NewsEast & Horn AfricaPlentiful polls across Africa in 2016, as old guard hold on to power at all costs


Posted on Friday, 29 January 2016 15:05

Plentiful polls across Africa in 2016, as old guard hold on to power at all costs

By The Africa Report

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFPThe year 2015 hosted a bumper crop of high-stakes elections, and 2016 brings more of the same. A major trend involves presidents seeking to hold on to power for as long as possible by almost any means necessary.


The Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Chad and Uganda all have presidents with no immediate plans for retirement. Whereas the last three on the list have no constitutional term limits, the leaders of the two Congos will have to pull out all stops to stay around longer.

The year 2015 brought violence as Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza crushed all opposition to his controversial third term and a brief coup in Burkina Faso continued its post-Blaise Compaoré transition; 2016 too could bring political turmoil.

However, in many countries holding votes in 2016, opposition parties have struggled to gain a foothold. In Uganda, the police placed the opposition leader under house arrest in October 2015 to prevent him from holding political rallies.

In Djibouti, the government has refused to implement the reforms that it agreed to with the opposition in order for it to call off its political boycotts.

Meanwhile, in Ghana, the National Patriotic Party has been unsuccessful in getting the government to implement reforms to avoid the contestation and long legal battles that marked the late 2012 vote.

South Africa will hold local rather than national elections in the year ahead, and the opposition has concerns about electoral fairness.

In October, President Jacob Zuma appointed his adviser for special projects Vuma Mashinini to lead the elect- oral commission and replace Pansy Tlakula, who stepped down due to a corruption scandal.

In late November, the constitutional court threw out some local election results from 2013, showing Mashinini will have his work cut out for him to convince some parties that his closeness to Zuma will not influence electoral management. ●

1• Zambia
President Edgar Lungu faces a tough election campaign due to copper mines shutting down and the resulting reduction in government revenue. His alliance with his former opponents in the Movement for Multiparty Democracy could help him to beat challenger Hakainde Hichilema, who took 46.7% of the vote in the presidential by-election of 2015.

2• Niger
The main opposition parties rejected the electoral calendar, but finally chose to federate against the ruling party. Nevertheless, the powers of incumbency are likely to propel President Mahamadou Issoufou to victory in elections planned for February.

3• Democratic Republic of Congo
In late November, President Joseph Kabila maintained his policy of providing as little information as possible about his intentions for elections due to take place before the end of 2016 when he announced the launch of a national dialogue. The government does not have the funds or the logistical capacity to organise a series of local and other elections before the presidential vote in November 2016, and Kabila's opponents and former allies argue that he is looking to use the crisis to stay in power for as long as possible. Kabila says that he will accept oppositionist Étienne Tshisekedi's demand for international mediation in the political dialogue in the hopes of co-opting some members of the opposition.

4• Benin
With the country's highly fragmented political spectrum, the competition is wide open to replace President Thomas Boni Yayi, whose government has struggled to fight corruption and meet its campaign promises.

5• Ghana
President John Mahama's government has much riding on its ability to address the country's electricity generation deficit before the late 2016 presidential election. The opposition National Patriotic Party (NPP) has been calling for a new electoral register, something that the electoral commission has so far opposed. The NPP's Nana Akufo-Addo is hoping to present himself as a change candidate like Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari.

6• South Africa
The May 2016 local elections will be a litmus test for President Jacob Zuma's African National Congress (ANC) government. The ANC has been losing members recently and the labour unions that make part of its tripartite alliance have been in turmoil. Local issues like service delivery are set to be the main topic of debate. The ANC will be hoping its electoral ground troops can be galvanised, while the Democratic Alliance under Mmusi Maimane and the Economic Freedom Fighters led by Julius Malema see the local vote as a key chance to build up support and win provinces away from the ANC ahead of polls in 2019, when the governing party is due to select a new presidential candidate. Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and African Union Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma are the current frontrunners.

7• Republic of Congo
So far, President Denis Sassou Nguesso has steamrolled through all opposition to his plans to change the constitution's age limits and allow him a new term in office. Civil society groups have not been able to organise a repeat of what took place in Burkina Faso in 2014.

8• Chad
With low oil prices and the government scrambling to cut budgets and raise revenue, Chad will head to the polls in 2016. President Idriss Déby faces few strong challengers to continue what will be his 26 years in power next year.

9• Uganda
The defection of former prime minister Amama Mbabazi offers the opposition's best chance of shaking President Yoweri Museveni's regime. However, the Museveni regime, which turns 30 in January, shows few signs of weakness. Mbabazi and the Forum for Democratic Change leader Kizza Besigye have been unable to agree on a united opposition ticket, which offers the challengers the best chance of unhorsing the incumbent.

10• Djibouti
President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, in power since 1999, had promised to step down before 2016's presidential vote, but he shows no signs of planning to follow through on that.

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