Category Archives: Africa

What’s next for Ramaphosa as South Africa heads to the Polls?

Just 15 months ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa became South Africa’s new head of state following the long-awaited departure of President Jacob Zuma. Now on the 8th of May, South Africa will hold its 6th national and provincial elections, marking 25 years since the fall of apartheid. How will Ramaphosa fare, as the country battles a slow-burn economic crisis, an electricity sector meltdown and simmering discontent among all strata of society?

As noted previously in these pages, Jacob Zuma was removed in February 2018 to allow the ANC to revive their waning electoral legitimacy and clean up the party’s image in the wake of damaging scandals. After the party’s bruising loss of major municipalities in the 2016 local government elections and the decline of the ANC’s national tally to just 54%, most pundits predicted that the Zuma-effect would pull the ANC under the 50% threshold in 2019.

Enter Cyril Ramaphosa. Having served as Zuma’s deputy for the last four years of the Zuma presidency, the sceptics noted that he had said and done little as the scandals piled up and the evidence overwhelmingly showed that the Zuma administration was intent on personalising the proceeds of the state for himself and his friends. But nonetheless, his ascendance as ANC and state president was greeted with hope and optimism, a welcome break from the deepening gloom that marked the end of the Zuma presidency.

This positive sentiment – dubbed ‘Ramaphoria’ – bolstered the currency, helped stave off a downgrade to ‘junk status’ by Moody’s and left the middle class sleeping a little easier. But it wouldn’t last long. Before long it became clear that there was a fight-back from the Zuma camp, and that many of the worst leaders from his cabal had remained within the upper echelons of the party and state. Ramaphosa inherited defunct institutions, a vastly increased state debt burden and an electricity crisis prompted by corruption, mismanagement and rapid debt accumulation.

The battle of the pollsters

Polling has relatively consistently – and somewhat unsurprisingly – pointed to yet another victory for the ANC at the national level. An Ipsos poll conducted between March and April predicts a minor recovery for the ANC from the 2016 polls – suggesting a final tally of 61% for the ANC, 19% for the Democratic Alliance and 11% for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

But a new poll released by the Institute for Race Relations (a Johannesburg-based conservative think tank) has suggested that the ANC’s numbers will fall even further this year than they did in the last local elections, and that the ruling party is likely to lose again in major metros and is likely to lose Gauteng – the country’s economic heartland – entirely to other parties. The IRR poll suggests that the party will take 49.5% nationally (on a predicted turnout of 100% of eligible voters) and 51% on a 71.9% turnout scenario. The same poll places the DA at 21.3% (100% turnout) or 24% on a 71.9% turnout scenario while the EFF takes between 14.9% and 14% across the two.

Of course, a 100% turnout scenario is unlikely – and levels of apathy across the country appear to be reaching alarming levels. Almost one in four eligible voters – nearly ten million people – declined to register, and another 5 million are expected not to turn out based upon previous turnout levels. The electoral commission’s data suggests that most of the disaffected are in urban areas – the most populous province, Gauteng, had the lowest registration rate at 67.1% of eligible voters. Young voters in particular seem to be staying away, with just 18% of the country’s 18-19 year olds registering, and a little over 50% of 20-29 year olds.

This will likely hamper the EFF’s electoral fortunes and play to the ruling party’s advantage. Older voters are more likely to vote on historical lines while younger voters generally express far more dissatisfaction with the slow pace of transformation over the last 25 years and have fewer deep historical ties to the ANC. But between these two polls, it is probably reasonable to expect that (barring a major crisis in the next 6 days) the ANC will likely win these elections with between 50-60% of the vote, that the EFF will make the most substantial gains amongst the opposition and the DA will maintain its place as the country’s formal opposition but fail to capitalise sufficiently on the discontent in the country.

What comes next?

In some ways the election represents a continuation of the status quo – that the ANC will continue a slow electoral slide, but that the two major opposition parties are unlikely to be sufficiently able to take advantage of growing public discontent to displace the ruling party. What will be more interesting to watch is what happens at provincial level.

Africa Confidential reports that at the provincial level, Zuma-supporters with a strong provincial base are encouraging voters to undermine the ruling party at national level by voting ANC provincially, but voting for other parties in the national polls. Several weeks ago, Zuma himself endorsed the populist Black First Land First movement-turned-party. It is alleged that some within this camp hope to use poor national election result to try to remove Ramaphosa in a special elective congress. For his part, Ramaphosa is believed to still be trying to clear some of Zuma’s allies out of the ANC using a Special Investigation Unit tribunal which will be established immediately following the polls.

This factionalism within the ANC is unlikely to be quickly resolved following the polls, and the country will still have to face the current dire economic circumstances. With persistently high unemployment figures (at 37%), unsustainable debt levels (50% of GDP) and low appetite for foreign investment, the country will remain in a sticky economic position. It remains to be seen which way Ramaphosa will take the ANC and whether he will pursue a more market-friendly growth path that potentially worsens the plight of some of South Africa’s poorest.

Ramaphosa has previously shown his proclivity for ‘order’ over fairness during the Marikana strikes, while his recent xenophobic statements on the campaign trail and support for entrenching traditional authorities’ control over rural communities appears to demonstrate a preference for expedience over principle. He will have to tread a fine path to walk South Africa back from the brink and help to build an inclusive and equitable economy. Cyril Ramaphosa needs to be up to the task – or he risks rushing the country down an ever more precarious path.

Senegal – Back to presidentialism?

Newly reelected President Macky Sall has given his prime minister, Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne, the unenviable task of eliminating his own position. This will entail changing Senegal’s constitution — once again — and reintroduce a presidential system.

Despite Senegal’s history of relative political stability, the country’s constitutional history has been far from stable. Senegal is at its fourth constitution, since 1959, and has changed government system several times already. In between constitutions, there have been numerous constitutional amendments, most of which have been passed by a legislative vote without resorting to a referendum.

In August 1960, Senegal adopted its second constitution — and its first as an independent, separate republic — after abandoning the short-lived Mali Federation created by the first 1959 constitution. The 1960 constitution was modeled on the 1958 French example with a dual executive: with an indirectly elected president as head of state and a prime minister (“cabinet president”) appointed by the president, but accountable to the National Assembly. Léopold Sédar Senghor was elected Senegal’s first president and his close political ally Mamadou Moustapha Dia became the country’s first prime minister.

This two-headed executive system did not survive a rapidly mounting power struggle between Senghor and Dia that culminated in a constitutional crisis in 1962. Legislators were about to take a no confidence vote in Dia, when the prime minister ordered the army to hinder access to the National Assembly building. Senghor accused Dia of a constitutional coup attempt and had him arrested. The military remained loyal to the president and Dia spent the next 12 years in jail. Senghor promptly took steps to avoid a similar situation in the future and initiated a new, presidential constitution that was approved by referendum in March 1963 (the country’s third constitution in four years). Senghor was reelected in December of that year by popular vote for a four-year presidential term, without term limits. In 1967, in the first of what was to be a be a total of 20 revisions to the 1963 constitution, the presidential term was increased to five years.

Senegal returned to a dual executive system in 1970 with the reintroduction of the prime minister position, in an effort to defuse tensions in a context of social unrest with student demonstration and labor strikes. Senghor initiated a referendum on a constitutional change that this time resulted in a fully fledged semi-presidential government system, providing for a directly elected president and a prime minister accountable to parliament (modeled on the 1962 revised French constitution). This revision also introduced a two-term presidential term limit. This limit was, however, removed again in the fifth constitutional revision of April 1976.

Before finishing his fourth elected term, Senghor resigned on December 31, 1980. Prime Minister Abdou Diouf became president and served out the rest of the term. Shortly after being elected president on his own account in 1983, Diouf initiated a constitutional change to return Senegal to presidentialism. The argumentation presented for the revision included the need for greater efficiency and effectiveness of government action and the expressed desire for a more direct contact between the president and the population. This time, presidentialism survived for eight years, till 1991. With the return to semi-presidentialism in 1991, as the third wave of democratization swept across Africa, Senegal also reintroduced presidential term limits. The term limits were, however, removed again in 1998, in the 19th revision to the 1963 constitution.

When Abdoulaye Wade won the presidency in 2000, marking the first time that executive power transitioned from one party to another in Senegal’s history, the new president initiated the elaboration of a new constitution. The country thus got its fourth and current constitution adopted by referendum in 2001. Senegal retained a semi-presidential system of government, and reintroduced presidential term limits. This new constitution has not fared much better than the old one, however, in terms of amendments. By 2010, the constitutional text had already been revised 15 times, according to Robert Elgie.

Senegal – Changes in government system and presidential term limits

1960Dual executive system, no presidential term limits
1963Presidentialism
1970Semi-presidentialism, term limits introduced [removed again in 1976]
1983Presidentialism
1991Semi-presidentialism, term limits reintroduced [removed again in 1998, reintroduced in 2001]
2019??Presidentialism??

President Macky Sall, shortly after being elected in 2012, initiated a constitutional revision to remove the senate from Senegal’s democratic architecture, but has overall had a less piecemeal approach to constitutional reform. In 2016, the government introduced a series of amendments that touched 20 articles of the constitution and were passed by referendum. Chief among these was the reduction of the length of presidential terms to five years, from the seven years it had been increased to under Wade. Sall’s second term, after his reelection in February of this year, will thus be reduced to five years.  

Sall is now following in the footsteps of Diouf, moving to return Senegal to presidentialism. Perhaps it is his shortened presidential term that provides Sall with a sense of urgency and the desire to streamline decision-making processes. His arguments for returning to presidentialism echo those of Diouf, saying that eliminating the prime minister position will help “reduce administrative bottlenecks” and “bring the administration closer to the people.” His critics allege it is a power grab. It is striking that Sall did not mention his plans to change government system during his campaign for reelection. The first indication of his intentions came in an announcement on April 6, by Mahammed Dionne whom he had just reappointed prime minister. The government thereafter moved quickly and on April 17 adopted a constitutional amendment removing the prime minister position.

The proposed constitutional amendment was on April 24 sent to the National Assembly that will now review and debate the proposed changes. A vote is set for May 4th. It will require a three fifth majority to pass the amendment by legislative vote, a likely outcome in a legislature where the presidential coalition controls a 75 percent majority (125 out of 165 seats). Should the legislative vote pass with less than 60 percent, a referendum is required. The text of the constitutional amendment has not yet been made public, but an alleged copy is circulating online. Reportedly, besides transferring responsibilities as head of government to the president, the revised text also foresees a clearer separation of powers between the legislature and the executive: on the one hand the legislature can no longer topple the cabinet through a no confidence vote, on the other hand, the president cannot dissolve the legislature as is currently the case.

There is no indication that the proposed constitutional amendment will touch on presidential term limits. Hopefully Sall will not follow in the steps of another previous president – Wade – who stood for a third term despite term limit provisions. Wade argued in 2012 that he should be allowed to run again because presidential term limits had been reintroduced in 2001, after he was elected, and could not be considered retroactively. Elsewhere on the continent, Côte  d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara has argued that the adoption of a new constitution in 2016 reset the term limit counter and that he could therefore run again in 2020, if he wanted to. In Senegal, the difference is that if the amendment passes, the country will have a new government system, but not a new constitution. It remains to be seen whether this is a sure bulwark in a country and region where term limits have proven fickle in the past. In neighboring Guinea, President Alpha Conde and his supporters seem increasingly intent on initiating a constitutional referendum that would lift term limits before Conde’s second and last term comes to an end next year. Despite significant democratic progress in West Africa over the past decade, the notion of presidential term limits does not yet appear to be firmly entrenched.

Angola – The MPLA and the fall of Dos Santos’ dynasty

The change in the top leadership post of Angola, which started in 2017 through a sequential state ruling party leadership strategy, ended the long rule of José Eduardo dos Santos as both the head of state and the ruling party (MPLA) leader. João Lourenço succeeded Dos Santos in this unprecedented political leadership transition in the country’s post-independence and multiparty era. Along with Zimbabwe, Angola’s leadership change is somehow perceived as the beginning of a trend in which dynastic takeovers seem to no longer be acceptable in Africa.

But what do we know about leadership change in Africa and what can Angola tell us?

In overall terms, leadership change constitutes a moment of uncertainty, and it is particularly worrying in Africa. Taking power through violent means such as military coups and leaders overstaying in power are two highlighted trends in contemporary African politics. Concerning the latter trend a recent study by Denis M. Tull and Claudia Simons observes that in almost half of the cases in which an incumbent president reached the term limit, he attempted to extend his term by rewriting or reinterpreting the constitution, and the vast majority of these attempts were successful. Moreover, sitting presidents were able to win third-term elections, despite the popular protest demanding the enforcement of presidential term limits.

Dos Santos long rule spanned the years of the civil war (1975-1992; 1993-2002) and was extended resorting to an instrumental interpretation and rewriting of the constitution. The 1992 constitution established a three-term limit, but since elections never took place between 1993-2007, due to the reignition of the civil war after the first multiparty elections in 1992, Dos Santos managed to prolong his stay in power throughout this period. Ahead of the 2008 general elections, there were discussions on whether Dos Santos had already attained the limit of the presidential terms or if he would be eligble to two more mandates. The constitutional interpretation which then prevailed established that the second presidential term of Dos Santos was to start in the 2008 elections and that he would still be able to run for a third mandate in the 2012 elections. However, the new constitution approved in 2010 reinforced his presidential powers and allowed him to legally remain head of state until 2022.

The Africa Leadership Change (ALC) dataset reveals some important patterns of leadership change in the sub-Saharan region. First, there is a long list of African presidents who have managed to stay in office despite the “electoral revolution” of the early 1990s. Indeed, until 2017, Dos Santos was in the top 5 of the longest-serving presidents in Africa. Second, multiparty elections have seemed to be the most common way of replacing a leader after 1990. However, the incumbent wins in most elections, followed by an increased number of electoral succession cases (see the “no alternation” column of the figure below).

Source: Giovanni Carbone & Alessandro Pellegata (2017): To Elect or Not to Elect: Leaders, Alternation in Power and Social Welfare in Sub-Saharan Africa, The Journal of Development Studies, p. 6. DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2017.1279733.

The August 2017 elections in Angola represented a case of electoral succession in the sense that the new president comes from the same party of the outgoing president; however, it is a case of nonhereditary succession. João Lourenço was not Dos Santos’ first choice (he even tried to revert the MPLA candidates’ list for the 2017 elections) and speculation around the leadership succession pointed to his eldest son, José Filomeno dos Santos (aka Zénu).

Did the MPLA limit hereditary politics in Angola?

The hereditary succession has been a topic of concern in several authoritarian regimes. In 2007, Jason Brownlee developed an argument that emphasizes the role of ruling parties to account for differentials of hereditary succession in modern autocracies. He contends that hereditary succession depends on the precedent for leadership selection, i.e., if the party enjoyed a precedent for selection from within the ranks, as was the case in Angola, then elites will defer to the party as the recognized arbiter of succession, which is likely to be nonhereditary.

José Eduardo dos Santos was the successor of Agostinho Neto in 1979 and was selected by the MPLA. It remains unclear if Dos Santos tried to somehow impose his son in 2017. What we do know is that the continuity of Dos Santos in office or his succession was something that was deeply discussed and negotiated inside the ruling party by the political bureau. João Lourenço’s selection was also the MPLA’s response to the widespread dislike of the Dos Santos’ dynasty and, more importantly, to the ruling party’s growing crisis of legitimacy linked to Dos Santos’ rule. Thus, despite his personal rule, José Eduardo dos Santos is a case of a “ruler predated by the ruling party” in terms of leadership succession. We can also say that his grande famille has been also predated by the new leader.

The fall of Dos Santos’ dynasty

In less than a year in office, the new president began to remove members of the Dos Santos clan from Angola’s epicenter of political and economic power. João Lourenço deposed Dos Santos’ daughter and one of the richest woman in Africa, Isabel dos Santos, from the presidency of the state oil company, Sonangol. Also, her half-brother, José Filomeno dos Santos, was removed from the chairmanship of Angola’s $5 billion USD sovereign wealth fund (FSDEA). More importantly, Filomeno was detained last September and held in custody over “practices of [alleged] various crimes, including criminal associations, receipt of undue advantage, corruption, participation in unlawful business, money laundering, embezzlement, fraud among others”. Isabel dos Santos also faces corruption investigations, allegedly for having funneled oil funds into her consulting companies. Moreover, João Lourenço’s “bulldozer” also affected the privileges of two other members of the Dos Santos family, as the new executive decided to put an end to the contracts with Semba Comunicação, a media sector company founded by José Eduardo Paulino (aka Coréon Dú) with his sister and partner Welwitschia “Tchizé” dos Santos, who is also an MPLA deputy.

According to Alex Vines, these removals have been effortless, as the former president’s family neither receives the MPLA’s support nor enjoys popularity. Furthermore, João Lourenço’s actions affecting Dos Santos’ family increased his popularity levels inside and outside the ruling party and thus didn’t allow the former president to stand up for his targeted family members, as pointed out by Ismael Mateus. Indeed, it was only in November of last year that the former president reacted, claiming during an unprecedented press conference held at the headquarters of his foundation in Luanda that, contrary to the previous declarations of his successor, he did not “leave the state coffers empty.” At the same time, Isabel dos Santos posted several messages on social media criticizing João Lourenço and emphasizing the dangers of having a deep political crisis coupled with the existing economic one, and also defending her honor and work for Sonangol. Tchizé dos Santos has also been using social media to defend both the paterfamilias and her arrested half-brother. Also, she has recently expressed that the leadership transition has not been as peaceful as expected and that João Lourenço should be focusing on the true problems of Angola.

These reactions from the members of Dos Santos clan show us that this powerful political dynasty doesn’t gather support from the MPLA and from the population. On the other hand, the anti-corruption discourse gave legitimacy to João Lourenço’s power consolidation strategy and that targeting the untouchables facilitates the fall of the Dos Santos’ dynasty for now. In addition to their family members, some of the closest allies of Dos Santos were also removed from government and the MPLA political bureau, and some of them are under investigation.

Is the ruling party a gatekeeper for leadership change?

The recent processes of leadership change in Angola or in Zimbabwe highlights the importance of the ruling party in selecting new leaders and limiting hereditary successions of long-serving presidents. African politics is often characterized by personal rule or “Big Man rule”. However, the case of Angola is revealing that strong ruling parties are important gatekeepers for leadership change, and can influence the rise, persistence and fall of ruling dynasties in competitive authoritarian regimes in Africa.

‘As soft as wool’? Reform and Repression in Zimbabwe

When he came to power in November 2017, Emmerson Mnangagwa rode a wave of local and global goodwill. But by March 2019, the USA had renewed sanctions against Zimbabwe that have been in place for nearly 20 years. In February, the UK held parliamentary discussions on Zimbabwe and the Africa Minister, Harriet Baldwin, made it clear that a full normalisation of relations with Zimbabwe was no longer on the table.

So how exactly did we get here?

Mnangagwa the ‘Reformer’

“I’m as soft as wool,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa stated in an interview with Sky News in August 2018, in response to a question from a journalist regarding his fearsome nickname – the ‘crocodile.’ Mnangagwa had worked hard in the 18 months since the ‘coup’ that had put him in state house, cleaning up his image and promising to be a president for all Zimbabweans, vowing to set the country on a new path. President Mnangagwa came to power promising extensive reforms, global re-engagement and repeating the mantra that Zimbabwe was “open for business.”

Ahead of the elections on 30 July 2018, on the main thoroughfares through the capital and scattered across the country, big billboards towered over Zimbabwe’s citizens as they went about their business. These billboards were filled with images of an engaging and smiling President Mnangagwa, making sweeping promises about universal healthcare, decent jobs, power generation and ‘free, fair and credible elections.’ The administration invited credible election observation missions from around the world – missions that had not been allowed to monitor the country’s elections since the violent 2002 polls. Between them, the observer groups spanned 46 countries and 15 regional blocks, making the 2018 election the most observed election in the country since independence in 1980.

Mnangagwa had traversed the globe promising change and a “new dispensation” in Harare, and was well-received in global capitals, with the UK’s Rory Stewart – at the time the Minister of State for Africa – the first to arrive in Harare following Mnangagwa’s installation in 2017. Zimbabwe applied to re-join the Commonwealth, with the UK supporting its application. The administration sought to re-engage with international financial institutions – the World Bank and IMF – from which it had been alienated since the early 2000s. The EU and USA began to discuss the relaxation of the remaining limited sanctions and it seemed that Zimbabwe under Mnangagwa might finally be welcomed back in to the international community, shedding its ‘pariah state’ status.

The July 2018 election

Despite all of the positive changes ahead of the polls, it was clear that there were rumblings of dissent from within the ruling party – and there were early indications that despite initial assurances about free and fair elections, some aspects of the playing field would remain skewed in the ruling party’s favour. The state media refused to give equal coverage to all 23 presidential candidates, particularly ignoring the ruling party’s key opponent – Nelson Chamisa of the MDC-Alliance. Despite their initial openness, the electoral commission soon began to stonewall key discussions on reforming the electoral process, making the electoral roll available for an audit and allowing the opposition to oversee the printing of ballots. Instead, an unconstitutional ballot was designed and printed, civic groups and opposition parties were left with little time to review and validate the roll and there were serious and widespread reports of intimidation in rural areas in the lead-up to the polls.

When 7 protestors were gunned down by soldiers in the streets of Harare in front of the global media on 1 August, the international community and political commentators were dumbfounded. The administration was so close to legitimating the 2017 coup with a flawed-but-meets-basic-standards election, that it seemed unthinkable that they would have squandered local and global goodwill so easily. At his inauguration, Mnangagwa condemned the violence, vowing that his new administration would usher in a “brighter tomorrow” – and he announced the creation of a commission of enquiry into the deaths on 1 August. He described himself as a “listening president”, and insisted that his government was committed to ‘constitutionalism, the rule of law and judicial independence.’ Again, the commentators were caught off-guard, and were inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, to believe that perhaps the military had acted without sanction – or worse, that the Vice President, Constantino Chiwenga, had an eye on his boss’ job and had loosed the military on civilians to undermine Mnangagwa’s position.

To sanitise his image in the wake of the global outcry, several opinion articles appeared in the global media, ostensibly penned by Mnangagwa. He spoke of reconciliation, new beginnings and a better future for a long suffering populace. But when the commission of enquiry – headed by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe – wrapped up its business, they had heard from soldiers that those killed had not been shot by soldiers but instead had been stabbed by members of the opposition; that the MDC-A was to blame for the violence and deaths; and that Mnangagwa had given the orders to set up the rapid response unit that had been mobilised to the streets in response to the protests. Despite all his assurances of being accountable, Mnangagwa is yet to publicly release the full report which was handed to him in December 2018.

A disastrous January

By January 2019, less than 6 months into the administration, a simmering economic crisis had prompted disgruntled and increasingly desperate members of the civil service to make more demands from the state. Inflation in the black market for the country’s surrogate currency was at over 50% in January, and long lines at fuel stations made basic tasks difficult.

Mnangagwa announced an enormous fuel price hike on 12 January, before jetting off in a private aircraft to Central Asia. The country’s labour unions called for a national stay away to protest the declining economy and unaffordable fuel prices, which was then enforced by unknown elements and angry youths. In the melee that ensued, shops were looted, cars were burned and a policeman was stoned to death. In the wake of this, the state launched a violent and angry three-week crackdown on the country’s poor, beating those who lived in close proximity to the worst of the looting and violence – and committing systematic torture and collective punishment. Nearly a thousand people were rounded up, beaten and put in prison. Fourteen women are reported to have been raped by soldiers, and at least 17 people were reported to have been killed.

In person, Mnangagwa seemed to condone the violence, though his Twitter feed condemned it and called for accountability for the state-sponsored violence. In a strange twist, his spokesman went so far as to tell the public not to believe everything said on the president’s Twitter feed. This fresh crackdown prompted yet another round of global concern, and it appears that all prospects for international re-engagement have stalled. ZIDERA has been renewed, and the UK has disowned any plans to support Zimbabwe’s bid to re-enter the Commonwealth. US sanctions will make the bailout that Zimbabwe so badly needs from international financial institutions even more unlikely.

Mnangagwa’s consistent inconsistency

While early in his presidency, many were willing to give the new president the benefit of the doubt, it is increasingly clear that the new administration in Zimbabwe is both more authoritarian than its predecessor, and less strategic. Having denounced the January 2019 protests as a Western-backed attempt at regime change, the ruling party has dusted off its old anti-imperial mantra as a cloak for their repressive actions. They have charged key opposition and civic leaders with treason. In 25-year old Joanah Mamombe’s case, she is alleged to be the first woman charged with treason in the country in over 150 years. According to veteran journalist, Peta Thornycroft, “about 10 MPs from the opposition MDC Alliance are variously charged with incitement, subversion and treason.”

In light of all this, in early March, the United Nations Human Rights Council announced that it would send special rapporteurs to Harare to investigate the claims of human rights abuses. In another spectacular about-face, this has apparently been welcomed by President Mnangagwa. The Foreign Ministry’s official who was sent to brief the press appeared to be living in a parallel universe, and reported substantial gains at international re-engagement. In a similar vein, it was reported on 6 March that the government – who are currently unable to stabilise the economy, pay civil servant salaries or settle vast debts to neighbouring South Africa – have decided to engage the services of a Trump-affiliated lobbyist to have the US sanctions dropped. This comes at an annual cost of $500 000 dollars. The likely success of this initiative is low, and Zimbabweans will probably see little gain from their misspent taxes.

Unfortunately, this young administration has proven to be both erratic and tone deaf. Having had several chances at reform, they have consistently undermined their own case but still hoped to find themselves in a strong negotiating position. For now, the reform ship appears to have sailed, and the long-suffering citizens of Zimbabwe are likely to continue to suffer under a regime that seems to care little for their welfare, and less for their protest. As Panashe Chigumadzi stated in August 2018, “the old Zimbabwe is the new Zimbabwe.”

A Reversion to Type in Cameroon

When Paul Biya was controversially reelected in October 2018, it was not clear whether it would herald a new direction in the Anglophone crisis or simply perpetuate the status quo. Up to that point the government had stuck to a hardline strategy that rejected any negotiation with secessionists or threats of popular mobilization. The result has been devastating in the Northwest and Southwest. According to recent estimates over 1,000 people have been killed, 430,000 have been internally displaced, and 30,000 have become refugees in Nigeria. The Anglophone community has become increasingly fractionalized, and the current secessionist movement has eclipsed the original civil society-based protest movement. 

Biya’s reelection opened a window for a change in direction. With questions of succession and the future of the regime temporarily brushed aside, Biya could have used the opportunity to help local groups, and particularly churches, coordinate an All-Anglophone Conference. Anglophones had been trying to get this platform off the ground since November, and it could have provided a format for more moderate voices to emerge. The government was largely supportive of the initiative, and in December took the step of announcing a disarmament and reintegration committee and the pardon of 289 detained Anglophones. However, these developments have paralleled a continued government offensive in Anglophone regions and prosecution of hundreds of detained Anglophone activists.

It has become clearer that Biya has reverted to type. In January, Biya announced a major cabinet reshuffle. He had done something similar in May 2018 when he appointed two Anglophones to cabinet positions. This time Biya kept 20 ministers and appointed 16 new ones. Biya maintained the two Anglophones from the previous cabinet – Atanga Nji Paul as the Minister of Territorial Administration, and Nalova Lyonga (who is now one of only two women in the cabinet) as the Minister of Secondary Education. The Prime Minister position, which has been held by an Anglophone since 1992, was reshuffled, and Biya appointed Dion Ngute Joseph to replace Philemon Yang after a decade of service.

This is par for the course in Cameroon, where for decades Biya has maintained tenuous ruling coalitions by offering prestigious executive positions to political supporters. Cameroon now boasts the largest cabinet in Africa, with over 60 ministers, minister delegates, and secretaries of state (not to mention countless other deputies and vice ministers). In my own research I examine how Biya’s centralized control of political careers in a vast state bureaucracy has been a key factor that has sustained his regime. These changes were ostensibly made to signal Biya’s commitment to Anglophone concerns over the allocation of resources, and their previous lack of faith in the former Prime Minister 

These changes were met with skepticism in the Anglophone movement, and in some quarters with outright opposition. The new Prime Minister cut his teeth in the office of the presidency and is considered a Biya ally. Nji Paul is likewise a staunch Biya loyalist, and came under heavy criticism in 2016 and 2017 for denying that there even was an Anglophone problem.Fundamentally, these kinds of tactics are all too familiar to Anglophone activists, who see them as entirely symbolic and self-interested. Many other figures in the current cabinet are hardliners who oppose any negotiation with Anglophone groups until the insurgency is completely defeated. 

This has been combined with reversion to another tactic that Biya has employed before – the coercion of elite challengers. During the 2018 election Maurice Kamto and the MRC party surprisingly emerged as the biggest thorn in Biya’s side. Kamto was a former insider who left the regime to form his own party and challenge Biya for the presidency. His roots in the Western region of Cameroon, and the Bamileké community in particular, gave him some stability but also potentially limited his national appeal. Nonetheless, Kamto won 14% of the vote. 

After the election Kamto continued his vocal opposition to Biya. He spearheaded the legal challenge to the 2018 election, and was then banned from holding press conferences. Kamto then helped organize a series of protests and marches in Cameroon’s commercial capital, Douala. He was placed intermittently on house arrest. On January 28, Kamto was arrested along with other opposition members and charged with sedition and inciting rebellion. Per the 2014 anti-terror bill, Kamto is being tried in a military tribunal, which has come under criticism for its loose definition of due process. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned his arrest and detention without bail.

Kamto’s agitation was particularly threatening since it came from a former regime insider and spread discontent outside of the Anglophone regions. His prosecution under the 2014 anti-terror law is novel for such a high-profile figure. But in the past, Biya has used his control of anti-corruption investigatory bodies to eliminate similar political opponents. In 1996 Titus Edzoa left the ruling party to challenge Biya in the 1997 presidential election. He was arrested along with his campaign manager Michel Atangana and jailed for 17 years on charges of embezzlement. Similarly, in 2012 former Minister of Territorial Administration Marafa Yaya and former Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni were arrested on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Both were rumored to have made moves to challenge Biya internally for the presidency in 2011. 

For now it seems like the regime is committed to crushing the Anglophone insurgency rather than taking any bold moves to reconcile or really address Anglophone concerns. In addition to an All-Anglophone Conference these measures could include a mutual ceasefire, the release of more political detainees, and more public acknowledgement of Anglophone grievances. Outside of some minor cutbacks of military aid, and some offers of a reconciliation mission, there has not been significant international pressure on Biya. The conflict is not even on the African Union Peace and Security Council’s meeting schedule. This has likely signaled to Biya that the status quo is still the way to go. 

Uganda – Why NRM leaders keep trying, and failing, to reform their party

This past week, the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of Uganda’s long-time ruling party concluded a five-day retreat, lavishly hosted at the luxury Chobe Safari Lodge.

Among other decisions, the CEC members agreed to endorse President Yoweri Museveni’s “sole candidacy” in the 2021 elections, meaning there should be no challengers from within the National Resistance Movement (NRM). The CEC also agreed several reforms to the party’s structures and procedures. These changes include reversing an earlier reform, which barred top party officials from also seeking elected office, and eliminating the secret ballot in parliamentary primaries. The idea is that party members will, instead, line up behind their preferred candidate, a procedure last used in the 1980s.

The CEC’s resolutions still must be voted through at the next NRM delegates’ conference, scheduled for November this year. The support of conference delegates is all but guaranteed, though, and if need be, there is always the option of deploying police around the conference hall, as happened at the 2014 conference.  

What then, if anything, is the significance of these proposed changes?

There is nothing remotely surprising about the “sole candidacy” resolution, which paves the way for Museveni to extend his 33-year-long presidency. Indeed, in late 2017 already, the NRM leadership pushed through a constitutional reform lifting presidential age limits, making its intentions to keep Museveni in power perfectly clear.

The only point of interest relating to the “sole candidacy” resolution is that it came from the CEC and not, as in 2014, from the NRM parliamentary caucus. Although the CEC’s intervention is more in line with official party procedure, the parliamentary caucus had—in the past—assumed a prominent role in championing key party decisions. Its absence from the story now may simply be an indication that Museveni’s sole candidacy is a foregone conclusion; it requires minimal mobilisation within the party, unlike in 2014 when he faced a challenge from an NRM insider.

More interesting, though, it may also be a consequence of mounting frustration within the NRM parliamentary caucus, linked notably to fallout from the age limits reform. Of note, and likely related, the annual NRM caucus retreat, usually held in January at the Kyankwanzi National Leadership Institute, did not happen.

Shifting focus to the CEC’s proposed party reforms, there is nothing particularly new here either; the latest changes fit into a long series of (failed) attempts by NRM leaders to secure greater internal party discipline and organisational coherence. These repeated efforts do nevertheless raise important questions, namely, how have NRM leaders tried to reform the party and why, by their own admission, have they failed? As in, why has the NRM, despite the unending lamentations of its leaders, remained a fractious and weak organisation?

Going back to the 1990s, under the so-called No-Party or Movement system, NRM leaders were experimenting with various institutional reforms, including investing in a would-be stronger secretariat.[1] The 2005 multiparty transition was later cast as a fresh opportunity to strengthen the NRM, to make it the “CCM of Uganda”, CCM being a reference to neighbouring Tanzania’s better organised and more cohesive ruling party.

Come 2019, however, little has changed. Speaking to journalists at this latest CEC meeting, one party official acknowledged, “The truth is NRM is not well run. The squabbles have become too many, both at the national and lower levels […].”

The CEC’s proposed changes are a sign that it is effectively going in circles. As noted above, the CEC aims to reverse a previous decision, introduced in 2014, to bar top officials—specifically the Secretary General, Treasurer and their deputies—from seeking elected office. The rationale in 2014 was that, by barring officials from other political activities, the party would ensure they focused on their party duties. Five years later, though, party officials are caught up in their own internal disagreements, they complain that they no longer enjoy the same “status” as an elected MP, and they have not strengthened the party’s formal structures or mobilisating capacity. The CEC’s response—to revert to status quo ante—does not address the core issue of how to strengthen the NRM, although it may address the immediate concerns of these disgruntled officials.

The CEC’s change to parliamentary primary procedures is even less promising. Candidate selection has proved a major challenge for the NRM, exacerbating internal party divisions and parliamentary indiscipline. In a sign of this dysfunction, the 2015 NRM primaries saw 168 petitions challenging results submitted to the NRM’s Electoral Commission. What is more, in the ensuing general elections, more Independent MPs—many of them disgruntled former NRM aspirants—were elected to Parliament than opposition MPs.

NRM leaders have responded to these tensions with a series of institutional fix-its, most notably abandoning an electoral college system in favour of open primaries in 2010. The idea was that by allowing all NRM members to vote in primaries, it would be harder for rival factions to bribe their way to victory; as in, the relatively small number of electoral college members could be more easily compromised than a large mass of voters.

This optimistic assumption, however, proved wrong. As noted, allegations of malpractice during primaries remain pervasive. The CEC’s latest proposal, i.e. to abandon the secret ballot and return to the 1980s practice of lining up behind candidates, is hardly a solution. The queuing system was controversial in the past, rife with accusations of bribery and intimidation. There is no reason why it should be different today.

The only conclusion, reviewing the CEC’s latest decision, is that it faces the same old problems but has yet to find a solution. Party unity cannot be engineered through institutional means alone; rather, if it were serious, the CEC would need to address the root causes of factional tensions. These include wealthy NRM leaders’ tendency to cultivate rival networks within the party as well as the lack of material support for NRM candidates, who instead rely on their own private backers and resources.

The NRM top brass lack the appetite—or ability—to handle these issues; indeed, it would require a fundamental renegotiation of how power is distributed within the party. They instead resort to grand declarations—the creation of a “CCM of Uganda”—accompanied by marginal and ultimately ineffective reforms.

We are left with something of a paradox. The NRM’s electoral dominance has endured over several decades. Yet, NRM leaders’ control over the party itself remains—by their own standards—partial and unsatisfactory.


[1] Much of this historical discussion draws on my PhD thesis, “The Political Economy of Institutions in Africa: Comparing Authoritarian Parties and Parliaments in Tanzania and Uganda”.

Grant Godfrey – DRC: Can a democratic transition emerge from a flawed electoral process?

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

In the months leading up to the December 30, 2018 presidential election, many Congolese would have reacted with both disbelief and joy to find out that Félix Tshisekedi would become the fifth president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as he did when he was sworn in on January 24.  Few believed that Joseph Kabila would relinquish power voluntarily after 18 years, and that if he did, his chosen successor Emmanuel Shadary would still be accountable to Kabila in what was expected to be a “Putin-Medvedev scenario.” Instead, Kabila transferred power to the son of the man who personified political opposition and democratic resistance to many in DRC, Etienne Tshisekedi. While there was indeed jubilation that day in his Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) strongholds of Kasaï and Limete, the peaceful transfer of power—the first since independence day in 1960—was greeted cautiously in many parts of Congo and in foreign capitals.

This hesitancy to embrace Tshisekedi stems from claims, supported by data published by the Congo Research Group, that another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, actually won the election. The fact that Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) allies now control a majority of votes in the newly elected National Assembly gives another reason to pause.  In addition, Kabila’s allies will control most provinces, and thus the governorships and national Senate, while their parliamentary majority also entitles them to the premiership.  These results, at odds with both the FCC presidential performance and research leading up to the election that showed a strong public desire for change, could confirm for some Congolese their expectations that the elections would not be fairly run.  This, and UDPS acknowledgements of transition talks before provisional figures were released, have led many Congolese and Congo-watchers to suspect that Tshisekedi attained the presidency through a corrupt bargain.

A number of Congolese democrats, including Tshisekedi’s former allies, and their allies around the world have accordingly raised their voices to protest his election.  They have rightly demanded the CENI publish the election results by polling station and by counting center.  Comparing these to results collected by political parties and civil society at polling station counts, would increase confidence in the announced vote totals, if warranted.  Fayulu has said he considers himself the president-elect, called on Congolese to disregard presidential orders from Tshisekedi, and invoked Article 64 of the constitution, which calls on the population to resist the unconstitutional exercise of power.  Should no leader be able to convincingly exercise power with legitimacy, some observers fear spreading unrest or even civil war.  Others simply expect that Kabila, whose FCC majority in the legislature will have arguably more power than Tshisekedi, will continue to rule through proxies.  Some Congolese wonder how, with his powers limited by the constitution, retaining only weak influence over the other institutions, and lacking a popular mandate, can Tshisekedi be expected to lead or govern the country?

The answer could be, paradoxically, to leverage the flaws of the December polls as an opportunity for reform, rather than seeking to minimize or dispute them.  Major controversies included that the most popular candidates were not allowed to run; free assembly had essentially been banned since 2016; campaign activities were repressed; the voter roll had a suspicious concentration of unverified voters; the CENI used a controversial, poorly understood voting machine; and there were reports of voters being intimidated on election day.  Moreover, legislative candidates, including in the FCC coalition, allege that the announced winners do not reflect the voters’ choices.  The credibility of the election was thus contested before a single vote was cast, leaving any outcome vulnerable to the charge that competition was not free nor fair.  

President Tshisekedi would therefore run a big risk if he seeks to reinforce his position by appealing to a popular mandate that may not be there.  However, by treating December’s electoral event instead as a stumbling step in a transition out of authoritarianism, the president could gain an opportunity to recoup allies and enhance his legitimacy with the public.  For example, an effort at comprehensive election reform could attract interest from Fayulu’s strongest backers, Moïse Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba, both of whom were excluded from the presidential election.  The president would need the mobilizing power of these leaders to get reforms through legislators who may be fearful of the impact on their future careers.  It would also give the president leverage with the FCC, which many fear he presently lacks.

There is reason for optimism amid the uncertainty. In his inaugural speech, Tshisekedi signaled a desire to seize the moment, announcing he would identify and release political prisoners, begin a long-overdue national census and reform the election law.  Despite Mr. Fayulu’s refusal to participate in a Tshisekedi government, elements of the Lamuka coalition have begun to at least recognize his presidency, though not his election. Civil society groups that dispute the validity of his election, such as CENCO and LUCHA, have indicated a willingness to do the same, and offer ideas for reform efforts.  So, while the DRC’s 2018 poll may have been a flawed exercise in electoral democracy, it may have opened a window for the country’s ongoing transition to democracy to proceed.

Angola – A New Politics of Memory? The President and the Ruling Party’s Dark Past

This is my third post on Angola’s recent leadership transition process and the end of President José Eduardo dos Santos’s 38-year rule, in a context where some of Africa’s longest-serving presidents are also no longer in power.[1] This new analysis will continue to focus our attention on the actions of the new president, but this time it will centre on issues regarding the collective memory.

As discussed on another occasion, this unprecedented transition started in 2017, first at the state level and then at the ruling party level. The MPLA, one of the longest-ruling parties in Sub-Saharan Africa[2], won the 4th multiparty elections and, as a consequence, the party’s head-of-list candidate, João Lourenço (JLO), automatically became the 3rd president of Angola since the country’s independence in 1975. Moreover, after the ruling party’s 6th Extraordinary Congress held on 8 September 2018, JLO also became the 5th president of the MPLA since its constitution as a liberation movement during the late Portuguese colonial rule.[3]

Like his predecessor, the new Angolan leader now has a triad of powers (the state, the executive and the ruling party) and it is quite interesting to note that, among his “surprising” political actions, there is one that is particularly relevant, which has to do with unresolved historical grievances related to both a major bitter episode and the greatest taboo within the MPLA’s history: the 27th May. This revisitation of the past leads us to two broader questions: how do Africa’s longest-serving political parties deal with their own violent pasts? And how do new leaders revisit the past as a strategy of power consolidation? To put it more concretely, in what sense can JLO’s recent positioning regarding the MPLA’s violent past, whose memory has been muffled by the former leader, be considered a strategy of political survival and of a continuous boost of power?

But first, let’s make an incursion into the responses of the new president to some important historical grievances in the collective memory.

The return of the enemy’s mortal remains

Almost one year after the elections of August 2017, JLO promised to return the deceased remains of Jonas Savimbi to the main opposition party before the end of this year, which will very likely happen in 2019. According to the researcher Eugénio Costa Almeida,  JLO returning Savimbi’s remains to UNITA on the 22nd February next year would be of great significance, since this date marks the 17th anniversary of the death of the former UNITA leader, who was killed along with other generals and guerrilla soldiers in a clash with the government troops in the Moxico province during the civil war in 2002.

JLO already supported the relocation of the remains of UNITA’s historical military, General Arlindo Chenda Pena “Ben Ben” – who died in South Africa in 1998 and was buried near Pretoria – to the Bié province in Angola. Furthermore, this general was also awarded, posthumously, with the 1st Class Military Merit Medal during the last anniversary of Angola’s independence.

The current UNITA leader, Isaias Samakuva, has acknowledged the support of the new Angolan president for bringing General Ben Ben’s body back to the country in such a quick procedure, after years in which such an action would be “unthinkable”. With this declaration, the leader of the main opposition party unintentionally recognizes that JLO’s presidency marks a new era of possibilities.

Thus, these two gestures reinforce the idea of a new leadership different from the previous one in terms of national reconciliation efforts, which has an important symbolical charge, especially because Dos Santos has the epithet of the “architect of peace”. Furthermore, it also serves power consolidation purposes, as it continues to reduce the critical tone of the main opposition party during such an important phase of leadership affirmation.

The recognition of the MPLA’s first presidents and the decoration of some persona non grata

The reconciliation efforts also went to the ruling party arena and are especially noted in two important events: the 6th Extraordinary Congress of last September and the 43rd anniversary of Angola’s independence on the 11th November.

At the MPLA’s Extraordinary Congress, JLO made an opening speech with one surprising moment of “breaking the silence”:  the mention and recognition of the first two MPLA chairmen, Ilídio Machado and Mário Pinto de Andrade. Moreover, the party’s conclave approved a final resolution to honour these two historical political individuals, as well as others that were important during the genesis of the ruling party.

Following the party’s watershed congress, the new president honoured several historical figures of the MPLA’s turbulent past with special decorations, including the two first MPLA presidents and Viriato da Cruz, during the 43rd anniversary of the country’s independence. The Angolan researcher Claudio Fortuna sees in these presidential decorations an action of intraparty reconciliation, as JLO’s predecessors (Agostinho Neto and José Eduardo dos Santos) had removed these historical figures from the “vernacular imagery” of the party’s militants and of the MPLA’s history.

The intraparty reconciliation effort is also considered by some of UNITA’s cadres, such as General Paulo Armindo Lukamba “Gato”, to be an important first step on the part of JLO in the ongoing process of national reconciliation, as one can now openly talk about figures concealed from the MPLA’s own history. Therefore, perhaps it will have a positive impact on other figures outside the ruling party, such as Jonas Savimbi.    

In this year’s anniversary of Angolan independence, the new president also decorated ostracized Angolan personalities who were critics of Dos Santos’ regime by extolling their sense of patriotism.[4] These intraparty reconciliation efforts reinforce the notion that JLO is different from the increasingly unpopular Dos Santos, thus gaining the sympathy and support of party members who have been alienated from the MPLA.

Breaking a deafening silence: the 27th May

Still concerning the intraparty reconciliation process, JLO, in clear contrast to Dos Santos, has recognized an open wound within the MPLA’s dark past after independence: the so-called 27 May 1977. This violent episode occurred during the presidency of Agostinho Neto, when the group of the so-called “Revolta Activa” chaired by Nito Alves challenged and even tried to change Neto’s leadership. As a result, Nito Alves’s supporters were not only expelled from the MPLA, but also detained and subjected to torture, in addition to the arbitrary arrests of a great number of people and thousands of deaths. According to Assis Malaquias, this episode “marked the beginning of the end of the revolutionary vision of the MPLA”, which became a more exclusive and reserved organization.[5]

In the first major interview with JLO by the Angolan journalist Gustavo Costa, which was published on the 17th November, the new Angolan president recognized that the 27th May is still an open wound that should receive careful attention. Also on the same date, the justice and human rights minister, Francisco Queiroz, acknowledged that there had been an overreaction to the events which followed the “attempted coup d’état” of 27 May 1977. More importantly, Queiroz declared that those excessive actions violated human rights through arbitrary executions and arrests, and that must be remembered in order to avoid something similar happening again. The minister also opened up the possibility of repairing traumatic wounds, namely by resolving the issue of death certificates and other matters related to this tragic event.[6]

A few days later during a press conference with JLO in Lisbon the 24th November, on the occasion of his official visit to Portugal, the new Angolan president reaffirmed the excesses made by the government at that time and that his new government is open to dialogue to see how the reparation of such deep wounds can be made “in the hearts” of many grieving families.

The president’s second moment of “breaking the silence” has a symbolic meaning, but will it have practical consequences? Many victims – such as José Fragoso, former MPLA militant and vice-president of the Associação Cívica 27 de Maio – are skeptical about the practical effects. This “survivor of the 27th May” remembered that in 2001 – one year before the end of the war, when the Association made its first conference denouncing the executioners of the 27th May – the MPLA reacted by considering the victims and survivors as misunderstood patriots, instead of coupists. Nevertheless, this new executive has expressed the possibility of reparation measures, albeit it in vague terms.

Opening the box of painful moments in the MPLA’s history occurs in a context of the affirmation of JLO’s leadership; in an effort to build a consensual optimistic view around his new era and legacy, JLO is asserting himself as a strong president that is willing to revisit the past to bring back those who were alienated by former leaders and who are demanding the right to truth and their rightful place in the ruling party and in the country’s history.

Is transitional justice on the horizon?

Among his political actions as Angola’s new leader, JLO is also coping with the issue of collective memory, having to break a major silence concerning the MPLA’s violent past, namely, the purge of the 27th May[7]; however, there are no concrete measures on the table so far.

Specifically, it is not clear whether the Angolan authorities will:  1) disclose the documents and facts that clarify what really happened, including the results of the Commission of Inquiry created by President Agostinho Neto himself and chaired by José Eduardo dos Santos; 2) carry out the registration and list disclosure of all detainees and disappeared people, including the return of the victims’ deceased remains to their families; and 3) build a national monument to the victims of the 27th May, as is demanded by some representatives of those victims.

As the researcher Filipa Raimundo points out, transitional justice “refers to the process of reckoning with an authoritarian past through judicial and/or non-judicial means”, in which political elites can also adopt a strategic silence to “neither forgive and forget nor to prosecute and punish”. In Angola’s case, what we see is a new leader dealing with some historical grievances still in the collective memory through a first attempt at breaking the silence, but we must not forget that, in a context of leadership consolidation with an intrinsic challenge, the national reconciliation process also implies an intraparty reconciliation and the end of some narratives linked to power relations within the MPLA. This fact could be very sensitive to JLO’s political survival, due to the importance of the ruling party to his own power. On the other hand, the demands from several members of civil society for telling the truth and making reparations have not been echoed by the parliamentarian elites (both in the ruling party and the opposition), and silence seems to be the strategy.

For now, transitional justice is still lost on the horizon.

Notes

[1] For instance, the Gambian President Yahya Jammeh lost in the 2016 presidential elections after 22 years of power or Robert Mugabe’s resignation after 37 years as Zimbabwe’s President.

[2] Along with the CCM (Tanzania), the BPD (Botswana), the RDPC (Cameroon), the SWAPO (Namibia) and the ANC (South Africa).

[3] The year of the MPLA’s foundation is still a controversial subject, as some authors maintain that 1960 was the true foundation year, contrary to the party’s official version of 1956. See Pacheco, C. (1997). MPLA – Um Nascimento Polémico. Lisbon: Vega.

[4] For instance, the musicians Bonga or Waldemar Bastos. Worth mentioning is the surprising meeting between JLO and “hashed critics” in civil society on the 4th and 5th December, including the persecuted journalist and activist Rafael Marques, as well as the rapper and activist Luaty Beirão, who was jailed for rebellion against President Dos Santos.

[5] Malaquias, A. (2007). Rebels and Robbers: Violence in Post-colonial Angola. Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitute. For more about the 27th May, see Mateus, D. & Mateus, A. (2013). Purga em Angola. Lisbon & Luanda: Texto; Milhazes, J. (2013). «Golpe Nito Alves» e outros momentos da história de Angola vistos do Kremlin. Lisbon: Alêtheia; Pawson, L. (2014). In the Name of the People: Angola’s Forgotten Massacre. London & New York: Palgrave Macmillan; Reis, J. (2018). Angola: 27 de Maio – A história por contar. Lisbon: Vega.

[6] For instance, people whose father’s names do not appear on their identity cards.

[7] The president’s wife, Ana Dias Lourenço, was also a victim, having been arrested due to a supposed connection to the nitistas.

Central Africa region 2018 – Autocratic entrenchment and increasing instability

The Central Africa region remains a haven for autocratic and semi-autocratic regimes, in sharp contrast to West Africa, and the situation did not improve in 2018. The sub-region is home to the world’s three longest serving presidents: Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (39 years in power), Cameroon’s Paul Biya (36 years), and Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso (34 years). Moreover, Idriss Déby (27 years) of Chad is not far behind, and the Bongo family has ruled Gabon for over 50 years. Faustin-Archange Touadéra of the Central African Republic (CAR) is the only president elected in legitimately competitive polls, in 2016, although his government now has limited control over national territory beyond the capital Bangui.

All six countries, member states of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC by its French acronym), are ranked “not free” by Freedom House, and score below continental averages on the Mo Ibrahim governance index. The six countries share a common currency – the Central African CFA franc – which was first introduced during colonial times in the five francophone territories making up the Federation of Equatorial French Africa (AEF). Equatorial Guinea, the only former Spanish colony member of CEMAC, adopted the CFA in 1984. Only Congo and CAR have experienced brief periods of electoral democracy in the 1990s, before autocrats returned to power in 1997 and 2003, respectively.

The sub-region experienced further autocratic entrenchment and growing instability in 2018. Biya of Cameroon won a seventh term in elections that lacked credibility. Cameroon also continues its descent towards civil war, as the crisis in the Anglophone regions of the country deepens. Anglophone separatists recently created their own crypto-currency, known as AmbaCoin. In Equatorial Guinea, Vice-president Teodorín Obiang who is the son of the current president was promoted major-general as the family closed ranks after an alleged coup attempt in 2017. Teodorín recently presided over a cabinet meeting, confirming fears he is positioned to replace his father soon. In Congo, Sassou Nguesso’s son Denis Christel, one of 10 family members elected to the National Assembly in 2017, was rumored to be preparing to run against his father in 2021. In Gabon, Ali Bongo has been ill for months and the constitutional court took it upon itself to amend the constitution to delineate responsibilities between the prime minister and the vice-president in the event of a “temporary” absence of the president. Déby pushed through a new constitution for Chad that enhanced presidential powers and eliminated the post of prime minister (see previous blog post here). The CAR is increasingly ungovernable, and various armed groups have spread violence to new regions of the country.

Prospects for replacing one-man or dynastic rule in the sub-region through democratic elections are bleak and stand in sharp contrast to democratic progress in neighboring West Africa, where only Togo is left with a president serving more than two terms. Unlike the successful alternation of power that has taken place in 14 of 15 West African countries member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in the last decade, the Central Africa sub-region is a sobering example of strong-man rule in fragile states that could implode into violence.

The situation is not much better when expanding the analysis to the larger Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which in addition to the CEMAC countries includes Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and São Tomé and Príncipe. São Tomé and Príncipe is the only country in the larger Central Africa region that regularly holds credible elections and is rated as “free” by Freedom House. The region overall has had limited democratic experiences and ECCAS lacks the equivalent of the 2001 ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance. In contrast to the evolving democratic norms and regional institutions with increasing clout seen in West Africa, Central Africa remains at the mercy of personal networks among autocratic heads of state focused on mutual elite support.

The road to inclusive and credible elections in Central Africa remains long and tortuous, and 2018 has thus far not been a good year for the region. It remains to be seen whether the presidential elections in the DRC on December 23 will break the pattern and result in a peaceful transfer of executive power and more accountable governance [see previous blog post on the DRC here]. The outlook is far from promising, with a worsening political situation and increasing violence as election day approaches.

Liberia – President George Weah: A year since his election

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

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

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

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

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

A unique past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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