It’s been a month since my last blog and a lot has certainly happened within the span of those four weeks! Of course, it’s gonna be hard to recap everything that went down, so instead I’ll zone in on key events in the sphere of African democracy.
As you probably know, 2012 is a big year for elections in Africa. There are over 10 presidential elections slated to take place and you can imagine how antsy the whole continent is. Elections are somewhat of a litmus test for democracy and overall advancement in many African countries, and both politicians and citizens tend to be on edge when it’s time to head to the polls. So, what’s happened so far? Well, we need not look further than the West African region where two neighboring countries – both with presidential elections this year – have embarked on strikingly different paths.
Senegal: Le Teranga, Victorious & Proud
Remember how Youssou Ndour was running for president? Yeah. Well, the Senegalese Supreme Court barred him from running due to his lack of full eligibility. Nevertheless, I think Ndour’s
shortlived candidacy helped introduce the question of who would contend in Senegal’s presidential election and exposed the country’s weak opposition structure. And contend they did – all 14 of them, including 2 female candidates and former President Abdoulaye Wade (who technically wasn’t supposed to run beyond his two terms). Yes, you read right. Sunday March 25, 2012 marked a huge step in the consolidation of democracy in Senegal. After an initial round of voting which saw Wade and Macky Sall as the key contenders, Sall emerged the clear winner in a subsequent (and close) run-off against then-incumbent Abdoulaye. The election was generally regarded as free and fair, with Senegalese in the Diaspora participating at polling sites all across Europe and elsewhere. After months of bated breath about what would happen to Senegal, democracy carried the day to the obvious jubilation of Senegalese and the admiration of observers in Africa and beyond. Why the excitement? Well, aside the fact that the 80-something year old Wade saved some face by conceding defeat and congratulating Sall after weeks of obstinacy, this handover marks what many hope will be a change among Africa’s “old” generation of leaders when it comes to giving way to “fresh” leadership.
The new Senegalese President Sall inherits numerous challenges from Wade – high costs of living, high youth unemployment, and striking poverty levels to mention a few- but the very determination of Senegalese to keep violence at bay after weeks of protest and at least 6 deaths, is definitely something they have going for them. Some worry about how Sall might turn out considering he was a prime minister under Wade’s government, but that is left to be seen. Personally, I believe the social movements which were launched to get Wade out present a great opportunity to strengthen opposition frameworks, media and civil society action in monitoring government, and could enhance democracy in the West African nation. For now though, a big felicitation to all Senegalese and bonne chance as you move on to secure the kind of development you hope for. L’Afrique is proud of you!
Mali: Modern Coup & Takeover of Historic Timbuktu
Now to the not-so-palatable news. You know how you read history books about coup d’etats here and there and think to yourself, “That is sooo old-school! Thank God they don’t happen in this day and age.”? Well, apparently – in this day and age – they do. On March 21st, 2012 Twitterville was a-buzz with coup d’etat reports in the Malian capital of Nouckchott. Some people, myself included, initially thought it was an early,
tasteless April fool’s joke. We soon found out that a rebel faction from the Malian army had staged a mutiny over what they describe as the government’s incompetence at handling the Tuareg rebellion. This was no joker’s club. Soon enough the Malian junta, led by US-trained Captain Amadou Sanogo, not only suspended the country’s constitution, but also imposed a curfew in a televised statement. While the Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure is said to have escaped to a safe place, some members of his government were arrested.
Fast forward some days and numerous statements of condemnation later, the mutinous rebels have lost control of the historic town of Timbuktu (which, yes, actually does exist) in the north of Mali after being driven out by the Tuareg rebels. Additionally, Captain Sanogo does not seem to have control of the situation as he hastily reinstated the constitution and made an appeal for international assistance. To make matters worse, ECOWAS leaders have imposed harsh (yet somewhat necessary) economic sanctions on the West African nation, with works in place for a standby force to intervene should the situation get worse. With all this uncertainty, there’s a rush among Malians for money, fuel, food and so on. As always, the hardest hit will be the many impoverished communities in what once was an incredible ancient kingdom.
All this is your classic African coup d’etat. The main difference? Elections were slated for April 29 this year. So what exactly spurred the rebels to make such a move? Why didn’t they just wait for the election OR if indeed their concerns about Malian leadership were well-founded, why didn’t they just make a statement indicating their wavering support of the presidency and wait for an election? Will there be a Malian Presidential Election this year? Those are all questions that remain unanswered. What is obvious though is that the ripples of Gaddafi’s death are making their way through the African sub-region. Hold up. Gaddafi? Yes, Gaddafi. As it turns out, the former Libyan leader had enlisted the military skills of the Malian Tuaregs. With his demise, the Tuaregs returned to northern Mali…only to find out that their former abode had been overtaken by other inhabitants. Now imagine a group of soldiers who just got back from a battle they ultimately lost, what do you expect would happen? Exactly. The Tuaregs took to arms and unleashed, some would say, terror upon the local populace, adding insecurity to the growing famine concerns in the region.
The next couple of days will be crucial, not only in terms of how far the Tuareg rebellion will spread or how the Malian rebels will act, but also, with regards to ECOWAS and AU action and response. Already, there are reports of thousands of refugees fleeing the country into neighboring countries like Senegal, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. And as to the April 29 election, well, it seems that debate has been suspended for the moment.
West Africa on The Edge
Mali & Senegal, have a lot in common culturally and generally have good relations. However, depending on how things turn out for each country, they could end up being strikingly dissimilar. Aside these two countries, Ghana and Sierra Leone are gearing up for elections later this year with the onset of biometric voter registration. Eitherway, West Africa seems to be on the edge. The question however is, on the edge of what?