Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Will 2012 see more strong men of Africa leave office?

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By Isaac Esipisu

There are many reasons for being angry with Africa ’s strong men, whose autocratic ways have thrust some African countries back into the eye of the storm and threatened to undo the democratic gains in other parts of the continent of the past decades.

For those who made ultimate political capital from opposing strongman rule in their respective countries, it is a chilling commentary of African politics that several leaders now seek to cement their places and refusing to retire and watch the upcoming elections from the sidelines, or refusing to hand over power after losing presidential elections.

In 2012 one of the longest strong men of Africa, President Abdoulaye Wade’s country Senegal is holding its presidential elections together with other countries like Sierra Leon, Mali, Mauritania, Malagasy, and will be shortly followed by Zimbabwe and Kenya.

Yoweri Museveni and Paul Biya of Cameroon , who are among the longest-ruling leaders of the Africa , won their respective presidential elections and continue to have a stronghold on their respective countries, albeit with charges raised of serious election malpractice. Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola, Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo Republic and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe will in one or two years face the electorate in an effort to further cement their authoritarian leadership.

Lessons learnt from Ivory Coast

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gbagboTV images of an incredulous Laurent Gbagbo being forcibly evicted from power this week by United Nations- and French-backed Ivorian soldiers send an unequivocal message to other leaders across the continent: outstay your welcome and it could be you next.

Monday’s storming of his Abidjan residence by troops loyal to Alassane Ouattara – whom the rest of the world months ago recognised as winner of the Nov. 28 election – came after Gbagbo was disowned by even his closest African peers.

Are “African Solutions” right for the continent’s democracy push?

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IVORYCOAST/GBAGBO

   

“This is an African solution to an African problem,” was African Union chief Jean Ping’s reasoning for another round of negotiations to resolve Ivory Coast’s bitter leadership dispute.

Regional leaders and the outside world had been uncharacteristically swift to condemn Laurent Gbagbo’s bid to cling onto power. The AU itself wasted little time suspending the West African nation from the bloc.

Uganda votes: Fighting talk

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UGANDAUgandans love to talk. And, unlike in some other African countries, few people are afraid to be heard talking politics. Cafes and bars in Kampala and elsewhere hum to the sound of politicians being loudly verbally skewered.

The politicos themselves are not much different. Rhetoric is being ratcheted up ahead of elections on February 18.  And the opposition are not holding back.

One step forward, a few steps back

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- One step forward, and already a few back. One of the few positives of Sudan’s elections, dubbed to be the first open vote in 24 years but marred by opposition boycotts and accusations of fraud, was a tiny opening of democratic freedom in Africa’s largest country. Direct press censorship was lifted from Sudan’s papers. Opposition politicians were finally given an allbeit limited platform to address the population through the state media and journalists were given unprecedented access to many parts of the country, including war-torn Darfur. Still it seemed for the biggest international observer missions like the Carter Center and the European Union the best they could say about the elections was 1: That they happened and 2: That people were not killing each other for once in this nation divided by decades of multiple civil wars. (At least not because of the vote anyway). They all agreed that the crack of democracy opened during the polls must be allowed to continue. It seemed more progressive members of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s ruling party agreed. Presidential Advisor Ghazi Salaheddin told me: “I don’t think we can go back”.  And even the not so West-friendly Presidential Assistant Nafie Ali Nafie was making positive noises post elections, pledging to hold the next polls in four years time. But it seems just one month after the vote, Sudan is sliding back to its old ways. In Darfur, where Bashir is accused by the International Criminal Court of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Sudanese army has after a two-week offensive, taken control of West Darfur’s Jabel Moun – which has been a key rebel stronghold pretty much since the conflict began in 2003. I travelled there once with arguably the most crazy of Darfur’s rebel groups, led by Gibril Abdelkarim. Traversing the Sudanese-Chadian border at will, the rebels drove for hours through largely empty savannah (interrupted only by a Janjaweed attack and getting stuck in sand dunes). It’s an impressive range of hills dotted with villages full of cattle herders and farmers making it an ideal base to defend against attack. It’s also an area where the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) has enjoyed little access because of almost constant military clashes and bombing there. The army said it killed 108 soldiers from the insurgent Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which JEM denies. JEM, largely boxed in by a Chadian-Sudanese rapprochement and complaining of constant aerial bombardment, redeployed most of its troops from Jabel Moun leaving them stretched too thin and allowing the army to take advantage. Those “mobile units” as they called them also clashed with the army in North and South Darfur as they edged towards the oil-producing South Kordofan state. The lull in Darfur’s fighting during the elections did not last long. JEM argue even during the voting the government was deploying in preparation for the offensive. And then a late-night raid on Saturday on Bashir’s former close ally turned bitter enemy Islamist Hassan al-Turabi’s home, arresting him. closing his opposition party’s paper, seizing its assets and detaining three of its senior editors. A myriad of reasons were given by different NCP and security officials for his arrest. Ranging from unspecified “security reasons” to accusing him of helping JEM, to his al-Rai al-Shaab paper (which enjoys a limited readership) publishing articles damaging to national security. Editors-in-chiefs of newspapers were “invited” for a meeting at the feared intelligence headquarters on Monday, which many worry could result either in a reintroduction of censorship or at least a veiled warning of what could happen if they did not self censor. The Ajras al-Huriya paper is a shining example of what can happen if they don’t toe the line. They say they have five court cases pending against them (three raised by the intelligence services) for publishing false news among other charges, which could result in up to six months in jail for the acting editor-in-chief. The paper is pretty much the mouthpiece of the former southern rebel turned NCP partner in government after a landmark 2005 peace deal, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). So no midnight raids on them – just long, drawn out summonings and court proceedings. Whatever happens, many of Sudan’s independent dailies, already heavily dependent on government company advertising for the bulk of their revenue, are likely to write cautiously from now on. In the south, which will vote on whether to become Africa’s newest nation state in just eight months, one journalist was arrested for 13 days after trying to take pictures of electoral violence in the oil-rich Unity state. Another said he was detained and beaten by southern security forces, even though he had an identification card saying he worked for the SPLM, which dominates the region’s semi-autonomous government. A senior general revolted and is threatening a main town after he accused the SPLM of fraud in the southern elections. He said he mutinied after authorities ordered his arrest and that he has wide support, although there is little that can be independently confirmed in the remote region of Jonglei. He had said he wanted to negotiate but that attacks by the south Sudan army, sent to surround his troops, have left little room for talks. There’s still time to salvage the political scene in the north and south ahead of the southern referendum on secession which could destabilise the entire Horn of Africa if mishandled. The SPLM should engage those who left the party to stand as independents in the elections, not exclude them. And the NCP can release the ailing Turabi and journalists and follow (preferably daylight), fair and transparent legal proceedings against those it feels have erred. Darfur’s peace talks can restart, the army can stop its bombardment and JEM can haltturabiits redeployment. I had written a blog “one step forward, how many back?” a month ago. I hope these recent transgressions are not my answer.

sudanOne of the few positives of Sudan’s elections, dubbed to be the first open vote in 24 years but marred by opposition boycotts and accusations of fraud, was a tiny opening of democratic freedom in Africa’s largest country.

Direct press censorship was lifted from Sudan’s papers and opposition politicians were given an albeit limited platform to address the population through state media.

Yar’Adua death leaves succession wide open

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NIGERIA-PRESIDENT/The death of Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua is unlikely to plunge Africa’s most populous state into crisis, but it intensifies what was already shaping up to be the fiercest succession race since the end of military rule.

Yar’Adua has been absent from the political scene since last November, when he left for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, and his deputy Goodluck Jonathan has been running the country since February and has since consolidated his position.

One step forward. How many back?

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SUDAN-ELECTIONS/Sudan has witnessed the end of what was supposed to be a historic event.

 The first multi-party polls in almost quarter of a century to elect leaders on all levels, including the presidency held by Omar Hassan al-Bashir for 21 years.

But far from joy in the streets or pride in a job well done, there was just a sigh of relief.

When is an election boycott not an election boycott?

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sudanWhen it takes place in Sudan.

Preparations for Sudan’s general elections — due to start tomorrow — were thrown into confusion over the past two weeks as opposition parties issued contradictory statements over whether they were boycotting the polls.

Some announced a total withdrawal, protesting against fraud and unrest in Darfur, only to change their minds days later. Others pulled out from parts of the elections — presidential, parliamentary and gubernatorial votes are taking place at the same time — then changed their minds days later. Others left it up to individual candidates to decide.

To observe or not to observe?

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SUDAN-ELECTIONS/This is likely to be the question hotly debated in the more self-aware international observer missions covering Sudan’s elections, due to start on Sunday and marred by a wave of boycotts and claims of fraud.

Sudan’s first multi-party polls in almost quarter of a century had promised to be fiercely contested until revelations of irregularities caused boycotts by several parties.

A new dawn for Sudanese press freedom?

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SUDAN-DARFUR/

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.

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