Africa: High-risk elections and tricky succession battles


Will 2015 be the year Africa confronts its twin demons of this decade: terrorism and Ebola?

Citizens have been first in line to fall victim to the indiscriminate attacks and the deadly epidemic in various countries, putting a damper on the excitement about the continent’s continuing economic boom.

Figures show that the Africa Rising narrative is still very much a reality and the continent continues to ride the wave of exports of raw materials to China, the telecoms explosion and a growing middle class.

One big unknown in 2015 is to what extent the slump in oil prices and the worldwide move to renewable energy will affect big exporters on the continent. Will countries such as Mozambique, Ghana and Uganda, which are betting on a bright future, thanks to recent oil and gas finds, be disappointed because of these global changes?

Meanwhile, efforts to make peace in places such as the Central African Republic and South Sudan will have to be stepped up.

The coming year will be a good barometer of where Africa stands in terms of democratic governance, given the number of elections taking place. Tricky succession debates and the bid by long-time leaders to change their constitutions to stay in power will be an important feature of 2015.

Will leaders in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville and Rwanda take steps to cling to power despite popular protests? Or will the ousting of Burkina Faso’s strongman, Blaise Compaoré, in October last year be a lesson for them to let go before it’s too late?

Here are 15 key indicators that should reveal the direction in which the continent will go.

1. Nigerian polls
Electioneering is at fever pitch in Nigeria where presidential elections will take place on February 14. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and the ruling People’s Democratic Party is facing stiff opposition from the All Progressive Congress, a coalition of six opposition parties.

Jonathan’s failure to curb the wave of violence from Boko Haram in the north of the country will be offset by relative economic successes. Last year, Nigeria surpassed South Africa as the biggest economy on the continent, thanks to a rebasing of its gross domestic product, but a recent devaluation of the country’s currency shows that the economy still faces huge challenges.

A key question will be to what extent the 2015 polls will be free and fair. Will people in the north of the country feel safe enough to queue to cast their votes?

As in past elections, issues of regional affiliation (Jonathan is a former governor of Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta) and religious affiliation are expected to play a large role in the power struggle to lead Africa’s most populous nation.

General elections also take place on the same day.

2. Zambia’s candidate
The death of former president Michael Sata has plunged Zambia’s ruling Patriotic Front (PF) into a political turmoil that threatens its existence.

Interim President Guy Scott is overseeing elections slated for January 20 but, by early December last year, it was still unclear who the PF candidate will be to represent the erstwhile opposition party.

The constitution bars Scott from running because of his Scottish ancestry, but he might try to circumvent this.

His abrupt move to sack his main rival, Edgar Lungu, from the government has been widely criticised and seen as a sign of autocratic tendencies on the part of Scott, who has been subjected to racial attacks, especially in social media.

Zambia, Africa’s biggest copper producer, and neighbouring Malawi have been hailed for leading democratic change in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Elections in South Africa, Mozam­bique, Botswana and Namibia last year confirmed the continued dominance of former liberation movements in the region.

3. Africa’s strongmen
High-stakes elections will also take place this year in Côte d’Ivoire, where President Alassane Ouattara is standing for a second term. His former rival, Laurent Gbagbo, is on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

In Togo, incumbent President Faure Gnassingbé is expected to win a third term.

Commentators also expect protests this year in several countries where Africa’s strongmen are planning to cling to power by changing the constitutions of their countries.

In Burundi, this is almost a done deal. Supporters of President Pierre Buyoya insist that he should be able to run for a third term this year.

Late last year, this issue so upset the Burkinabé – many of whom have only known one leader in their lifetime – that they burnt down the National Assembly and drove away former president Compaoré on the day MPs were planning to vote on a third mandate.

Of particular concern is the DRC, where President Joseph Kabila is suspected to be gunning for a third term.

Ditto, in Congo-Brazzaville, where President Denis Sassou Nguesso has been in power since 1997 and before that from 1979 to 1992.

Further down the line, in Rwanda, there are signs that Presi­dent Paul Kagame is keen to extend his mandate in 2017.

4. Angola emerging
This year, for the first time, Angola is taking up a position as a

nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a post that could boost its visibility and prompt it to play the role of an African heavyweight.

Angola has a big army and business is booming in the oil-rich SADC nation, but it doesn’t have a good image when it comes to human rights and democracy.

Some specialists argue that it is time for President José Eduardo dos Santos to take a greater role in Pan-African initiatives. This could, in turn, spark changes at home, where activists and opposition leaders almost routinely face jail time if they dare to oppose the government.

5. #BringBackOurGirls
Will Nigeria and its partners in the region get the better of Boko Haram in 2015? This is one of the questions people are asking in Nigeria and in its immediate neighbours, where there seems no limit to the horrors people have to face.

The 219 schoolgirls, captured in Chibok in April 2014, are still missing despite a worldwide campaign to have them freed.

On the other side of the continent, al-Shabab is terrorising civilians in Somalia and Kenya. Who is going to stop this?

The opposition in Kenya wants the country’s troops to withdraw from Somalia, where it is fighting al-Shabab as part of the African Union Mission to Somalia. But there are no signs that this will happen soon because President Uhuru Kenyatta seems set on a military solution to ridding the Mombasa coast of al-Shabab and other extremist groups.

6. Beating Ebola
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon might have talked out of turn when he said in November last year that the Ebola epidemic could be over by mid-2015. His man on the ground, Anthony Banbury, head of the UN Ebola mission, was quick to say there was a long way to go to stop the devastating disease from spreading.

But figures do show new infections are slowing down in the Mano River countries – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – at the epicentre of the disease.

They have lost more than 7 000 citizens to the disease and are suffering large economic setbacks because of the loss of life and a blockade, which is cutting off crucial imports.

If the disease can be beaten in 2015, it will be a relief to everyone in West Africa and the continent, but the long-term effects are expected to continue for some time. This includes the stigma associated with Ebola.

7. Rapid response
President Jacob Zuma’s planned African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis, announced in May 2013, has yet to send its first emergency mission to save lives in dire conflicts in Africa.

But troops are said to be on high alert in three of the 11 contributing countries and a mission could be expected early this year.

The plan, which has drawn criticism from countries such as Nigeria, which see it as a purely South African initiative, is to provide Africa with short-term military intervention capability. This is to spare the continent the embarrassment of calling on outside powers to help in conflicts, as was the case in Mali in January 2013 when France was asked to prevent Islamic militants from advancing on Bamako.

But many questions remain about when the force will become operational. It is to be co-ordinated from Addis Ababa and could cost up to $100-million a year to deploy.

8. Unfinished business
One of the main promises made by the African Union Commission chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, when she took up her post in Addis Ababa was to make the organisation more self-reliant. To date, almost half of the AU budget is financed by “international partners”, mostly in Europe.

Since starting at the AU in 2012, Dlamini-Zuma has moved the organisation closer to the African Development Bank (AfDB), partnering with it on many initiatives. She has also been doing the rounds meeting media owners and leading business people.

In November last year, she managed to get $32.6-million (which includes $10-million from the AfDB) for the AU private sector Ebola fund. Some of the biggest donors were MTN and Econet Wireless, which donated $10-million and $2.5-million respectively. Can Dlamini-Zuma establish more of these funds for the AU to expand its fields of operations and be more effective?

9. The trouble with Libya
The international community that ousted former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 will have to do something this year to prevent the country’s further descent into chaos.

Militias are fighting it out for control of the North African oil producer, resulting the wholescale destruction of infrastructure and threatening civilian lives. The south of the country has also become a haven for militia operating in the north of Mali and elsewhere in the Sahel.

France has called for a new military intervention, which could happen early this year. But late last year French Presi­dent François Hollande said France would need to be “invited” by Libya and it wouldn’t intervene without a resolution from the UN Security Council.

This will be complicated because nobody really knows who is in control in Libya. The secular parliament in Tobruk was declared unconstitutional by the Libyan high court in November last year, a move seen as a victory for the Islamist faction.

10. Economic boom
The excitement about Africa Rising will continue this year. According to the latest figures in the AfDB’s African Economic Outlook, the continent’s economy is expected to grow between 5% and 6% in the coming year. This is higher than the 4.8% growth in 2014.

In many countries, this means an expanding middle class. The biggest growth last year was in countries such as the DRC, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Chad, with Egypt and South Africa on the lowest end of the growth scale.

Forecasts are never foolproof (the 2014 report still shows Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone growing, despite Ebola) and unexpected risk factors can drag some countries down.

But overall, investors are reasonably optimistic about Africa’s prospects in the coming year.

11. Oil price slump
Despite positive growth expectations, 2015 will be marked by uncertainty over the effect of the slump in the dollar price of oil on Africa’s producers, such as Angola and Nigeria.

Ghana, which only started producing oil in 2011, has seen a downturn because of the lower oil price and some new producers have already spent their projected income based on an oil price of more than $100 a barrel. By year-end, it was just above $70 a barrel – food for thought for those with newly found reserves, such as in Uganda, and a lesson not to bet too much on oil revenue and not to count their chickens before they hatch.

12. AfCon in Equatorial Guinea
By the end of last year, it looked as if the 2015 African Cup of Nations might be postponed for six months, after Morocco, the host country, said it feared Ebola could be brought to the country by fans from West Africa.

But the Confederation of African Football refused to postpone the event, which is now slated to take place in Equatorial Guinea from January 17 to February 8. This will cost Morocco and the sponsors a lot, as the country is being barred from participating and risks financial sanctions.

13. Save the rhino
According to the latest figures released by the department of environmental affairs in November 2014, South Africa lost 1 020 rhinos last year – the worst yet, up from 333 killed in 2010.

Initiatives to catch poachers and create awareness among Asian buyers of rhino horn don’t seem to be paying off. Will new strategies to combat rhino poaching be found to reverse this trend?

It is not just the rhino that is in danger. Wildlife throughout the continent is the target of poachers and illegal hunting. Tanzania, for example, reportedly lost half of its elephant population in the past five years, largely because of poaching.

14. End of the race
Countries around the world have been targeting 2015 to halve poverty, in line with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In Africa, only a handful of countries reached a significant number of targets, such as improving primary school enrolment, women’s empowerment and the reduction of maternal mortality.

In September this year, the UN is organising a summit to adopt new goals to “end extreme poverty by 2030”. Africa has adopted a common position on what is being termed the post-2015 development agenda, which includes structural economic transformation and inclusive growth; people-centred development; sustainable resource management; and ensuring peace and security in the AU’s 54 member states.

15. Space race
African countries are increasingly getting involved in sophisticated space programmes, with South Africa and Nigeria leading the race.

This year, South Africa’s MeerKAT radio telescope will start “doing science” in the dry Northern Cape, a precursor to the world’s largest telescope, the Square Kilometre Array, shared between South Africa and Australia.

There will be satellite stations in eight African countries, including Kenya, Ghana, Zambia and Botswana. The strategy to “co-ordinate astronomy on the continent” is expected to be ready by March 2015, Derek Hanekom, South Africa’s then-minister of science and technology, said last year.

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s National Space Research and Development Agency, which was established in Abuja more than a decade ago, is overseeing an ambitious programme of satellites, which are already used for disaster management. The country is also reportedly building its own spacecraft, to be ready in 2028.

Finally, a decision is imminent on whether Namibia will host a mega-project, dubbed the Cherenkov Telescope Array. It will be the world’s biggest gamma ray observatory, with more than 1?000 scientists from five continents participating. The finalists to host the project are Namibia and Chile and building is set to start this year.

Sources: African Development Bank, African Union, United Nations Development Programme, Institute for Security Studies,, Reuters, Radio France International, WWF,,

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Liesl Louw-Vaudran
Liesl Louw-Vaudran
Liesl Louw-Vaudran is an independent journalist and Africa expert. She lived in Senegal for many years and has reported from over 20 African countries. She is a regular commentator on African issues in the local and international media. From 2002 to 2008 she was the Africa Editor at Media24 newspapers in South Africa and still contributes to newspapers such as the Mail&Guardian in Johannesburg. Liesl also works as a consultant for the Institute for Security Studies, notably as editor of the African Union Peace and Security Council Report.

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