“Super Day” of Elections in Africa

On March 21, six different African countries went to the polls: Niger, Republic of the Congo, Benin, Cape Verde, Tanzania’s Zanzibar island, and Senegal.

In Niger, the Congo, Benin, and Zanzibar, the elections were for the presidencies, while in Senegal the election was actually a referendum on limiting the of years in a presidential term from seven to five, and in Cape Verde the elections were for parliament.

Starting with the most uplifting vote, in Benin, the opposition was voted into power, and, in a rare turn for African elections, the incumbent president was the first to announce his defeat, and then proceeded to immediately congratulate his opponent and wish him well. If only more presidents did this!

Zanzibar is voting separate from the rest of Tanzania because the head of the Zanzibar electoral commission annulled the October Zanzibar results due to as yet unproven  allegations of fraud. The main opposition party in Zanzibar protested this move, and are boycotting this second election. Everyone is a bit on edge, and violence is not out of the question. Although a new regional president has now been elected, the leader of the opposition is still protesting the result. Even with these second elections over, the tensions will continue.

In Niger, the main opposition candidate was absent in hospital, and unsurprisingly in this barely free country, the incumbent, President Issoufou won. Since the results have been announced, he has stated he wants to form a “unity” government, but what that will be remains to be seen. Why was his main opponent in a French hospital? Because he was seeking treatment following months of imprisonment in Niger.

In Cape Verde, the opposition party won the majority of seats in Parliament for the first time in 15 years. Unclear how this will change presidential politics, for which there is meant to be an election sometime this year.

In the Republic of the Congo, the government suspended all cell-phone access for two days before the vote “to ensure security.” Given this environment, it’s not surprising that the current president has “won” the election. Since then, a famous and secretive “Ninja” militia has engaged in violence with government forces: this is definitely an unfolding situation.

Although official results are not quite in for Senegal, all information points towards the referendum being a “yes” for the reduction of presidential term times along with many other democratic tweaks.

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