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Anansi: Polls and posturing lie ahead

Posted on Tuesday, 25 January 2011 16:30

With up to 17 national elections across Africa in 2011 and elections scheduled in Russia, France and the US in 2012, the year ahead will bring plenty of posturing and promises.

President Jacob Zuma came into power suggesting that he would be a one-term president, meaning that the positioning ahead of a crucial conference of the African National Congress in 2012 has already begun: parts of the South African ruling triumvirate are staking their claims to what sort of programme the 2014 presidential candidate must have. The ANC’s centenary conference in January 2012 will be full of grandstanding, but it will be against the backdrop of the ANC Youth League’s attempts to gain control of the secretary general’s post.

Sometimes domestic gridlock leads to international showmanship. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is not winning enthusiastic support for his budget cuts and pension reforms, is pushing for international taxation on financial services to fund development projects. However, in the US, faced with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, President Barack Obama appeared weak in comparison as his latest round of Asian diplomacy left the impression of a much-diminished player. With shared power in the legislature, Democrats and Republicans can both be expected to come up with a fair dose of attention-seeking, but the most likely outcome is stasis.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, President Joseph Kabila has already started a campaign tour of the country, promoting the few changes that have been achieved since he was elected in 2006. Continued fighting in the east will be a damper on the campaigning, but Kabila largely has the stage to himself. With border issues flaring up with Angola, and Rwanda’s eyes on the east, the outcome of the 2011 poll is likely to lead to more policy continuity.

The most important vote in 2011 in terms of regional impact is Southern Sudan’s. Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno has already voiced his opinion that independence for the Juba-based government would not be good for the region. Egypt also angered the Southern Sudanese government in early November by saying that delaying the 9 January referendum would not be a problem and announcing that Egypt had come up with a plan for a confederal solution for the north and south.

Other elections will have a different kind of public-relations blitz as some of Africa’s longest-serving leaders contemplate the future. From Cameroon and Zimbabwe to Uganda and Egypt, the incumbents are busy crafting the messages about what the future can hold if continuity is chosen instead of change.

This article was first published in the December 2010-January 2011 edition of The Africa Report.