Who’s interested in democracy?

According to Google Trends the answer is Ethiopians. Between 2004 and now they score the highest in the search index for the word “democracy,” at least among the English speaking countries of the world. Ethiopians have lived under successive military and quasi-military dictatorships since the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974.

It is also interesting to see the relative concentration of searches for the word in eastern and southern Africa compared not only to other regions in Africa but also to the rest of the world. Besides Ethiopia, the other countries in Africa with a high search index have recently had somewhat high levels of political contestation through reasonably competitive elections.

Zambian Elections

UPDATE:

The conference (organized by the SADC observer mission and donors) on the upcoming elections was a non-starter, with only Neo Simutanyi (Zambia’s preeminent political scientist), giving a talk that had significance. The rest of the conference was full of NGO-ese hot air. None of the major political parties had representation at the conference, even though this was SADC’s “fact finding” conference about the state of play in the elections.

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Zambians will go to the polls next Tuesday.

According to the latest (and most reliable) opinion poll conducted by the Center for Policy Dialogue President Banda is leading the pack with 41%, followed closely by Sata at 38%.

I am attending a mini-conference tomorrow on the elections (academics, observers, NGOs, political parties, etc will be in attendance) and will report back after I get views from those closely involved.

The poll cited above predicts an MMD victory for the following reasons:

  • Incumbency advantage: MMD is using state resources, including government workers, in its campaigns. Road repairs are all over the place, with Banda’s picture and the words “Your Money at Work”, on billboards next to every project.
  • Divided opposition: Mr. Banda is polling a dismal 41%. A PF-UPND united front would almost certainly guarantee a victory for the opposition. But egos and personality politics remain a key barrier to opposition unity in Zambia. Some have claimed that MMD and UPND have a clandestine pact to deny PF victory in the polls. Post-election coalition building will reveal the veracity of these claims.
  • Opposition has ignored rural areas: In many parts of the rural areas you would be mistaken to think that MMD is the only party taking part in the elections. MMD posters and campaigners are everywhere. The opposition has, however, mostly concentrated its efforts in the urban areas. I recently had a chat with a PF operative who admitted that they strategy is to run up the numbers in the urban areas so that even if Banda rigs the rural vote he still won’t be able to beat them. The PF’s target number among urban voters is 2.7 million. There are slightly over 5.1 million registered voters in Zambia. Interestingly, there will be about 2.3 million new voters who did not take part in the last presidential election (turnout was a dismal 41%. Banda was elected president by only 18% of registered voters!!).
  • Fear of Sata: Underneath all the campaigning there is the fear that Sata is unpredictable and dictatorial. Many in the private sector fear that he might try to change things too fast and end up messing up everything. Some admit that they will vote for Banda merely for the sake of continuity.

I agree.

An MMD victory will however be a blow to the consolidation of Zambian democracy.

Since dislodging UNIP from power in 1991, MMD has increasingly become autocratic. Intolerance of the opposition and One-Party-Rule mentality is back in vogue. Indeed, many in its ranks are former members of President Kaunda’s court, including Vernon Mwaanga – derisively known locally as “Master dribbler” – who is notorious for being the brain behind MMD’s electoral manipulations.

Many of the founders of MMD have since decamped to PF.

elections and democracy in the central african republic

The Central African Republic is a country the size of Texas with a population of 4.8 million and GDP that is “significantly smaller than that of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.” Since independence from France, a string of autocrats (including the infamous Emperor Bokassa), have held power in Bangui without much care for the hinterlands. The current president, Francois Bozize, seized power in a 2003 coup. In response to domestic and international pressure, well orchestrated elections were held last Sunday.

Mr. Bozize’s “Work nothing but Work” (KNK) party is expected to win. In 2008 he signed a peace agreement with several rebel movements spread throughout the country that were opposed to his rule. Elections were part of the deal.

But of what use are elections in places like Central African Republic?

“William Easterly recently argued that “good governance” rhetoric notwithstanding, aid to dictators has remained steady since 1972. The rich countries no long have strategic interests at stake, but the “Gerund Defense” enables donors to keep the money flowing: with only a few exceptions, no matter how corrupt or autocratic a regime, it could be said to be “developing” or “democratizing” and hence on a progressive course necessitating assistance. But the dictators hold “farcical ‘elections'” and nothing changes. If we take Easterly’s warning seriously and start to question the progressivist aid ideology, what should we do about those places where elections occur, and aren’t exactly farcical, but meaningful democracy – in which citizens’ grievances and claims are taken seriously and responded to by their political leaders – remains elusive? The Central African Republic (CAR), whose citizens voted in first-round presidential and legislative elections Sunday, is one such place. In the end, the case of places like CAR might prove more insidious, because it calls into question the definitional link between elections and democracy.”

More on this here

ouattara won, but gbagbo determined to latch on to power

The Ivorian electoral commission declared Alassane Ouattara, the northern candidate, as the winner of the presidential runoff held on Sunday. Ouattara got 54.1% of the vote. Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo disputed the results and had the country’s constitutional court reject the pronouncement. His supporters contend that there were significant irregularities in three regions in the north of the country.

Gbagbo (left) and Ouattara

UN and other mission observers declared that the election globally reflected the will of the people of Cote d’Ivoire. The BBC reports that the country’s military has sealed the borders amid rising tension and confusion over the political stalemate in the country. Mr. Gbagbo has been president since 2000.

For the sake of institutionalism the international community should not allow Mr. Gbagbo to remain in power. His 10-year tenure has not done much in terms of healing relations between the two halves of the country that fought the 2002-04 civil war. The fact that even his incumbency advantage could not help him beat Ouattara signals his general incompetence and the mass’s disaffection with his rule.

Cote d’Ivoire has a population of 21 million people, 49% of whom live in urban areas. Life expectancy in the country is a dismal 56 years. Only 48% of Ivorians  age 15 and over are literate. Ivorians’ per capita income is US $1700 and 68% of them depend on agriculture for livelihood. 42% of Ivorians live below the international poverty line of $2 a day.

Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocoa beans and a significant producer and exporter of coffee and palm oil. Because of the political risk in the country Cocoa for March delivery climbed $110, or 4 percent, to $2,868 in New York.

laurent Gbagbo might have lost to Ouattara

There are no prizes for guessing why the government of Ivory Coast is delaying the release of provisional results from Sunday’s presidential runoff. It is almost certain that the challenger, Alassane Ouattara, won against Laurent Gbagbo, who has been dictator president since 2000. Mr. Gbagbo, seeming desperate, has already indicated that he will challenge results from three regions in the north.

I will post the provisional results as soon as I get an inkling of what they look like.

Map of Cote d'Ivoire

The Ivorian civil war (2002-2004) split the country in two, with the rebels (New Forces) controlling the north. Mr. Ouattara is from the north while Mr. Gbagbo is from the south.

The BBC reports that the main election observer missions in the country had no problems with how the election was conducted in the north.

The information vacuum has fueled security uncertainty and speculation. The Daily Nation reports:

“People are going a bit crazy. There are hundreds of rumours of violence so the atmosphere is rather tense,” said Marcel Camara, 37, hunkered down with his aunt and two cousins at their home in the Abobo district of Abidjan, where a curfew has been in force since Saturday.

guineans await final verdict

The military has declared a state of emergency and banned political protests amid anxiety over who should lead the world’s biggest exporter of bauxite. There is a risk of the political competition between Messrs Conde and Diallo degenerating into ethnic conflict, pitting the Malinke against the Peul. 40% and 30% of Guineans are Peul and Malinke, respectively. The International Crisis Group reports:

Following the announcement of presidential election results on 15 November, handing Alpha Condé victory over his rival, Cellou Dalein Diallo, the country has descended into violence, with two days of clashes in the streets of the capital, Conakry, and elsewhere. Defence and security forces have engaged in systematic attacks on supporters of Diallo’s Union des Forces Démocratiques de Guinée (UFDG), a party associated mainly with the Peul ethnic group in major urban areas in the Fouta region. Earlier on, UFDG supporters were involved in attacking and destroying properties belonging to ethnic Malinké and Peul supporters of Condé’s Rassemblement du Peuple de Guinée (RPG) party.

Mr. Conde has offered to form a government of national unity, that presumably would include Mr. Diallo, should the Supreme Court declare him the winner.

Guinea has nearly half of all declared bauxite (Aluminium ore) reserves. 76% of its 10.3 million people depend on the agricultural sector. 47% of Guineans live below the poverty line. Per capita income stands at US$ 1000. Someone born in Guinea can expect to live to be 58 years old. Since independence the country has been led by ineffectual, ideologically deficient and backward unimaginative dictators, from Toure to Conte to Konate.

after sudan, ethiopia

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir is here to stay. Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi is up next on a list of African autocrats who face elections this year. Ethiopia holds parliamentary elections on May 23rd in a vote that will determine who becomes Prime Minsiter. Africa’s second most populous country cremains under tight rule by the increasingly despotic Meles Zenawi. It is a foregone conclusion that Mr. Zenawi’s party will win. The only non-academic part of these elections will be how many seats the opposition is allowed to win. Mr. Zenawi has run the country since 1991 when he led a rebellion that overthrew the tinpot dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

More on Mr. Zenawi’s rule here.

The other elections coming up in the next month include Mauritius (May 5th) and the Central African Republic (May 16th). Keep track of these elections here.

president kibaki to resign and call for fresh elections

Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki has announced that he will resign and call snap elections. Mr. Kibaki cited wrangling within the cabinet and the failure to tackle corruption and poor governance as his main reasons for seeking a fresh mandate from Kenyans. It is unclear which party ticket the president will run on since his party, the PNU, has since disintegrated into its constituent coalition partners. The Prime Minister’s party, the ODM, are currently holding a meeting before issuing a statement in response to the president’s move.

Read more here

angola – another chance for democracy in africa

The sunny optimism that greeted the democratic awakening in Africa in the early nineties may be nearing twilight but there is still hope. Even as states like Kenya, Zimbabwe and even Senegal waver in their quest for liberal democracy, there is still a sliver of hope in the likes of Angola – a former war zone which holds elections tomorrow.

Angola has been for some time one of the fastest growing countries in the world. It is Africa’s soon to be largest oil producer (mainly because the Nigerian behemoth can’t get its act together) and with the help of the Chinese has recently embarked on a mission to build infrastructure throughout the country. The wealth may not be evenly shared out, but the country as a whole is better off than it was a decade or so ago.

So it is really hopeful that they will be having elections tomorrow. Yes there will be problems. Dos Santos has all the power in Angola and will definitely not hold completely free and fair elections. But this is a start. A few times over and the Angolans will internalize voting as a human right and realize their duty and moral call to chart the way forward for themselves through the ballot.

I am almost certain that Dos Santos’ MPLA will win the Friday election. But UNITA should not give up. Democracy is as cultural as it is political. Their time will come. Get to parliament, constructively oppose the government and be the watch-dog for the people. And help spread the idea that Africans are and ought to be in charge of their lives. Not governments. Certainly not NGOs. Not the church. Not the West. But Africans. Africans in Angola, Africans in Sudan, Africans in all war-ravaged regions of the continent.

zimbabwe opposition a let down

You would imagine that with a president like one Robert Mugabe the Zimabwean opposition would do anything in their capacity to have him out of power. But you would be wrong. This power hungry lot (yes, this is what I think of them) has refused to come up with a coalition against Mugabe. Their leaders, Tsvangirai and Mutambara, have confirmed that talks between their rival MDC factions have “broken down irretrievably” – according to the BBC.

A divided MDC almost certainly guarantees the aging Mugabe a win in the March polls. Meanwhile, ordinary Zimbabweans continue to live their lives under the yoke of the wayward economic practices that the world has come to know the Mugabe administration for. Mugabe’s bad economics has also been served with a touch of human rights abuses and lack of respect for the rule of law. It is really shocking to imagine how he manages to get re-elected.

Tsvangirai and Mutambara owe it to their countrymen and women to form a united front if they really want to unseat Mugabe. They have no business running separate campaigns in March because this will guarantee the presidency to Mugabe. Knowing African leaders (yes, I think after all that has happened on the continent from Senegal to Somalia and Chad to South Africa I can make this generalization, but I digress) I don’t think these two power hungry men will let their egos and quest for personal aggrandizement take the back seat and let the plight of their countrymen and women take the front seat.

Sadly, this is yet another case of African leaders lacking true leadership. It also paints a bad picture of both Tsvangirai and Mutambara and makes one doubt whether these two really want to end the bad governance that we’ve come to associate with Bob or whether they just want to perpetuate the same old practices of rent-seeking, cronyism and over-the-roof inflations rates – but may be with less human rights abuses and the jailing of opposition supporters. Even this is questionable, after seeing what Kenya has turned into following the “bad” years of Moi rule. African leaders just have a way of making you look back and shock yourself by wishing you had the likes of Moi in power.

If Tsvangirai and Mutambara care about their international reputation thy ought to unite. Otherwise many reasonable people will question their vision for Zimbabwe and indeed their commitment to ousting Mugabe and bettering the lives of millions of hungry, sick and illiterate Zimbabweans.