Media blackouts, intimidation and detentions marked 2016 African elections

Sunday March 27 2016

Benin leader leader of a coalition of the opposition Patrice Talon waves to supporters during a campaign rally in the Ekpe District near Cotonou. He won the second round of the presidential elections on March 20, 2016. PHOTO | AFP

Benin leader leader of a coalition of the opposition Patrice Talon waves to supporters during a campaign rally in the Ekpe District near Cotonou. He won the second round of the presidential elections on March 20, 2016. PHOTO | AFP  

By CIUGU MWAGIRU
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The first quarter of 2016 has seen Africa teeming with intriguing political activities as presidential elections were held in several countries.

Unfortunately, most were marked by ruses like detention of opponents, intimidation and widespread malpractices.

Queries about the legitimacy of outcomes were therefore inevitable, notwithstanding the fact that some countries ended up welcoming fresh leaders.

In semi-autonomous Zanzibar, Ali Mohammed Shein was sworn in as president on Wednesday. Poignantly, though, he assumed office amid protests, mainly by the opposition Civic United Front, which boycotted the repeat poll.

In Benin, businessman Patrice Talon — popularly known  as “king of cotton” — carried the day in last Sunday’s runoff, beating current Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou.

Gratefully, Zinsou conceded defeat on the evening of voting day, even before the results were announced.

The gesture was despite the fact that Zinsou had been touted as President Thomas Boni Yayi’s choice. Yayi leaves office in April after serving two terms.

In February, the Central African Republic finally welcomed a new leader, Faustin Touadera, a former PM who won the runoff with 63 per cent of the votes. The outcome raised hopes of the country finally emerging from years of chaos.

Niger was unable to usher in new leadership. Instead, President Mahamadou Issoufou romped home with a whopping 90 per cent of the vote, according to the electoral agency.

The landslide victory was expected,  given that Issoufou was effectively the only candidate.

Amid an opposition boycott, main challenger  Hama Amadou was conveniently away in France for medical treatment following earlier imprisonment on a suspect charge of child trafficking.

Ironically, though, even with the boycott Amadou won eight per cent of the vote. The opposition rejected the results, citing irregularities.

Whereas some elections were either runoffs or repeat, Uganda and the Republic of Congo’s veteran presidents carried the day after the first round of controversial polls which were not boycotted by the opposition, as was the case in Zanzibar and Niger.

CONTESTED RESULTS

Still, the outcomes of the polls were seriously contested in the two countries after Yoweri Museveni and Sassou-Ngueso registered wins of more than 60 per cent, putting paid to hopes of new leaders emerging.

When the chips were down, Sassou-Nguesso was able to extend his 32 years in power, while Museveni, 71, won a fifth term having held power since January 1986.

The two seem to have found communication blackouts useful during elections.

Only in Benin were the results received without much ado. The general rule of thumb, so far, seems to be to win polls any way but how.