Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
By Isaac Esipisu
Kenya is set to hold in December of this year its first elections since the 2007 vote that was marred by deadly violence. The east African country’s election will come under intense scrutiny because it will be the first under a new constitution and the first since the 2007 poll in which more than 1,220 people were killed, mostly in post-election violence.
The bloodshed and property destruction were unprecedented. Many Kenyans were rendered homeless as well; many as I write are still leaving as internally displaced persons (IDPs)
The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor later named six people suspected of bearing the greatest responsibility for the post-election violence in 2007. The ICC’s move was viewed by optimists as the end of the country’s culture of impunity, but pessimists feared it could spark a new round of ethnic blood-letting.
Proponents of the Hague process see it as the only way of achieving justice in a country where those in high office have never been brought to account for their actions
In the bad old days of post-colonial Africa, dictators would hail their landslide re-elections as a demonstration of the will of an adoring people while international observers would dismiss the polls as electoral farce.
In the brave new Africa, it is often the other way round.
In Ivory Coast this week, the U.N. mission chief is going out of his way to hail the election as broadly democratic, while both incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and rival Alassane Ouattara have complained the vote has been marred by intimidation of their supporters.
So what is going on? Two things, at least.
Electorates are becoming more sophisticated and literate, although there is still often a big gap between urban and rural voters. Election monitoring, while still a tough job, has also improved. And even the most authoritarian of rulers knows donors will not be best pleased at any sign of meddling with monitors’ work. In Ivory Coast, there is particularly close scrutiny because the poll has costs donors $400 million and they want their money’s worth.
Put simply, it is harder to rig an election these days.
Secondly, much of the international strategy for dealing with post-crisis countries like Ivory Coast or perpetual-crisis countries like neighbouring Guinea rests is based on the hope that democratic elections will make things better.
The fear is that if the election turns out to be a joke, then the strategy falls apart. It is therefore in the interest of the internationals to defend the credibility of the vote.
The presidential race in Ivory Coast is an undeniably tight contest — neither Gbagbo nor Ouattara can hope to achieve the 96.7 percent score achieved last year by Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema in a much-criticised poll.
In that sense what is playing out in Abidjan at the moment is broadly positive — an attempt to stage a free and fair poll.
Yet what is troubling is the hiatus between the close of polls on Sunday and the announcement of preliminary results not due until Wednesday. The ballots should be pretty much in from the provinces and tallied up by now. So why the wait?
Speculation is inevitably mounting of behind-the-scenes wrangling over the vote. The local diplomatic corps is urging the two candidates to accept whatever result emerges. Perhaps there are well-meaning efforts going on to soften the blow for whomever has lost it — and reduce the risk of trouble.
The next couple of days will show just how ready for democracy Ivory Coast and its leaders really are.
It remains to be seen if either candidate in Guinea’s presidential election knows how to run a country.
But after Sunday’s run-off election, during which the candidates wanted to say a few words to journalists after casting their ballots, it is clear that neither knows how to run a press conference.
If the potential success of an election could be judged by the excitement generated by its first day of campaigning, then Uganda is set for an excellent poll.
It can’t, of course, but it was heartening to see both ruling party and opposition supporters whooping it around capital Kampala yesterday ahead of a February 18th voting day that most think will be nothing but a foregone conclusion.
Would you order three new jets just so your successor could use them?
President Goodluck Jonathan is keeping Nigerians guessing as to whether he plans to stand in elections due next January, but suspicions are growing that he will eventually decide to contest.
Plans he has set out range from boosting power supply – perhaps Nigeria’s most critical need – to improving roads. Those are certainly not projects that anyone could complete quickly. On Wednesday, cabinet approved the purchase of three presidential jets at a cost of $150 million – adding to the suspicions he sees himself making use of them.
Sudan’s opposition is often criticized for being unable to unite. And on Thursday night they didn’t disappoint.
The chaotic scenes after a meeting to discuss whether to boycott Sudan’s upcoming elections left most reporters dazed and confused, especially those who were new to politics in Africa’s largest country.
Hosting a rare debate between Sudan’s much-maligned National Elections Commission (NEC) and opposition parties, the privately owned Blue Nile television was taking a risk broadcasting live to the nation.
In a country where, ahead of April’s first multi-party elections in 24 years, party political broadcasts are pre-recorded and censored, the evening promised to be fun.
Maybe it was too early in the morning. Or perhaps their hearts just weren’t in it.
Whatever the case, a rally called by Togo ‘s opposition leaders for early Tuesday — meant to voice full-throated outrage over the March 4 election they say was rigged to favour the incumbent — was a near no-show.
Nigeria’s ruling party made clear this week it wanted to see another northerner as the candidate for the 2011 presidential election, according to its principle of rotating power. That makes it harder (if not impossible) to see how Acting President Goodluck Jonathan might ever contest the ballot since he is from the Niger Delta in the south.
The Peoples Democratic Party’s unwritten rule of rotating power through Nigeria’s regions every two presidential terms – for these purposes there are six regions – was thought up on the return to civilian rule in 1999 because until then power had largely rotated among northerners, most of them in uniform.
So Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua has ended weeks of silence with comments on the BBC that he is getting better and hopes to be back home soon.
That at least appears to have answered speculation in local media that he could be brain damaged, in a coma or even dead.