Category Archives: Africa

Liberia – President George Weah: A year since his election

This month marks the first anniversary of Liberia’s President George Weah winning the presidential election in the West African republic. It’s been an unusual series of events for a country which has very particular origins. Weah is in many quarters still best known for a stellar international football career, and is sometimes mentioned as one of the greatest African football players ever. During his international career, Liberia itself suffered 14 years of civil war, and emerged peaceful but very poor. The post-war country had an internationally celebrated female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who went on to share the Nobel Peace Prize.

Weah is 52 years old now, and as an international soccer star was named FIFA World Player of the Year and won the Ballon d’Or in 1995. He has been hugely popular in his home country, especially with the young. This is a country where half the voters are under the age of 33. He has been active in Liberian politics for over a decade. He ran without success in two previous presidential or vice-presidential elections (2005 and 2011) which saw Ellen Johnson Sirleaf returned to office. While celebrated internationally as the first female head of state elected in Africa, she was not as popular at home, where corruption and poverty continued to undermine quality of life for so many. She served two full terms of office but was barred by the constitution from seeking a third term.

Weah continued to pursue his political ambitions and was elected as a Senator in at the end of 2014, but only rarely attended parliament. His modest educational achievements were highlighted during election campaigns, but the poverty he had grown up in gave him real credibility among voters tired of elites and corruption.

In the October 2017 presidential elections he topped the poll with 38% of the vote, going to a run-off with the outgoing Vice-President Joseph Boakai. The second round was delayed by a legal challenge by another candidate. When it was held on 26th December 2017, George Weah won comfortably with 62% of the vote.

His platform included tackling corruption, raising living standards, and economic reform. This is popular with the many people still waiting to see decent services or economic opportunities more than a decade after the war ended. At his inauguration on 22nd January 2018, he announced that he would cut his salary by 25%.

A unique past

Liberia has a most unusual history, and is the oldest modern republic in Africa. It was founded in 1847 by freed slaves from the United States, and retains strong links with America. Although it escaped traditional European colonialism, the structures recreated unfortunately meant the indigenous population was seriously marginalised. A civil war from 1989 to 2003 left more than 200,000 people dead. Since then, elections have been peaceful but the country continued to struggle with rebuilding itself after the war, and poverty is stubbornly high. As the country continued to rebuild its weak health and state systems, Ebola emerged in 2014. It took nearly 5,000 lives in Liberia, and the same number in neighbouring countries, in the worst outbreak ever seen.

In a population of nearly five million people, the median age is less than 18 years. It is still near the bottom of the Human Development Index, which combines health, education, and income, at 181 out of 189 countries ranked. Life expectancy is 63 years, and the literacy rate is 43% for the over-15s. GNI per capita is US$667.

The country’s economy has been struggling, and the government deficit is more than 5% of GDP. The Liberian dollar lost a quarter of its value last year, and a further quarter since Weah took office. One of the factors affecting the economy has been the withdrawal of the UN mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which once numbered 15,000 troops. It completed its task in March, having taken over from the regional peace operation ECOMOG at the end of the civil war 15 years ago. The country is still affected by the economic consequences of the Ebola epidemic, which saw significant restrictions on daily activities.

Despite his strong and well-received stand on corruption,some were disappointed with his early appointments. Only two of his ministers were women, halving the number in the Sirleaf cabinet. The woman he chose to be his running mate for Vice-President, Jewel Howard-Taylor, used to be married to the former President, Charles Taylor, who started the war and whose forces were linked to atrocities during the conflict. He was convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2012 for his role in that neighbouring country’s war, and is currently serving his 50-year sentence in a UK prison. He is still popular in Nimba county especially, and his former wife helped to bring in votes from the region.

In another first, President Weah made a surprise return at the age of 51 to Liberia’s national football team in September, in a game against Nigeria organised in his honour.

Besides the economy, there are many challenges to face. President Weah has been non-committal about whether a war crimes court should be set up, as recommended by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2010. Corruption, food production, and poverty are long-term problems. However, new land ownership legislation was passed in September, recognising community land rights, and helping to protect the 70% of the country’s population which lives in rural areas. Previously the state claimed ownership of all land, sometimes allocating parts of the country to foreign investors without community involvement.

Expectations were high at the time of his election, and a sector of the population not used to feeling it is heard was energised by his campaign and victory. As always, the gap between expectations and results will be difficult, especially since many of the problems are structural and will need long term solutions.

Zimbabwe – More than 100 days into the new administration, little has changed

 

It has been 123 days since Zimbabweans went to the polls, in an election that was intended to usher in a new era for the troubled Southern African nation. But the fatal shooting of seven civilians by soldiers in the full view of the global media was an important reminder that the new administration looked much like the old. Although he positioned himself as a reformer, little appears to have changed in Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa came in on a wave of popular support after he and his military backers ousted former President Robert Mugabe in a coup that broke the continent’s longest coup-free stretch since the late 1950s. He promised accountable governance, a return to the rule of law and a tough stance on the pervasive corruption that has eaten through Zimbabwe’s social services like a cancer.

Following his election Mnangagwa appointed respected Cambridge-educated economist Dr Mthuli Ncube as his Finance Minister, sending positive signals to international investors and the IMF and World Bank that the country planned to turn over a new economic leaf. He also appointed a commission of enquiry into the killings on 1 August, headed by the respected former president of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe.

But the Military…

As if to confirm the fears of political scientists about the adverse outcomes of coups, the military has continued to play an outsized role in Zimbabwe’s post-coup dispensation. Rumours abound of the factional fights between the president and his Vice-President Constantine Chiwenga, the former Commander of the Defence Forces. It is widely reported that the deal between the two men was that Mnangagwa would serve just a single term before handing over to his second in command.

But repeated statements suggest that Mnangagwa has other ideas and hopes to run again in 2023. This was reportedly the reason behind the grenade attack at one of Mnangagwa’s rallies during the election campaign. The country’s independent media carries regular articles detailing the alleged factional fights within the state which continue to give lie to Mnangagwa’s ‘new dawn’ narrative.

At the same time, Chiwenga and Foreign Minister and former Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo (of the Chiwenga camp) are reportedly gravely ill, with Moyo apparently suffering from unexplained kidney failure. In a country where many leaders have died under unclear or suspicious circumstances – notably Mugabe’s former General, Solomon Mujuru, in 2011 – the illnesses amongst those said to be opposed to the President further raise suspicions.

As for Kgalema Motlanthe’s Commission, the military has bizarrely claimed that the deaths of civilians were caused by the opposition to destabilise and discredit the army and administration. Having refused to take any responsibility for civilian deaths, it appears that impunity will continue to plague the country’s armed forces. Zimbabwe’s civic groups have expressed grave concerns over the process, and confidence in the Commission appears to be waning rapidly.

What about the Economy?

Despite promises of massive international investment during the election campaign and the appointment of a technocratic Finance Minister, Zimbabwe’s economic woes appear to be deepening. Ncube has promised both austerity and wide-ranging reforms, vowing to cut down the country’s public sector wage bill which consumes 90% of the annual budget. In trying to restart the economy, he will need to bring the opaque extractives sector back under the wing of treasury and ensure that the burgeoning diamond and platinum sector remit finances to the state.

But in doing so, the Finance Minister will find himself up against entrenched interests in the military and the upper echelons of the governing party. Vowing to root out ghost workers in the public sector through biometric registration, Ncube will find himself up against the ZANU-PF elites who draw the salaries from these ghost workers in order to finance their own patronage networks. These reforms will also retire more than 6 000 ‘Youth Officers’ on the public payroll, who behave as little more than ruling party enforcers. This will certainly ruffle some feathers with their handlers.

The Minister faces a massive debt mountain; at the end of August 2018, public debt stood at $17.69 billion USD of which domestic debt accounted for 54%. This represents a national debt of over 100% of current GDP. But with industrial capacity operating at 20%, a massive trade deficit engendered by the collapse of local manufacturing and opacity in the minerals sector, it isn’t clear where the finances will come from to turn the listing economic ship around.

The country’s most important export earners are minerals (gold, diamonds, platinum and ferrous metals) but these sectors suffer from heavy involvement of the military and military elites and few of the proceeds from exports reach the public purse. Any attempts to introduce greater transparency in minerals and mineral governance is likely to come up against stiff resistance from those who benefit from the status quo.

Finally, Mnangagwa’s flagship project of 2017 was the country’s ‘Command Agriculture’ project which sought to incentivise and push agricultural sector growth to revitalise the ailing economy and return the country to its former status as a major agricultural producer. This project was run by the military and is said to have been lucrative for many government and military insiders. Ncube’s recent declaration of intent to scale down this programme will likely push him further into conflict with the beneficiaries of this scheme.

And the Opposition?

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has continued to loudly contest the legitimacy of Mnangagwa’s government and tries to capitalise on broad public dissatisfaction with the collapsing economy. On 29 November they held a massive march through the streets of the capital to deliver a petition to parliament demanding a new transitional government to address the financial and political crisis.

Although the opposition is a far cry from its strengths of the early 2000s and the country’s formerly indomitable trade unions are a shadow of their former selves, the widespread desperation brought on by 20 years of deepening economic crisis have pushed citizens to the brink. This has won the MDC many inadvertent supporters and poses a threat to the ruling elite.

Mnangagwa the Reformer?

There remains a robust debate in Zimbabwe about whether or not the president is honest about his intentions to reform the state – and many would like to believe that he is indeed trying to rein in the military. Even if he is sincere in his intentions to reform the state, he is facing threats from all sides – the military, the economy and the opposition – and it remains difficult to see how the administration can possibly dig their way out of the current morass.

The events following the July elections have reminded foreign governments and investors of the reasons for their long hesitation over investing in Zimbabwe, and consequently little foreign investment has been forthcoming in the three months since. The instability of the relationship between the military and the executive as well as the entrenched nature of the army in the country’s productive sectors continues to give investors pause.

Sadly, a year since Mugabe’s removal, the country’s battle-weary citizens hardly look any closer to the end of their long suffering.

DRC – Presidential campaign is on

The presidential campaign in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was launched on Thursday, November 22, one month ahead of the December 23 presidential poll. While the ruling coalition is well prepared and ready for the fight, the opposition is trying to catch up from behind. Months of opposition efforts at uniting behind a single candidate have thus far been unsuccessful.

The United Front for Congo (FCC), the electoral coalition backing President Joseph Kabila’s handpicked candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, is indeed united. The FCC has pulled all the stops, including enlisting famed Congolese dancer and singer Tshala Muana to produce a get-out-the vote jingle and music video calling on Congolese to ‘vote vote vote for Shadary, candidate number 13.’ [See previous blog posts relating Kabila’s clever maneuvering to secure support for his chosen contender here and here.] A 564-member campaign team working for Shadary includes sitting Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala and his cabinet, the president of the national assembly, Kabila family members and a number of other well-known Congolese.  The impressive line-up presented at a public ceremony on November 3, is divided into 48 ‘cells’ with representation from all 26 provinces, covering the entire country. Some of the alleged members of the campaign team, like the trainer of the national football team Floribert Ibenge, have complained, however, that their name was added to the roster without their consent. A leading opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, has called the apparent fusion of state and party, with major state institutions at work for the ruling party’s candidate, ‘inacceptable.’

The opposition despite significant efforts, remains divided in two major camps – one backing Fayulu, the other supporting Felix Tshisekedi, son of historical opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi who passed away in 2017. For a short 24-hour period it appeared that the leaders of the seven major opposition parties had succeeded in agreeing to support a unity candidate – Martin Fayulu – as the flag bearer of the Lamuka (“wake up” in Lingala and Swahili) coalition. The seven leaders met for three days in Geneva in early November to negotiate an agreement, hosted by the Kofi Annan Foundation. Three of the leaders – Moise Katumbi, Jean-Pierre Bemba and Adolphe Muzito – are excluded from running as candidates, leaving four possible choices: front-runners Felix Tshisekedi (UDPS) and former President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe (UNC); and second tier candidates Fayulu (ECiDé) and Freddy Matungulu (CNB). With 41 seats, the UDPS is the second largest party in the National Assembly of the DRC, after the ruling PPRD, followed in sixth place by the UNC (with 17 seats), while ECiDé (3 seats) and CNB (0 seats) are smaller parties whose leaders have not held prominent positions in Congolese politics. Fayulu is currently a National Assembly deputy, and Matungulu is a former IMF-official who served a two-year stint as minister of finance in the early 2000s.

The method chosen to facilitate a vote among the seven opposition leaders meeting in Geneva, after a consensus candidate did not emerge, had the unexpected consequence of Fayulu’s selection. A two-round vote was held: only the four eligible candidates could vote in the first round, casting two ballots – one for himself and one for one of the other three. None of the four chose to cast his second ballot for his perceived strongest  competitor, resulting in Fayulu and Matungulu getting the most votes and proceeding to the second round – an outcome that should perhaps have been foreseen, taking the likelihood of strategic voting into consideration. On November 11, in the second round, all seven opposition party leaders, including the three banned from running, cast their vote, leading to the selection of Fayulu.

The choice of Fayulu as single candidate for the opposition did not survive the realities of Congolese politics, however. Upon their return to Kinshasa, Tshisekedi and Kamerhe were met by demonstrations by their respective party bases and within 24 hours both withdrew from the Geneva agreement. The two pursued bilateral negotiations, and on Friday November 23, they signed a pact in Nairobi whereby Kamerhe will support Tshisekedi. According to the agreement, should Tshisekedi win, he will appoint Kamerhe as prime minister, and the two would switch places on the presidential ticket in five years time. The detailed deal references also the distribution of key cabinet and other posts.

It is thus likely that three leading candidates will face off in the one-round presidential poll on December 23 – Shadary, Fayulu and Tshisekedi. Of these, Tshisekedi appears best poised to win, according to a recent opinion poll by the Congo Research Group based at the University of New York, whose findings are contested by the ruling party. The poll, conducted in the first half of October, found Tshisekedi to be favored by 36% of voters, followed by Kamerhe at 17% and Shadary close behind at 16%, while Fayulu trailed at 8%. The agreement with Kamerhe further strengthens Tshisekedi’s chances.

The scene is set for a hard fought race. Election observers – many to be deployed by the Catholic Church – and party agents will play an important role in increasing the transparency and credibility of the vote in a context characterized by consistent opposition concerns over the integrity of the voter registry and the reliability of the electronic voting machine introduced by the election commission.

New publications

Special Issue, Leaders, Crisis Behavior, and International Conflict, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Volume 62 Issue 10, November 2018.

Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, Armenia’s Velvet Revolution: A Special Issue, Volume 26, Number 4, Fall 2018.

Kaitlen J. Cassell, John A. Booth, and Mitchell A. Seligson, ‘Support for Coups in the Americas: Mass Norms and Democratization’, Latin American, Politics and Society, Volume 60, Number 4, pp. 1-25.

Hamid Akin Unver, ‘The fog of leadership: How Turkish and Russian presidents manage information constraints and uncertainty in crisis decision-making’, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, 18:3, 325-344, 2018, DOI: 10.1080/14683857.2018.1510207

Trump – Causes and Consequences, series of articles in Perspectives on Politics, available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/perspectives-on-politics/information/trump-causes-and-consequences#

Andrea Schneiker, ‘ Telling the Story of the Superhero and the Anti-Politician as President: Donald Trump’s Branding on Twitter’, Political Studies Review. https://doi.org/10.1177/1478929918807712

Ebenezer Obadare and Adebanwi Wale (eds.). Governance and the crisis of rule in Africa: Leadership in transformation, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Sergey Aleksashenko, Putin’s Counterrevolution, The Brookings Institution Press, located in Washington, D.C, 2018.

Uganda – Opposition to President Museveni grows but Uganda’s opposition parties are in flux

Bobi Wine, musician-turned-opposition leader, punctuated his latest concert with calls for the thousands of fans attending to register for voter ID cards. This is obviously not your typical way of hyping up a crowd. But Bobi Wine’s youthful following appears as committed to his music as to his “People Power” movement and his prospective 2021 presidential bid.

Bobi Wine’s rise

The 36-year-old Wine has succeeded in capturing national—and international—attention, forming a new centre of gravity in Ugandan politics. After winning a by-election to become an Independent MP, he emerged last year as a key figure in the fight against the removal of presidential age limits, a constitutional reform eventually passed by Parliament in a bid to extent the septuagenarian President Museveni’s stay in office. This year, Wine led street protests against unpopular new taxes on mobile money transfers and social media use. He also campaigned in several parliamentary by-elections, contributing to a string of victories for his preferred candidates, many of whom started out as underdogs.

During one of these campaigns, in Arua last August, Bobi Wine was detained and tortured while in custody, causing an international outcry and driving his rising political star still higher. He had, by then, all but eclipsed the long-time opposition stalwart, Kizza Besigye, whose own preferred candidates—from his Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party—were losing to Wine’s, mostly independents or else hailing from smaller opposition parties.

Wine’s political pull was on show again in late September when former FDC party president, Mughisha Muntu, announced he was leaving FDC to lead his own “New Formation”. Muntu had worked alongside Wine in several previous by-elections, and part of the appeal of his new group was the promise of its aligning with Wine in the 2021 elections. Drawing on a division within FDC, between himself and Kizza Besigye, Muntu also brought several prominent FDC figures with him, including former party Secretary General Alice Alaso and an array of local leaders. Several FDC MPs are rumoured to be planning to join as well, but only after 2020 to avoid losing their parliamentary seat and triggering costly by-elections.

Undermining parties, or more of the same?

Taking a step back, these recent developments present something of a paradox. Even as excitement grows in some quarters about a rejuvenated, energetic opposition, opposition parties are in flux. The FDC—the largest such party—is in a very precarious position indeed. While it may well be “too early to write off FDC”, as one observer proclaimed, the party’s deputy Secretary General was less sanguine, declaring, “People Power has swallowed us.” Meanwhile, Uganda’s second-largest opposition party, the Democratic Party, may try to gain from FDC’s loss, but it has its own internal differences to manage.

Even as the main opposition parties find themselves in a tricky situation, critical observers have been quick to point out that neither Bobi Wine’s “People Power” nor Muntu’s “New Formation” have anything like a party organisation of their own. They have “rebranded” the opposition, but “Bobi Wine has not been tested to show if he has the capacity and structures to simultaneously influence numerous victories countrywide.” Muntu similarly lacks organisation at the “nuts and bolts level”.

There is another point to be made, though. As some People Power sceptics concede, Ugandan party organisation is generally weak, not only among the opposition parties but for the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) as well. Ad hoc networks of political leaders often appear more significant in shaping political organisation than do formal party structures. Notably around nominations, factional competition dominates within all the major parties, undermining their internal coherence while also blurring the boundaries between them. For instance, in the last election, some FDC candidates were seen as close to NRM leaders while NRM candidates were branded FDC-leaning. Meanwhile, the Ugandan Parliament now has more Independent MPs—most of whom previously lost their party nominations but ran anyway—than it does MPs from opposition parties.

Given the weakness of the existing party system, the politicians of all stripes now coalescing around Bobi Wine are not an aberration; their style of loose alliance is not something new. The only striking feature is the range of actors involved. As briefly noted, these include Independents and MPs from smaller parties like DP and Jeema. Some FDC are also sympathetic as are a considerable number of NRM MPs, 27 of whom have been excluded from NRM parliamentary caucus meetings after voting against the lifting of presidential age limits.

Political coordination through Parliament, not parties?

These politicians, in addition to turning out for by-election campaigns, are also using Parliament as a space from which to coordinate their actions. Of particular note is the Parliamentary Forum on Human Rights, Rule of Law and Constitutionalism, which unites a broad cross-section of MPs. It is currently organising rallies countrywide where crowds chant slogans associated with Wine and “People Power”. As the chair of the Forum assured, “We are expanding the frontlines”, campaigning in opposition-held areas but also targeting to “constituencies that have been considered no go for the opposition.”

Like Wine’s loose cross-party formation, though, this mobilisation via Parliament is not a new phenomenon; rather, it recalls the pre-2005 “no-party” period when the Young Parliamentarians’ Association (YPA) and later the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO) were at the heart of opposition activity, and even—in the case of PAFO—contributed directly to the formation of the FDC.

Given the weakly institutionalised party system that emerged post-2005, it is not surprising that individual MPs are again seeking to coordinate via a shared platform in Parliament. It has yet to be seen how effective they will be, but the aim is as clear as it is ambitious: for the new  Forum to reach out and  create “an alliance with the masses.”

Zambia – Lungu doubles-down on dissent

Following a period of democratic backsliding, President Edgar Lungu stands accused of seeking to extend further control over civil society and repressing critical discussion – even when it is not focussed on the question of his leadership.

Church leaders in Zambia are used to playing a fairly high profile role in political discussions, especially where the budget is concerns. The Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection is well known for conducting the “Rural Basket”, a quarterly survey that measures poverty and social service delivery in rural parts of Zambia. The Catholic Church also has a history of speaking out in favour of “pro-poor policies”, for example through the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. Clergymen in Ndola were therefore taken aback when a meeting to discuss the government’s proposed 2009 budget, which had been organized with the Centre for Trade Policy and Development, was disrupted by police on 19 October. Not only was the meeting abruptly ended, but Pastor George Palo, who had helped to put the event together, was detained.

The meeting was held at the Ndola Central Baptist Church, but was attended by church leaders from different denominations, and so has been interpreted as an infringement on the rights of Christian groups more generally. According to Pastor Brian Chanda, the actions of the police were unjustified: “how are we as the clergy going to particular in national development. If we shun such meetings, we will be called names. Now we come so that we can contribute, the police arrest us and disrupt our meeting. Then what role should we play in the governance of the country? We are stakeholders”.

However, despite considerable public criticism including from other religious leaders, the police were unrepentant. Speaking the day after the incident, Charity Katanga, the Copperbelt Police Commissioner, stated that five pastors and three officials from the Centre for Trade Policy and Development would be charged with the offence of unlawful assembly. The charges were justified, she claimed, on the basis that the meeting had been “political” and the group had not applied for a police permit. While it is common – though not necessarily democratic – for partisan political events to need police clearance, this has not been applied to discussions of national development.

While the initial disruption of the meeting might have been a simple mistake – over eager police men and women jumping the gun in the context of a charged political atmosphere – the decision to charge the eight individuals is strong evidence that the harassment of the clergymen is in line with government policy, which is becoming increasingly intolerant of any form of dissent.

Criticism of the budget is particularly sensitive for the government this year, as the state of the country’s economy remains highly controversial. On the one hand, the Patriotic Front ruling party has been accused by opposition leaders of contributing to an unsustainable debt burden through corruption and economic mismanagement. While the government would normally attempt to dismiss this as rhetoric, doing so has become considerably harder after four of the country’s most important international donors suspended their support of government projects when it was revealed that almost $5 million in donor contributions are missing. The funds, which were given to the departments of health, education and local government, were intended to provide assistance to 632,000 people.

On the other hand, the stated priority of the Finance Minister with this budget – namely bringing expenditure under control and balancing the books – seem implausible given than one-third of the budget is scheduled to be raised from foreign funders. According to economist Trevor Simumba, this will “will lead to even more debt and fiscal deficits”. A growing consensus is emerging that the country’s economy is only likely to get back on track if a proposed rescue package with the IMF said to be worth $1.3 million can be agreed. But that seems further away than ever as a result of the government’s profligacy and economic mismanagement. In August, an IMF spokesperson told Reuters that: “There are no discussions on a possible Fund-supported programme given that the authorities’ borrowings plans compromise the country’s debt sustainability, and undermine its macroeconomic stability”.

This backdrop helps to explain why President Lungu is so sensitive about criticism of the budget. As a result of the corruption accusations and the repeated failure of the government to secure IMF support, a debate over the budget is, in a very real sense, a debate about the quality of the president’s leadership. As a result, public criticism of the budget process threatens to undermine his ability to secure a third-term – a controversy that some have argued will trigger regime change – and win re-election in 2021. In this sense, Lungu is caught in a Catch 22 situation; he does not want to agree to the conditions laid out by the IMF because the reduction in government expenditure this would involve would undermine popular support for the his leadership. But by allowing the economy to die a slow death, he is driving voters into the arms of the opposition.

For his part, United Party of National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema has done his best to take advantage of the Lungu’s economic woes, and to position himself as standing shoulder to shoulder with the victims of government repression. Following the detention of the clergymen in Ndola he released the following statement: “To the church, we say remain strong because history records show that you, together with all of us gave hope when our country was under siege by such elements … And to the civil society organisations, as a party we would like to encourage you to place the interests of our country first and ensure those plundering both public and donor funding in this case the PF are held accountable.”

He continued: “We condemn the arrest of members of the clergy and some from the civil society organisation on Friday 19th October, 2018 in Ndola. This was after they had gathered to discuss the budget and the debt crisis, and corruption. We call on the PF to stop abusing the police in hiding their corruption and debt crisis.”

While this may be good politics – and an important step in resisting the trend of autocratization – it is also dangerous for civil society. The more that those who speak out on issues such as the budget are seen as UPND sympathisers trying to bind the president’s hands, the worse the repression is likely to get.

Lindsay Robinson – Local and Regional Elections in Côte d’Ivoire: A “Test” for the 2020 National Polls?

This is a guest post by Lindsay Robinson, Program Manager, National Democratic Institute (NDI)

The October 13 local and regional elections in Côte d’Ivoire were widely considered a test run in advance of the higher-stakes presidential and National Assembly elections in late 2020.

The ruling coalition, the Rally of Houphouëtistes for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), recently saw the departure of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), headed by former president Henri Konan Bédié (1993-99). In 2010, the PDCI backed Alassane Ouattara of the Rally of Republicans (RDR), who went on to win in the second round of the presidential elections against then-incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI). The RHDP was formed in 2005 as a political alliance between the RDR, the PDCI and a number of other, smaller parties. Ouattara’s long-term goal was the creation of a unified RHDP party that would subsume its constituent parties and become the main political force in the country. Bédié’s goal, which he says was agreed upon in 2010, was that a PDCI candidate gain RHDP’s presidential nomination in 2020 once Ouattara’s term was up. Ouattara acknowledges no such deal and wants to see the next candidate come from an internal party primary. This disagreement came to a head in mid-2018 with the official creation of the unified party without the PDCI’s sign-on, and the PDCI’s official withdrawal from the coalition.

Local and regional elections therefore presented the RHDP and PDCI with an opportunity to demonstrate their relative political power across the country, after the split.

So how did they do?

The RHDP was the clear winner. It fielded candidates in nearly every race — for 28 of 31 regional councils and 176 of 200 municipal councils — whereas the PDCI fielded candidates in only 8 and 105 races, respectively. (In two regions, a list was presented as a joint PDCI-RHDP list, despite the official split between the two parties.) RHDP also translated these candidates into more victories; it won 20 regions and 92 local councils, compared with the PDCI’s 8 and 50. (The joint list won in both regions.)

Independent candidates took 3 regional councils and 56 municipal councils. Following the elections, many of them joined one or the other of the two major parties; by October 24, 26 had joined the RHDP and 5 had joined the PDCI. These moves raised allegations of corruption in some quarters, but many of the independent candidates were in reality party members who failed to gain the party backing for candidacy and have now rejoined their original party.

PDCI claims that the distribution of seats is not fair and has called for a redistricting before 2020, saying, “In the north of the country” where RHDP has an advantage, “there are 69 mayors for a population of 469,000 inhabitants, whereas there are 28 mayors for a population of two million inhabitants in the South, where the opposition is stronger.” The graphs below illustrate this discrepancy, which is also exacerbated by the majoritarian electoral system. 1

 

The map below  shows the distribution of regional presidents.

The PDCI is contesting 9 election results in court — while the RHDP is contesting 24. A total of 102 claims have been submitted, significantly fewer than the 187 claims put forward after the 2013 local elections. Two elections were already canceled and will be rerun within the month. Several others, including in the country’s wealthiest commune (Plateau) and in the tourist resort town of Grand Bassam, are making headlines for the allegations of fraud and electoral violence. Five people were killed in areas across the country in election-related violence, including in Daloa, Abobo, Seguéla, and Lakota.

The continued political weight of the FPI is a real question mark. The party has suffered from internal factionalism, and the more “radical” wing of the party headed by Aboudramane Sangaré (until his death on November 3) boycotted these elections, much as they did the local polls in 2013. FPI partisans aligned with Sangaré have said they will not engage in a system they see as stacked against them while the head of their party is at the International Criminal Court for what they see as partisan reasons. Should the party engage in 2020, it is unclear what share of the vote it might attract.

Voter turnout was low — only 36.2% for local elections (a figure that was independently confirmed by the Platform for Election Observation in Côte d’Ivoire – POECI) and 46.36% for regional elections; these numbers were quite similar in 2013. National elections generally draw more voters. This is particularly likely to be the case in 2020 when Ouattara, who is constitutionally term limited, will not be eligible for reelection, and the polls are likely to be highly competitive.

The recent local elections were also a test for the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI), and by many accounts there is room for improvement. POECI, which deployed observers to a statistically representative sample across the country, reported that 11% of polling stations failed to have ballot boxes specifically marked to delineate which election’s ballots it should contain (municipal or regional), a potential source of confusion. In around a quarter of polling stations, the biometric voter identification equipment failed at some point during the day and voters were allowed to vote without this verification. Around 19% of polling places did not even have a voter identification kit available. In 6% of the polling stations, observers witnessed incidents of intimidation, harassment or violence.

Conclusion. Many Ivoirian actors, including POECI, other civil society groups, and nearly all opposition political parties (notably PDCI and FPI-Sangaré), have called for broad-based electoral reform. As noted in a past post about Senate elections, the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights found in November 2016 that the CEI’s composition was not in conformity with the country’s international commitments to create an impartial body. In August, President Ouattara committed to changing the commission’s composition before the 2020 elections. The success of these reforms will hinge on broad-based and inclusive dialogue. A revised electoral framework that benefits from widespread support and legitimacy will go a long way to reinforcing the credibility of the electoral process and limiting violence around the next elections.

Footnote:

The graphs show the results for heads of list — mayors for local councils and presidents of regional assemblies. The distribution of seats within these bodies is more complicated. The law provides for the party with the most votes to receive half of the council seats, with the remaining half distributed proportionally according to party vote share, including to the majority party.

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

Region AD CN EA EN LT NO
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%
NW SO SW WE TOTAL
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.