By Paul Ndiho
There were multiple peaceful power transitions across Africa in 2018, including Liberia, Sierra Leone and Mali. There are unprecedented political reforms ongoing in Ethiopia following a head-of-state change. South Africa and Zimbabwe also changed power peacefully. But 2019 is starting off differently, with an attempted coup in Gabon. Voters in more than 10 African nations are headed to the polls in 2019.
The government in Gabon is firmly in control of the country following a failed coup attempt on January 7th. A small group of military officers had seized a state radio station to broadcast their displeasure with President Ali Bongo, who is allegedly recovering from a reported stroke in Morocco. A government spokesman says the rebel officers responsible for the coup attempt have been arrested.
The oil-producing African country has been ruled by the Bongo family for nearly half a century, but the president’s re-election in 2016 was marred by deadly protests amid claims of fraud.
In neighboring, Democratic Republic of Congo, people are anxiously awaiting the final official results of the December 30th presidential election. The nation’s electoral commission has delayed the publication of provisional results on Sunday until it had consolidated all the votes it is receiving from the polling stations. The commission says it has received only 50 percent of vote tally sheets — and it was not yet clear when the results would be ready. Residents in the capital city of Kinshasa are not happy.
The delay is the latest setback in a disorganized poll to elect a successor to President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the country of 80 million people since his father, Laurent, was assassinated in 2001.
President Kabila announced in August 2018, that he would abide by the constitution and step aside, opening the door to the Central African nation’s first democratic transfer of power.
In Sudan, demonstrations calling for President Omar al-Bashir to step down continued for the third week. The anti-government protests first erupted in mid-December over inflation, and soaring food and fuel prices.
The human rights group, Amnesty International, says 37 people have been killed in the protests.
Meanwhile, the international foundation for electoral systems projects that more than 10 African nations will hold general elections in 2019. Tens of millions of voters are hoping to use the ballot to deepen the quality of democratic governance.
Nigeria has Africa’s biggest economy, and voters there head to the polls for general elections on February 16th. Political observers are predicting a tight race between incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and his chief challenger, former vice-president Atiku Abubakar. Buhari, 75 has been in office since 2015, and has fought an uphill battle to corral rampant corruption during his tenure.
The stakes are high in South Africa as voters gear up for general elections in May. This will be the sixth election held since the end of the apartheid system. The African National Congress party, which has ruled since 1994, is facing an uphill battle to retain its dominance — and is proposing constitutional changes to address land issues.
South African president Cyril Ramaphosa says the proposed land reform is a lawful process that seeks to correct the legacy of decades of white minority rule that stripped blacks of their land.
A national rebranding is underway in Ethiopia as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has embarked on a series of reforms since taking office in April 2018. He’s tapped women to head top leadership positions while cracking down on corruption. Perhaps, most shockingly Prime Minister Abiy has made peace with once sworn enemy, Eritrea — ending decades of war and mistrust.
Political analysts say while these trends are encouraging, most of Africa’s young generation is yearning for change, especially in countries where some of the world’s longest-serving leaders continue to hold power.