As the world mourns Cuban leader Fidel Castro, a complex electoral process is unfolding in Somalia even as the Gambia also prepares for a presidential poll on Thursday.
For all it’s worth, the Somali presidential election will hopefully pave way for a long process that will lead to parliamentary elections on April 6, 2017. Local government elections should be held about a year later.
The December 1 Gambian poll comes after a two-week campaign period.
The brief period has been among many other disadvantages for those challenging President Yahya Jammeh, who has been in power since his 1994 coup.
The eccentric strongman’s survival has been marked by repression. According to Human Rights Watch, President Jammeh has used all tactics to tighten his grip on power.
The ruler, has reportedly used enforced disappearances, torture, intimidation and arbitrary arrests to suppress dissent.
Not only has Jammeh mounted a crackdown on the opposition, he has also been accused of dominating state media and mobilising state resources for his campaign.
His ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction has openly used civil servants, security officers, government vehicles and buildings to work for his re-election, which appears to be a foregone conclusion.
Since April, more than 90 opposition activists have been arrested for participating in peaceful protests, according to Human Rights Watch.
The organisation says 30 of them have been sentenced to three-year prison terms while two have died in custody.
Arrested on April 14 while leading a demo, Solo Sandeng was taken to the headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency and beaten to death just ahead of a crackdown that reportedly targeted the United Democratic Party, the country’s largest opposition outfit.
“Let me warn those evil vermin called opposition,” he reportedly said in May. “If you want to destabilise this country, I will bury you nine-feet deep.”
Ironically the Gambia hosts the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights offices. The country is also home to International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, herself a former justice minister.
Apart from the limited campaigns, the Gambian oppositionists have also been constrained by the fact that they have not received any significant coverage on state radio and TV.
Moreover, whereas the Gambia has numerous private newspapers and radio stations, journalists operate in a climate of fear. In order to avoid reprisals, they have routinely tempered their reporting about the government, while limiting coverage of opposition activities.
Still emerging from more than two decades of war, the troubled Federal Republic of Somalia has been blighted by an Islamist insurgency.
The convoluted parliamentary and presidential elections, which have been in the offing for a while, are widely viewed as limited. They fall short of the threshold of democracy.
In the parliamentary polls, there is no provision for the one-man-one vote system.
Instead, about 14,000 delegates chosen by 135 clan elders are voting for 275 members of the lower house of parliament.