The Politics of Transitions in Africa
At the beginning of 2019, voters from Ten African nations were scheduled to vote in general elections. So far, only Nigeria, Senegal, Comoros, South Africa, and Malawi have held elections — but there has been no transfer of power.
Tens of millions of Africans have gone to the polls in an effort to use the ballot box to deepen the quality of democratic governance and bring about political transitions. However, only the Democratic Republic of Congo has had a peaceful transfer of power.
On January 24, Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in as DRC president, marking the country’s first-ever peaceful handover of power after multiple bitterly-disputed elections since the country gained independence from Belgium in 1960.
“Tshisekedi Tshilombo Felix Antoine, elected President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, I do solemnly swear before God and the nation to observe and to defend the constitution and the laws of the republic.”
Perhaps the symbolism of one leader handing over the presidency to another, as Joseph Kabila wrapped the presidential sash around his successor, was in sharp contrast to what we have often seen on the continent.
Omar al-Bashir was ousted as president by the military in April. He ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years before he was overthrown following mass protests that have rocked the country since December. Al-Bashir was one of Africa’s longest serving presidents. The military generals announced that it would set up a transitional military council to run the country for up to two years — but pro-democracy demonstrators are firmly rejecting that plan.
Earlier this month, Sudan’s ex-president Omar al-Bashir appeared before a prosecutor in Khartoum, where he was charged with corruption-related offenses.
In Senegal, President Macky Sall easily won re-election. Senegal has long been viewed as the region’s most stable democracy, with peaceful transitions of power since attaining independence from France in 1960.
It’s worth mentioning that two of the best-known opposition figures were banned from running in February due to corruption convictions that rights groups say were politically motivated.
Also in West Africa, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari took the oath of office in May for a second four-year term to the cheers of many Nigerians who looked forward to a brighter future at the Eagle Square in the heart of Abuja.
Buhari, 76, won with 15.2 million votes. His nearest rival, Atiku Abubakar, trailed by nearly four million votes. The opposition claims that vote-rigging and corruption marred this election. In 2015, Buhari was Nigeria’s first democratically-elected opposition candidate to be handed power from an incumbent president in the nation’s history.
South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in as president is vowing to create jobs and tackle deep-rooted corruption. Ramaphosa, becomes the country’s fourth democratically-elected president since the end of apartheid era in 1994.
Malawian President Peter Mutharika was sworn in last month for a second term after a contentious election marred by allegations of fraud and vote-rigging. Malawi’s opposition rejected the election results; and are calling for countrywide demonstrations over the disputed result. Police have used teargas to disperse protesters gathered in the capital Lilongwe, and in the commercial center Blantyre.