Dramatic October presidential polls usher in new mandates

Sunday November 1 2015

Pascal Affi N'Guessan, presidential candidate and head of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), looks down as he conceded defeat on October 28, 2015.

Pascal Affi N'Guessan, presidential candidate and head of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), looks down as he conceded defeat on October 28, 2015. With the roller coaster month of October finally coming to an end on Friday, Africa and the world can finally breathe after witnessing three dramatic presidential elections and one chaotic referendum. PHOTO | AFP  

By CIUGU MWAGIRU
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With the roller coaster month of October finally coming to an end on Friday, Africa and the world can finally breathe after witnessing three dramatic presidential elections and one chaotic referendum.

Two presidents — Guinea’s Alpha Condé and Côte d’Ivoire’s Alassane Ouattara — retained their seats in fairly orderly and convincing polls, with the latter winning a second five-year term with nearly 84 per cent of the vote after relative calm returned to neighbouring Guinea.

Gratefully, his main opponent, opposition leader Pascal Affi N’Guessan, showed commendable grace after what proved to be a veritable rout, notwithstanding the fact that the turnout, at a measly 54.63 per cent of the registered voters, was rather disappointing.

“I heartily congratulate President Alassane Ouattara and will seize this opportunity to urge him to resolutely engage in reconciling Ivorians,” the surprisingly conciliatory opposition leader said in a broadcast message on Thursday, considerably diffusing the tensions that had marked the election.

TANZANIA TROUBLES

Unfortunately, there was no sign of such reconciliation in faraway Tanzania, where the long-awaited presidential poll held last Sunday — the same day as the Côte d’Ivoire one — heralded a new head of State, the Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) standard bearer John Magufuli, 56.

In what is likely to be seen as a major victory for African women, Tanzania also commendably voted in Suluhu Samia, a 55-year-old native of Zanzibar and Magufuli’s running mate, as the country’s first-ever female vice-president.

Unlike the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, however, controversy and a climate of suspicion were the order of the day before and after D-day last Sunday.

Despite an announcement by the National Electoral Commission on Thursday afternoon that Magufuli had won the presidential election with 58.46 per cent of the vote, the opposition seemed loath to accept that verdict.

Given the fact that the polls were highly charged and marked by persistent claims of fraud, it was not surprising that the opposition Chadema party, whose candidate Edward Lowassa came second with 39.9 per cent, was among those that declined to sign the consent forms that would have signalled acceptance of the poll results.

CONGO'S REFERENDUM SHAM

As for referendums, the one held in the Republic of Congo last weekend ended up as the absolute sham many predicted it would be, despite the country’s president, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, purporting to have won the mandate to continue ruling the country indefinitely.

Tellingly, the referendum was reportedly marked by a pathetically low turnout, suggesting that only the veteran president’s cronies wished to see him extend his 31-year stay in office.

Paradoxically, though, the country’s opposition described the referendum as “a slap in the face” for the long time leader, and threatened to call for civil disobedience.

Unfortunately, President Sassou-Nguesso’s reluctance to let go of the reins of power leaves him in good company among similarly inclined African leaders.

For instance, just next-door to his country, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, President Joseph Kabila has reportedly been going all out to ensure he retains the presidency after the next elections.

EAST AFRICA'S STRONGMEN

As for Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame, they have also been pulling all stops, in their own fashions, to ensure they remain in charge in their respective countries.

Ironically, those angling for new and generally unconstitutional terms are ignoring the persistent chaos in Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunziza‘s clutch on power has sent his country into a pathetic downward spiral that seems to spell doom for his regime, amid increasing bloodshed that does not seem easy to stem.

FRAGILE PEACE

In the meantime, even countries where fairly orderly polls have come and gone do not seem able to lay the foundation for lasting peace and stability, with Mozambique being a case in point.

Regrettably, a year after a new president was ushered in following reasonably orderly polls, peace is evidently still elusive in the southern African country.

Just last Thursday reports said 70 people were killed in clashes between the opposition party, Renamo, and government forces. Clearly, the Frelimo government and the main opposition party have failed to reach a peace agreement and to bury memories of the deadly chaos that reigned in the country prior to a peace treaty in 1992 that ended a 16-year civil war.

Back to the flurry of polls, it is gratifying that they were held in a climate of relative peace.

The scenario in Tanzania was however disturbing, with a fiercely contested outcome in the presidential race and reported chaos in Zanzibar, where the poll results were annulled in controversial circumstances.