A Look Ahead to February 2018

Guinea’s Long-Awaited Local Elections

After years of delays, President Alpha Conde finally signed a decree on 4th December 2017, agreeing to the election commission’s proposed date for local elections – 4th February 2018. The elections have been expected since 2005 but the government has consistently delayed them and has been criticised by opposition parties for doing so. In 2016, the government, opposition parties and civil society groups engaged in a national political dialogue to resolve the issue; however, President Alpha Conde ignored the agreed date for elections in 2017. According to opposition parties, the government has postponed elections because, under the current system, central government has the power to appoint local government officials. Opposition leaders have alleged that the government has exploited this in order to increase its influence and perpetuate electoral fraud.

Consequently, next month’s local elections are highly significant for Guinea’s political environment. Given their importance, it is likely that political tensions will be very high and, if there are allegations of electoral fraud, there is the potential for widespread protests and social unrest. In 2017, Guinea was beset by political protests in Conakry, riots in Bauxite producing regions and strikes across the country. President Alpha Conde has been accused of responding to these matters in a dictatorial manner and has even interfered with the media’s coverage of such events. Against this strained political atmosphere, the local elections, if mis-managed, could be the catalyst for further unrest.

Zuma’s Last State of the Nation Address

On 8th February 2018, Jacob Zuma is expected to make his final State of the Nation Address as the president of South Africa. Although there has been much speculation about whether he would still be president by this date, it seems that the ruling ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has decided not to force Zuma to stand down before the re-opening of parliament. As the ANC’s Secretary-General Ace Magashule stated, “he will deliver the State of the Nation Address as he is still the president”.  Since the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the ANC in December 2017, he has stamped his authority on the party and emphasised the need to tackle corruption. Given the myriad of corruption allegations associated with Zuma, many expected the ANC to recall Zuma in order to strengthen Ramaphosa’s and the party’s image ahead of next year’s general election.

While there are strong indications that Zuma will be recalled before the end of his term, Ramaphosa has to be cautious as Zuma remains an influential and popular figure within sections of the ANC. The dual power structure created by the separate ANC and State presidential elections has the potential to stall Ramaphosa’s reformist strategy and increase factionalism in the party, which is trying to restore unity after the divisive National Conference in December 2017. Ramaphosa has noted that he does not want to “humiliate President Zuma” and, for the sake of the ANC’s unity, it is important that he is not seen as doing so. But, for its performance in next year’s election, the sooner Zuma is removed, the better. In the meantime, it appears that Zuma will be making his final State of Nation Address on 8th February, which, much like previous years, will almost definitely be disrupted by South Africa’s opposition parties, especially the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who will relish the opportunity to lambast Zuma in parliament one last time.

Djibouti Goes to the Polls

Legislative elections are set to take place in Djibouti on 23rd February 2018 and it looks likely that the Union pour la Majorité Présidentielle (UMP) will consolidate its position as the country’s ruling party. Ahead of the last National Assembly election in 2013, six opposition parties combined to create the Union pour le Salut National (USN) coalition, which, despite allegations of vote-rigging, managed to secure 21 seats in the 65-seat assembly that was previously fully controlled by the UMP. While there was much hope amongst opposition activists that this signalled a shift in Djibouti’s political landscape, since then, the USN has splintered and become increasingly ineffective. President Ismaïl Guelleh comfortably won Djibouti’s presidential election in 2016 after three parties in the USN coalition boycotted the election and the remaining parties failed to unite behind a single candidate. And, in 2017, the USN did not contest Regional and Communal elections.

There are already reports that at least one party in the USN coalition will boycott the upcoming election and it looks like the UMP will increase its control over the National Assembly. The election will almost certainly be tainted by allegations of intimidation and vote-rigging from the opposition, but, given the strategic importance of Djibouti, it is unlikely that the government will face significant international pressure. Although there is potential for such allegations to cause violent political protests, like those seen in 2013, given the divided nature of the opposition, such protests are unlikely to be widespread or pose any genuine threat to the government.

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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.