Tag Archives: Africa

Jo-Ansie van Wyk – The First Ladies of Southern Africa: Trophies or Trailblazers?

This is a guest post by Jo-Ansie van Wyk, Department of Political Sciences, University of South Africa (Unisa), Pretoria, South Africa. It is based on her forthcoming article in Politikon.

No longer simply trophy wives, First Ladies (i.e. the spouse of the President or Prime Minister, excluding monarchs) in Southern Africa are an increasingly influential political force in the inner circle of presidents and politics. From peace missions to summits, First Ladies play a leadership role in the sustainable development and politics of the sub-region. In Africa, studies on political leadership and presidential studies predominantly focus   on, amongst others, the role of so-called Big Men, Presidents, electoral authoritarianism, and coup d’états. The region’s First Ladies have always wielded political power due to their proximity to, and membership of the inner circle of the Executive in their country. Therefore, the study of First Ladies offers valuable insights into presidential leadership, democratic accountability, and the role and status of women in Southern Africa.

The First Lady is more than often the symbolic representation of women’s role in a particular society. Closely related to this is her relation with the media, and vice versa. The representation of the First Lady in the media (often reinforcing certain gender stereotypes), and her involvement in her spouse’s political agenda contributes to her role as a political symbol. Therefore, her task, like that of her counterparts elsewhere, has developed from mere a State House hostess or beauty queen to a spokesperson of her husband’s political agenda. Despite this, the media often, perhaps due to gender stereotyping in a society, downplays the First Lady’s importance.

Several First Ladies are or have been married to liberation leaders-turned-Presidents; often bestowing on these women the title, Mother of the Nation, Mama or Founding First Lady. In several cases, the first post-independence First Lady was also referred to as the Mother of the Nation; thus acting as the symbol of the nation. This title was bestowed on, for example, Winnie Mandela (South Africa), Kovambo Theopoldine Katjimune, wife of Sam Nujoma (Namibia), Janet Museveni (Uganda), and Sally Mugabe of Zimbabwe whose political activism prior to entering State House and subsequent to it was indicative of the influence of her person. Some former First Ladies made a political comeback as either elected Members of Parliament (MPs) or presidential candidates. Miria Obote, widow of the late President Milton Obote of Uganda was a candidate for her husband’s political party, the Uganda People’s Congress, which ran the country from 1962 to 1971, and again from 1980 to 1985. President Obote was ousted in a coup by Yoweri Museveni. In 2014, after the death of her husband, Michael Sata (Zambia), while still in office, Christine Kaseba, Sata’s wife, joined the elections as a presidential candidate.

Apart from her influence derived from her close intimate relations with the President, two other factors determine the political and policy potency of a First Lady in a particular state, namely political institutions (the constitution and constitutional powers of the President; presidential campaigns and practices related to political parties and the media; legal and constitutional provisions related to the First Lady and her Office; the physical location of the Office of the First Lady) and socio-cultural factors (the role of women, gender and family in a society history; and culture).

A further illustration of the political influence of a First Lady is Agathe Habyarimana, wife of the late Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana. A Hutu by birth, Agathe Habyarimana has been described as the power behind her husband’s tenure and one of the masterminds behind the Rwanda Genocide of 1994. Juvenal Habyarimana’s inner circle – akazu (Kinyarwanda for ‘small house’), sometimes referred to as Le Réseau Zéro (Network Zero) – was also referred to a le clan de Madame (the First Lady’s clique). The akazu consisted of Agathe Habyarimana, her three brothers and husband (the President) and established their own death squad to eliminate political opponents; and had representatives in embassies and local governments; basically an oligarchy that infiltrated all layers of Rwandan society. More recently, reports of G40’s (Generation 40), a ruling party faction led by Grace Mugabe (Zimbabwe), involvement in succession matters in Zimbabwe emerged.

The First Lady is typically not a democratically elected, and thus not a publically accountable public official. However, Winnie Madikazela-Mandela (South Africa), for example, was both a publicly-elected official (an MP) and a First Lady as the wife of Nelson Mandela. Another example is Janet Museveni (Uganda) who is also a member of her husband’s Cabinet. The First Lady is also important to her husband in other respects. Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), for example, appointed his wife, Janet, in 2009 as Minister of State for Karamoja in an effort to achieve national unity. The Karamojong saw this as a positive development as Museveni has shown affection by sending his own wife to live and work among them.

For Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, his wife, Grace’s entry into politics has been meteoric but also acting as his surrogate. Since her appointment as Secretary for Women Affairs of the ruling party, ZANU-PF, in December 2014, she is a member of ZANU’s Politburo, the party’s highest decision-making body.

First Ladies have developed a public policy agenda independent of and/or parallel to of that of her husband’s government, giving rise to the notion of the First Lady as the ‘Social worker-in-Chief’. Africa is by far one of the most under-developed continents. Evidence of First Ladies’ response to this is the number of social foundations (aiming to achieve the Millennium Development Goals established by several African First Ladies. Amongst others are Ether Lungu’s (wife of Zambian President) Esther Lungu Trust Foundation; Burundian First Lady Denise Nkurunziza’s Buntu Foundation, with established partnerships with the United Nations Population Fund, aims to ‘create and build various ways of helping, supporting, teaching and coaching vulnerable and helpless people in the Burundian society like widows, elderly people, the orphans of HIV/AIDS and war, the disabled and the poor’. HIV/AIDS seems to be a major social concern for some Southern African First Ladies, including Marie Olive Lembé Kabila (DRC), and Janet Museveni (Uganda) who founded the organization, Uganda Women’s Effort to Save Orphans (UWESO) that, amongst others, tend to HIV/AIDS affected orphans. Salma Kikwete (Tanzania) is another First Lady that has established a social foundation, the Wanawake Na Maendeleo (WAMA) Foundation that aims to improve the life standards of women, girls and children. Despite their low public profile, Mmes Zuma have also established various Foundations: Nompumelelo MaNtuli-Zuma Foundation and the Tobeka Madiba-Zuma Foundation. The former has, for example, provided assistance to women in the Eastern Cape, whereas the Madiba-Zuma Foundation focuses on health with First Lady Madiba-Zuma currently serving as the chairperson of the Forum of African First Ladies against Breast and Cervical Cancer.

Margaret Kenyatta (Kenya) is also leading several social campaigns in her country. The Kenyan Ministry of Health has published a Strategic Framework for the engagement of the First Lady in HIV Control and Promotion of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Kenya. Her Beyond Zero Campaign focuses on maternal and child health for which she was recognised by the United Nations. Breaking ranks with her counterparts, Margaret Kenyatta (Kenya) is the first African First Lady to focus on animal rights. She is the patron of Hands off our Elephants Campaign and is cooperating with the United Nations Development Programme to combat poaching in Kenya and promote the welfare of wildlife.

Mozambique, Namibia, and South Africa define the role and purpose of the First Lady. Mozambique, for example, refers to ‘Primera Dama’ supported by the ‘Gabinete da Esposa do Presidente’ who has ‘official duties’ and a role in ‘achieving social and cultural initiatives she decides to develop’ Namibia defines the purpose of the Office of the First Lady as too effectively use the First Lady’s unique role to contribute to and compliment the efforts of the Government of Namibia. The Namibian government goes further and also identifies the relevant stakeholders engaging with the Office of the First Lady and includes, inter alia, the Office of the President; Government Ministries; the Namibian National Planning Commission; UN agencies and the World Bank; international organizations such as RAND Corporation and the African First Ladies’ Fellowship Programme; local NGOs and business communities; and the diplomatic community.

The Offices of First Ladies in Southern Africa are typically located in the Office of the President; thus centralizing the political affairs of the First Couple and allowing for the careful orchestration of the First Lady’s programme and image. A subservient First Lady implies a more traditional society in respect of the rights and status of women; implying Presidential preference in this regard. In contrast, a politically-ambitious First Lady such as Grace Mugabe and Janet Museveni has strengthened their husband’s position and power base. It should be noted, however, that First Ladies are more likely to play a number of these roles than to play one in particular.

So far, the emphasis here has been predominantly on the domestic role of the First Lady. For completeness’ sake and in the absence of scholarly work on the topic, the next section turn to one particularly externally-related function and role of the First Lady, namely diplomacy. The diplomatic role of First Ladies in Southern Africa is not limited to photo opportunities with foreign Heads of State and Government or state banquets contributing to a state’s foreign policy architecture; promoting the President’s image, agenda; and a state’s bi- and multilateral relations. Therefore, the First Lady intends not to embarrass her husband and his government; contravene diplomatic protocol; and contradict her country’s position on a particular issue. However, this diminishes, the agentic’ role of the First Lady, and entrenches male dominance in a state’s diplomatic relations and foreign policy-making.

Despite these diplomatic activities, the diplomatic role of First Ladies is constrained by several factors. She is, for example, not a publically elected or appointed foreign policy decision maker. A First Lady may also be constrained by cultural factors restricting the independence of women. A third factor is her husband’s political agenda and audience, and his intention to remain the single most important player in this arena.

The First Lady in a diplomatic context is typically her husband’s escort, fulfill an aesthetic role and act as a surrogate for her husband. Southern African First Ladies manage their husband’s credibility by ‘seducing’ foreign audiences and promoting their husbands’ political agenda. As an example of managing or contributing to her husband’s international credibility is the State House of Uganda’s report on the Global Decency Index that found Janet Museveni in 2014 as ‘the most decent African First Lady’.

The surrogate role of the Southern African First Lady is evident in Maria Guebuza’s (Mozambique) six day visit to India in 2011 on behalf of her husband and the Final Communique of the Seventh Roundtable of the Spouses of the COMESA Heads of State and Government. Herein, COMESA First Ladies referred to some of their husbands’ achievements and roles in the region.

Managing social issues and social advocacy are other rhetorical functions of First Lady Diplomacy. In May 2001, Jeanette Kagame (Rwanda), for example, hosted the first African First Ladies’ Summit on Children and HIV/AIDS Prevention in Kigali, Rwanda. Another example is the establishment of the Organisation of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OFLA) in 2002 by 24 African First Ladies. With currently more than 40 members with each First Lady leading the national chapter of OFLA, the Organisation has established a Permanent Secretariat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2012 to coordinate their activities. By 2015, OFLA has not only made a commitment to eradicate polio on the continent, but is also in the process of signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to cooperate on eradicating polio.

The First Ladies of regional economic communities (RECs) often meet parallel to the Heads of State and Government of these RECs such as the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Francophonie to discuss matters of mutual social concern. Another example of African First Ladies’ social advocacy is their establishment of the African Network of Women Peace Negotiators, at the sixth conference of the African First Ladies Peace Mission in 1997 in Nigeria. First Ladies play a particular international role during their husbands’ tenure and are thus a considerable diplomatic asset to their husbands. Their involvement in bi- and multilateral diplomacy fulfil certain rhetoric functions advancing the national interests of their respective countries.

Generally, the accountability of a First Lady remains ambiguous as she is not a publicly-elected official and has no constitutionally-prescribed role. Yet, some First Ladies in the sub-region are perceived to be entrenching a culture of no accountability which undermines the socio-economic development of the countries. Serving as a formal or informal advisor to her husband has raised concerns about the accountability of First Ladies in respect of their husbands’ policy and political decisions. This is a particular concern in, for example, brutal regimes. Some First Ladies in Southern Africa such as Denise Nkurunziza (Burundi) and Grace Mugabe (Zimbabwe) have been accused of supporting their husbands’ uninterrupted and undemocratic regimes. Southern African Presidents Sassou Nguesso (1979-1992, and since 1997), Robert Mugabe (since 1980), José dos Santos (since 1979), and Yoweri Museveni (since 1986) are among African longest serving presidents; a position the First Ladies have undoubtedly supported. Some African constitutions grant Executive immunity. Whether this is extended to the First Lady remains uncertain. The recent International Criminal Court’s (ICC) sentencing of Simone Ggagbo, former Ivorian First Lady, to a 20-year jail term for her role in the 2011 post-election crisis in Côte d’Ivoire – after her husband Laurent’s refusal to accept election defeat to the incumbent Alassane Ouattara in the 2010 elections triggered a transitory civil war that led to the death of 3 000 people – has renewed questions about the political ambitions and neutrality of First Ladies.

First Ladies in Southern Africa are influential political actors. Despite this, the region’s First Ladies are under-researched political actors; hence this exploratory study. I have shown that the Office of the First Lady is formally and informally institutionalized in the region by providing a new typology of the functions and role of Southern Africa’s First Ladies, as well as the implications thereof.

Besides focusing on the domestic arena, I have also focused on First Lady Diplomacy; another neglected academic area. Based on these, it is possible to deduce that First Ladies have personal, political and structural abilities to penetrate domestic, regional and international politics.  These abilities empower her to regulate societal relations; extract resources such as political support, tenders and government funding; and to appropriate and use material (funds, tenders) and immaterial (influence, status, prestige) public and private resources; abilities that, amongst others, raise questions about First Ladies’ accountability in respect to several identified matters, and the transparency of her public duties and private interests.

Besides these empirical findings, I also contend that, despite their own political experience, ambitions and influence, Southern African First Ladies remain subordinate to the patriarchy in their societies. A gender bias is evident in the position of First Ladies as the region had predominantly had male Executives; a situation likely to remain for some time. A second gender bias is evident in each Southern African states’ Constitution as none refers to this position; an aspect which undermines democratic accountability. Third, a gender bias is evident in the expectations of the role of the First Lady, i.e. spouse; mother; care-giver and nurturer of the sick, young, elderly etc.). Another gender bias is evident in the fact that the Office of the First Lady is fully directed from within the President’s office that often controls media flows and information that portrays the First Lady in patriarchal terms as a national symbol; the Ideal Woman; a trophy; and a trailblazer for issues stereotyped and associated with women.

Jo-Ansie van Wyk is Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa. She has published on political leadership in Africa, and South Africa’s foreign policy, and diplomacy.

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.

Africa – Presidential term limits and the third term tragedy

Africa is currently in the middle of a third term crisis. As presidents come up against the presidential term-limits included in many multi-party constitutions, a significant number are refusing to leave power gracefully. Instead, a number of leaders have sought to secure a third term. So far, this trend has taken in countries as otherwise diverse as Burkina Faso, Burundi, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, and now, it seems, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In most cases, they have tried to do so through official channels, in other words by changing the law or appealing to the judiciary, rather than simply suspending the constitution and ruling by fiat. One reason for this is that there is strong domestic and international support for presidential term limits. Afrobarometer data suggests that typically over two-thirds of Africans support term limits, although there is considerable variation, with a high of 90% in Benin and a low of 44% in Algeria. As a result, leaders feel compelled to tread carefully, and to legitimise their strategies by pursuing them through formal channels.

Yet despite this, attempts to secure a third term have often triggered political unrest and in some cases widespread civil conflict. In both Burkina Faso and Burundi, efforts by unpopular presidents to stay in power come what may triggered mass protests and ultimately (very different forms of) military intervention. At the time of going to press, a further crisis appears to be brewing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the President, Joseph Kabila, looks set to pursue an unconstitutional third term in office. On Thursday 5 May, the former Governor of Katanga, Moise Katumbi, announced that he would be contesting the presidency as the candidate of the three main opposition parties. Just hours later he tweeted that the president – his former ally – had sent the police force to surround his house and that he had appealed to the United Nations mission in the country to protect him. Unconfirmed local reports later suggested that it was only the intervention of UN soldiers that prevented Katumbi’s detention.

If so, the DRC has had a lucky escape. Opposition supporters have already been involved in violent clashes with the security forces in protest against the prospect of a prolonged Kabila presidency. The arrest of Katumbi would raise the political temperature yet further, increasing the prospects for conflict in the coming months. As allegations and rumours circulate unhindered, the threat of a broader political rupture becomes ever more likely.

The growing number of third term tragedies on the continent raises three important questions. First, when do presidents seek a third term and when do they not? Second, when are they successful? Third, when are a president’s attempts to serve a third term most likely to result in political conflict?

Should I stay or should I go

Despite the recent headlines it is important to remember that considerably more presidents have respected term limits than have broken them. For every Uganda there is a Zambia, for every Burundi there is a South Africa, for every Rwanda there is a Kenya. There are a number of factors that appear to encourage presidents to seek third terms. First, the quality of democracy matters. Presidents in less democratic states who face weaker institutional checks and balances are more likely to try and break – or at least change – the rules. Good recent examples include Congo-Brazzaville and Djibouti.

Second, it is more feasible for presidents who govern countries that are more politically and economically independent from western influence to ignore international protests. As a result, leaders who enjoy greater international leverage because their countries feature valuable natural resources or are of considerable geo-strategic importance, try to secure a third term much more frequently than those that are much more dependent on Western trade. This is one of the reasons that President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, a country that recently found large oil reserves and is a key ally of United States in the war-on-terror, is able to stay in power indefinitely.

Third, presidents who enjoy greater political control are more likely to judge that it is possible to secure a third term, and hence more likely to risk pursuing one. Political control comes through two main routes: the ruling party and the security forces. Presidents are far more likely to try and secure third terms in dominant-party states in which the ruling party secures over 60% of seats in the legislature, such as Namibia and Rwanda, and when they have tight control over the army and police, as in Djibouti and Uganda. Under these conditions, it is often possible to both change the constitution through the legislature and silence any opposition to this strategy.

You can’t always get what you want

Of course, presidents do not always get it right and a number of third term bids have been unsuccessful. In countries such as Nigeria and Zambia, presidents failed in part because they could not take their own parties with them. As a result, they struggled to pass the necessary legislation, and, facing strong opposition from civil society groups and other parties, abandoned their plans. Rather than undermining democracy, this process can actually give it a short in the arm, and deter future presidents from pursuing similar strategies.

However, unsuccessful attempts to stay in power can also have far more problematic consequences. In Burkina Faso and Burundi, leaders overestimated their political control and underestimated the strength of opposition. As a result, they struggled to push through their third term ambitions. In Burundi, for example, President Nkurunziza lost a critical vote in the legislature to change the law, which forced him to put pressure on the judiciary to interpret the constitution in a way that would allow him to stand again. Although the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in his favour, it was immediately apparent that it only did so as a result of high levels of intimidation, further undermining the president’s credibility. As a result, the verdict did little to dampen opposition protests against his actions.

Limited political control undermined the position of President Nkurudiza in a second way. In the midst of the public protests in May 2015, a group of army officers launched a coup attempt. Although it appears to have been a poorly coordinated effort and was eventually put down, the mutiny demonstrated the lack of unity within the armed forces, and the potential for the president’s limited control over the security forces to contribute to political instability.

The bigger they are the harder they fall

To date, presidential term limits have not tended to be the source of major political conflict when presidents have either a) been willing to give up on their ambitions in the face of widespread opposition (Nigeria, Zambia) or b) have enjoyed the political control needed to be able to force through their will with relatively little resistance (Uganda, Rwanda). The “problem category”, for want of a better term, is those cases in which conditions are not favourable to a third term bid but leaders try and force one through regardless.

In turn, this is most likely to happen in states in which presidents have most to gain from staying in office, and most to lose by giving up power. Good proxies for the benefits of office are the level of corruption and the presence of valuable natural resources, the combination of which can make a leader extremely wealthy. A decent proxy for the costs of leaving power is whether a country has a history of political violence, which tends to decrease the level of trust between rival leaders, and increase the potential that the head of state will be prosecuted for human rights violations when they step down.

This is not great news for the DRC, which is a highly corrupt resource rich state with a history of political conflict. Unless President Kabila bucks the continental pattern, he is unlikely to step down voluntarily. And if he proves to be willing to risk everything to stay in power, sending the police to surround Katumbi’s house is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg.

@fromagehomme

President Museveni unlikely to leave power any time soon in Uganda

President Yoweri Museveni has been in power for thirty years, and his determination to stay in office shows no signs of dissipating.  Having removed presidential term-limits, rumours abound that if he wins the presidential elections – schedule for 18 February – he will look to remove the age limit the constitution sets for presidents, which currently stands at 75 years. Museveni is currently 71, so any effort to remove the limit would be clear evidence that he intends to stand in the next but one election, scheduled for 2012.

That, of course, all depends on Museveni defeating his long time rival Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and his newest rival, Amama Mbabazi of the Go Forward movement. Initially the candidacy of Mbabazi looked like it might generate a fresh challenge for the incumbent. Having been Museveni’s right hand man up until very recently, Mbabazi was said to have vast financial resources, and to have lined up a number of heavyweights within the ruling party who were waiting for the fight moment to defect.

But the Mbabazi effect has yet to materialise.  The anticipated flood of defections turned out to only be a trickle, and even that has now dried up. Go Forward has also struggled to match the expenditure of other parties. According to the Alliance for Campaign Finance and Monitoring, the NRM was responsible for 88% of all campaign related expenditure in November and December; by contrast, only 1.1% was attributable to the Mbabazi campaign. Given this, it is perhaps unsurprising that a number of opinion polls have found that he is trailing well behind the other two candidates, on somewhere between 5 and 15% – although all such surveys are controversial in Uganda.

Significantly, the evidence of campaign spending collected by ACFIM suggests that, despite his protestations, Mbabazi may be aware that his race is over and have decided to keep some of his resources back for another day. In contrast to the NRM, whose expenditure increased by 72% between November and December, and the FDC, which ramped up its outlay by 25%, Go Forward reduced its monthly spend by 23%.

Of course, this does not mean that President Museveni is assured of victory. Besigye remains a formidable opponent and has been mobilizing vast rallies across the country, particularly in urban areas. Moreover, turning established practice on its head, Besigye’s supporters have started to give him money at rallies. Although the sums involved are fairly small, their symbolic importance is considerable.

However, despite Besigye’s broad popularity, Museveni remains the favourite. He controls the security forces and has a reasonably effective state apparatus at his disposal, including the “Crime Preventers”, a volunteer force recruited and managed by the police that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have argued should be suspended for the elections to allow for a free and fair poll. The NRM can also afford to outspend the other parties 9 to 1. And, of course, Museveni appoints the electoral commission.

In the absence of a level playing field, it seems likely that Museveni will “win” another commanding victory. Whether this is fairly earned or not, the margin of victory is likely to play an important role in shaping the presidents attitude to his future, and that of his country. If he is seen to have comfortably defeated not only his old rival but also his newest challenger, the president is more likely to feel that he can force through another term in office. However, this would not be a popular move with many Ugandans. According to the Afrobarometer, 85% of Ugandans want president term-limits to be reintroduced.

Kenya – President seeks to manage inter-branch conflict

The new Kenyan political system, introduced under the 2010 constitution, paved the way for a complex web of checks and balances between newly created branches of government. On the one hand, 47 counties were created, complete with their own assemblies and directly elected Governors. These units have often seen themselves as being in conflict with the national government over resources and political power. On the other hand, the new constitution resurrected the Senate, transforming Kenya into a bi-cameral system for the first time since the 1960s. Almost immediately, Senators began to battle for supremacy and control over development funds with the Members of Parliament that populate the lower house – the National Assembly.

At times, this competition has worked to the advantage of the Jubilee Alliance government. Internecine struggles at the county level have served to deflect a range of political actors from the failings of the central government – for example over terrorism and the provision of national security. This has been a valuable distraction for the government, which has struggled to stem the flow of attacks by the radical Islamic movement al Shabaab. It has also taken other stories off the front pages, such as the allegations that police in the north-eastern county of Garissa flogged a group of young people with a rubber house and later posted the pictures on Facebook – not the best way to win hearts and minds in an increasingly divided society.

But in some cases the battles between Governors, Senators and MPs have also proved to be an embarrassing distraction. In a recent spat, the National Assembly supported the Division of Revenue Act, which effectively ‘hived off Sh 1 billion from the Senate’s oversight funds to give to counties’. As a result, the total allocation of government revenue to the counties in 2015/2016 is estimated to be Sh 207.84 billion, or 37%. Senators responded by criticising MPs and threatening to veto legislation of particular concern to the National Assembly. In the resulting debate the importance of key national priorities, such as infrastructure and security, were lost.

Similar tensions rose to the surface during a visit by President Uhuru Kenyatta to Nandi this week. In a speech delivered prior to the president’s own remarks, the Senate Majority Leader, Professor Kindiki, sought to impress on Kenyatta the need to restrain MPs, arguing that ‘The National Assembly should stop undermining the Senate by cutting its budget. We are not going to be frustrated and intimidated’. However, to Kindiki’s surprise, the president was not in the mood to humour his complaints. Instead, Kenyatta told those present to work more closely with rival leaders rather than issuing ‘meaningless threats’. Clearly frustrated by what he had heard, Kenyatta continued ‘The war of words between the Senate, governors and the National Assembly is uncalled for in the country. Leaders should stick to their mandate but not come here and issue threats to fellow elected leaders. The country must be governed through order.’

Kenyatta’s focus on order is nothing new. Kenya has long been governed by leaders who have bought into what Attieno Odhiambo called the ‘ideology of order’. The precise formulation of this set of ideas has changed over time, but is characterised by the tendency of leaders to legitimise their authority on the basis that they generate order, and the associated claim that to some extent it is appropriate to compromise human rights and civil liberties in the pursuit of this goal. However, while President Kenyatta has often referenced the importance of order, insecurity and political infighting have undermined the confidence of many Kenyans in his ability to provide political stability.

In response, the president has made a number of moves designed to foster domestic political unity, which he sees as a perquisite for stability. To this end, the Jubilee Alliance, which contested the 2013 elections as a coalition of two different parties, has been transformed into the Jubilee Alliance Party (JAP), and has pledged to run just one candidate for each elected position. This stands in stark contrast to previous practice, in which Kenyan coalition partners have frequently run candidates against each other for legislative positions, often dividing the vote. Along with Vice President William Ruto’s pledge not to support Kenyatta in the next presidential campaign, this move was designed to foster the impression that the government is rock solid.

However, there is a long way to go until the next election, and there are a number of issues around which the JAP may struggle to maintain unity, most notably a number of seats in which both wings of the party will claim that their candidates should be given priority. Already, efforts to run a common candidate in a legislative by-election, and to create a stronger political structure at the local level, have been hampered by in-fighting between members of Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) and Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA). Should the JAP fall apart, the president’s claim to be the provider of order and unity would become even harder to sustain.

#Togodecides: Faure Gnassingbé poised to lead family into fifth decade as Togo’s rulers

This is a guest post by Ulrike Rodgers, Senior Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) 

Togo’s 3.5 million voters went to the polls on April 25 to elect their president for the third time since the death of long-term autocrat Gnassingbé Eyadéma in 2005. The principal opponents were incumbent Faure Gnassingbé, Eyadéma’s son, and Jean-Pierre Fabre of the National Alliance for Change (ANC). Voting proceeded peacefully on election day after months of political tensions running high. The National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) published provisional results on Tuesday evening showing a strong lead for the incumbent. Jean-Pierre Fabre filed an official complaint on Monday, citing irregularities, and has denounced the preliminary election results as a “crime against national sovereignty”.

Faure Gnassingbé’s father, Eyadéma, had governed the country with an iron fist for 38 years from 1967 to 2005. In 2002, he changed Togo’s constitution to eliminate presidential term limits and reduce the minimum age from 45 to 35 years. Faure Gnassingbé was 35 at the time. He was appointed president by the Togolese military after his father’s death in 2005.  The younger Gnassingbé’s accession to power was confirmed by the presidential election organized in April of the same year under heavy pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The election, heavily criticized by the international community and Togolese democracy activists, ignited post-electoral violence that cost the lives of hundreds of protesters.

In 2010, Faure Gnassignbé won a second term under Togo’s one-round electoral system with just over 60 percent of the votes against his principal opponent, Jean-Pierre Fabre who gathered about one third of the votes. The other five contesters reached only single digits.  Although domestic and international observers noted irregularities in the organization of the polls, they were deemed overall credible and did not result in violence as in 2005. Nearly 3,278,000 voters had registered for that election; turnout was 64.7 percent.  For the first time since Togo’s independence in 1960, non-partisan domestic election observers followed the proceedings.

The legislative elections of July 2013 further consolidated Gnassingbé’s power. His party, the Union for the Republic (UNIR), won a majority of 62 seats in the 91-seat National Assembly, up from 50 in 2007. Togo’s voter registry had dipped to 3,044,332 voters for these elections; 66.06 percent participated.

This month, Togo organized its third presidential election since 2005. The race was originally scheduled to take place on April 15. Tensions between supporters of governing and opposition parties had again been mounting for months. The opposition accused the government of manipulating Togo’s voter roll and alleged that one third of the 3.5 million registered voters in 2015 were fictitious.  Faced with domestic and international pressure, Togo’s CENI heeded the recommendation of ECOWAS chairman, Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama, in early March, to postpone the elections by 10 days to allow for an independent audit of the voter roll by the International Organization of la Francophonie (OIF). After three weeks of combing through Togo’s voter lists, the OIF published its report on April 8. It deemed the state of Togo’s voter registry “satisfactory” and gave its go-ahead for the elections to take place once some 300,000 entries were corrected. The OIF’s decision, publicly accepted by all parties, cleared the last obstacle for the contest to move forward.

Five candidates competed for the president’s chair on April 25, including the incumbent for a third term and his long-term rival Jean-Pierre Fabre. Although tensions had been running high in the pre-electoral period, voting proceeded peacefully on election day. ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) deployed international election observers. The domestic 35-member civil society consortium Citizen Synergy for Democratic Elections in Togo (SYCED-Togo) deployed a total of 1200 domestic election observers across the country. After the polls closed, the consortium commended voters and the Togolese authorities for organizing peaceful elections, and highlighted the contributions made by the CENI and Togo’s security forces for the presidential elections (FOSEP2015).  United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the peaceful conduct of the election and urged all candidates and their supporters to resolve any disputes that might arise in the election’s aftermath through legal procedures.

The CENI released provisional election results in the evening of April 28. They are subject to validation by Togo’s constitutional court. According to these results, the incumbent took nearly 59 percent of the votes while Jean-Pierre Fabre scored just under 35 per cent. Turnout appears to be significantly lower than in previous elections since 2005. If the court confirms the results, Gnassingbé will lead his family into its fifth decade in power. On Tuesday, following complaints by Jean-Pierre Fabre’s electoral coalition about widespread irregularities, ECOWAS chairman Mahamane traveled to Lomé, accompanied by Côte d’Ivoire’s President Ouattara, to mediate among the political parties while the country awaits the constitutional court’s decision. Thus far, the situation has remained calm, though Jean-Pierre Fabre has released an appeal to the public to mobilize against the election results.

The coming days will show whether the peace that characterized election day will continue after the constitutional court publishes its decision.  For the first time in Togo’s history, a consortium of non-partisan domestic election observers undertook a statistically driven monitoring exercise, collecting results from a representative sample of polling stations on election day. The publication of the results collected by SYCED could provide an independent check on the official CENI results. If SYCED’s results confirm the outcome announced by the CENI, it could reinforce citizen confidence in the validity of the official results and contribute to a more peaceful post-electoral environment.

 

Cote d’Ivoire – President Ouattara and coalition backing in 2015 presidential poll

Will the coalition that brought Alassane Ouattara to victory in the presidential run-off in December 2010 hold as a pre-electoral alliance fielding a single candidate for the October 2015 presidential election? With the political geography and party constellation of Cote d’Ivoire dominated by three major parties, no single party can secure a candidate an outright majority. To be reelected, President Ouattara must enlist the support of a critical mass of the 2010 winning coalition, the Rally of the Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), so-called after former President Félix Houphouët-Boigny who ruled Cote d’Ivoire from independence to his death in 1993.

On February 28th, Ouattara won the support of his most important ally, the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire – African Democratic Rally (PDCI-RDA), in his bid for re-election. In an extraordinary PDCI-RDA party congress, an overwhelming majority of participants voted in favor of supporting Ouattara as the single RHDP candidate for the upcoming presidential race. The PDCI-RDA is the party of former President Henri Konan Bédié who came in third in the first round of the 2010 presidential poll. The PDCI-RDA is a member of the RHDP together with Ouattara’s Rally of the Republicans (RDR) and two smaller parties, the Union for Democracy and Peace in Cote d’Ivoire (UDPCI) and the Movement of the Forces for the Future (MFA).

The UDPCI already declared its support for Ouattara at its party congress in December 2013, while the MFA is still holding out on backing Ouattara as the sole RHDP candidate for the fall election.  MFA chairman Anaky Kobena recently announced the question will come up for a vote at a party congress in April. Kobena has complained of the MFA being excluded from cabinet and other government positions, contrary to the other members of the RHDP-alliance: a PDCI member has served as prime minister since March 2012, while UDPCI chairman Mabri Toikeusse is Minister of Planning and Development since June 2011.

The single candidate issue has created divisions within some RHDP-member parties. Within the PDCI-RDA, a group of party leaders, including former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Essy Amara, former deputy speaker of parliament Jérôme Kablan Brou and member of parliament Bertin Kouadio Konan – nicknamed the “Club of Four” – oppose Bédié’s backing of Ouattara. The four boycotted the recent party congress and have declared their intent to present a joint platform. In the MFA the issue has been the opposite – a break-away faction in opposition to Kobena has since 2013 declared its support for Ouattara’s candidacy and threatens to divide the party in two. The UDPCI and the RDR are the only two parties within the alliance where the single candidature is non controversial.

The leading opposition party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) of former President Laurent Gbagbo is also suffering from internal factionalism. While FPI chairman Affi N’Guessan wants to run, other FPI leaders insist on the freeing of Gbagbo currently on trial at The Hague as a precondition for the FPI participating in the October election.

The RDR, the PDCI-RDA and the FPI are the three major parties in Cote d’Ivoire, aligned with the country’s three political heavyweights – Ouattara, Bédié and Gbagbo, respectively. In the 2010 presidential poll, Gbagbo won 38% of votes in the first round, followed by 32% for Ouattara and 25% for Bédié. With Bédié’s backing, Ouattara went on to win the run-off with 54% against Gbagbo’s 46%. In 2015, with the support of Bédié and the UDPCI, and with the FPI divided, Ouattara seemingly stands a good chance of reelection, even if the PDCI-RDA and the MFA should split. However, should the FPI decide to boycott and Affi not run, it remains to be seen which candidate(s) would gain the support of FPI voters.

Zambia – The rise of President Edgar Lungu and the 2015 elections

This is a guest post by Nicole Beardsworth, a South African political analyst and doctoral candidate at the University of Warwick.

Nicole Beardsworth (1)-001

On the evening of 24 January the streets of Lusaka erupted with celebrations as Zambia’s 6th president was announced following a heated race between two front runners. Precipitated by the death of President Michel Sata in London on 28 October 2014 after a mere three years at the helm of the small Southern African nation, the election would be the closest in Zambia’s 25 years of multi-party democracy with President Edgar Lungu beating opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema by just 1.66%.

The new president was a relatively unknown entity within the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) until his appointment as Minister of Defence in late 2013. He had been Michael Sata’s lawyer while in opposition and was appointed as Junior Minister in the Office of the Vice-President when the PF came to power in 2011. In 2012 he was made Minister of Home Affairs, but wrangles within the PF pushed this unlikely successor to the top seat of the party. The resignation of Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (Defence Minister) and firing of Sata’s heir apparent – PF Secretary General and Minister of Justice, Wynter Kabimba – in August 2014 led to Edgar Lungu holding a second powerful portfolio. He was allegedly appointed by Sata as a nod to ethnic-balancing and appeared to have the backing of the PF’s Bemba faction spear-headed by powerful finance minister and Sata’s uncle, Alexander Chikwanda.

President Lungu’s campaign began with a shaky start, marred by infighting, intimidation and intra-party violence within the PF. The party was divided over his candidacy, particularly as Acting President Guy Scott attempted to block Lungu’s rise at every turn while trying to position his preferred candidate for the party’s top job.  Following a long string of accusations, suspensions, court injunctions and public spats that played out in the media, the party only united behind Lungu just before the nomination of presidential candidates on 20 December 2014. With only a month to campaign and a relatively unknown candidate for the presidency, Lungu played on President Sata’s popularity and charisma, standing on a platform of ‘continuity’ and positioning himself as the guardian of the late president’s legacy. When asked about his policies and platform during a radio interview in December, Lungu stated “I have no vision,” clarifying that he would merely implement Michael Sata’s policies, acting as caretaker of the former president’s projects. The PF’s campaign materials reflected this, giving Sata’s face prominence and placing Lungu’s smaller image below it in a symbolic sign of deference. During the final weeks before the election, people in Lusaka and across the country frequently referred to Lungu as having been ‘anointed,’ a result of his appointment as PF Secretary General and having been chosen to act as president during Sata’s absences in his final months.

The ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party entered government in 2011 on a wave of big promises buoyed by widespread public disillusionment with the ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD). During their three years in government under President Sata, the PF undertook substantial infrastructure development projects, most notably the Link Zambia 8000 Project which was to oversee the construction of 2300 km of roads in its first phase alone – representing an increase of nearly a quarter of the existing paved road network. As a result, Zambia’s external debt has increased markedly to USD$4.6 billion or 17% of GDP by the end of 2014, from less than USD$1.8 billion in 2010 (11% of GDP). In spite of this, infrastructure development has boosted the PF’s popularity in rural areas, making government visible to citizens who had previously had little interaction with the state and facilitating the movement of goods and people between villages and markets. In urban areas, the road development projects – aimed at reducing congestion in cities – have also been extremely popular with people employed in the country’s burgeoning informal sector, notably bus and taxi drivers who form a substantial part of the PF’s vote base. During the final weeks of the campaign, acting President Guy Scott criss-crossed the country, opening and inspecting development projects with a view to consolidating the PF’s popularity and reminding voters that the party was responsible for the popular programmes.

With limited time and resources, Lungu was unable to cover the country as extensively as the opposition UPND, allowing them to make inroads in PF strongholds. The 11th hour deal between former President Rupiah Banda of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) and the PF candidate was expected to help Lungu sweep the vote in Eastern Province, the home province of both men. Banda campaigned alongside Lungu, providing substantial resources and putting a small fleet of helicopters at the disposal of the relatively under-resourced campaign. Surprisingly, in spite of Banda’s endorsement, turnout in Eastern Province was the lowest in the country at 22.7% with Lungu garnering only 65% of votes cast. The opposition collected a staggering 25% in Lungu’s province (compared to 3.3% in 2011) and 41% in his home district Chadiza (9.25% in 2011); this stands in stark contrast  to the 91 and 95% endorsement of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema in his home province and district respectively. This election is notable for its low turnout, with only 32% of registered voters making their way to the polls, 13% lower than in the 2008 presidential by-election. This was likely due to a number of factors, including the holding of the election during rainy season, making voting both onerous and costly in rural areas; the disaffection of voters due to increased levels of intimidation and intra- and inter-party skirmishes; and dissatisfaction with certain PF policies and decisions prior to the polls that were just enough to dissuade voters but insufficient to push them en masse into the arms of the opposition.

This could almost be seen as an inherited presidency; Lungu benefited from the large store of public goodwill and sympathy towards the PF – and Michael Sata in particular – after 10 years in opposition and only three at the helm. With a margin of a mere 27 000 votes and the next tripartite election only 18 months away, the reconstituted PF government will be under pressure to deliver and ensure their re-election. This may mean the enactment of popular but imprudent policies to buy in support and maintain the party’s base. The party will have to mend its internal fissures and undertake a tricky balancing act to placate different constituencies. The high levels of private funding that flowed to the opposition’s campaign coffers have been attributed in large measure to business’ concerns about the government’s recent introduction of what in their view constitutes a clumsy and hefty new mining tax system – a position from which the PF may have to stand down in order to prevent further private sector defections to the ‘business-friendly’ opposition. The 2015 election marks a surprising shift in Zambian politics; it has seen the demise of the MMD and rapid rise of the UPND but also a change in voting patterns in some areas of the country. What is clear is that the PF will have to work hard in the next 18 months to expand their tiny lead and ensure that they’re able to bring voters to the polls in 2016.

Francophone Africa – Important election year ahead

Francophone Africa will see six presidential elections take place this year, many of which in countries emerging from crisis and violence. Legislative and local polls are scheduled in five and six countries, respectively. 2015 will thus be a bellwether of democratic development trends in Central and West Africa over the next several years. Will democratic gains be consolidated in countries such as Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, which last time saw significant election-related violence in contested presidential polls? Will presidential and legislative races in the Central African Republic (CAR) finally bring peace and stability following the March 2013 coup? Will Burkina see a complete renewal of its political leadership through upcoming national and local polls, following the ouster of Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising in October 2014? How will debates around presidential term limits evolve in Togo and Burundi (and the two Congos scheduled to have presidential polls next year)?

Table 1: 2015 elections in Francophone Africa

Country Presidential Legislative Local polls
Benin April (TBC) March (TBC)
Burkina Faso October October TBD
Burundi June May May
CAR July (TBC) TBD
Chad TBD
Cote d’Ivoire October
DRC TBD
Guinea Conakry June (TBC) TBD
Mali TBD
Togo March

As indicated in Table 1 above, the Togolese will be the first to kick off the Francophone presidential contests, in March – preceded by their Anglophone brethren in Zambia (January) and Nigeria (February). Faure Gnassingbé will stand for a third term, as presidential term limits were eliminated already in 2002 under his father’s rule. Without the reintroduction of term limits, which opposition parties are clamoring for, Faure – who is only 48 years old – could well top or even surpass his father’s 38 year rule. The opposition may feel validated by the findings of a recent Afrobarometer polling of Togolese across the country. The survey found that even among the president’s supporters, 78% of those interviewed are in favor of presidential term limits.

In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza will similarly stand for a third term using a technicality – that he wasn’t directly elected the first time – to justify his candidature. The fragile peace in the country could be threatened by shrinking political space and the apparent collapse of the powersharing agreement enshrined in the 2000 Arusha Peace Accords, following opposition by Tutsi-led Uprona to Nkurunziza’s third bid for the presidency. According to Afrobarometer (Figure 2), a slight majority (51%) of Burundians agree with the opposition on the desirability of term limits.

In Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, presidents who came to power five years ago in highly contested polls marred by violence, particularly in Cote d’Ivoire, will stand for a second term – Alpha Condé in Guinea and Alassane Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire. In highly polarized political environments, characterized by deep mistrust between supporters of the incumbents and their leading rivals, the independent election commissions have a huge responsibility for the organization of well administered polls that can build confidence in the credibility of the electoral outcome. In both countries, continued dialogue between government and opposition can help build consensus around the electoral calendar and abate tensions.

In CAR, hope is high that the upcoming presidential poll can help bring stability to the country. However, there is concern among some Central African civic and political leaders that the transition process is overly driven by the international community, which is pressuring for a compressed election calendar – with presidential polls to take place in the middle of the rainy season, in July. Greater ownership of the transition and electoral process by the Central Africans will be important for ensuring the legitimacy of the newly elected leaders of the country.

In Burkina Faso, interim president Michel Kafando has recently announced coupled legislative and first round presidential polls in October, with the presidential run-off to take place in November, if there is one. These will be the most competitive elections in nearly three decades. Some Burkinabe are worried, however, that the military maintains undue influence over the process, following the nomination of Lt. Col. Isaac Zida as prime minister. Zida was second in command of the presidential guard and appointed as transition leader by the military in the days following Compaoré’s ouster, though he was forced to rapidly relinquish power to a civilian by significant domestic and international pressure.  The transition roadmap is unclear on the relative distribution of authority and responsibilities between president and prime minister and some civil society activists are quite cozy with the military. So it will be important for independent-minded civil society groups to maintain an active monitoring of the transition process, and for political parties to remain united in their effort to push for transparent, credible polls.

All in all, 2015 promises to be an interesting election year. The stakes are high for the individual countries discussed here, and their election outcomes will influence the prospects for strengthening democratic institutions and practices across the continent.

Chad – Idriss Déby, enough is enough?

President Idriss Déby, in power for 24 years this December, is watching as a coalition of civil society groups, “Trop c’est trop” (enough is enough), is coming together and feeling its way. Formed on 18 November 2014, the coalition is composed of about 15 groups focusing on human rights, corruption, women’s and youth rights, and includes labor unions. The coalition champions citizens’ welfare issues, such as the rising cost of living, lack of access to electricity, and widespread corruption.

The creation of the “Trop c’est trop” coalition follows on the heels of a spontaneous demonstration on November 11 that spread from the southern city of Sarh to the capital N’Djamena and Moundou – affecting the three largest cities in the country.  Hundreds of people rallied to protest against gas shortages and skyrocketing prices for fuel (in a country that produces 130,000 barrels of oil a day), as well as teacher salary payment arrears. The fuel shortages are widely perceived to be artificially created to benefit a small number of traders, some of whom may be closely associated with the president.

“Trop c’est trop” was the refrain chanted by protesters in late October against Blaise Compaoré’s attempt at perpetuating his rule through a constitutional change eliminating presidential term limits.  The Chadian activists claim, however, theirs is not a copy-cat coalition but the result of a long period of reflection, and that their aim is not to “seize power or overturn any regime.” The government is not convinced. Prime Minister Pahimi Kalzeubet Deubet issued a strong warning within days of the coalition coming together. In a public statement he accused civil society of coalescing with opposition political parties against the government, with the risk of inciting disorder and violence.

Prime Minister Deubet stated the government would react firmly to actions perceived as threatening social cohesion and national stability. Putting words into action, police hindered “Trop c’est trop” from doing a press conference on Saturday, 13 December. The coalition wanted to draw public attention to a potential financial scandal involving SOGECT-TCHAD (Societé de Commerce Général de Construction et de Transport), a construction and import-export company headed by a nephew of Idriss Déby. SOGECT has diversified into a number of sectors with lucrative contract possibilities, including biometrics, and had until recently benefitted from an agreement with the Chadian government for the production of official documents such as passports, identity cards and driver’s licenses. Three months before its expiration, the government broke the contract with SOGECT, which promptly sued the state for 34 billion FCFA (64.5 million USD). According to his critics, this outcome was intended all along by President Déby as a way of getting access to quick cash through the pay-out to SOGECT of its claims.

Déby is likely to stand for reelection in 2016. He is a survivor of rebellions and has gradually emerged as a regional powerbroker and purveyor of battle hardened soldiers to UN peace missions in the Africa region. Most recently, Chad has backed negotiations between the government of neighboring Nigeria and Boko Haram. Chad is an important military ally of France whose counter terrorism “Opération Barkhane” is headquartered in N’Djamena.

While Déby will not have to tinker with the constitution, as presidential term limits were already eliminated in 2005, the upcoming poll could still be a unifying opportunity for his opponents, inspired by the Burkina Faso example – reportedly students demonstrating on November 11 chanted “Burkina Faso, Burkina Faso.” It remains to be seen whether other aspects of the Burkina Faso example would translate to the Chadian context, such as the close collaboration between opposition parties and civil society, and the role of the military that ultimately chose to refrain from causing a bloodbath.