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."

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Mali's Presidential Election, Round 1

Mali held its 8th presidential election on July 29 and the runoff will be held on August 12.

Mali became independent in 1960 and democratized in 1991. The first two presidential elections were single-party affairs; the first multiparty election was held in 1992. A month before the 2012 elections, the government was toppled by a coup by an army frustrated by the rebellion in the north. Following French intervention, the Malian government regained (a semblance of) control over the north and multiparty elections were back on track in 2013, and Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won the presidency in the second round.

In the run up to last month's election, security remained a concern, grievances in the north remain, and there were questions about the electoral register and resources for voting operations.

The incumbent won 41% in the first round, and will go up against Soumaïla Cissé. This will be Cissé's third runoff - he made the second round in 2003 and 2013 but has not yet won the presidency.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Many firsts in Liberia's historic presidential election


In Africa's first independent country, home to Africa's first single-party stateAfrica's first female president is preparing for the country's first democratic transition of power in over 70 years, but is accused of improperly interfering in the first round of voting.

The election, whose first round was held October 10, can be correctly characterized as the first step toward "the first time in recent memory that a democratically elected Liberian president will hand power to a similarly elected head of state," since the last time such a transition happened was back in 1944.

Liberia's history as an independent country began back in 1847, making it the first independent country on the continent. Prior to that it was a colony of the United States, settled by free-born black Americans and freed slaves.

Over the next hundred years, presidential transfers of power occurred on a regular basis, although the True Whig Party dominated politics from 1878-1980, rendering the country a de facto single party state. There were seventeen presidential transitions from 1847-1944, meaning an average of 5-6 years per president (presidential terms were 2 years until 1907). Then came 73 years without electoral transitions: President Tubman served from 1944 until his death in 1971, succeeded by his Vice President, Tolbert, who was overthrown in a bloody coup in 1980 led by Doe, who was assassinated in 1990 at the beginning of the first civil war (1989-1997), which was followed closely by a second civil war (1999-2003).

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf won her first six-year term in 2005 with 20% of the vote in the first round and 59% in the run-off against George Weah (the former soccer player candidate who won a plurality on Oct. 10 and will face off against Sirleaf's current vice president in the upcoming second round). In the 2011 election, the runoff election was boycotted by the opposition. Sirleaf is popular among international donors and investors but less popular in Liberia, due to continuing corruption and economic challenges. 

Sirleaf has had a falling out with her party. She declined to endorse her vice-president, Joseph Boakai, who has distanced himself from Sirleaf's administration and placed second to Weah in the first round. Some suspect Sirleaf supports Weah. The ruling party accuses Sirleaf of interfering in the first round vote, a charge the president rejects. In a preliminary report, observers described the election as "Generally Peaceful and Transparent."

The second round will be held November 7.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Massive protests in Togo - what happened, and what's next?

Protestors have been active all year. The opposition says that over a million people in the 7-million population country have participated in anti-government protests. That's probably an exaggeration, but they likely number over 100,000, which is a big number for a small country.

To set the stage - thousands protested in 2014 against President Faure Gnassingbé seeking a 3rd term, and when the president won re-election in 2015, the opposition disputed the results. 

Here is some of what happened in 2017 - I might be missing some important events:
  • In February, hundreds protested against the government shutting down two independent broadcasters. 
  • In late February/early March, civil society groups, unions, teachers, taxi drivers, etc. protested and went on strike over increased gas prices and delays of compensations payments to victims of government violence from 1958-2005. One person was killed by the police breaking up the protests.
  • By July, protestors numbered over 100,000 in the capital, Lomé. The opposition presidential candidate from the 2015 election, Jean-Pierre Fabre, marched at the front of the protestors and spoke. Demands included undoing the 2002 amendments to the 1992 Constitution that were put in place to enable Faure's father to run for and win a third term, and to enable Faure to run. The opposition wants restoration of the two-term limit on the president, and the two-round presidential election (some believe the single-round system was put in place to block opposition parties from unifying around a single candidate; another amendment in 2002 lowered the eligibility age to enable Faure to run). The government shut down the internet to undermine protestor organizing. Smaller protests (e.g., 100 in Bafilo) also occurred in the north (which is where Faure usually has more support). 
  • In August, police repression of the protests turned violent, with tear gas and sometimes live bullets fired, to disrupt the protests, resulting in some (2-7) deaths of protestors. Large protests were held in major cities in both the north and south - Lomé, Sokode, Lara, and Anie. The Sokode protests were led by Tikpi Atchadam, leader of an opposition party based in the North. 
  • Protests continued throughout the country in September. The legislature, dominated by the ruling party, held a vote to introduce a two-term limit. However, the limit wouldn't be retroactive, meaning Faure, currently in his 3rd term, could run for 2 more terms. The opposition therefore boycotted, thus defeating the amendment. The country's bishops through their support behind the opposition. 
  • In October, the government banned weekday protests, which the opposition ignored. More protestors were killed by police attempting to disperse protests. Members of the opposition increasingly called for Faure to step down. The government is organizing a referendum on the constitutional amendment that failed in the legislature. 
What next?

Joel Amegboh and Alex Noyes have a nice assessment about what is likely to happen next. I agree that a coup is unlikely, the military is likely to stay united behind Faure, and if a referendum is held, it's likely to pass, especially if the opposition boycott. Possibly in 2020, or possibly in 2028 after Faure serves two more terms, I think his party, the UNIR, may find another candidate to take over the presidency. The UNIR is very unpopular among much of the country but they do have their supporters and they very much enjoy staying in power and are savvy in figuring out when to give a little and when to re-consolidate power. But I'd love to be wrong and see Togo follow in the footsteps of Benin or, more recently, Gambia. 


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Gambia parliamentary election

Gambia held parliamentary elections in April.

The United Democratic Party (UDP) won a majority of seats (31/53) with 37% of the vote. President Barrow was a member of the UDP, but ran for president as an independent, with support from the UDP and six other parties.

In the previous election, in 2012, UDP and several other parties had boycotted, so a majority of seats was held by the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), which supported former president Jammeh. In April's election the APRC won just 5 seats. Other members of the Coalition that supported Barrow include the People's Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), which won 4 seats, and the National Reconciliation Party (NRP), which won 5 seats.

Gambia update - President Barrow inaugurated in February

I've been neglecting the blog for almost 6 months!

Time to do a little catch-up.

The last time I wrote about Gambia was January 3rd. (Now former-) President Jammeh had accepted his electoral loss to (current) President Barrow, and then changed his mind and decided he had won after all, and was defiant toward ECOWAS, saying if they tried to invade, the country would defend itself.

Nonetheless, ECOWAS troops (primarily from Senegal, Gambia's only neighbor) entered Gambia on January 19.  Jammeh declared a state of emergency but didn't put up much of a fight - he "filed an application with Gambia's Supreme Court to prevent Barrow being sworn in." That didn't work too well - Barrow was first inaugurated as president in the Gambia embassy in Senegal, and then after Jammeh agreed to step down on January 21 (after stealing $11 million in the intervening two weeks), President Barrow was inaugurated in Gambia in February.

Gambia was the last ECOWAS country to be considered Not Free by FreedomHouse. Although ECOWAS is an economic union and does not have a mandate to remove leader's from power, the union's treaty includes an article that authorizes members to intervene to maintain stability. When Jammeh ignored the election outcome, ECOWAS members stepped in to establish order, which required Jammeh to accept the electoral results.