Under the Radar: Summer Edition

Sub-Saharan Africa’s 49 countries rarely receive equal attention. The international media and analysts privilege the region’s biggest economies and troubled spots, neglecting political, economic, and security developments in other countries. Director Judd Devermont and senior associate Ryan Cummings address this disparity in the CSIS Africa Program’s new series, “Under the Radar,” revealing insights on countries that seldom grab headlines. 

Central African Republic: Bozize’s Bid

Former Central African Republic (CAR) president and perennial coup plotter Francois Bozize wants his old job back, presenting another challenge to CAR’s presidential election this December.

Bozize, who served as president from 2003 until his ouster in 2013, recently announced that he was running for president. Despite his involvement in two coup d’etats, being under UN sanctions, and facing an international arrest warrant for alleged crimes against humanity, Bozize retains some public support, including from armed groups, and brokered an alliance with several opposition parties. If his candidacy is accepted by the election commission and courts, he will face off against his former prime minister (and current president) Faustin-Archange Touadera, former interim president Catherine Samba-Panza, and possibly former junta leader Michel Djotodia.

Bozize’s entry into the race coincides with the deterioration of the peace agreement between the government and rebel militias and a rising number of Covid-19 cases in the country. The UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix in June sounded the alarm about the country’s fragility, warning that the upcoming election would be a “test for all.” Since 2014, the United Nations has supported 14,000 peacekeepers in addressing the security, humanitarian, human rights, and political crises in CAR.

Photo: hdptcar/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Cote d’Ivoire: Third-term Temptations

After pledging to transfer power to a “younger generation,” Ivoirian president Alassane Ouattara is running for a third presidential term, potentially endangering his political legacy and Cote d’Ivoire’s stability.

Ouattara’s reentry to the presidential race follows the July 8 death of prime minister and Ouattara’s handpicked successor Amadou Gon Coulibaly. Coulibaly’s passing—from natural causes—left the ruling coalition, Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), with no presidential candidate for the country’s presidential polls in October. During a July 29 congress in Abidjan, however, the RHDP unanimously elected Ouattara to stand as its candidate—a nomination the president subsequently accepted. Ouattara tacitly acknowledged the reputational, political, and security repercussions of standing for election a third time, claiming that “this decision represents a real sacrifice.” Cote d’Ivoire’s 2016 Constitution allows a head of state to serve only two terms in office, a clause Ouattara argues excludes the presidential terms he has already served.

This perception has been challenged by opposition figures such as former president Henri Konan Bedie, who cited Ouattara’s attempts to seek reelection as “illegal” and warned that “many people would be willing to oppose this candidacy” when questioned on the anticipated civil response to Ouattara’s presidential ambitions.

Photo: CSIS/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Guinea: Protesting Conde

Resistance to Guinean president Alpha Conde is simmering across the country as Conde seeks reelection for a third consecutive term in the October 18 elections.

The Front National Pour la Défense de la Constitution (FNDC), a political and civil society organization, is spearheading the opposition to Conde’s third term. Although unsuccessful in preventing Conde from amending the constitution, in July the FNDC resumed anti-Conde protests following a suspension on such gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Also posing a threat to Conde’s political ambitions is the Le Mouvement Citoyen Pour l’Électrification de la Haute Guinée (MEHG), which announced its formation in early July. The civil society group has threatened to prevent presidential elections from taking place in Upper Guinea—Conde’s main base of support—should the president fail to connect the entire region to electricity.

Protests by the FNDC and MEHG are expected to intensify ahead of the October polls, and both groups remain at risk of significant state suppression, rendering Guinea’s political landscape highly volatile over the electoral period.

Photo: Aboubacarkhoraa/wikimedia

Mozambique: Felipe’s Fortitude

After a decisive victory in the presidential leg of Mozambique’s October 2019 general elections, President Felipe Nyusi has made headway in countering detractors both within and outside of the ruling Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO) party.

Loyalists of Nyusi’s predecessor, Armando Guebuza, have challenged the incumbent president on the basis of his lack of credentials in the country’s liberation struggle. Guebuza loyalists are particularly critical of Nyusi’s intent to broker peace with the Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO) opposition movement, with which FRELIMO fought a 15-year civil war (1977-1992). Nyusi and RENAMO counterpart Ossufo Momade signed a peace agreement on August 1, 2019, which has ushered in a tentative peace following six years of a low-level insurgency waged by RENAMO.

Nyusi has managed to keep the agreement on track despite RENAMO challenging FRELIMO’s landslide victories in both legs of the ballot—a dual outcome that exonerated Nyusi’s management of the RENAMO challenge. The president’s standing also seems to unaffected by the low-level attacks from a RENAMO breakaway faction calling itself the RENAMO Military Junta, which has rejected the peace agreement and is active in Mozambique’s central provinces.

Despite consolidating power, Nyusi will need to overcome several key challenges which could threaten the stability of his government. The foremost of these are an extremist insurgency in the country’s gas-rich Cabo Delgado province, the management of Mozambique’s coronavirus outbreak, and reestablishing foreign donor confidence, which has been diluted by Mozambique’s so-called “tuna bond” scandal.

Photo: Chatham House/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Namibia: Something’s Rotten

Namibian president Hage Geingob’s government is reeling from an unfolding corruption scandal, casting a shadow over the president’s second term.

Just a few weeks before Namibia’s sixth presidential elections in November 2019, an investigation based on documents provided by WikiLeaks found that the minister of fisheries and minister of justice received bribes in return for giving Samherji, one of Iceland's largest fishing companies, preferential access to Namibia’s rich fishing grounds. Geingob forced the resignation of the ministers and went on to win 56 percent of the vote in his party’s worst electoral performance since independence in 1990.

Geingob, who also is grappling with the Covid-19 outbreak and a severe economic contraction, has been unable to shake the “fishrot” scandal. As recently as July 12, the president denied that his party, South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO), had directly received campaign financing from the Icelandic company. At the same time, he refused to distance himself from his former ministers, saying “I don't think they're guilty. They're not found guilty yet.” The president’s statement was a response to testimonies during the bail hearing alleging that SWAPO had access to illegal funds ahead of its 2017 electoral congress.

As the trial moves to the next phase and new corruption allegations surface, Geingob will face pressure to address corruption in his party and the broader political class. In June, a city councilor, who belongs to an opposition party, alleged that she was offered a bribe by a colleague to ensure Chinese tech giant Huawei would build the 5G telecommunication network in Windhoek. Namibians regard corruption as a major problem, with 42 percent of individuals surveyed indicating that most or all government officials are involved in corruption, according to an Afrobarometer poll from 2017-18.

Photo: GovernmentZA/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sierra Leone: Divisive Days Ahead

Sierra Leonean president Julius Maada Bio is escalating his campaign to sideline his rivals, threatening to inflame political tensions and precipitate interparty violence. Maada Bio, a former coup leader who defeated the incumbent party in 2018, has leveraged the country's judicial system to gain a majority in the legislature and prosecute high-profile opponents. He has also benefited from the Anti-Corruption Commission’s active pursuit of the former government officials. Maada Bio’s next move is likely to exploit the government’s release of a white paper on the Commission of Inquiry (COI)’s findings on the previous administration’s corruption. The white paper, which was supposed to be released by the end of July, is expected to outline next steps following COI’s indictment of 84 former officials, including former president Ernest Bai Koroma and former presidential candidate Samura Kamara.

If the government opts to target Koroma, Kamara, and others, it may entrench divisions within the country and even spur interparty violence. The government’s zeal to punish his enemies already misfired. A jury unanimously acquitted former defense minister Alfred Palo Conteh of treason, a charge widely seen as spurious, although he will still serve two years for unlawful possession of a firearm. The government also arrested a journalist (and former minister), Sylvia Blyden, for criticizing Maada Bio's handling of the Covid-19 crisis, an action that resulted in a strong rebuke from international media watchdogs. There has been a spate of violent incidents in recent months, leading to the death of at least 30 people in three riots in separate parts of the country. These riots and clashes are partly related to the pandemic, as well as underlying economic and political tensions. In a televised address in early May, Maada Bio accused the opposition All People’s Congress (APC) party of being behind the violence.

Photo: DFID-Department for International Development/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Judd Devermont is director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Ryan Cummings is a senior associate (non-resident) with the CSIS Africa Program.

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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