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Why the choice of the AU chair matters so much in today’s multipolar world

Posted ELISSA JOBSON

on  Monday, August 8   2016 at  10:27

The failure to elect a new AU Commission chairperson provides African leaders with a second chance to find a dynamic, bold and visionary candidate, but will they take it?

Heads of state, gathered in Kigali on July 18 for the African Union summit, were unable to choose a replacement for Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the outgoing chair of the AU Commission (AUC), who will step down after serving one term in office.

During seven rounds of voting, none of the three candidates nominated by member states — Uganda’s Specioza Kazibwe, Botswana’s Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi and Equatorial Guinea’s Agapito Mba Mokuy — were able to amass the two-thirds majority needed to secure victory.

The result came as no surprise. Ecowas, the 15-member West African bloc, took the unprecedented step of formally requesting a postponement of the election on the grounds that the nominees did not have the requisite qualifications for the job. This was a sentiment seeming shared by others in the AU — 28 countries abstained, an indication that some members agreed with many outside commentators that Africa could do much better.

Consequently, the election has been postponed until next January’s summit and the nomination process reopened. Former Tanzania president Jakaya Kikwete is often touted as a possible next chair — he was rumoured to have been interested in running this time around but was too late to be added to the ballot.

Prof Abdoulaye Bathily, a Senegalese politician turned diplomat who is currently the UN Secretary-General’s special representative for Central Africa, is another possible contender who missed the April deadline.

A firm favourite in Addis Ababa, the seat of the AU’s headquarters, is Algeria’s Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra, a highly respected former AU Peace and Security Commissioner. Other names in the mix include Donald Kaberuka, the much-lauded former African Development Bank president, and Carlos Lopes, the charismatic intellectual at the helm of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

But why does it matter who will be the next AUC chairperson and what qualities should he or she ideally possess?

Likely candidates

At the AU’s founding, significant power was vested in the chair of the Commission, including the authority to institute measures to prevent and resolve conflict. And, like the UN Secretary General or the World Bank president, the AUC head shapes the long-term agenda and influences the decisions of the entire organisation. But member states have had a tendency to restrict the chairperson’s room for manoeuvre, meaning that the stature, experience and personality of the next Commission leader will have a significant bearing on their ability to fulfil their mandate.

Beset by seemingly intractable and bloody crises and conflicts at home, from Libya to South Sudan to Burundi and beyond, as well as the global security challenges posed by violent extremism, migration and climate change, the next AU chair will have to navigate an increasingly complex, multipolar international political environment.

Now, more than ever, it’s vital that the AU selects not just a suitable candidate but the best possible candidate to replace Dlamini-Zuma.

The new AUC chair should not only have a clear vision for a prosperous and peaceful Africa, but he or she must also have a strategy for how to achieve it and a proven track record for getting things done. An intimate understanding of the continental context is also a prerequisite, as is the intellectual and creative courage to seek bold and innovative solutions to conflict prevention and resolution.

It should be a given that the next AUC chair has a well-established international profile and truly feels at ease on the global stage. During the first four years of his or her tenure, the continent, with the help and support of the AU Commission, will renegotiate critical aspects of its relationship with both the EU (following the expiration of the Cotonou Agreement in 2020 and the reconfiguration of the African Peace Facility) and the UN (as the AU seeks to secure UN-assessed contributions for its peacekeeping operations and a permanent seat on the Security Council).

Recent crisis

The chosen candidate will also have to engage with a more activist China and a fractious Middle East. As Africa’s top diplomat, and the head of an organisation that is heavily reliant on external financial support, the chairperson must be able to make friends and influence people, and have a flair for building alliances and consensus both at home and abroad.

One further essential qualification is the ability and willingness to speak truth to power, however uncomfortable that may be. The AU is an association of independent states, and many of its members have enjoyed long stays in power and are unused to challenges to their authority or to their country’s hard-won sovereignty.

A confident Commission, led by a strong chairperson, can and should sound the alarm when member states step outside the bounds of good governance they have set themselves through the international and continental conventions they have signed. This may not, as the recent crisis in Burundi illustrates, move Africa’s leaders to effective action, but it is a necessary function nonetheless.

The question remains, however, whether African heads of states actively want a dynamic, bold and visionary leader for the AU Commission. The fact that two regions (North and West Africa) didn’t even bother to field candidates, and that the rest (East, South and Central) didn’t put forward their most qualified nominees, would seem to suggest they don’t, and highlights member states’ fear of an independently minded individual at the helm of the AUC.

Yet, the failure to elect a new chairperson and the decision to reopen the nominations suggests that at least some of the membership understand the importance of the role and provides hope that a better — if not the very best — candidate will be found.

Elissa Jobson is the African Union advisor for the International Crisis Group.

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African blocs fail to agree on Free Trade Area

Posted JAMES ANYANZWA in Nairobi

on  Saturday, July 16   2016 at  15:44

Twenty-six African countries have failed to agree on how traders would access a market of more than 600 million people through the proposed Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA), blurring expansion plans by companies.  

The East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have differed on the kind of preferential treatment sensitive goods and services from one bloc would be offered in another.

The 12-month period for negotiations expired on June 30.

“We were to complete this work by last month (June) but we did not reach an agreement. There are still challenges,” said Mr Mark Ogot, a senior assistant director in-charge of economic affairs at Kenya’s Ministry of East African Affairs.

Tariff lines

It is understood that though the blocs have reached a common position on the proportion of tariff lines to be liberalised, they have broken ranks over a common tariff to be applied on sensitive products such as maize, wheat, sugar, textile and cement which are considered essential in spurring the growth of domestic industries.

The EAC countries have agreed to liberalise 37 per cent of the tariff lines estimated at 5,600 items. This would allow about 2,000 items, excluding sensitive items, to enter member countries at zero duty.

The other goods would be charged duty at the rate of 10 per cent for intermediate goods and 25 per cent for finished goods.  

Remove duty

The SADC Customs union has agreed to remove duty on 60 per cent of its 7,000 tariff lines, offering opportunity for 4,200 goods to be exported to southern Africa.

TFTA protocol had targeted the removal of duty on between 60 per cent and 85 per cent of the tariff lines. The remaining 15 per cent of the tariff lines were to be negotiated over a period of between five and eight years.

Comesa has 5,000 tariff lines but its members who are neither in EAC or SADC have been allowed to negotiate individually because the bloc does not have a customs union.

A trade framework agreed upon by heads of state during the TFTA launch last year required countries to exchange tariff concessions based on reciprocity.

Mr Ogot said plans were underway to extend the negotiation period, but the duration was still not yet clear.

Export market

The Africa Review has learnt that the protracted discussions have been complicated by South Africa, which is keen on protecting its key markets from competition.

It is understood that South Africa was wary of opening up its domestic market and its export market in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland, which are members of the SACU to the selected items, especially maize, wheat, electronics and equipment

from other blocs.

“South Africa does not appear to be keen on this arrangement because they dominate the market and are cautious of losing part of it,” said Mr Ogot.

Spanning the continent from Cape Town to Cairo, the grand FTA encompasses 26 countries with a combined population of nearly 625 million people and a total gross domestic product (GDP) of approximately $1.2 trillion.

Sensitive products

Under the TFTA pact, the members of the three trading blocs agreed to ignore sensitive products and subject them to duty and quota restrictions in order to ensure fair competition.

The products earlier listed for protection until 2017 included, maize, cement sugar, wheat, rice, textiles, milk and cream, cane and beet sugar, second hand clothes, beverages, spirits, plastics, electronic equipment.

The implementation of the agreement would effectively open the door for EAC goods, to markets such as South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea and vice versa.

The next decade

The TFTA agreement is expected to serve as the basis for the completion of a Continental Free Trade Area by 2017 which South Africa appears to be more keen on.

The CFTA aims to boost trade within Africa by up to 30 per cent in the next decade, and eventually establishing an African Economic Community.

South Africa has said that implementing the TFTA would complicate its trade with Europe because EAC was yet to sign an Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union.

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Why Museveni is now dining with swine offspring

Posted JULIUS BARIGABA in Kampala

on  Sunday, June 5   2016 at  15:43

Keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer, is a common English saying that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni seems to have taken literally. His decision to reach out to the offspring of his predecessors is being viewed in Kampala with great interest.

What is his strategy? With what intentions are the offspring of former presidents responding to the embrace, if at all?

President Museveni was in the habit of taking a swipe at his predecessors, especially former dictator Idi Amin and Milton Obote, whom he described as swine for misrule and crimes committed during their regimes. Also in this mix was the Gen Tito Okello Lutwa-led military junta, which lasted six months from July 1985 to January 1986, when Museveni took power.

Living in exile

When Amin was still alive and living in exile in Saudi Arabia, President Museveni famously said he could not touch him, “not even with a long stick,” and that if Obote dared to return from exile in Zambia, he would shoot him on the tarmac at Entebbe airport.

But longevity at the helm of Uganda’s politics, which demands skill not only to stay in the game, but to also win over new support, has forced President Museveni to dine with the families and descendants of his enemies of yesterday.

Since 1986, at least five offspring of ex-presidents have found their way into the corridors of power, either as Cabinet ministers, Members of Parliament, operatives in key security outfits or diplomats.

Some like Henry Okello Oryem, can be said to be close to the regime’s inner circle. A legislator, member of the ruling party and son to former president Lutwa, Mr Oryem has been in Museveni’s Cabinet since 2001, most of this time as Minister for International Affairs.

Intelligence circles

Another offspring of an ex-president in President Museveni’s government is Taban Amin, son of Idi Amin. He serves in intelligence circles as deputy director of the External Security Organisation. In February, his son, Taban Amin Jr, won a parliamentary seat in Kibanda county on the ticket of the ruling party, of which president Museveni is chairman.

In diplomatic circles is Maurice Kagimu, son of Uganda’s pre-independence chief minister Benedicto Kiwanuka. Before being appointed ambassador, Mr Kagimu served as a minister in President Museveni’s government.

But the biggest enigma of ex-president’s children is Jimmy Akena. The son of two-time former president Obote (1967-1971 and 1980-1985), Mr Akena was very close to his father and lived with him in exile in Zambia after he was deposed in a coup.

Tutored by his father in the leftist ideology of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), Mr Akena surprised political observers in the run-up to the February 18 elections, when media reports emerged that the UPC man had cut a deal with President Museveni to support him. Thus he ditched the opposition fronts of both Kizza Besigye and former premier Amama Mbabazi, and delivered the UPC stronghold of Lango sub-region to Museveni.

Their families

Political observers in Kampala say several factors have led President Museveni to drop his uncompromising stance against former leaders and their families, top of which is the 2005 switch from the Movement system to multiparty politics, which Museveni was uncomfortable with.

But as leader of his party, President Museveni has also learnt hard lessons while hunting for votes in regions that were initially opposed to his rule. With the return of multiparty politics, and his regime still unpopular in the north, he needed the former first sons, who in many respects are also heirs of their fathers’ hegemony and influence in these regions.

Amin, Obote and Lutwa all hailed from northern Uganda, a region that was hostile to Museveni’s westerner- and southerner-dominated regime, leading to a two-decade rebellion of the Lord’s Resistance Army and several other militia.

“Politics is about support from the local people. The votes from the sub-regions of Acholi, Lango and West Nile matter to Museveni. He has come to the realisation that sometimes you may have a personal opinion about some people but you need their communities’ support,” said legislator Betty Amongi.

An enemy

“If I accommodate somebody who is thought to be an enemy, or a person whom I don’t agree with, what signal do I send politically?” she added.

John Nagenda, the senior presidential advisor on media and public relations, says that despite President Museveni demonising his predecessors, in a situation where every vote counts, pulling families of ex-leaders into his stable of supporters was a masterstroke that denied the opposition votes.

“I don’t want to make the president seem like a saint, but when he befriended Akena, who by the way is a very nice young man, he was dealing a blow to the likes of Besigye. And to do this, it starts by being charitable to the other people,” he said.

In an interview with The EastAfrican, Mr Akena said his support of Museveni, 71, is for two reasons: Acknowledgement that “there has been a softening” by the president “and I welcome it,” including the award of a “deserved medal” in 2010 to Obote for his contribution in fighting for Uganda’s independence, which Mr Akena received on his father’s behalf.

But Mr Akena has also one eye on post-Museveni politics — barring a constitutional amendment, the incumbent will not run beyond 2021 as Article 102 of the Constitution places an age limit of 75 years on eligibility to run for the highest office.

Despite this, President Museveni’s larger-than-life personality in the country’s politics over the past 30 years impacts the transition, Mr Akena argues.

“I don’t believe you can have any useful discussions of transition that don’t involve Museveni. He remains a factor in the same way my father is. But my mission is to build UPC into an active, vibrant party, participating in all political processes,” he says.

But signs had emerged even earlier that President Museveni and top lieutenants in his regime would work with Mr Akena in order to stabilise the Lango region, which was still suffering effects of the LRA rebellion, and thus accumulate political capital as the ruling party sought to remain dominant.

In 2005, for instance, just after returning from exile, Mr Akena contested the Lira Municipality seat on the UPC ticket. But the region had been devastated by the LRA rebellion, with thousands living in internally displaced persons’ camps.

Sign the deal

Mr Akena eventually became part of the team that travelled to Garamba to meet the LRA leaders and also shuttle between the then mediator South Sudan Vice-President Riek Machar and the Uganda government chief negotiator Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, as the rebels and government both stuck to their positions.

The peace process fell through when the LRA leaders did not sign the deal, but Mr Akena’s role did not go unnoticed by either party.

In 2013, President Museveni attended the wedding of Mr Akena and Ms Betty Amongi — both MPs from staunch UPC families. But it was the president’s contribution of Ush50 million ($15,000) to the couple that gave a clear indication of his intentions to win over the Obote family.

Betrayed the party

Sections of UPC loyalists, including party president Olara Otunnu and David Pulkol, who were both in Mbabazi’s camp, argued that Mr Akena betrayed the party by dining with and potentially handing Lango to the enemy.

They claimed President Obote “would turn in his grave” at the abomination while others were too shocked to even imagine it was possible that President Museveni, of all the people, would sit at the high table in Obote’s sitting room.

But the National Resistance Movement strategists hailed the deal as one that would turn the tables in a region where the opposition hoped to pick up votes. In the end, President Museveni came out the stronger politician, shrewd and accommodative of past enemies within and outside the country.

Would Mr Akena take up a position in the Cabinet if Museveni offered one?

The blessings

“If such an offer came up I have to take it to the UPC party council to debate and decide. It’s not for me alone to decide,” he said.

Sabiti Makara, professor of political science at Makerere University, believes Mr Akena would take it.

“He is going to be a minister in Museveni’s new government. In so doing, Akena has handed over UPC to Museveni, with the blessings of his mother,” he said.

This, according to former Chwa County MP Livingstone Okello Okello, would be total betrayal of the party and northern Uganda.

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Dismissing criticism, Eritrea hails 25 years of 'freedom'

Posted AFP

on  Tuesday, May 24   2016 at  15:51

Eritrea celebrated 25 years of independence on Tuesday with street parties, giant fireworks displays and music, shrugging off international criticism that the government has stifled basic freedoms.

In the run up to the celebrations, an "independence torch" was carried across the country, with the party kicking off over the weekend with camel races, military parades, cultural events and artistic displays, the state-run EriTV broadcaster showed.

Reports in the local media said the celebrations offered "vivid demonstrations of the prevailing peace and stability" in a country which ranks below North Korea as worst in the world for press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders.

But on the eve of independence celebrations, the UN's Special Rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth, said the country had been in a "constitutional vacuum" since 1997, and called on Eritrea to "fully embrace democracy and the rule of law to achieve the vision established" at independence.

The hardline regime is accused of jailing thousands of political prisoners while refugees from the repressive Red Sea state have in recent years made up one of the largest contingents of people risking the dangerous journey to seek a new life in Europe.

"National independence should match with individual independence and freedoms: freedom of conscience, thought, mind and expression; freedom to engage in employment and education of one's own choice," Keetharuth said.

Resilience and development

Eritrea split from Ethiopia in 1991 after a three-decade independence war, which saw Eritrean rebels battling far better-equipped Ethiopian troops which were backed first by Washington and then by the Soviet Union.

Victory in May 1991 was followed by a referendum two years later.

But independence for Eritrea meant Ethiopia lost direct access to the Red Sea, fuelling resentment from Addis Ababa.

A subsequent 1998-2000 border conflict between the two countries still rankles, with analysts saying Asmara uses as an excuse for its continued iron-fisted rule.

President Isaias Afwerki, 70, who led the rebel army to victory and has remained in power without an election ever since, is expected to address the nation at a military rally later on Tuesday.

Tales of war sacrifices are used to boost patriotism and flagging morale under persistent economic and social hardships which are blamed on the long-running "no-war no-peace" border stalemate with Ethiopia.

A "quarter century of resilience and development" read a headline in the Eritrea Profile newspaper this week.

A mixed report card

"I call on the government to do more to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and to establish the rule of law," Keetharuth said in a statement released in Geneva.

"I salute the heroism and courage of all those women and men who struggled for their freedom and fought for their country's independence. I also acknowledge the determination of those who are still engaged in preserving such hard-won freedom."

Troops still eyeball each other along the frontier, with Ethiopian soldiers defying an international ruling that they should leave Eritrean land.

Those who escape Eritrea describe crawling under razor wire, tiptoeing across minefields or sneaking past armed border guards in their bid for freedom.

Exiled opposition Eritrean activists produced a video released to coincide with independence celebrations, speaking out about repression in the country and explaining why they fled.

"What do we have to celebrate in a country, where if you speak against the regime you could be imprisoned?" read the article on the opposition Asmarino website.

In the past, entire Eritrean football teams have absconded while playing in tournaments abroad and fighter jet pilots have escaped in their aircraft.

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Quality education 'the best bet' for Africa

Posted DAVID ADUDA from Cape Town

on  Tuesday, May 17   2016 at  15:17

Africa’s governments have been asked to invest in quality higher education for their youth to compete globally as jobs were declining at the national level while businesses were growing across the borders.

Mauritius President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim says the governments must expand higher education institutions to admit increased numbers of school leavers, adding emphasis should be on science and technology.

President Gurib-Fakin said: “Africa’s “youth bulge” must be harnessed through greater public investments in basic education, tertiary education, particularly, in science technology engineering mathematics, vocational skills and innovation to build a valuable base of human capital that will serve as the engine for the economic transformation of our continent.”

She was giving a keynote address at a recent higher education conference in Cape Town, dubbed Going Global, and organised by the British Council.

Women empowerment

President Gurib-Fakin made a strong case for women empowerment through education, saying skewed enrolments in higher education in favour of males had serious economic implications.

“I know that most of the women in Africa cannot afford to work. But when they do, they are mostly employed in informal activities. We all know what this means: low productivity, low incomes, low prospects. We also know the constraints: access to education, credit, and markets,” she said.

“The gains to be made by overcoming these constraints are immense—particularly through girls’ education. By some estimates, the economic loss in developing countries from the education gap between girls and boys could be as high as $90 billion a year—almost as much as the infrastructure gap for the sub-Saharan Africa!”

Inequalities in higher education, low level of attainments, underfunding and brain drain were some of the subjects that featured strongly at the conference attended by education ministers, vice chancellors, rectors, scholars and researchers.

Diversity dilemma

The chairman of South Africa’s universities, Prof Adam Habib, explained the diversity dilemma in Africa’s universities and giving the case of his country, said social inequalities thrived in higher education institutions across the continent. In South Africa, for example, few blacks enrolled for university education and fewer still were females. Some institutions did not have women in leadership positions, even as heads of departments.

Prof Ian Goldin of the UK’s Oxford Martin School argued that such disparities threatened global peace and security and challenged the Western countries to support higher education in Africa and other developing nations.

For a good measure, Britain’s Minister for Cabinet Office, Mr Matt Hancock, used the opportunity to announce a 56 million Euro fund to support higher education in Africa under the aegis of Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR).

Mr Hancock said: “The UK has a world class reputation for higher education and we believe that high quality education is a fundamental right for everyone. We will push the boundaries of education, enhancing its reach and quality across the globe, by looking for opportunities to collaborate and innovate in international education. By investing together, we will deliver smarter young people to generate the very best future leaders, teachers, engineers and employers for all of our countries.”

Cadre of professors

The conference also addressed staff shortage in Africa’s universities, with the concern that the institutions did not have capability to attract young and new cadre of professors. After the halcyon years of independence in the 1960s and 1970s, when universities were citadels of rigorous intellectual discourse and enjoyed academic freedom, they were able to attract highly qualified staff. However, since the financial crunch of the 1980s and 1990s that led to salary stagnation and resource scarcity, as well as the intolerant political climate, universities have become unattractive destination for top scholars and professionals.

South Africa’s Minister for Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, captured the mood, reporting that the country requires some 1,200 new academic staff every year for its 26 public universities.

Dr Blade called for collaboration among Africa’s states through student and staff exchange programme, so that countries can benefit from expertise and unique opportunities across their borders.

The challenges

“Our universities have a big role to play in our quest as Africa to develop and to deal successfully with the challenges facing our countries,” he said.

“One of the main things that we need is for our academics to undertake research and produce quality outputs that in the end will inform policy and influence positive outcomes for the greater good of society. We must deliberately seek to change the location of our continent in knowledge production from consumer to producer of globally respected knowledge.”

On this score, East Africa’s plan to establish a common higher education area was cited as a progressive step towards internationalisation of education, given that it encompasses student and staff mobility, joint research programmes and common quality and assurance standards.

Credit-transfer

The chief executive of Kenya’s Commission for University Education, Prof David Some, said the region had agreed on common standards for admission of students, quality standards, certification and credit-transfer system from one university to another.

“East Africa has reached a stage where students and lecturers will soon move from one university to another within the region, pay fees like locals and seek employment where vacancies exist,” he said.

The conference was critical of university rankings, which though have become popular, did not take cognisance of the different environments and contexts in which the institutions operated.

There was also concern of the impact of insecurity on higher education, as this had led to large number of refugees, who because of displacement, qualified students could not access higher education and if they did in their land of sojourn, they stretched facilities to the limits.

One continent

The chief executive of the British Council, Mr Ciarán Devane, expressed confidence that the numerous initiatives in higher education stood Africa in good stead to overcome its current challenges.

He said: “I believe this century will be an African century. That’s because Africa has one very big thing on her side: potential. No one nation, or even one continent, can hope to adequately address all the big issues facing people. And because challenges are connected, solutions must be connected.”

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Kenya row raises queries on disregard of electoral process

Posted DANIEL K. KALINAKI

on  Monday, May 16   2016 at  16:10

Elections in Western-style democracies, in which power is divided between an effective Executive, an honest Judiciary and an elected Parliament, are primarily about the choice of leaders.

Elections in emerging democracies, particularly in Africa, serve as a stress test of the growth and capacity of these and other state institutions.

The current fight over the integrity of the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in Kenya ahead of the 2017 election isn’t entirely surprising, but is a symptom of a bigger problem — the integrity of the electoral process and its chief arbiter.

Questions about the composition and integrity of electoral commissions are not unique to Kenya.

Widespread disquiet

In Uganda, the failure to reform the Electoral Commission as proposed by opposition groups and civil society and as advised by the Supreme Court in 2001 and 2006 is one of the main reasons for the widespread disquiet over the 2016 elections.

But electoral commissions are only responsible for a small part of the electoral process. Elections fail in many ways and, quite often, long before voting day.

The Electoral Integrity Project (EIP), a think tank that provides an independent evaluation of the quality of elections worldwide, lists a number of ways.

They include: lifting of term limits; laws restricting pluralistic political activity; arrests, intimidation and jailing of political rivals; inaccurate voters registers; vote-buying and ballot-stuffing; unfair access to public media; bias by electoral commission officials; and failed dispute resolution mechanisms.

A few exceptions

With a few exceptions, many of these failures are beyond the remit of the electoral commission, and are not even necessarily curable by a truly independent EC.

Failure to agree on who runs the elections, therefore, is the effect of failing to agree on the ground rules of political competition, not the cause of flawed elections.

Over the past year or so, several African countries have held presidential and parliamentary elections.

In Burundi and the Republic of Congo, where presidents Pierre Nkurunziza and Dennis Sassou Nguesso removed or ignored term limits, violence broke out.

In Niger and Zanzibar, the opposition called for boycotts citing widespread fraud, while elections in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Uganda were widely discredited by independent observers.

War and violence

Yet many African countries now routinely hold free and fair elections, including Mauritius, South Africa, Lesotho, Cape Verde, Namibia, and even Benin.

Pippa Norris, an election analyst at Harvard University and one of the founders of EIP, says many factors contribute to these contrasts in African elections, including a history of war and violence, a natural resources curse, flawed constitutional designs (for instance that cement a winner-takes-it-all outcome in polarised societies), ethnic divisions and the examples served up by neighbours.

The protest against the IEBC, set against the contested outcome of the 2013 election and the lack of deep reforms since, was always a riot waiting to happen.

Political scientists

Some have wondered why Kenya was able to hold a fairly credible election in 2002 in which Mwai Kibaki, a joint opposition candidate defeated Uhuru Kenyatta, the candidate favoured by the retiring President Moi, but has had disputed elections since.

In a study of 135 autocratic and democratic regimes from 1950 and 1990, political scientists Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi argued that new democracies were likely to slip back into dictatorship or unrest unless per capita incomes rose to about $8,000 per person in 2005 prices.

This backsliding has been seen in Mali, in Mozambique, in Zambia and could be the treacherous slope on which Kenya seems to be walking.

The integrity

When the politics doesn’t work for all and when political reform doesn’t bring a clear economic dividend to ordinary people across the board, the political space is contested afresh, sometimes violently, and sometimes out of the bedrock of ethnic support.

The IEBC is an easy target for a fight that is as much about the integrity of the electoral process as it is about the political question in Kenya.

The IEBC can only work if the rest of Kenya is working.

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Ripples from the Burkina Faso insurrection

Posted TAMBA JEAN-MATTHEW

on  Sunday, November 23   2014 at  10:49

The ripples from the civilian insurrection in Burkina Faso that culminated in the ousting of President Blaise Compaoré have triggered some obvious reactions from several African governments, particularly those with undemocratic structures.

The first obvious reaction came from the continent’s longest serving military-turned-civilian leader, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, who seized power from his uncle in 1979.

Almost immediately following the ousting of President Compaoré, the excitement arising from the event was captured and reflected by the local media, causing President Nguema to hurriedly ban both the independent and state-run media from mentioning the revolt.

A journalist at the state broadcaster who asked for anonymity told the Agence France Press (AFP)  that all journalists at the state-run media were ordered not to report the fall of President Compaore.

In neighbouring Congo, President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, a former general who also seized power from a democratically elected president, also quickly went glum on the Burkina uprising. 

Mr Sassou-Nguesso is also alleged to be planning to amend his country’s constitution to enable him run for a fourth mandate during the 2016 elections after 16 years in power.

But following agitation by the opposition inspired by events in Burkina Faso, an official statement warned Congolese that “Congo is not Burkina Faso”. 

The ongoing protest in Congo was fuelled by the arrest of 32 opposition members mostly belonging to the Congolese Social Democratic Party, 20 of them have since been released while the remainder are still in custody.

Radio France International reported the arrests occurred in Brazzaville on November 4, 2014 during a political meeting at the home of opposition leader Clément Meirassa. The source alleged that the opposition politicians were discussing plans of how to end President Sassou-Nguesso’s grip on power.

A Biafran connection

In Togo, the youthful President Faure Gnasingbe is also believed to be planning to cling on to power. But the spirit of the Burkina Faso insurrection is alive and strong in Togo and could force him to backpedal.

In a move timed to coincide with the Burkinabe political drama, the civil society-backed opposition has begun a two month-long campaign to collect 500,000 signatures from young Togolese of voting age.

The intention is to attach them to a petition they would submit to parliament in a bid to limit the presidential mandate to five years, renewable once.

Paul Amagakpo, the executive director of the National Civil Society forum which is driving the initiative, told the Dakar-based West Africa Democracy Radio that the petition would also seek to scrap the one-round voting for the presidency that was instituted by President Gnassingbe's late father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema.

In Gabon, even though the pressure against President Ali Bongo is not intrinsically linked to the Burkina insurrection, the political class seized the opportunity of the event to step up effort to preclude the youthful leader from contesting the 2016 polls.

Hence, the political opposition including former AU chairperson Jean Ping are using the book as a springboard to attack and block President Bongo from contesting another mandate.

French author Pierre Péan alleges in the book entitled Nouvelles Affaires Africaines (New African Scandals) that Ali Bongo was not a Gabonese national by birth, claiming that he had been adopted by his father and his first wife, Patience Dabany, from Biafra in Nigeria. .

According to a November 2014 edition of the report by the Institute for Security Studies, during the Biafran war in the 1960s, a number of war orphans fled to Gabon, and Ali Bongo is presumed to have been one of them.

Mr Péan, an investigative journalist, bases these allegations on the testimony of those in Ali Bongo's inner circle. He maintains that the issue of Ali Bongo's nationality has been an open secret for years.

He also uses inconsistencies in the president's birth certificate, which was allegedly drawn up only two months before the death of his father Omar Bongo in June 2009, as proof of the adoption. Hence, the opposition is insisting that the Gabonese president falsified his birth certificate that initially identified him as a Nigerian from Biafra.

The Gabonese government has announced that it will file a complaint against the author.

Nationwide demonstrations organised by the opposition that were to take place on November 13, 2014 was banned at the last minute as law enforcement officers were placed on maximum alert.

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Dark cloud hangs over Eala sitting in Nairobi

Posted ZEPHANIA UBWANI in Arusha

on  Monday, November 17   2014 at  13:09

Nairobi could provide a defining moment for the months-long crises which have haunted the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) since early this year as it reconvenes in the Kenyan capital today, with chairpersons of its vital committees and six commission members having resigned.

Sources close to the regional parliament said the crisis could reach boiling point if the MPs did not reach a consensus over an apparent leadership crisis and the pending motion to remove Tanzanian legislator Shy-Rose Bhanji as a member of the Eala commission. The stalemate crippled the assembly’s business in Kigali last month.

Although the issue is not on the provisional programme for plenary and standing committee of the sessions starting today in Nairobi, officials here have confided the matter cannot be ruled out and that should that happen, it would deepen the crisis facing the regional institution.

The standoff, sources further confided, could result in some parties going to court for being dissatisfied with the way the regional parliament is conducting its activities and hence seek the Summit of the East African Community (EAC) Heads of State to amend the Treaty.

“We don’t know yet what will happen but Nairobi could provide a defining moment for these crises,” an official who cannot be named as he is not the secretariat spokesperson said, recalling Eala Rules of Procedure (Rule 18) which states that any item of business standing on the Order Paper as at time of interruption shall be placed on the Order Paper for the next sitting of the assembly.

A tentative programme of the Nairobi sessions made available to The Citizen newspaper in Arusha indicates that there would be at least two committee meetings for Eala members and a press conference where the contentious issues are likely to crop up.

However, the resignation of six members of the Eala commission as well as the stepping down of the chairpersons of five of its six sectoral committees may affect legislative business such as the enabling of important bills.

Business stymied

The Eala commission is the supreme body for other committees and is composed of the Speaker, the Chairperson of the EAC Council of Ministers and has two members of the assembly from each EAC partner state. The Speaker is the Chairperson of the commission, which nominates members of the six committees.

Sources close to Eala and the EAC Secretariat said the commission, for whom the embattled Ms Bhanji from Tanzania is a member, can hardly transact business following the resignation of six members – none from Tanzania. Those who have tendered their resignations are Mr Abubakr Ogle (Kenya); Mr Christopher Bazivamo, Ms Hafsa Mossi (Burundi); Ms Patricia Hajabakiga, Jeremy Ngendakumana (Rwanda) and Ms Nusura Tiperu (Uganda).

They claimed they have resigned because of “the crisis of leadership” at the commission which they allege has eroded the credibility of the assembly and EAC in general.

Those who resigned as chairpersons with their respective committees in bracket are Dr Martin Nduwimana (General Purpose Committee), Mr Abubakar Zein (Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution), Ms Dora Byamukama (Legal Rules and Privileges) and Mr Straton Ndikuryayo (Accounts Committee).

From the list, indications are that none of the nine legislators from Tanzania has resigned either as a member of the Eala Commission or as chairperson of the sector committee.

Ms Angela Kizigha, the chairperson of the Communications, Trade and Investment Committee, is not on the list of chairpersons who have tendered their resignations.

Eala sessions in Nairobi will, among other things, deliberate on the EAC Co-operative Bill, 2014 and the EAC Cross Border Legal Practice Bill, 2014. Both bills will be read for the third time.

Eala members will also participate in the EAC Infrastructure Retreat and Summit of the Heads of State. The two events will take place in Nairobi on November 29th and 30th respectively.