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10 Jan 2017 10:14
One of the longest-serving members of the “old boys’ club” of African presidents, shocked observers and citizens alike by announcing he would step down as president before Angola's 2017 elections. (AFP)
Only a third of Africans believe that votes in elections are always counted fairly, according to a survey conducted by Afrobarometer. As many an African can attest, this is a major problem as a disputed poll can become tinder for violent protests and instability, and a despondent public’s faith in democratic processes diminishes and participation in polls suffers.
Afrobarometer, a pan-African, nonpartisan research network, uses the surveys as a way to gauge public attitudes on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues across more than 30 countries in Africa.
Because at least 25 African countries are conducting national elections in 2016-2017, much scrutiny is being focused on election management bodies.
Last year, Ghana – the so-called “African beacon of democracy” – elected Nana Akufo-Addo as its new president. Yoweri Museveni and Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon managed to keep their positions despite arrests, instability and protests. Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, who held power for 22 years, conceded defeat on live television, only to backtrack days later, vehemently rejecting the outcome of the elections.
Here are the key elections to watch and a handy calendar produced by the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) as millions of Africans embark on their democratic journey by conducting presidential, legislative and municipal elections.
Democratic Republic of the Congo – TBC The DRC is the fourth most populous nation in Africa, and free and fair elections in the mineral-rich country could bolster democracy in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Tensions in the DRC boiled over in September 2016 when it became apparent that President Joseph Kabila intended to amend the Constitution to extend his term.
On December 31 2016, members of the Roman Catholic Church, government and opposition members concluded a deal with Kabila that could see him step down after the 2017 election. The agreement followed deadly protests when Kabila’s constitutionally mandated second term ended on December 19 without any indication of his exit.
As part of the deal, a transitional government will be appointed by March, and the elections will take place before the end of the year. Should this take place, it will be the first peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960. A peaceful transition could prevent a return to war, where an estimated five million people were killed in a civil war that lasted 19 years. Moise Katumbi, a popular and frequently detained politician, is expected to run to against Kabila.
Beyond the election, whoever takes the helm, will face the gargantuan task of addressing the economic, humanitarian and political instabilities that continue to plague the DRC.
Somaliland – March Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 following the outbreak of civil war. The regional administration, however, lacks international recognition as an independent state. Talks between Somaliland and Somalia continued in early 2015, but stalled in March amid disagreements about the composition of the Somali negotiating team.
In May 2015, Somaliland’s upper legislative chamber, the Guurti, announced that presidential and parliamentary elections would be postponed until 2017 and extended the current government’s term by two years. This was allegedly owing to the unpreparedness of the country’s national elections committee. Incumbent President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo’s approval of this move was later upheld by a court decision, officially delaying elections – which were postponed until March 2017. Opposition parties expressed concern that the government was delaying election preparations, especially voter registration, in order to extend Silanyo’s term.
Somaliland’s government is accused of continuing to suppress dissent in the lead-up to the elections. Although the arrest and harassment of journalists has subsided, a climate of fear continues to characterise the media environment.
Angola – August In a surprise move, one of the longest-serving members of the “old boys’ club” of African presidents, shocked observers and citizens alike by announcing he would step down as president before the 2017 elections. The rules in Angola are such that the leader of the victorious party automatically becomes president. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos will likely be replaced by his deputy, former defence minister, João Lourenco. The Dos Santos patriarch and his family have in the past drawn criticism for despotic behaviour, nepotism and amassing wealth using state resources. The August polls will be Angola’s fourth since it gained independence from Portugal in 1975 and if they go off without a hitch, the current government may get some much-needed PR.
Kenya – August In August, Kenyans will go to the polls to elect thousands of public officials including the president, senators and members of the national and county assemblies. These elections will be a nail-biter: Can incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta and his second-in-command Deputy President William Ruto survive? And will the country be able to stave off the ethnic and political violence which has characterised previous elections? Kenyatta and Ruto are in for a bumpy road to re-election, as a strengthening opposition will be using the government’s shortcomings – including a crumbling healthcare sector and rampant corruption – as a springboard to election. The opposition is yet to name their candidate but the likely choice is Raila Odinga.
Rwanda – August President Paul Kagame said he will run for office again in elections in 2017 after voters approved a change to the constitution to allow him to seek a third term. “You requested me to lead the country again after 2017,” Kagame said in a 2016 New Year’s address emailed by the presidency in the capital, Kigali. The 58-year-old has governed the East African country since 2000, after he led a rebel army that ended the 1994 genocide in which 800 000 people were killed. The amendment would also enable him to stand in two subsequent elections for the future, with a reduced term limit of five years, potentially retaining the country’s top job until 2034.
Liberia – October After 10 years in as Liberia’s first citizen, Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has a lot to celebrate. While in office, she bagged a Nobel peace prize, deftly handled the Ebola crisis and passed a relatively progressive Freedom of Information bill. In October 2017, one of Africa’s footballing greats, George Weah, hopes to take the reins of an economy bruised by the post-Ebola decline. Weah lost out to Sirleaf-Johnson and this time around he will have face off with against Jewel Howard-Taylor, a powerful, twice-elected senator from Bong County who is also the former-wife of former Liberian president and warlord, Charles Taylor. Another contender for the highest office in Liberia is Vice-President Joseph Boakai.
2017 African election calendar
Kiri Rupiah is the Mail & Guardian’s online editor. Read more from Kiri Rupiah
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