A very francophone 2015 elections round-up
The two countries that will still vote in October have much in common: Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire both emerged from a long period of one-man rule that began at independence and lasted for decades, begrudgingly adopted multiparty systems and entered periods of political turmoil. In Guinea, violently repressed street protests and the death of the autocrat Lansana Conté in 2008 led into the one-year rule of a murderous junta, a transition and finally the country’s first democratic elections.
The man who is likely to win his second term in office, President Alpha Condé, was the winner. Côte d’Ivoire came out of its political turmoil only when an international force put an end to a bloody political crisis in April 2011 and installed Alassane Ouattara, winner of the 2010 presidential elections and likely winner of this year’s poll.
Burkina Faso’s political transition ended in brutal fashion on 17 September 2015, when General Gilbert Diendéré temporarily put an end to the Burkinabès’ democratic aspirations with a wildly unpopular coup. The coup was reversed and elections are now due before the end of November.
Extreme violence is overshadowing political life in the CAR, where the Seleka and Anti-balaka rebels laid waste to the country. There is a transition going on that should, in theory, end in October but there is so little in place that November, or even December, is more likely.
France, the former coloniser, is still heavily present in these countries. It has soldiers in Côte d’Ivoire, CAR and Burkina Faso, business interests and clear personal and political ties in all four. Avowedly it has no opinion on which candidates it would like to see elected.
None of these elections are likely to change the fundamentals. All of the countries are highly resource-dependent, even though Côte d’Ivoire’s economy stands out as the most sophisticated. All have extreme differences between the haves and the have-nots, and all four leaders ignore their economic, social and demographic challenges at their peril.
Central African Republic: An unfinished transition
With the Central African Republic’s elections originally planned for 18 October, the people will have a long list of candidates to choose from when the vote is eventually held.
The electoral authorities have not completed the registration of the country’s 2.1 million voters, and it will be a daunting challenge to organise an election at the tail end of the rainy season in a country with little infrastructure.
Many of those running for office have been ministers, government officials and mayors, and quite a few have very familiar surnames. The biggest issue that a new government will face post-election is that large swathes of the country are unsafe because of the presence of armed groups.
The new government will also struggle to raise funds to address the problems the armed conflict has highlighted.
Martin Ziguélé of the Mouvement de Libération du Peuple Centrafricain appears to be among the election front-runners. A Catholic and former prime minister from the north-west, he is campaigning on a platform of peace and national reconciliation. Michel Amine, in his 40s, is a relative youngster who is campaigning on agricultural issues.
Among the familiar names are former president François Bozizé, whose 2003- 2013 reign was catastrophic. However, he does have the reasonably well-organised Kwa Na Kwa party to back him up. Others include Désiré Bilal Nzanga Kolingba, the son of ex-president André Kolingba; Jean-Serge Bokassa, son of the late president/emperor; and Sylvain Patassé, the son of Ange-Félix, who steered his country into a regional war when he brought Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba.
Côte d’Ivoire: Winning ways for Ouattara
The 25 October election is set to be a shoe-in for the incumbent, Alassane Ouattara. This is in part due to the strength of his Rassemblement des Républicains party and his alliance with octogenarian Henri Konan Bédié, the leader of the Parti Démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire, which used to dominate Ivorian politics. Ouattara can also point to impressive economic growth and major infrastructure works, such as Abidjan’s third bridge over the lagoon.
The other reason for Ouattara’s strength is the weakness of the opposition, most notably the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI), the party of former president Laurent Gbagbo, who is now held at the International Criminal Court on charges related to the post-electoral crisis of 2010-2011. The FPI has split into factions along the fault line of whether the party should participate without its historical leader.
Pascal Affi N’Guessan, the leader of the government-recognised FPI, thinks the party should move on; another group sees Gbagbo as their only leader and is set to decide on a boycott. A new opposition umbrella group made up of dissidents from the major parties, the Coalition Nationale pour le Changement, has yet to choose its candidate or prove its grassroots mettle.
Ouattara’s rivals say that economic growth is seen in statistics but not people’s livelihoods, and that his government is not serious about putting his own supporters on trial for their roles in the 2010-2011 violence. Pre-election protests and violence suggested that post-conflict tensions have not been banished.
Burkina Faso: Boo for the coup
The 17 September coup by General Gilbert Diendéré disrupted the political transition that was due to lead to national elections on 11 October. It was met by popular disapproval and the swift intervention of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Transitional president Michel Kafando was back in power on 23 September, but he is still facing several unresolved issues.
Before the coup, the transitional government had tried to dissolve the Diendéré-led Régiment de Sécurité Présidentielle (RSP), which is seen as still loyal to deposed president Blaise Compaoré.
The fate of the RSP is still uncertain and the ECOWAS deal contained a provision of amnesty for Diendéré. Elections are due to be held by 22 November, but the RSP and Diendéré could again try to play a spoiler’s role.
It is unlikely that any of Compaoré’s loyalists could win fair poll, but the transitional government had banned people associated with the former ruling party’s attempts to change the constitution from running – another sore point with Diendéré.
The constitutional council approved 14 presidential candidates on 10 September. Prior to the coup, the favourites appeared to be former prime minister Roch Marc Christian Kaboré of the Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progrès and opposition leader Zéphirin Diabré of the Union pour le Progrès et le Changement (UPC).
Whenever the campaign takes place, the unfinished business of the transitional government – reforming the government, the military and the economy – will dominate the debate.
Guinea: Condé carries on
The 11 October election will almost be a repeat of the one that got the incumbent, President Alpha Condé, elected in 2010.
The only difference is that Condé will now take on two political adversaries: Cellou Dalein Diallo and Sidya Touré are no longer in an alliance. This should stand Condé in good stead. Neither Diallo nor Touré can individually beat Condé and his large RPG Arc-en-Ciel coalition.
Moreover, Diallo has been weakened since he allied himself with former junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara, whose men killed many of Diallo’s supporters in the September 2009 massacre in Conakry.
Electoral support in Guinea is largely regional. Haute-Guinée and Guinée Forestière tend to vote for Condé, Moyenne-Guinée for Diallo and Guinée Maritime for Touré. Conakry is where the election is likely to be won or lost.
The opposition was still brandishing the threat of a boycott in early September over its call for electoral reform. The challenge for Condé will be to ensure tangible improvements in peoples’ lives for his second term.