Category Archives: Africa

Ghana – President Mahama accepts election defeat

On Friday 9 December, President John Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) called his rival, Nana Akufo Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), to concede defeat in the presidential election. Mahama’s defeat was comprehensive: he recorded the lowest vote share of any sitting president since the return of multiparty politics in 1992 (44%), and in the legislative elections his political party was reduced to around 105 of the 275 seats on offer (some results TBC). His defeat also made history in another way: he is the only sitting president to have lost an election in Ghana. All previous transfers of power occurred in open-seat polls, in which the sitting president had stood down as a result of presidential term-limits, and the ruling party was hampered by having to run a new candidate.

Does this mean that President Mahama will go down as one of the country’s least successful presidents? Not necessarily. Despite the disappointing result, few commentators believe that the NDC ran a bad campaign. The party focussed on its strengths and spoke about issues that were of interest to voters. Moreover, the general attitude towards Mahama among ordinary Ghanaians appears to be that he did not have the tools that the country required, but was a relatively benign leader. This perception, of course, will now be reinforced by the fact that he was willing to concede defeat, and did so before the official results had been announced by the electoral commission.

This raises the question of why the opposition won the election so comprehensively. Two factors seem to explain this. First, a period of sustained economic difficulties has hurt living standards, and has resulted in high levels of youth unemployment. In turn, this has encouraged Ghanaians to look for economic change – something that is promised by the NPP. While some of the country’s economic difficulties reflect global trends beyond its control, such as the slump in oil prices, the government’s handling of the crisis has been widely criticised, undermining the NDC’s claim that it was the party best placed to ensure economic revival.

Second, a number of high profile corruption scandals involving figures around the president enabled the opposition to argue that Ghana’s economic woes can not be fully explained by external factors, and are instead rooted in the dysfunctionality of the ruling party itself. This narrative appears to have been effective, particularly among younger voters. A nationally representative survey conducted by the author in December 2015 found that while many do not blame the president for what has happened in the country, a majority of people did not trust Mahama (56%), and that even in the NDC’s heartlands 41% of people had no trust, or only a little trust, in the executive.

Taken together, these developments strongly favoured the NPP. However, they played out in different ways across the country. In the NPP’s heartlands, there was stronger support for Nana Akufo Addo – who in the past has suffered from a lower turnout in Ashanti areas than his NPP predecessor John Kufour, in part because although both leaders belong to the Akan group, Kufour is an Ashanti while Akufo Addo is an Akyem. By contrast, in the NDC’s core areas the NPP did not secure that many more votes, but did persuade traditional Mahama supporters to stay at home. The resulting decline in turnout – up to 18% in some areas – significantly undermined the ruling party’s prospects. In swing areas the picture was different again, with the NDC holding on to some legislative seats but losing the presidential vote in a number of constituencies in Cape Coast, and winning the presidential vote but losing seats in others.

All eyes will now turn to the President Elect, Nana Akufo Addo, a trained economist and lawyer. Known for his probity and for not suffering fools gladly, the new occupier of Flagstaff House will begin his term in office with two big things in his favour. First, he enjoys a strong mandate and a dominant majority in parliament. Second, economic growth is projected to pick up to around 5% this year, from 4% in 2015.

However, he also faces a number of significant challenges. Although a clear majority of Ghanaians voted for him, it is often said that Akufo Addo is not well liked by his fellow countrymen – a fact that some NPP supporters have cited as the reason for his electoral defeats in 2008 and 2012. His brusque manner and elitist tone have meant that at times the new president has struggled to connect to the electorate. In this regard, it does not help that many voters can still remember the charismatic leadership of ex-President J. J. Rawlings, nicknamed “Junior Jesus” due to his charismatic persona and ability to generate great fervour among his supporters.

Akufo Addo’s lack of a human touch come back to haunt him at the next election if he is unable to deliver on his campaign promises. The 2016 elections are an important reminder that Ghanaians are now willing to vote out leaders who do not meet their expectations, incumbents or otherwise. Given this, it is particularly significant that in his desperation to grasp what was probably his final opportunity to win the presidency, Akufo Addo significantly overpromised. In addition the standard pledges to provide jobs and kick-start economic growth, the NPP made a specific set of high profile commitments that it may come to regret. These include creating an annual $1 million development fund for every constituency, and building a factory in every district.

Given that the country has 275 constituencies, and 216 districts, this effectively commits the new government to between $350 and $500 million of expenditure before it has even begun. Many critics have claimed that there is no way that the ruling party will be able to fund these promises, and that even if it can it will struggle to build 216 factories in four years. If this is true, and a difficult global context stymies economic recovery more generally, then the new president will be forced to fall back on his personal authority and the strength of his arguments. Should this come to pass, it may not be long before we start to hear talk of an NDC resurgence.

Walt Kilroy – The Gambian Surprise

This is a guest post by Walt Kilroy, Associate Director of the Institute and lecturer in the School of Law and Government in Dublin City University

Reports of a property developer who has never before been elected to office unexpectedly winning his country’s presidential elections in may sound like old news. However, we are not in fact talking about the US elections, but Adama Barrow’s shock victory in in Gambia, the smallest country on the continent of Africa. Even more of a surprise – though admittedly with less important global consequences – is the fact this means the peaceful ousting of a strongman who has ruled the West African country with an iron fist for 22 years. Adding to the drama, the man widely regarded as an eccentric dictator, Yahya Jammeh, conceded defeat graciously within hours of the result being declared by the electoral commission on December 2nd. National television carried the outgoing president’s announcement that he would work with the new leader of country, and went on to show him phoning Adama Barrow to pledge his support.

For a man who came to power through a coup, imprisoned his opponents, and silenced critics, the decision to relinquish power without a struggle has prompted speculation as well as surprise. It was only hours before that the internet and international phone lines had been closed down during the vote. Was there a deal that he wouldn’t be prosecuted for crimes in office? Had the security forces signalled they might not continue to back him? It actually parallels the peaceful handover in Nigeria last year, when President Goodluck Jonathon surprised many when he phoned his opponent to concede defeat. While an orderly handover of power may not generate headlines, it is significant in its own way.

The reaction on the streets of the capital, Banjul, and online was swift and emphatic, when the result was declared just a day after the country voted on December 1st. There had been little sign that this election would be any different to the others, when Jammeh retained power. The responses include what can only be described as outpourings of joy, mixed with disbelief. Young people especially thronged the public spaces, expressing high hopes for a country weighed down by poverty and drained by emigration. The median age of the population is 20 years, and many young people felt they had few economic options other than trying to make their way to Europe. The hashtag #GambiaDecides took off, as people among Gambia’s diaspora talked of returning to their country. How the coalition will work remains to be seen. There are big expectations among those voting for change, and some of those hopes will be hard to realise in one electoral term.

The final result gave the presidency to Barrow with 45.5% of the vote, against 36.7% for President Jammeh. A third candidate accounted for the rest of the votes.

The regime being replaced was not just brutal; Jammeh was idiosyncratic in his own sinister ways too. He claimed to have cured AIDS, and that he could rule for a billion years. But the winds of change have been felt already: within days of the election, the courts freed opposition leader Ousainou Darboe and more than two dozen other activists and political prisoners who had been in prison since taking part in protests earlier this year.

The new man

Adama Barrow himself was born in 1965, the same year that Gambia became independent. He spent some years in the UK working in real estate, before returning to set up in business back home. He

hardly seemed destined to lead his country, and did not have a particularly high profile. He was selected as the candidate by a coalition of seven different parties – almost the entire opposition – only a short time before the election.

Gambia’s borders are of course a product of the great scramble Africa. The long, narrow territory which it comprises follows the River Gambia inland from the Atlantic, to give a total area of just 10,700 square kilometres. It has a population of 1.9 million. Gross National Income per capita is US$1,507 (in Purchasing Power Parity dollars), and it is ranked at 175 on the Human Development Index, placing it among the least developed countries. One of the intriguing aspects of the election – and a reason the result was known so quickly – is that voters cast their ballot by placing a marble into the drum which matches their choice. For the count, the marbles are then placed in trays which hold a specified number, and the number of trays are totalled.

Challenges ahead

Building an effective government out of the opposition and tackling the country’s immediate economic and developmental challenges will be difficult, especially when the new president has little political experience. The stance of the military, who are close to Jammeh, will affect how a transition can proceed. The new president takes office in January. An additional question is the future of the former dictator, who has said he will spend more time on his farm, although he is also reported to have bought a property in Cape Town, South Africa. There have already been murmurings about prosecution, or a truth and reconciliation process. Barrow said in an interview with Jeune Afrique that he is not interested in a witch hunt, although everyone must be accountable before the law. The change of power has come so quickly and unexpectedly that there is little public discussion yet about transitional justice measures. These are often appropriate for a post- dictatorship situations, as has been seen in Latin America. But the all-important sense of ownership of the process is hard to achieve, even before the difficult questions are raised concerning truth recovery, retribution, impunity, and accountability. It raises questions outside Gambia as well: impunity sends a strong signal, but then so too does the prosecution of former leaders. It makes it harder to encourage presidents-for-life to retire, rather than die in office in order to avoid the consequences of their actions.

But for now, the nature of his departure is important, along with the fact that he has stepped down. It is in stark contrast with other examples from 2016, such as Gabon’s disputed result in August, and Democratic Republic of Congo’s postponed elections which were supposed to have happened by November. News headlines naturally highlight conflict and the negative. So a peaceful handover of power will barely be noticed, while a stolen election and violence will get through most news organisations’ filter. The risk is that when it’s about places we don’t otherwise engage with, the dominant narrative in Europe is one of dysfunction and poor governance whenever African countries vote. So although it hardly registers as a news event, it’s nevertheless worth paying attention when Gambia joins those countries – including post-war states like Sierra Leone and Liberia – where governments can indeed be voted out of office.

Guinea-Bissau – PM Embalo’s unity government is unlikely to survive

President Vaz, a member of the dominant PAIGC party, fired PM Baciro Dja on 14 November. Four days later, Umaro Sissoco Embalo was appointed to head a new unity government. Dja’s dismissal was in accordance with the Conakry Accord, a peace agreement to quell the political crisis in the country. Yet, the peace agreement is on the brink of collapse now that the PAIGC has rejected Embalo’s appointment.

Embalo is Guinea-Bissau’s fifth prime minister since Vaz was elected president in May 2014. First, PM Pereira was appointed in July 2014 after the PAIGC won the majority of seats in the parliamentary elections. Barely one year later, in August 2015, President Vaz replaced Pereira by his political ally Baciro Dja who resigned after 48 hours following the Constitutional Court’s ruling that Dja’s appointment was unconstitutional. In September 2015 Carlos Correia was named PM but his premiership lasted until May 2016 and the same month Dja was again appointed PM. In accordance with the Conakry Accord, Dja resigned and Embalo was named PM.

The Conakry Accord was the outcome of an ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States)-mediated mission, led by Alpha Conde, president of neighbouring country Guinea, which aimed at ending the institutional crisis in Guinea-Bissau. The Accord provided for, among others, “consensus on the choice of a Prime Minister who has the confidence of the President of the Republic” and stipulated that “the Prime Minister should be in office until the 2018 legislative elections.” Moreover, it called upon the parties “to form an inclusive government based on an organigram agreed upon by all political parties in the National Assembly, in line with the principle of proportional representation.” The principal tasks of the new inclusive government would be to reform the Constitution in order to “establishing stable relations between the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary”, to revise the electoral law and reform Guinea-Bissau’s security sector. Key political actors, like Guinea-Bissau’s speaker of the National Assembly, Cipriano Cassama, PAIGC president Pereira, as well as the secretary-general of Guinea-Bissau’s largest opposition party (PRS), Florentino Mendes Pereira, and Braima Camara, a representative of 15 former PAIGC MPs, signed the agreement on 14 October 2016. It is important to note that the document does not include the name and signature of the President of Guinea-Bissau.

The Conakry Accord did not specify the name of the prime minister. Instead, the warring parties agreed on three names from which the President could pick a new prime minister: Embalo, a member of the PAIGC and one of the President’s principal advisors, Joao Mamadu Fadia, an independent and National Director of the ECOWAS bank, and Augusto Olivais, the former national secretary of the PAIGC. The PAIGC reportedly supported Olivais, while opposition party PRS wanted Embalo to head the new unity government. The President chose Embalo – brigadier general, his adviser and a minister in previous administrations.

The President’s decision to appoint Embalo as the new PM was not well received by the PAIGC. The party has declared it would not join Embalo’s “unity” government and warned that PAIGC MPs would vote against the budget.

The Conakry Accord has failed to end the political impasse. PM Embalo is clearly not the right candidate to resolve the conflict between, principally, President Vaz and PAIGC leader Pereira. So, it is unlikely the Embalo government will survive until the general elections scheduled for 2018. Perhaps the best option to resolve the institutional crisis would be to hold snap elections.

South Africa: Pressure mounts on President Zuma

It has not been a good few months for President Jacob Zuma. Economic stagnation, public frustration at the slow pace of national transformation, and accusations of corruption concerning work done to Zuma’s Nkandla home, resulted in a poor performance in municipal elections held on 3 August. Although the ruling African National Congress (ANC) retained its position as the as the largest party, securing 53.9% of the vote, the government lost ground to the opposition in a number of important urban areas. Most notably, the best ever performance of the Democratic Alliance (DA) in a local election, combined with a strong showing by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which improved on its performance in the 2014 general elections, resulted in the ANC losing control of three metropolitan municipalities: Nelson Mandela Bay, City of Tshwane and City of Johannesburg. One consequence of these trends was an increase in the number of areas with minority and coalition government.

Zuma’s position was further undermined by a report by the former Public Protector (a statutory position designed to “strengthen constitutional democracy by investigating and redressing improper and prejudicial conduct) Thuli Madonsela into accusations of corruption against the president. Anticipating a negative outcome, Zuma had tried to block the publication of the report in the courts, but was ultimately forced to drop the case. While much of the 355 page report confirmed what the president’s critics had already alleged, the publication of the document has been cited as a “game-changer” in the country’s politics. On the one hand, the length and depth of the report removed any last vestige of doubt about Zuma’s culpability in the rise of clientelistic and corrupt networks within the ANC. On the other, the evidence provided in the report regarding Zuma’s relationship with wealthy businessmen such as Ajay Gupta, shone a new light into the inner-workings of the patrimonial practices that now animate the ANC.

Many of the reports findings demonstrate contempt for the rule of law, and a brazen approach to the manipulation of politics for economic ends, including evidence that:

• Ajar Gupta offered the Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas $44.6 million to take the post of Finance Minister and advance the Gupta family’s “business ambitions”. When he refused, the post was given to an ANC MP with far less experience.
• The government media chief Themba Maseko was told by Zuma to help the “Gupta brothers”, who subsequently asked him to direct advertising to a newspaper set up by the family.
• Not only was the board of the Eskom utility company improperly constituted, but it paid nearly $70 million to a firm linked to the Guptas.
• Many of the deals that Zuma facilitated for the Guptas – a network branded the “Zuptas” by opposition parties – involved the president’s son, Duduzane.

Following the report, protestors marched on Zuma’s office in Pretoria, demanding his resignation. Perhaps more significantly, the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), the biggest affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), called on the president to resign in the interests of the country. This was a particularly significant move given the strategic importance of COSATU, which is one of the members of the ANC’s “triple alliance” along with the South African Communist Party. Moreover, rather than simply criticising the president, Nehawu’s leadership set out a concrete set of proposals for his removal, arguing that deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa should be promoted to caretaker president.

However, despite the gathering storm clouds, Zuma may live to fight another day. Although Madonsela’s report was damning, it was not the “knock out” blow that opposition parties had hoped for. Significantly, instead of recommending any punishment directly, the report calls on the president to establish a judicial commission of enquiry. This could take some time – and could be drawn out in such a way that Zuma makes it to the end of his second and last term as president. Even if such an inquiry were completed more quickly, and gave grounds for impeachment, it is unclear whether there would be support for this within the National Assembly. One feature of corrupt and clientelistic regimes is that they tend to enjoy strong levers of influence internally, and the ANC currently holds 249 out of 400 seats in the lower house.

Of course, the longer Zuma stays in office, the more likely it is that voters will seek to punish the ANC for his misdemeanours. But it is important to keep in mind that this is not the first time that Zuma’s downfall, and the breakdown of the triple alliance, have been prophesied. Back in 2013, South Africa’s largest trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), called on Zuma to resign and said that it would not support the ANC in the 2014 elections. However, neither this, nor the fact that Numsa was subsequently expelled from COSATU, and hence the triple alliance, prevented the ANC from securing over 60% of the vote.

It is therefore too early to talk of the end of Jacob Zuma. Characteristically, the president has come out fighting, and the early signs suggest that he will seek to challenge the findings of the report in court. Such a move would further delay the president’s day of judgement, and suggests that he remains determined to control his own destiny. This may yet include seeing out his term in office, and continuing to shape ANC politics long after he has stepped down from the presidency.

 

Côte d’Ivoire – Analysis of presidential powers in the new constitution

Have the president’s powers increased significantly in Cote d’Ivoire’s new constitution, adopted by referendum on October 30, 2016, threatening to usher in a dictatorship? Or is the new constitution balanced and likely to bring stability to the country? The new fundamental text inaugurating the country’s third republic since independence in 1960 was passed by an overwhelming majority of votes – 93.4 percent. At 42.4 percent, voter turn-out was, however, well below the 52.9 percent turn-out in last year’s presidential election.

The opposition, led by former President Laurent Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), called for a boycott of the vote, alleging the new constitution will vastly increase presidential powers and allow the president to effectively nominate his successor thanks to the introduction of the position of vice-president. Also, a new, indirectly elected Senate with a third of its members to be appointed by the president will serve primarily as a means of presidential patronage, according to critics. The constitutional revision process was furthermore criticized by the opposition and some civil society groups for being rushed and not inclusive enough [see previous blog by Grant Godfrey on the reform process here]. Presidential supporters have dismissed these claims, arguing the new constitution reflects priorities and concerns collected through widespread consultations and will contribute to bringing peace to the country. Specifically, they argue the vice-presidency will help avoid problems of succession as happened at the death of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny in 1993.

Ironically, changes to nationality requirements for presidential candidates in Article 35, the most controversial article of the 2000 constitution, were hardly debated. Instead, it was the elimination of the upper age limit for candidates in the new Article 55 which was most controversial. Opponents claim this change will pave the way for President Ouattara who is currently 74 to stand again for reelection in 2020. The claim is dismissed by the presidential majority with reference to the two-term limit enshrined in the constitution and to repeated statements by Ouattara himself that he does not intend to run for a third term.

So what does a close comparison of presidential powers in the new and the old constitution from 2000 reveal? How much has changed? Below I compare various components of the president’s power, using the scale developed by Shugart and Carey (1992).[1] Specifically, I discuss whether there has been an increase in the president’s legislative and non-legislative powers. I also look at transitional provisions of the new constitution.

Table 1. Presidential powers in Côte d’Ivoire, using Shugart and Carey’s scale

  2000 2016
Package veto 2 1
Partial veto (right to veto part of a bill) 3 2
Decree (authority to make law without delegation) 0 0
Exclusive introduction of legislation (reserved policy areas) 0 0
Budget (authority over annual budget bill) 1 1
Referendum (right to initiate referenda) 4 4
Total legislative powers 10 8
Cabinet formation 4 4
Cabinet dismissal 4 4
Censure (assembly power to dismiss cabinet) 4 4
Assembly dissolution 0 0
Total non-legislative powers 12 12
Total 22 20

Contrary to expressed opposition concerns, the president’s legislative powers have actually decreased, according to Table 1. This is because it now only takes an absolute majority of legislators to override a partial or package presidential veto, in contrast to a two thirds majority as required in the 2000 constitution. Shugart and Carey’s scale does not take into consideration presidential powers of appointment of senators. In the case of Côte d’Ivoire, the ability to appoint a third of the Senate in the new constitution does provide the president with a powerful patronage tool and can increase the presidential majority in both houses combined; however, in the event of irreconcilable disagreement between the two houses of the legislature, it is the lower house (Assemblée Nationale) that prevails (Article 110).

Presidential powers to initiate a referendum have remained unchanged. However, constitutional amendments can now be adopted by a two thirds legislative majority, without the need for approval through a popular vote (Article 177). In that sense, the president’s powers to avoid a referendum have increased.

Non-legislative presidential powers are significant, but have not changed with the introduction of a vice-president. The president has full authority to appoint and dismiss the prime minister and cabinet; though the national assembly may organize hearings and commissions of inquiry, its oversight powers are restricted to making recommendations to the government. The legislature cannot censure the cabinet or individual ministers. On the other hand, the president cannot dissolve the national assembly ahead of the end of its five-year mandate. Combined, the president’s legislative and non-legislative powers were and remain significant, higher than for most of the Latin American presidential constitutions discussed by Shugart and Carey (ibid.).

In an apparent effort at avoiding the potential for divided government and gridlock, a transitional article (Article 182) provides for an only four-year mandate for the legislators to be elected at the end of 2016. The next presidential election in 2020 will thus coincide with the start of a new legislature, increasing the chances for presidential and legislative majorities to coincide. Transitional provisions also address the selection and powers of the first vice-president to take office after the constitution enters into effect. Specifically, the first vice-president will be appointed by the incumbent president, Ouattara. Should Ouattara die, be impeached or chose to step down before the end of his term, the vice-president would take over for the rest of the presidential term. However, in such an event, transitional Article 180 would limit this first, non-elected vice-president from exercising full presidential powers, notably from appointing a new vice-president and prime minister, and from initiating constitutional reform.

So to conclude, presidential legislative and non-legislative powers as measured by Shugart and Carey (1992) have not increased in the newly adopted constitution of Côte d’Ivoire. They were high and have been marginally reduced. However, President Ouattara does have new appointment powers (the vice-president, senators) at his disposal as the country transitions to a new constitution – powers which can be used for positioning a preferred candidate for succession and for cementing the presidential majority.

How the combined, significant powers of the Ivorian presidency are wielded over the remainder of the current presidential term and beyond will be of crucial importance for the consolidation of the country’s nascent democratic institutions.

[1] Matthew S. Shugart and John M. Carey. 1992. Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Powers are measured on a scale from 0 to 4, with 4 being the highest.

Mercedeh Momeni – Water Canons and Withdrawals: What is Really Driving ICC Departures?

This is a guest post by Mercedeh Momeni.

Gambia, Burundi and South Africa have all announced their intent to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) recently, and Kenya also threatened to do the same last week. Indeed, in the past few years, a number of African leaders have been railing against the ICC for its prosecution of crimes committed on the continent. They claim the court is biased even though, in many instances, their own governments referred cases to the court, where the chief prosecutor and several judges are Africans. Further, the court has started preliminary examinations in Africa, Asia, the Middle-East (with the UK nationals as one of the possible targets) and South America. While not without its own difficulties, the ICC is reviled by the elites because it indicted two sitting presidents, Sudan’s Omar al Bashir and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta.

In its formal Instrument of Withdrawal to the United Nations, the South African government asserted it had “found that its obligations with respect to the peaceful resolution of conflicts at times are incompatible with the interpretation given by the ICC of obligations” under the Rome Statute, its founding treaty. In other words, the government invoked the old peace-versus-justice argument, which, incidentally, has been debunked by scholars. This pronouncement was, no doubt, in reference to the government’s refusal to arrest President al Bashir—which it was legally obliged to do as a state party to the Rome Statute—when he attended a high-level African Union meeting in South Africa last year. South African lawyers and activists were outraged and its supreme court recently ruled the government’s omission violated both domestic law and its international obligations.

Finally, Justice Minister Michael Masutha argued the requirement to arrest indicted heads of state would be tantamount “regime change” and contravenes legislation that grants them diplomatic immunity (without allowing that Bashir did not have to visit). But could there be a different reason behind the government’s controversial decision?

A Diversion from Domestic Difficulties?

The African National Congress (ANC) government is suffering from a series of high-level corruption scandals along with a faltering economy, chronic electricity, water shortages, and most significantly spiraling unemployment rates, especially among the youth. Of course, the long-standing disappointment with government promises of land reform and the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment programs, both of which have failed to reach the vast majority of the populace, cannot go unmentioned.

During my August visit there, many cited these issues to explain the ruling ANC’s serious losses in this year’s municipal elections to the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters (headed by a 36 and 34-year old, respectively). Unfortunately, approximately a dozen ANC candidates were murdered in the run-up to the elections, allegedly by members of their own party—further evidence of domestic problems for the ANC. As an additional challenge to the ANC, the opposition Democratic Alliance Tweeted: “We will today approach courts to have the notice of withdrawal to the #ICC set aside as unconstitutional, irrational & procedurally flawed.” They cited the ANC’s failure to consult other parties and alleged violation of the country’s Promotion of Administration of Justice Act.

Additional domestic challenges are as follows. Last month, the ANC’s Chief Whip called for the resignation of President Jacob Zuma (who continues to fight allegations of personal and professional misconduct) as well as the entire ANC leadership, including himself. As recently as two weeks ago, the police fired stun grenades and water cannons to disperse university students protesting outside parliament over tuition rates, a problem plaguing the government during the past several months. Clearly, the ANC is concerned about losing its long-held grip on power, before the next round of elections. So, at least by creating a media buzz and fodder for discussion for the more informed about its dealings with the ICC, the government could well be diverting some public attention from these challenges while it invokes a need to sue for peace.

South Africa is unlike other countries which have threatened to withdraw from the court’s jurisdiction in that it has long been a proponent of the court and never been under investigation by it. Burundi’s presidential-term-limit question led to election-related violence in 2015, leaving hundreds dead, and tens-of-thousands displaced. Its parliament voted to withdraw from the ICC in October, as its government is under investigation by the court for its role in these deaths and other human rights abuses. Gambia’s human rights record has frequently come under scrutiny, particularly the government’s decision this year to crack down on some political opponents. The ICC dismissed the indictments, without prejudice, against Kenya’s top two leaders for election related violence, because of the dwindling witness list. The court invited the prosecutor to present any evidence of witness tampering, which the prosecutor blamed for its inability to present full evidence, if/when it was able in order to reinstate the complaint. These three countries therefore, are dissimilar to South Africa. Although they too might benefit from an external distraction, they may appear more concerned about accountability issues in an international forum.

Furthermore, South Africa is a regional power carrying significant weight within the African Union. Its notice to withdraw from the Rome Statute comes at a time of improving relations between the court and African countries. So, why now? Will its impending departure have a domino effect? Analyst are speculating, and probably rightly so, that South Africa does not want to be seen as a late comer, if in fact there is going to be an exodus of African countries from the ICC. But this is only an ancillary benefit, while domestic issues seem to be the driver. It has been reported that the ICC—which must improve its ability to reach all human-rights-violating individuals, even in those situations traditionally protected by the UN Security Council permanent members—has asked both South Africa and Burundi to reconsider their withdrawal notices. In the case of South Africa the proverbial jury is still out on that question. We will have to wait and see.

Mercedeh Momeni is a former assistant United States attorney and an associate legal officer at the UN Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. She is currently engaged in development work with a focus on democracy and governance. The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of her current or former employers.

Tanzania – The long arm of the law in Magufuli’s Tanzania

Last March, after appointing a fresh cohort of 26 Regional Commissioners, President Magufuli offered some sobering advice to his new appointees: “You have the authority to jail people for up to 48 hours. Lock them up so that they learn how to respect you.” He then added, “Don’t be afraid to make decisions. It’s better you take decisions. Even if they are bad, they can be adjusted later.”

Six months on, the President’s instructions have not gone unheeded. Reports of apparent abuses perpetrated by both Regional and District Commissions keep multiplying. While not necessarily breaking the law, Commissions are making the most of the 48-hour rule, which Magufuli referenced. Enshrined in clause 15(2) of the 1997 Regional Administration Act, it stipulates that a Commissioner can order that any individual be put in custody without a charge for as long as two days if deemed likely to “disturb the public tranquillity.”

Commissioners are using these powers to “discipline” public servants and politicians, primarily local councillors. In one district, the Commissioner jailed two high ranking district officials for 12 hours, accusing them of failing to find funds to pay city street cleaners, as per the Commissioner’s orders. In another district, the Commissioner ordered the arrest of four local councillors from Tanzania’s leading opposition party, CHADEMA. The district council chairman—among those arrested—spent the night in jail. The Commissioner’s explanation: “Those [councillors] were messing up my visits to see the wananchi [people] and undermining government development efforts.”

These heavy-handed interventions—and the reasons invoked to justify them—raise questions about the precise responsibilities of a Regional or District Commissioner, beyond presumably preserving “public tranquillity.” According to the above-mentioned Regional Administration Act, District Commissioners are the “principal representatives of the government” within their area and, as such, “all the executive functions of Government […] shall be exercised by or through” them. They are responsible for maintaining “law and order,” for overseeing the implementation of government policies and, crucially, for “assisting” local government authorities, including by “ensuring compliance by all persons and authorities with appropriate Government decisions […].”

Whatever the circumstances, Commissioners clearly enjoy wide-ranging authority. Under President Magufuli, however, they are increasingly using the full breadth of their (loosely defined) legal powers. They are emerging as the local exponents of the President’s “Hapa kazi tu” agenda, justifying apparent excesses by invoking the developmental value of their work. Hence their actions against allegedly non-performing public servants and, most especially, their efforts to clip the wings of local councils and their elected members.

Councillors from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party have not been spared, also facing sanctions and arrests. But the bulk of the Commissioners’ interventions target opposition politicians and opposition-controlled councils. The most flagrant case is in Tanzania’s third largest city, Arusha, where the city council is under CHADEMA control. The District Commissioner, later promoted to Regional Commissioner, has been embroiled in an ongoing dispute with councillors for months after first announcing a drastic cut in their allowances and subsequently interfering with decisions made by the council. Tensions have also escalated between the Commissioner, Mrisho Gambo, and the Arusha city MP, Godbless Lema, also from CHADEMA. Lema has repeatedly accused Gambo of taking credit for development projects.

Top opposition leaders predictably condemn the Commissioners’ actions, and the apparent encouragement coming from the President. What is less clear is how leaders within Magufuli’s own party view Commissioners’ actions, and their growing prominence. On the one hand, many of Magufuli’s Commissioners are CCM politicians who lost out in the most recent elections. As such, they are themselves close to—or else part and parcel of—the ruling party. On the other hand, though, the Commissioners’ actions seem to pre-empt or substitute a development campaign led by the party itself, through its various structures. Under Magufuli’s predecessor—Jakaya Kikwete—, the CCM Secretary General undertook an energetic national tour aimed at restoring people’s faith in the party and its poverty-fighting agenda. That focus and vitality is currently absent from CCM, which if anything, appears temporarily paralyzed.

Magufuli, now party chairman, continues to warn fellow CCM leaders of a coming anti-corruption drive whilst promising a “new CCM” at public events. In the meantime, the President appears much more comfortable working with his appointees. As Commissioner Gambo faced increasingly sharp criticism in Arusha, it was Magufuli who called him personally on the phone to express his continued support.

Zambia – President Lungu accused of authoritarian backsliding

On Wednesday 5 October, the Zambian police announced that they had arrested two of the main leaders of the United Party for National Development (UPND). This was not the first timer either party president Hakainde Hichilema or vice president Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba have been arrested – indeed Mwamba, popularly known as GBM, was detained earlier this year during a particularly heated election campaign. Zambians could therefore be forgiven for having a sense of déjà vu, as even the charges were similar to those that have been brought against opposition leaders in the past: sedition and unlawful assembly.

However, in other ways the recent arrests represent a worrying new development in Zambian politics. Following controversial presidential elections that were marked by long delays and accusations of electoral malpractice, relations between the government and opposition have hit a recent low. On the one hand, Hichilema has refused to accept the official verdict, and has described the court proceedings that ratified it as a sham. On the other hand, President Edgar Lungu has shown no signs of being ready to adopt the conciliatory and inclusive stance required to build bridges and legitimate his government.

As a result, the tense political atmosphere is likely to continue, as is the game of brinkmanship between leaders on different sides of the country’s political divide. Instead of bring treated with respect, Hakainde and Mwamba have alleged that after their arrest they were denied the food, water, bedding, and warm clothing brought by their legal team. However, instead of persuading opposition leaders to give up the fight, their current difficulties appear to have hardened their resolve. For example, in a recent statement, Lungu explained that “… we are telling Lungu and his disputed regime that we shall not stop moving around the country to meet our structures and greet our people“.

In the past, charges against opposition leaders have typically been dropped quickly. However, although Hichilema was subsequently released on bail, having pleaded not guilty, it appears that the state may push ahead with prosecution in this instance. While this would have the benefit of distracting the opposition from campaigning against Lungu’s election, it would also further alienate opposition supporters and may become a sticking point in Zambia’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund – which has said that it is ready to pursue a $1.2 billion rescue package for the country’s ailing economy, but wants to see evidence that the president is willing to enact political and economic reforms.

Cape Verde – President Fonseca’s ‘historic victory’

President Jorge Carlos Fonseca called it ‘an historic victory’. The incumbent president succeeded in winning no fewer than 74% of the vote in the presidential election that took place on 2 October 2016. His rivals, independent candidates Albertino Graça en Joaquim Monteiro, gathered just 22.6% and 3.4%, respectively.

The recent presidential election concluded a successful election year for the President’s centre-right Movement for Democracy (MpD). Earlier this year, the party had defeated the socialist African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV) in both the legislative elections and the municipal elections. The MpD and PAICV dominate political life in Cape Verde and have alternated in power since the first multi-party elections were held in 1991.

To many, Fonseca’s victory in the 2016 presidential elections came as no surprise. Fonseca (66) is a lawyer, university professor, and perhaps most importantly, an experienced politician. He co-founded the ruling MpD party and served as Minister of Foreign Affairs (1991-1993). In 1994 he gave up his party membership and founded the Party of Democratic Convergence (PCD), an MpD splinter party. In 2001, he stood as an independent candidate in the presidential election, but finished third, winning only 3.6% of the vote. Ten years later, in 2011, and this time with the support of the MpD party, Fonseca beat PAICV candidate and former foreign minister Manuel Inocêncio Sousa in a runoff with 54.45% of the vote. Compared to Fonseca, university rector Graça and former freedom fighter Monteiro have less political experience and, perhaps more importantly, lacked party support. To be sure, in Cape Verde no candidate has ever won the elections without the open support of either the MpD or the PAICV.

The President partly owed his election victory to a successful first term. In particular, his decision in March 2015 to veto the Statute for Political Office Holders was well received by the people of Cape Verde. The law granted, amongst other things, a 65% wage increase to all elected officials. While the law was unanimously approved by the National Assembly it provoked outrage amongst the Cape Verdeans who considered it as a form of ‘legal robbery’. President Fonseca considered the concerns legitimate and decided to veto and return the law to the National Assembly. In a recent interview, the President said the decision was taken in an environment of great social tension. ‘It was not an easy decision to question a position that had been adopted and supported by virtually all the main political actors. There were long hours of meditation. The fact that the National Assembly did not re-examine the law revealed, indirectly, agreement with the measure adopted,’ he concluded.

It is important to note that the results of Cape Verde’s presidential elections have generally mirrored those of its legislative elections. So, from 1991 to 2001, the MpD held a majority in the National Assembly while its candidate António Mascarenhas Monteiro occupied the presidential palace. From 2001 to 2011, the PAICV controlled the National Assembly while its former leader, Pedro Pires, held the presidency. Cape Verde experienced cohabitation once in 2011. This unique situation emerged when the PAICV won the legislative elections in February and MpD candidate Fonseca the August presidential elections.[1] The emergence of another unified government is thus far from being an exceptional situation in Cape Verde.

Fonseca’s victory was, however, ‘historic’ in that another sense: the presidential election was marked by record low turnout (36%), the lowest since 1991. Several factors may account for the high abstention rate. First, most PAICV supporters abstained from voting given that no PAICV candidate had joined the presidential race.[2] The low turnout may also have been caused by voter fatigue. To be sure, it was the third time Cape Verdean had been asked to cast their votes in a period of less than half a year. Finally, it has been argued that the high abstention rate is a symptom of the people’s dissatisfaction with and distrust of the country’s ruling elite. Turnout in the parliamentary elections this year fell to just 66% from 76% in 2011. Political commentators have accused both the MpD and the PAICV of putting party loyalties above national interests.

Although the country is considered to be one of the most stable democracies in Africa, the 2014 survey by Afrobarometer concludes that more than 50% of citizens are distrustful of key institutions and the political system in general. Likewise, Cape Verde’s performance in the 2016 Ibrahim Index of African Governance worsened.

Notes

[1] Yet, it has been argued that Fonseca won the elections because the PAICV vote was split between two party-affiliated candidates.

[2] The PAICV decided not to nominate a candidate following its landslide defeats in the legislative and municipal elections of this year.

Seychelles – President Michel announces resignation after first election victory for the opposition in 40 years

After having dominated Seychellois politics for nearly 40 years, on September 10th the Seychelles People’s Party (Parti Lepep in Creole) lost the parliamentary elections in the small Indian Ocean archipelago. The election victory of the opposition (the Seychelles Democratic Alliance – Linyon Demokratik Seselwa) constitutes a dramatic political shift in the country, and can be regarded as a major step in its development towards a consolidated democracy. The recent parliamentary elections were preceded by a presidential election in December 2015, which produced a razor-thin victory (50,15% of votes) for the incumbent president, James Alix Michel. After his party’s defeat in the parliamentary elections, Michel – who has been president of Seychelles since 2004 – announced his resignation, and his intention to hand over powers to the vice president, Danny Faure. The resignation of the 74-year old president – announced via a surprise address on national television – came as a major shock to the island nation.

The People’s Party and its predecessor, the Seychelles Peoples Patriotic Front (SPPF), have controlled Seychellois politics for virtually the entire post-independence period. Seychelles obtained independence from the United Kingdom in 1976, but within a year after the attainment of sovereignty, the Marxist SPPF, headed by its charismatic leader France-Albert René, staged a successful coup d’état with help from socialist African countries like Libya and Tanzania. Between 1977 and 1993, Seychelles was ruled as a single-party dictatorship, and human rights abuses were commonplace. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union instigated a transition to multi-party democracy, and Seychelles has been an electoral democracy since the early 1990s. However, the SPPF and René continued to win all subsequent elections, and international observers remained very critical of Seychellois democracy, highlighting the political fusion between the state and the ruling party as particularly problematic. Under René’s guidance Seychelles reached an impressive level of economic growth, as a result of which it is now one of the wealthiest countries of Africa. This economic success undoubtedly contributed to the continuing support for the SPPF, also after René transferred powers to Michel in 2004, and the SPPF was transformed into the People’s Party.

While the political opposition had boycotted the penultimate parliamentary elections in 2011 due to concerns about unequal campaign finance, in advance to last September’s election four opposition parties joined forces in a political alliance (the Seychelles Democratic Alliance), which managed to win 19 of the 33 parliamentary seats. Since the presidency of the country remains in the hands of the People’s Party, the tiny archipelago now enters a period of divided government. Both the newly designated president and the political leadership of Seychelles Democratic Alliance have declared their intention to cooperate with each other, but how this cooperation will play out in the coming years remains to be seen. While the two political parties are ideologically similar and do not have many disagreements regarding economic policies, the relationship between them has been marked by strong and sometimes personal antagonism.