East Africa: It Is Voting October From East to West, but Picture Isn't Pretty

25 October 2020
opinion

The Guineans voted last week. The Tanzanians are voting on October 28. The Ivorians are voting on October 31.

What does the lay of this electoral land look like?

Let's start close by in Tanzania. President John Magufuli is seeking re-election.

By most accounts, the masses love their man. His tough approach to governing, especially his giving the middle finger to the mostly corrupt elites, has cheered up the people. So has his big infrastructure projects ranging from the standard gauge railway to Dar es Salaam's bus rapid transit.

But there is another side to the story.

The Economist magazine summed it up last week: "Back in January John Magufuli ... vowed that elections scheduled for October 28th would be free and fair. He has an odd way of ensuring it.

He has banned local groups from monitoring the vote, harassed the opposition and journalists, closed a newspaper for its unfavourable coverage and banned a television station for daring to contradict his risible claim that there is no covid-19 in Tanzania. Foreign reporters must be chaperoned everywhere by an official, presumably to intimidate people they interview."

There is something that suggests to me that Mr Magufuli, who is very likely going to win this month's election, may make a go for a third term come 2025. I want to be wrong, but...

There is always a way around these constitutional limitations. Amend inconvenient parts of the constitution Museveni-style or just come up with a new one and then decide that your term is just starting under the new constitution even if you have been in power 20 years already.

Reporting from Conakry, Reuters said: "Guinea's President Alpha Conde has won a landslide re-election victory, giving him a third term in office after official results from 37 of 38 voting districts showed him with double the votes of his nearest rival on Thursday evening.

"Conde, 82, has received 2.4 million votes so far, versus 1.26 million for opposition candidate, Cellou Dalein Diallo, following a bitterly fought election that has sparked deadly street violence...

"Conde's decision to run for a third five-year term has sparked repeated protests over the past year, resulting in dozens of deaths. He says a constitutional referendum in March reset his two-term limit; his opponents say he is breaking the law by holding onto power."

There you go (with my italicized emphasis). And that is not all.

Over in Ivory Coast, President Alassane Ouattara engineered changes so he could stand for re-election under a new constitution approved in 2016. Reports Reuters: "Violence has broken out sporadically since August, when Ouattara announced his candidacy for a third term, a move his opponents say violates the constitution."

The hunger for power by Messrs. Conde, 82, and Ouattara, 78, is costing lives. Old men are taking away the lives of young men and women. This is crazy stuff.

In Ivory Coast at least six people were killed last week in a port town when supporters and opponents of President Ouattara clashed.

"In all, more than 20 people have died in protests and clashes between rival supporters.

"The events have stoked fears about a bigger slide into violence. A disputed election a decade ago led to a civil war that killed 3,000 people."

You would think sophisticated people like Monsieur Ouattara have absorbed history's lessons.

In Guinea, at "least 13 people are reported to have been killed in skirmishes since Sunday's polls, in which [challenger] Diallo has claimed victory based on his campaign's tallies".

Uganda's electioneering season is underway. We also cannot avoid killing each other. As elsewhere, Uganda also has an old man determined to stick around some more, no matter the wreckage that causes.

Power. And more power.

In DR Congo, President Felix Tshisekedi effectively took control of the constitutional court by naming three new judges amidst strong opposition from his ruling coalition partner, former President Joseph Kabila.

Reuters reported that the move grants President Tshisekedi "greater influence over lawmaking and election issues..."

Elections are never far off.

There is just too much power play all over. But to what end, really?

Mr Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala. bernard.tabaire@gmail.com

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