Category Archives: Africa

Analysis of the Mali presidential election process and outcome

This is a guest post by Grant Godfrey, Senior Program Manager, National Democratic Institute (NDI)

Unsuccessful Malian presidential contender Soumaïla Cissé’s claims of fraud have gained little traction, and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s re-election in the August 12 runoff has been confirmed by the Constitutional Court. Yet hopes that the presidential election would reinvigorate the Algiers peace process may remain unfulfilled; a declining level of citizen engagement leaves the country’s institutions and leaders arguably weaker than in 2013.

Participation[1] fell 6.28 points this year from the record voter turnout of 48.98% in the first round poll of 2013. Runoff participation plummeted over 11 points to 34.42%, the lowest rate in a presidential race since 2002. Despite rapid growth in the voting population—17 percent more registered voters, over 1.1 million more individuals—372,283 fewer Malians bothered to cast a runoff vote in 2018. Explanations for this could include an overall weakening of support for the candidates, dissatisfaction with facing the same choice as in the 2013 runoff, and/or a skepticism as to whether the election would bring any real change to voters’ lives.

The election returns tell a similar story.  With 67.12 %, Keïta won more than two votes for every one for Cissé in the runoff. This is a large and convincing margin, but it may mask citizens’ deeper concerns for their country.  The 34-point victory is still the second-narrowest in a presidential runoff in Mali—only Cissé’s loss to Amadou Toumani Touré in 2002 was closer. Cissé improved upon his 2013 performance by over 10 percentage points, winning nearly 200,000 more votes. He has clearly gained ground with the public.  Keïta, on the other hand, won a second term despite inspiring fewer actual votes than he did five years ago. Runoff votes for Keïta dropped by 562,767. Put another way, for every vote he won in August 2013, almost one-quarter did not support him again this year. This does not place the president in an ideal position to push through controversial measures such as the reforms called for by the Algiers Accord.  Keïta accepted the importance of working with his opponents, soliciting their support in his victory speech. Cissé, however, has continued to contest the final results.

A declining level of voter participation could also reflect a lack of confidence in the electoral process and institutions. For a number of election cycles, both domestic and international observers have recommended reforms that would inspire greater voter confidence in the process, and which have not been pursued.  Some recurring examples include better defining roles and procedures for registering voters and delivering voter cards; considering the creation of a permanent and independent election management body; more transparency in results management, both at the polling station and at the Constitutional Court; and publicizing the CENI’s[2] findings.  Many of the challenges that gave rise to these past recommendations recurred this year.

One positive development in civic engagement in these past elections was the role played by Malian election monitoring groups. These deployed thousands of observers, who monitored all phases of the process. While noting many reassuring points, these groups also illuminated some problems that could undermine public confidence in elections. The Malian observer group Coalition for Citizen Observation of Elections in Mali (COCEM) noted that residents of the central region (where Cissé enjoys significant support) had a more difficult time obtaining their voter cards, generally for reasons attributed to insecurity. COCEM also observed unlawful distribution of “batches” of voter cards in five out of 15 regions (the law allows a maximum of two proxy card withdrawals per person).  On election day, COCEM and others documented areas where voting was cancelled, despite an improved security presence.

COCEM also conducted an analysis of the polling-station-by-polling-station results for each round.  COCEM found that in 393 polling stations (out of 22,675) all the votes went to a single candidate. Among these polling stations, 297 had more than 50 voters, and 112 also had 100 percent turnout.[3]  It may not be surprising that in some Malian communities, everyone votes for one candidate. The 100 percent turnout is arguably more surprising, particularly in an election with low turnout.  In the 297 polling stations with unanimous voting and more than 50 voters, the average turnout was 86 percent; 254 of these polling stations were in areas prone to insecurity—Timbuktu, Gao and Mopti; and 127 alone were in the Timbuktu region, from which a number of Cissé’s complaints to the Constitutional Court emanated. It is important to state that these facts do not prove Soumaïla Cissé’s claim of massive ballot-box stuffing—in 44 polling stations with more than 50 voters, Cissé received all the votes.  Had such fraud taken place, however, these are the types of results (high turnout, mostly for one candidate) it would produce.

The number of votes at issue would not have affected the outcome,[4] but the complaint filed by the opposition provided the Constitutional Court an opportunity to build confidence in the post-election process.  Cissé requested the court produce and examine, for example, the voter sign-in sheet (which could be probative if box-stuffing indeed occurred) for a number of locations alleged to suffer security or other problems, some of which COCEM’s analysis shows voted unanimously. Instead of considering the question of when a combination of insecurity and skewed results warrants closer scrutiny, the court required Cissé to produce a copy of the tally sheet showing that a complaint was made at the polling station by a party representative; however, in 2013 the EU observation mission noted that party agents only received copies of the final count, not of their complaints. If that is still the practice, it would make proof of misdeeds nearly impossible, according to the court’s current jurisprudence. Where Cissé also offered witness testimony, it was not considered sufficient. The court appears to consider the CENI’s reports dispositive; indeed, it is not clear that the court would consider any evidence favorably absent corroboration by the CENI observer. However, without divulging the CENI’s and court delegates’ observations, it is difficult for the public to assess the sincerity of the court’s judgment.

The court’s approach to its decision will thus likely fuel more opposition criticism of the post-election process. Critics could also question the court’s position on transparency measures that were taken in 2018. The court begins its opinion with an aside in which it asserts that requests by national and international observers for access to the center where results are compiled, and for on-line publication of results by polling station, lack a legal basis.  The court reasons that since the law does not affirmatively require these measures, they should not have been taken, and compromise Malian sovereignty. The court ignored Article 11 of the constitution, which states that “Anything not prohibited by law shall not be prevented….” The court’s language was unnecessary to the resolution of the case, the purpose of including it is unclear, and the statements should give Malian democracy advocates cause for concern. The net effect of this resistance to open election data practices could well be to reinforce citizen skepticism and further alienating voters.

[1] Figures for 2013 and 2018 are taken from Constitutional Court decisions. For previous elections, see http://africanelections.tripod.com/ml.html.

[2] The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) “supervises” election operations organized by the Ministry of Territorial Administration. CENI is run by a board representing the majority, opposition and civil society. It sends observers to every polling station and provides a report to the President. Its report is supposed to be published in the Official Journal (Electoral Law, Arts 3, 4, 17).

[3] Twenty-one voting stations had 100 percent turnout and voted unanimously in both rounds.

[4] The number of votes cast in unanimous polling stations nationwide totaled 57,449, while Keïta’s victory margin was over 900,000.

 

Edalina Rodrigues Sanches – Cabo Verde: Political leadership in the most exceptional democracy in Africa

This is a guest post by Edalina Rodrigues Sanches: Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Instituto de Ciências Sociais da Universidade de Lisboa.

2018 marks the 43rd anniversary of Cabo Verde independence and 27 years of an exceptional democracy  with a tradition of  free and fair elections as well as peaceful transitions in power.  While historical and geographic factorsmay have facilitated these developments, political institutions such as executive systems, and political leadership have also played an important role.

A stable two-party system

Since the founding multiparty elections of January 1991, Cabo Verde has developed a balanced and stable two-party system in which the  PAICVand the MPDare the major parties. The PAICV is the older party in the system, and a forerunner of the PAIGCwhich was formed in 1956 during the liberation struggle against Portuguese colonial rule. It was the sole legal party during the authoritarian regime that spanned between 1975 and 1990; and it continued to play and important role in the post-transition era.  After losing parliamentary elections in 1991 and 1995, the PAICV won subsequent elections (2001, 2006, 2011) with broad parliamentary support (more than 50% of the seats).  The MPD, the second party to become legal in the country, was formed in 1990 during the critical juncture of democratic transition. It unexpectedly won the founding multiparty elections in 1991 and repeated the win in 1995 and more recently in 2016[1]. In all these polls the MPD managed to secure more than 50% of the potential seats.

Leadership successions within these two parties have been relatively peaceful. In the PAICV, there have been three transfers of power since 1991. In 1993, Aristides Lima replaced Pedro Pires as the new secretary-general and stood as prime-ministerial candidate at the 1995 elections but eventually lost. In 2000, José Maria Neves was elected new party leader, a position he held for 14 out of the 15 years he acted as the country’s prime-minister (2001-2016). This was a period of strong external projection of the country; but, internally, the government faced important challenges namely economic slowdown, rising unemployment, and higher levels of social contestation, particularly between 2008-2015.  In 2014, José Maria Neves announced he was not going to run for the party presidency. This happened before the end of his mandate as Prime Minister and paved the way for the election of a new leader that would also run as prime-ministerial candidate in the 2016 polls. Janira Hopffer Almada was elected the new leader in the highly disputed party primaries of 2014 and became the first female to be elected party leader and to run for prime minister. The party never came together to support her leadership and she eventually lost the 2016 elections but saw her legitimacy as leader sanctioned in the 2017 primaries.

In the MPD, leadership successions have been more difficult. Carlos Veiga’s leadership was marked by economic recovery and good governance but conflicts within the party led to the first scission in 1993 and to the formation of Partido da Convergência Democrático (PCD). In 2000, he decided to step down as both Prime Minister and party leader, and to run as presidential candidate. But in-fighting persisted and led to a new offshoot in 2001 – Partido da Renovação Democrática(PRD). This crisis set Jacinto Santos, the then President of the Praia municipality and member of the Political Committee of MPD, against Gualberto do Rosário, the then Prime Minister. With the 2000 MPD convention ahead, Jacinto Santos withdrew from the leadership race and went on to form the PRD with other party members. The Convention confirmed the leadership of Gualberto do Rosário who was succeeded by Agostinho Lopes (2002-2007), Jorge Santos (2007-2013) and most recently Ulisses Correia e Silva (since 2013), the current Prime Minister.

The key lesson that can be drawn from this is that leadership successions in Cabo Verde – both within the parties and in the executive – have become sufficiently institutionalized, and help maintain regime stability.

Symmetric and stable relations between the president and the prime minister

Cabo Verde has been a semi-presidential regime from the outset of democratic transition. The amendment to the 1990 constitution in 1992 reduced presidential powers to dissolve parliament and dismiss the cabinet, and strengthened the legislative initiative  of the executive[2]. Eight years later, a new revision defined that presidential and legislative elections should no longer be almost concurrent (only one month between them) but were now to be held with a six-monthlag.

When compared to other former Lusophone countries, the Cabo Verdean president is theweakest in terms of formal powers, but his role has never been irrelevant[3]. The overall relationship between the president and the prime minister has been balanced and symmetric whoever is in leadership. One contributing factor is that the rounds of parliamentary and presidential elections held since 1991 have produced successive episodes of unified government in which the same party has the majority in the parliament and in the presidency[4]. The only episode of cohabitation was in 2011 when the PAICV had the majority in parliament and the MPD was able to elect its presidential candidate. Power sharing between Prime Minister José Maria Neves and the elected President, Jorge Carlos Fonseca, generatedpolitical tensions and conflictsover the appointment of state officials and foreign policy issues. Despite this, these two strong charismatic leaders maintained an amicable relationship throughout the period of cohabitation.

Since 2016, “normality” has returned as there is again a situation of unified government. In his second mandate, Jorge Carlos Fonseca has already stated the need for a constitutional revisionthat reinforces democratic institutions as well as social justice.  Following some problems related to the performance of some ministers and the coordination between the different portfolios,Prime Minister Ulisses Correia eventually reshuffled the cabinet.  But in a context of balanced intra-executive relationships, there are signs of increasing contestation from civil society. This year the celebration of Cabo Verde’s independence on July 5 was marked by several protestsin the main Islands and the same happened last year. This time, citizens’ complaints included a broad range of  issues from  unemployment, to regionalisation  and to the Status of Forces Agreement(SOFA)with the United States. With further impending strikes and protests, it remains uncertain how the new political leadership will address social contestation.  So far, the Prime Minister has refused to take responsibilityfor the complaints made, although the rights of individuals to protest  is generally acknowledged.

Notes

[1]Sanches, E.R. 2018. Party Systems in Young Democracies: Varieties of institutionalization in Sub-Saharan Africa. London and New York: Routledge.

[2]Évora, R. 2013. Cabo Verde: Democracia e sistema de governo, in Costa, S. & Sarmento, C. (orgs). Entre África e a Europa: Nação, Estado e Democracia em Cabo Verde. Coimbra: Almedina

[3]Costa, Daniel. 2009. O Papel do Chefe de Estado no Semipresidencialismo Cabo-verdiano, 1991–2007, in Lobo, M.C., & Neto, O. A. (orgs). O Semi-Presidencialismo nos Países de Língua Portuguesa, Lisbon: ICS.

[4]MPD’s cabinets were supported by President António Mascarenhas Monteiro (two mandates 1991-2001) while PAICV’s were supported by President Pedro Pires (two mandates 2001-2011).

Uganda – President Museveni and the politics of quick-fix taxation

At the end of May, Uganda’s Parliament passed the equivalent of a political bombshell. The Excise Duty Amendment Act (2018), to which the President quickly assented, introduced a range of new tax measures, including a one percent duty on mobile money transactions and a daily Ush200 ($0.05) “Over the Top” tax on the use of social media. The popular reaction to these new measures was swift. It started with an explosion of online criticism—on Uganda’s vibrant social media, no less—before taking physical form in the streets.

The vehemence of this response, and the government’s subsequent scramble to “clarify” its position, begs the question, why did President Museveni back such a predictably controversial tax reform? And how do we account for the influence—as well as the apparent limitations—of the subsequent pushback?

The political benefits of balancing the books… by taxing the poor

Uganda has an urgent need to generate more revenue. It lags its East African neighbours, collecting taxes equivalent to only 14 of GDP relative to Kenya’s 18 percent and Rwanda’s 16. At the same time, expenditure continues to outstrip revenue generation, driving the government to borrow more. Although sustainable for now, Uganda’s debts are rapidly accumulating while its interest rate payments to local and external creditors are expected to exceed 12 percent of the total budget this financial year.

The social media and mobile money taxes have the advantage of being relatively easy to administer, and government initially estimated that they would generate revenue worth Ush284bn ($75.9m) and Us115bn ($30.7m) respectively over the coming year, contributing to a budget pegged at Shs32.7tr ($8.7bn). President Museveni has also repeatedly derided social media, declaring that the new taxes could help reduce “gossip”.

Yet aside these benefits, real or imagined, the two new taxes come with clear downsides. First, government critics stress that these taxes are sharply regressive, hitting the poor hardest. The tax on social media use specifically has the further potential to limit access to information. Meanwhile, the tax on mobile money will likely reduce financial inclusion. It is recorded that 23.6m Ugandans use mobile money services—sending and receiving money via their phones—and that 61 percent of these transactions are below Ush45,000 ($12). There is also the very real risk that the mobile money tax will prove self-defeating, reducing the volume of transactions and harming growth—not to mention exacerbating existing inequalities.

There are notable alternatives to the two controversial taxes, which the Ugandan Government could consider. For instance, in its most recent “Uganda Economic Update”, the World Bank details a range of options for raising domestic revenues, recommending in particular a reduction in tax exemptions, estimated to equal between 4.5 and 5 percent of GDP in 2016/17. These exemptions are generally awarded to larger businesses and foreign investors, further accentuating the overall regressive nature of Uganda’s tax regime.

Another related concern is the nature of government expenditure. Excessive spending—notably on Defence, the Office of the President and other non-developmental areas—adds to the overall strain on the budget, and thus to the need for additional revenue. It has not helped that the controversy over the new tax measures coincided with Museveni’s promise that individual MPs will be guarded by military snipers and provided with escort cars to ensure their security. If implemented, this plan would quickly cancel out any contribution the social media and mobile money taxes could make towards balancing the budget.

So why is it that the government insists on widely unpopular, regressive taxes instead of ensuring a more efficient and equitable tax regime? The official justification for exemptions—one that until recently the IFIs themselves endorsed—is that they encourage investment, which then bolsters growth. But analysts of Uganda’s political economy have long stressed the additional, political imperative prompting Museveni’s government to adopt a more discretionary tax policy. Indeed, exemptions are a form of political favour granted to leading economic actors, who then reciprocate through their political loyalty and financial backing of the regime. Similarly, excessive spending on certain, seemingly non-priority sectors is another way for President Museveni to distribute patronage, including to ensure the support of ruling party MPs.

Even with these seemingly skewed political incentives, though, Museveni does have to worry about the broader legitimacy of his government. And following the widespread condemnation of the recent tax reforms, the President blinked. His response suggests the potential influence—but also the limitations—of popular pressure on government decision-making.

The popular backlash, and its significance

Opposition to the social media and mobile money taxes has united a broad coalition, if one most visible around Kampala. Activists, journalists, politicians, comedians, musicians and other social media users took to Twitter with a variety of hastags: #ThisTaxMustGo, #Mobilemoneytax, #SocialMediaTax. This helped kindle the debate surrounding the new measures, which played out across Uganda’s print and broadcast media. It also helped mobilise support for a march through Kampala, called by the fast-rising musician-turned-opposition leader, Bobi Wine. But while a widely known broadcast journalist linked arms with Bobi Wine to protest, the demonstration also drew in large crowds of market vendors and motorcycle taxi drivers, who faced off against armed riot police.

Following the protest, and with a court case pending and an online petition quickly gaining signatures, Museveni changed his tune. Seemingly making up policy on the hoof, he claimed that the one percent tax rate on mobile money “came up by mistake” and that he “signed the law with the error because we could not delay the other measures.” While Museveni refused to change the social media tax nor to scrap the tax on mobile money, he did indicate that the latter would be reduced from one to 0.5 percent.

The government went on to table an amended Excise Duty Bill on 19 July, less than two months after the first was enacted. Activists have vowed to push for further concessions as the legislation moves through parliament. Meanwhile, the Leader of the Opposition, Winnie Kiiza, called for more popular protest against the disputed taxes, noting that without this outside pressure the parliamentary opposition alone was helpless.

Popular protest is not the only factor underlying the government’s partial climb-down. It appears the Cabinet was divided about the mobile money tax rate to begin with, and that government initially underestimated the revenue they could generate through the tax. Yet it is striking that Museveni only mentioned the 0.5 percent rate after the Kampala protests, and with the prospect of further protests looming. This timing, when considered alongside the government’s contradictory and rapidly evolving official position, leaves little doubt that popular protest has prompted the concessions to date, whatever the government may claim to the contrary.

It remains to be seen, though, whether activists can successfully pressure parliament to further amend the new Excise Duty Bill. For that, they will have to win over a large portion of ruling party MPs of whom only a handful have come out openly against the controversial taxes. That said, MPs have also been loath to voice their support for the measures, preferring instead quietly to vote in favour or else de facto to abstain through their absence from the House. Speaker Kadaga, meanwhile, entrusted her Deputy to oversee the vote when the Excise Duty Bill was first passed in May. She tends to delegate in this way when there is controversial and generally unsavoury business to handle.

Although the NRM parliamentary caucus continues to back the President, it may still be possible for popular pressure to open up divisions within the ruling party and, by leveraging those divisions, to win further concessions through parliament. This has happened in the past, notably regarding controversies over health and education spending as well as previous unpopular tax proposals. Such a positive outcome may seem unlikely in this instance, but the previous successes—however partial—show that there is still space to push for more progressive outcomes, even in the context of Museveni’s increasingly authoritarian regime.

DRC – Finally preparing for a presidential election, but who will run?

With a two-year delay, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is finally preparing for a presidential election on December 23, 2018. The deadline for candidate declarations is August 8. Many observers still wonder whether term-limited President Joseph Kabila will find a way to run, though moves to adopt a new constitution or change key constitutional provisions have seemingly been abandoned [see earlier blog post about such moves here]. The smiling face of the president adorning huge billboards in Lubumbashi or printed on t-shirts in Kinshasa is not reassuring to his critics, who take it as an indication that “he wants to stay.” Kabila supporters from the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) pooh-pooh such concerns, arguing it is a way of celebrating the president’s achievements.

It is peculiar that with less than a month to go before the window for candidate submissions closes, the PPRD candidate is not yet known. Though the process for selecting that candidate remains opaque, it is clear there will not be an open primary election. According to André-Alain Atundu, spokesperson for the presidential majority, primaries contributed to destroying the Republican Party in the US and the Socialist Party in France. Kabila tightly controls the candidate selection process in an effort to manage political egos and “avoid a war in his political family,” in Atundu’s words.

On July 1, Kabila launched a formal coalition – the Common Front for Congo (FCC) – that will throw its support behind a single candidate for the ruling majority. Wise move, as the constitution was changed in 2011 to eliminate the requirement for a runoff in the event no candidate wins an absolute majority (Kabila was reelected with 49 percent of the votes later that year). Members of the FCC include parties and civil society structures currently represented in the government of national unity created following the political agreement of 31 December 2016, but is open to others. On July 7, the Unified Lumumbist Party (PALU) also signed on to the charter of the FCC, despite a move earlier in the year by PALU to join forces in the coming elections with two of the major opposition parties, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) of Jean-Pierre Bemba and the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) of Vital Kamerhe.

Under Kabila’s leadership, the FCC aims to run joint candidates with a common program at all levels of elections: presidential, legislative and regional elections that will all be held simultaneously. Remains to be seen who Kabila will favor as presidential candidate and whether the FCC will resist as the egos of those not selected are bruised. Potential choices include National Assembly President Aubin Minaku; former Prime Minister Matata Ponyo; Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, former vice prime minister for the interior, recently promoted to party secretary for the PPRD; and a number of possible outsiders.

On the opposition’s side, the front runners are easier to identify. Despite significant talk about the need for a single candidate to avoid splitting the vote, there is as yet no formal agreement on who that should be. The three top potential candidates are: Moise Katumbi, former governor of Katanga and former ally of Kabila, who has had his passport revoked and currently cannot return from Europe; Félix Thisekedi, son of historical opposition leader Etienne Thisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) who passed away last year; and Jean-Pierre Bemba, president of the MLC and former rebel leader, who came in second to Kabila in the 2006 presidential run-off. Bemba, who has served 10 years of prison in The Hague, was acquitted on appeal by the International Criminal Court on June 8 from charges for crimes against humanity. He has been promised a passport to return to the DRC by the Congolese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, the debate is on between lawyers in Kinshasa as to whether Bemba can register as candidate, given on the one hand his conviction for witness tampering at the ICC, and on the other the fact that he does not yet have a voter card – which is required to register. Finally, former President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe appears ready to back whoever emerges as the strongest opposition candidate.

If indeed an agreement is reached among opposition leaders on fielding a single candidate, how would such a consensus candidate be selected? Via a “mini primary” election, as Kamerhe has suggested, an idea also supported by Katumbi in the past? If so, who would vote and how would such a primary election be organized in time? The MLC party congress to take place on July 12-13 could provide a first good indication of the opposition’s ability to move ahead in unified rank, depending on whether the party opts to put forward its own candidate, and if so how other opposition parties react.

July 25 marks the start of the process for submitting candidates for the presidential and legislative elections. We can foresee two weeks of intense political maneuverings in both political camps between now and then.

Kenya – President Kenyatta and the succession dilemma

President Uhuru Kenyatta cannot go anywhere these days without being asked about who he would like to be his successor. Although he is only a year in to his second term, the Kenyan media is full of stories of rifts within his government as rival leaders jockey for position. To some extent this is nothing new. Ever since Kenyatta and William Ruto – the current Deputy President – entered into the negotiations in the late 2000s that would lead to the formation of the Jubilee Alliance, commentators have been predicting the breakdown of their relationship.

However, in recent weeks this speculation has reached fever pitch. On 4 July, the Jubilee vice chairman, David Murathe, became the latest in a long line of Kenyatta allies to bemoan the fact that Ruto has effectively started campaigning for the next election, even though it is still three years away, complaining that:

“When you go to an area and all you speak about is 2022, it is upsetting some of us because it will distract the President from achieving his promises to Kenyans.”

True to form, though, the president has been keeping his cards very close to his chest.

When Kenyatta and Ruto joined forces in the wake of the Kenya crisis – the flawed election of 2007 and its aftermath – it was widely interpreted as a marriage of convenience. Under threat of prosecution by the International Criminal Court for the part that they played in the post-election violence, the two leaders worked together to protect themselves and their allies. One part of this strategy was to block domestic prosecutions on a range of issues including corruption. Another was to secure power in the 2013 general elections by forming a common political vehicle, and then to use their control of the state to effectively undermine the ICC investigation.

Unsurprisingly, the underpinning logic of the Jubilee Alliance led many to question its longevity. The poor relations between Kenyatta’s Kikuyu community and Ruto’s Kalenjin community – which were involved in some of the worst ethnic clashes of 2008 – meant that the Alliance has always rested on shaky foundations. Without always saying so in public, a number of prominent Kenyatta allies have made it clear that they see the relationship with Ruto as a necessary evil rather than a binding promise. Not only do they blame the Kalenjin leader for bringing the country to the brink of civil war in 2007/8, but they do not believe that he is the right kind of leader from the right kind of background to rule the country. The cleavage between the Ruto and Kenyatta camps is therefore rooted in both ethnicity and class.

Given this, and country’s history of short-lived and fractious coalitions, there were good grounds to think that the two men would go their separate ways once the threat of the ICC receded. Taken together, these considerations led to a constant stream of speculation that at some point or another Ruto’s critics within the Kenyatta camp would try to throw the Deputy President “under the bus”.

What these forecasts tended to overlook were the personal and strategic motivations that bound Ruto and Kenyatta together. On the one hand, Kenyatta depended on Ruto and his United Republican Party (URP) to maintain a majority in the legislature and control over a majority of county governments. On the other hand, Kenyatta is known to be loyal to those close to him – sometimes to a fault – and the two men have a long history, having worked together closely on Kenyatta’s unsuccessful presidential campaign as the candidate of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) in 2002.

As a result, the UhuRuto project has proved to be much more stable than many people predicted. Not only did the two men manage to sustain their relationship into the 2017 general elections, but the Jubilee Alliance was turned from a loose coalition into a more streamlined and efficient political party. During the campaign, Kenyatta’s rallies even celebrated Ruto as the party’s next presidential candidate.

But now that the succession race has moved in to top gear, that glue that has so far held the two leaders together has started to break down.

There are three main drivers of this.

First, Ruto is determined to make good on Kenyatta’s pledge to facilitate his rise to the presidency in return for his support in 2013 and 2017. With less resources than those who seek to block his way, he has set out to make up for his disadvantage by pushing his supporters into party positions where they can look out for his interests and raise funds for his campaign. In turn, this has generated greater tensions around cabinet appointments and other positions, whose distribution is viewed not through the lens of the public good but the balance of power heading into the next campaign.

Second, Kenyatta has expanded his options in a way that has made Ruto more vulnerable. By bringing on board Gideon Moi – son of second president Daniel arap Moi – ahead of the 2017 elections, and subsequently making peace with the country’s most prominent opposition leader, Raila Odinga, in the wake of the poll dispute, Kenyatta has created a route through which the Kikuyu clique within Jubilee could win the election without Ruto. Most obviously, while ethnicity does not completely determine political behaviour in Kenya, a combination of the Kikuyu (Kenyatta), Luo (Odinga) and Kalenjin (Moi) communities would represent a powerful voting bloc, especially if it could retain support in parts of the country like the former North-Eastern province.

Unsurprisingly, this has unsettled the Deputy President. At present, Kenyatta’s government still relies on Ruto to deliver support at the legislative and county levels. But this imperative reduces exponentially as the country gets closer to the 2021 election: at the point when the legislative agenda grinds to a halt ahead of the next campaign it will not just be the president that is a lame duck. Following the collapse of the ICC cases, the longer into the parliamentary term we get the more Ruto’s future within Jubilee will depend on Kenyatta’s good will.

Third, the combination of Ruto’s personal ambition and his greater insecurity has led the Deputy President to go into overdrive, criss-crossing the country in a bid to shore up his support in some places and to form new alliances in others. Such open campaigning so far ahead of the next polls has angered the Kenyatta camp, who argue that it has distracted attention from the business of running the government and establishing the president’s legacy. According to Murathe, “The fight against corruption, law and order, discipline and uniting will be the President’s legacy. He is determined and no noise from any quarter will stop or derail him. Watch this space.”

Of course, Murathe’s statement only tells half the story. In reality, Ruto’s rivals within the government are more concerned about his energy, focus, and organizational, acumen than the Kenyatta’s policy agenda. The threat of losing access to power is a much more serious than losing the fight against corruption, which is only being waged in a half-hearted manner in any case.

That said, there is some evidence that Kenyatta himself is genuinely annoyed. Having rarely commented on the consistent sniping between the members of the two camps, the president recently appeared to criticise Ruto when he quipped disparagingly about the Deputy President’s kutangatanga (“roaming”). Given that power is so much more weighty than policy in Kenyan political considerations, there are two plausible interpretations of this. The first is that the president has taken it as a personal sleight that Ruto did not heed his request to desist campaigning, and wanted this to be known. The second is that Kenyatta plans to withdraw his support from Ruto’s bid for the presidency, and does not want him to be able to use his position to secure an advantage over others.

However, as has been so often the case over the last few years, Kenyatta has not said enough for anybody to be able to fully read his intentions one way or another.

So what happens next?

Unsurprisingly, the Ruto camp has not taken the criticism of their man lying down. Why should Ruto not campaign, they argue, given that he has effectively already been endorsed as the party’s candidate? Why would his efforts not be celebrated by others unless members of the party were lying when they said that they would back his political ambitions in 2022? For example, Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata has argued that building support for Ruto is only fulfilling Kenyatta’s own pledge, and has suggested that criticisms of the Deputy President by the likes of Murathe are motivated by sectional, rather than national considerations:

“We have ethnic nationalists and people who are exclusionary in their viewpoints. They may want certain hegemony to be maintained and I think I foresee a situation where some people want to perpetuate a certain supremacy, which is not good”.

It is possible that this war of words will continue to escalate until a point where the cold war within the government becomes so hot that the government falls apart. One development that could trigger this process is the president’s anti-corruption drive, which some Ruto supporters have argued is deliberately being used to disadvantage the Deputy President’s allies, weakening his grip in the party. If the flow of funds dries up, Ruto will become increasingly desperate, and that could provoke a more open confrontation.

A second option is that the current feud rumbles on without a clear resolution until the next election, rendering parts of the government dysfunctional, and leading to a final implosion on the eve of the next campaign. Given that Jubilee would struggle to command authority in its current form without Ruto, this seems more likely. It would also fit with what we know about the president. If Kenyatta’s history is anything to go by, he is unlikely to throw a close colleague under the bus a long time before he needs to. A much more sensible option, and one that fits better with his sense of loyalty, would be to continue to pledge his support to Ruto personally while doing little to further the Deputy President’s campaign and allowing his allies in the party to direct their funding to rival Jubilee candidates.

The third option, of course, is that the president stays true to his word and not only publicly endorses Ruto but also cajoles his allies into backing him. In this context, the main question that would need to be answered would be whether or not Kenyatta has the personal authority to persuade some of the country’s most powerful individuals to do something that they don’t want to do, and which many believe is not in their interests. The balance of probabilities suggests that now that relations between the Kenyatta and Ruto camps have deteriorated to such a great extent, a small proportion of leaders and voters in Central Province may follow their leader, but many more will not. Should that comes to pass, the political system is unlikely to quickly coalesce into the two broad coalitions that have characterised the last few elections, and Kenya will be on course for one of most complex and intriguing polls that it has ever held.

Claudia Generoso de Almeida and Benja Satula – Only one man for two jobs: the leadership transition in Angola

This is a guest post by Claudia Generoso de Almeida – Researcher at the Center for International Studies of the University Institute of Lisbon (CEI-IUL) – and Benja Satula – Law Professor and Coordinator of the Center for Research in Law at the
Catholic University of Angola (UCAN)

Since the legislative elections on 23 August 2017, Angola has been experiencing a new political era. Power transferred from the incumbent President José Eduardo dos Santos (JES), the second-longest serving president in Africa, to Joao Lourenço (JLO), the former defense minister.

For the first time since independence, the two sources of power – the presidency and the MPLA party – are not controlled by the same person, as JES still holds the ruling party leadership. This watershed moment in the country’s political history has stimulated the debate on the so-called dual power (poder bicéfalo) and on the cohabitation of these two strong men. However, this “two strong men” situation will not last long. JES will no longer be the MPLA leader after the party’s Extraordinary Congress, which is already scheduled for September of this year. The process of leadership transition in Angola shows us the puzzling relationship between strong presidents and strong parties in presidential and dominant party systems in Africa.

Angola’s two sources of power: the party and the presidency

Angola is ruled by the MPLA, a former liberation movement which has been shaping the political trajectory of this oil-rich country since its independence in 1975. The MPLA was able to consolidate its hegemonic power with “uncompromising mastery” and with a close symbiosis between the party and the state, despite the long civil war (1975-1991; 1993-2002).[1] Today, the country has a dominant party system, as the MPLA has won every election since the end of civil war in 2002 with more than 60% of the votes.[2]

The country not only has historically dominant party, but also a president with reinforced powers. Until 2017, the two leaderships (party and presidency) have only known two names: Agostinho Neto and, after his death in 1979, JES. The end of the war through MPLA’s military victory combined with an economic boom based on oil prices allowed JES to create a parallel neopatrimonial state gravitating around his presidency and Sonangol, the state-own oil company. This gave the president the power to control and distribute state resources and revenues to his entourage, in particular his family members. Nevertheless, this Big Manruler still needed the party to ensure and strengthen his power, which happened in 2010.

The presidential power boost: the 2010 constitution

 On 21 January 2010 the National Assembly, which was dominated by the MPLA,[3] passed – with the boycott of the main opposition party (UNITA) and subject to severe criticisms – a new constitution, which extended the president’s formal powers. Angola no longer has a semi-presidential system, but rather a presidential one. The president is now not only the head of state and the commander-in-chief of the Angolan Armed Forces, but also the head of the executive, as the post of prime minister was abolished.[4]Moreover, this constitution allowed JES to legally remain head of state until 2022.

One of the great changes within this constitution is that the president is no longer directly elected. Instead, the person that heads the list of the party or coalition of parties that receives the most votes in the general election will automatically become president.[5]Although the president “controls everything“, there is one very important detail to keep in mind: the president depends on the support of the majority party which selects him as the head of the party list, and consequently owes obedience to the party and to the party’s leader. In short, the party leadership is very important to the state leadership.

The presidency plus the party:  the superpower formula or the only way to govern?

Under the current MPLA statutes, the party has a great influence on the executive. In fact, it is the party that establishes and is responsible for guiding and monitoring the government programme.[6] Also, the composition of the president’s executive team and the appointment to other positions in the state administration need the endorsement of the party’s Political Bureau, which is chaired by the party’s president.[7]

As the MPLA has itself acknowledged, the party is experiencing an unprecedented and historic moment: a leadership transition while the current party president is still alive. According to some anonymous sources, this transition has been anything but smooth: 1) JLO was not JES’ first choice as a successor[8], 2) JES attempted to revert to the MPLA candidates’ list for the 2017 elections, 3) JES was almost absent during JLO’s electoral campaign, 4) JES’ last acts of governance, in particular to control the security sector[9], 5) JES tried to interfere with the composition of the new executive team and with the appointment of provincial governors by the new president, and finally 6)  JES intended to postpone the Extraordinary Congress to April 2019 to supposedly supervise the preparation of the local elections, which caused discomfort within the party.

All of these aspects consolidated the fear of a dual power (Bicefalia), which would hamper JLO’s governance, and there was a need to remove JES from the party presidency as soon as possible in order to reconfigure the party chessboard in favor of the new president and to empower his capacity of action. However, this removal has been helped by JES’ own promise and with the MPLA’s insistence that the president keep his word. In March 2016, JES publicly announced his intention to leave active political life in 2018. This announcement was made during a period of a severe economic crisis, low popularity levels of both the president and the MPLA, and with a president who was distant from the party.

Surprisingly, JLO, as the new MPLA head-of-list candidate for the 2017 elections, was enthusiastically received by the population, especially thanks to his speeches against corruption. This enthusiasm increased as soon as the new president started to govern. Indeed, the so-called JLO “bulldozer” made a great deal of changes in several strategic areas, affecting JES’ close circle.[10]

“The September Spring”, but still a dangerous hegemonic logic of power

The leadership transition started with the 2017 elections and will culminate in September of this year with the consecration of the MPLA Vice President JLO as the new MPLA president during the VI Extraordinary Congress, as announced on the 25th of May at the end of the 2nd Extraordinary Session of the MPLA Central Committee. In this Extraordinary Congress, there will be no competition, only a leadership succession.

However, this unique moment in the political history of Angola shows us the primacy of a dangerous hegemonic logic of power – only one man for two jobs (presidency and party) – and the lack of checks and balances. Contrary to several cases such as in the ANC (South Africa), in the MPLA as well in the FRELIMO (Mozambique), the leadership transition started first at the state level and then culminated at the party level. This reminds us of the importance of controlling the dominant party, which in turn has a symbiotic relationship with the state.

The “September Spring” is awaited with great expectations by both MPLA militants and Angolan society: will it constitute a real change, or will it be the same old thing? Will JLO restore semi-presidentialism and/or promote intraparty democracy? Well, for now, JLO seems to need the power that is provided by the state and party leaderships to govern with minimum constraints for two mandates and leave a legacy.

Notes

[1]See Christine Messiant, 2007, “The Mutation of Hegemonic Domination: Multiparty Politics without Democracy,” in Angola, the Weight of History, edited by Patrick Chabal and Nuno Vidal, 93-123, London: Hurst, and Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, 2015, Magnificent and Beggar Land: Angola since the civil war, London: Hurst.

[2]2008, 2012, and 2017 elections.

[3]The MPLA had 191 of a total of 220 parliamentary seats.

[4]Art. 108 of the constitution. The president also appoints the judges of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court and the Court Audit (art. 119).

[5]Art. 109 of the constitution.

[6]Art. 86 (3) (k) of the MPLA statutes (2017).

[7]Art. 86 (3) (b) of the MPLA statutes (2017).

[8] JLO was the MPLA’s general secretary between 1998 and 2003, and he was removed from office due to his public declarations on JES’ announcement in 2001 of his non re-election to the presidency in the second multiparty elections. JLO then declared that JES should keep his word and leave power voluntarily.

[9]The presidential decree of 11 September 2018 determined on that same date the beginning of the term of office of the commander general of the National Police and the chief of intelligence service and military security until 2025.

[10]In Angola’s central bank; in the diamond sector (Endiama); in the oil sector, removing JES’ daughter Isabel dos Santos from presidency of the state oil company Sonangol; in the police and security sector, replacing the chiefof police and the headof the intelligence service; and in the media sector (TPA, RNA, Edições Novembro, and Angop), putting end to the contracts with Semba Comunicação, a company whose partners are both sons of José Eduardo dos Santos. Also, José Filomeno dos Santos, JES’ son who has been head of the national sovereign wealth fund since 2013, is accused of the looting of US $500 million from Angola’s central bank.

Tunisia – Sliding back towards presidential authoritarianism?

From its independence to the January 2011 uprising, presidentialism in Tunisia was synonymous with dictatorship. Indeed, former presidents Bourguiba and Ben Ali had both concentrated power in their own hands, with the legislative and judiciary branches acting as extensions of this power. In the aftermath of the January 2011 revolution, the interim government and later the elected constitutional assembly opted for a semi-presidential system. Indeed, nearly all political parties agreed that such a system was essential to decentralize executive power in order to prevent the return of an authoritarian presidentialism. However, in the last few years, the current President, Hafedh Caïd Essebsi, has been arguing that a lack of centralized executive power is preventing Tunisia from progressing both in its political reforms and its economic development. Could this be an early sign that Tunisia is slipping back into a form of authoritarianism?

Presidential authoritarianism: Bourguiba and Ben Ali

After years of civil unrest and guerilla warfare, Tunisia gained its independence from France in 1956. Habib Bourguiba, a member of the nationalist New Constitutional Liberal Party (commonly known as Neo Destour), became prime minister following elections held in the last days of the French protectorate. Bourguiba quickly enacted measures to solidify his position. After setting up special courts to prosecute former collaborationists and his enemies in the nationalist movement, Bourguiba maneuvered to oust the Bey and head of state, Muhammad VIII al-Amin by pressuring the national assembly into declaring a republic and then assumed the title of president. During Bourguiba’s rule, dissent was stifled. Bourguiba stressed that Tunisian democracy was to be an expression of national unity. Opposition parties were barely tolerated and Tunisia’s bicameral legislative body, comprised only of Neo Destour members, was but a rubber stamp parliament. Indeed, after serving three five-year terms as president, Bourguiba was named “president for life” by this parliament in 1975. Bourguiba’s presidency ceased only when, in 1987, prime minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali summoned a group of medical professionals who officially declared the ailing president mentally and physically incapable of exercising his duties

As the Tunisian constitution stipulated that the prime minister would succeed the president in the case of the latter’s death or severe illness, Ben Ali replaced Bourguiba as president of Tunisia following what was to be called the 1987 “medical coup”. Initially, Ben Ali cultivated the image of a political reformer keen on introducing a more representative democracy in the nation. Indeed, his political rhetoric relied on terms such as democracy, further economic integration with Europe, as well as individual freedoms and rights. Seemingly in order to prove his good will in these matters, in 1988 Ben Ali introduced a constitutional amendment abolishing the lifelong presidency and capping term limits to two five year mandates. However, as the years went by, it became clear that Ben Ali was only interested in democracy as a façade. Indeed, while a few seats were set aside for opposition parties in parliament, Neo Destour members constituted its vast majority. Further constitutional amendments only confirmed the authoritarian nature of Ben Ali’s regime: in 1997, a third term was added to the previous two-term presidential limit; and in 2002, term limits were abolished altogether, ushering in a de facto return of the lifelong presidency.

The January 2011 revolution and the Essebsi presidency

In January 2011, Tunisians went to the streets demanding freedom, dignity and equality. Moreover, one of the protesters’ staunchest demands was the departure of Ben Ali from the presidency. After a few weeks of public unrest, Ben Ali fled the country with his family, being granted political asylum in Saudi Arabia. A new interim government was established, with former Prime Minister Muhammad Ghannushi becoming pro tempore president. The neo Destour party was formally dissolved. One day after being appointed president, Ghannushi resigned and was succeeded by Fouad Mebazaa. The interim government quickly announced elections for a constituent assembly, which were held in October. The constituent assembly later announced, in December, that during the transition period, which was to end when Tunisia had a new constitution, Moncef Marzouki was to succeed Mebazaa as president.

The new constitution of Tunisia of 2014 limits the mandate of a president to two five-year terms and imposes checks from the legislative, judiciary and part of the executive branches on the office of the presidency. Indeed, under the new system, the direction of the government is explicitly assigned to the Prime Minister, who is responsible before the legislative branch. The first president to be elected under the new constitution is the incumbent, Beji Caid Essebsi (sworn in in December 2014), with Mehdi Jomaa as Prime Minister. It soon became apparent, however, that Essebsi had a view of the presidency that was closer to that of Bourguiba. Nowadays, despite the strong presence of the islamist Ennahdha party in parliament and their apparent commitment to upholding the gains of the 2014 constitution, Essebsi is busy building a personality cult and has repeatedly complained to the press of the inadequacies of the 2014 constitution. Indeed, in a 2016 interview with the national daily La Presse, Essebsi laid out his plan to eventually amend the constitution to disentangle the “interwoven powers” of the executive branch in order to concentrate them in the office of the presidency. A major factor in government inefficiency, he added, was the “independent constitutional bodies”, that is, the independent agencies mandated by the constitution to monitor elections and combat corruption. Moreover, Essebsi, following the example of Bourguiba, has extended the powers of the presidency. On one hand, he has begun acting as an arbitrator in legislative affairs, making the Prime minister a simple instrument through which presidential prescriptions are applied; on the other hand, he has yet to set up the Constitutional Court, which was supposed to have been operational by January 2015.

Conclusion

Tunisia’s new constitution was designed to prevent the return of authoritarian presidentialism. However, “the strength of a constitution depends on the political determination to breathe life into the letter and the spirit of it”1. With the Tunisian economy still weak seven years after the 2011 revolution, many Tunisians understandably feel that further political and economic reforms are urgently needed. If these are not undertaken soon, there is a definite chance that the electorate, in desperation, will agree with president Essebsi that the current constitutionalist regime needs to be overhauled to bolster the powers of the presidency.

Notes

  1. Thierry Brésillon (2017). Tunisia: towards the restoration of personal power [online at orientxxi.info]

The author would like to thank Alessandra Bonci for her advice on writing this blog post.

Nigeria — Ruling Party Holds National Convention amidst Internal Crisis

Nigeria’s ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) party will hold its national convention this Saturday, July 23, at perhaps its most fragmented state since it was formed in 2013.

At its inception, it was already clear that the APC was an alliance of strange bedfellows united primarily by the common purpose of unseating incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 election. Yet the speed at which deep rifts became evident once the party took power surprised even its doubters.

An early row, barely months after President Buhari’s inauguration, over the leadership of Nigeria’s National Assembly revealed festering strife between the President and an influential group of former governors (known as the ‘new PDP’) who left Jonathan’s then ruling party for the APC shortly after the opposition coalition was formed. The result of this early disagreement was the election as Senate President of Bukola Saraki, one of the most influential figures within the nPDP faction, marking Buhari’s loss of control over a National Assembly in which his party has held the majority.

This arrangement, resulting in repeated battles between the legislature and the executive, has had a clear impact on Buhari’s agenda since early on in his tenure; from the two full years it took to complete most of his ministerial appointments to recurrent controversy over the passing of the government’s yearly budget and disputes over the schedule of the upcoming election. In turn, the government has lamented the National Assembly’s attempts to sabotage its budgetary agenda. The executive is, till date, also still pursing various legal cases against Saraki and his allies in the legislature.

Beyond the National Assembly, perhaps a more significant consequence of the discord between Buhari and the nPDP was the decision of factional heavyweight and former vice-president Atiku Abubaker to abandon the APC for his former party, declaring his intentions to contest for the PDP presidential ticket in the 2019 election. Atiku might be the opponent best placed to unseat Buhari in the upcoming polls.

Another crucial axis of division within the party appeared to run all the way through
Buhari’s own home. In 2016, First Lady Aisha Buhari took to the media to criticize the president for failing to accommodate the interests of important but unnamed members of the coalition. The interests in question soon turned out to be those of former Lagos State governor Bola Tinubu, a crucial figure in the coalition that brought Buhari to power, who soon thereafter publicly lamented his marginalization within the party, and criticized its national leaders. As the 2019 elections loom, President Buhari has made strides to rebuild strained ties with Tinubu, somewhat ironically appointing him to head a committee to reconcile aggrieved party stalwarts. Yet it is clear that the relationship between these two important camps remains frosty.

These wider schisms culminated in an all-out battle over the weekend of the 18 – 20 of May, 2018 during which nation-wide ward and state-level congresses were challenged by rival ‘parallel’ congresses in at least nine states. Various skirmishes were reported in several of these states; for instance, a national assembly member and commissioner of a neighboring state were beat up in Ondo while an APC member was stabbed to death in Delta state.

It is no surprise then, given this sharply divisive context, that the upcoming national convention is being greeted with high levels of apprehension. Though close to 7,000 delegates from across the country will vote over 65 key positions in an election to be held in Nigeria’s capital, the party leadership has been forced to rebuff fears that the winners have already been hand-picked in a pre-prepared ‘unity list’ of candidates.

The most important position up for grabs is that of the national chairman, for which former Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomole has already received an endorsement from President Buhari. Yet, optimistically for the party’s prospects at cohesion, Oshiomole was also warmly welcomed in a recent meeting with party members in the national assembly, though its leaders stopped short of an outright endorsement.

If Saturday’s national convention is managed in a manner that is viewed to be largely transparent and accountable, then it is possible that we may see a more united party in the lead up to the 2019 polls, a prospect that would be a boon for Buhari’s second term ambitions. More generally, both party factionalism and the importance of the upcoming convention reveal the growing influence of party leadership positions and the legislature, as they become independent sources of power capable of checking the influence of an incumbent president.

Burundi – New constitution, new president?

Burundi adopted a new constitution on May 17, 2018 by referendum, with 73 percent voting in favor. The adoption of a new fundamental text was seen by opponents as a move by President Pierre Nkurunziza to extend himself in power by resetting the term limit clock to zero, while by the same token doing away with power sharing provisions from the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement. The campaign period was tense and, according to Human Rights Watch, at least 15 people were killed. The opposition called for the outcome to be annulled due to vote-rigging and intimidation, but was overruled by the constitutional court that validated the results.

Against all expectations, at the ceremony for the promulgation of the new constitution, on June 7, President Nkurunziza declared on national TV that he will not stand for reelection in 2020, when his current mandate ends, stating that “This constitution was not modified for Pierre Nkurunziza as the country’s enemies have been saying. It was amended for the good and better future of Burundi and the Burundian people.”

Nkurunziza, in power since 2005 at the end of the civil war that killed 300,000 people, stood for and won a highly controversial third term in 2015 [see previous blog post here]. A failed coup and crack-down against opponents followed, and it is estimated than 400,000 Burundians have since fled the country, out of a population of 10 million. Under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Burundi became the first country to leave the ICC in 2017.

So what are some of the main changes included in the new constitution? As it appears, a number of provisions for ethnic power sharing have been maintained, while some requirements for power sharing between parties have been eliminated:

  • Burundi returns to semi-presidentialism (the country was previously semi-presidential from 1992 to 1994) with a prime minister as head of government, accountable to both the president and the legislature. The candidature of the prime minister must be approved by both chambers of parliament voting separately (Art. 130), and he or she can be dismissed by a two third majority vote of members of the National Assembly (lower house) – though the president in turn can dismiss the National Assembly (Art. 208). There are no constraints with regards to the ethnicity or the party affiliation of the prime minister.
  • The length of presidential terms is extended to 7 years from five (Art. 97); also, the provision regarding term limits now states that no one can serve more than two consecutive terms – which would seemingly leave open the door for a Putin-like come-back as president after a stint as prime minister.
  • There is now only one vice-president instead of two, who assists the president in the exercise of his or her functions. The vice-president must be approved by both houses of the legislature and must belong to a different ethnic group and party/coalition than the president. Previously, the two vice-presidents had to be from different ethnic groups and parties [from each other, not necessarily from the president]. The First Vice-President was responsible for the coordination of the political and administrative domain, and the second Vice-President for the coordination of economic and social affairs. In the new constitution, the role of the vice-president is left at the discretion of the president.
  • The provision for proportional representation of parties in the cabinet having earned more than 20% of the vote has been removed. The ethnic and gender representation requirements that, overall, at most 60% of cabinet ministers can be Hutu and at most 40% can be Tutsi, and at least 30% must be women (Art. 128) remain in place. Also maintained is the requirement that the Minister in charge of National Defense is not from the same ethnic group as the Minister responsible for the National Police (Art. 135).
  • The parliamentary majority required to pass legislation is reduced from a super majority of two thirds to a simple majority (Art. 180).

While streamlining governing processes – by introducing a prime minister as head of government, removing one vice-president and eliminating the requirement for a super majority to pass legislation – the constitutional changes also eliminate some of the power-sharing provisions enshrined in the 2005 constitution, in accordance with the Arusha Accords. As noted in a previous blog, these power-sharing arrangements had been successful to the extent that: “Today, political competition in Burundi no longer coincides with ethnic cleavages. Furthermore, the dominant party CNDD-FDD, while rooted in a Hutu rebel movement, is no longer perceived as an exclusive Hutu party. In fact, most Tutsi members of parliament are members of the CNDD-FDD and many presidential advisors are Tutsi” (Vandeginste, 2009 p. 75).

However, in the new constitution the representation in government of either of the two majority ethnic groups is still capped at 60% and 40% for Hutus and Tutsis respectively; this does maintain pressure on political parties to be ethnically inclusive (Hutus account for around 85% of the population, Tutsis around 19%, and Twa people around 1%). So not all power-sharing provisions are lost.

The constitutional changes do remove some constraints on the president’s powers and clearly provide greater opportunities for extended stays in the presidential palace. So it is intriguing that Nkurunziza has stated he will not run again in 2020. According to critics, 2020 is still far away, however, leaving Nkurunziza “room to maneuver” in response to “popular pressure” for him to extend his stay in power. That would certainly not be an unexpected development.

Zimbabwe – President Mnangagwa makes his electoral play for international legitimacy

On 30 May 2018, President Emmerson Mnangagwa finally set the date for the long-anticipated Zimbabwean elections. The polls will inevitably be remarkable, as they are the first in 38 years without former President Robert Mugabe on the ballot. The opposition is also fronting a new and untested candidate following the death of opposition titan, Morgan Tsvangirai, in February. As a result, this election has quickly moved into uncharted territory.

While ZANU-PF has used extensive electoral manipulation, intimidation and violence in the past, they are more constrained in 2018 by vastly increased global interest in the polls. Following nearly 20 years as a pariah state, relations between Zimbabwe and the international community have begun to thaw in 2018. President Mnangagwa, who came to power in a military coup in November, is eager to assert his democratic credentials to give the government the legitimacy boost that it needs to restart international lending.

The 2018 election is the last hurdle that he needs to clear before his government will get the global stamp of approval.

The ‘New Dispensation’

In trying to garner such legitimacy, Mnangagwa is trying hard to show that it will truly be a new Zimbabwe under his leadership. There have been some positive moves in terms of electoral administration. In early June, the Judicial Services Commission appointed and deployed magistrates to deal with politically-motivated violence during the campaign.

The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission appears to be throwing off its long hibernation since its creation in 2013. The enabling act for the country’s transitional justice mechanism was only passed in 2018, under the new administration. The opposition also seems to have been able to mobilise largely unhindered – contrary to their experiences of sustained state harassment during previous polls.

The MDC Alliance held a protest in front of the Electoral Commission’s offices on 5 June in Harare, and many expected it to be marred by clashes with a planned ZANU-PF counter-demonstration. However, this was called off by the ruling party’s leadership who were wary of attracting negative publicity and compromising the credibility of the election.

Plus ça change…

But despite the claims of a ‘new dispensation,’ few things have changed for ordinary Zimbabweans since November. Cash and foreign exchange shortages continue to cripple the economy, formal unemployment remains stubbornly at over 90% and public services are still woefully inadequate. The government recently raised the ire of the public sector by firing 16 000 striking nurses from an already-paralysed healthcare system. It is hard to see how Zimbabwean voters could possibly vote for the party that has overseen the country’s protracted decline.

But Mnangagwa remains the incumbent, and that comes with major advantages. The public media have continued to largely exclude the opposition and trumpet the president’s successes, and the electoral commission has begun to stall key processes for verifying the credibility of the process. The opposition appears to be woefully underfunded, and the ruling party is believed to currently be out-spending them by nearly $50 to every dollar they spend.

Although the president has promised a free and fair election, there remain worrying signs of intimidation in rural areas. A deputy minister announced at a rally in late May that the army would not allow the opposition to take power and although it was quickly denounced by the ruling party, it cements existing fears by many Zimbabweans of the dangers that elections pose. Just-released Afrobarometer survey results suggest that the majority of voters don’t believe that the army will allow the opposition to win the polls.

The Electoral Resource Centre, a Harare-based NGO, recently released findings that while electoral administration appears to have improved in the 2018 polls, the use of intimidation, vote buying and the widespread belief that there is no secrecy of the ballot undermines the process. But at the same time, the electoral commission failed to put the ballot procurement out to tender, raising serious concerns about the secrecy ZEC has maintained around the chosen providers of key electoral materials. This was a major concern in the 2013 polls, and it undermined the credibility of the process.

What about the Opposition?

The opposition lost their long-running leader on Valentine’s Day, and suffered through a damaging succession process. But contrary to experiences in 2008 and 2013, a broad coalition of opposition forces has united behind 40-year old Advocate Nelson Chamisa. He is running on a platform which seeks to maximise the youth vote, dubbed #GenerationalConsensus. Up against a 75-year old incumbent, Chamisa has made much of his youthful energy during the campaign, stopping to do push-ups during marches in the capital.

With a young population, few of whom remember the horrors of the 1970s liberation war and had little experience of the prosperity of the 1980s and early 1990s, Zimbabwe’s youths only know economic contraction and joblessness. Chamisa is selling big ideas, like bullet trains and bringing the football world cup to Harare. It’s hard to say how Zimbabweans feel about these promises.

The opposition is struggling against serious financial shortcomings after most of their traditional funders abandoned them after the 2013 elections. Polls released by Afrobarometer suggest that while support for the opposition has increased (from a very low base), they remain several points behind the incumbent. Their rallies have thus far been well-attended, but it’s unclear whether they can convert rally attendance into votes on 30 July.

Finally, the opposition coalition appears to be considering a very risky strategy. Although Mugabe was pushed out of power, he doesn’t seem happy to while away his days away from the political fray. Most of the members of ZANU-PF who were forced out in the wake of the November coup have resurfaced in the newly-created and (ostensibly) Mugabe-backed National Patriotic Front. In a shock move at the MDC protest on 5 June, members of this party endorsed the MDC Alliance ahead of the polls.

A cash-strapped opposition is now trying to gauge whether Mugabe’s endorsement would be good or bad for their electoral prospects. In Zimbabwe’s rapidly reconfiguring politics, it’s hard to reliably predict the effects of such cross-party collaboration. For a country that suffered for so long under Mugabe, it might just be enough to push some staunch opposition members out of the electoral process. But proponents argue that any help is good help against Mnangagwa’s ‘junta.’

With less than two months to go until the elections, all bets are off in Zimbabwe.