- Part II. In the second part of the special series on democracy in Africa, Wachira Maina looks at countries that are set to hold elections this year and why the polls, largely pitting perennial rivals against incumbents, do not offer any glimmer of hope for lasting peace and development
Madagascar: Rogue Mayors and Gangster Politics
In southern Africa, Madagascar — still chafing from a major broil in 2009 — is set to have a presidential election in November.
The principal contenders in 2009, former president Marc Ravalomanana and arch-rival Andry Rajoelina, an ex-mayor of Antananarivo and the island’s military-backed ruler from 2009 to 2013, are set for a rematch. It was Rajoelina who forced Ravalomanana out in protests in which more than 100 people died.
Trouble began in 2008 when a youthful Rajoelina was elected mayor of Antananarivo and openly challenged President Ravalomanana’s policies, among them the controversial and unpopular 99-year lease for 1,300,000 hectares (13,000 km2) — half of Madagascar’s arable land — that he had signed with South Korean multinational Daewoo. Daewoo’s plan was to use the land to produce corn and palm oil for export to South Korea on a promise to create 45,000 jobs for locals.
In the ensuing protests, Mr Ravalomanana shut down Mr Rajoelina’s TV station, and the latter’s supporters retaliated by burning down two State-owned TV stations and attacking a third owned by Ravalomanana. A civil crisis soon morphed into a military one. The army, incensed that Ravalomanana had raised police salaries but not theirs, sided with Rajoelina, who then seized government as head of the High Transition Authority (HAT). Ravolamanana fled to South Africa. In 2010, Rajoelina made a new constitution lowering from 40 to 30 years the age of eligibility for President. That meant that he, then 36, could run if elections were called. The crisis deepened and would not yield to regional mediation.
In 2013, when elections fell due, SADC’s diplomatic pressure and a judgment from the election court knocked out the big three — Didier Ratsiraka, Ravalomanana and Rajoelina — from the election. Newcomer Henry Rajaonarimampianina, an ally of Rajoelina, won the election, defeating Jean Louis Robinson, an ally of Ravalomanana.
Since then Madagascar has enjoyed relative calm, even though it has suffered a series of natural disasters. Rajaonarimampianina wants to run again and hopes to ban both Ravalomanana and Rajoelina from the elections. He thinks he can invoke article 25(4) of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance against Rajoelina. That article bars “perpetrators of unconstitutional change of government” from both elections and high office. Ravalomanana, he believes, is easily knocked out by his in-absentia conviction for the fatal shooting of protesters by presidential guards in 2009.
The Institute for Security Studies, a South African NGO, thinks neither argument is sound. In the past, the African Union has read article 25(4) rather loosely. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Mauritania’s Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz are both coup-makers but the AU was mum as they recast themselves as civilians. Rajaonarimampianina’s self-serving moves are further curdling an already sour political environment. He, too, has had difficulties of his own. Impeached by parliament two years into his term, he was lucky to be reprieved by the constitutional court.
The prospects for a peaceful election are poor. Elections are ever a time of crisis in Madagascar. The 2009 crisis reprised a 2001 crisis that pitted Ravalomanana, ironically then mayor of Antananarivo, against President Ratsiraka. Ratsiraka disputed Ravalomanana’s first-round win and tried to force a runoff that Ravalomanana boycotted. A chaotic standoff followed and only an order of recount by the constitutional court saved the island from breakdown. The recount gave victory to Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka fled to France. He was then indicted and convicted in absentia of stealing from the Central Bank, setting a precedent that Rajoelina would use to convict Ravalomanana for five years when he, too, fled Madagascar after the 2009 crisis.
There is complex diplomacy at play too. SADC is playing a more visible role but member states do not always agree, which allows the protagonists to blow hot and cold. France dislikes Ravalomanana, whose policies they saw as unfairly targeted at Madagascar’s large French business class. He also took Madagascar into SADC and closer to the United States, eroding French influence. Not surprisingly, the first two things that the Francophile Rajoelina did in 2009 was cancel the Daewoo contract and reverse Ravalomanana’s decision on English as Madagascar’s third language.
Cameroon: A Reckless Old Man
In Cameroon, the election for president in October will take place against the background of a crisis that could break up the country. English-speaking Cameroon — to the northwest and southwest — threatens to break away to form the Republic of Ambazonia, protesting decades of exclusion. The crisis runs deep. Cameroon, a German colony before the First World War, was split into two mandate territories and given to France and Britain after the defeat of Germany. The mandataries soon moulded the country to their different cultures, producing French-speaking and English-speaking regions. In 1961, one part of English-speaking Cameroon joined Nigeria. The other part agreed to terms for a federation with French-speakers under a hurriedly drafted independence constitution. In 1972, President Amadou Ahidjo, in total disregard of the terms agreed in 1961, unilaterally abrogated the federation.
Since then, the Anglophone grievances have grown and festered. At the national level, the government is no longer committed to bi-culturalism. Examinations are usually set by the French part of the education system, to the detriment of the Anglophones. The rights of western Cameroon have been eviscerated. Senior government officials are drawn mainly from French-speaking areas.
When the crisis first broke out, the Anglophones tried to force issues by protests, boycotts and strikes. However, the government’s brutal response radicalised even moderates. President Paul Biya initiated half-hearted talks in 2016 and then undermined them by detaining and exiling the English-speaking leadership. In 2017, a separatist group declared the breakaway Republic of Ambazonia.
The International Crisis Group notes in a 2017 report, Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis: Dialogue Remains the Only Viable Solution, that though not everyone wants secession, the separatists now have the upper hand. President Biya’s tokenist solutions — creating a common-law department at the Supreme Court and promising to decentralise power under the terms of the 1996 constitution — incense everyone.
Thousands have fled to Nigeria, creating a refugee problem. That — and Boko Haram’s sporadic incursions into Cameroon — has shrunk the space for a credible election.
Whether the election will be peaceful depends on the Ambazonia crisis abating. President Biya, 84 this year, recently said that it already has — a clear delusion. The silver lining is that Biya’s main opponent, so far, is Akere Muna, a lawyer from the Anglophone region. Muna, a former vice-chair of Transparency International and president of the Cameroon Bar Association, could douse the separatist flames. That, however, depends on the opposition — especially French-speaking candidates — rallying behind him.
The Ambazonia crisis has ramifications beyond Cameroon. Separatist groups have become increasingly visible — among the Catalans in Spain, the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey, the Scots in the United Kingdom and, surprisingly, the Igbos in Biafra. Secession in Cameroon would recharge separatists elsewhere.
All in all, Cameroon is headed into a difficult election and an even longer political crisis thereafter.
Mali: Nuclear Power and Insurgents in the Desert
A slow-burning crisis is unfolding in Mali, a country set to hold presidential elections in April. The incumbent, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, is eligible for a second term but his popularity in turbulent Mali is hard to gauge. One of his challengers is supposedly his ally, Kalifa Sanogo, mayor of Sikasso, Mali’s second largest city. Sanogo will run on the ticket of the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (Adema), a partner of Keita’s Rally for Mali in parliament.
Keita faces a myriad of problems, inside and outside government. Internally, Keita has run an unusually fragile government even by Mali’s famed standards of fragility. He has had five prime ministers since he became president in 2013: The first, Oumar Tatam Ly, served only eight months, September 2013 to April 2014. His replacement, Mousa Mara, fared no better, quitting in January 2015. He was replaced by the president’s own brother, Modibo Keita, who served a little over two years and resigned in April 2017. The then minister for defence, Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga, took over but quit in December 2017. The new premier is Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, a former minister for defence and ex-intelligence chief.
Outside government, President Keita is battling a serious crisis of legitimacy. The state is corrupt; he faces multiple insurgencies; banditry is rife; and his security forces have been accused of brutality. In truth, Mali has been in terminal decline since the Tuareg crisis of 2012. That crisis has deep roots and won’t go away soon. The Tuaregs want out of Mali and have mounted rebellions before, in the 1990s and again in 2006. Like English-speaking Cameroonians, they complain that Bamako has marginalised them and destroyed their livelihoods. In 2012, they launched a fresh, pro-independence rebellion under the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). In parallel, a jihadist insurgency, Ansar Dine, seized three of Mali’s largest cities — Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu. The Malian army then mutinied, angry at President Amadou Touman Touré’s ineffectual response to the Tuareg rebellion. With Touré forced out, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) brokered a caretaker government to lead Mali to elections in 12 months under the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dioncouda Traoré.
With support from the French army, the insurgents were eventually beaten back. In 2015 Keita signed a peace agreement with the MNLA. However, a terror attack in Bamako that same year pushed Mali back into a de facto state of emergency. With the peace agreement virtually dead, the insurgency has reignited, albeit more sporadically.
As Mali heads to elections, Keita’s hold is tenuous, except perhaps in the southern region. By December 2017, only one third of public officials who had earlier fled insecurity in the north were reporting to work. Local elections scheduled for December were postponed to April this year, again over security worries. Keita cannot hold Mali together if confronted by a truly aggressive insurgency. Peaceful elections seem unlikely.
The country’s best bet is international intervention, especially by ECOWAS and France, the two groups keenest to stabilise Mali and the Sahel more generally. France is vulnerable to trouble in the Sahel, which is why Francois Hollande sent troops into Mali in the first place. France gets 80 per cent of its energy from nuclear power.
Niger, Mali’s neighbour to the east, is central to France’s energy security. Areva, the French energy giant, gets one third of its uranium from just two mines in Niger. France is worried about the risk of jihadist contagion in the Sahel. Al-Qaeda in North Africa has links to groups in Mali and Algeria, both neighbours of Niger. In 2010, Islamists took French hostages from Areva mining sites, forcing France to deploy troops to protect the company’s mines from 2013.
By French lights, a breakdown in Mali is a strategic threat in a region so much on the edge.
In addition to the sources specifically mentioned in the survey, this series has also drawn from the following books and sources.
1Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason K. Stearns
2Democracy in Africa: Successes, Failures and the Struggle for Political Reform, by Nic Cheesman.
3 The Looting Machine: Warlords, Tycoons, Smugglers and the Systematic Theft of Africa’s Wealth, by Tom Burgis
4Democratic Transition in Anglophone West Africa, by Jibrin Ibrahim
5The Postcolonial State in Africa: Fifty Years of Independence, by Crawford Young
6Various news sources, including the BBC, Al-Jazeera, Wikipedia and also various reports by the International Crisis Group, Global Witness and the Institute for Security Studies on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Chad and Egypt.