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An early warning ahead of high-risk elections
15 October 2015

Recent events in Burkina Faso, following the 16 September coup d’état, are a grim reminder of what can happen when the run-up to crucial presidential elections goes awry.

Eleven people were killed in the capital Ouagadougou before civil society and the army teamed up and threatened to oust the Régiment de Sécurité Présidentielle (the presidential guard, or RSP) responsible for the coup.

More violence was averted thanks to a critical intervention by regional leaders, who convinced coup leader Gilbert Dienderé to hand power back to the transitional government.

The African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) reacted swiftly and condemned the coup. On 16 and 18 September, the PSC met and suspended Burkina Faso in accordance with its protocol on unconstitutional changes of government. After the civilian government was restored, it lifted the suspension on 26 September and also put on hold the planned sanctions. Could the PSC be accused of dropping the ball after the popular uprising of October 2014, which drove out former president Blaise Compaoré?

There have been signs of trouble ever since members of the former majority party, who supported Compaoré’s third-term bid, were excluded from running in the upcoming elections. Conflict between the RSP and Prime Minister Isaac Zida also spelled danger.

Should more early warning work have been done in Burkina Faso?
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The PSC held a number of meetings on Burkina Faso since the events of last October, but the country was pushed off the agenda by more pressing issues such as the crises in Burundi and South Sudan. Together with the Economic Community of West African States and the United Nations (UN), it set up the International Support Group to the Transition in Burkina Faso (GISAT-BF). In its latest statement, the PSC asked that the GISAT-BF reconvene to oversee a number of crucial outstanding issues, such as the reform of the security sector.

The jury is still out on whether more early warning work should have been done to prevent the situation in Burkina Faso from deteriorating to such a degree ahead of the elections. The polls, planned for 11 October, are now to be held at a later date.

In the Central African Republic (CAR), the possible postponement of the polls planned for 18 October, has also been mooted due to renewed violence. More than 20 people were killed in the capital, Bangui, following the death of a Muslim taxi driver on 26 September. The violence spread to other parts of the country and the death toll is nearing 60 people, according to government figures.

Those in favour of the elections going ahead say the situation in the CAR is extremely volatile and the administration has not nearly recovered from the 2013/2014 war, so postponing the elections would not make any real difference. Waiting until the country is ready could mean postponing the polls indefinitely, said CAR expert and Institute for Security Studies (ISS) consultant David Smith.

He explained that many identification documents were destroyed by the Séléka rebels in 2013, and that these would take a long time to reconstitute. ‘There has never been a proper electoral list. Now that birth certificates have been destroyed, it is almost impossible to know who is living in the CAR.’ Even before the current outbreak of violence it seemed clear the elections would be postponed, but they should take place soon, Smith said. ‘The transition should end so that there is an elected government that can be held accountable.’

Côte d’Ivoire’s elections have been described as a shoe-in for Alassane Ouattara
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Speaking to media at the 70th UN General Assembly in New York recently, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza acknowledged that the situation was still extremely fragile. She pointed the finger at ‘former leaders’, reinforcing rumours that former president Francois Bozize might be behind the renewed instability in the country.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the presidential elections have largely been described as a shoe-in for President Alassane Ouattara, especially given the large coalition supporting him (the Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix, or RHDP).

International media have also been focusing on the huge economic gains made by Côte d’Ivoire following the 2011 political violence. Observers, however, warn that it will be difficult to prevent incidents of localised instability given that so many parties are questioning the conditions under which the elections are held.

Not all of the major political actors are behind Ouattara, even if he has the support of former president Henri-Konan Bedié, who leads the powerful Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI). A number of well-known political actors, such as former foreign minister and Organisation of African Unity secretary-general Amara Essy, and former president of the West African Development Bank, Charles Konan Banny, broke away from the PDCI and announced their candidatures.

Divisions within the main opposition party have aggravated the already-complex political terrain in Côte d’Ivoire. A section of the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) of former president Laurent Gbagbo is advocating participation in the elections. Others in the party are boycotting the process in protest against Gbagbo’s incarceration in The Hague by the International Criminal Court, and what they consider to be an uneven electoral playing field. Legal wrangling over who has the right to lead the party has aggravated the bitter dispute between those participating in the elections, led by Pascal Affi N’guessan, and the pro-boycott faction, led by Aboudramane Sangaré. In the last few months, these opposition politicians and groups have formed two coalition groups. Both Essy and Koulibaly have since withdrawn from the race.

ISS senior researcher and Dakar office head, Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni, believes the break-up of the opposition would be favourable to the ruling RHDP. Ouattara is campaigning for a first-round win and would like to avoid large-scale contestation of the results. ‘The RHDP is hoping for what Ivorians term a clean election,’ she said.

Many longstanding issues also threaten to derail the stability of Côte d’Ivoire over the long term. The reform of the security forces, national reconciliation, impunity for actors in past political violence, land ownership and issues around identity and nationality need to be resolved. ‘There is always the possibility that one of these issues can be exploited for political purposes,’ said Théroux-Bénoni.

Of all the polls in Africa this month, Tanzania’s election is the least likely to be derailed
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Of all the elections taking place in Africa this month, the presidential election in Tanzania, on 25 October, is the least likely to be derailed. Tanzania has a strong tradition of peaceful elections. However, high drama within the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), one of Africa’s longest-ruling parties, has culminated in an unexpectedly tense electoral race.

At the beginning of 2015, it seemed clear that the main contest would be between the CCM, relying on its long tradition as a liberation movement, and the main opposition party, the Chadema.

Following a bruising process within the CCM, however, the cards have now been scrambled and the main contenders are the CCM’s John Magufuli and former prime minister Edward Lowassa, who had broken away from the CCM in July this year after losing his bid to lead the party to elections.

Many observers believe that Magufuli, the Minister of Works, is likely to win the elections, thanks to his reputation of largely steering clear of political bickering and the backing of his powerful party. Magufuli has also not been tainted by the corruption scandals that have marked the last few years of CCM rule.

Lowassa, however, is a colourful figure, who managed to secure the signatures of thousands of CCM members during the primaries. He can also count on the support of those who accuse the CCM of dragging its feet in the economic modernisation of the country.

Other problems that plague Tanzania include the reform of the constitution and the hotly disputed status of Zanzibar. Plans for a new constitution have been in the pipeline for decades and it was expected that a referendum on the constitution would take place before this election. This has now once again been postponed.

While post-election violence on the mainland is not foreseen, experts warn that the radicalisation of certain elements on the island of Zanzibar, with its proximity to Mombasa and Somalia, can create problems – as has been the case in previous elections.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS Consultant

A longer version of this article first appeared on the PSC Report.


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