August 4, 2021

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Three ‘Elections,’ Three Incumbent ‘Victories’

7 min read

Editor’s Note: Every Friday, Andrew Green curates the top news and analysis from and about the African continent. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Africa Watch by email every week.

Benin, Chad and Djibouti held presidential elections over the weekend, although opposition leaders in all three countries, as well as outside observers, said the outcomes were predetermined. Not surprisingly, early returns have the incumbents easily winning all three contests.

In Benin, the run-up to Sunday’s vote was marred by violent protests and accusations that President Patrice Talon was undermining what has been one of West Africa’s most stable democracies. Talon, a business tycoon who has spurred the country’s economic growth, campaigned in 2016 on a promise to serve only one term if elected. He backtracked on that pledge earlier this year, even as a judicial system stacked with his allies upheld changes to the electoral code that barred leading opposition figures from running. Some were even forced into exile after being convicted on questionable criminal charges.

The army violently dispersed demonstrations against Talon’s authoritarian turn in the week ahead of the vote, resulting in at least two deaths and dozens of arrests.

Whether it was the violence or the fact that the opposition was only able to run two little-known challengers, turnout was only 50 percent, well below previous national elections. Talon nevertheless claimed he had scored an overwhelming victory, winning more than 86 percent of the ballots cast.

In Djibouti, President Ismael Guelleh secured a fifth term with an even more staggering total, scoring nearly 99 percent of the vote in Friday’s election, according to provisional results. His rival, political newcomer Zakaria Farah, secured fewer than 5,000 votes, as most opposition leaders called for a boycott of the election.

Guelleh has leveraged Djibouti’s strategic position at the mouth of the Red Sea to woo key international partners, including China, the United States and France, all of which have military bases in the country. The international presence has spurred the country’s economic growth, even as Guelleh’s regime has clamped down on opposition parties and the domestic press. His critics say he is banking on the fact that his international supporters value Djibouti’s stability over the free expression of its citizens.

Even with Guelleh’s reelection a foregone conclusion, regime officials still blocked opposition delegates from monitoring polling places on election day, Farah said.

Though the results are not final in Chad, there is little doubt of the outcome there, either. Top opposition leaders had called for a boycott of Sunday’s vote following a regime crackdown, all but assuring President Idriss Deby a sixth term. Security forces attacked the compound of one opposition candidate, Yaya Dillo, in February, leaving at least three people dead. They continued to violently disperse campaign rallies and anti-government demonstrations in the run-up to the vote.

Last July, Michael Shurkin, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, argued that it would make little difference if the political opposition were freely allowed to compete in Chad. Deby has done such a good job of dividing, splintering and co-opting people, “that the ability of the various opposition groups to organize themselves in any kind of effective coalition is really very low,” he explained in an interview on WPR’s Trend Lines podcast.

Deby, who first came to power in 1990, has been less successful at growing Chad’s economy, despite the recent discovery and exploitation of oil in the country. He has also struggled to bring jihadist violence under control. Libya-based rebels actually attacked a border post in northern Chad as polling stations began counting ballots Monday.

Those failures did nothing to affect Deby’s bid for another term. Like his counterparts in Benin and Djibouti, observers said his reelection was guaranteed well before voters went to the polls.

Keep up to date on Africa news with our daily curated Africa news wire.

Here’s a rundown of news from elsewhere on the continent:

East Africa

Somalia: President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known in Somalia as Farmajo, signed a controversial law Tuesday that effectively adds two years to his term, while calling for direct elections during that period. The law was passed the previous day by the lower house of Somalia’s Parliament, but leaders of the Senate have objected and refused to consider it, a step that would ordinarily be required for the bill to be signed into law. Members of the opposition thus say it is an illegal attempt to extend the president’s mandate, which expired in February. Indirect elections were meant to begin in December, first to select a new legislature, which would then elect the country’s next president. But they have been delayed by disagreements between Farmajo and leaders of some of the federal states, as Abdullahi Abdille Shahow explained in a December WPR briefing.

Somalia’s lower house had passed the bill extending Farmajo’s mandate in a bid to break that deadlock, but by bypassing the Senate, the legislators and Farmajo have created a new crisis instead. In addition to domestic opposition, officials from the United States and the European Union also objected to the measure, with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken threatening sanctions and visa restrictions. Somalia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry pushed back on critics in a statement, warning they would “embolden terrorist organizations and anti-peace elements in Somalia.”

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed in Mogadishu, Somalia, Feb. 16, 2017 (AP photo by Farah Abdi Warsameh).

West Africa

Ghana: Twitter selected the country for its first office in Africa, the social media company announced Monday, while posting its first 11 job openings. “This is the start of a beautiful partnership between Twitter and Ghana,” President Nana Afuko-Addo tweeted following the announcement. In 2019, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey visited several African countries, including Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa, as he considered how to expand the company’s presence on the continent. While internet penetration in Africa still lags behind much of the rest of the world, it is growing. But only 11.75 percent of African internet users have Twitter accounts, far behind the company’s rival, Facebook, at 59 percent, according to Reuters.

Southern Africa

South Africa: Health Minister Zweli Mkhize suspended the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine in the country Tuesday “out of an abundance of caution” to investigate a possible link with a rare blood-clotting disorder. South Africa has administered more than 289,000 doses of the vaccine to health workers without any reported complications. The decision to pause the rollout came hours after U.S. authorities halted its use, reporting six cases of unexpected blood clotting among 6.8 million recipients of the Johnson & Johnson shot. In South Africa, the country in Africa hit hardest by the pandemic, vaccine rollout was already delayed when officials abandoned a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in February. Research indicated it was minimally effective against preventing mild and moderate cases of a variant of the virus that is prevalent in the country.

Central Africa

Democratic Republic of Congo: With the introduction of a new Cabinet on Monday, President Felix Tshisekedi appeared to secure victory in the power struggle with his predecessor, Joseph Kabila, that erupted late last year. After winning the disputed 2018 presidential election, Tshisekedi formed a political coalition with Kabila that left the former president in control of Parliament and with considerable influence over security forces and some ministries. “Tshisekedi’s agenda early on was frequently stymied by interference from Kabila and his allies,” as Nelleke van de Walle explained in a March WPR briefing, causing Tshisekedi to officially end the alliance in December.

Since then, Tshisekedi has managed to win over many former Kabila allies in Parliament, allowing him to install his own loyalists as prime minister and as heads of the Parliament and Senate. The new 56-member Cabinet, which features only 10 holdovers from the previous government, should give Tshisekedi more flexibility to pursue his own agenda, observers said.

North Africa

Egypt: Archeologists announced the discovery of the largest ancient city ever to be uncovered in the country late last week. Researchers are calling Aten, which dates back to the reign of Amenhotep III from 1391 to 1353 BC, “the lost golden city of Luxor.” Archeologists began unearthing the city soon after the start of excavations in September 2020 near the central city of Luxor. They have since uncovered the remnants of several neighborhoods and an entire bakery. Betsy Ryan, a professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, called the find the “second most important archeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun.”

Top Reads From Around the Web

‘Tell Us if He’s Dead’: In the weeks after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni won reelection to a sixth term in January, armed men in white minivans roamed the country’s streets, kidnapping opposition officials and supporters. The detainees said they were shuffled between locations so their families and lawyers could not find them. In between, they were beaten and starved, and some were reportedly killed. Even as the government defended the practice as necessary to combat terrorism, “Ugandans now say they worry that President Museveni, after 35 years in power, is adopting some of the harsh tactics used by the autocrats he railed against decades ago,” Abdi Latif Dahir writes in The New York Times.

Tanzania Has a Female President. Does it Have a Feminist President?: John Magufuli, Tanzania’s recently deceased president, demonstrated regular contempt for women and girls during his five years in office, as former WPR senior editor Robbie Corey-Boulet detailed in a 2018 briefing. Magufuli banned pregnant schoolgirls from attending classes and threatened to beat women protesters. Following his unexpected death in March, his successor, Samia Suluhu Hassan, has an opportunity to break with his misogyny and adopt an approach of gender equality. But will she? Her own views on gender are only beginning to emerge, but “what we do know is that the 61-year-old is a seasoned politician who knows what it takes to progress as a woman in Tanzania’s male-dominated politics,” Khalifa Said writes for African Arguments.

Andrew Green is a freelance journalist based in Berlin. He writes regularly about health and human rights issues. You can view more of his work at www.theandrewgreen.com.

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