By Paul Ndiho

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems says that at least 10 African nations will hold general elections in 2019.  What’s really at stake as these countries use the ballot to deepen the quality of democratic governance?


Tens of millions of people are expecting to vote in more than 10 African nations in 2019, according to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, a Washington DC-based independent organization that supports citizens’ right to participate in free and fair elections in more than 145 countries.

Nigerian voters were scheduled to cast their ballots in the nation’s presidential and parliamentary elections on February 16th. But, just five hours prior to the polls opening, the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission announced a one-week delay in the vote to Saturday, February 23th.  The commission blamed logistical difficulties, including problems in the distribution of ballot and results sheets, as well as sabotage, after three fires at its offices in the last two weeks.

“This was a difficult decision for the commission to take but necessary for the successful delivery of elections and the consolidation of our democracy,”

The two main political parties swiftly accused each other of orchestrating the delay as a way of manipulating the vote, a sentiment echoed by some voters, many of whom had traveled long distances to vote in their hometowns.

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. But his critics say he has failed to deliver on some of the promises he made like stamping out corruption.

In Senegal, voters head to the polls on February 24th where incumbent President Macky Sall is facing four other primary challengers. President Sall, 57, was first elected in 2012, taking the helm of one of West Africa’s most prosperous and stable countries.

Two opposition leaders, former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and ex-minister Karim Wade are barred from running due to previous convictions for misuse of public funds.  Thousands of supporters of both former candidates have staged protests in recent months calling for fair and transparent elections, while challenging the impartiality of the justice and interior ministries.  The former French colony is seen as a model of democracy in the region, having never experienced a coup — and successfully staging peaceful transfers of power in 2000 and 2012.

The stakes are high in South Africa as voters gear-up for general elections on May 8th.  The ruling African National Congress party is looking to reverse its declining popularity due to weak growth, unemployment, and corruption.  The opposition has latched onto ANC corruption as an election trump card.  The ANC, which has ruled since 1994, is facing a tough fight to retain its dominance — and is proposing constitutional changes to address land rights issues. The far-left South Africa Economic Freedom Fighters party has land expropriation and jobs at the top of its election agenda.

Malawians are expected to cast their ballots in tripartite elections on May 21st. Voters will select a President, Members of Parliament and local Councilors.  This election pits incumbent President Peter Mutharika, of the Democratic Progressive Party against his former Vice President Saulos Chilima.  Political observers say Chilima is seen as the biggest threat to Mutharika.  Meanwhile, former president Joyce Banda has also joined the race after reversing a decision to join an alliance with the opposition the former Vice President. Her announcement earlier this month could be a game changer.



By Paul Ndiho

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 President Muhammadu Buhari and his chief challenger, former vice-president Atiku Abubakar.  Nigeria-Buhari-Atiku-Abubakar-Elections-PDP-APC_0

Campaigning in the Nigerian presidential election enters its final days and the wealth and patronage networks of the two main parties are driving the countries politics. President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress party recently held a pivotal rally in the heart of Lagos. At the rally, Buhari told thousands of supporters he would continue to act on his election promises from his 2015 victory to rid Nigeria of endemic corruption, fix the economy and tackle security threats.

“I assure you that the promise we had made in 2015, based on which you elected us, we made tremendous progress as I mention by those who told you what the administration is doing on security, economy and fighting corruption.”

Haija Adekoya is an avid supporter of APC the ruling party. She says President Buhari has made good on his fight against corruption.

“Fighting corruption. I support Buhari is because of his fight on corruption. He is a man of the intelligence and a man of the people.”

Buhari is fighting a tough battle against his longtime rival, former vice president Atiku Abubakar, who heads up the People’s Democratic Party. Beyond general pledges to tackle corruption, Abubakar is primarily focusing his presidential campaign on how he will further stimulate the nation’s economy. According to the Bloomberg financial organization, Buhari says his economic plan will specifically focus on reforms to boost the oil and non-oil sectors, while Abubakar says he will pursue a more market-friendly policies.

Abubakar’s “Get Nigeria working again” slogan — not only plays on his image as a successful businessman, but highlights what he believes is incumbent Mohammadu Buhari’s alleged failings. Abubakar says security is also a top priority.

“I will restore peace in the North East, and we will restore total peace in Nigeria and anybody that knows me knows I don’t take things for granted and I am not scared.”

This year’s campaign is the fifth time Abubakar has run for Nigeria’s top job. Given his age, 72, and the country’s increasingly young population, it may well be his last.  Muhammadu Buhari, 75, who has dealt with some health issues and has sought treatment outside the country, could also be running in his last campaign.

Political analysts say voters in Africa’s most populous nation and leading oil producer are hoping to use the ballot to deepen the quality of democratic governance. Not long ago, demonstrators took to the streets in Abuja protesting the removal of Nigeria’s Chief Justice for allegedly breaching asset-declaration rules for state officials. A decision that drew worldwide criticism ahead of Saturday’s presidential election.


By Paul Ndiho

At a price tag of US$80 billion, the Grand Inga dam project in the DRC is arguably one of the largest infrastructure development projects on the continent. Once completed, proponents say Inga dams will develop a power grid that will spur the Africa’s industrial economic development. IMG_0107

The African continent faces a huge energy deficit that has contributed to slow economic development. But with these challenge, they’re great opportunities. There is a huge potential for producing all forms of energy including hydropower, natural gas, solar, and wind energy. For example, the Grand Inga dam on the Congo River has tremendous hydropower potential to light Africa and beyond.

It’s estimated that Inga dam will produce over 40,000 MW of electricity, more than a third of the total electricity currently produced on the Continent and twice as much the power generation of Three Gorges Dam in China.

In the 1970s and 1980s, former President Mobutu Sese Seko oversaw the construction of the Inga 1 and 2 dams, but most of the electricity produced was for domestic consumption. But the Congolese government says it aims to avoid repeating past mistakes – it wants to make sure the Inga project can be a viable business. Their aim is to export this hydroelectric energy beyond its boarders.

Grand Inga foresees a massive expansion of hydroelectric generating capacity, reaching a total output of close to 50,000 MW, with transmission lines carrying electricity as far as South Africa If fully completed would be the world’s largest hydroelectric plant.

At a price tag of US$80 billion, concerns are growing that foreign companies will gain vast economic benefits from this mega-project, taking attention away from the development needs of Congolese people.

Furthermore, corruption is prevalent in the DRC and huge infrastructure like this one is   prone to corruption.  In 2014, the World Bank approved a US$73.1 million grant to support the technical aspect of Inga 3, but in 2016 the bank cancelled its support to the project sighting corruption. Other stake holders including the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the European Investment Bank have expressed similar concerns.
Large dam projects like Inga are widely attacked by environmentalists for their impact on river flow, which affects habitat and concerns that more than half of the Congolese population has no access to electricity and yet the continent’s biggest infrastructure investment would all be for export and the mining industries far-away especially in the Katanga province.


By Paul Ndiho

Across Africa, young people are putting their respective governments and longtime leaders on notice. They are standing up to abuses of power and expressing their disapproval through protests. But at what cost?Screen Shot 2019-02-07 at 7.28.02 AM
In its annual report, Human Rights Watch says violent government crackdowns against dissent shaped Africa’s human rights landscape in 2018. Government leaders often bullied peaceful protesters, political opponents, human rights defenders and civil society organizations, while suppressing the freedoms of citizens.

From Harare to Khartoum — to Kampala, Kinshasa and Luanda, there were mass arrests of peaceful protesters, beatings, excessive use of force, and, in some cases, killings.

For example, in the wake of violent protests over massive fuel price hikes In Zimbabwe, the government impose unlawful restrictions and bans on peaceful protests.

“We have received reports of serious human rights abuses including beatings, abductions, torture and the involvement of ZANU-PF, the ruling ZANU-PF party, groups beating up people in the high-density suburbs around Harare.”

Throughout the region, people were denied their right to peacefully protest through unlawful bans, use of excessive force, harassment and arbitrary arrests. The right to freedom of assembly was the exception, rather than the rule, as young people advocated for democratic values.

Dirk Ferry, a Zimbabwean rights activist, says the democracy cannot just be about the majority towards those who did not vote for the ruling party.

“In a democracy what is important is the balance of power. The institutions do we have strong institutions or what can the elected officials  get away with, If the executive does something blatantly bad can the parliament hold them to account.”

In Sudan, demonstrations calling for President Omar al-Bashir to step down continue. The anti-government protests first erupted in mid-December over inflation, and soaring food and fuel prices. Human Rights Watch says that protection of democratic values, self-determination and freedoms are being challenged every day.

“If you’re an autocrat, it’s very convenient to violate human rights. It’s the way you stay in power. It’s the way you fill up your bank account. It’s the way you pay off your cronies. So, there are reasons why governments want to violate human rights.”

Attacks on freedom of speech are seemingly at an all-time high, as democracy is continuously being challenged, instead of being perfected, according to Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow on Foreign Policy at Brookings Institute, a Washington DC-Based non-profit organization devoted to independent research and policy solutions.

“Having an informed public requires freedom of media, freedom of speech, but it also requires access to media and assets, it requires that people have the physical space to concentrate on something other than their survival. For example, assuring access to basic healthcare, assuring access to basic food and livelihoods, all of those determine what kind of quality and democracy there is.”

Vanda says in some African countries, you have longtime leaders exploiting ambiguities in the law to extend their term in office — while simultaneously undermining the nation’s constitution.

“I would say presidential term limits are a crucial facet of democracy. And It’s something that is very much contested around the world. Certainly, throughout Africa there has been a lot  movement to abolish term limits and change constitutions.”

As some African administrations clamped down on dissenters, they became more emboldened to attack traditional media and social media too — including blocking the internet and text message services.


By Paul Ndiho

Zimbabwe has no shortage of educated young people with college degrees, but the majority of them are unemployed. Could entrepreneurship and innovation be the ultimate answer to solving this serious problem?a54 zimbabwe entrepreneurs

The Zimbabwean economy has been in a slump for more than a decade, with cash shortages and high unemployment — and now demonstrators are clashing with government security services in Harare.  The protesters are angry over the massive rise in fuel prices ordered by the government.

Boost Fellowship, a non-profit youth-based organization, is trying to reverse the economic downturn by empowering young people with entrepreneurial skills, and more employment opportunities.

Busisiwe Marandure is the Executive Director at Boost Fellowship.

“It’s indented to empower the youth in Zimbabwe, through providing them opportunities for their future.”

The fellowship works in conjunction with ENACTUS, a global learning platform that operates in 36 countries and strives to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs.

“These projects are entrepreneurial in nature, they must be environmentally sustainable, economically viable and must cause social change.”

Many young people are turning to entrepreneurship and innovation to make a living during the economic slowdown.

“Currently there is an issue with unemployment for young people graduating and coming out of university than the jobs that are available on the market. So young people now have to be innovative and create their jobs.”

Created in 2000, the ENACTUS fellowship has trained over 2,000 young people between the ages of 20-25 in work readiness skills — and over 300 participants have secured internship opportunities which have resulted in full-time employment.

Bryan Mmirimi is an apprentice at Boost Fellowship.

“From Boost you learn to be confident, to manage projects and how to get yourself into projects, how to network, how to meet the big people. So you do learn a lot of things.”

Alvin Tapera is a university student who hopes to start a business one day, instead of joining the ranks of the unemployed.

“As young students, we’re coming from Universities; we need to run the big companies, we need to drive our economies. Basically, in Africa we’re lagging behind the Western and Eastern countries. So as the youth we want to push the economies of Africa further and to bring our economies in Africa to be competitive economies in the world.”

The program is working with universities in Zimbabwe, and they have created five power teams that go into communities to implement waste management models.

“We have five power teams that are running entrepreneurship initiatives in Zimbabwe. For instance, we have one that is into making crafts from cans so they’re earning from what we see as waste, and they’ve also developed a mobile app that is into a waste collection. Once you have waste in a neighborhood, you can call them, and they’ll come and collect at no cost.”

Business analysts say given the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship in Zimbabwe, the Boost fellowship is making a significant impact on the country’s youth.

When President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over from Robert Mugabe, he pledged to revive the failing economy, end the country’s international isolation and restore badly needed confidence in Zimbabwe. But critics say that he has failed to turn the economy around, triggered the angry protests.


By Paul Ndiho

African women are facing enormous challenges to reach their political goals. Their stories of resilience and their ability to succeed, despite repeated hardships are remarkable. diane-shima-rwigara1538735414314_aspr_1.489_w938_h630_e

Women are slowly breaking into the historically male-dominated political domain of becoming an African president.   For decades, women have been calling for equality. And today, they are shaking the pillars of government patriarchy.  Many women are now telling their stories and sparking essential and necessary dialog as they strive to reach the political mountaintop of their countries.

“For generations, women have been fighting for their right. We need to continue until we have won our victories.”

In October 2018, the Ethiopian parliament approved Sahle-Work Zewde as the country’s first female president. While the president’s post is a ceremonial one, her appointment marks another shift in Ethiopia’s political system – under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, became the first democratically-elected female president in Africa, when she won the West African nation’s presidential poll in 2005. She rose to power vowing to empower Liberian women.  Her achievements as president, made her an excellent role model for women across the continent.

“I have an opportunity to open the doors for more African women to hold high-level political positions, challenging because I represent the aspirations and expectations of Liberian African women, maybe women all over the world and therefore the pressure is on me to make sure that I succeed.”

As a trailblazer for women, Sirleaf has inspired more women to join politics and change the mindset that only men can aspire to become their nation’s head of state.

The rise of former Malawian President Joyce Banda did not come easy.  Her ability to reach her nation’s highest office, despite repeated hardships is remarkable. She rose through ranks to become Malawi’s first female president and she says any African girl can now grow up to be a leader.

“The first recommendation I make is to enhance political will to empower girls and appoint qualified women to leadership positions.”

Another woman who reached the pinnacle of her country’s political ladder is former Central African Republic President Catherine Samba-Panza, who served as interim president of the C-A-R from 2014 to 2016. She was the first woman to become head of state in that country.

Another female politician on the rise is Gambian Vice-President Fatoumata Tambajang, appointed in 2017, she is a strong advocate for women and a staunch human rights defender.

Political observers say despite these success stories, discrimination remains, but the pool of qualified women is growing as more women vie for political office.

Former long-time Zimbabwean vice president Joice Mujuru was considered a potential successor to Robert Mugabe until he fired her in 2014, accusing her of leading a plot to oust him.

Young, energetic and ambitious African women are now entering the political arena on a regular basis. Diane Rwigara rose to fame after she announced that she was challenging Rwanda’s Paul Kagame in the country’s July 2017 presidential election.  However, Rwigara was not allowed to run — and later thrown into jail for allegedly “inciting insurrection” among other charges.

Rwanda’s high court later acquitted her and all charges dropped. But Rwigara continues to be a beckon of hope for many young women across the region.

Obiageli Ezekwesili, Nigeria’s leading female presidential candidate recently withdrew from the crowded field of candidates running in the February 16th presidential election, citing differences in values and visions within her political party, the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria.

The former government minister and World Bank vice president, led the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign that raised awareness of the 270 girls who were kidnapped from their school in the northwest town of Chibok in 2014 by the Boko Haram terrorist group. She is also a co-founder of the anti-corruption group Transparency International.

Women across Africa are putting the government establishment on notice, that they are now a political force to be reckoned with.





By Paul Ndiho

Bamboo Bicycle start-ups in Africa are offering cycling enthusiasts a cheaper alternative to ordinary bikes, with a brand made from bamboo. The new bicycles are generating a lot of interest on the international market. a54 pkg bamboo bikes 3 18_26588628

At a workshop in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, Noordin Kasoma inspects handmade bicycles produced by his company.  The entrepreneur has developed a process to recycle damaged steel bikes, replacing the metal frames with bamboo — before putting them on the market.

Noordin learned to make bikes after training with an American bike frame designer and manufacturer and watching tutorials on the internet. His goal is to build bicycles that are cheaper and tougher than conventional than the brands available locally.

“When it comes to the Bamboo bicycle in riding mainly on the off-road, it’s comfortable. One, bamboo is flexible; due to that flexibility it gives that kind of shock absorbing property when you’re riding especially off-road. The bamboo itself tries to absorb the shocks that you are passing through other than steel or aluminum.

It takes Noordin about seven days to assemble a bicycle. The bamboo must be dried for several months first, and the bikes cost between 350 to 450 dollars each, depending on the size and design.

Noordin says his business employs about 20 workers. He’s teaching several young apprentices the unique production specifications of his bicycles.  Noordin is planning to expand his business locally as well as internationally.

“We get geometrical diagrams of different types of bikes and different sizes. We normally make mountain bikes, city bikes, travel bikes and then we have road bikes, the racing bikes. So every type of bicycle has different geometry and different sizes.”

In Ghana, another entrepreneur peddling bamboo bikes is making his mark on the international market.  Boomers International, a grassroots community development organization, is specializing in producing bamboo-framed bicycles for export around the world.  Kwabena Danso, is the CEO of Boomers International.

“We currently sell a lot on the international markets, we are marketed in Germany, through a company called my Boo, we also market in Holland through a company called forester Bikes, and Forester Bikes started because of us. They set up the company to distribute our product…and we also have another company in Australia called Ethical Wheels.”

Located in the Ashanti region of Kumasi, Ghana, the Yonso Project, dares to be bold, their Bamboo bikes have a striking design that commands attention.

As Boomers International seizes the opportunity to make use of bamboo, an abundant, natural resource. The company is also investing in the sustainability and the development of the local communities.

“We are trying to promote education, support rural community development through education, empower these children in the rural communities by the sales of our bikes.”

Bicycle analysts say Africa’s fast-growing population and rapid urban development has meant more cars on the roads — but having locally manufactured and affordable bikes could ease the crush of people using public transportation.


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.

In last televised address Kabila calls on the nation to support Tshisekedi

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.


By Paul Ndiho

Uganda’s entertainment industry is growing rapidly in popularity. But sometimes, there is limited awareness among artists, filmmakers, and producers on the importance of protecting their work and value of the intellectual property.

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The entertainment industry plays a role in giving a livelihood to many Ugandans, even in the face of challenges. Unfortunately, most entertainers say they are struggling to commercialize and earn money from their works.

A new start-up, a Kampala-based organization called “Intellectual Property”, wants to change that narrative. They’re going across the country to teach people in the entertainment industry how to protect and profit from their intellectual creations.

“We’ve been trying to sensitize the filmmakers and the musician into grasping the main aspect of the copyright law. Wherein they should know their rights and how they should commercialize and earn forever from their types of music and works they’ve created in film and other creations in the industry.”

Mbabazi says that his organization has hit the ground running and so far they’re getting a lot of attention in the entertainment industry.

“Ugandans have a lot of potentials. We’ve had songs which have gone up the African level they’ve hit charts, we’ve had songs that have had collaboration with international stars, and we believe that sort of information and works should be protected and given all it’s due.”

Intellectual property experts say the most significant obstruction to I-P growth for entertainers in Uganda seems to be a lack of knowledge on how to protect their work.

“Musician for example, only make money through shows. And that’s the only way they know how they think their shows will attract fans and through distributing Music freely. Once they do that, they’re beginning to close the gaps of copyright protection because they’re doing the infringement by themselves and that’s where the challenge is.”

Despite challenges, Mbabazi says they’ve had some success. For example, his organization represented Bobi Wine; a Ugandan pop star turned-lawmaker, settle out of court after Uganda’s electoral commission used one of his songs during the campaigns in 2016 without his authorization.

“Bobi Wine is a client of ours. He wrote a song saying that elections should not be a cause for division and the electoral commission used the song during the campaigns in 2016 without his authorization. Through Court, we litigated part of the matter and settled out of court, and he got some compensation.”

Still, industry analysts say Ugandans are yet to harness the true potential of their intellectual property and only a handful know about copyright, trademark and patent infringement. But the government is making significant advances in strengthening the administration and management of intellectual property rights — including parliament enacting significant IP legislation.

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