Elections in Africa in 2015: So Far, How Fair?

By Bunmi Makinwa.

Predominantly, African countries are known as places where electioneering and political elections are synonymous with riots, fighting, violence and killings. Some of that is changing, but many things remain the same.

Holding elections to elect representatives of the people does not equate attainment of democracy. There are countries where elections are organized to legitimize authoritarian, despotic and dictatorial regimes. However, to some extent the process of organizing and holding elections can often reveal the quality or extent of democratic principles in a country. Elections can expose governments to closer scrutiny than they would have wished for.

(President Pierre Nkurunziza via Burundi image)

During 2015 in Africa, ten elections were held to date and two more are expected in November and December. In only one of them, Burundi, did law and order break down. The election of President Pierre Nkurunziza to a third term mandate in Burundi has led to violent demonstrations, protests and more than 200 deaths so far. And problems continue in the landlocked, historically troubled East African country, bordered by Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The parliamentary and presidential elections that returned President Pierre Nkurunziza, 51, to power for a third time were widely criticized. Opposition parties claimed that the amendment of constitution and subsequent favourable decision by the court to allow the President to contest after the stipulated ten years in office, was manipulated and against the wish of the generality of the people.

Paradoxically, the East African leaders who have championed a process to negotiate a rapproachment between the belligerent parties in Burundi are themselves compromised by circumstance. Of the four other countries in the regional group, only Tanzania and Kenya have constitutions that mandate a maximum of two terms in office for their presidents. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni, the doyen of the East African Community, has been in power for 29 years and will contest the 2016 elections. In Rwanda, the lower house has given the nod to President Paul Kagame, 58, to contest the next elections for another seven year term, and possibly to stay on till 2034. He has been heading the country since 2000.

(President Paul Kagame via The Times UK)

Zambia, which had witnessed unusual deaths of two Presidents in office in the past seven years, was the first African country to hold an election this year. On January 20, its presidential election saw Mr. Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front party winning a hotly contested poll of 11 candidates. He will serve out the remaining term of the deceased President Micheal Sata until 2016 when a new voting will take place. The opposition denounced the election but took no further action.

Lesotho, a landlocked country, completely surrounded by South Africa, held its general elections on February 28. When no clear winner emerged, opposition parties formed a coalition and used its parliamentary numbers to name Mr. Pakalitha Mosisili of the Democratic Congress party as its new Prime Minister. Mr. Mosisili had served earlier as Prime Minister from 1998 to 2012. The small country of about 2 million, with more than its fair share of political turbulence, had a smooth election. Generally though, “Big brother” South Africa sleeps with one eye permanently open to moderate political crisis of Lesotho.

With bated breath, Nigeria held its elections in February and March. Despite reported incidents of violence and upheavals in some parts of the country, the much-feared conflagration that some predicted did not happen. The major opposition party coalition of the All Progressives Congress won and former military leader General Mohammad Buhari came into office as President after running unsuccessfully for the post in three previous instances. The ruling party lost and accepted defeat.

In April, both Togo and Sudan held elections and re-elected sitting Presidents Faure Eyadema and Omar Bashir, respectively. President Eyadema, who succeeded his father who died in office, was relected for a third term. The Eyadema family has ruled Togo for 48 years. President Omar Bashir had ruled Sudan for 26 years and he won by 94 per cent in a poll that was largely boycotted by the opposition. In both Togo and Sudan, results of the elections were dismissed by opposition parties.

Ethiopia’s elections on May 24 was a reconfirmation of the position of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn which he assumed in 2012. After 17 years as Prime Minister, Mr. Meles died in 2012 and the ruling Ethiopian People’s Republic Democratic Front (EPRDF) replaced him with the then deputy Prime Minister Desalegni. The EPRDF won 500 parliamentary seats of the 547 positions, further demeaning a largely non-existent opposition.

Guinea, reeling from the effects of Ebola, and in serious economic distress, had its election on October 11. President Alpha Conde was returned to a second five-year term. The opposition shouted fraud and refused to accept the results but their challenge in court failed.

Both Tanzania and Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) had general elections on the same day, October 25. After 50 years of being in power, Tanzania’s ruling Chama Cha Mapinduizu (CCM) faced a stiff opposition led by Mr. Edward Lowassa, formerly a Prime Minister on the platform of CCM and right hand man of current President Jakaya Kekwete. But CCM candidate Mr. John Magufuli won the poll. Election results were cancelled in Zanzibar, the small island complement of mainland Tanzania. The opposition claimed that it had won the elections in Zanzibar, and refused to concede in Tanzania.

In Cote d’Ivoire, a first election after its civil war returned President Allasane Outtara decisively to power for another five-year term. Some key opposition figures had refused to take part in the elections saying that it was improperly organized. However, some opposition leaders accepted the results of the poll.

In Cote d’Ivoire, Lesotho Nigeria, Zambia, the losing political parties accepted the final results of the presidential elections. Only in Nigeria was the ruling party defeated. In all other countries, incumbent political parties were returned to power – Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo. Change of leadership took place in Lesotho, Nigeria, and Tanzania.

Two very important elections are still in the horizon for 2015. On November 29, a reawakened Burkina Faso will go to the polls after a people’s uprising that pushed former President Blaise Compaore into exile after 27 years in power. A similar mass uprising this year routed the short-lived coup by the Presidential Guards and returned an interim government to manage the country.

(President Blaise Compaore via Arab.com)

On December 13, wobbling under heavy load of violence since 2013 and amidst uncertainty, Central African Republic plans to hold its general election.
Elections in 2015 have been more or less good stories out of Africa. There has been improvement over the past situation, both in electioneering and polling. Political analysts will look deeper into whether the situation marks a turning point, what changes there are, factors responsible, among other questions. However, the road is far yet when elections will truly represent a fair opportunity for people to choose their representatives.

Makinwa is a communication for leadership entrepreneur based in South Africa and Nigeria.

Connect with him on:
Twitter: @bunmimakinwa
Blog: bunmimakinwa.com

Nigeria 2015 Election, Issues and Lessons So Far

Several months of active and massive campaigns by political parties have shaken Nigeria to its roots and, either within or outside the country, all have felt the tremor of historic quakes that remind one of fragility of the nation state. There was so much uncertainty that outside interests, including the United Nations, African Union, ECOWAS, visited Abuja or made statements to canvass for holding the elections on schedule, in a free and fair manner. Nigerians in and out of the country wondered whether things would fall part.

What issues and lessons have emerged from the electioneering? Similar to my previous write-up, “Oshun State and Other Elections: Meanings and Lessons” (Saharareporters, August 14 2014), I shall distill some salient points that we may ponder, especially with a view to take advantage of the significant events to reappraise, reflect, re-strategize, re-tool and re-focus for the future. In the construction of its nascent democracy, a new tradition is emerging in the politics of Africa’s most populated country, of which these past months form a significant part.

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University of Ibadan Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof. A. Idowu Olayinka (seated, left), and UNFPA Africa Regional Director, Bunmi Makinwa (seated, centre), sign the Letter of Understanding between the two organizations.

The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA and the University of Ibadan, Nigeria signed a Letter of Understanding that offers a global and regional partnership opportunity to implement UNFPA's programmes in priority areas that are core to its mandate. These include reproductive health and rights, population and development, and gender. UNFPA Africa Regional Director, Bunmi Makinwa, said on the occasion that the Fund recognizes the excellent capacity and facilities of the University of Ibadan. “Through the agreement we would like to make it even more widely available, to be used by other institutions and organizations.” The agreement was signed by the University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof. A. Idowu Olayinka, on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Isaac Adewole. The University would be a veritable partner of UNFPA and would use the agreement to develop new programmes and leverage services, he said.

The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA and the University of Ibadan, Nigeria signed a Letter of Understanding that offers a global and regional partnership opportunity to implement UNFPA’s programmes in priority areas that are core to its mandate. These include reproductive health and rights, population and development, and gender.
UNFPA Africa Regional Director, Bunmi Makinwa, said on the occasion that the Fund recognizes the excellent capacity and facilities of the University of Ibadan. “Through the agreement we would like to make it even more widely available, to be used by other institutions and organizations.”
The agreement was signed by the University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof. A. Idowu Olayinka, on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Isaac Adewole. The University would be a veritable partner of UNFPA and would use the agreement to develop new programmes and leverage services, he said.

Governors And Pension and Retirement

Politicians do not retire. They change their parties. They seek new positions in the same parties. Or they die. The same is true of many professionals who are self employed or who have no age or term limits in their jobs.

However, elected officers at the highest levels – President for country and Governors for state – have fixed terms of office. They must leave after two terms. A President is eligible for pension after “retirement”. According to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and a bill passed by the National Assembly in November 2010, former presidents, Heads of State, Heads of federal legislative Houses and Chief Justice qualify for the remuneration.

Governors were not included in the bill. Some Governors have taken up the cause for remuneration after office or “pension” and they got juicy packages passed by the State Houses of Assembly. Notable among them are Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Oyo and Kwara. Current Akwa Ibom   Governor Godswill Akpabio caused national bedlam recently for getting the State Assembly to over-abundantly provide mouth watering pension for himself and his deputy. The state legislature has had to review the law. But no such review seems to be going on in the other three states.

Several commentators spoke on the Akwa Ibom package at the time. More recently, a group of civil society organizations has instituted a civil action to reverse and stop state legislatures from making laws to remunerate Governors and deputies after their service expires. The Guardian newspaper in a critical editorial on the subject urged every public officer, governors, president who leaves office to take a modest pension like civil servants as part of their responsibility “to engender a culture of service to country”.

Do Governors merit pension? Is “retirement” from office of Governor pensionable? How much of a pension package is fair remuneration?

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On Fence Climbing By Legislators

She appears smarter than her 12 years age. I asked her: “Would you climb a fence to jump into a compound?” Her answer came as a surprise, “Why?” She did not say “yes” or “no”. It was not the answer that I expected but it was the same word that had been on my mind. Why?

On Thursday November 20 some members of the House of Representatives (parliamentarians) climbed the fence to gain entry into the National House of Assembly as the gate was shut by the police. The news made headlines across countries. The video and pictures of Nigerian lawmakers in various garbs climbing or sitting atop gate, rail fences were simultaneously sad, depressing, comical, and question arousing.

Ever since the incident, a lively debate has ensued. Reading the various views in support of and against the incident, I wondered whether I would have done the same thing.  To be able to answer the question I formulated a simple query – why would I do or not do it?

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Ekiti Elections: What If?

It started like a rolling thunder. But it ended almost like a lullaby. Lyrics of democracy on the mend.

It could not have been predicted that the gubernatorial election in Ekiti state would end the way it did. No, it is not the loss by Governor Fayemi. Not even the victory by Governor-elect Fayose. It is the genteel, no-victor-no-vanquished, I-am-your- brother and you-are-a -saint embrace of both Fayemi and Fayose that has created this surreal atmosphere. Even Labour Party gubernatorial candidate Bamidele Opeyemi, despite his mega loss, had no anger.

Just a few days prior to the election, the campaign leaders of the political parties could not find words harsh enough to describe their opponents. Violence, unrelenting and ascending, continually seized Ekiti, and tension enveloped a people who were well known for their hard headedness. Incumbent Governor Fayemi cried out that even his life was threatened when police bullets were shot  in his direction whilst in a convoy.

Applause has greeted the comportment of Fayemi for his acceptance of defeat with no rancor. He has even said that he would not contest the election. It is an unusual departure from after-act of political elections of which he profited in a court decision against his immediate predecessor, Governor Oni. Shortly after the recent election, Fayemi met with Fayose and they appear to be orchestrating a smooth, hugging-friendly transition of power.

Analysts have gone to town to explain why Fayemi lost and Fayose won, or to assert that actually it was Ekiti people who won in their decision, and that democracy is the real victor.

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Elections 2015: The World Speaks (part 2)

Many African countries are holding elections in 2015. Of some 14 scheduled elections a few are predictably fraught with problems and may not be held at all. The most doubtful ones are Central African Republic and Mali – countries that have had serious political and violent crisis preceding their current fragile peace. In that vein, that Nigeria’s election was postponed and its certainty is still in dispute may expectedly raise questions about the country’s stability and how peaceful it is.

The first part of the article, before announcement of the postponement of elections in Nigeria from Feb. 14 (presidential) to March 28, looked into what the world thinks of the elections through comments, advice and analysis from various reports and media sources outside Nigeria. The article characterized the information as: first major election that shakes the dominant political Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) since 1999; the electoral contest is mainly between two major political parties – PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC) key opposition; highly polarized electorate that has dug in its heels in the face of rising importance of faith and ethnicity, resulting in a divided nation; violence during electioneering and very likely potential for violence after results are known; questions on readiness, capacity, credibility of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); democracy will shake the country to its roots but Nigeria will remain one; and huge presence of international observers and media.

In this second part, we shall review information and analysis that is available from announcement of postponement to date. The facts obtained can be sorted into: explanation of the reasons for postponement and speculations on unstated reasons; recurring violence and how it can deteriorate; deeper issues on nitty gritty of campaigns by leading contenders of the two dominant parties – General Muhammadu Buhari, who is a former President under military rule, and current President Goodluck Jonathan; visible importance of positions taken publicly by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka; and speculations on degrading security and further possible postponement.

We shall take the issues one by one and delve into each briefly.

Immediately following the announcement of the postponement on February 7, reports stated that Boko Haram’s offensive and lack of readiness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were the main offiCIAL reasons behind the postponement decision. There was obvious reluctance among several analysts to accept the official reasons stated and allusions were made to decreasing popularity of the ruling PDP and government’s intention to arrest the losses. Some reports wondered how Boko Haram’s conquest could be reversed within the six-week period of postponement.

There was near total agreement that violence was going to accompany the election campaigns. Overwhelmingly, any further postponement was seen as a lighter that would ignite violence, which, in any case, could be a preferred scenario for those who would rather not have elections held anyway. The calls made by governments, institutions and persons to hold the elections as scheduled were reaffirmed in the interest of Nigeria and the world at large.

Some reports, mainly from the USA, went deeper into the nuts and bolts of electioneering by the PDP and APC. In explicit details, two top consulting firms of US Democratic political party were cited to have worked for the two parties in Nigeria. AKPD Message and Media, owned by David Axelrod a confidante and close associate of President Obama, worked for the APC whilst Joseph Trippi of The Potomac Square Group worked for PDP. Trippi is reputed to have worked on campaigns of UK’s Tony Blair, George Papandreou of Greece, Italy’s Romano Prodi and President Jonathan’s last election. These advanced, expensive consulting firms claim capability to deliver results for their clients. The reports elaborated on the sharpness of messaging and use of multi-media outreach including the social media to canvass support of voters.

Jonathan’s public adverts featured students, new building projects, and generally a lot of Nigerians smiling and working and .Buhari’s campaign had an aggressive social media strategy that made “change” a persistent theme. The competing demand to get attention of voters is not likely to change voters’ inclination appreciably during the six-week postponement span.

Notably, a respected but usually conservative magazine, The Economist, has run series of reports on the elections, and their titles speak volumes – Nigerian politics: Bad luck for Nigeria; Nigeria’s election: The least awful; Nigeria’s postponed election: A powder keg; Why Nigeria has such poor election choices; Nigeria: Grim reading. In the “Least Awful” article, the weekly explained why “a former dictator is a better choice than a failed president”. In the same vein, the liberal-leaning newspaper, The New York Times, titled its strongly worded editorial, “Nigeria’s Miserable Choices”. According to NYT, “That Mr. Buhari, who helped launch a coup against a democratically elected government in 1983 and ruled until late 1985, has emerged as potential winner is more of an indictment of Mr. Jonathan’s dismal rule than a recognition of the former military chief’s appeal.”

Looming increasingly large over the elections are two different personalities – former President Obasanjo and Nobel Laureate Soyinka. Both of these well known figures have ceaselessly commented on the elections and their views and positions are reported worldwide. Criticisms have also trailed their views, especially those of President Obasanjo.

The national elections, presidential and national assembly, are to hold on March 28, 2015; governorship and state assembly elections are to hold on April 11, 2015. It does appear that skepticism continues over the postponement and whilst INEC’s state of preparedness is an important item, the security angle looms larger as the primary obstacle. INEC’s ill-preparedness may be overcome within the time. The non-readiness of the military to provide security for the voting exercise in February, twinned with declared intention of government and military to suppress Boko Haram is “the elephant in the room” – an obvious difficulty that cannot be resolved easily. What will happen if the security situation does not change for the better within the postponement time?

Least reported are several ongoing court cases which decision can halt the leading presidential candidates General Buhari and President Jonathan, rumours of possible interim government arrangement to further delay elections, and suggestions of military intervention – all unpopular choices. With so much at stake, and yet such darkened skies, it is correct to say that the world will watch closely the coming elections.

Makinwa is a communication for leadership entrepreneur based in South Africa and Nigeria. Twitter: @bunmimakinwa

This post first appeared on Sahara Reporters.