Category Archives: Africa

Mozambique – Facing critical challenges: local elections, peace talks, and emerging security issues

After much speculation, Mozambique held local elections on October 10th, which were the fifth since 1994. These elections were important on several grounds. First, they took place under new legislation for electing local authorities. Second, it was the first time in 10 years that  Renamo was going to compete in local elections, after boycotting the 2013 polls. Third, these elections presented a critical test to the country’s prospects for democratization and peacebuilding. They took place about one month after the signature of a memorandum of understanding on military issues between the incumbent President Filipe Nyusi and the acting leader of Renamo, Ossufo Momade. Therefore, there was some level of uncertainty on whether the formal consensus would endure as the campaign unfolded and after the results were announced. Overall, looking at the political leadership during this period can foreshadow what is to come a year from now, when the general election is expected to take place.

The peace talks   

On August 6th, President Filipe Nyusi addressed the nation to announce that the Mozambican government and Renamo had signed a memorandum of understanding on military issues. The long awaited memorandum represents an important milestone after several months of negotiations and the initial uncertainty on whether the death of Renamo’s leader (Afonso Dhlakama) would compromise the peace negotiations and whether acting leader Ossufo Momade would fulfil the compromises reached hitherto. The memorandum establishes the process of “integrating the officers from Renamo in the FADM and in the Republic of Mozambique Police (PRM)” and “the Renamo armed elements’ DDR process”, as well as clear mechanisms that allow the process to be monitored. More specifically, it creates a Joint Technical Group on DDR (JTGDDR) to ensure that “DDR activities are performed in a timely, effective and efficient manner”.

The signing of the memorandum highlights the relevance of political leadership. President Filipe Nyusi’s willingness to concede on Renamo’s longtime demands, namely the decentralization package and the incorporation of the latter’s men into the country’s armed forces, was crucial for this outcome. Moreover, throughout the negotiation process, he presented himself as committed to attaining consensus and peace.  His words at the announcement of the signature of the memorandum are a clear illustration of this: “we did this by believing that, with patience, tolerance, understanding, a spirit of reconciliation, and a singular dedication to results, Mozambicans can construct peace”. Ossufo Momade, on the other hand, strived to gain legitimacy as a peace negotiator and Renamo’s new “strong man”. Following a decision made by Renamo’s National Political Committee, he went on living in the Gorongosa (as Afonso Dhlakama did in the past), and he was expected to continue the peace negotiations from there. Still, he also alluded to the “good will between the parties” and to Renamo’s commitment to the disarmament process.  However, the holding of local elections, which were the first ones in which Renamo participated in 10 years, relaunched new uncertainties on whether the party would still fulfil the memorandum.

Local Elections

After the approval of new electoral legislation on July 19th, the competing political forces had only a few months to set up their lists of candidates for the October 10th local elections. Parties’ nominations for the country’s 53 municipalities were not consensual across all units. This was the case in the capital, Maputo. Here, Frelimo faced an important setback when Samora Machel Júnior, son of the first Mozambican president, Samora Machel, defected the party to run as an independent mayoral candidate against the party’s endorsed candidate, Eneas Comiche. Renamo, on the other hand, saw its first choice, Venâncio Mondlane, excluded by the National Elections Commission (CNE) and had to replace him with Hermínio Morais. The electoral campaign period had a few episodes of clashes between the opposing parties, and Renamo’s supporters claimed they were victims of intimidation and assault. Voting day was generally calm, although there were some procedural incidents. Overall, the results brought no significant changes: Frelimo elected mayors (the head of the list of the party with the most votes) in 44 municipalities, while Renamo elected 8 and  MDM 1. The results were not accepted by Ossufo Momade, who promised to contest the results. Following a strategy that was often used by the former leader of Renamo Afonso Dhlakama, he stated “We do not want war but we also do not accept any attempt to change the popular will”; moreover he threatened to walk out of talks if the electoral bodies failed to recognize that the local elections had been fraudulent.  So far the appeals submitted by the Renamo (and the MDM) against the election results have been rejected by the courts.

Leadership in times of uncertainty

President Filipe Nyusi has been facing critical tests since he was elected to office in 2014; however, the unfolding of the peace talks with Renamo and his party’s win in the local elections, reinforce his legitimacy and strength as leader. On Renamo’s side, the new leadership has a chance to refashion and strengthen the party if it is to continue to improve electorally. However, there are important challenges ahead. The implementation of the DDR process as delineated in the memorandum remains haunted by uncertainty, and Renamo’s leadership has already threatened to abandon the negotiations, as the party considers the recent local elections illegitimate. Furthermore, the economy is still volatile, and there are new emerging security threats in the country’s northern provinces that have been linked to Islamic terrorismillegal mining activity, and social inequality, which need to be addressed by the presidency. How both parties’ leaderships deal with the challenges they face and keep the peace process on track will be the keys to their success in the upcoming 2019 election.

Cameroon – No Real Surprises, Only Drama in the Presidential Election

It took fifteen days, but on October 22 the Constitutional Council of Cameroon finally declared incumbent Paul Biya the victor of the presidential election with 71% of the vote. Maurice Kamto took second place (14%), while Cabral Libii came in third (6%) and Joshua Osih a surprising fourth (3%). 85-year-old Biya will start yet another seven-year term and mark his 36th year in office. He is the oldest president in Africa, and the second longest ruling chief executive in the world, eclipsed only by Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang (who congratulated Biya on his victory before the results were announced). For many in the Cameroonian opposition, the election was a sham. Turnout in conflict areas was abysmally low at 5% to 10%. This reinforced a sense of malaise and decline that threatens to further destabilize the country.

While there were no surprises, the election was not without some drama. Supposed preliminary results were leaked on social media, and Kamto and Libii stirred controversy when they both claimed victory without any real evidence. Cameroonian national television reported that Transparency International had given the election high marks. This turned out to be a “ghost” observer, and the Cameroonian government never clarified the issue. Opposition parties filed 18 complaints with the newly formed Constitutional Council. But, since petitions had to be filed within 72 hours of the poll and without any official results, they were all unsurprisingly rejected. The government then banned Kamtoand Cabril from holding press conferences, and imposed a lockdown in major urban areas in anticipation of public demonstrations.

This election is a good moment to take a step back and assess what has sustained the Cameroonian regime for so long, despite the utter disillusionment of large swaths of its citizens with the current political reality. The election also revealed some new information about the regime and its opponents, which will reshape political dynamics for the next coming years, especially as the Biya era reaches its ultimate end. What all this means for the future of Cameroon, and especially the brutal conflict in English-speaking areas is unclear, but observers should not conflate the persistence of the Biya era with some sense of political stability. Indeed, if I were to try and read the tealeaves, both the regime and opposition have some critical decisions ahead of them that could spiral Cameroon into even more serious crisis.

Why Biya Won: The Persistence of Electoral Authoritarianism

Biya’s slogan this election, which had a very different connotation in its English translation, La Force de L’Expérience, is actually quite apt. Over three decades of rule, the Biya regime has learned to manage a fractious ruling coalition, to counter political opposition, and skirt large-scale international scrutiny. I think of Cameroon as emblematic of electoral authoritarianism, propped up by the centralized power of the president, the range of patronage positions available to the regime, and a fairly powerful security apparatus.

President Biya’s stronghold is in the South, but he has been able to retain the support of key political elites who otherwise would be his rivals, in particular in northern areas. Without term limits, and with Biya as the coalition kingmaker, there have been few incentives for individuals to challenge him from within. Moreover, those who have done so in the past have found themselves tangled up with law enforcement. I predicted that as long as Biya maintained a sufficiently wide elite coalition, the numbers were just not there for the opposition to win.

Over the past decade Cameroon has also become a much more restrictive place. Presidentially appointed governors and senior district officers (SDOs) use their authority to limit political organization by denying permits for the sake of public order. They have also been able to declare states of emergency and impose curfews on large territories. Since a poorly written anti-terror law passed in 2014, security forces have launched raids and charged individuals in opaque military tribunals. Public demonstrations are often violently dispersed, and dozens of participants randomly arrested and held for lengthy administrative detention.The senior leadership of opposition parties has been arrested, and media outlets are censored for dissemination of false information and slander.

International actors have also played an instrumental role here too. Since the transition to multipartyism, Biya has been able to depend on French fiscal and rhetorical support. Likewise, the French have used their influence with multilateral lenders, who have continued to lend money to Cameroon despite severe fiscal mismanagement and a bloated state sector. Since 2001, the United States has also sought Cameroon’s support on key issues in international forums, and now has 300 soldiers and a drone base in the north. American support for democracy and governance has been tepid, this election included. The lack of international pressure has shielded Cameroon, and importantly has allowed the regime to keep significant fiscal and coercive tools in its toolkit.

What We Learned from This Election

While Biya’s victory seemed written in stone before the election even took place, there are some novel developments worth noting. First, the creation of the Constitutional Council in March 2018 created yet another layer of democratic window dressing. There were plans to create this commission since the constitution was revised in 1996, and the timing of its creation this year is not coincidental. The president appoints all of the council’s eleven members for a six-year and non-renewable term, and the council is the final arbiter of all presidential election related disputes. The government has just announced plans to build a $475,000 mansionfor the commission chair Clement Atangana.

The legal pleas and demonstrations at the Constitutional Council made for some riveting news coverage, but also trapped opposition parties into a quasi-legal process that shielded the regime. Unlike the role of courts in other disputed elections as in Kenya, the Constitutional Council in Cameroon is much less independent. The fact that petitions had to be filed before there were any results meant that opposition parties had very little chance of gaining any actual legal ground. Instead, they were forced to participate in a process that gave the regime the façade of proceduralism. While the opposition received a platform to articulate their grievances, it also neutered some of the rhetorical leverage they sought. If the opposition had broken with the process, they would have been accused of being anti-democratic. But, by participating they angered some of their own supporters who demanded a more radical reaction.

This relates to broader divisions within the opposition that were exposed this election. There was a concerted effort in Anglophone areas to boycott the election, which contributed to the low turnout rates. But, Cameroon’s history of boycotts in 1992 and 1997 has been counterproductive. In the past shunning sham electoral processes only isolated the opposition, and did little to garner wider international focus. In a sense, one of the most pernicious aspects of electoral authoritarian regimes like Cameroon is that it traps opposition parties into participating in quasi-democratic processes despite their substantial flaws. This has widened the gap between the political aspects of the current opposition and it societal base, which appears to be much more committed to a more radical and starker opposition.

New alignments among the opposition were also revealed (see Table 1). Joshua Osih, who was at one point seen as the key opposition figure, performed surprisingly poorly outside of the SDF’s strongholds in North West and South West. But, votes from North West and South West were inconsequential given the atrocious turnout levels. By contrast, Kamto won Littoral region and took 30% of the vote in West Region (his home area). Kamto might have enjoyed a slight bump when Akere Muna dropped out at the last minute and endorsed him. Osih also did not capture the youth vote, which went to Cabral Libii instead. At 38 years old, Libii was the youngest of the candidates, and was referred to as a Cameroonian Emmanuel Macron. Libii is from Francophone Cameroon, and took advantage of a savvy social media campaign to reach a large number of youth voters.

A final noteworthy change this year was the inclusion of a diaspora vote in the presidential election. Cameroonian citizens living abroad could vote at their consulates and embassies, and votes were tallied by region (see Table 2). Notably, the ruling CPDM party has made some significant efforts over the past decade at bolstering its branches abroad, in particular in Washington DC and Paris. However, by the same token diaspora communities have organized real political opposition. There are substantial Anglophone communities who reside in Washington DC and Nigeria. Registration rates were quite low in Asia and the Americas, but approximately 14,000 Cameroonians registered from other African countries. According to these results, diaspora voters in Africa are evenly split between Biya and the opposition.

What this Means for the Future of Cameroon?

Reelecting Biya was an endorsement of the status quo, and provides the regime with some more lead time to figure out solutions for the major issues it faces. First and foremost, does Biya’s continued rein increase or decrease the odds of resolving the Anglophone crisis? Biya’s response so far has been to offer symbolic reconciliation while simultaneously cracking down on the opposition. This has led to mutual escalation that is difficult for any side to back down from. There is a ripe moment here for Biya to take advantage of his new term and launch an internationally supported process that would bring reasonable voices to the negotiating table.

However, it is also difficult to imagine serious negotiation that would end with a settlement acceptable to all parties. As noted above, there is acute disagreement in the Anglophone opposition over whether to even participate in the available channels of politics. Likewise, many of the more moderate voices in civil society have been pushed to accept federalism as a starting point for negotiations. On the other hand, Biya might feel more secure now, and feel like he does not have to negotiate from a position of weakness. A possible, and perhaps more likely outcome, is that both sides will continue to dig their heels in. This would mean a prolonged crisis that further escalates an already devastating situation.

The election also has consequences for the 2019 parliamentary election. Legislative contests are often much more localized, which means that opposition parties have to be able and actually nominate candidates. While Osih only came in 4thplace, the SDF is still the primary opposition party. Both Kamto and Libii do not have robust political organization behind them that can run candidates in multiple districts. Other parties like the UPC and NUDP have largely been coopted by the regime. Issues of participation will persist in this election, especially in Anglophone areas, as will questions of opposition coordination. Only a concerted effort by the major opposition players stands a chance at chipping away at the CPDM’s overwhelming legislative majority.

Finally, another Biya term delays what is perhaps the greatest challenge for the regime – what comes after Biya? It is not impossible that he will run again at age 93 (see Robert Mugabe), but there is a strong likelihood that Biya will either not end his term or will not run again in 2025. In fact, there were rumors prior to this election that Biya would make a dramatic last-minute announcement and step down from power in favor of an appointed successor. The logic was that the timing would preclude any opposition from within, and make the successor an established fact that no one could contest.

Biya has seven years to design an exit strategy, but the problem is that there is no agreed upon process for choosing a successor. The CPDM has never held a credible presidential primary, and given the multi-ethnic and coalitional nature of the regime, many groups feel that it is their turn to helm the ship of state. This is true in the cabinet and in the military and security services as well, where there is fairly strong inter-unit rivalry and jealously. Many incumbents also fear legal retribution if the ruling coalition is reoriented in a new direction. The stakes are very high, which is why the status quo served the regime so well in the past. But, the clock is running out and absent some credible process or system of guarantees, the question of succession in the next few years has the real potential to devolve into conflict.

Table 1 Election Results by Region

P. Biya 79.8% 71.1% 90.4% 89.2% 35.8% 81.6%
M. Kamto 2.6% 15.3% 2.6% 3.5% 38.6% 4.2%
J. Osih 1.9% 2.1% 0.9% 1.0% 9.1% 2.0%
A. Muna 0.2% 0.1% 0.1% 0.3% 0.3% 0.8%
G. Haman 2.9% 0.7% 1.1% 1.8% 0.9% 2.9%
C. Libii 11.3% 9.7% 3.8% 2.8% 12.8% 5.8%
S. Matomba 0.6% 0.4% 0.4% 0.6% 0.7% 1.1%
N. Njoya 0.3% 0.3% 0.2% 0.4% 0.8% 0.5%
F. Ndifor 0.6% 0.4% 0.3% 0.5% 1.2% 1.1%
Reg. Voters 433,873 1,155,161 322,376 1,135,942 935,531 671,611
Voters 242,259 677.987 203,865 921,311 512,516 368,454
Inv. Ballots 3,848 5,374 2,314 17,122 5,089 11,078
Turnout 55.9% 58.7% 63.2% 72.3% 54.8% 54.9%
P. Biya 81.8% 92.9% 77.7% 48.2% 71.3%
M. Kamto 3.6% 2.2% 3.5% 30.6% 14.2%
J. Osih 10.4% 1.0% 12.7% 5.2% 3.4%
A. Muna 0.8% 0.0% 0.8% 0.5% 0.4%
G. Haman 0.4% 0.2% 0.6% 2.5% 1.6%
C. Libii 1.2% 2.8% 1.7% 1.4% 6.3%
S. Matomba 0.3% 0.1% 0.6% 0.4% 0.6%
N. Njoya 0.4% 0.5% 0.7% 10.4% 1.7%
F. Ndifor 1.2% 0.3% 1.7% 0.8% 0.7%
Reg. Voters 627, 068 266,194 374,227 726,351 6,667,754
Voters 33,582 196,369 59,647 465,079 3,590,681
Inv. Ballots 271 1,182 667 5,566 52,716
Turnout 5.4% 73.8% 15.9% 64.0% 53.9%

Note: AD=Adamoua, CN=Center, EA=Eastern, EN=Extreme North, LT=Littoral, NO=North, NW=North West, SO=South, SW=South West, WE=West; Source: CRTV


Table 2 Diaspora Election Results

Asia Americas Africa Europe Diaspora Total
Paul Biya 71.9% 83.9% 49.2% 52.0% 50.0%
Maurice Kamto 8.0% 8.5% 33.3% 31.0% 31.8%
Joshua Oshi 1.0% 1.5% 3.7% 1.9% 3.3%
Akere Muna 1.0% 0.0% 0.3% 0.1% 0.3%
Garga Haman 3.8% 0.0% 0.6% 0.2% 0.6%
Cabral Libii 10.0% 4.6% 9.5% 14.4% 10.3%
Serge E Matomba 1.7% 0.8% 0.6% 0.2% 0.6%
Ndam Njoya 1.3% 0.0% 2.0% 0.2% 1.6%
F. Ndifor 1.4% 0.8% 0.9% 0.0% 0.7%
Reg. Voters 899 178 14,314 Unknown
Voters 305 134 7,339 Unknown
Inv. Ballots 6 4 178 Unknown
Turnout 33.4% 75.3% 51.3% 38.8%

Note: Source: CRTV


After 29 years in power, Sudan’s president says he’ll stand for election – again

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has confirmed that he will stand for election in 2020, despite the usual statements earlier that he would be stepping down then. For the resourceful and adaptable leader this will be the third time had he has gone back on pledges not to seek a further term, having made similar statements in 2010 and 2014. Overall, he is one of the longest-standing strongmen in Africa: his rule has lasted since he led a bloodless coup to seize power in 1989.

He does face another obstacle for now, in that he would be seeking his third term as an elected president. The 2005 constitution prevents a president serving more than two consecutive terms. The opposition umbrella group Sudan Call has launched a campaign against any move to amend the constitutional term limits.

President al-Bashir says his government is ready for the 2020 elections, having been nominated by his ruling National Congress Party in August. The ruling party has denied reports about a possible postponement to give it more time to deal with the country’s worsening economic crisis before facing voters. More recently, Sudan’s National Assembly approved a new draft election law on October 9th, arising out of a process of national dialogue on electoral reform. The proposed reforms have received a mixed reaction from opposition parties. Some of those aligned with the opposition Sudan Call may now participate in the 2020 elections, if they are satisfied that these will be conducted fairly. However another opposition coalition, the National Consensus Forces (NCF), has already said it will boycott the elections in two years’ time.

An election boycott by Sudanese opposition parties has in fact been the norm, and the opposition has remained weak and fragmented over the years. There are significant restrictions on media, with newspapers facing closures or seizure of their copies, and opposition politicians also face arbitrary detention or exile. Real power remains in the hands of the military and National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).

Relations warming with US but worsening economic crisis

Sudan is keen to normalise its relations with the US. The US lifted some of its economic sanctions on Sudan in October last year, 20 years after they were imposed. There are clear signs of warming relations at the strategic and military level, with the recent visit to Washington of the Sudanese Chief of General Staff, where he met several intelligence and military figures. However the US has for now kept Sudan on its blacklist of states which it says sponsor terrorism, along with three other countries.

Sudan’s economy has been in crisis for some time, with inflation rising from 34% last year to an annual rate of 67% in August according to Central Bureau of Statistics. It suffered when the South – where most of the oil reserves lie – gained its independence after a long war, to become South Sudan in July 2011. Sudan benefits from payments for transporting the oil via pipelines through its territory from land-locked South Sudan to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. But oil production has declined sharply due to the civil war in the newest member of the United Nations which broke out in December 2013. Sudan has been closely involved in brokering peace talks in South Sudan (covered in this previous blog post) through the regional IGAD mechanism, despite being a former adversary of the South’s SPLM/A which fought for decades for its independence.

Khartoum is keen to see oil production restored to previous levels, and has had direct talks with the government of South Sudan and engaged in technical cooperation to re-open the damaged facilities. In September, Khartoum signed agreements with the main oil producers under which the state would receive US$14 per barrel for transporting crude oil in government-owned pipelines from production sites.

The Sudanese pound has fallen considerably in value against the dollar, with a further official devaluation of 60% in October. The shortage of foreign currency – which is acknowledged by the finance ministry – is a serious matter for a country which imports much of its food. The economic problems have been worsened by Khartoum’s debt arrears and limited access to external finance.

China has cancelled a small part of Sudan’s debt of more than US$2 billion, which Khartoum has failed to service in recent years due the economic crisis. Further debt forgiveness is expected following a package of relief for African countries announced at a summit in Beijing in September.

Indictment by the ICC

Besides holding onto power for so long, Omar al-Bashir has other claims to fame. He became the first ruling head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). He is accused of crimes against humanity, genocide, and other attacks on civilians, during the war to suppress rebels seeking greater autonomy in the western region of Darfur, which broke out in 2003. An arrest warrant was issued by the ICC in 2009 but he has been able to travel freely throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, where the ICC is regarded with suspicion even by those who are party to the Rome Statute which set it up in 2002. They are supposed to arrest al-Bashir, but never act on the warrant. He made an early departure from a summit of African Union leaders in South Africa in 2015 when civil society groups started a court case against their own government for not arresting him. For now, the arrest warrant does not seem to be a problem to him, and can even help to rally his supporters around the flag.

In Darfur itself, a ceasefire means there is less fighting in the region compared to the worst of the ethnic cleansing from 2004 onwards. But there are still about two million internally displaced people, most of them in Darfur itself. How these people might return voluntarily to their lands – and whether it is safe for them to do so – is one of the key questions to be addressed. The joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission Darfur, UNAMID, is being scaled back considerably, with a view to exiting the region over the next two years. It was first deployed in 2007, and has been one the world’s largest peacekeeping missions.

Regional dimension

Omar al-Bashir is now 74 and has some health problems, but he has shown considerable skill in managing threats around him, consolidating power, and using a powerful network of economic and political patronage. That network is under greater pressure – but could also be more useful – as the economy continues to falter. The region has many security problems, not least being the war in neighbouring South Sudan which has displaced a third of the population and created famine in some parts. Egypt and Ethiopia both want Sudan as an ally in their competition for the waters of Nile, which flows through all three countries. Sudan also participated in Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen. There are many reasons for observers to follow how al-Bashir manages his latest economic and political challenges.

Gabon – Ruling party wins first round legislative elections under revised electoral code

Gabon held legislative and local elections on October 6, two years after the contested presidential poll of August 2016 that resulted in widespread violence. Results from the first round of the legislative elections were announced on October 13; results for the local polls, held in one round, are yet to be published. The ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) has already managed to secure an absolute majority in the legislature, it appears.

Opposition leader Jean Ping, who still claims he won the presidency two years ago, called for a boycott of the elections, while other opposition parties decided to participate. Recent changes to the electoral code could have justified greater optimism with regards to the opposition’s chances, compared to the 2011 elections where the opposition only won two seats.

In accordance with the new electoral system adopted following a political dialogue process in 2017, legislative polls are now held in two rounds in single-member districts, in contrast to the previously applied multi-member majoritarian vote in one round. The number of seats has been increased from 120 to 143, but their distribution is highly skewed, as demonstrated by a close analysis of the distribution of the country’s 1.8 million population across the 143 constituencies.

In the interior of the country, in provinces known to support the PDG, a deputy in the National Assembly represents a few thousand citizens or less, while in the capital Libreville and the economic center of Port-Gentil, one elected representative represents more than 58,000 and 34,000 citizens, respectively. The distribution of seats thus favors sparsely populated rural areas that have tended to support the ruling party, while the major urban areas where opposition to President Ali Bongo is concentrated are underrepresented.

A summary analysis of the results published by the Gabonese Center for Elections (CGE) indicates that the PDG won 74 seats in the first round, while opposition parties followed far behind with only four seats, and independents won two. The three former opposition parties that decided to join Ali Bongo’s unity government following the 2017 political dialogue – the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the New Democracy (DN) and the Party for Development and Solidarity (PDS) – were particularly hard hit, winning only 1 seat among them. That seat went to the PSD in the province of Ogooué-Ivindo which is otherwise a PDG stronghold. The runoff for all remaining seats is scheduled for October 27.  

The gamble by opposition leaders who disassociated themselves from Ping and decided to participate in the elections may not have paid off directly. Former president of the National Assembly Guy Nzouba-Ndama, leader of the recently formed Democrats (Les Democrates – LD) party was eliminated in the first round by a PDG candidate; his party managed to win three seats in the first round of polling. Alexandre Barro Chambrier, leader of the Rassemblement Heritage et Modernite (RHM), heads to the second round, also running against a PDG candidate. His party won one seat in the first round, in the Moyen-Ogooué province. In a particularly surprising development according to CGE results, the Ogooué-Maritime province where Port-Gentil is located has swung from voting for the opposition in the 2016 presidential election to giving the PDG eight out of 13 seats in the first round.

Remains to be seen if opposition parties can coalesce and effectively mobilize voters behind the remaining opposition candidates in the runoff races – assuming the competition is fair. Some opposition candidates alleged voting irregularities in the first round, and there have been fraud accusations – including between the PDG and one of its allied parties, the Center of Liberal Reformers (CLR).

There are close to 30 races where an opposition candidate is on the second round ballot – from the LD, RHM and other parties – which creates an opening for a more representative legislature. It is striking to note, however, that in some opposition strongholds turnout was reportedly significantly lower than in provinces in the interior of the country, notably those that have traditionally been PDG strongholds. Thus while the average turnout in the first round was 58.6% nationally, in the Estuaire province where Libreville is located, only 28.5% of voters turned out to vote. Get-out-the-vote efforts should be a priority for candidates proceeding to the second round. In a country like Gabon with a small electorate, it is particularly true that every vote counts. 

Zambia’s President is short on allies as international concerns grow over corruption

On 18 October 2018, Zambia will mark the third annual ‘National Day of Prayer Fasting, Repentance and Reconciliation.’ Instituted in 2015 by President Edgar Lungu, the Day of Prayer has come to be seen as his initiative. But as the country is rocked by rising fuel prices, a rapidly depreciating currency and an apparent foreign aid crisis, it seems clear that it will take more than prayers to address the country’s concerns.

A decade ago, Zambia was largely debt free. The country’s debt burden stood at $1.9 billion when the PF took power in 2011, and within 7 years it has ballooned to a reported $9.4 billion – though experts fear that there is more unreported debt already accrued. The IMF and international markets now consider Zambia at high risk of debt distress. The country’s currency – the Kwacha – has depreciated by 20% so far this year, matched only by the currencies of Turkey, Angola and Argentina.

While talks had been underway for a $1.3 billion IMF package since 2015, the increasing recklessness of the administration’s borrowing ultimately scuppered the plans. The IMF’s representative, Alfredo Baldini, was eventually recalled to Washington after the Zambian authorities claimed that he had been too critical and outspoken against the Zambian government. Baldini had repeatedly raised the issue of Zambia’s high levels of opaque debt, and had suggested that a bailout would be hard to justify under current state spending conditions.

Since the president’s ascendance in January 2015, corruption has become an increasingly apparent mainstay of public life. The ruling Patriotic Front has undertaken a whirlwind infrastructure spending spree, with the government procuring goods and services at vastly inflated costs.

Amidst a growing list of scandals, one that stands out was the awarding of a tender to a close compatriot of the presidents to provide 42 fire trucks to the state at the vastly inflated price of $42 million dollars. Although they were sold to the state for a million dollars each, the trucks were valued at around $200 000 dollars. Despite the actions of several civic groups, the public response remained muted.

But as the scandals pile up and the economy suffers, average citizens have begun to take notice. In a shock move in late September, the UK’s Ambassador to Zambia – Fergus Cochrane-Dyet – confirmed that the UK (along with Ireland, Finland and Sweden) had frozen its aid to Zambia over reported misappropriation of $4 million in funds earmarked by DFID for Social Cash Transfers. The UK’s aid freeze is believed to affect health, education, and nutrition as well as social welfare.

In early October, the government reportedly repaid 2.7 million pounds to DFID, arguing that the funds had not yet been spent and were in fact not missing. But rumours are circulating that the missing $4 million is just the tip of the iceberg, and that there is a multi-million dollar fraud investigation currently being completed into Zambia’s education ministry.

Meanwhile, to address its flailing currency, government has had to increase the price of fuel; this has been an unpopular move and sparked panic buying. The state has also failed to pay statutory grants to the country’s largest university since August, prompting concerns of a strike amongst restive staff and students. In an effort to balance their books, the state has also tried to increase taxes on copper mining companies – the mainstay of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. But the ad-hoc nature of this change, and its timing has many concerned and the mines have warned that they may have to scale down production in the face of the new tax regime.

What about Lungu?

The Zambian president has come under growing pressure from development partners and citizens over the country’s growing indebtedness and the rising costs of goods and services. Having avoided the spotlight, his sights had been set on securing his candidacy in the 2021 elections, with a proxy battle ongoing at the Constitutional Court over his eligibility to run in the polls. The ruling party has confirmed his candidacy and the posters and t-shirts have already been printed.

However, with the economy on the ropes, President Lungu’s re-election chances in 2021 look increasingly slim – even if the Constitutional Court confirms his eligibility. A review of online media shows that websites such as News Diggers and Lusaka Times are filled with debates over whether the PF can hold the next election, and what might happen to the party if their re-election bid fails. The involvement of high profile PF leaders in these debates (who appear to confirm the low chances of re-election) lends credence to the perceptions of a probable loss at the polls.

The debt crisis and widespread corruption may be enough to take the presidency from the PF. That is, unless they begin to rely more on coercion and electoral shenanigans to maintain a hold on power. Even under an austerity budget, the government raised military spending for 2019 to nearly 6% of the total budget, more than double the allocation for social assistance. Six activists who protested against the fire trucks scandal remain in court, fighting charges that Amnesty International denounced as politically motivated.

Democracy in Zambia seems to be stuttering as the president seeks to keep himself in power. But as the first of the three $1 billion dollar Eurobonds mature in 2022, and the country’s budget struggles to repay the massive loan, it may be more in his interests to not be the country’s head of state.

The Minister of Finance, Margaret Mwanakatwe, recently implored domestic business interests to remain upbeat about the economy, to be positive and to continue to invest in a climate of declining investor confidence and a tottering economy. This, and the country’s annual day of prayer appear to be the government’s two main strategies to deal with an increasingly precarious economic and political environment. However, a turnaround is likely to require far more than this.


Angola – The ruling party’s “exemplary transition”: the MPLA’s winds of change and continuity

On the 8th September, Angola experienced a true watershed moment since the end of the civil war in 2002: the VI Extraordinary Congress of the MPLA – the party which has ruled the country since its independence in 1975 – ended the last bastion of power of the long-serving ruler José Eduardo dos Santos, i.e. the ruling party’s presidency.

This Extraordinary Congress had a single point on its agenda: the conclusion of the so-called “process of political transition” at the party leadership level. Thus, the current President of the Republic and the MPLA’s vice-president, João Lourenço, was elected as the MPLA’s new chairman with 98.5% of the votes from 2,448 delegates.[1] The Congress and the vote for the party’s first new president since 1979 were broadcasted by the Angola Public Television (TPA). More than a party event, it was a national event charged with unprecedented political meaning.

As discussed in a previous post, Angola’s presidential system comprises two main sources of power: 1) the president, who is no longer directly elected but rather is the number one name on the party or coalition’s winning list for the parliamentary elections, and 2) the ruling party. Very importantly, the President of the Republic as the head of the executive is subordinate to the party leadership.

For a political culture based on a hegemonic logic of power, as is the case in Angola, it is only natural to say that these two sources of power must be controlled by a single person. However, the country’s recent political transition started first at the state level and then at the ruling party level. This caused a major novelty after the legislative elections of August 2017: a dual power situation, as João Lourenço was the new president of Angola but Dos Santos was still the MPLA’s president. The ruling party’s Extraordinary Congress put an end to this unique power situation. As a result the MPLA, as the ultimate source of power, guaranteed the “unconditional support” of the party militants for Lourenço and, consequently, for his presidential power. Moreover, the MPLA’s game of thrones became very clear in this Congress, especially in two aspects detailed below: the new leadership discourse and the post-Congress intraparty balance of power.

João Lourenço’s discourse: Intraparty reconciliation and anti-corruption within the MPLA

The new president’s discourse was received with great enthusiasm by the Congress delegates. First of all, João Lourenço surprised everyone by presenting himself as the 5th president of the MPLA. Despite the film screening before his discourse on the party’s “exemplary transition” in which the history of the MPLA started only with Agostinho Neto (the MPLA’s 3rd president), Lourenço did not fail to mention the first two leaders who preceded Neto (Ilídio Machado and Mário Pinto de Andrade). Moreover, he asked for a big round of applause for all four party leaders before him. It was an important gesture, as the MPLA still lacks intraparty reconciliation with its dark history of violent episodes of dissent and member persecution within the party.[2] Nevertheless, this break of silence regarding the party’s leadership in the past could just be a non-pioneering strategy for gaining broad sympathy and support, including from members who had been alienated by the party during the Neto and Dos Santos presidencies.[3]

Second was the reiteration of the anti-corruption discourse; Lourenço incited the MPLA to lead the fight (almost a crusade) against corruption, nepotism, flattery and impunity as the main public enemies. More importantly, this fight should take place even if it means that the first ones “to overthrow are militants or even high-ranking party leaders, who have committed crimes or who by their social behavior are tarnishing the party’s image.” This anti-corruption push within the party received an effusive round of applause among the delegates, which is a sign that the emphasis on “anti-corruption” continues to feed the new leader’s popularity.

But this discourse against corruption took another tone when several governmental and party officials linked to Dos Santos began to be removed and, even more striking, brought to justice. More recently, Dos Santos’ son, José Filomeno dos Santos, and his business partner, Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, were placed in preventive detention and charged with fraud over an alleged illegal transfer of $500m while Filomeno dos Santos was in charge of the country’s sovereign wealth fund, together with former Central Bank Governor Valter Filipe da Silva. Also, the Angolan authorities charged and arrested Norberto Garcia (former MPLA spokesman and director of the Technical Unit for Private Investment – UTIP), and Augusto Tomás (former Transport Minister) over corruption allegations. Both were removed from the MPLA’s Political Bureau.

Regardless of the next developments in justice, we can say that these events are beneficial to Lourenço’s image in two ways: 1) the new leader is somehow honoring his promises of fighting corruption and impunity, leaving the opposition parties somewhat perplexed and the citizens optimistic about the “winds of change” and 2) the promotion of the notion that the untouchables are no longer untouchables; however, perhaps this only means a new configuration of the chessboard for the sake of Lourenço’s power. Moreover, these detentions are also a sign that the Judiciary is still not independent from the presidency.

The party chessboard: a new balance of intraparty power

Following the Congress, the 5th Extraordinary Session of the Central Committee was chaired by the new party leader and elected the party vice president, general secretary and members of the Political Bureau (PB), the permanent governing body of the party. In other words, a new balance of power within the MPLA is in place that will support João Lourenço’s presidency.

Under this new balance, we’ve seen the exit of almost half of the members of the former PB, including figures from the Dos Santos entourage, historical members, influential generals and provincial governors. It is worth mentioning that these provincial governors were also removed from office. Also, the new party vice president, Luísa Damião, a former journalist and MPLA MP since 2012, is the first woman to assume this important party position, which was well received by a predominantly female population.

So, what we see is a strategy of “cleaning the house” and bringing allies into the PB, which is such an important MPLA body that it is responsible for the party and government programs, for the approval of the executive team and the party’s candidates for the presidency and national assembly, and for the ratification of the list of candidates for local government bodies.[4]

Is the MPLA’s case a trend for political change in African ruling parties?

As is happening in other African liberation movements-turned governments, the Angolan historical ruling party has also been on a path of moral decay and deficit of democracy.[5] Some authors have discussed a wave of political change in some African ruling parties marked by some internal reforms and by a discourse of their leaders against corruption (including inside their own parties) for power re-consolidation purposes. The MPLA is no exception.

Indeed, the anti-corruption discourse and its concrete punishment measures led by João Lourenço serve both internal and external purposes. Internally, it helps to reinforce the new president’s popularity levels and support by society, and it somehow empties the critical discourse from the opposition parties. Externally, it helps the country gain confidence and more credibility in order to receive investment from the west. We must not forget that Lourenço mentioned in his Congress discourse that corruption has caused “many damages” to the Angolan economy and has affected “the confidence of investors,” as it undermines “the reputation and credibility of the country.” Also, the new Angolan executive asked the IMF for assistance, in a time when this international institution seems to have made a comeback in Africa. The new leader with dual power is seeking dollars and loans to fulfill his major goal and it is a test to his presidency and legacy: the “economic miracle,” which is still based on the liberalization and competitiveness of the Angolan economy.

The VI Extraordinary Congress of the MPLA ended the long and increasingly unpopular cycle of rule of Dos Santos. Although it was not an example of intraparty democracy, due to its single candidate election and the fact that the party still encourages the cult of the leader and the centralization of the decision and policy-making by a small clique, it also represented a strategy for refreshing the bases of the party, especially when its new leader’s fight against corruption has been received with such overall enthusiasm.[6]

When the MPLA emphasizes its “exemplary transition,” it fundamentally means a narrative of “peaceful” continuity mired in a violent past and the need to promote the idea of party cohesion around the new leader. The winds of continuity blow in the same strategy of changing the configuration of intraparty power to break with the former leader and his followers’ influence, using the popular anti-corruption and accountability discourse to consolidate, internally and externally, the power of the new presidency. In one year, Lourenço removed more than 200 people from state office (including governors, public business administrators and senior military leaders), and now he has been able to remove important members from the party office. But will Dos Santos and his followers stay quiet and still?


[1] 38.24% of them women and 36.05% youth.

[2] See Mabeko Tali, Jean-Michel (2018). Guerrilhas e Lutas Sociais. O MPLA perante Si Próprio (1960-1977). Lisbon: Mercado de Letras Editores. Concerning the national reconciliation process, João Lourenço also promised to return the deceased remains of Jonas Savimbi, the former UNITA leader killed during the civil war in 2002, to the main opposition party before the end of the year.

[3] The strategy of reunification of the “MPLA’s large family” was also used by Dos Santos, for instance during the electoral campaign of 1992.

[4] See article 80º of the MPLA statutes.

[5] See also Bereketeab, Redie (ed.) (2017). National Liberation Movements as Government in Africa. London: Routledge; Southall, Roger (2013). Liberation Movements in Power: Party & State in Southern Africa. Woodbridge, Suffolk: James Currey; Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

[6] Also, the first local elections are expected to be held in 2020; however, which form they should take is still under discussion.

Giovanni Carbone – Introducing the new Africa Leadership Change (ALC) Project

This is a guest post by Giovanni Carbone, ISPI & Università degli Studi di Milano

Political leaders – the way they rule and how they come to power – can tell a lot about a country’s present and future. This is especially true for Africa, a continent in which personalistic rule, authoritarianism, and underdevelopment have historically gone hand in hand. Not surprisingly, leadership handovers in Africa often catalyse extraordinary attention. Just consider the past twelve months or so, during which the region witnessed some dramatic leadership transfers. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, one of the continent’s most despised power-holders, was replaced by his former vice president after years of increasingly authoritarian rule and disappointing development performances. South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, who had been accused of 783 counts of corruption, was forced to step down by his own party, the ruling African National Congress, handing power to Cyril Ramaphosa. In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn voluntarily resigned to smooth the path for a new political opening, leading to the surprise rise of the first ethnic Oromo leader in the country’s modern history. José Eduardo Dos Santos left office in Angola after almost four decades in power, having become one of the continent’s longest-serving presidents. Are these heralds of democratic progress? Will they trigger more meaningful political, social and economic developments?

The Africa Leadership Change (ALC) Project is a truly unique interactive data visualization tool offering answers to these questions and insights on many of Africa’s past and present political dynamics, with a particular focus on national leaders. Hosted on the website of the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), and conceived by Giovanni Carbone (ISPI and Università degli Studi di Milano) and Alessandro Pellegata (Università degli Studi di Milano), the ALC Project is based on an original collection of data covering all leadership changes that have taken place on the continent from 1960 to the present day. The ALC dataset tracks the political history of each individual African country through the lenses of leadership transfers, with complete information on their timing, frequencies and types. It records whether such handovers occurred through violent transitions, coups d’état or armed insurgencies, or rather through elections, and whether electoral changeovers took place in a framework of party continuity or else they marked the advent to power of opposition forces.

One added value of the ALC Project rests in its interactive design, which makes it easily accessible to both scholars and a wider audience of journalists, policy-makers and stakeholders with an interest in African affairs. The different types of information featured by ALC can be visually represented through four main interactive tabs. Interacting with the map of the African continent located in the first tab (“Current African Leaders”), the user can look up which leader is currently in office and the level of democracy for each of Africa’s 54 sovereign states. A chart on African leaders’ duration in office also reveals who are today’s longest-serving leaders and who are the newcomers. The evolution of these and other political dynamics, for all the countries of the region, can be visualized in a second screen, called “Dynamic Map”.

Besides data on leadership changes, the ALC project provides time-series recording a country’s progress in a wider range of political and socioeconomic indicators, from economic growth to human development, from demographic expansion to average life expectancy. These can be visualized in the “Dynamic Map” tab. Most importantly, through the “Charts” tools, the user can create personalized line graphs which complement information on leadership changes with information on a country’s economic and social trends over time. Countries can be compared with each other, or contrasted with regional average values. Finally, using the “How Leaders Change” tab, those interested in how leadership transitions have taken place in African countries and in how modes of leadership change have evolved through history can easily track the relative or absolute numbers of violent, peaceful but non-electoral, or electoral changes, and the different forms each of these can take.

Leaders and leadership transfers shaped Africa’s modern political history and will contribute to shaping the continent’s future. We shall follow these and related developments with regular updates of the ALC dataset.

Tanzania – The “new” CCM, same as the old CCM? Continuity and change in authoritarian parties

Under Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli, elected in October 2015, much has changed in Tanzania’s politics. Power has become more centralised in the hands of the President, opposition parties marginalised, and state security forces more prominent, to name but a few notable trends.

Rather than comment generally on these changes, though, this post examines one important element, namely how Tanzania’s long-time ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, has evolved over the past couple years to become the “New CCM”. What is so “new”, exactly? To what extent is the party building on its own historical inheritance? And how is it breaking from the past?

More broadly, this is a post about how we understand continuity and change in a ruling party, and what that understanding can tell us about a regime’s changing distribution of power. In what follows, I outline an approach to studying authoritarian party cohesion and institutional strength, plus how this relates shifting power dynamics. I then sketch out how to apply this approach to a more in-depth case analysis, in this instance, of Tanzania’s CCM.

How to think about authoritarian party institutions

Much of the recent comparative literature on authoritarian party institutions presents them as an important elite coordinating mechanism. The general idea is that ruling parties support a credible power-sharing arrangement, to use the favoured political science jargon; once formed, they help independently shape and constrain patterns of elite behaviour, thereby securing greater regime stability and endurance.[1] This understanding builds on a consensus within the rational choice school that institutions “structure social interaction and produce equilibrium outcomes, that is outcomes that no one has an incentive to alter.”[2]

There is an alternative way of viewing party institutions, however, inspired by a mix of critical political economy and historical institutionalist traditions.[3] This approach places an analysis of power centre stage. Rather than presenting institutions as stable coordinating devices, it highlights how they are themselves part of an ongoing power struggle; they are “objects of political competition”[4] that “reflect, and also reproduce and magnify, particular patterns of power distribution in politics.”[5] Institutions are, in other words, sources of power in their own right; they “actively facilitate the organization and empowerment of certain groups while actively disarticulating and marginalising others.”

Adapting this second approach to the study of parties, the key question is not about how party institutions shape the political behaviour of elites; rather, the focus is on how powerful individuals and groups navigate within an existing institutional framework, and how they seek to change it. Phrased differently, we are no longer talking abstractly about what “the Party” does, as a would-be independent coordinating device; we are instead trying to understand who is best able to bend party institutions to their political will, how and to what effect.

This study has at least three parts to it, as I elaborate in some of my other work.[6]

First, there is a need to appreciate the significance of a shifting societal distribution of power, and notably of ownership and wealth.[7] This is an area in which authoritarian elites intervene directly, including with strategies of “politicized accumulation”;[8] they influence opportunities for private individuals’ to accumulate wealth but also whether and how these individuals can use their wealth as political finance or patronage.

Second, shifting the focus to party institutions themselves, we must analyse how a prevailing distribution of power influences the ability of political elites to manipulate party structures and rules. Where power is more dispersed and competition across rival factions intense, we may see the outright subversion or strategic redeployment of formal rules as determined by informal pressures.[9] Where authoritarian leaders are, by contrast, able to consolidate power further, they may reinforce this effort by centralising and streamlining party structures, thereby limiting opportunities for would-be rivals to coordinate and form opposing factions. Whatever the specific power dynamics in play, though it is important to add that history matters; a party’s institutional inheritance, the mix of formal rules and established norms, defines the existing set of institutional resources that elites can leverage. It also affects the imaginative possibilities for actors looking to create new institutional arrangements.

This brings us to the third element in our study, namely ideas. A particular—again, often inherited—set of ideas will shape both how political actors understand their own interests and the strategic options available to them. It also shapes what actions may be deemed legitimate, and thus what narrative can be built to justify them. All of this applies in the case of party institutions, specifically, as I hope to show below.

Indeed, moving on from this perhaps rather dense theoretical discussion, I now turn to the central focus: Tanzania and President Magufuli’s “New” CCM.

Introducing CCM, from socialism to party “privatization”

To understand what Magufuli is trying to do now, we must understand what came before.

Briefly, Tanzania’s ruling party has continued to evolve—as an institution—from its pre-independence days as the spearhead of a nationalist struggle to the present.

While in the early 1960s, CCM—then the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) [10]—underwent a period of institutional erosion, its fortunes reversed with the introduction of one-party rule in 1965 and then President Nyerere’s Arusha Declaration in 1967, which committed Tanzania to Ujamaa, a brand of African socialism. The Declaration and subsequent economic reforms restricted opportunities for private sector expansion and accumulation while centralising rents and thus patronage in the hands of state and party officials. This economic balance of power then buttressed parallel efforts to strengthen the ruling party, notably by enhancing the control of the Central Committee and National Executive Committee at the top while extending its national reach through multiple layers of regional, district and branch structures, all the way down to the 10-House cell unit. Tanzania’s relative poverty prevented it from developing anything like the strength of, say, eastern Europe’s communist regimes while low-level factionalism and informal patronage networks endured.[11] But it was far more cohesive and institutionally strong than, for instance, its counterpart in neighbouring Kenya, whose post-independence political economy was more capitalist and private sector-oriented.

This socialist balance of power in Tanzania, already under strain in the late 1970s and early 1980s, changed dramatically with IFI-backed structural adjustment reforms from the mid-1980s. As Tanzania’s trade was liberalised, its vast array of parastatals slowly dismantled and privatised, and its state-owned banks sold off, a new form of “wild capitalism” took root. This was characterised by the growth of a new politico-economic elite, the proliferation of rival patron-client factions within the ruling party, and growing corruption. The knock-on effects for CCM’s institutional strength and cohesion were equally profound. The Ujamaa-era efforts to erect a barrier between political and business spheres failed and were then abandoned, leaving informal patronage networks to take root and grow within and around the existing party structures. Individuals within the party’s bureaucracy, from the highest to lowest levels, were ensnared in this factional competition. Meanwhile, formal procedures, notably governing candidate selection, were undermined as various forms of bribery and private influence peddling became the norm.

By 2000, the year after founding President and “Father of the Nation” Julius Nyerere passed on, the then President Benjamin Mkapa warned of CCM’s ongoing “privatisation”, and this at a time when he himself felt threatened by a set of nouveau-riche business elite-cum-political financiers. While Mkapa attempted a series of reforms, his successor—President Jakaya Kikwete (2005-2015)—road to power on the back of his own powerful mtandao, or network, only to see it fracture into competing factions, which he then struggled to control. Kikwete repeatedly articulated a commitment to reform and more stringent anti-corruption efforts, notably within CCM itself, but these efforts were largely unsuccessful, with Kikwete caught between different factions—attempting to tame, appease and build them in turn.

By the end of his presidency, concern about CCM’s institutional drift was widespread, as were fears about its moral decay. Once a party for the wanyonge, the down and out, it had been taken over by the matajiri, the rich.

Enter Magufuli, “The Unexpected”

As noted in previous posts, Magufuli’s victory in the 2015 race to be CCM presidential nominee was a surprise. He was Magufuli, “The Unexpected”, as labelled by the wonderfully wry Elsie Eyakuze.

After a complicated sequence of events during which CCM’s top leadership broke the party’s own selection rules and two rival factions knocked each other out of the running, Magufuli became the nominee.  He lacked any strong political base, or mtandao. He faced a further challenge after leading CCM heavyweight, Edward Lowassa, defected to become the presidential candidate for an emboldened opposition coalition, bringing many political financiers and CCM members with him. This was the biggest defection CCM had ever seen, leaving Magufuli’s former rivals for the presidential nomination to lend their own support and campaign infrastructure to a newly constituted election task force.

But what started as a challenge arguably became an opportunity for Magufuli once in office. Although he still needed to build his own base, the departure of Lowassa meant that one of the most powerful informal networks for political coordination within CCM had been undermined. Meanwhile, many of Lowassa’s associates—still in the party—were left fearful of being labelled wasaliti, traitors.

Magufuli—in keeping with what his apparent personal leadership proclivities—went on to seize this opportunity, pursuing a strategy of centralising power as both President and, from mid-2016, CCM Chairman. While this strategy has several relevant components, not least a form of “autocratic legalism”, constraints on the opposition, and closer ties with the security forces, I focus below on two important dimensions relating to the ruling party itself: a new strategy of “politicized accumulation”, limiting independent sources of political finance, and extensive party institutional reforms, centralising power under his leadership.

As implied in the above discussion, these two dimensions are mutually reinforcing; a narrowing societal distribution of power and resources is reflected and amplified through the consolidation of party institutional control under the Chairman.

Disciplining the private sector, empowering the State

Magufuli’s new strategy of politicized accumulation and financial discipline can itself be broken down into several components.

First, there is his anti-corruption push launched immediately after entering office. Public servants who abused their office risked falling foul of the new “bursting boils” initiative, which swiftly claimed the heads of, for instance, the Tanzania Port Authority, the Tanzania Revenue Authority, and the head of the Preventing and Combating of Corruption Bureau. Private sector actors were also put on notice with one of Tanzania’s wealthiest men, Said Bakhresa, tangled in the customs duty affair that helped fell the TRA boss. Two more prominent businessmen implicated in a multi-million-dollar energy sector scandal under Kikwete, Harbinder Singh Sethi and James Rugemalira, were later arrested and now, over a year later, are still languishing in jail awaiting trial. Other politically-connected businessmen have been charged with a range of offenses, included tax avoidance, corrupt transactions and money laundering. Over time, people have increasingly asked questions about the extent of Magufuli’s anti-corruption zeal, with some people allegedly wrongly ensnared in prolonged investigations while others are apparently overlooked. At the very least, though, the President has sent a message to both public officials and private actors: tread carefully, or there will be consequences.

Beyond this anti-corruption push, Magufuli has adopted a new policy orientation in his pursuit of “Tanzania ya viwanda”, an industrialised Tanzania, that have limited private sector expansion and investor confidence. Dramatic cuts to public servants’ allowances and other emoluments reduced the circulation of money in the economy, with perhaps the most direct effects felt in the hospitality industry. More aggressive revenue collection and fluctuations in fiscal policy have also contributed to a view among many private sector actors that the economy had declined, as indicated by a survey conducted last year of medium-sized firms.[12] An increase in non-performing loans combined with the government’s decision to move its accounts from commercial banks to the Bank of Tanzania saw interest rates rise and banks reduce their lending. In mining, the government has adopted a very aggressive posture vis-à-vis several foreign investors and seen them halt or scale back operations.

I could go on, but the main point is that a combination of policies adopted by the Magufuli government have limited the surplus available in the private sector, including any money for political finance. Some of this may be an unintended consequence, as President Magufuli and his Ministers have met more with business associations than their predecessors and have repeatedly affirmed that the private sector is key to the industrialisation effort—so long as it pays its fair share of tax. A number of individual businessmen, however, who have political ties to either the opposition or now collapsing factions within CCM, have seen their business interests directly targeted—for alleged tax arrears, confiscation of land leased by the government, loss of government procurement contracts, and the like. And this, in addition to the above-mentioned cases of people caught out for corruption.

I final trend worth noting is the government’s statist turn. It is using procurement contracts, state-owned banks and pension funds to channel finance towards parastatals, military-owned enterprise, the prison service, and various government agencies who are expanding or starting new ventures in construction, agricultural production, processing, and manufacturing. The government has also pushed for a greater share of ownership in public-private partnerships, notably in Tanzania’s lucrative extractive sector. As the Executive Director of the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation recently commented, “It has reached a point where the government feels happy to do business with itself instead of with the private sector.” While part of the reason for this approach is an oft-repeated conviction that it is save money, the politically relevant point is that the statist emphasis ensures the further centralisation of rents, and thus of funds to bankroll either opposition parties or rival factions within CCM.

In sum, Magufuli has adopted an overall economic approach that—both intentionally and, in some instances, perhaps less so—is limiting sources of independent political finance, and thus taking a first important step towards consolidating power and resources.

Creating the “New” CCM

These economic interventions are mirrored—and seemingly magnified—by an explicit campaign to centralise control within CCM’s institutions. This effort involves what might seem a paradoxical mix of institutional strengthening and personalisation. Slater (2003) has already examined how these two can—and do—go together in an authoritarian context,[13] although his analysis of the institutions involved is rather vague. What I highlight here, narrowing the focus to a ruling party, is how Magufuli has reinforced the structures within CCM that can help centralise power under the Chairman; when it is politically expedient, however, he has also used those same structures more opportunistically, in the process actually breaking party rules. This gets back to the core idea of institutions as a political resource, a tool to be used when convenient and ignored, manipulated or changed when not.

Magufuli set a major institutional reform process in train shortly after he took over as Chairman from Kiwkete in July, 2016. By December, the CCM National Executive Committee (NEC)—closely guided by President Magufuli and the Central Committee (CC)—had approved a set of recommended reforms to the party constitution. These were then voted on at a National Congress meeting in March 2017.

The March meeting coincided with a wave of expulsions from CCM of “traitors” and rumours of widespread discontent, with two MPs detained by police for questioning. Even so, the National Congress rubber stamped the proposed reforms. These included slashing the frequency of party meetings and reducing the membership of key party organs. Crucially, the number of NEC members was halved, and the number of CC members was reduced from 34 to 26, a significant proportion of which are appointed by the Chairman. Property belonging to CCM’s affiliated mass organisations—including the influential crucibles of CCM faction-forming, the Women’s League and Youth League—was also brought under the control of the central Party, whose Board of Trustees would be responsible for routine oversight.

While there were too many reforms to mention all of them here, a final highly significant change entailed drastically centralising control over parliamentary nominations. The new rules strip party members of their right to participate in primaries, instead designating a more restricted Constituency Congress as the body entitled to conduct primaries. But regardless of who participates, the primaries risk losing much of their meaning as the revised rules also empower the Central Committee to determine—for the first time ever—what candidates will participate in those primaries, with a maximum of three. The Central Committee also retains its right to advise the NEC on the final selection of a parliamentary nominee after the primaries have happened.

By shifting power from party members to the Central Committee, this proposed change alters to whom MPs are most directly accountable; now the Central Committee and Party Chairman play a bigger role than ever in deciding their political fate. Of course, how rules are applied in practice matters as much as how they appear on paper, particularly with candidate selection procedure, which has been routinely undermined by informal pressures since at least the 1990s. But a spate of by-elections—triggered by opposition MPs defecting to CCM—has seen the Central Committee unilaterally imposing the recently defected MPs as the new CCM by-election candidates, much to the chagrin of many lower-level party members. As such, the rules continue to be broken, but in a way that centralises power even further.

These reforms, which on paper clearly centralise power, are also presented as part of a strategy for rooting out factionalism and corruption within CCM. And indeed, they would appear to limit opportunities for building and sustaining patron-client networks without the blessing of the Chairman himself. Unsurprisingly, therefore, certain practices appear to be on the wane. For instance, previously, “there were some people who were actually hunting to be a member of the CC”, as noted by a CCM activist in discussion. That is because “you are privileged to know every development within the party and country,” which was a particular “advantage” for some politicians “doing business as well”.

There are additional instances, though, where the link is even closer, tying together CCM leaders’ institutional reform agenda and their effort to wrest control over political finance. In addition to the above-mentioned case of CCM’s mass organisations, a key example is the effort to audit and control CCM’s own assets, thereby ensuring greater financial autonomy. In this vein, Magufuli appointed an asset-tracing committee chaired by the University professor, Bashiru Ally, in December 2017, which then submitted its report in May this year. While the report has not been made public, it is alleged that many party assets—from football stadiums to petrol stations—were effectively “privatised” by CCM officials, and this from local to national level. Quite apart from helping to centralise control over party revenue, though, the report is also a tool for control; many prominent politicians are reportedly implicated and thus have the threat of a formal charge hanging over them—should they step out of line.

While this is still only a sketch of the changes within CCM, it nevertheless gives some sense of how these are geared towards strengthening institutions of central control, even as these structures and procedures may be bent further to fit a particular political agenda of the top leadership.

Before concluding, it is worth briefly reflecting on what ideas frame some of these recent changes. Many resonate with earlier mentioned concerns about CCM’s institutional drift and moral decay. Magufuli himself explicitly invokes Nyerere’s legacy, both with his economic interventions and ambition for a “New” CCM. Some of the historical resonances are even more explicit when coming from Bashiru Ally, who Magufuli appointed as CCM Secretary General in May. Himself a left-wing academic and champion of a certain Ujamaa legacy, Bashiru routinely invokes a language reminiscent of 1960s and 1970s TANU rhetoric. In his first press conference, he drove home that the party was returning to the “principles of its founders”, the “principles of the Arusha Declaration” to “reduce the gap between the haves and the have nots” and to uplift “the downtrodden.” He has further insisted that CCM must be “self-reliant”, another Nyerere-ist aim, cutting ties with its private financiers, or ensuring they only donate without expecting favours in return. Finally, he has queried the wealth of politicians, for instance, accusing some of stealing land from the poor.

This return of an old language, an old set of ideas helps frame and to some extent justify what Magufuli is doing. It renders his actions intelligible in a Tanzanian context.

But in many ways, the supposed historical similarities linking the “New” CCM and the CCM of past years are superficial. The economic interventions are statist, focused notably on big infrastructure projects, but without the emphasis on cooperative ownership or the democratic management of Ujamaa villages that defined the early TANU efforts.

As regards institutional changes to CCM, and notably Magufuli’s centralisation of control, this has raised deep—if not always very vocal—concerns among both the party’s rank-and-file members and its elite. In a much-commented on statement, Former President Mkapa (1995-2005) declared he wanted to hear less of “me, me” and more about “the Government of CCM”. Meanwhile, a statement by Bashiru regarding the discretionary enforcement of party rules, notably for candidate selection, was also widely circulated and criticised. “What’s written [in the CCM constitution], if its useful, it’s used,” Bashiru noted, before adding, “if it appears not to be useful, it’s changed.” As one commentator argued, “CCM […] is decaying its own institutions that give it legitimacy beyond electoral ballots.”

Some concluding thoughts

There are still many questions regarding how sustainability the changes Magufuli has introduced, both economically and politically, and thus what compromises he will have to make.

But for now, he has combined efforts to reshape the distribution of power in Tanzania with a drive for party reform; he has reduced the potential for rival patron-client factions to emerge through his economic interventions whilst further magnifying this effect through his strengthening of party structure, and selective breaking of certain rules.

To return to a more general, theoretical discussion, there are notable advantages to be gained from adopting a political economy analysis of party institutions, one that appreciates the complex power struggles that go on within them, and that lead to their gradual evolution. As I try to show through the Tanzanian case, it is through this analytical framing that we can make sense of institutional continuity and change in an authoritarian party, how it is both shaped by and in turn helps shape a particular distribution of power, and what effects this then has on a range of political and—although this is not the main focus here[14]—economic outcomes.

This approach is radically different from a the more widespread tendency to present authoritarian party institutions as independent coordinating devices that improve regime stability and survival. This understanding of what parties are and how they work is not particularly realistic, nor is the key outcome of interest actually that interesting. Focusing our attention on why CCM has survived in power for over 50 years, for instance, risks missing out a discussion of what has actually happened during that time, and why.[15] Who has replaced whom in power? Who has become richer? Who has become poorer? What are the political implications of that?

A political science literature on authoritarian parties would likely provide a greater service, shedding more light on politically salient outcomes, if it moves away from its established moorings, and starts to explore new approaches.



[1] Brownlee, Jason. 2007. Authoritarianism in an age of democratization. New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press.

Magaloni, Beatriz. 2008. “Credible Power-Sharing and the Longevity of Authoritarian Rule.” Comparative Political Studies 41 (4/5):715-41.

Reuter, Ora John. 2017. The Origins of Dominant Parties: Building Authoritarian Institutions in Post-Soviet Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] Levi, Margaret 2009. “Reconsiderations of Rational Choice in Comparative and Historical Analysis ” In Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture, and Structure ed. M. I. Lichbach and A. Zuckerman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 128.

[3] Pepinsky, Thomas. 2014. “The Institutional Turn in Comparative Authoritarianism.” British Journal of Political Science 44 (3):631-53.

Collord, Michaela. 2018. “The political economy of institutions in Africa: Comparing Authoritarian Parties and Parliaments in Tanzania and Uganda”, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

[4] Boone, Catherine. 1992. Merchant capital and the roots of state power in Senegal, 1930-1985. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 7.

[5] Thelen, Kathleen. 1999. “Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Politics.” Annual Review of Political Science 2:394.

[6] Collord, 2018.

[7] Sangmpam, S.N. 2007. “Politics Rules: The False Primacy of Institutions in Developing Countries.” Political Studies 55:201-24.

Rodan, Garry, and Kanishka Jayasuriya. 2012. “A Social Foundations Approach.” In Routledge Handbook of Democratization, ed. J. Heynes. Oxford: Routledge.

Gray, Hazel. 2018. Turbulence and Order in Economic Development: Institutions and Economic Transformation in Tanzania and Vietnam. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[8] Boone, 1992.

[9] On the interaction between formal and informal institutions, see:

Helmke, Gretchen and Steven Levitsky. 2006. Informal institutions and democracy: Lessons from Latin America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

On modes of institutional change, see:

Mahoney, James, and Kathleen Thelen. 2010. “A theory of gradual institutional change.” In Explaining institutional change: ambiguity, agency and power ed. J. Mahoney and T. Kathleen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[10] TANU ruled continental Tanzania (Tanganyika) from 1961 while another party, ASP, governed in Zanzibar from 1964 until 1977 when TANU and ASP merged to form a single party, CCM.

[11] Gray, 2018.

[12] World Bank. 2017. Tanzania Economic Update: Managing Water Wisely: 8.

[13] Slater, Dan. 2003. “Iron Cage in an Iron Fist: Authoritarian Institutions and the Personalization of Power in Malaysia” Comparative Politics 36(1): 81-101.

[14] Gray, 2018.

Whitfield, Lindsay, Ole Therkildsen, Lars Buur, and Anne Mette Kjaer. 2015. The politics of African industrial policy: a comparative perspective. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

[15] Pepinsky (2014) makes a similar point.

DRC – 21 candidates for one seat

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the election commission (CENI) has released the final candidate list for the December 23 presidential election. The list has 21 names: three political heavyweights and 18 candidates with few chances to win, particularly as the election is held in one round. Most striking fact? Incumbent President Joseph Kabila is not on it, meaning that for the first time the DRC will see a transfer of presidential power through an election.

Representing the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) will be former Vice Prime Minister for the Interior Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, current permanent secretary for the PPRD and a close Kabila-ally. The nomination of Shadary put an end to speculations about whether Kabila would find a way to circumvent constitutional term-limits and stand for reelection for a third term [see previous post musing over who would run in the presidential poll here].

Shadary was a founding member of the PPRD and has risen through the ranks of the party: he was Kabila’s campaign chairman in 2006 and 2011; was elected deputy to the National Assembly; served on the Law Committee (PAJ); chaired the PPRD caucus; and was the coordinator for the ruling majority in the National Assembly. During his time as Minister of Interior from 2016 till February of this year, he oversaw a crackdown on protests in the wake of the de facto extension of Kabila’s term by two years. Dozens of protesters were killed and Shadary was placed on the EU sanctions list for violations of human rights.

There is speculation that with the selection of Shadary, Kabila’s intent is to take advantage of the DRC’s semi-presidential constitution to enact a  Putin-Medvedev scenario where, should Shadary become president, Kabila would be appointed prime minister and retain the real levers of power.

On the opposition side, two front runners are left standing: Felix Thisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), son of historical opposition leader Etienne Thisekedi who passed away last year, and former President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC). Two other opposition heavyweights were excluded: former Kabila-ally Moise Katumbi, who was impeded from returning from exile to register as a candidate; and former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, recently returned from the International Criminal Court (ICC), who was disqualified because of his his conviction for witness tampering at the ICC.    

Fewer opposition candidates should make it easier to unite behind a single candidate and avoid splitting the vote – unless the opposition decides to boycott because of concerns over election administration. These concerns include the use of a controversial electronic voting machine and an incomplete voter register where 16 percent of voters lack fingerprints. Also, human rights abuses by security forces targeting political party activists are rising, according to the UN Mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, as elections approach.

The electoral campaign starting on November 22 is less than two months away. While Kabila has succeeded in establishing a unified coalition, the Common Front for Congo (FCC), backing Shadary, the opposition appears to be waffling still over how to select their candidate. Negotiations have been ongoing among opposition leaders without any formal agreement announced to date. Bemba has declared he is ready to back a consensus candidate, but who will it be and how will he be selected [there are no women among the top presidential contenders]? The opposition leaders have announced a public meeting on September 29, by which time we should know more about their strategy.

The men who will never be King: Cameroon’s October 2018 presidential election

Presidential elections are scheduled in Cameroon for October 7, and barring an unexpected development Paul Biya is on his way to secure another seven-year term and to start his 37thyear in office. This is despite the fact that Cameroon is in a drastically more precarious position than it was last election. Tepid economic growth, an ongoing Boko Haram threat in the north, and a devastating crisis in English-speaking regions have led to sharp declines in human security. The continent also seems to have had its share of presidents for life, as seen most dramatically in the recent departure of Robert Mugabe from the national scene in Zimbabwe. Nonetheless, most predict that Biya will emerge victoriously. The current opposition landscape simply cannot muster enough force, and Biya enjoys enormous advantages as head of state.

The Competition: A Fragmented Field Once Again

As in past elections, the opposition has failed to coalesce into a unified front. Historically, this has been to their detriment. In 1992, during Cameroon’s first multiparty election, Paul Biya won the election with a mere plurality of 40% while the opposition split the vote between five other candidates. In 2004, the National Reconciliation and Renomination Coalition (CRRN) fell apart before the election when John Fru Ndi of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) withdrew his support. During the last presidential election in 2011 no less than 22 candidates were on the ballot.

This cycle the election management body ELECAM has approved nine candidates, including Biya. Three are representative of Cameroon’s nearly 300 “mushroom parties” – former student activist Cabral Libii Ngue of the Universe party, Serge Espoir Matomba of the United People for Social Renewal (PURS), and Pentecostal pastor Ndifor Afanwi Franklin of the Cameroon National Citizen Movement (MCNC). These parties come and go every cycle, and are often framed around the ambitions of individual figures or niche issues. They generally garner less than 1% of the vote, and are mainly opportunities for individuals outside of the establishment to raise their profile and perhaps gain some international financial support. Others believe that they are there to “muddy the waters” and dilute the opposition. It is not cheap to run for president and it requires a financial deposit of 30 million CFA (~$50,000), indicating that these candidates have some means.

Alongside these figures are two household names that are more akin to a symbolic opposition. Adamou Ndam Njoya is a former member of government, and in 1992 founded the opposition Cameroon Democratic Union (UDC). Njoya has been on the national stage for decades and has run for president in every election. But, he now has very little appeal outside of his home area of Bamoun, and even more specifically the Noun Department. He is joined by former minister Garga Haman Adji of the Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD). Garga left the ruling party in 1992 and is a frequent critic of government corruption. He ran for president in 2004 and 2011, winning just 3% of the vote.

The main opposition drama is between the remaining three candidates: Joshua Osih of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), Akere Muna of the Popular Front for Development (FPD), and Maurice Kamto of the Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon (MRC). Only Osih is a member of a longstanding opposition party. Osih’s nomination signals a generational shift in the SDF away from its chairman and perpetual presidential candidate, John Fru Ndi. Osih is young and Anglophone, but appeals to Cameroon’s French-speaking areas. He has campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption, improved services, and a return to federalism. Moreover, he has relatively deep pockets from his aviation business. His major liability is his young age (49), which has caused some skepticism over whether he has the ability to steer the complex ship of the Cameroonian state.

By contrast, Kamto and Muna are both veteran attorneys with significant international exposure and pedigree. Kamto was Biya’s delegate to the Ministry of Justice between 2004 and 2011 and active in the United Nation’s International Law Commission. But, Kamto and most of the MRC are of the Bamileké ethnic group from West region, which has left him vulnerable to accusations of tribalismAkere Muna is an Anglophone and a former Vice President at the international corruption monitoring organization Transparency International. He is also a scion of one of Cameroon’s most famous families. Akere’s father, Solomon Tandeng Muna, was the Prime Minister of Cameroon and later President of the National Assembly. His brother Bernard is another well-known lawyer and former activist in the SDF. His sister Ama Tutu was Minister of Arts and Culture between 2007 and 2015. Kamto and Muna are also running on campaigns of anti-corruption and have staked out support for federalism.

This creates an opposition field that will undoubtedly split the vote more than it needs to be. No candidate has excluded the possibility of a coalition, and each has made statements that a single presidential candidate would be the most beneficial. But as in past attempts there is no consensus over who would lead such a coalition. In 2004, opposition contenders agreed that a commission should choose the most appropriate presidential candidate based on a point system. However, that system broke down after Ndam Njoya was chosen by that very system. Moreover, a united opposition still does not have sufficient numbers to topple Biya. This means that some candidates might not be thinking just about 2018, but also about the next election in 2025 when Biya will be 92 years old and will more likely step down from power.

The Incumbent: The Advantages of State

 Paul Biya enters this electoral contest with immense advantages built up over decades in power. First, it is important to recall that Biya’s candidacy is the result of a 2008 constitutional amendment that removed term limits. That maneuver was meant to defer on question regarding Biya’s succession, which risked creating irreparable rifts within the ruling party. As president, Biya has held together a tenuous multiethnic coalition based on patronage. Biya distributes cabinet portfolios, civil service positions, and development resources in implicit exchange for political support. This distribution has created winners and losers, and is seen as particularly beneficial to Biya’s Southern co-ethnics, the Beti. Change in leadership would signal a change in distribution that would undermine the existing order. Biya’s candidacy is basically a continuation of the status quo.

Biya has already maintained the support of various elites. A group of 20 opposition parties that call themselves the G20 have backed Biya. The G20 have stated that their support is for the sake of national security, but also that they see the chances of Biya losing as miniscule. Therefore, staying loyal to the president improves their standing and chances of obtaining benefits after the election. Importantly, the bulk of northern elites, who were at some point a significant opposition front, are also behind Biya. For instance, Cameroon’s Minister of Communication Issa Tchiroma is not from the ruling party but has been a frequent spokesman for the regime during the crisis in Anglophone areas. Likewise, Bello Bouba Maigari was once a serious presidential contender, but is now content as Minister of Tourism.

Alongside this system of patronage, Biya has access to significant resources of the state and enjoys significant presidential powers. Earlier this year he had parliament pass a bill that deferred the legislative elections due to the logistical cost of operating multiple elections within the challenging security context. During past elections, it was common for teachers, local administrators, and state-recognized traditional chiefs to campaign for the ruling party. The ruling party uses state-owned resources like vehicles and stadiums during elections, and state-owned media is heavily tilted toward the president. Indeed, in 2004 and 2011 Biya barely campaigned, and spent much of his time abroad.

There are also concerns over whether the election itself will be free and fair. A limited number of international observers regularly arrive in Cameroon, and there is a very small domestic observation capacity. The creation of ELECAM in 2008 has improved the management of elections in Cameroon, and incidents of outright fraud have declined since 1992. But, the president appoints members of ELECAM and appointed governors are responsible for many election related activities. For example, governors issue permits for gatherings and rallies, and can declare states of emergency that limit freedom of movement. In the past, opposition actors have frequently been detained over so-called violations of various statutes regarding political organization.

Most importantly, the Boko Haram situation and crisis in English-speaking region has led to significant issues with election preparation. Hundreds of thousands of Cameroonians are displaced, and ongoing violence might keep many away from the polls. There are reportedly significant issues with voter registration, and it is not clear how many polling stations will actually be open and accessible in English-speaking areas. The SDF has already rejected a government proposal to move polling stations into military barracks. These issues impact opposition areas particularly hard. While opposition figures like Osih or Muna are likely to win large swaths of the English-speaking regions, the total number of votes might very well be much lower than in previous elections.

The fragmented opposition and Biya’s powerful hand combine to create a sense of apathy among many voters. While many are galvanized given the dire economic and political conditions, others only see more of the same.