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.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Strengths and weaknesses in Ghana's democracy

Ghana's democracy is robust compared to some other ECOWAS countries, including Gambia. On the same day Ghana's president Mahama accepted defeat, the first sitting president to lose an election in Ghana, the president of Gambia decided he didn't want to accept his electoral defeat after all.

Ghana has had peaceful multiparty elections for 25 years, and Decembers's election marks the third democratic alternation of power between parties, but in other ways Ghana's democracy shows weaknesses, as described in a recent Monkey Cage post from Nic Cheeseman, Gabrielle Lynch and Justin Willis. The whole thing is worth reading but here are some highlights:
During the campaign, a widely shared video showed Mahama allegedly “buying votes” — handing out money to women at a market.

71 percent of respondents in that survey said they prefer democracy to any other form of government — ... But the results suggest that despite Ghana’s impressive experience of open and competitive elections, Ghanaians accept some problematic electoral practices

For example, 43 percent of Ghanaians ... answered that bribing voters was either “not wrong at all” or was “wrong but should not be punished.” Similarly, 76 percent of Ghanaians ... felt that politicians should not be punished for directing development projects toward areas that support them. 
... our survey reveals that many politicians and voters do not consider giving gifts to voters to be an illegitimate act. In fact, many voters expect or even demand such practices.

... research shows that such practices have problematic consequences. Gift-giving during the campaign makes people forget that MPs are not just sources of patronage but are also supposed to debate legislation and scrutinize government. It encourages voters to judge a politician’s performance by what Americans call “pork”: whether they have built a clinic or paid for school fees in someone’s home town. 
And that has unhealthy consequences for accountability, because it encourages voters to turn a blind eye to where the money to fund these activities has come from.

Math can be dangerous

... especially when you're counting ballots in a country where the president doesn't want to lose.

From Reuters:
The head of Gambia's electoral commission has fled to Senegal due to threats to his safety after declaring that President Yahya Jammeh lost last month's election, a defeat the ruler has refused to accept.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Dueling claims about Boko Haram stronghold - either Sambisa forest was captured or it wasn't

From Reuters last week:
A man purporting to be the leader of Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, denied the jihadist group has been pushed out of its stronghold in the Sambisa forest, but the army said the base had been captured.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday said Boko Haram's last enclave in the forest, a former game reserve in northeastern Nigeria, had been captured in the "final crushing" of the group.
Reuters has been unable to independently verify that the area was captured.
"We are safe. We have not been flushed out of anywhere," the man identifying himself as Shekau said in a video ... "If you indeed crushed us, how can you see me like this? How many times have you killed us in your bogus death?" ...
Nigeria's military has in recent years said it has killed or wounded Shekau on multiple occasions. 
Such statements have often swiftly been followed by video denials by someone who says he is Shekau, but poor footage makes it hard to confirm if the person is the same man as in previous videos. ...
Here's some evidence from Niger that might support the Nigerian government's claims:
Dozens of Boko Haram fighters have given themselves up to authorities in southern Niger, the interior minister said, days after the Islamist group suffered key losses over the border in Nigeria.
Although the Sambisa forest isn't very close to the Niger border, so maybe the events are unrelated (see map).





Gambia election follow-up: ECOWAS forces on alert

From Reuters:
Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh accused West African regional body ECOWAS of declaring war, after it said it was putting forces on alert in case he refused to step down at the end of his mandate this month. ...