2016 in African politics

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2016 proved to be a telling year in politics across the globe. Africa certainly played its part despite very few stories reaching our front pages. Unfortunately, Africa’s political climate was as harsh as their sun stricken deserts, the fact that their political woes stands up to those of the West is a testament to that. There were of course a multitude of reasons to remain optimistic – arguably 2016’s volatile nature meant that these stories failed to trickle down to us. Having said that, there is certainly an argument to be heard about the portrayal of non-western countries as regressive. Nonetheless here is a recap of the Africa’s riveting election stories.

Corruption. Rigging. Violence. Illegitimacy.

These are just some of the words that have come to be associated with African Elections. Was 2016 the year that saw Africa rid itself of these descriptions? No. If anything more unfavourable terms were gained.

Sub-Saharan leaders appear to have looked towards their North African counterparts for inspiration.  Internet and social media access being revoked during and after elections is becoming an unorthodox tradition for African elections. It is apparent that a host of Africa’s leaders will do anything to hold on to power via the use of traditional and contemporary gimmicks to stifle political dissent.

Uganda was the first to step up, their election saw the main opposition leader being detained by police only days before the election. President Yoweri Museveni, 71, sought to extend his thirty-year rule, as such he blocked social media on the day of the election to prevent people from “telling lies”. The election also saw voting stations opening hours late especially in Kampala which is traditionally an opposition stronghold…Museveni went on to win however the result was disputed by the opposition but their court bid failed.

Zambia held their elections in mid-August, President Edgar Lungu was re-elected despite dubiously gaining just over 50% of the vote.  The opposition leader challenged the poll results and launched a challenge in the Zambian court only for it later to be dismissed due to a “technicality”. Opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema described the judgement as a miscarriage of justice, another bid was launched however the High Court Judge decided to adjourn the presidential petition indefinitely…Thus resulting in Mr Lungu staying in power despite no clarification as to whether he was rightfully elected.

Congo were due to hold their elections shortly after Zambia it was however delayed. Delayed for two years. Two years. According to the party in office, this delay was done in order to allow more people to register to vote. In the lead up to the election, there were fears that the current president would attempt to change the constitution in order to stand for his third term. Joseph Kabila became president at the age of 29 after his father died in 2001, one would be naïve to think that the delay of the election was merely due Kabila’s thirst for democracy and not wanting to extend his reign.

The opposition were expected to gain power and as such called for protests and a national strike that resulted in seventeen deaths. On the 23rd of December talks began between the two main parties it was proposed that Kabila would leave power in 2017, elections would be held in the same year and the constitution would not be able to be changed to allow him to run for three terms. Any deal would however be a shock, talks are being mediated by the Catholic Church. Congo were not the only country to delay their election, Somalia were due to hold their election on the 27th of December but it was delayed for the fourth time due to allegations of fraud and intimidation.

Gambia’s election did make the headlines and initially for the right reasons. The current president Yahya Jammeh surprisingly conceded defeat and the nation was praised for holding a relatively peaceful election. Gambia is yet to have a smooth transfer of power since gaining independence. Jammeh later rejected the result and called for a new election, his petition was rejected and the UN and ECOWAS urged Mr Jammeh to respect the result of the election.  Jammeh has been the president of Gambia for 22 years and is often described as erratic, he styles himself as “Excellency Sheikh Professor Doctor President” and has an equally dubious human rights record.

In Gabon, Ali Bongo was declared the president until 2025 in spite of widespread violence and allegations of vote tampering. Following the election result declaration, Gabon’s internet was cut off for 5 days. The oppositions campaign headquarters were bombed by the presidential guards. Mr Ping, the opposition party leader, called for voting figures from every polling station to be released to the public. This request has been seconded by the EU and the US but is not likely to be heeded given his history and stranglehold on the central African state.

Ghana routinely holds peaceful elections and was praised by Obama after their last election. They continued this process, the parliamentary party currently in office saw their bid for a fourth term in power end in defeat.  The race was tight but altogether fair and for the first time in their history, the electoral commissioner was female. We can only hope that their neighbours will emulate their success in 2017.

Photograph: Alisdare Hickson via Flickr

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