Tanzania might signal a more confident regime. The recent deterioration in political conditions in Tanzania seems shocking because of a fundamental misunderstanding of what the regime was like before John Magufuli’s election. 

Second, the book tells us that the nature of institutions created by autocrats have consequences. Arguably, Tanzania’s credible ruling party provides it with more legs to stand on, and an ability to prevent challenges rather than just react to them. The growing repression in Tanzania since 2015 is actually indicative of challenges to the traditional factors that have sustained the regime. By contrast, Cameroon has tied continued to tie innovations in its repressive capacity to the international arena. Specifically, the 2014 Anti-Terror lawwas passed to ostensibly combat Boko Haram, but is now a tool used to stifle political discourse. 

We need to be careful when we assess terms like “authoritarian stability” by referring simply to an autocrat’s time in office. It is crucial to look under the hood and appreciate how power is exercised in authoritarian regimes, and to grasp the real diversity of authoritarian institutions and politics.  


Mozambique – Filipe Nyusi: an embattled president in times of troubled comradery and ominous tides

On 15th October, Mozambique will hold a new round of general elections and also provincial elections to elect governors for the first time.  These polls happen in a year marked by dramatic events which will pose major challenges to the incumbent president, Filipe Nyusi, and his party, the Frelimo. In March and April, the country was hit by the Idai and Kenneth cyclones  leaving death, damage and destruction in its wake in the central and northern provinces of the country, respectively. The new provincial election format is a key part of the peace process that will potentially allow Frelimo’s arch-rival, Renamo, to appoint provincial governors in its strongholds. With less than five months to the polls, Filipe Nyusi faces other serious challenges: unifying the party around his leadership, restoring Frelimo’s credibility and offsetting the negative impact of the corruption scandals involving of the party’s key figures; and continuing to move forward with the most sensitive part of the peace process, i.e. disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR).  Nyusi’s performance is hailed as the reason for the relative success of the peace process and is expected to bring payoffs in the next elections.

Building cohesion and strengthening the leadership

Founded on its socialist origins and the spirit of comradery and democratic centralism, Frelimo’s internal disputes rarely become public; thus it came as a relative surprise when Samora Machel Junior (“Samito”), son of Mozambique’s first president, challenged Filipe Nyusi’s leadership. After his exclusion from the party lists, he decided to run as the mayoral candidate in Maputo against the official Frelimo candidate, Eneas Comiche, in the October 2018 local elections. His behavior led the Central Committee to start disciplinary proceedings against him alleging that he had violated the statutes when he ran against the party’s candidate. He then publicly confronted the president accusing him (and the party secretary general Roque Silva) of “gross violation” of the Frelimo statutesfor not allowing criticism, not stimulating dialogue, and not recognizing the constitutional rights of members”. Though the Central Committee verdict is not yet known, the “Samito affair” has caused some damage to the President’s image. Although the affair was not on the agenda in the recent (May) gathering of the Central Committee, it loomed large with Nyusi loyalists distancing themselves from Samito and sometimes criticizing or scolding him for disrespecting Nyusi. At the end of the gathering, most of the party seniors exalted party cohesion and unity. But this does not necessarily mean that internal differences were ironed out or that the party will navigate in smooth waters until the October elections. Indeed, it might mean that Nyusi has at least succeeded in asserting his leadership in key party constituencies, namely those represented by the above-mentioned groups.

“Cleaning” the party, and building credibility

This year the image of the president and party was tainted with corruption scandals – known as the hidden debt scandal – and the involvement of the former Finance Minister, Manuel Chang, in illegal loans of over two billion dollars to three companies: Proindicus, EMATUM (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management). His detention in South Africa in December 2018 gave new momentum to the stalled investigation led by the Mozambican Attorney General’s into a group of individuals linked to the scandal; these included former central bank governor, intelligence chiefs and civil servants who served under Armando Guebuza, whose older son, Ndambi Guebuza, was among those already in jail. The scandal plunged the country into an unprecedented financial crisis and raised criticism from all quarters. Opposition political parties urged the judicial system to continue investigation and to hold the former president, Armando Guebuza, accountable; the Public Integrity Center demanded that the government refuse to pay the debt, and led a public anti-debt campaign. The former minister, Manuel Chang, might be extradited to Mozambique following a decision from the South African Minister of Justice.

This scandal contributed to weakening Filipe Nyusi’s leadership as he was part of the government when the debt was contracted; and it exposes Frelimo as a party at the core of the corruption that so deeply affects the country. In the recent Central Committee, Guebuza accused those questioning his responsibilities in the scandal of being on a “witch hunt”. Despite speculations about his involvement and the imprisonment of some of those implicated in the debt scandal, Nyusi seems to support the demands to hold those involved accountable. But some see this as an electoralist façade, only staged to win over voters, and that after the October elections everything will go back to business as usual. Thus, Nyusi is caught in a dilemma between risking to lose the support of either his comrades or voters, depending on how he manages the debt scandal. 

Moving forward with the DDR process

The DDR process, is a final and important challenge in the backcloth of this year’s elections; this process was part of the Memorandum of understanding on military issues, signed between the Mozambican government and Renamo on August 6th 2018.  The agreement anticipated the reintegration of Renamo’s officials in the Armed forces of Mozambique (FADM); the Republic of Mozambique Police (PRM), the General of the Information and Security Service (SISE) and the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) teaching institutions. 

Negotiations are underway between Filipe Nyusi and Ossufo Momade (elected leader of the Renamo in the first ever leadership elections in January), but the results are coming at a slow pace and Nyusi has even labelled the process as “fatiguing”.  Although some of Renamo’s men have been integrated, it is a sluggish process. In April, Renamo submitted the list of officials to be integrated in the command ranks of the PRM, but the President said that the list included retired and already demobilized men and therefore did not fulfil all criteria discussed. Renamo’s spokesperson José Manteigas reacted saying that the President was being inflexible. Frelimo members have referred to the DDR, along with decentralization, as the “flip side of the peace coin”, which means that its conclusion is critical to the peace process.

An embattled presidency in troubled comradery and ominous tides

In a recent interview for a Mozambican Newspaper (Canal de Moçambique, 15 May 2019), Nyusi responded to a question about the performance of his term by saying that the natural disasters, war and effects of the debt scandal had been major obstacles for the implementation of his programme, and speculated as to whether yet another disaster might be around the corner to hit the country. At the beginning of his term, Nyusi made a gambit in the peace process despite opposition from his party fellows. One year after, the debt scandal erupted with its unfolding negative consequences. However, neither Nyusi nor his comrades seem to know how to deal with the issue without bringing serious consequences for both.  With Nyusi confessing his fatigue as the DDR process drags on, his presidency and leadership are losing steam in what was one of the main achievements of this term and the options to galvanize the electorate in October for his party and himself are meagre.

José Jaime Macuane and Edalina Rodrigues Sanches

What’s next for Ramaphosa as South Africa heads to the Polls?

Just 15 months ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa became South Africa’s new head of state following the long-awaited departure of President Jacob Zuma. Now on the 8th of May, South Africa will hold its 6th national and provincial elections, marking 25 years since the fall of apartheid. How will Ramaphosa fare, as the country battles a slow-burn economic crisis, an electricity sector meltdown and simmering discontent among all strata of society?

As noted previously in these pages, Jacob Zuma was removed in February 2018 to allow the ANC to revive their waning electoral legitimacy and clean up the party’s image in the wake of damaging scandals. After the party’s bruising loss of major municipalities in the 2016 local government elections and the decline of the ANC’s national tally to just 54%, most pundits predicted that the Zuma-effect would pull the ANC under the 50% threshold in 2019.

Enter Cyril Ramaphosa. Having served as Zuma’s deputy for the last four years of the Zuma presidency, the sceptics noted that he had said and done little as the scandals piled up and the evidence overwhelmingly showed that the Zuma administration was intent on personalising the proceeds of the state for himself and his friends. But nonetheless, his ascendance as ANC and state president was greeted with hope and optimism, a welcome break from the deepening gloom that marked the end of the Zuma presidency.

This positive sentiment – dubbed ‘Ramaphoria’ – bolstered the currency, helped stave off a downgrade to ‘junk status’ by Moody’s and left the middle class sleeping a little easier. But it wouldn’t last long. Before long it became clear that there was a fight-back from the Zuma camp, and that many of the worst leaders from his cabal had remained within the upper echelons of the party and state. Ramaphosa inherited defunct institutions, a vastly increased state debt burden and an electricity crisis prompted by corruption, mismanagement and rapid debt accumulation.

The battle of the pollsters

Polling has relatively consistently – and somewhat unsurprisingly – pointed to yet another victory for the ANC at the national level. An Ipsos poll conducted between March and April predicts a minor recovery for the ANC from the 2016 polls – suggesting a final tally of 61% for the ANC, 19% for the Democratic Alliance and 11% for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

But a new poll released by the Institute for Race Relations (a Johannesburg-based conservative think tank) has suggested that the ANC’s numbers will fall even further this year than they did in the last local elections, and that the ruling party is likely to lose again in major metros and is likely to lose Gauteng – the country’s economic heartland – entirely to other parties. The IRR poll suggests that the party will take 49.5% nationally (on a predicted turnout of 100% of eligible voters) and 51% on a 71.9% turnout scenario. The same poll places the DA at 21.3% (100% turnout) or 24% on a 71.9% turnout scenario while the EFF takes between 14.9% and 14% across the two.

Of course, a 100% turnout scenario is unlikely – and levels of apathy across the country appear to be reaching alarming levels. Almost one in four eligible voters – nearly ten million people – declined to register, and another 5 million are expected not to turn out based upon previous turnout levels. The electoral commission’s data suggests that most of the disaffected are in urban areas – the most populous province, Gauteng, had the lowest registration rate at 67.1% of eligible voters. Young voters in particular seem to be staying away, with just 18% of the country’s 18-19 year olds registering, and a little over 50% of 20-29 year olds.

This will likely hamper the EFF’s electoral fortunes and play to the ruling party’s advantage. Older voters are more likely to vote on historical lines while younger voters generally express far more dissatisfaction with the slow pace of transformation over the last 25 years and have fewer deep historical ties to the ANC. But between these two polls, it is probably reasonable to expect that (barring a major crisis in the next 6 days) the ANC will likely win these elections with between 50-60% of the vote, that the EFF will make the most substantial gains amongst the opposition and the DA will maintain its place as the country’s formal opposition but fail to capitalise sufficiently on the discontent in the country.

What comes next?

In some ways the election represents a continuation of the status quo – that the ANC will continue a slow electoral slide, but that the two major opposition parties are unlikely to be sufficiently able to take advantage of growing public discontent to displace the ruling party. What will be more interesting to watch is what happens at provincial level.

Africa Confidential reports that at the provincial level, Zuma-supporters with a strong provincial base are encouraging voters to undermine the ruling party at national level by voting ANC provincially, but voting for other parties in the national polls. Several weeks ago, Zuma himself endorsed the populist Black First Land First movement-turned-party. It is alleged that some within this camp hope to use poor national election result to try to remove Ramaphosa in a special elective congress. For his part, Ramaphosa is believed to still be trying to clear some of Zuma’s allies out of the ANC using a Special Investigation Unit tribunal which will be established immediately following the polls.

This factionalism within the ANC is unlikely to be quickly resolved following the polls, and the country will still have to face the current dire economic circumstances. With persistently high unemployment figures (at 37%), unsustainable debt levels (50% of GDP) and low appetite for foreign investment, the country will remain in a sticky economic position. It remains to be seen which way Ramaphosa will take the ANC and whether he will pursue a more market-friendly growth path that potentially worsens the plight of some of South Africa’s poorest.

Ramaphosa has previously shown his proclivity for ‘order’ over fairness during the Marikana strikes, while his recent xenophobic statements on the campaign trail and support for entrenching traditional authorities’ control over rural communities appears to demonstrate a preference for expedience over principle. He will have to tread a fine path to walk South Africa back from the brink and help to build an inclusive and equitable economy. Cyril Ramaphosa needs to be up to the task – or he risks rushing the country down an ever more precarious path.

Senegal – Back to presidentialism?

Newly reelected President Macky Sall has given his prime minister, Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne, the unenviable task of eliminating his own position. This will entail changing Senegal’s constitution — once again — and reintroduce a presidential system.

Despite Senegal’s history of relative political stability, the country’s constitutional history has been far from stable. Senegal is at its fourth constitution, since 1959, and has changed government system several times already. In between constitutions, there have been numerous constitutional amendments, most of which have been passed by a legislative vote without resorting to a referendum.

In August 1960, Senegal adopted its second constitution — and its first as an independent, separate republic — after abandoning the short-lived Mali Federation created by the first 1959 constitution. The 1960 constitution was modeled on the 1958 French example with a dual executive: with an indirectly elected president as head of state and a prime minister (“cabinet president”) appointed by the president, but accountable to the National Assembly. Léopold Sédar Senghor was elected Senegal’s first president and his close political ally Mamadou Moustapha Dia became the country’s first prime minister.

This two-headed executive system did not survive a rapidly mounting power struggle between Senghor and Dia that culminated in a constitutional crisis in 1962. Legislators were about to take a no confidence vote in Dia, when the prime minister ordered the army to hinder access to the National Assembly building. Senghor accused Dia of a constitutional coup attempt and had him arrested. The military remained loyal to the president and Dia spent the next 12 years in jail. Senghor promptly took steps to avoid a similar situation in the future and initiated a new, presidential constitution that was approved by referendum in March 1963 (the country’s third constitution in four years). Senghor was reelected in December of that year by popular vote for a four-year presidential term, without term limits. In 1967, in the first of what was to be a be a total of 20 revisions to the 1963 constitution, the presidential term was increased to five years.

Senegal returned to a dual executive system in 1970 with the reintroduction of the prime minister position, in an effort to defuse tensions in a context of social unrest with student demonstration and labor strikes. Senghor initiated a referendum on a constitutional change that this time resulted in a fully fledged semi-presidential government system, providing for a directly elected president and a prime minister accountable to parliament (modeled on the 1962 revised French constitution). This revision also introduced a two-term presidential term limit. This limit was, however, removed again in the fifth constitutional revision of April 1976.

Before finishing his fourth elected term, Senghor resigned on December 31, 1980. Prime Minister Abdou Diouf became president and served out the rest of the term. Shortly after being elected president on his own account in 1983, Diouf initiated a constitutional change to return Senegal to presidentialism. The argumentation presented for the revision included the need for greater efficiency and effectiveness of government action and the expressed desire for a more direct contact between the president and the population. This time, presidentialism survived for eight years, till 1991. With the return to semi-presidentialism in 1991, as the third wave of democratization swept across Africa, Senegal also reintroduced presidential term limits. The term limits were, however, removed again in 1998, in the 19th revision to the 1963 constitution.

When Abdoulaye Wade won the presidency in 2000, marking the first time that executive power transitioned from one party to another in Senegal’s history, the new president initiated the elaboration of a new constitution. The country thus got its fourth and current constitution adopted by referendum in 2001. Senegal retained a semi-presidential system of government, and reintroduced presidential term limits. This new constitution has not fared much better than the old one, however, in terms of amendments. By 2010, the constitutional text had already been revised 15 times, according to Robert Elgie.

Senegal – Changes in government system and presidential term limits

1960Dual executive system, no presidential term limits
1963Presidentialism
1970Semi-presidentialism, term limits introduced [removed again in 1976]
1983Presidentialism
1991Semi-presidentialism, term limits reintroduced [removed again in 1998, reintroduced in 2001]
2019??Presidentialism??

President Macky Sall, shortly after being elected in 2012, initiated a constitutional revision to remove the senate from Senegal’s democratic architecture, but has overall had a less piecemeal approach to constitutional reform. In 2016, the government introduced a series of amendments that touched 20 articles of the constitution and were passed by referendum. Chief among these was the reduction of the length of presidential terms to five years, from the seven years it had been increased to under Wade. Sall’s second term, after his reelection in February of this year, will thus be reduced to five years.  

Sall is now following in the footsteps of Diouf, moving to return Senegal to presidentialism. Perhaps it is his shortened presidential term that provides Sall with a sense of urgency and the desire to streamline decision-making processes. His arguments for returning to presidentialism echo those of Diouf, saying that eliminating the prime minister position will help “reduce administrative bottlenecks” and “bring the administration closer to the people.” His critics allege it is a power grab. It is striking that Sall did not mention his plans to change government system during his campaign for reelection. The first indication of his intentions came in an announcement on April 6, by Mahammed Dionne whom he had just reappointed prime minister. The government thereafter moved quickly and on April 17 adopted a constitutional amendment removing the prime minister position.

The proposed constitutional amendment was on April 24 sent to the National Assembly that will now review and debate the proposed changes. A vote is set for May 4th. It will require a three fifth majority to pass the amendment by legislative vote, a likely outcome in a legislature where the presidential coalition controls a 75 percent majority (125 out of 165 seats). Should the legislative vote pass with less than 60 percent, a referendum is required. The text of the constitutional amendment has not yet been made public, but an alleged copy is circulating online. Reportedly, besides transferring responsibilities as head of government to the president, the revised text also foresees a clearer separation of powers between the legislature and the executive: on the one hand the legislature can no longer topple the cabinet through a no confidence vote, on the other hand, the president cannot dissolve the legislature as is currently the case.

There is no indication that the proposed constitutional amendment will touch on presidential term limits. Hopefully Sall will not follow in the steps of another previous president – Wade – who stood for a third term despite term limit provisions. Wade argued in 2012 that he should be allowed to run again because presidential term limits had been reintroduced in 2001, after he was elected, and could not be considered retroactively. Elsewhere on the continent, Côte  d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara has argued that the adoption of a new constitution in 2016 reset the term limit counter and that he could therefore run again in 2020, if he wanted to. In Senegal, the difference is that if the amendment passes, the country will have a new government system, but not a new constitution. It remains to be seen whether this is a sure bulwark in a country and region where term limits have proven fickle in the past. In neighboring Guinea, President Alpha Conde and his supporters seem increasingly intent on initiating a constitutional referendum that would lift term limits before Conde’s second and last term comes to an end next year. Despite significant democratic progress in West Africa over the past decade, the notion of presidential term limits does not yet appear to be firmly entrenched.

Angola – The MPLA and the fall of Dos Santos’ dynasty

The change in the top leadership post of Angola, which started in 2017 through a sequential state ruling party leadership strategy, ended the long rule of José Eduardo dos Santos as both the head of state and the ruling party (MPLA) leader. João Lourenço succeeded Dos Santos in this unprecedented political leadership transition in the country’s post-independence and multiparty era. Along with Zimbabwe, Angola’s leadership change is somehow perceived as the beginning of a trend in which dynastic takeovers seem to no longer be acceptable in Africa.

But what do we know about leadership change in Africa and what can Angola tell us?

In overall terms, leadership change constitutes a moment of uncertainty, and it is particularly worrying in Africa. Taking power through violent means such as military coups and leaders overstaying in power are two highlighted trends in contemporary African politics. Concerning the latter trend a recent study by Denis M. Tull and Claudia Simons observes that in almost half of the cases in which an incumbent president reached the term limit, he attempted to extend his term by rewriting or reinterpreting the constitution, and the vast majority of these attempts were successful. Moreover, sitting presidents were able to win third-term elections, despite the popular protest demanding the enforcement of presidential term limits.

Dos Santos long rule spanned the years of the civil war (1975-1992; 1993-2002) and was extended resorting to an instrumental interpretation and rewriting of the constitution. The 1992 constitution established a three-term limit, but since elections never took place between 1993-2007, due to the reignition of the civil war after the first multiparty elections in 1992, Dos Santos managed to prolong his stay in power throughout this period. Ahead of the 2008 general elections, there were discussions on whether Dos Santos had already attained the limit of the presidential terms or if he would be eligble to two more mandates. The constitutional interpretation which then prevailed established that the second presidential term of Dos Santos was to start in the 2008 elections and that he would still be able to run for a third mandate in the 2012 elections. However, the new constitution approved in 2010 reinforced his presidential powers and allowed him to legally remain head of state until 2022.

The Africa Leadership Change (ALC) dataset reveals some important patterns of leadership change in the sub-Saharan region. First, there is a long list of African presidents who have managed to stay in office despite the “electoral revolution” of the early 1990s. Indeed, until 2017, Dos Santos was in the top 5 of the longest-serving presidents in Africa. Second, multiparty elections have seemed to be the most common way of replacing a leader after 1990. However, the incumbent wins in most elections, followed by an increased number of electoral succession cases (see the “no alternation” column of the figure below).

Source: Giovanni Carbone & Alessandro Pellegata (2017): To Elect or Not to Elect: Leaders, Alternation in Power and Social Welfare in Sub-Saharan Africa, The Journal of Development Studies, p. 6. DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2017.1279733.

The August 2017 elections in Angola represented a case of electoral succession in the sense that the new president comes from the same party of the outgoing president; however, it is a case of nonhereditary succession. João Lourenço was not Dos Santos’ first choice (he even tried to revert the MPLA candidates’ list for the 2017 elections) and speculation around the leadership succession pointed to his eldest son, José Filomeno dos Santos (aka Zénu).

Did the MPLA limit hereditary politics in Angola?

The hereditary succession has been a topic of concern in several authoritarian regimes. In 2007, Jason Brownlee developed an argument that emphasizes the role of ruling parties to account for differentials of hereditary succession in modern autocracies. He contends that hereditary succession depends on the precedent for leadership selection, i.e., if the party enjoyed a precedent for selection from within the ranks, as was the case in Angola, then elites will defer to the party as the recognized arbiter of succession, which is likely to be nonhereditary.

José Eduardo dos Santos was the successor of Agostinho Neto in 1979 and was selected by the MPLA. It remains unclear if Dos Santos tried to somehow impose his son in 2017. What we do know is that the continuity of Dos Santos in office or his succession was something that was deeply discussed and negotiated inside the ruling party by the political bureau. João Lourenço’s selection was also the MPLA’s response to the widespread dislike of the Dos Santos’ dynasty and, more importantly, to the ruling party’s growing crisis of legitimacy linked to Dos Santos’ rule. Thus, despite his personal rule, José Eduardo dos Santos is a case of a “ruler predated by the ruling party” in terms of leadership succession. We can also say that his grande famille has been also predated by the new leader.

The fall of Dos Santos’ dynasty

In less than a year in office, the new president began to remove members of the Dos Santos clan from Angola’s epicenter of political and economic power. João Lourenço deposed Dos Santos’ daughter and one of the richest woman in Africa, Isabel dos Santos, from the presidency of the state oil company, Sonangol. Also, her half-brother, José Filomeno dos Santos, was removed from the chairmanship of Angola’s $5 billion USD sovereign wealth fund (FSDEA). More importantly, Filomeno was detained last September and held in custody over “practices of [alleged] various crimes, including criminal associations, receipt of undue advantage, corruption, participation in unlawful business, money laundering, embezzlement, fraud among others”. Isabel dos Santos also faces corruption investigations, allegedly for having funneled oil funds into her consulting companies. Moreover, João Lourenço’s “bulldozer” also affected the privileges of two other members of the Dos Santos family, as the new executive decided to put an end to the contracts with Semba Comunicação, a media sector company founded by José Eduardo Paulino (aka Coréon Dú) with his sister and partner Welwitschia “Tchizé” dos Santos, who is also an MPLA deputy.

According to Alex Vines, these removals have been effortless, as the former president’s family neither receives the MPLA’s support nor enjoys popularity. Furthermore, João Lourenço’s actions affecting Dos Santos’ family increased his popularity levels inside and outside the ruling party and thus didn’t allow the former president to stand up for his targeted family members, as pointed out by Ismael Mateus. Indeed, it was only in November of last year that the former president reacted, claiming during an unprecedented press conference held at the headquarters of his foundation in Luanda that, contrary to the previous declarations of his successor, he did not “leave the state coffers empty.” At the same time, Isabel dos Santos posted several messages on social media criticizing João Lourenço and emphasizing the dangers of having a deep political crisis coupled with the existing economic one, and also defending her honor and work for Sonangol. Tchizé dos Santos has also been using social media to defend both the paterfamilias and her arrested half-brother. Also, she has recently expressed that the leadership transition has not been as peaceful as expected and that João Lourenço should be focusing on the true problems of Angola.

These reactions from the members of Dos Santos clan show us that this powerful political dynasty doesn’t gather support from the MPLA and from the population. On the other hand, the anti-corruption discourse gave legitimacy to João Lourenço’s power consolidation strategy and that targeting the untouchables facilitates the fall of the Dos Santos’ dynasty for now. In addition to their family members, some of the closest allies of Dos Santos were also removed from government and the MPLA political bureau, and some of them are under investigation.

Is the ruling party a gatekeeper for leadership change?

The recent processes of leadership change in Angola or in Zimbabwe highlights the importance of the ruling party in selecting new leaders and limiting hereditary successions of long-serving presidents. African politics is often characterized by personal rule or “Big Man rule”. However, the case of Angola is revealing that strong ruling parties are important gatekeepers for leadership change, and can influence the rise, persistence and fall of ruling dynasties in competitive authoritarian regimes in Africa.

‘As soft as wool’? Reform and Repression in Zimbabwe

When he came to power in November 2017, Emmerson Mnangagwa rode a wave of local and global goodwill. But by March 2019, the USA had renewed sanctions against Zimbabwe that have been in place for nearly 20 years. In February, the UK held parliamentary discussions on Zimbabwe and the Africa Minister, Harriet Baldwin, made it clear that a full normalisation of relations with Zimbabwe was no longer on the table.

So how exactly did we get here?

Mnangagwa the ‘Reformer’

“I’m as soft as wool,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa stated in an interview with Sky News in August 2018, in response to a question from a journalist regarding his fearsome nickname – the ‘crocodile.’ Mnangagwa had worked hard in the 18 months since the ‘coup’ that had put him in state house, cleaning up his image and promising to be a president for all Zimbabweans, vowing to set the country on a new path. President Mnangagwa came to power promising extensive reforms, global re-engagement and repeating the mantra that Zimbabwe was “open for business.”

Ahead of the elections on 30 July 2018, on the main thoroughfares through the capital and scattered across the country, big billboards towered over Zimbabwe’s citizens as they went about their business. These billboards were filled with images of an engaging and smiling President Mnangagwa, making sweeping promises about universal healthcare, decent jobs, power generation and ‘free, fair and credible elections.’ The administration invited credible election observation missions from around the world – missions that had not been allowed to monitor the country’s elections since the violent 2002 polls. Between them, the observer groups spanned 46 countries and 15 regional blocks, making the 2018 election the most observed election in the country since independence in 1980.

Mnangagwa had traversed the globe promising change and a “new dispensation” in Harare, and was well-received in global capitals, with the UK’s Rory Stewart – at the time the Minister of State for Africa – the first to arrive in Harare following Mnangagwa’s installation in 2017. Zimbabwe applied to re-join the Commonwealth, with the UK supporting its application. The administration sought to re-engage with international financial institutions – the World Bank and IMF – from which it had been alienated since the early 2000s. The EU and USA began to discuss the relaxation of the remaining limited sanctions and it seemed that Zimbabwe under Mnangagwa might finally be welcomed back in to the international community, shedding its ‘pariah state’ status.

The July 2018 election

Despite all of the positive changes ahead of the polls, it was clear that there were rumblings of dissent from within the ruling party – and there were early indications that despite initial assurances about free and fair elections, some aspects of the playing field would remain skewed in the ruling party’s favour. The state media refused to give equal coverage to all 23 presidential candidates, particularly ignoring the ruling party’s key opponent – Nelson Chamisa of the MDC-Alliance. Despite their initial openness, the electoral commission soon began to stonewall key discussions on reforming the electoral process, making the electoral roll available for an audit and allowing the opposition to oversee the printing of ballots. Instead, an unconstitutional ballot was designed and printed, civic groups and opposition parties were left with little time to review and validate the roll and there were serious and widespread reports of intimidation in rural areas in the lead-up to the polls.

When 7 protestors were gunned down by soldiers in the streets of Harare in front of the global media on 1 August, the international community and political commentators were dumbfounded. The administration was so close to legitimating the 2017 coup with a flawed-but-meets-basic-standards election, that it seemed unthinkable that they would have squandered local and global goodwill so easily. At his inauguration, Mnangagwa condemned the violence, vowing that his new administration would usher in a “brighter tomorrow” – and he announced the creation of a commission of enquiry into the deaths on 1 August. He described himself as a “listening president”, and insisted that his government was committed to ‘constitutionalism, the rule of law and judicial independence.’ Again, the commentators were caught off-guard, and were inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, to believe that perhaps the military had acted without sanction – or worse, that the Vice President, Constantino Chiwenga, had an eye on his boss’ job and had loosed the military on civilians to undermine Mnangagwa’s position.

To sanitise his image in the wake of the global outcry, several opinion articles appeared in the global media, ostensibly penned by Mnangagwa. He spoke of reconciliation, new beginnings and a better future for a long suffering populace. But when the commission of enquiry – headed by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe – wrapped up its business, they had heard from soldiers that those killed had not been shot by soldiers but instead had been stabbed by members of the opposition; that the MDC-A was to blame for the violence and deaths; and that Mnangagwa had given the orders to set up the rapid response unit that had been mobilised to the streets in response to the protests. Despite all his assurances of being accountable, Mnangagwa is yet to publicly release the full report which was handed to him in December 2018.

A disastrous January

By January 2019, less than 6 months into the administration, a simmering economic crisis had prompted disgruntled and increasingly desperate members of the civil service to make more demands from the state. Inflation in the black market for the country’s surrogate currency was at over 50% in January, and long lines at fuel stations made basic tasks difficult.

Mnangagwa announced an enormous fuel price hike on 12 January, before jetting off in a private aircraft to Central Asia. The country’s labour unions called for a national stay away to protest the declining economy and unaffordable fuel prices, which was then enforced by unknown elements and angry youths. In the melee that ensued, shops were looted, cars were burned and a policeman was stoned to death. In the wake of this, the state launched a violent and angry three-week crackdown on the country’s poor, beating those who lived in close proximity to the worst of the looting and violence – and committing systematic torture and collective punishment. Nearly a thousand people were rounded up, beaten and put in prison. Fourteen women are reported to have been raped by soldiers, and at least 17 people were reported to have been killed.

In person, Mnangagwa seemed to condone the violence, though his Twitter feed condemned it and called for accountability for the state-sponsored violence. In a strange twist, his spokesman went so far as to tell the public not to believe everything said on the president’s Twitter feed. This fresh crackdown prompted yet another round of global concern, and it appears that all prospects for international re-engagement have stalled. ZIDERA has been renewed, and the UK has disowned any plans to support Zimbabwe’s bid to re-enter the Commonwealth. US sanctions will make the bailout that Zimbabwe so badly needs from international financial institutions even more unlikely.

Mnangagwa’s consistent inconsistency

While early in his presidency, many were willing to give the new president the benefit of the doubt, it is increasingly clear that the new administration in Zimbabwe is both more authoritarian than its predecessor, and less strategic. Having denounced the January 2019 protests as a Western-backed attempt at regime change, the ruling party has dusted off its old anti-imperial mantra as a cloak for their repressive actions. They have charged key opposition and civic leaders with treason. In 25-year old Joanah Mamombe’s case, she is alleged to be the first woman charged with treason in the country in over 150 years. According to veteran journalist, Peta Thornycroft, “about 10 MPs from the opposition MDC Alliance are variously charged with incitement, subversion and treason.”

In light of all this, in early March, the United Nations Human Rights Council announced that it would send special rapporteurs to Harare to investigate the claims of human rights abuses. In another spectacular about-face, this has apparently been welcomed by President Mnangagwa. The Foreign Ministry’s official who was sent to brief the press appeared to be living in a parallel universe, and reported substantial gains at international re-engagement. In a similar vein, it was reported on 6 March that the government – who are currently unable to stabilise the economy, pay civil servant salaries or settle vast debts to neighbouring South Africa – have decided to engage the services of a Trump-affiliated lobbyist to have the US sanctions dropped. This comes at an annual cost of $500 000 dollars. The likely success of this initiative is low, and Zimbabweans will probably see little gain from their misspent taxes.

Unfortunately, this young administration has proven to be both erratic and tone deaf. Having had several chances at reform, they have consistently undermined their own case but still hoped to find themselves in a strong negotiating position. For now, the reform ship appears to have sailed, and the long-suffering citizens of Zimbabwe are likely to continue to suffer under a regime that seems to care little for their welfare, and less for their protest. As Panashe Chigumadzi stated in August 2018, “the old Zimbabwe is the new Zimbabwe.”

A Reversion to Type in Cameroon

When Paul Biya was controversially reelected in October 2018, it was not clear whether it would herald a new direction in the Anglophone crisis or simply perpetuate the status quo. Up to that point the government had stuck to a hardline strategy that rejected any negotiation with secessionists or threats of popular mobilization. The result has been devastating in the Northwest and Southwest. According to recent estimates over 1,000 people have been killed, 430,000 have been internally displaced, and 30,000 have become refugees in Nigeria. The Anglophone community has become increasingly fractionalized, and the current secessionist movement has eclipsed the original civil society-based protest movement. 

Biya’s reelection opened a window for a change in direction. With questions of succession and the future of the regime temporarily brushed aside, Biya could have used the opportunity to help local groups, and particularly churches, coordinate an All-Anglophone Conference. Anglophones had been trying to get this platform off the ground since November, and it could have provided a format for more moderate voices to emerge. The government was largely supportive of the initiative, and in December took the step of announcing a disarmament and reintegration committee and the pardon of 289 detained Anglophones. However, these developments have paralleled a continued government offensive in Anglophone regions and prosecution of hundreds of detained Anglophone activists.

It has become clearer that Biya has reverted to type. In January, Biya announced a major cabinet reshuffle. He had done something similar in May 2018 when he appointed two Anglophones to cabinet positions. This time Biya kept 20 ministers and appointed 16 new ones. Biya maintained the two Anglophones from the previous cabinet – Atanga Nji Paul as the Minister of Territorial Administration, and Nalova Lyonga (who is now one of only two women in the cabinet) as the Minister of Secondary Education. The Prime Minister position, which has been held by an Anglophone since 1992, was reshuffled, and Biya appointed Dion Ngute Joseph to replace Philemon Yang after a decade of service.

This is par for the course in Cameroon, where for decades Biya has maintained tenuous ruling coalitions by offering prestigious executive positions to political supporters. Cameroon now boasts the largest cabinet in Africa, with over 60 ministers, minister delegates, and secretaries of state (not to mention countless other deputies and vice ministers). In my own research I examine how Biya’s centralized control of political careers in a vast state bureaucracy has been a key factor that has sustained his regime. These changes were ostensibly made to signal Biya’s commitment to Anglophone concerns over the allocation of resources, and their previous lack of faith in the former Prime Minister 

These changes were met with skepticism in the Anglophone movement, and in some quarters with outright opposition. The new Prime Minister cut his teeth in the office of the presidency and is considered a Biya ally. Nji Paul is likewise a staunch Biya loyalist, and came under heavy criticism in 2016 and 2017 for denying that there even was an Anglophone problem.Fundamentally, these kinds of tactics are all too familiar to Anglophone activists, who see them as entirely symbolic and self-interested. Many other figures in the current cabinet are hardliners who oppose any negotiation with Anglophone groups until the insurgency is completely defeated. 

This has been combined with reversion to another tactic that Biya has employed before – the coercion of elite challengers. During the 2018 election Maurice Kamto and the MRC party surprisingly emerged as the biggest thorn in Biya’s side. Kamto was a former insider who left the regime to form his own party and challenge Biya for the presidency. His roots in the Western region of Cameroon, and the Bamileké community in particular, gave him some stability but also potentially limited his national appeal. Nonetheless, Kamto won 14% of the vote. 

After the election Kamto continued his vocal opposition to Biya. He spearheaded the legal challenge to the 2018 election, and was then banned from holding press conferences. Kamto then helped organize a series of protests and marches in Cameroon’s commercial capital, Douala. He was placed intermittently on house arrest. On January 28, Kamto was arrested along with other opposition members and charged with sedition and inciting rebellion. Per the 2014 anti-terror bill, Kamto is being tried in a military tribunal, which has come under criticism for its loose definition of due process. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned his arrest and detention without bail.

Kamto’s agitation was particularly threatening since it came from a former regime insider and spread discontent outside of the Anglophone regions. His prosecution under the 2014 anti-terror law is novel for such a high-profile figure. But in the past, Biya has used his control of anti-corruption investigatory bodies to eliminate similar political opponents. In 1996 Titus Edzoa left the ruling party to challenge Biya in the 1997 presidential election. He was arrested along with his campaign manager Michel Atangana and jailed for 17 years on charges of embezzlement. Similarly, in 2012 former Minister of Territorial Administration Marafa Yaya and former Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni were arrested on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Both were rumored to have made moves to challenge Biya internally for the presidency in 2011. 

For now it seems like the regime is committed to crushing the Anglophone insurgency rather than taking any bold moves to reconcile or really address Anglophone concerns. In addition to an All-Anglophone Conference these measures could include a mutual ceasefire, the release of more political detainees, and more public acknowledgement of Anglophone grievances. Outside of some minor cutbacks of military aid, and some offers of a reconciliation mission, there has not been significant international pressure on Biya. The conflict is not even on the African Union Peace and Security Council’s meeting schedule. This has likely signaled to Biya that the status quo is still the way to go.