A Look Ahead to April 2018

Gambia’s Road to Democracy

On 12th April, the Gambia will hold its first municipal election since the fall of Yahya Jammeh, who lost the presidential election in late 2016. This represents another step towards strengthening democracy in the small nation after a successful parliamentary election in April 2017. As the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) – Alieu Momarr Njai – stated last year, the municipal elections are a “key pillar in promoting and building grass roots democracy” in the Gambia. While EU observers identified shortcomings in the electoral legal framework following last year’s parliamentary election, it recognised that these were “offset” by broad trust in the IEC and genuine political competition. They concluded that “goodwill on behalf of the people and institutions of the Gambia provided for the restoration of key democratic rights”. Undoubtedly, democratic reforms are still needed, as too much power continues to lie with the president; however, it is expected that the Ministry of Justice’s constitutional review should bring about such reforms. Although more needs to be done to engage the electorate, as there was only a 42 percent turnout last year, next month’s election is set to be another free, fair and peaceful election in this fledgling democracy.

Politically speaking, next month’s election is extremely important for the former ruling party – Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) – which lost 43 of its 48 seats in the 58-member National Assembly. Given the APRC’s association with Jammeh, it is likely that it will experience similar losses in the municipal elections, which could spell the end of its role in Gambian politics. While Adama Barrow won the presidential election as a representative of an opposition coalition, after this coalition separated, it was his party – the United Democratic Party (UDP) – which dominated last year’s election, securing 31 seats in the National Assembly. Although progress has been slow, the UDP is expected to perform well again, in light of the praise bestowed on Barrow by the IMF for stabilising and strengthening the economy. However, the long-term maintenance of such support will be largely dependent on the UDP’s ability to reduce unemployment in the Gambia, particularly amongst the country’s youth.

Counter-terrorism Conference Converges in Algeria   

Late last year, the African Union (AU) announced that Algeria would be the coordinator of its counter-terrorism strategy and, on 9th April, the country will host a conference on counter-terrorism in Africa. The conference is expected to be attended by high-level political and security officials from across the continent and it is seen as an opportunity for different countries to exchange ideas about counter-terrorism strategies. Such a conference opens the possibility of broadening co-operation between different countries, which is vital in the fight against terrorism on the continent. The majority of terrorist organisations active in Africa have a regional, rather than national, focus and have launched attacks across the continent’s porous borders. Consequently, regional co-operation will be important for any counter-terrorism strategies. Furthermore, the conference will specifically address cross-border terrorist-financing and ways in which different countries’ security apparatuses can restrict funding sources.

In March 2017, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation reported that terrorist attacks had grown by 1000 percent in Africa since 2006 and, considering the attacks in Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Somalia earlier this month, there is little sign of this slowing. Countries have begun to recognise the importance of regional co-operation, which was shown by the meeting of the heads of intelligence agencies from 13 East African countries in Kampala on 19th March; however, much more is needed. While the G5 Sahel Taskforce exists in northwest Africa, Algeria has been criticised for not supporting its operations, supposedly because it considers it a tool of France. Algeria has also been criticised by Morocco for its lack of co-operation in counter-terrorism initiatives in North Africa. The country was chosen by the AU because of its “pioneering experience” of dealing with terrorism and hopefully next month’s conference will demonstrate its desire to share this experience and represent the beginning of a greater level of continental co-operation on security matters.

Elections in the Ashes of Gabon’s Democracy

In the aftermath of the disputed 2016 presidential election, Gabon’s National Assembly was set on fire by opposition demonstrators. Images of this event became a symbol of the heated dispute between the government and opposition, which is continuing to engulf Gabonese politics. While the building has been repaired, for many in the opposition, little has been done to address what it represents. Despite only narrowly defeating Jean Ping by less than two percentage points, President Ali Bongo Ondimba has increased presidential powers over the last two years and failed to make any headway in negotiations with the opposition. In January 2018, changes were made to the constitution, which, not only removed presidential term-limits and provided Ali Bongo with immunity from prosecution, but also enabled the president to determine the policy of the nation without government or parliamentary consultation. Consequently, political power in Gabon is now firmly concentrated around Ali Bongo.

Since the presidential election, Gabon’s National Assembly election has been postponed twice because of the failure of reconciliation talks between the government and opposition and is now scheduled to take place before the end of April. The ruling Gabonese Democratic Party dominate the National Assembly holding 115 of the 121 seats; a majority used by Ali Bongo to increase presidential powers. Given its performance in the presidential election, there were strong indications that the opposition Coalition for the New Republic (CNR) would be able to end this dominance. However, in light of the weakening of the National Assembly’s role in Gabonese politics, it appears that the coalition is fragmenting. Nine of the twelve parties in the coalition have called for a boycott of the election, while other senior CNR figures met with the Minister of the Interior in early March to discuss preparation for them. Significantly, the coalition’s presidential flag-bearer has remained silent on this matter. Accordingly, it appears that the Gabonese Democratic Party’s dominance is not under significant threat.

Despite the election being less than a month away, there has been little preparation for it. The Gabonese Elections Centre, which is meant to manage the election, has not yet been established and, given that its chairperson is meant to be selected by the government and opposition, it is increasingly unlikely that it will be ready to run the election. There are growing calls for the election to be postponed again amid concerns that it could descend into violence. Although this will do little to address the underlying political tension in the country and only enable it to continue to build, if the election goes ahead, it is likely to cause widespread social unrest as elements of the opposition come out in protest.

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Elections in 2016

There are a number of important elections across Africa scheduled for 2016 and over the next year, Africa Integrity Insights will examine a selection of these. As an introduction to the upcoming publications we have compiled a list of countries where elections are set to take place in 2016, including the scheduled date (when available) and the type of election.

  • Benin: Presidential (28th February)
  • Burkina Faso: Municipal (31st January)
  • Cape Verde: Parliamentary and Presidential (February & August)
  • Central African Republic: Parliamentary and Presidential Run-off (31st January)
  • Chad: Presidential (April)
  • Côte d’Ivoire: Parliamentary (December)
  • Comoros: Presidential (21st February)
  • Congo-Brazzaville: Presidential (20th March)
  • Democratic Republic of Congo: Legislative and Presidential (27th November)
  • Djibouti: Presidential (April)
  • Equatorial Guinea: Presidential (November)
  • Gabon: Parliamentary and Presidential (December)
  • Gambia: Presidential (1st December)
  • Ghana: Parliamentary and Presidential (7th November)
  • Niger: Parliamentary & Presidential and Local (21st February & 9th May)
  • Rwanda: Local Government (8th, 22nd & 27th February and 22nd March)
  • Sao Tome and Principe: Presidential (July)
  • Senegal: Constitutional Referendum (May)
  • South Africa: Municipal (May-August)
  • Sudan: Darfur Referendum (11th April)
  • Tanzania: Zanzibar Re-run (20th March)
  • Tunisia: Municipal and Regional (30th October)
  • Uganda: General (18th February)
  • Zambia: Legislative and Presidential (11th August)

Burkina Faso: A Turbulent Struggle for Democracy

Nearly a year since President Blaise Compaore was swept from power by violent protests, Burkina Faso has once again hit turbulence in its struggle for democratic elections. On 16th September 2015, the Presidential Guard, known locally as Le Régiment de Sécurité Présidentielle (RSP), stormed into a cabinet meeting to arrest the interim President and Prime Minister. Up until now, the revolution has been, at least superficially, a fairly clean affair. With Roch Mar Christian Kabore for the People’s Movement for Progress (MPP) and Zephirin Diaper for the Union for Progress and Change (UPC) as clear frontrunners for the upcoming elections on October 11th, there were high expectations, both domestic and international, for a peaceful shift to a democratically elected civilian government. Despite this, underlying tensions have been bubbling with many claiming that in spite of Compaore’s exile, his state has remained alive. These tensions escalated for two predominant reasons. The first is related to the controversial election law passed by the interim government in April, which stipulated that anyone who supported ‘constitutional change’ was ineligible to run. Put simply, this law excluded members of Compaore’s regime and its supporters from the upcoming elections, provoking condemnation not only from Compaore supporters but also from the ECOWAS court of justice. The second follows the announcement by the country’s National Reconciliation and Reforms Commission on 14th September, which recommended the disbandment of the RSP.

Leading the campaign against the RSP was Prime Minister Isaac Zida – a former senior officer in the RSP who assumed the powers of head of state amidst the unrest in October 2014 – whose current detainment under house arrest is drawing widespread condemnation. On Friday morning, the coup leader General Gilbert Diendere showed some signs of yielding with the announcement that interim President Michel Kafando, who had been detained alongside Zida, had been released and returned to his private residence. There have been no confirmed sightings of him in public and international powers, including ECOWAS and the UN, have continued to demand for the immediate release of the other hostages. In a statement read by Colonel Mahamadou Bamba on Thursday, the coup leaders pledged to put an end ‘to the deviant transitional regime’ and assured international audiences that all hostages were in good health. Coup leaders have also reiterated that the intention was to hold elections but that the proposed date of 11th October was too soon, providing an ominous echo of the words of President Jammeh of the Gambia over 20 years ago. In the meantime they have: forced some radio and television stations off air; instigated a night time curfew; closed land and air borders; and reportedly dissolved the government Associated Press. In response, transitional parliamentary speaker Cheriff Sy declared himself leader of the country and called on people to ‘immediately rise up’ against the coup. These calls were met as protesters gathered in the streets of the country’s capital, Ouagadougou and other cities across the country including Bobo Dioulasso. However, protesters have been confronted by heavily armed troops, and by Thursday evening there were 3 confirmed deaths and 60 injuries. At the time of writing, no further official figures had been released. News of gun shots have reportedly contained rather than silenced protests and with continued calls from protestors for ‘elections’ and the fall of the RSP, it seems likely that civil society is prepared to mount a serious challenge to the coup.  Furthermore, as former right hand man to Compaore, Diendere’s position as head of the junta has provoked speculation that the former president may be behind events. Although Diendere has assured the populace that he has had no contact with Compaore and at this stage these seem to be mere speculations, the promulgation of these theories will likely inflame the situation further.

With two West African leaders due to arrive in Burkina Faso on Friday afternoon to help ‘mediate’ the situation, the outcome of the coup still remains unclear, plunging the country into fresh uncertainty. What is apparent is that if the army and civil society continue to challenge the junta and the officers refuse to back down, the situation could deteriorate very quickly. Referred to by commentators as the ‘black spring’, the events of October last year signified a new era for the country, one in which Burkinabes hoped to partake in the recent sweep of democratic elections across the Continent. And having removed one leader through popular protests, it does not seem likely that the people will accept this takeover. Furthermore, Burkina Faso’s proximity to Mali will make it of strategic interest to western powers, especially the former colonial power France, no doubt ensuring close monitoring of the situation and making intervention in any ensuing escalation likely.

The Social Media Myth

Since the Arab Spring in 2010 it seems that any revolution, mass protest or social upheaval has become defined by its relation to social media. Many point to social media as a catalyst for such events, with groups using platforms such as twitter as an organisational tool. However, in reality, this does not appear to be the case, particularly in Africa.

One major impediment to the influence of social media in Africa is simply the lack of access to it. Although internet penetration has increased rapidly over the last few years, according to figures produced by Project Isizwe (an NGO which aims to increase Wi-Fi access in South Africa) only 18% of Africa’s population had access to internet in 2014. This percentage had increased to 26% by January 2015 – according to We Are Social (a social media PR and marketing agency) – which, despite being a significant increase, still means that 74% of Africans do not have access to the internet. Moreover, internet penetration varies dramatically between different African countries. This was demonstrated by a World Bank study which showed that there were over 40 internet users per 100 people in South Africa, Egypt and Tunisia in 2013 compared to fewer than 2 users per 100 people in Burundi, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Guinea, Niger, Sierra Leone and Somalia.

Thus, it seems highly unlikely that social media would play a major role in precipitating political protest in the majority of African countries. As Professor Wisdom Tetty noted at the LSE Africa Summit in April 2015, social media platforms are privileges of the middle class. Social media therefore tends to be a lagging indicator of large scale unrest or political change. This was illustrated by a graph produced by Topsy (a social media and analytics company) and published by IRIN News, which showed the twitter activity associated with Burundi between 13th April and 13th May 2015. The graph showed that a spike of activity occurred only after the attempted coup took place on 13th May 2015. This indicates that twitter is predominantly associated with reporting, as also shown by the #lwili hashtag used during the Burkina Faso uprising, and is therefore not a useful intelligence tool in predicting events.

Even in terms of social media’s role in reporting, this is primarily used by people outside of Africa. As a report in the Mail & Guardian on 5th May 2015 showed, only 7% of Africans access their news through social media. This is compared to 46% that use radio and 37% that use television, which also indicates another hindrance for social media: illiteracy. As a UNESCO report showed, in 2012, the African adult literacy rate was 59% overall and in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone it was under 50%. Thus, social media’s influence in Africa will continue to be limited by the region’s relatively high illiteracy.

It seems that many commentators have become obsessed with social media and its role in political opposition – to the point that we overlook the fact that such events have taken place for centuries. If an event such as the Soweto Uprising happened today, it would almost certainly be attributed, at least in part, to social media. The importance of radio communications and civil society organisations are far too often overlooked. In Burundi, the closing of independent radio stations was a far more significant development than any internet blackout. Moreover, in Burkina Faso, the actions of Le Balai Citoyen were far more important than any hashtag. Even with regards to significant political change through the ballot box, social media is no replacement for old fashioned political organisation. As Funmi Iyanda – a Nigerian broadcaster, producer and journalist – noted at the Royal Africa Society’s ‘How to Fix Nigeria’ event in May 2015, “most of the people who went out to vote were not the people on social media, they were the people going out on a daily basis everyday”.

Nonetheless, this is not to say that technology has no part to play in political organisation and protest. It appears that we have skipped a step in explaining how technology aids the creation of political opposition, overlooking increased voice communication through the use of mobile phones. In contrast to internet penetration, Project Isizwe showed that in 2014 70% of Africans had a mobile handset. Professor Tetty also noted the importance of mobiles in fomenting political discussion in Ghana through radio phone-ins. Moreover, mobile voice communication is not hindered by high illiteracy rates, making it accessible to everyone. Thus, with regards to increasing the ability of people to organise political protests, it is far more likely that mobile phone communication is playing a bigger role than social media in Africa.

[The above is an extract from Africa Integrity’s upcoming June 2015 newsletter. To request a copy of this newsletter and join the mailing list please contact us]

Francophone Africa Revisited

Artist's Map of Africa

On 17th March 2015 we published an article entitled “Troubles en Afrique Francophonie” which discussed increasing anti-government protests across Francophone Africa, not seen in either Anglophone or Lusophone regions. We assessed that in our globalised world it appears that language still has an important influence on the contagion effect of political protest. The countries we identified as experiencing unrest over the past year were Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Niger and Togo. Since then: unrest has intensified in Burundi leading to an attempted coup on 13th May 2015; Gabon has been beset by a series of protests and strikes; and violent clashes have erupted between opposition supporters and the security forces in Guinea’s capital Conakry.

In stark contrast, unrest and political protests have been muted in Anglophone and Lusophone Africa. Despite deteriorating economic conditions in Ghana, allegations of mass killings by the security forces in Angola, and the continuation of the rule of two of Africa’s longest serving ‘Strongmen’ in Uganda and Zimbabwe, these countries have largely avoided anti-government protests like those seen in Francophone Africa. Although South Africa experienced unrest caused by xenophobic, or ‘afrophobic’, riots in April 2015, these were not protests aimed at the government and therefore less dangerous to the ruling ANC.

The unrest seen in Francophone Africa over the past year is particularly anti-government in nature. Protestors have called for greater democracy, criticising long term rulers and those who they believe are exploiting their positions of power in order to prolong their rule. The protests appear to be well co-ordinated by highly active civil society groups and opposition parties which possess clear aims. This is therefore much more of a threat to ruling parties and presidents.

It is not clear why this unrest has been a particular feature of Francophone Africa but it seems that different movements have taken inspiration from each other. It is possible that this has spread through the reporting of events on social or conventional media, which has been expedited by a shared language. However, it is also possible that it has been caused by increased co-operation between different civil society groups. There was an indication that this could be the case in March 2015, when 40 pro-democracy activists were arrested in the DRC, including members of Senegalese and Burkinabe civil society groups. Thus, it could be that civil society groups in Francophone Africa are beginning to operate transnationally; sharing ideas, experiences and acting as inspirations for movements in other countries.

Nonetheless, whatever the reason behind the increasing unrest it appears that Francophone Africa’s autocratic leaders are going to face continued protests in 2015.

Troubles en Afrique Francophonie

Artist's Map of Africa

Following the overthrow of Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore in October last year a number of other Francophone countries have experienced anti-government protests, predominantly in relation to the tenure of their long-term leaders. In the midst of the events in Burkina Faso commentators coined the phrase “African Spring” drawing comparisons with the Arab uprisings in 2011. However, it appears that “Printemps Africain” is a more appropriate term than “African Spring”.

In the last year and predominantly after the events in Burkina Faso, large-scale unrest has been seen in Burundi, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger and Togo. With the exception of Cote d’Ivoire, where protests came from within the military concerning pay, the other countries witnessed protests against their long-term governments and presidents. As recently as February 2015, protests against Burundi’s government broke out in reaction to the arrest of journalist, Bob Rugurika, in connection with a murder investigation. Witnesses said that the demonstration which took place after Rugurika’s release was the largest in the country in over 20 years. Evidently, these types of events are not on the same scale as those seen during the “Arab Spring” but nonetheless, they do demonstrate a rising undercurrent of unrest.

Significantly, Anglophone and Lusophone Africa have managed to avoid these powerful rumblings of discontent. However, this is not due to a lack of dictatorial zeal on the part of these regions’ leaders, as demonstrated by three out of the five longest serving African presidents being from either Anglophone or Lusophone Africa. Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza with his mere 10 years as president must look in envy as the nonagenarian Robert Mugabe enters his 35th year in power.

Thus, on the surface at least, it appears that in our increasingly globalised world of the Internet and social media, language still has an influence on the contagion effect of political protest. It is not clear whether this is through conventional or social media, or links between civil society organisations, but it does seem that it has so far been confined to the Francophone region in which it originated. If this trend continues, 2015 could be an uncomfortable year for Francophone Africa’s longest serving leaders in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and elsewhere.

[The above is an extract from Africa Integrity’s new quarterly newsletter – Africa Integrity Reports – which is to be launched in March 2015. To request a copy of this newsletter and join the mailing list please contact us]

Time Out?

Presidential term limit

The events in Burkina Faso in late October last year highlighted the potential conflict caused by presidential term limits and entrenched leaders who are less than willing to give up their presidential positions. Blaise Compaore had ruled Burkina Faso since 1987 and was the archetypal strongman but his decision to try to alter the constitution in order to enable him to run for a fifth term sparked protests which ultimately caused his downfall.

On the back of the democratisation wave which washed across Africa in the post-Cold War period many countries adopted term limits for their presidencies – a policy greatly encouraged by the West. The adoption of presidential term limits appeared to be a constitutional check against the continuation of presidencies dominated by strongmen in the new democratic period. However, as many of these assigned term limits approach for the current generation of leaders political opposition groups are growing wary of how presidents may attempt to circumvent them. Following on from Campaore in Burkina Faso, other countries where presidents are approaching their term limit include Burundi; the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); Congo-Brazzaville; Rwanda; and Benin.

Apart from Burundi, where a presidential election will take place in June this year, the rest of these countries’ presidents’ terms do not end until 2016 or 2017. However, if they are to attempt to alter their constitutions it is likely that they will do this well before election campaigns start, which could make 2015 a decisive year. Nonetheless, the removal of Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso as a result of his attempt to extend his presidential term limit may act as a warning for other African leaders seeking the same. It is highly likely that opposition parties across the continent will have taken inspiration from what happened in Burkina Faso, and will be planning to stage similar protests if their presidents attempt to extend their terms.

So much has already been made apparent in the DRC where, on 19th January 2015, students protested against a proposed revision to the country’s electoral code. The change would have required a census to take place before elections in 2016, which would have enabled President Kabila to delay the election beyond his term limit. At the time of writing, it appears that the protests have been successful in preventing a change to the electoral code as the National Assembly withdrew the controversial section of the electoral bill on 24th January 2015.

In Togo, where the opposition are calling for the adoption of a presidential term limit, protestors have taken to the streets to try to prevent Faure Gnassingbe from extending his family’s rule of the country. Faure Gnassingbe took over the presidency after his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, died in 2005 after ruling the country since 1967. In late November 2014 a protest erupted in Lome calling for a presidential term limit, which would prevent Gnassingbe from running in 2015. Demonstrators clashed with security forces that used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the thousands of protestors. The opposition has championed this issue leading a number of smaller scale demonstrations and promising more as the election in March 2015 approaches.

Although it must be recognized that the conditions in Burkina Faso are not the same across Africa and that Compaore’s loss of military support was vital in explaining his downfall, it appears that the events in Burkina Faso are already inspiring opposition movements across the continent. This does not mean that opposition movements in other countries will necessarily experience the same success as that in Burkina Faso but it does make it increasingly likely that presidents approaching the end of their tenures will not be able to circumvent their constitutions quite as easily as they may have thought.