Monday, January 4, 2010

African Elections in the New Decade

As the new decade begins, 15 African countries have elections scheduled for sometime in 2010. All have importance to their citizens as an expression of their right to select their government. However, some of these elections have greater international interest because of past problems or the impact of they may have on ongoing conflicts.

o Ethiopia has general elections scheduled for May, but even though there has been a code of conduct signed among the political parties, there is concern over violence similar to what happened in 2005. After the 2005 elections, the government delayed the release of election results for months, leading to demonstrations in which authorities killed peaceful demonstrators in June and November of that year. A second questionable election will no doubt undermine the acceptance of the regime led by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a Western favorite among African leaders.

o The January presidential election in Guinea is as questionable as the fate of the military government led by Moussa Dadis Camara, who was shot in the head by a dissident military faction leader last month. The ruling junta is under investigation by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry, and Camara is under pressure from the international community not to run for the presidency whenever the election is held. An acceptable election will be required to prevent Guinea from becoming a truly failed state.

o The presidential election in Cote d’Ivoire has been postponed several times since its original date in 2005. Reasons have ranged from the impact of the civil war to lack of logistical preparation for the election. Most recently, the election was expected to take place in December 2009, but it is now expected in February or early March of this new year. The current government’s mandate ran out long ago, and further delays could undo the March 2007 peace agreement between the government and the rebels, which would endanger the restoration of what has been one of Africa’s economic powerhouses.

o Andry Rajoelina was handed the presidency last March when the military took power after Madagascar President Marc Ravelomanana resigned under pressure. Following the failure of negotiations to prevent all former Malagasy presidents from running in the next elections, Rajoelina is expected to compete in election that had been postponed from the end of 2009 to October 2010. Voters will want assurances that the land grab issues that contributed to Ravelomanana’s fall have been definitively resolved so that Malagasy farmers won’t be replaced by foreign farm workers.

o Somaliland has seen its effort to become internationally recognized as a country apart from the rest of Somalia undermined by political wrangling. Elections originally were slated for August 2008, but instability in the Sanaag and Sool regions caused their version of a Senate (the Guurti) to postpone the election to March 2009 and then April 2009 as the result of a compromise with the political opposition. Another postponement pushed elections to the end of May 2009, and still another postponement led to the extension of the president’s mandate until 27 September 2009, which President Dahir Riyale Kahin declared as the new date for elections. A political crisis was averted with a compromise, but the September 2009 date was postponed anyway. No date was originally set, but then first January 2010 and then April 2010 were floated as possible time periods for the elections. All the chaos seems much like that in the other part of greater Somalia, although without the warfare.

o In Sudan, there are actually two critical elections. Five years after the north-south civil war ended with a peace agreement, Sudanese voters are scheduled to select a president and legislature in April of this year. Despite several postponements of the census, a count estimating 5 million people in Khartoum, 7.5 million in the Darfur region and 8.2 million in south Sudan was announced last February. Although South Sudan leaders had threatened to boycott the election if their population showed up as less than the 11-13 million inhabitants they claim, no such boycott is evident at this point. Elections, therefore, are expected to take place in all areas in which security allows them. In Darfur, a referendum is being held to decide whether West Darfur, North Darfur and South Darfur should be merged into a single autonomous region with its own constitution and government or remain under the control of the federal government as three administrative units. Areas in which elections may be postponed surely will include parts of these three provinces, which would delay the final result of the referendum.

Elections in many parts of Africa this year have great international importance, but the resolution of conflict so hoped for may not take place. Whatever happens – for good or ill – continuing the status quo in these countries is not likely.

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