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2014 African Election Preview

2014 African Election Preview

Millions of citizens of African countries will go to the polls in Presidential, parliamentary/legislative, state/provincial, and local elections in 2014. We will surely cover many of those here at the FPA. Here is an early preview of which elections are happening where (as of January 8) with brief commentary on several of them:

Southern Africa: 

Botswana: It seems as if Ian Khama has been president of Botswana for longer than the five years he has held power. Botswana is seen as an examplar of stability in the region, and while it is easy to confuse its relative stability with placidity there is discontent in many circles as there ought to be in any democracy. Khama is going to win, as the opposition is diviuded and Khama managed to outflank the most serious potential challenge to his leadership from the Botswana Congress Party. The Umbrella for Democratic Change is a coalition of opposition groups but will not have enough backing to supplant Khama and his Botswana Democratic Party. Unemployment remains high and Khama has shown occasional glimpses, if not exactly authoritarianism at least of heavy-handedness in dealing with opposition. Still, October’s polling will be trouble free, Khama will win, and it is likely to garner little more than agate type in a sidebar of even major media outside of southern Africa.

Malawi: Joyce Banda may be in trouble. She is trailed be allegations of corruption. She flipped and flopped on the issue of gay rights, first embracing and then punting to a potentially inflamed popular will. Early on Banda established herself as a tough politician willing to make tough decisions and challenge the status quo that she inherited. But the taint of scandal in particular might be too much. Banda took over office when Bingu wa Mutharika died unexpectedly in April 2012. Mutharika won just a hair short of 66% of the vote in 2009, so there may be enough slack for Banda to eke out a win, especially if the opposition is unable to mobilize a viable challenger.

Mozambique: The ruling party, FRELIMO (Frente de Libertacao de Mocambique) is unlikely to lose the 2014 general elections even as tensions between FRELIMO and the opposition Renamo seem to be flaring. There are hints that Mozambique is about to experience an upturn in natural resources extraction, particularly coal and offshore natural gas, and while millions remain in poverty there has been a steady uptick in growth for several years that is expected to accelerate to 8.5% in 2014 (after healthy growth rates at or above 7% for the last several years).

Namibia: Namibia’s election will be a quiet affair. Likely even quieter than that of Botswana, except that Namibia will see a change in leadership. The South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO) will maintain power but with Hage Geingob is its candidate. Geingob will have to campaign to maintain his support within SWAPO, which may choose to go with the more modest Jerry Ekandjo, but assuming that he is able to maintain the mantel that he claimed at the 2012 SWAPO party congress Geingob will take over from Hifikepunye  Pohamba, who in turn took over from Sam Nujoma, who still remains the most important figure in the country’s history.

South Africa: There will be no questions as to who will win South Africa’s 2014 elections. The ANC will once again sweep national elections and Jacob Zuma will win a second full term, setting him up to be the longest-serving leader in the country’s post-apartheid period. But to say that there is no question surrounding Zuma’s re-election is not to say that the country lacks political drama. There are myriad questions as cracks in the edifice of ANC loyalty are beginning to show. Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang Party looks set to challenge the ANC from the right (though Agang is still left of center) and Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters will challenge from the left. Neither is likely to have any significant national impact, but will likely chip away votes from the ANC that I believe might well give the ANC its smallest margin of victory in the period since liberation. The official opposition Democratic Alliance, itself an overwhelmingly centrist and in many ways liberal party, will benefit from the work of the insurgents, may gain an even stronger grip on the Western Cape (the only province where the ANC has never held at least the balance of power). But it also may prove to challenge the majority party in Gauteng, the country’s economic heartland and population epicenter, and may even make inroads into the eastern Cape, where once the ANC would have been seen as unassailable.

A telling factor will be who emerges as the country’s Deputy President. Kgalema Motlanthe challenged Zuma for the presidency at Mangaung in 2012 and is not likely to remain as Deputy going forward. Cyril Ramaphosa is the ANC’s deputy president but some believe that he poses too great a challenge to Zuma and may be pushed out in favor of Zweli Mkhize, the ANC treasurer, or even Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife and the African Union chairwoman. As I said, there is little question as to whether the ANC will win nationally. But there are a whole lot of interesting machinations going on just below Zuma’s not-always-comfortable presidential office.

Central Africa:


East Africa:

Somalia (Puntland): Lawmakers in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland chose a president today. The legislators chose Former Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali over  Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud by a single ballot in the third round of balloting. Mohamud conceded defeat. Many believe that Puntland would be well served to completely go off on its own as its own nation state.

West Africa:

Guinea-Bissau: Guinea-Bissau was supposed to hold elections in November. Those elections have been postponed until March of this year, and there is plenty of reason to believe that date to be a chimera as well. In April 2012 the military conducted a coup, leaving Guinea-Bissau illegitimate in the eyes of most of the world (though, oddly, not the Economic Community of West African States — ECOWAS). The country may hold a national political conference in order to try to provide a basis for a new political dispensation. But it may well not. Suffice it to say that the foundations for optimism in Guinea-Bissau’s politics are not especially sturdy.

Niger: Speaking of reasons not to be optimistic. Terrorist attacks? Check. Alleged coup attempts? Check. Unstable borders? Check. Refugees fleeing regional strife? Check. Niger is supposed to hold parliamentary elections sometime this year.

Nigeria: The most populous country in Africa, one of its most dynamic, and one with some of the most fraught politics anywhere, Nigeria’s political landscape is always fascinating, the consequences of what goes on within its borders incalculably important for the region, and indeed, for the continent as a whole. Most observers believe that the country will not hold elections until 2015, although according to the country’s constitution the country is supposed to go to the polls six months before the next presidential inauguration, scheduled for 31 May, 2015. Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is facing intense opposition from the All Progressives Congress (APC). Jonathan faces stiff opposition not only in the largely Islamic North, but also in the Niger delta, the country’s deeply contentious region of massive wealth that carries with it tremendous conflict and corruption. Jonathan already broke the country’s unwritten rule whereby the presidency is supposed to rotate between the country’s north and south and by running for re-election will only stimulate his opponents. The APC is determined to gain a  foothold in the Delta. Ironically, these conflicts may serve to mitigate some of the worst of the dynamics between north and south while allowing new tensions to emerge and fester. Jonathan did not get to where he is without wiles and tenacity, though, so expect him to fight to the end and to utilize the power of his office, the country’s growing (if uneven) economy, and the benefits of incumbency to hold on to one of the most powerful political positions in Africa.

North Africa:

Algeria: In April Algerians are scheduled to vote for a new president. Abdelaziz Bouteflika was long favored to run for a fourth term in 2014, but last year he suffered a stroke that left him in a French hospital for four months and that left Algeria with a power vacuum that the country can ill afford. Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal took charge in Bouteflika’s absence, but then the ill president, or at least his entourage (including his brother Said, who appears to be held in high esteem by few outside of the Bouteflika household) tried to put on a public display of authority that only further threw the country’s leadership into flux. It now appears that the President, or a hand-picked puppet, will try to maintain power. Keep an eye on Algiers. There has yet to emerge a national protest movement akin to that elsewhere in the region, but at least some of the seeds of popular discontent and political instability are in place.

Egypt: There are other bloggers in the FPA network who will do a much better job on Egypt than I will in the year to come (and did so in the years past) but Egypt’s political turmoil has continued unabated into 2014. Next week the country will vote in a constitutional referendum. Three months after that the country is supposed to hold either a parliamentary or presidential election, followed three months later by an election for the unfilled branch (so if in April the country votes for a president, in July Egyptians are supposed to vote for a parliament). These are three hurdles that could set Egypt on the right path, or could simply provide fuel for the ongoing conflagration.



Derek Catsam

Derek Catsam is a Professor of history and Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan Professor in the Humanities at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He is also Senior Research Associate at Rhodes University. Derek writes about race and politics in the United States and Africa, sports, and terrorism. He is currently working on books on bus boycotts in the United States and South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s and on the 1981 South African Springbok rugby team's tour to the US. He is the author of three books, dozens of scholarly articles and reviews, and has published widely on current affairs in African, American, and European publications. He has lived, worked, and travelled extensively throughout southern Africa. He writes about politics, sports, travel, pop culture, and just about anything else that comes to mind.

Areas of Focus:
Africa; Zimbabwe; South Africa; Apartheid