The first week of June in Africa has had its fair share of drama, and a very familiar African Big Man feel to it.
In Egypt the electoral commission Tuesday announced the results of last week’s presidential election. Predictably, ex-army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won with 96.9% of the vote.
A few African Big Men still insist on winning with 90% and more of the vote, but increasingly even the most hardened are becoming shy and lowering their take. In April, Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika contented himself with 81.53% of the vote to win a controversial fourth term.
Turnout in last week’s election, hastily extended to three days amid fears of low turnout, was 47.45%. Sisi’s rival Hamdeen Sabbahi won just three percent of the vote, excluding spoiled ballots. Sisi’s lopsided victory had been certain, with many lauding the retired field marshal as a hero for ending Islamist president Mohamed Morsi’s divisive rule in July.
Yet the lower-than-expected turnout—Sisi himself had urged more voters to come out—signalled a wide segment of the population was apathetic or boycotted the election. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, crushed by a massive crackdown following his overthrow and detention, boycotted the polls.
Next door in Libya, a rogue former general has also been hogging the news. Khalifa Haftar, who has led repeated deadly assaults on jihadists in second city Benghazi, escaped a suicide attack on Wednesday, one of his commanders told AFP.
But three loyalists of the former general and longtime US exile were killed in the attack on a villa outside the eastern city, the commander said. It is the first attack against Haftar since he launched his offensive, dubbed “Operation Dignity,” aimed at eradicating “terrorists” in Benghazi on May 16.
As Haftar battled on and Sisi made his presidential debut, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) a high-powered group of special envoys were nudging President Joseph Kabila to fix a date for presidential polls in 2016, amid concerns he will seek a third term at the head of the conflict-torn nation.
“We already have a calendar for local elections, we really want to have a global election calendar until December 2016,” said UN envoy and former Irish president Mary Robinson at a press conference late Tuesday.
The envoys from the United Nations, African Union, European Union and United States wrapped up a two-day trip to evaluate the peace process in the Great Lakes region with a meeting with election commission chief Father Apollinaire Malu-Malu.
The DRC, a country nearly the size of western Europe perched atop massive natural resources, has been shattered by decades of strife and human rights abuses, particularly in the east.
Wait a long time
The envoys will have to wait for long to hear from Kabila, especially if he is planning to make a dash for a third term. Surprise would be his advantage, and he wouldn’t like to give his rivals enough time to prepare to foil him.
It was a familiar story too in Niger, where six opposition figures, including a former government minister, were charged with “violating the security of the state” Tuesday and remanded in custody.
The six are close to parliament speaker Hama Amadou, seen by his followers as the principal rival of President Mahamadou Issoufou in presidential elections due in 2016.
Among the six are former health minister Soumana Sanda, former Niamey mayor Oumarou Dogari, retired army colonel Abdourahamane Saidou, Amadou Salah, an MP for the Nigerien Democratic Movement (Moden). Moden is headed by Amadou. Since May 21, about 44 Moden activists have been arrested.
Another troubled nation, Somalia, got a diplomatic shot in the arm when Undersecretary Wendy Sherman told a US think tank Tuesday said that President Barack Obama is set to name the first American ambassador to the country since the civil war erupted over 20 years ago.
US low point
Although the US never formally severed ties, the embassy in Mogadishu was closed in 1991 as Somalia descended into chaos amid a bloody power struggle among brutal warlords.
The low point for the US came in 1993 when Americans were anguished by scenes of the bodies of US soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by a mob after Somali militants shot down two Black Hawk helicopters. Eighteen Americans died, and 80 were wounded.
But there was no such relief for France or Frenchman Serge Lazarevic, kidnapped in Mali by Al-Qaeda in 2011. Lazarevic appeared in a video aired on Tuesday by Dubai-based Alaan television urging French President Francois Hollande to act to secure his release. Lazarevic, flanked by armed men, said the video was being recorded on May 13.
He is the last French hostage worldwide still being held. The 50-year-old was kidnapped by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) on November 24, 2011, along with Philippe Verdon who was found shot dead last July.
It was left to the war-torn Central Africa Republic (CAR). Text messages are now considered a security threat and their use in the country has been suspended, the telecommunications ministry said Tuesday.
No SMS here
Mobile phone users in the Central African Republic who try to send text messages are getting the response: “SMS not allowed”. “The use of any SMS by all mobile phone subscribers is suspended from Monday June 2, 2014, until further notice,” the ministry said in a letter to mobile phone operators in the conflict-torn country.
It said Prime Minister Andre Nzapayeke made the decision. Since last week there has been a resurge of violence in the capital Bangui, as well as a call for a general strike relayed by SMS in the past few days.
The deeply impoverished country has been struggling to restore security in the face of relentless tit-for-tat attacks between Christian vigilante groups and mostly Muslim ex-Seleka rebels who seized control in a coup last year but were forced from power in January.
In violence-wracked South Sudan, the news got from bad to worse. An outbreak of cholera has spread outside the capital Juba for the first time since the deadly disease appeared last month, health officials said Tuesday.
The outbreak has become an additional source of concern in the country, already at risk of famine triggered by a nearly six-month-old civil war between President Salva Kiir and rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.
The outbreak has already claimed 27 lives with 1,124 infected, South Sudan’s Health Minister Riek Gai Kok added, saying that new cases had been confirmed south and southwest of Juba, as well as in Jonglei and Upper Nile states to the north—the scene of heavy fighting in recent months. Heavy rains are sweeping the impoverished country, hampering aid efforts.