From now through 2016, many countries in Africa will conduct presidential and legislative elections. Five elections will be high on our watch list. Here are the top five elections to watch in Africa and predictions for 2015.
The Central African Republic (CAR) is scheduled to hold presidential elections on Dec. 27, with the vote preceded by a referendum that was held on Dec. 13 on a proposed new constitution that would limit future presidents to two five-year terms in office. A presidential runoff, if necessary, will be held on Jan. 31, 2016.
At least two people died in Sunday’s referendum and 20 were wounded when fighting broke out in a Muslim enclave of the capital Bangui.
France led the international community in pushing for these elections to contend with the growing instability in the country. CAR still struggles to overcome the March 2013 coup led by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels against former president General Francois Bozizé, a Christian. The coup, followed by the militia style killing rampages in Christian communities, triggered the rise of anti-balaka (anti-machete) militias. Parliament appointed Catherine Samba-Panza as the country’s transitional president in January 2014 after another coup overthrew Michel Djotodia who led the Seleka rebels.
This month’s announcement of election followed the outbreak of new violence in the capital Bangui between Muslim and Christian groups. Previous elections in CAR have been overshadowed by officials’ inability to slow the violence (and increase security), incorporate the outlying regions, and create an environment of confidence around the results. This election has the potential to be different. The U.N. is currently running a peacekeeping operation in CAR previously initiated by the African Union with hopes of stabilizing the country, especially before the election.
General Bozizé, who himself took office through a coup in 2010, will stand as the presidential candidate for the Kwa Na Kwa (KNK) party. Bozize’s former Prime Minister Faustin Archange Touadera will also stand in the election. Samba-Penza is prevented from running. Will Djotodia, reappointed as leader of Seleka, return? Expect a runoff with at least one former president having a chance to retake office. Expect a lot to change before Dec. 27, including the date of the election.
One more presidential election may not exactly be what Zambians imagined. Presidential elections will take place in 2016 after the current President Edgar Lungu won a special election in January 2015. Credit should be given to Lungu for his efforts in pushing the election’s approval and giving the Zambian people an opportunity to elect a president for a full five-year term in a regular election cycle. Former president Michael Sata’s death Oct. 28, 2014, set up the country’s installation of Vice President Guy Scott, a white Zambian, as acting president. Then Lungu was elected in January 2015.
The 2016 election could very much be Zambia’s most contention in modern time. Lungu will likely lead the Patriotic Front into this election. He will have to defend the dire economic situation against business friendly Hakainde Hichilema, who arguably has been planting the seed for his rerun as the United Party for National Development (UPND) presidential candidate since he lost to Lungu in the special election. His candidacy will benefit from a low copper price, which is stifling large infrastructure projects and every other sector in the economy, as well as continuous power outages and an overall decline in economic confidence among Zambians.
Who will win? Hard to predict for September 2016. But, if the current economic situation persists into mid-2016, Hichilema will be feeling confident.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni took office after a coup in 1985. Having been in power for nearly 30 years, Museveni is tried and tested in the political process. But he may be facing his strongest challenge since a referendum introduced multiparty elections in 2005.
There are eight presidential candidates with three garnering the greatest attention: Museveni; Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister; and Kizza Besigye, a long-standing opposition leader who was Museveni’s doctor in the civil wars of the 1980s.
Besigye has stood in three elections since 2001. He was recently released from house arrest and was also arrested during each of three past election cycles. Each candidate recently held rallies as reported by the Economist, but the excitement is likely overstated as turnout was down to 59 percent in 2011, compared to 71 percent in 2001. Many estimates suggest that turnout may barely pass the 50-percent mark in the 2016 election.
One thing is sure. Ugandans are frustrated with current state of the country. More than 55 percent live on less than $1.90 per day, which is the World Banks’ new level of extreme poverty. Less than 50 percent of Ugandans are finishing primary school and health care has a way to go in improving. Recent oil discoveries in the northern and western regions of Uganda and a proposed Uganda-Kenya pipeline (with Tullow Oil, Total and CNOOC) are an opportunity for changing the current situation and funding that change. Who will lead Uganda through that change? Museveni still looks set to win the election but expect a more contentious process this time around.
One of the later elections in the year will be Ghana’s presidential election in December 2016. It is also one of the elections where candidates are already positioning a year ahead of schedule. It will be a much-contested election between the Convention People’s Party (CPP), the National Democratic Congress (NDC) led by incumbent President John Dramani Mahama, and the New Patriotic Party (NPP).
The CPP offers an interesting candidate if current CPP Chairwoman Samia Nkrumah chooses to run as the party’s candidate. Nkrumah is the first woman to head a major Ghanaian political party and also daughter of the first president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah. Although her charismatic approach and appeal to women and youth gives her party a new hope, it may still be too early to give the CPP the best shot to leap the NPP and become the primary challenger to Mahama.
Nana Akufo-Addo, the NPP candidate for president in 2008 and 2012, will face challenges from within his party. These include Boakye Agyarko, a former banker, and John Alan Kyerematen, former minister of trade and industry and former Ghanaian Ambassador to the U.S. Kyerematen placed second to Addo for NPP leadership in 2010 and 2014. Whoever leads the NPP into the race will have economic ammunition.
The NDC has performed well in completing the greater infrastructure projects and responding to the International Monetary Fund’s request for economic reform. The country is now under a three-year program worth $918 million.
That being said, many Ghanaians partially blame the NDC for the current economic situation. The country’s debt situation is unpredictable with foreign currency debt at 60 percent of total debt. Foreign currency is down more than 15 percent in 2015 and inflation is expected to surpass 16 percent by the end of the year compared to the initial projection of 11.5 percent.
What does this mean? NPP still has an uphill battle. Early polling suggests a Mahama victory but the election is 12 months away. So we can expect a lot to change.
President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, will face multiple challenges in 2016. First, will he be allowed to run for a third term, which is not allowed under the current constitution? The opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) has broken off talks with Kabila over this constitutional challenge. Secondly, the influential governor of the Katanga province, Moïse Katumbi, resigned from the ruling party. Will Katumbi challenge Kabila? It is not clear at the moment.
And lastly, seven party leaders from within the ruling alliance signed an open letter urging Kabila to not run for a second term. The signatories of the letter, known as G7, include Social Movement for Renewal (MSR) party president Pierre Lumbi, Planning Minister Olivier Kamitatu, José Endundu, Member of Parliament Christophe Lutundula, and three leaders from Katanga — Charles Mwando-Simba, Kyungu wa Kumanza and Dany Banza. It is an unexpected mix of political thinkers of different ages and background. All were expelled from office.
All in all, it is hard to imagine what may happen by November 2016. Critics already contest the schedule that puts local provincial elections, governors’ elections and the presidential and legislative election all in the same year.
Be prepared for a constant change of plans and expectations, including a possible change of the election dates, through mid-2016.
Kurt Davis Jr. is an investment banker focusing on the natural resources and energy sectors, with private equity experience in emerging economies. He earned a law degree in tax and commercial law at the University of Virginia’s School of Law and a master’s of business administration in finance, entrepreneurship and operations from the University of Chicago. He can be reached at email@example.com.