Category Archives: Africa

Sierra Leone – Minority government leads to parliamentary impasse

This is a guest post by Iris Navarro de Tomas, Senior Program Assistant at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Washington, DC

Sierra Leone’s March 8 presidential and parliamentary elections and subsequent March 31 presidential runoff marked an important benchmark as the country saw the second peaceful transfer of power between its two major parties since the end of a decade-long civil war in 2002. Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) defeated Samura Kamara of the incumbent All People’s Congress (APC) with 51.8 percent of the vote in the runoff. However, the APC maintained its majority in parliament, resulting in the first time in Sierra Leone’s history that parliament is controlled by the opposition party. The country is now faced with its first experience of minority government, and early indications are it is likely to be challenging.  

A divided government

The SLPP won a close presidential race, but did not succeed in securing a legislative majority. In the first-past-the-post parliamentary elections, the SLPP only increased its representation from 42 seats to 49, while the APC won 68 in a parliament with 132 elected seats. With a divided government, the SLPP will need to find ways to govern effectively without a majority in the House, facing additional hurdles in passing legislation and government budgets. President Bio will need to rely on cross-party consensus to successfully implement his political agenda.   

A few days after the run-off, newly elected President Bio made an appeal for cross-party cooperation as post-election violence erupted in Freetown, Kenema and Makeni after the announcement of results. The SLPP took to the streets to celebrate its victory, which led  to violent clashes between SLPP and APC supporters, confrontations with security forces and rioting. Bio established a joint APC and SLPP commission to investigate the violent incidents. These developments seemed to be a sign that the SLPP could make concessions to the opposition in the interest of moving the country forward.

President Maada Bio’s strategic move

Despite early signs of cooperation, a recent political impasse in Parliament is a concerning signal that when presented with a divided government, the ruling party is ready to use all means to regain power in the legislature.

In late April, Sierra Leone saw a political deadlock as the High Court placed injunctions on 16 APC and two SLPP parliamentarians, barring them from participating in the opening session of Parliament and thus in the election of the speaker of the House. The injunctions are based on SLPP and APC claims that the MPs illegally received government salaries during the campaign period and tampered with election results. In advance of the first parliamentary session scheduled for April 24, the outgoing speaker of the House postponed the session indefinitely due to the uncertainty. President Bio, citing article 84.1 of the Constitution that gives the President power to summon a parliamentary session, proclaimed that the first session of Parliament would occur on April 25, despite the large number of APC MPs barred from taking oath. All APC MPs attended the session, prompting police to forcibly remove the 16 APC parliamentarians who could not be sworn in due to the injunctions. In a moment of political solidarity, the remaining 52 members of the APC also left Parliament. The APC and its supporters claimed that President Bio’s move was evidence of an attempt to undermine the APC majority in parliament and ensure that an SLPP representative became speaker.  

As a result of the APC walkout, Dr. Abass Chernoh Bundu of the SLPP was elected speaker unopposed. While article 79.1 of the Sierra Leonean Constitution mandates that two thirds of parliamentarians must be present for the vote on the speaker, it does not clarify how the quorum is reached. SLPP claims that two thirds of the MPs who took oath were present, however APC interprets this requirement differently, claiming that at least two thirds of elected MPs must be present to elect the speaker, which would make this vote unconstitutional.

Bio’s push to move the vote of the speaker forward despite pending court cases appears as a strategic move to ensure a more favorable legislature to back his policy priorities.  Not only does the speaker administer proceedings on the House floor and has the power to recognize MPs to make motions, but the speaker acts as head of government when the President and the Vice President are out of the country. Both the post-election violence carried out by SLPP supporters and the events in Parliament are concerning  signals of the continued fragility of Sierra Leone’s nascent democracy.

What next?

Mediation efforts. In response to the events, a joint high-level delegation comprised of President of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS), Mr. Jean Claude Kassi Brou, and the Special Representative of United Nations Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, Mr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, began mediation efforts between the SLPP and APC leadership on April 29. Four days later, the delegation recommended that both parties establish effective channels and mechanisms for dialogue to resolve their political differences. The delegation also encouraged the judiciary to ensure prompt, fair, independent and timely adjudication of all injunctions, so all MPs can be sworn-in.  

High Court proceedings. The High Court asked the SLPP and APC to provide evidence by May 4 to substantiate the injunctions on the parliamentarians, and after review of the evidence, the High Court lifted the injunctions on the MPs. The parliamentarians have all now been sworn-in, and the APC will likely ask for a re-election of the speaker on the grounds that the vote was unconstitutional. Considering the likelihood that the SLPP will not allow a re-election and given that there are no provisions in the Constitution governing such a situation, further deadlock in Parliament is probable.

Constitutional Reform. A constitutional review process was initiated in 2014 but was paused until 2016 due to the Ebola outbreak. While consultations with political stakeholders and constitutional experts have taken place since 2016, the constitutional review recommendations have not yet been passed by Parliament. As political parties interpret the Constitution to fit their interests during the impasse in Parliament, it is expected that civil society groups will apply pressure to push the review forward. Groups are primarily advocating for measures to reduce presidential powers and mandate that the speaker of the House be a High Court judge to foster neutrality.

Passing Legislation. President Bio will need to build consensus and reach compromises between SLPP and opposition parties moving forward if the country is to avoid an ongoing impasse in the legislature. This could benefit APC MPs who may leverage their majority in the House to advance legislation that would benefit their local constituencies. If the APC majority in Parliament becomes obstructive in passing legislation, the government may resort to using the extensive powers of the executive to force policy adoption and implementation. Particularly, education policy is a potential source of political deadlock, as the SLPP’s key campaign promise was the establishment of a free education system, which was strongly opposed by the APC.  It should also be noted that there are significant divisions within the APC that emerged from the party nomination process and led to breakaway parties, which could make it easier for the SLPP to generate cross-party support on key issues.

While recent events in Sierra Leone are concerning for the stability of this nascent democracy, there remain opportunities for political dialogue and cooperation to strengthen democratic processes in the country. As Sierra Leoneans are anxious for change, with 80 percent responding the country was going in the wrong direction in the latest Afrobarometer survey in 2015, scrutiny of the government’s policymaking and demands for accountability and transparency are likely to be more sustained than under previous administrations. If the SLPP can overcome the current impasse and find ways to successfully manage a divided government, Sierra Leone would come out as a strengthened democracy.

Chad changes constitution – from semi-presidentialism to a presidential system

Today Chad’s National Assembly is scheduled to vote on a new constitution that will change the country’s political system from semi-presidential to presidential. The text adopted in a cabinet meeting on April 10 is based on recommendations from participants in an eight-day forum held in March, boycotted by the opposition.

The outcome of the vote is fairly certain, given that President Idriss Déby’s party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS), controls a solid majority of seats – 117 out of 188 seats or 62 percent – in a legislature that has not been renewed since 2011. Two allied parties of the MPS hold an additional 14 seats (7.5 percent), totaling more than the two thirds required to adopt constitutional changes by legislative vote, without going through a referendum. The move to bypass a referendum is criticized by opposition political parties as well as civil society groups as “illegitimate,” notably given that the National Assembly’s mandate is itself questionable. Chadian Catholic Bishops have also called for a referendum, noting that “a large part of the Chadian population is unaware of what is happening.”

The new supreme law of the country will inaugurate the IVth Republic, replacing the previous constitution governing the IIIrd Republic in place since 1996. The 1996 text was a result of the 1993 national conference organized by Déby in an effort to legitimize his rule after ousting former President Hissène Habré in 1990. As was the case in other former French colonies in Africa that undertook political openings in the early 1990s, Chad adopted a semi-presidential constitution closely modeled on that of the Vth French Republic [May and Massey 2001, p.15]. It was amended in 2005 to remove presidential term limits, and again in 2013 to allow the president to belong to a political party and making it possible for the executive to remove judges.

So what prompted this change of constitution? Why abandon semi-presidentialism and return to a presidential system, given that the existence of a dual executive does not appear to have cramped Déby’s style thus far? Déby – in power since 1990 – has had an impressive list of prime ministers – incumbent Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacké is number 16. One of his predecessors – Delwa Kassiré Koumakoye – even served twice in the role, with 12 years of interval. On average, prime ministers of Chad have stayed less than two years (no one has reached three years). This frequent circulation has prevented prime ministers from establishing their own power base and ignite presidential ambitions. By completely eliminating the prime minister function, Déby does away with a position that could be used by a potential competitor to launch a bid for the presidency in the next election.

Déby promised during his campaign for reelection in 2016 to reintroduce presidential term limits [see previous blog post here]. The new constitution does in fact limit presidential terms to two, while lengthening their duration from 5 to 6 years. However, term limits are not retroactive, meaning that when Déby ends his current term in 2021, he can run for another cumulative 12 years.  This kicks the issue of succession a long way down the road. Déby – 65 years old today – would by 2033 be 81.

Changes, in addition to the removal of the prime minister post and the reintroduction of term limits, include:

  • Raising the age limit for presidential candidates from 35 to 45 years, leading to accusations of “gerontocracy” in a country where life expectancy for men is 49 years and for women 52. The move is intended to “avoid us having our Macron,” quipped one observer on social media.
  • Making it easier for the president to dissolve the National Assembly: before, under the semi-presidential constitution, the president’s ability to dissolve the legislature required that the National Assembly dismiss the government twice in one year; now, the constitution only makes vague reference to “persistent crises between the executive power and the legislative power.”
  • Limiting the number of independent oversight institutions by reducing the Constitutional Council, the Court of Accounts and the High Court of Justice to chambers under the Supreme Court. The High Court of Justice in particular used to be an independent institution with responsibility for voting on the impeachment of the president.

So to conclude, Déby appears to have bought himself some peace of mind with the new constitution. He will be the sole leader of the executive, no longer having to change prime ministers every two years or so to keep the ambitions of potential challengers in check. The issue of succession is shelved for the next 15 years with the introduction of non-retroactive term limits, and the pool of potential contestants has been reduced significantly by the 10-year increase in the minimum age for presidential candidates. Finally, the ability of other institutions to check his powers while he prolongs his stay in the presidential palace has been reduced. The question remains whether popular dissatisfaction and the power of the street could succeed in bringing about Déby’s downfall, as happened in Burkina Faso when Blaise Compaoré sought to further extend his presidency. Déby has strong support among European powers and the US given Chad’s role as a lynchpin in the fight against terrorism. The US took Chad off its travel ban list earlier this month. The position taken by the Chadian security forces would be crucial for the outcome of any attempted uprising.

Nigeria – Ekiti State’s July Governorship poll is a crucial litmus test for the 2019 presidential Election

The southwestern state of Ekiti is one of the smallest of Nigeria’s 36 states but, in terms of presidential politics, might well be one of its most important.  This is true for two reasons. 

The first is, in part, a matter of scheduling: in Ekiti state, unlike in most others, governorship polls are held just under a year before —rather than at the same time as—presidential polls. This means that, like with other mid-term governorship elections (in fellow southwestern state of Osun and in southeastern Anambra) the Ekiti polls provide an early indication of important factors which will determine the conduct and outcome of the subsequent presidential race. Chief among these is the question of how prepared Nigeria’s electoral management body, INEC, is to conduct presidential elections; if the one-off midterm polls are poorly organized then, there is a slender hope that next year’s polls— which will be held concurrently across the entire country— will be credibly managed. Relatedly, in a consolidating democracy with a powerful executive such as Nigeria’s, mid-terms governorships also shed light on the extent to which the president is willing to use ‘federal might’ or to tip the electoral scale in favor of his party, as was widely reported to have happened in the last Ekiti State election in 2014. It is reasonable to expect that a president who fails to play fair in state mid-terms will not hesitate to pull out all the stops (both legal and otherwise) in subsequent presidential polls in which his own seat is on the line. 

But beyond general issues related to the timing of mid-terms, there is a second reason why the Ekiti State poll in particular could have a dramatic impact on the electoral prospects of Nigeria two leading parties— the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition party the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)—in the 2019 polls. The reason is this: whichever party wins Ekiti state in the upcoming governorship poll will most likely also take the state in the 2019 presidential elections. This is due to the fact that Nigerian voters tend to vote in presidential polls in favor of the party to which their state governors belong — or put otherwise, that incumbent state governors tend to ‘deliver’ their states in presidential polls. Thus, despite the incumbent PDP’s historic loss to the APC in the 2015 presidential and state polls, Ekiti state, under a PDP governor, was able to swim against the national tide. 

Crucially, this has also meant that the state is the last remaining stronghold of the former ruling party outside of its southeastern and middle-belt heartlands (see map). This latter factor is a particularly important consideration since constitutional rules require that a presidential candidate must, in addition to a simple majority, also win one fourth of the votes in 24 states in order to be elected president. Thus, even with strong support in its heartlands, if the PDP is completely shut out of the Southwest then it may struggle to meet the technical requirements for winning the presidential race. Cumulatively, these factors suggest a striking possibility: if the PDP is to lose Ekiti state in the upcoming polls, then it may already have sealed its fate to remain the opposition party at the national-level for the next 4 years.

Map of Nigeria’s 2015 presidential election results with states that voted PDP in green and APC states shaded red. Ekiti is the leftmost state shaded green. Source: Varavour [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In light of this picture, how is the Ekiti State election likely to play out? To return to an earlier point, the first issue to consider is the extent to which the polls will be conducted in a credible manner and without the undue interference of ‘federal might’. In terms of the conduct of the election, Nigeria’s electoral umpire, INEC though widely praised for its management of the 2015 polls, has had a mixed record under its new management. On one hand, the last mid-term governorship elections held in Anambra state in 2017 were regarded as modestly well conducted and a sign of INEC’s fairness. On the other hand, there have been accusations that INEC permitted underage voting in 2018 Local Government Elections in northern Nigeria, which, the PDP claims, benefitted the APC in these elections and point to INEC’s bias in favor of the ruling party. Its ambivalent performance suggests that INEC’s fairness and capacity will remain a major bone of contention in the Ekiti election. 

The influence of ‘federal might’ will also be an important consideration in the upcoming poll. Though President Buhari was praised for his fair play in the Anambra mid-terms in which his party lost, this was also a race held in a traditionally heartland of the opposition where Buhari’s party has not had much of a fighting chance. It is therefore unclear whether Buhari will be willing to leave things to chance in the case of Ekiti where the stakes are much higher. The candidates who are likely to be the front runners make this an even more pertinent question. On one hand, running as the APC frontrunner is Kayode Fayemi, a former governor of the state and a current federal minister. On the other hand, Ayo Fayose, the current term-limited incumbent and one of the most vocal critics of the Buhari administration has endorsed his deputy, Olusola Kolapo, as the PDP candidate for Ekiti. Giving these profiles, the temptation Buhari will face to throw the full weight of the federal government behind Fayemi will be great. 

Last but certainly not least, influential in determining the outcome of the Ekiti polls will be the mood of voters in the state. Though Fayemi, while an incumbent of the state was defeated by Fayose in 2014, the latter ran a campaign that was largely personality based; meaning that Fayose’s party may fair much worse in an election in which he is no longer on the ticket. Although too early to make precise pronouncements — particularly in the absence of polling data— it is clear that the incumbency advantage does not decisively favor either camp in the coming polls. Thus, with the likelihood of being a hotly contested election with nation-wide ramifications, the Ekiti polls will be worth paying close attention to. 

Walt Kilroy – Sierra Leone opts for change

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

A presidential election in Sierra Leone involving an upset for the ruling party, court challenges, and even a delay in holding the vote has nevertheless delivered something generally taken as a sign of a healthy democracy: a peaceful change of leadership in an internationally recognised poll. The outgoing president Ernest Bai Koroma had in fact reached his term limit, after serving two five-year terms. But his hand-picked successor from the ruling All People’s Congress (APC), former finance minister Samura Kamara, was the surprise loser. The country’s new leader, President Julius Maada Bio, comes from the main opposition party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party.

This is in fact the second time since the end of the civil war in the West African country in 2002 that there has been a peaceful transfer of power between the two main parties on the basis of an election. The first round of voting on March 7th showed it was a very close race, with the main candidates receiving 43.4% for Bio compared with Kamara’s 42.7%. A candidate had to receive 55% of the vote to win at the first round. Two new political parties ate into the support base of each of the main parties.

Court intervention

But before the second round could take place, it was held up by a court challenge which has been linked to the ruling APC, alleging electoral irregularities. It is unusual to see such a challenge from a ruling party, which is normally the side accused of interference. The High Court ruled that the second round could go ahead as planned on 27th March, but its decision came just before the vote. So the National Election Commission itself requested the courts to grant a short delay, saying logistical problems meant they needed more time. It went ahead on March 31st, four days after the planned date.

Interestingly, this is the third time in less than year that elections in Africa have been held up or indeed overturned by a court ruling. The second round of the presidential election in neighbouring Liberia was also delayed by a challenge alleging fraud, and last August the Supreme Court in Kenya faced uproar when it annulled the presidential election and ordered that it be held again. The opposition refused to take part in the re-run, and the original winner, Uhuru Kenyatta, was elected once again.

Turnout in Sierra Leone was high: 81% (2.5 m voters), and Bio received 51.8% of the vote. Kamara received 48.2% and did meet Bio to congratulate him but refused to concede. He later launched a further legal challenge to the final result. In accordance with the electoral law, Bio took the oath of office within hours of the final tally being announced, and has proceeded to appoint his cabinet. International monitors were satisfied overall with the poll, although some of the language during the campaign did cause a worry.

There are some interesting parallels. The same pattern of change occurred in neighbouring Liberia a few months before: Ellen Sirleaf Johnson was completing her second and final term in office, and again it was the opposition candidate who won on the second round, after a brief court challenge to the first round from the government side. President George Weah’s past is also unusual, in that he was still better known as a football star rather than a politician. He took office in January.

Previous military rule

President Julius Maada Bio (53) has an interesting past, as a former military junta leader. He briefly led a military coup in 1996, which replaced a previous junta which had seized power some years earlier during the 1991-2002 civil war. He handed over power to a civilian government after a few months. (This track record parallels that of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who took power in a military coup in the 1980s, and many years later defeated an incumbent president to head a civilian government in the 2015 elections). After living in the US for years, Bio returned to Sierra Leone following the war. He has also been studying for a PhD in peace studies at the University of Bradford. He campaigned against corruption and mismanagement, striking a chord with many voters in Sierra Leone.

There were some reports of violence in the run up to both rounds of voting during rallies or confrontations between rival supporters. What is also worrying is that while ethnicity is not openly discussed, support for each of the main parties falls along ethnic lines.

There are plenty of problems to be addressed in the country of six million people, such as desperate poverty and deeply embedded corruption. Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perception Index places it 130 out of 180 countries. The country is still recovering from its war and the Ebola epidemic in 2014-15 which killed more than 4,000 people. The health system was left weakened, with one physician for every 50,000 people. During the outbreak schools were closed, economic life curtailed, and the economy shrank by nearly 20% in one year.

The figures from the Human Development Report (2016) are stark. It is ranks at 179 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index. Life expectancy at birth is 51. Infant mortality has improved considerably but 12% of children still do not make it past their fifth birthday. The literacy rate is 48%, and while it is much better among those aged 15-24, there is still a wide gender gap (59% for young women, and 76% for young men).

One thing which may give Bio a break is that he was not elected on an enormous wave of hope, so at least unrealistic expectations (and inevitable disappointment) are not a major factor. However, Sierra Leone has suffered more than its fair share of poor governance (an important factor in creating the conditions for its civil war in 1991). For a country rich in natural resources, and population with a median age of less than 19, real leadership would be welcomed by many ordinary citizens.

Incumbency and elections: the 2019 polls in Botswana and South Africa

On Saturday 31 March, Botswana’s Ian Khama stepped down as the country’s president and a day later Mokgweetsi Masisi was sworn in. In a region which has seen two of the continent’s longest running presidencies – Robert Mugabe (37 years) and José Eduardo dos Santos (38 years) – Khama’s decision to respect the country’s term limits and bow out after 10 years was widely applauded. Botswana’s ruling party faces an election in just 18 months, so why would the president step down before the election?

Incumbents win elections in Africa. When a sitting president faces an opposition challenger, the opposition wins just 12% of the time.[1] But when an opposition challenger competes in an open seat election (after the president has stepped down), the opposition’s success rate increases nearly fourfold to 45%.

Incumbents win more often due to the ‘incumbency effect’ – presidents can bend state institutions in their favour, frequently securing positive coverage in the public media, they use patronage and positions to buy loyalty, and they are able to introduce popular (or populist) policies to consolidate the ruling party’s vote base. In many cases, the president is also able to use state resources to campaign in the elections, severely skewing the playing field in their favour.

Khama stepping down 18 months ahead of the polls allows Masisi to increase his chances of being elected in 2019, by accruing the benefits of incumbency and thus perpetuating the survival of the BDP.

Protecting the Party in Botswana

Botswana’s presidential terms are disconnected from the five-year electoral cycle – a trend that began after Ketumile Masire introduced presidential term limits and stepped down for his successor after 18 years as head of state in 1998. Rather than a marker of democratic governance, the uncoupling of the electoral timeline and presidential term limit is a mechanism for ensuring the continued electoral success of the ruling Botswana Democratic party – in power since 1966.

History recalls Masire in a positive light, but his decoupling of the presidential and parliamentary terms was intended for the very purpose that it now serves. In 1997 when he changed the constitution, it was in response to the growing unpopularity of his ‘old guard’ due to serious corruption scandals; and it was done to stave off the threat of an electoral loss in 1999.[2]

Prior to Khama’s 2018 resignation, politics in Botswana appeared eerily reminiscent of the last days of Masire’s rule in the 1990s.[3] Khama’s administration had been accused of growing authoritarian tendencies, corruption and populism at home – though his foreign policy stances were widely celebrated abroad.

After 52 years in power, many Botswanans have begun to tire of the BDP. The party narrowly avoided defeat in the last elections, when they faced a more united opposition. In the 2014 elections Khama’s BDP failed to win an outright majority, garnering just 46.5% of the vote, while opposition parties shared 53.5%. The next 18 months will give Masisi time to consolidate his position within the BDP and take the lead on popular policies to address the corruption, inequality and unemployment that are seen to have increased markedly under Khama.

The South African Comparison

While South Africa’s presidential term depends entirely on parliamentary electoral cycles, the predominance of the ANC – in power since 1994 – allows the party to similarly short-circuit the party’s electoral accountability. The ANC’s constitution provides for just two presidential terms as party leader – a convention that has been respected until now, notwithstanding Thabo Mbeki’s attempt to change it and Jacob Zuma’s intention to install a proxy.

However, the party’s leadership renewal calendar installs a new party leader a little less than 18 months before the country goes to the ballot box. With the removal of Thabo Mbeki and now Jacob Zuma, the party has begun a similar (if less formalised) trend to Botswana, by delinking the presidential term from the electoral cycle.

Jacob Zuma – and to a lesser extent, Mbeki – was removed to allow the ANC to revive their waning electoral legitimacy and clean up the party’s image in the wake of damaging scandals.[4] 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.

The coalitions formed by the opposition to govern in Nelson Mandela Bay, Pretoria and Johannesburg have been seen to presage the need for a national coalition after 2019.[5] The opposition Democratic Alliance was certainly hopeful.[6]

Instead, the removal of Zuma and installation of Cyril Ramaphosa as president led to a wave of positive sentiment – dubbed ‘Ramaphoria’ – which has bolstered the currency, helped stave off a downgrade to ‘junk status’ by Moody’s and left the middle class sleeping a little easier. The ANC hopes to capitalise on their renewed breathing space, and was reportedly considered bringing the 2019 elections forward to outflank the opposition.[7]

Introducing a new president – who is presented as a ‘new broom’ – ahead of an election can help revive the waning fortunes of a dominant party. This (to some degree) has helped reinvigorate the image of Tanzania’s ruling CCM which has been in power since 1962.  Both the ANC and the BDP will be hoping that their pre-emptive moves to renew public confidence will pay off at the ballot box next year. By never running an open-seat election, these parties are likely to maintain their longevity for as long as the public is willing to give the new leader the benefit of the doubt.

[1] Nic Cheeseman, “African Elections as Vehicles for Change,” Journal of Democracy 21, no. 4 (2010): 139–153.

[2] Kenneth Good and Ian Taylor, “Unpacking the ‘Model’: Presidential Succession in Botswana,” in Legacies of Power: Leadership Change and Former Presidents in African Politics, ed. Roger Southall and Henning Melber (Cape Town: Uppsala: Chicago: HSRC Press; Nordiska Afrikainstitutet; Independent Publishers Group, 2006).

[3] Joel Konopo, “Bad Khama,” August 10, 2017, https://www.businesslive.co.za/fm/features/africa/2017-08-10-ian-khamas-growing-intolerance/; Monageng Mogalakwe and Francis Nyamnjoh, “Botswana at 50: Democratic Deficit, Elite Corruption and Poverty in the Midst of Plenty,” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 35, no. 1 (January 2, 2017): 1–14, https://doi.org/10.1080/02589001.2017.1286636.

[4] For example, Mahlatse Mahlase and Lizeka Tandwa, “It’s Not a Matter of If, but When Zuma Goes – NEC Sources,” The M&G Online, January 9, 2018, https://mg.co.za/article/2018-01-09-its-not-a-matter-of-if-but-when-zuma-goes-nec-sources/; Mogomotse Magome, “Graft Charges Make Zuma an Electoral Liability,” IOL, May 2, 2016, https://www.iol.co.za/news/politics/graft-charges-make-zuma-an-electoral-liability-2016402.

[5] Marianne Merten, “Analysis: Coalitions No Easy Route Come 2019, as Current Co-Operation Pacts Wobble | Daily Maverick,” The Daily Maverick, October 8, 2017, https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2017-10-08-analysis-coalitions-no-easy-route-come-2019-as-current-co-operation-pacts-wobble/.

[6] “The ANC May Not Be the Government in 2019, Coalitions Are the Future for SA,” Democratic Alliance (blog), December 6, 2017, https://www.da.org.za/2017/12/anc-may-not-government-2019-coalitions-future-sa/.

[7] Sam Mkokeli, “ANC to Discuss Bringing Elections Forward to Capitalise on ‘Ramaphoria,’” Sunday Times, March 25, 2018, https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/business/2018-03-25-anc-to-discuss-bringing-elections-forward-to-capitalise-on-ramaphoria/.

Côte d’Ivoire’s Senate Elections: The Next Move on the 2020 Elections Chessboard

This is a guest post by Lindsay Robinson, Senior Program Officer at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Washington, DC

Many aspects of Côte d’Ivoire’s March 26, 2018 senate elections were surprising, from the results to the decision to swear in only two-thirds of the body. Many Ivoirians were surprised that the polls even took place at all. The elections put in place the country’s first-ever senate; the institution was introduced in the new 2016 constitution. It was one of the more controversial provisions of the document, with the opposition claiming that there was no need for an expensive (“budgetivore”) new senate and claiming that the mode of selection gave the president far too much power over the legislative process — only two-thirds of 99 senators are elected and the remaining 33 are chosen by the president. However, the National Assembly still takes “precedence” over the Senate, as it can pass legislation on its own if the two chambers cannot reach an agreement.

The Senate’s main role is to counterbalance the Assembly’s constituency-focused members, as senators are beholden to constituents at a regional level — senators (at least 66 of them) are elected indirectly by regional and local councilors. The remaining, appointed senators are intended to be chosen from among underrepresented constituencies. For example, activists promoting women’s political participation have called on President Alassane Ouattara to appoint women to these seats.

No one expected these elections. Côte d’Ivoire’s new Constitution stipulated that any first cohort of senators would be elected only through 2020, at which time fresh elections would be called along with the next National Assembly elections. Article 90 states that an “organic law” will outline the Senate’s membership, eligibility criteria, and election procedures; this type of law is passed by the National Assembly. When no law was passed in the year after the constitution’s promulgation, many Ivoirian analysts assumed that the elections would not be called until 2020, thus avoiding a short two-year term. It therefore came as a surprise to many when on February 14 President Ouattara issued an executive order that served the same purpose as the “organic law” but without being passed through the legislature, followed a week later by an announcement of the election date. The administration justified the urgency by pointing to the constitution’s requirement that the senate be seated seven days after the start of the National Assembly’s first annual session, which in 2018 fell on April 2. But it is unclear why there was not similar urgency ahead of the 2017 session.

No candidates or voters from the opposition participated. The opposition contested the government’s reasoning. They had counted on participating in local elections in mid-2018 and winning enough seats on local and regional councils to influence the outcome of the Senate’s indirect races. Instead, the voters in the March senate elections were the local and regional councilors whose mandates expire in April 2018, and who were elected in 2013 local elections that the opposition boycotted. Thus there were no voters in this election from the country’s main opposition parties.

Furthermore, the opposition has been increasingly vocal about its lack of confidence in the independent electoral commission (CEI) and called for a new dialogue and consensus about its composition. The president of the main opposition party the Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI), Affi N’Guessan, deplored that “today the governance in our country is the product of illegitimate institutions that have come from an illegitimate CEI.” Opposition parties refuse to acknowledge the validity of any elections (including this Senate race) that the CEI organizes with its current composition, which between the RHDP and the government is controlled by partisans of the majority. The African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights found in November 2016 that the composition was not in conformity with the country’s international commitments to create an impartial body and ordered it be reviewed within a year, which has yet to happen. The lack of both opposition voters and candidates paved the way for an overwhelming victory by the ruling coalition, the Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), which took 50 of the 66 seats up for election.

The RHDP ran unopposed by a competing party — but it still lost nearly a quarter of the seats to independent candidates. These were not political newcomers — the independents almost all come from the ruling coalition. There were major upsets in Côte d’Ivoire’s political capital  Yamoussoukro, where a member of the Rally for Republicans (RDR, President Ouattara’s party) and of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI, the second-largest coalition member) ran together as independents and won against the list presented by the RHDP. In Bouaké, the country’s second most populous city, PDCI members did the same. This echoes the National Assembly elections in 2016, when more than a third of all elected legislators had run as independents. At the root of this  phenomenon is an Abidjan-based candidate selection process that leaves many locally popular candidates sidelined. As happened in the National Assembly, the elected “independents” are likely to retake their party names and join the RHDP for votes.

Only 8 women were elected despite the new constitution’s call for greater women’s political participation. It is somewhat ironic that the ruling coalition that paved the way for the 30% gender quota law that will soon be introduced into the legislature only presented 8 female candidates out of 66 (or 12% of its candidates).

RHDP leadership is uncertain ahead of landmark 2020 elections. So why did President Ouattara proceed with the senatorial elections at this time? The indirect nature of the Senate elections means there is little benefit to be had from electing senators now so that they might have incumbent advantage in the 2020 elections. The impact on the president’s legislative agenda of having a friendly senate will also be fairly minimal; the National Assembly will retain primacy in passing legislation.

Instead, the reasons for this move likely have to do with the president’s plans for the RHDP coalition ahead of the 2020 elections. The RDR and PDCI, as well as a faction of RHDP headed by the National Assembly President Guillaume Soro, are vying to control who will select the coalition’s presidential candidate in 2020. Soro has clear ambitions for the post, while the PDCI believes it is “their turn” to provide the nominee after Ouattara’s (RDR’s) two terms. Meanwhile, Ouattara professes to want a unified party that presents its best candidate, regardless of party origin — although there are a number of RDR members he likely thinks fit the bill.

The Senate helps President Ouattara on a number of fronts in this battle over succession. It is a counterbalance to the politically powerful Soro, who no longer speaks for the entire legislative branch. President Ouattara’s close ally Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio was elected unanimously as Senate president. Ahoussou also comes from PDCI, which helps improve relations there. Ouattara also has an opportunity to nominate 33 individuals and turn potential rivals into allies; he chose not to appoint these senators before the senate opened, justifying the delay by a desire to provide only elected senators a say in the leadership election. These seats can be powerful “carrots” in the effort to create a unified party.

Uganda – On Presidents, policing and power

On 4 March, Uganda’s President Museveni made the surprise announcement that he was firing both his Inspector General Police (IGP), Gen. Kale Kayihura, and his Security Minister, Lt Gen. Henry Tumukunde. This came after months of infighting between the two men and their respective agencies, the Uganda Police Force (UPF) and the Internal Security Organization (ISO).

Despite initially dominating headlines, the two-man feud is not the sole reason—or perhaps even a particularly significant reason—for the shake-up. Other factors include the police’s increasing involvement with criminal organisations, public frustration with police incompetence, and perhaps most significant, Museveni’s apparent misgivings about Kayihura’s loyalty.

None of these concerns, even the last, can be remedied through a simple reshuffle. They thus invite further reflection, particularly regarding President Museveni’s past management of security in Uganda, the growing partisanship and impunity of the police force, and what new security strategy Museveni may now adopt.

The rise and decline of the Uganda’s police  

Professionalism in the Ugandan police declined as it became more of a partisan fighting force, a transformation that former IGP Kayihura largely oversaw.

Veteran journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo gives a particularly trenchant analysis of this process, although other observers also offer useful summaries.

In brief, the Ugandan Police Force first underwent a process of professionalization through the 1990s and into the early 2000s. The two IGPs during this period were both career police officers and succeeded in turning the Force from “a mess” into a “boring place”, run in as “technocratic” a manner as it has ever been.

Some analysts contest this reading, noting that the Force, even in the 1990s, was not without controversy. But this initial period of institutional consolidation and professionalization certainly contrasts with what followed.

The first key change came in 2001 with the transition to IGP Wamala who, rather than a professional police officer, was a military man. But it was Kayihura’s accession to the IGP position in 2005 that marked the real watershed. Under his leadership, the Force became increasingly politicized internally and more overtly partisan in its actual policing.

The reasons for the change were multiple. They included Museveni’s frustration with a police force know for voting “badly”.

But the change in policing came alongside a more fundamental shift in the NRM’s overall security strategy.

As Onyango-Obbo argues, by the early 2000s, Museveni was increasingly keen to distance the military from overt partisan activities, easing its metamorphosis into a seemingly more professional force worthy of taking a lead in regional peace-keeping efforts.

This withdrawal of the military left the police to handle partisan issues at home, and this even as the political threat posed by the opposition grew.

This threat, along with Museveni’s personal trust in Kayihura, helps explain why the annual budget for the police exploded under his watch, going from Shs58b (£11.2m) to Shs600b (£115.5m).

Flush with cash, the Police spent some of it on new equipment, thus becoming increasingly militarised. This trend only grew more pronounced following the unprecedented 2011 “walk to work” protests, which Kayihura was instrumental in suppressing.

Ahead of the 2016 elections, Kayihura invested in a new initiative, the build-up of the so-called “crime preventers”, a community policing force that supposedly numbers 12m (but undoubtedly far less). Made up of young, largely untrained recruits, the “crime preventers” have been used in partisan policing efforts, often more as a threat.

Where to from here?

With the transfer to a new IGP, Okola Ochola, some observers are hoping for reform in the police.

Ochola is the first career policeman to serve as IGP since 2001, and his early actions do appear aimed at restoring a degree of professionalism.

Only a few weeks in the job and Ochola has already redeployed seven officers, most of whom were previously deployed to the IGP’s office “as a punishment” due to Kayihura’s distrust of them.

He has also indicated his distaste for the “crime preventers” and declared that he will weed out police officers deemed unfit. These will presumably include many of the younger recruits Kayihura brought in to serve as his loyal base whilst undercutting older, more experienced officers.

Much more needs to be done, of course, to bring about a change in the Police. Some also doubt that this change is likely to occur.

They point, in particular, to Ochola’s new deputy, Brigadier Sabiiti Muzeyi, who they suggest could scupper reform efforts. Muzeyi previously commanded the Military Police and his rapid rise within the UPDF was aided by Museveni’s son, Gen. Muhoozi.

But even if Ochola were to professionalise the police, this would raise fresh questions. Would a more professional force retreat from partisan policing? If it did, who would take over the partisan dirty work?

While it is far too early to say, a more professional police under Ochola could make for a more overtly partisan military, reversing earlier efforts to limit the UPDF’s domestic political interventions.

Only this week, Museveni declared that the crime preventers will now serve under the military and that the new crime preventers team should meet the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Muhoozi.

Museveni went further, insisting that crime preventers was nothing new and had been part of the National Resistance Army going back to the 1980s.

Even as we contemplate the possibility of another shift in Museveni’s security strategy, one thing about which we can be sure is that security forces will continue to be used for partisan ends. The only change may be which kind of officer—military or police—holds the gun.

Niger – Battle for the budget

Who would have thought a finance law could ignite such fervor, bringing thousands to the streets of Niamey and other cities of Niger in demonstrations for and against the national budget?

Since October 2017, a coalition of civil society groups, opposition parties and labor unions have mobilized against Niger’s 2018 budget law which they label as “antisocial.” The 2018 budget extends taxation into the informal sector, including the transportation sector, and raises taxes on the trade and service sectors, among other measures. It also provides for reduced taxation of the mobile sector, notably by eliminating the tax on incoming international calls (TATTIE), which was a significant source of revenue (about 20 billion FCFA). The government of Niger was reportedly under pressure by the international mobile phone companies and the World Bank to eliminate the TATTIE which according to Minister of Finance Hassoumi Massaoudou is not applied in any other country member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union.

The finance law was adopted in November 2017 without changes proposed by the opposition. Since then, there have been regular demonstrations against the 2018 budget, which have continued into 2018. Protesters argue the law affects the poor disproportionately, while favoring foreign firms.

In early March, pro-government parties organized a massive counter demonstration in support of the budget and President Mahamadou Issoufou. The government argues the tax burden remains at its 2015-level and that the budget has no negative impact on the rural sector where 80% of Nigeriens live. Instead, according to the Minister of Finance, the 2018 budget seeks to extend taxation to the large informal sector in the urban areas that amounts for 59% of GDP.

This budget battle is a product of and illustrates the significant external and internal pressures the government of Niger is facing.

Insecurity is an existential threat, with terrorists infiltrating and attacking the country from neighboring Mali, Libya and Nigeria. Just this past week, three armed police officers (gendarmes) were killed in Goubé, at 40 km from the capital Niamey, by assailants crossing over the border from Mali.

As a result of the regional insecurity, 15% of the national budget now goes to the security sector, while spending on public services such as education and access to clean water has had to be reduced proportionally. Falling prices on uranium and oil, Niger’s primary exports, have contributed to the country’s significant dependence on foreign aid which in turn limits the government’s policy options.

At the same time, the government of President Issoufou faces a very determined opposition led by the largest opposition party, MODEN/FA Lumana. Lumana’s leader, former Prime Minister and former Speaker of the National Assembly Hama Amadou, is in self-imposed exile in France after being sentenced in absentia to a year in prison for child smuggling – a charge Hama Amadou and his supporters argue is politically motivated. The opposition is boycotting the newly reformed independent election commission where it has refused to take up the seats reserved for it. The opposition also stays away from meetings of the National Council for Political Dialogue (Conseil National pour le Dialogue Politique – CNDP), a forum under the auspices of the prime minister created to facilitate inter-party dialogue outside of parliament. Instead, as we’ve seen, the opposition is taking to the streets, forming an alliance with some of the largest civil society organizations of Niger.

In a country with a rich history of military coups – the latest as recent as 2010 – and facing significant security threats, there is reason to worry about the apparent inability of government and opposition to engage in dialogue. In early March, after the pro-government counter demonstration, the Islamic Associations of Niger felt compelled to issue a statement condemning the marches for or against the 2018 finance law and calling on Nigerien elites to come together “to protect the sovereignty of the nation, social cohesion and to ensure sustainable development.” They also declared their availability to serve as mediators. The statement may have contributed to the civil society-opposition coalition calling off its plans for the organization of a “ghost town operation” (general strike) on March 15. However, the protesters against the finance law have maintained their call for a large manifestation on March 25.

The situation in Niger merits greater attention than the country generally gets. An apparently banal budget battle could well degenerate. The use of the streets to demonstrate political muscle illustrates how polarized the situation is, and the inability of existing institutional fora to appropriately channel political dialogue.

Kenya – President Kenyatta does a deal …

For the past year, Kenya has been on a worrying political trajectory. Following disputed elections in August – which were nullified by the Supreme Court in September – the political system has been on an uneven keel. Having boycotted the “fresh” elections in October, opposition leader Raila Odinga refused to recognise the legitimacy of president Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory that, in the absence of his main rival, was inevitably won in a landslide.

For his part, Kenyatta, having won the repeat poll and sensing that international donors had little appetite to support Odinga’s claims to power, demonstrated no inclination to compromise. Instead, government rhetoric suggested that while the president might be willing to sit down and talk to the opposition about how to achieve development, the 2017 elections, and the quality of Kenyan democracy, was off the table.

This political impasse had begun to generate considerable political instability. Over 100 people died in protests and clashes relating to the election controversy, significantly increasing the political temperature. Moreover, while an opposition ceremony to swear Odinga in as the “People’s President” passed without incident once the government made the decision to remove the security forces from the streets, the aftermath of the inauguration demonstrated that this was not part of a broader process of reconciliation.

Instead, the ruling party quickly moved to criminalise the National Resistance Movement that Odinga had launched to contest Kenyatta’s victory, and deported Miguna Miguna, the controversial opposition leader who had presided over the ceremony. Although these steps were triggered by the inauguration, they were part of a wider pattern of democratic backsliding that has included:

  • Verbal attacks on judges following the nullification of the 8 August election, and continued political pressure on the judiciary to rule in favour of the government.
  • Ignoring court orders relating to the detention and deportation of Miguna Miguna – which the High Court has now ruled was illegal.
  • The further politicization of the media, including threats to journalists writing stories that would embarrass the government and pressure on newspapers to cancel the contracts of critical columnists.
  • Forcing three TV stations– KTN, NTV and Citizen TV – off-air so that they could not cover Odinga’s swearing-in ceremony, and then keeping the broadcasting ban in place for almost a week.

Against this backdrop, a prolonged political crisis appeared to be a genuine risk. Instead, backroom negotiations – in part spurred by the efforts by the international community to negotiate a compromise ahead of the visit of the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – led to an unheralded breakthrough. Following months of bitter disputes, on 9 March 2018 President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga announced that they had made up and were now “brothers”.

However, while the agreement was welcomed by many Kenyans as it promised to give rise to a period of greater political stability and cohesion, it raised as many questions as it answered. Although it is clear what President Kenyatta has gained through the deal, most notably recognition as the country’s legitimate executive and an end to opposition protests, it is unclear exactly what the deal will deliver for Raila Odinga. The agreement that has been circulated is low on details and includes no firm commitments that would bind Kenyatta’s hands when it comes to media freedom, respect for the judiciary, or even electoral reform.

In turn, this has raised questions about whether the deal between Kenyatta and Odinga is based on a compromise about the reforms needed to strengthen Kenyan democracy, or represents a personal deal between the two leaders to work together to protect each other’s political interests. Those close to Kenyatta and Odinga have suggested that the agreement is rooted in their concern for their legacy and desire to avoid conflict. But a more cynical interpretation is possible, namely that one of the main gains the two men have realised by joining forces is to outmanoeuvre rival leaders from their own alliances who hope to replace them as presidential candidates come the next election in 2022.

For Kenyatta, the potential of a longer-term political alliance with Odinga reduces his dependence on two of his potential successors within the Jubilee govermment – Gideon Moi and Willian Ruto. Similarly, the deal benefits Odinga by easing his reliance on Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula – three supposed allies within the National Super Alliance (NASA) who failed to turn up to support his inauguration, prompting widespread rumours that the opposition coalition had fragmented.

As Kenyan political leaders begin to adjust to the latest in a long line of reconfigurations, there is only one thing that can be said for certain: further political realignments are likely, and the parties and alliances that contest the next elections will not be those that competed in the last ones.

Nigeria — Bandwagoning, Election Sequencing, and an Executive-Legislative Tug of War

What has happened:

On February 6, Nigeria’s Senate voted in favor of amendments to Nigeria’s Electoral Act, the law which governs key aspects of the manner in which Nigeria’s national elections are conducted. Though the proposed amendments contain a number of interesting provisions, one provision in particular —which relates to the sequencing of Nigeria’s presidential, state, and parliamentary elections —has become a source of controversy.

At the heart of ongoing debate is the fact that the bill approved in the Senate proposes to upturn the order in which elections are held such that elections for members of Nigeria’s National Assembly will now be conducted first while State elections and Presidential polls will subsequently be held.

Nigeria’s electoral management bureau, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has already released its polling time-table which, drawing on precedent, stagger the national elections—with the Presidential election holding first followed by those for the State and National Assembly. If the bill is passed the INEC will therefore be forced to reverse its calendar. The implications of this reordering have been the cause of much speculation and scrutiny given the fact that Nigeria’s next national elections, scheduled for February 2019, are barely a year away.

Moreover, passing these amendments brings the Senate in line with the House of Representatives, Nigeria’s lower chamber of parliament, which unanimously assented to the same amendments in January. Their approval in the Senate thus means that the President Buhari’s signature is the final hurdle in the path for the acceptance of the amendments into law.

What is at stake:

The passage of this amendment in both chambers of Nigeria’s National Assembly sheds light on a number of important developments. Firstly, as has been noted in the Nigerian press, the proposals reveal the National Assembly’s recognition of the importance of the ‘bandwagon effect’ in Nigerian elections. The bandwagon effect is a phenomenon wherein voters cast their ballots in favor of the party they consider the most likely winner of an election. [i] This effect has been particularly pronounced in national elections in Nigeria where elections are staggered, and where it is common for the party which wins the Presidential election, typically held first, to not only win a majority in subsequent State and National Assembly elections but also to win over members of the opposition party who frequently defect to the winning side [ii]. Given President Buhari’s popularity and his likelihood to seek a second term, this is a factor which could have a significant impact on the composition of the next National Assembly. The current National Assembly’s decision to pass this amendment thus appears to signal its desire to at least limit, if not reverse, the influence which the outcome of the next Presidential elections will have on the National Assembly races.

These amendments also signal increasing factionalism in Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). President Buhari is the de facto leader of the APC, which has reportedly endorsed him for a second term. The APC also commands a majority in both the Senate and the House of representatives and is represented in the leadership of both houses. The fact that this bill nonetheless garnered enough APC votes in order to pass in both Houses suggests that APC members in the legislature may no longer see their fate as tied to that of the President. Instead — and perhaps as a third implication of the passage of the amendment — this suggest that members of the legislature are seeking increased independence from the influence and control vested in the executive branch. An increasingly independent legislature would mark a significant development in Nigeria’s Democracy, in which, given its enormous powers, executive influence has typically been all-but-insurmountable.

What happens next:

For precisely the above reasons, it is safe to assume that President Buhari is likely to veto the National Assembly’s proposed amendments. The president will see the upcoming election as an opportunity  to shore up his support in the legislature and to limit the sort of independence which has allowed the National Assembly propose this amendment in the first place. Assenting to the proposed electoral schedule which could rob the president of influence is for this reason certain to be a none-starter.  In the event of a presidential veto, it is also likely that the legislature will seek to override the president, a highly plausible scenario given the bill’s popularity in the National Assembly thus far. What is likely to happen beyond this point is difficult to precisely estimate. However, whichever direction the resolution of this debate ultimately falls will certainly play a significant role in the management and outcome of Nigeria’s upcoming elections.


[i] Morton, R. B., Muller, D., Page, L., & Torgler, B. (2015). Exit polls, turnout, and bandwagon voting: Evidence from a natural experiment. European Economic Review, 77, 65-81.

[ii] Omilusi, O., P. (2015). “The Nuances and Nuisances of Party Defection in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic.” International Journal of Multidisciplinary Academic Research, Vol. 3, No. 4.