Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Benin since the April 28 election - Talon continues to crack down on the opposition

I spent 2 1/2 years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, in 1995-97, which included their 2nd democratic election, which was the 2nd election in which a challenger defeated the incumbent (in 1991 challenger Nicephore Soglo defeated incumbent Mathieu Kerekou, and in 1996, challenger Mathieu Kerekou defeated incumbent Nicephore Soglo) - so Benin is special to me, and I've always felt pride in their against-the-odds democratic quality.

The April 28 election was a betrayal of Benin's democracy. All opposition parties were disqualified; only two parties were allowed to compete, and both of those parties supported the president. This system reminds me of the National Front for the Defense of the Revolution in Madagascar's Second Republic - there were six parties in legislative elections, but in order to qualify, each party had to be loyal to the president and his policies.

What's happened since then?

The NY Times reports that former president Boni Yayi was under "virtual house arrest" for 52 days for speaking out against election rules that resulted in the banning of opposition parties. After he was released in late June he fled to neighboring Togo, which is no democratic haven itself. Protestors in Yayi's hometown, Tchaourou, protested his detention by barricading the roads for three days in early June. The military responded by sending 700 troops and forcefully clearing the roads, killing an estimated seven protestors. The military says they were fired upon by the protestors; local residents say the military used indiscriminate force. The military had also fired on protestors in Cotonou, after April's flawed election, reportedly killing four.

President Talon has demonstrated a streak of authoritarianism in a number of ways. Ten days before the April election, a journalist was arrested for allegedly spreading false information on Facebook. One of the country's most popular opposition newspapers was shut down for insulting the president. A TV channel owned by one of the president's prominent political opponents, Sebastien Ajavon, was shut down in 2016 and remained shut down despite court ruling ordering it to be reopened. Ajavon himself, after announcing plans to challenge Talon in the next election, was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison for a crime he had been acquitted of 2 years previously. Earlier this month, another of Talon's electoral rival, former prime minister Lionel Zinsou (who lost to Talon in the 2016 runoff) was banned from standing for elections for five years. While Boni Yayi seeks refuge in Togo, Ajavon and Zinsou are in exile in France.

Although Benin's judiciary exhibited admirable independence for most of the multiparty period, Talon installed his former personal lawyer and minister of justice as president of the Constitutional Court; court decisions against Talon, such as a ruling against restrictions on public sector strikes, were soon reversed. The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (based in Tanzania) condemned the decision against Ajavon and ruled Benin should revoke the sentence; Benin refused. The Constitutional Court created the means for banning opposition parties from competing against Talon-allied parties; the Court ruled that parties must acquire a "certificate of conformity"  (an instrument not mentioned in any electoral law) from the government's Ministry of the Interior to qualify for the ballot.

Following April's troubled election, some members of ECOWAS have suggested a fact-finding mission to Benin to assess democratic backsliding. In May, Talon promised to work "with the country’s political class to resolve the democratic crisis" (the next day, a former legislator currently in exile called for the April election to be annulled). Talon may hope to avoid accountability in the form of withheld investment by attracting financing from China and Russia. Last year, for example, Talon asked local and French firms to withdraw in favor of China for a major train project to connect Cotonou to Niamey.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Benin disqualifies all opposition parties in April's legislative election

I forgot to post something about my Monkey Cage post on the Benin election on this blog a few months ago:
In the weeks before Benin’s April 28 election, police used tear gas to disperse demonstrations led by former presidents Nicephore Soglo and Thomas Boni Yayi, who called for a boycott of the opposition-less election
The government blocked social media and messaging apps on the Internet. International and domestic observers canceled poll monitoring plans in anticipation of violence — there were two reported deaths and 206 incidents during the election. Boni Yayi called for the election results to be annulled; soldiers in tanks circled his home and fired on hundreds of protesters. 
Such events would be unsurprising in some African countries, including neighboring Togo. But these were shocking developments in Benin, a country that sparked a wave of democratization in 1990. The 2019 election fared poorly on two key measurements of democracy, participation and contestation. 
Voter turnout in previous elections in Benin never fell below 50 percent, yet only 23 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the April 2019 poll. Voters had little taste for an election devoid of competition when all opposition parties were disqualified.
Click HERE to read the rest. 

77-year old Ouattara threatens to run for a 3rd and 4th term, perhaps to control his succession

Nice analysis by Robbie Corey-Boulet (World Politics Review) of the run-up to the presidential election in Cote d'Ivoire. Read the whole thing; here are some highlights:
The quiet, behind-the-scenes preparations for Cote d’Ivoire’s next presidential election in 2020 were given a jolt this week by a man many expected would play only a supporting role in the process. In an interview published Sunday by the magazine Jeune Afrique, President Alassane Ouattara, who is nearing the end of his second term, said the West African nation’s new constitution would enable him to run twice more, in 2020 and again in 2025. 
Cote d’Ivoire limits presidents to two terms, and Ouattara had previously said numerous times that he would abide by the restriction. But by claiming that the new constitution, adopted in 2016, gives him a clean slate, he seemed to be openly flirting with the kind of power grab typical of other African presidents who are more interested in their own longevity than championing open democracies.

In all likelihood, however, Ouattara’s comments are not a sign that he wants to be president-for-life. Rather, he apparently hopes he can stage-manage a succession that serves his interests. ...

If Ouattara were to try to stay in power, he would risk jeopardizing his reputation, ... Yet some analysts were quick to note that it’s just as likely that Ouattara’s plans to leave office in 2020 haven’t really changed. His comments to Jeune Afrique, they say, should instead be seen as part of a strategy to assert control over what is shaping up to be a contentious succession battle, the outcome of which will no doubt color his legacy.

That battle has been playing out since even before the 2015 election, as presidential aspirants within the ruling coalition have tried to position themselves to take power. The coalition brings together Ouattara’s Rally of the Republicans party, or RDR, and Bedie’s Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, or PDCI. After supporting Ouattara during the 2010 runoff against Gbagbo and again in 2015, PDCI members insist the next president should come from their ranks. Possible candidates include Vice President Daniel Kablan Duncan and Jean-Louis Billon, a former commerce minister.

Ouattara, though, is widely believed to prefer Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly of the RDR. To reduce the odds of the coalition fracturing, he has also been pushing for the creation of a unified political party that would enable the two camps to join forces and choose a presidential candidate through a primary system. ...  By threatening to run again, Ouattara may be trying to scare the coalition’s factions into hashing out their differences so that an obvious successor can emerge. ...

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

NIgeria's 2019 Election

President Buhari won re-election on February 23 after a one-week delay from the scheduled election date.

From John Mukum Mbaku at Brookings:
... the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission officially declared incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari as the winner with 56 percent of the votes to opposition leader Atiku Abubakar’s 41 percent.
Abubakar rejected the election results, arguing that the election was a “sham” and that the incumbent’s win was a “statistical impossibility” in some states. He also lamented what he referred to as the “militarization of the election process” and went on to say that he would take his case to the courts. Nigeria is already a country struggling to deal with election-related violence. How Abubakar and his supporters deal with the loss could have a significant impact on peace and security in the country as it moves on to deal with pressing public issues, particularly, how to end extreme poverty.
Fola Adeleke raises concern that the delay may undermine confidence in the independent electoral commission:
... the decision has left many Nigerians wondering about the effectiveness of the electoral commission. Since the announcement of the election, various political parties and political analysts have debated its ability to run an efficient poll. This in turn has fueled a sense that the commission doesn’t have the ability to conduct free and fair elections.
Official statistics about the election are available at the Electoral Commission's website.

 Ufahamu Africa has a podcast episode about the election and a lot more links.

ECOWAS Summit - a new chair and a new member

From Christina Golubski at Brookings:
Last weekend, in Monrovia, Liberia, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) held its 51st summit. During the summit, Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe was elected to serve as the chair of ECOWAS, succeeding Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson who served this past year.

One of the most important decisions that came out of the summit was to admit Morocco into the economic body, “because of [its] strong and multi-dimensional links of cooperation with West Africa.” Morocco applied to join ECOWAS in January after it rejoined the African Union. ECOWAS, in principle, approved the North African country’s application to join the West African body, despite its geographic location. However, leaders have stated that the details of the implications of Morocco’s membership must be worked out before its formal integration.
Other news: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ... pledged $1 billion to ECOWAS countries for green energy projects." and "the summit decided to extend the mandate of the ECOWAS mission in Guinea-Bissau for three months and the one in the Gambia for 12 months."

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Gerontacracy in ECOWAS countries

The recent re-election of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, age 73, in Mali reminds me that ECOWAS has more than its share of elderly presidents in the world. 

Six years ago Todd Moss and Stephanie Majerowicz of the Center for Global Development noted that Sub-Saharan African countries tend to have a larger gap between the president's age and the median age of its citizens, relative to other countries; 8 of the top 10 biggest gaps were in Africa. They speculated that large such gaps could lead to public anger, protests, and government turnover. They noted that that President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, at 85, was 66 years older than the median Senegalese, and seemed out of touch, and that Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was 59 years older than the median Egyptian at the time that public protests led to his overthrow. In the case of Zimbabwe, this speculation was prescient - the largest gap in the world was Robert Mugabe, 69 years older than the median Zimbabwean, and indeed public protests helped bring him down last year

However, despite the inclusion of Benin with its maximum age of 70 for presidential candidates, the electoral defeat of Abdoulaye Wade in 2012, and the recent replacement of term-limited 79-year-old Elizabeth Sirleaf of Liberia with a 51-year-old youngster, ECOWAS continues to have some of the oldest presidents in the world relative to the age of their populations:

  1. Liberia: George Weah, age 51
  2. Togo: Faure Gnassingbé , age 52
  3. Gambia: Adama Barrow, age 53
  4. Sierra Leone: Julius Maada Bio, age 54
  5. Senegal: Macky Sall, age 56
  6. Benin: Patrice Talon, age 60
  7. Guinea-Bissau: José Mário Vaz, age 60
  8. Burkina Faso: Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, age 61
  9. Cape Verde: Jorge Carlos de Almeida Fonseca, age 67
  10. Niger: Mahamadou Issoufou, age 67
  11. Mali: Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, age 73 (minus median age 16 = 57 year gap)
  12. Ghana: Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, age 74 (minus median age 20 = 54 year gap)
  13. Nigeria: Muhammadu Buhari, age 75 (minus median age 18 = 57 year gap)
  14. Cote d'Ivoire: Alassane Dramane Ouattara, age 76 (minus median age 18 = 58 year gap)
  15. Guinea: Alpha Condé, age 80 (minus median age 19 = 61 year gap)

Mali's Presidential Election, Round 2

As expected, incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta won re-election in the second round on August 12, with 67 percent of the vote, against Soumaïla Cissé.

Keïta had several normal incumbent advantages, including universal name recognition ("In Mali, even the little children know IBK," says Moussa Timbine, the general assembly's vice president and an IBK supporter.) and solid economic growth, over 5% annually, over the past few years. 

Instability remains a problem in the country, however.  As reported by the NY Times"Islamist extremist groups and other armed militias operate in Mali; it is the world’s most dangerous assignment for United Nations peacekeepers. ... Mr. Keïta has been in office since his election in 2013, just after a period during which Mali faced an Islamist insurgency, a rebellion by the Tuareg ethnic group, and a military coup. During his tenure, violence and insecurity have spread closer to the capital, Bamako, with conflict between ethnic groups and local militias emerging in the central region.The 14,000-member United Nations peacekeeping force is regularly attacked."

Keïta also put his thumb on the scales in some respects. Per the NY Times (and observers from the EU), "The president was flush with cash, exercised a near monopoly over access to state television and used the security forces and the resources of his office to campaign throughout the country." There were also accusations of fraud. In the first round, opposition candidates alleged that "voter cards were deliberately misdistributed and ballot boxes stuffed" and predicted fraud in the second round as well. Observers noted "evidence of irregularities but not fraud."