Presidential term limits are a slippery thing. Occasionally they can seem like a good idea. Most of the time though, not so much. That’s what makes these five upcoming African elections so riveting.
President Joseph Kabila has been in power since 2001 after his father was assassinated. He could face multiple challenges in 2017. The country’s political parties struck a last-minute deal in late 2016 to pave the way for the first peaceful transfer of power for the DRC since its independence in 1960. But it remains a big uncertainty if the Congolese officials can organize an election by the end of 2017 — they were unable to do so last year.
Some critics believe that Kabila may renege on his promise and find a way to prevent elections in 2017. The avenues for doing such are vast: (1) Lack of funding for elections by the end of 2017. (2) Declaring a state of emergency if violence breaks out. (3) Renewed negotiations over Kabila’s exit due to his concerns that he will not receive fair treatment once outside the presidential office.
Kabila won elections in 2006 and 2011. An election was originally scheduled for mid-September 2016. His last day in office was supposed to be Dec. 19. Didn’t happen.
Despite the potential for another delay of the Congolese election, the deal allows us to consider the outcome. One part of the discussion is the influential former governor of the Katanga province, Moïse Katumbi, who resigned from the ruling party in 2015. Speculation around his participation in the next election may only be settled once an election date is set.
How many G7 signatories will run? The G7 are the seven party leaders from within the ruling DRC alliance that signed an open letter in 2015 urging Kabila to not run for a second term. The signatories 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. Potential candidates from this list and beyond could get interesting if Katumbi does not build the grand coalition on the ground that his supporters are envisioning.
Who will win? The Congolese people win if there is an election. If Kabila is out, then this election is Katumbi’s to lose.
The election planned for Aug. 8, 2017, is going to have people on the edge of their seats. Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto have history on their side. All incumbent presidents in Kenya since independence won second terms, including Uhuru’s father Jomo Kenyatta. Jomo was Kenya’s first president and won three consecutive elections. Critics will argue that the situation favors Kenyatta with many Kenyans. A recent poll from Infotrak Research and Consulting shows that more than 60 percent of the respondents worry about 2017 election violence. Some locals quietly fret that change could spell backlash and create violence.
All the fears, however, may slowly die before the election with the opposition relying on the recent victories and peaceful transitions in other African democracies, especially Nigeria and Ghana. The opposition is arguing that Kenyans are not benefiting as they should from economic growth while Kenyan lawmakers are well paid (similar to the argument made in Nigeria’s election), how corruption is widespread (also similar to the argument made in Nigeria’s election), and that change can be made now in a peaceful manner (a rather simple but important promise from Ghana’s new president Nana Akufo Addo in the recent election). The uncertainty around the opposition’s ability to win and traction with the public still centers on Raila Odinga, the 72-year-old son of Kenya’s first vice president. Opponents of Kenyatta are have to decide whether Odinga has the ability to rally support and coalesce the opposition as he makes his fourth run for the presidency. He previously ran in 1997, 2007, and 2013. If Odinga is not standard bearer for the opposition, then Kenyatta’s chances will drastically rise.
Who will win? The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) wins if the election is peaceful — if the IEBC can prevent any violence, ease the ethnic polarization, and simply appear as a strong and fair administrator in the election process. Expect the IEBC to do all of those things and more. It’s hard to see Uhuru Kenyatta losing a second term, but do plan for a race tighter than any observer can imagine.
If the Kenya election has people on the edge of their seats, the Liberian election on Oct. 10 will have people being reflective more than anything else. It’s the end of the presidency for Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf — Africa’s first female president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, stalwart in the economic rebuilding in Liberia, and overall appreciated figure in the fight against Ebola. Her departure will leave some international and local spectators in a haze. The reality is that the next leader will still face an uphill battle, despite the current president’s success, in restoring economic hope with low commodity prices likely to hang over the country’s economy.
There has been a lack of debate and public discussion on candidates. Many critics suggest that contestants in the 2017 election are worried about critiquing the current president. Johnson-Sirleaf is popular. Many are unsure on how to grade the administration and worry about making promises to constituents knowing that the next president will be hamstrung by a limited national budget. That said, a few competitors are key to watch.
Vice President Joseph Boakai will likely lead the ruling party but will need Johnson-Sirleaf to articulate her successes so that the base will buy in. There’s an Obama-Clinton-esque feel to this aspect of the election for the ruling party. There’s some irony in this description for the country founded by free blacks who fled from the U.S. Former Liberian soccer player and current Senator George Weah will be a front runner, having contested in the 2005 and 2011 elections. His policy focuses are on improved education, in particular vocation training, religious peace and economic growth. A wild card may be Jewel Howard-Taylor, the ex wife of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was convicted in 2012 of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity. Jewel is viewed as the second most powerful woman in Liberian politics, having been twice elected senator from Bong County. The county has the third-highest number of registered voters in Liberia. Others to watch include former Coca-Cola executive Alexander Cummings, the former governor of the Central Bank of Liberia Mills Jones, and Liberian attorney Charles Brumskine.
Who will win? This looks like an election made for the opposition to win. Brumskine, who finished third in 2005 election, is very popular and could leapfrog Senator Weah. It will be close and the current president will have to do a lot to ensure her party does not finish third at the end of the day.
The ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) will most likely win in elections scheduled for August 2017. But how the party’s victory plays out will be the thing to watch. The MPLA has elected João Lourenco, a former defense minister and vice president of the MLPA, to be the standard bearer for the party. He has the support of outgoing President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
The departure of dos Santos seems anticlimactic for his critics. His announcement in December 2016 to step down as president before the 2017 elections came as a surprise to supporters and detractors. The dos Santos family will not disappear from the scene. The president’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos, is not only the richest woman in Angola but the entire African continent. She is the chairwoman of the Angolan state oil company Sonangol. She will be charged with charting a path forward for the company, especially under a new administration, with the state and the company’s balance sheets holding a significant amount of debt. The president’s son, Jose Filomeno de Sousa dos Santo,s serves as chairman of Fundo Soberano de Angola, the country’s sovereign wealth fund. He has performed relatively well despite the hit to the country’s coffers from low oil prices.
The question is less who wins, but how does this election change the country? The 2017 elections will be a positive for the Angolan people despite a lack of formidable opposition looking forward. Change nevertheless will be good for the MPLA. That said, critics observing the election will be looking to see if the system is maturing. Is the Angola democracy becoming more democratic? A positive conclusion there would be a game-changer for the country’s reputation.
This election in August 2017 will have all the intrigue but lack the surprise. President Paul Kagame will win. He has critics and admirers with drastically different views on how he is allowed to run, why he will win, how he will win, and whether he deserves to win. Writing good stuff about Kagame will earn you some annoyed response emails. I can attest to this. But the reality for voters is he has many positives and, as a media- and generally message-savvy politician, he ensures those positives are the first and most consistent discussion points about him and Rwanda.
Rwanda has seen amazing economic development, poverty reduction, youth employment growth, and general technological and economic transformation under Kagame. Those are positives most leaders would die to have associated with their name. At the same time, Kagame is also accused of silencing opposition (and in a few instances, accused of assassination). This election will not be about Kagame. It will be about whether the opposition has a genuine, well-thought voice and strategy and whether Kagame engages that opposition in creating a stronger Rwanda.
Who will win? Kagame, Kagame, Kagame…but the people win if Kagame and the opposition can generate more debate — a sign of a maturing democracy.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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