Outlook on African elections 2016: Where there may be surprises, and where the good old ways will remain

At least 17 countries have set presidential polls this year, most are likely to proceed fairly smoothly. You can (partly) thank Buhari for that

THE year 2015 ended with the swearing in of Roch Marc Kabore as Burkina Faso president, marking the close of an often-troubled but ultimately successful transition that began with street protests in Ouagadougou and Bobo Dioulasso more than a year ago that ousted strongman Blaise Compaore.

This week, Central African Republic (CAR) is awaiting final results from an election it held on December 30, as the conflict-plagued country hopes to replicate Burkina Faso’s success. If there is no outright winner, a second round of voting may by held on January 31.

It’s just one of more than a dozen elections that Africa will be holding this year: At least 17 countries have scheduled presidential polls, and most of these elections are likely to carry on fairly smoothly, with limited violence or dramatic fraud, carrying on from the trend set in 2015 and earlier. 

The victory of Muhammadu Buhari in Nigeria in particular seemed to re-energise the continent in its imagining a new script of how Africa elections can be contested.

No surprises

But expect no surprises in the Republic of Congo, where Denis Sassou-Nguesso is almost certain to win, having successfully changed over  the constitution over protests to allow himself a third term.

Neither shall there be any upsets in Djibouti, where Omar Guelleh will extend his tenure as his small country seeks to maximize on its strategic importance – the country hosts the US’ only full military base in Africa; China is also looking to establish a footprint there.

In Uganda, Yoweri Museveni is also nearly sure to extend his 30-year rule – nearly 80% of Uganda’s population today has known no other president. But the election itself will most likely be marred by violence and fraud, as of old, if the party primaries are anything to go by.

And in DR Congo, the election is scheduled for December, but it is looking unlikely that the election will be held at all. 

Last year, street protests erupted in Kinshasa when president Joseph Kabila began maneouvering to have a census called before the election, which would be a daunting logistical feat in a country notorious for its terrible infrastructure-  by some estimates, conducting a census would take at least three years to accomplish. That was seen as an underhand move to extend his term until 2018 at least. 

Kabila relented, but it is likely to have been a mere tactical retreat, rather than giving up altogether.

Still, broadly speaking, third term maneuverings are likely to have run their course in Africa, at least for the moment. With Kabila (possibly), Sassou-Nguesso, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza having successfully extended their time at the helm, that wave may have crested in central Africa.


There may be surprises in Ghana and Zambia, which have been hit hard by the downward commodity spiral, currency stress and slumping economic growth, though the blow in Ghana was lessened somewhat by the intervention of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Zambia went down on its knees to pray for the kwacha, and may soon turn to the IMF too, if the crunch continues.

Presidents John Mahama and Edgar Lungu are up for re-election, and with the current economic pain, voters may just pull an upset and show them the door. Both are countries with records of incumbents losing and accepting defeat.

And in Zimbabwe, Algeria and Angola, although their respective leaders aren’t up for re-election, their time at the helm may be brought to a finale by the simple passage of time.

Robert Mugabe will be 92 this February, and is showing signs of being increasingly frail, even as his inner circle – led by his wife Grace – swear that he can rule even from a wheelchair, as a power struggle in the ruling ZANU-PF party swirls around him.

Which, incidentally, is just what Algeria’s president Abdelaziz Bouteflika seems to be doing. He has rarely been seen in public after voting in 2014, wheelchair-bound; Bouteflika, 78, has suffered two strokes in recent years.

Rumours about his health have persisted even as uncertainty rattles his country’s economy, already reeling from a dip in global oil prices.

In December, a power struggle within the small, closed elite that has ruled Algeria for decades spilled out in the open; the president remains so sequestered that a group of his close associates publicly demanded to see him to make sure he was still calling the shots, the New York Times reports – none of them have met with him in more than a year.

A meeting was not granted, and suspicions are mounting that a clique within the ruling clique, led by the president’s brother, Saïd Bouteflika, has effectively carried out an internal coup and is running the country in the president’s name.

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