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Top African elections to watch and predictions for 2020

Kurt Davis Jr.
By Kurt Davis Jr.
Investment banker

Kurt Davis Jr. is an investment banker with private equity experience focused on Africa, the Middle East, and Turkey. He earned an MBA in finance, entrepreneurship and operations from the University of Chicago and a J.D. in tax and commercial law at the University of Virginia’s School of Law. He can be reached at kurt.davis.jr@gmail.com.

Posted on Monday, 23 December 2019 18:01, updated on Sunday, 29 December 2019 14:42

Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo in Berlin, Germany November 19, 2019. John MacDougall/Reuters

The Africa Report launches a series of articles on what to watch in 2020 - starting with the elections that will be held across the continent.

[Follow the links for our second article in the What to Watch in 2020 series on the new costs for shipping, our third on Africa’s demographics and shortage of capital, and our fourth on the prospects for diamonds and De Beers]

It is hard to imagine a quiet year for African election monitors, with Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire and Sudan offering soap operas, full of post-civil war storylines, unknown successors and internal regional conflict.

Guinea, which is not covered in this article, will have to overcome tensions on the ground to get to election day without any protests.

Here are the top elections to watch in Africa and predictions for 2020.

Ghana

General elections will be held in December 2020 for the presidential office.

Ghana’s main opposition party has already nominated former president John Mahama to challenge the incumbent, President Nana Akufo-Addo, which means the two leaders will face-off in their third consecutive poll. The election will create an effective ‘Battle of the Records’ election where Ghanaians can decide which four-year term they preferred the most.

The National Democratic Congress’ (NDC) Mahama came to power after the death of former president John Atta Mills on 24 July 2012 and later defeated Akufo-Addo in the December 2012 election.

Mahama lost in 2016, largely undone by the reported overspending by his administration that created a $1.6bn hole in the budget. His administration faced numerous allegations over corruption – and struggled with a budget deficit, and a stumbling and uncertain economy.

Mahama’s supporters point to falling commodity prices, especially cocoa, gold and oil, as the cause for the economic challenges in 2016. Some of those commodity prices have rebounded, but is that enough to help the Mahama defence case?

Economy in focus

Akufo-Addo is currently riding a strong economy into the 2020 election. Economic growth has averaged 6% during his first term, underwritten by low inflation – at its lowest level in nearly six years – and an emerging oil industry (with moderate outlook following recent news from Tullow Oil).

Akufo-Addo will face some challenges in addressing Ghanaians frustrations with failed promises. Revenue shortfalls and accompanying spending cuts leaves an opening for the NDC as many Ghanaians expected more jobs and more infrastructure by now under the New Patriotic Party (NPP).

Who will win? Ghanaian elections are always close, so never expect a runaway victory.

Still, unless President Akufo-Addo chooses to not seek re-election or is not nominated as a candidate, he should pull out a close victory based on his economic record.

The NDC will also have missed a chance to highlight a new face for the party. Ghanaian political history largely teaches us that most winning candidates usually endure a public loss in a previous election but, in doing so, get their name out there for future contests. This could have been that type of an election for a different NDC candidate.

Tanzania

Mtera MP Livingstone Lusinde may sadly have put it best when he told ruling party colleagues that there is no reason for Tanzania to conduct a costly presidential election in 2020 because no one can defeat President John Pombe Magufuli.

Lusinde also added that the money saved from skipping the 2020 presidential election could be used for development projects. The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party is the second-longest ruling party in Africa, only after the National Party (also known as Nationalist Party) in South Africa.

Lusinde is not off on the probability of Magufuli’s re-election. It is surely high, but maybe not as high some would think.

It is never easy to gauge the level of support for opposition parties in Tanzania, as they generally underperform in pre-election polling.

Opposition presidential candidate Edward Lowassa (for Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema)), who had abandoned the CCM party after it chose Magufuli to represent the party in 2015, polled 25% and 30% in two pre-election polls in the 2015 election cycle.

He garnered 40% of the vote in the actual election. These numbers, at least, suggest there is support for an opposition candidate. Surveys, especially a survey by regional think-tank Twaweza in 2018, suggests a major drop in popularity for President Magufuli.

Critics silenced

The Twaweza numbers – which showed Magufuli’s popularity dropping from 71% to 55% in 2018 – give hope to those candidates hanging in the background waiting to challenge Magufuli. The report also provides insight into why being the opposition in Tanzania has been quite hard.

Following the release of the Twaweza report, Twaweza director Aidan Eyakuze and other colleagues became subject of state harassment, including confiscation of passports and an investigation of citizenship status.

Journalist Erick Kabendera, who had voiced criticism of Magufuli, faced similar investigations over his citizenship and is now facing charges that range from money laundering to assisting in organised crime.

Investigative journalist Azory Gwanda has been missing since November 2017. All these situations characterise the tough terrain for opposition voices.

All the criticisms aside, Magufuli has strong support. The number of people with clean water is up and Tanzanians have seen better access to healthcare, including hospital beds and medicines. Many rural and some urban Tanzanians appreciate Magufuli’s attacks on foreign ownership in some Tanzanian industries.

Looking outside-in, non-Tanzanians and Tanzanians living abroad may not be a big fan of the Magufuli economic record and abhor his human rights record. But their view is not all-encompassing of the Tanzanian voter from rural and urban areas.

Who will win? This election will likely offer the least amount of competitive spirit, with Magufuli expected to win in 2020. But maybe the opposition can, at least, give us insight into who the up-and-coming challengers could be in 2025.

Sudan – Expected to be delayed

Little news is coming out of Sudan on the upcoming election in 2020.

This is largely due to the many unknowns. Several months ago, we would have been discussing the likely re-election of former leader Omar al-Bashir. It was late 2018 when the former leader said his administration was prepared to conduct the elections and would not postpone them despite calls from the opposition to postpone and change the rules.

Then the protests came and Bashir, on 11 February 2019, called on parliament to postpone constitutional amendments that would allow him to seek another term in office.

It would only be two more months before Bashir (leader of Sudan for 30 years) would step down on 11 April, however only leaving the country in a massive gridlock as protests continued and leaders struggled to put together a transitional government.

Behind bars, for how long?

Today, Bashir is behind bars, having now been found guilty of corruption, receiving illegal gifts and possessing foreign currency. He will serve his time in a reform facility instead of a prison due to his age.

Critics are already suggesting that he is getting preferred treatment as he is stalwart of the former ruling National Congress Party and that he could find his way back to president’s office in some shape or form in the near future. The ruling party was recently dissolved by the government but this only creates a leadership vacuum, likely resulting in the former ruling party regrouping under a different name.

The transitional government is now indicating that it will rule for a couple years before holding a presidential election. All the protests still happening (albeit more sporadically) suggest an election may be nearer than many observers expect.

Who will win? The Sudanese, if a fair and open election happens in 2020 or 2021.

Burundi

This election is set to be everything but boring.

First, the country’s civil servants and other locals are paying the bill. As part of a joint decree from the finance and internal affairs ministries, a portion of government employees’ salaries was retained (since January 2018) to pay for the election in May 2020.

Finance ministry spokesperson Christian Kwizera has stated that the equivalent of approximately $33m is available for the election process; the previous election process cost more than $60m.

A run-off (or second round of voting), as many observers expect to happen, would surely push the 2020 election bill above $33m with no clear plan on how to cover the bill.

Will he stay or go?

Secondly, President Pierre Nkurunziza will not run for re-election after running for a third term, which the opposition still insist violated constitutional rules (despite a court ruling otherwise) and accordingly led to mass protests in the country.

Who will take up the reins for the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party? The uncertainty has some sceptics wondering aloud if Nkurunziza may simply not step down and choose to run, having previously won a referendum that could allow him to stay in office until 2034.

Burundi’s main opposition alliance in exile, the National Council for Compliance with the Arusha Agreement (CNARED), already announced that it will participate in the 2020 elections.

Anicet Niyonkuru, executive secretary for the alliance and chairman of his party CDP, has stated that the opposition will not boycott the election – in 2015 a boycott  cleared the path for a landslide victory for Nkurunziza. Who will lead the alliance? Or, better yet, let’s see if the alliance upholds its decision to participate and makes a real bid for the presidency.

Who will win? Let’s simply hope there is an election that the state (not its employees) can afford and that both the ruling CNDD-FDD and the opposition CNARED participate. Burundi deserves the right to a fair and fully participatory election.

Côte d’Ivoire

Incumbent President Alassane Ouattara originally stated he would not seek re-election. But, in the last several months, he has stated an intention to seek re-election if his predecessors decide to compete in the 2020 election.

Ouattara’s main coalition partner Henri Konan Bédié, who defected last year, and Ouattara’s rival, former president Laurent Gbagbo, could join forces following Gbagbo being acquitted of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

An alliance and return by these two former presidents would ensure a very contentious election and sadly potentially remind observers and locals of the tensions that led to the previous civil war.

A new future?

As some young Ivoirians have highlighted, the ‘old’ guard is battling over the future of the country, largely made up of young people. The current president and two former presidents are 70 years or older.

The entrance into the election by former rebel leader Guillaume Soro (47 years young) will hopefully help change the generational dynamics of the election.

Yet, for many Ivorians, that hope seems misplaced considering the entire story is like a soap opera with a new title but with a cast of familiar characters.

The wealth disparity between the richer south and poorer north of the country remains a similar undercurrent in every scene and questions of nationality are part of the toxic discussion around aforementioned age dynamics and lack of generational change.

Many young Ivorians would like this show cancelled and replaced with a more appealing and appropriate political series. But sadly there is no candidate stepping up to be the new lead actor.

Who will win? Let’s see who runs. The incumbent Ouattara wins if the opposition is the two former presidents. If all three are not running, Ivorians could win if a new, younger leader can become the political face of this crucial country.

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