Monday,18 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1405, ( 9 - 15 August 2018)
Monday,18 February, 2019
Issue 1405, ( 9 - 15 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Tales of African crises

Zimbabwe and Mali are two sides of the same African coin, with recent presidential elections being a case in point


Tales of African crises
Tales of African crises

Presidential elections in Africa rarely pass quietly, writes Haitham Nouri. The typical scenario is as follows: the loser accuses the winner and his regime of forging the results, resorts to the judiciary, picks up arms or boycotts the second round, foregoing his political earnings.

This is exactly what happened in Zimbabwe and Mali. Despite the different circumstances of the two countries, they both suffer acute political and economic crises.

Zimbabwe, in continuous battle against racism, held the first presidential polls after the ouster on 21 November of Robert Mugabe, who had ruled the country for 37 years since its independence. It was hoped the recent elections will bring about the change Zimbabweans needed after years of political oppression.

Competing in the elections to choose the president and parliament members were the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. ZANU-PF’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, won the presidency against his opponent, 40-year-old opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.

A former deputy to Mugabe who has been in political circles for the past three decades, Mnangagwa claimed 50.8 per cent of the vote, while Chamisa, a church pastor and lawyer, won 44.3 per cent of the ballots cast.

In the parliamentary elections, out of 210 seats ZANU-PF won 144 and the Movement for Democratic Change won 61.

Voting day was calm, but demonstrations erupted soon after in the capital Harare, leaving a number of people dead. Security forces arrested 24 on charges of vandalism and police stormed the headquarters of the Movement for Democratic Change, arresting 21 for “practising violence in public places”.

The US condemned police violence in the aftermath of the elections, while calling on the winner to show “magnanimity” and the opposition to show “graciousness in defeat”.

Former colonial power, the UK, said it “remains deeply concerned by the violence following the elections and the disproportionate response from the security forces”.

Mnangagwa defended his legitimacy saying the election process was “free, fair and documented”. On Monday, he said the elections were “a new start for a Zimbabwe for all”.

The new Zimbabwean president promised an independent investigation into last week’s violence. He condemned police brutality that resulted in delaying Chamisa’s press conference, saying this behaviour “has no place in our society”.

In response, Chamisa tweeted: “We won but they declared the opposite. You voted but they cheated.” The opposition leader is legally challenging the election results. A ruling should be made within 14 days.

Zimbabwe is suffering a host of economic crises prime among which are unemployment, inflation, lack of investment and the collapse of the agricultural sector. Zimbabwe is also still suffering from the time Mugabe’s supporters invaded white-owned farms and evicted their owners, often violently.

“The opposition is finding it difficult to accept the electoral results after suffering under Mugabe’s one-party rule for 37 years,” said Mahmoud Abul-Enein, a professor of political science at Cairo University’s Institute of African Research. “It’s time for a new start for Zimbabwe,” he added, anticipating upheaval, especially in the countryside.

“Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF know Zimbabwe’s economy is failing and that it needs the international community on its side. The spread of violence will not serve Mnangagwa,” added Abul-Enein. “The real challenge is not political representation but reviving the economy. The challenge will not be overcome until both the winner and loser cooperate.”

In Mali, three opposition presidential candidates have appealed to the nation’s Constitutional Court to investigate allegations of “ballot box stuffing”. In the first round, the incumbent president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, 73, won 41.42 per cent of the votes, while contender Soumaila Cissé claimed 17.8 per cent of the votes cast.

Keita and Cissé will face off in the second round 12 August.

Cissé’s spokesman said the opposition leader submitted 20 allegations of irregularities to the Constitutional Court on Saturday. “Ballot box stuffing explains the tallies Keita won in the north and centre,” Cissé said. He presented a plea to “recuse six judges on suspicion of bias, including court president Manassa Danioko”.

Cissé invited the other 22 presidential candidates who exited from the first round to form “a democratic front against fraud and for the sake of change” and to declare their support for him.

In the 2013 presidential elections Cissé lost against Keita by a wide margin.

The national elections committee said 43 per cent of the people eligible to vote cast their ballots in the first round of elections, 29 July. This percentage is the highest in a long time in a country where the majority of the people live in remote areas in the countryside. The European Union pressured the Malian government to present a list of registered polling stations where no voting had taken place.

The first round of elections witnessed acts of violence and threats by armed groups, resulting in the closure of hundreds of balloting stations, especially in areas where the government has no stronghold.

During the past three years Keita’s government has repeatedly announced a state of emergency to fight terrorist Islamist groups in the north, which led to the disruption of the 2015 peace accord signed between the Malian government and two coalitions of armed groups that were fighting the government and against each other, namely the Coordination of Azawad Movements and the Platform.

Mali has been unstable in the past few years due to recurrent terrorist attacks. A French military force is centred in the north. Bamako receives US and European aide to fight terrorism. Discord has marred the north since an extremist group announced its secession. One of its leaders is being prosecuted at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Timbuktu, north of the Niger River, was an Islamic cultural hub for West Africa before the Western colonialism of the 19th century. It was destroyed at the hands of religious extremists.

According to World Bank figures, the majority of Mali’s population live on less than $2 a day, making it one of the world’s poorest countries.

Most of Africa’s countries are suffering from economic problems that seem to have no end in near sight, while they are beset by tribal, ethnic or religious divisions that make development impossible.

Africa is going around in circles: development requires unity, and divisions hinder economic growth. Such is the tragic tale of Africa.

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