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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 2nd October 2017

LIBERIA: Last week of campaigning ahead of watershed national elections as President Johnson-Sirleaf prepares her exit

Patrick Smith

The election countdown is on in Liberia with the field still wide open. Across in Kenya, the main parties argue over how to reform the electoral commission before the presidential election of August can be re-run. In neighbouring Uganda, veteran President Yoweri Museveni faces heavy opposition to a self-serving plan to abolish the age limit of 75 on heads of state. President Muhammadu Buhari's show of solidarity with the troops in north-east Nigeria fighting the jihadist Boko Haram militia follows yet another speech about the threat of secessionist movements in the south of the country.

LIBERIA: Last week of campaigning ahead of watershed national elections as President Johnson-Sirleaf prepares her exit
The national elections due on 10 October are the most open political contest in the country's history with at least three strong candidates vying for the presidency. Because the election is likely to go to a second round, contenders are steering a difficult path between building up their own bases and attacking their rivals. The successful candidate will have to build a broad-based alliance to win in the second round.

Although opinions vary on Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's record, and many of her strongest supporters are overseas, she is the first leader to organise a democratic succession. She says she is determined remain in Liberia as a private citizen after the transition.

So far, the race has been dominated by: Johnson-Sirleaf's self-effacing deputy Joseph Nyuma Boakai; veteran presidential contender Charles Brumskine; former AC Milan striker and winner of the Ballon d'Or, George Weah; businessman-turned-politician Alex Cummings; and MacDella Cooper.

Boakai presents himself as decent, competent and the continuity candidate building on Johnson-Sirleaf's legacy, while Brumskine prioritises economic diversification and breaking aid dependency.
Weah, who chose Charles Taylor's ex-wife Jewel Howard Taylor as his running mate, is trying to maintain his appeal to young people. Cooper, the only female candidate, pushes the importance of economic empowerment and the need to tackle corruption. Cummings was a star performer in the presidential debate and has new ideas about raising funds to develop roads and power stations. He wants an independent prosecutor to tackle corruption.

KENYA: Stand-off between the two main parties over new commission staff, rules and the election date
Preparations for the re-run of the presidential election due on 26 October have been further complicated after the opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) walked out of negotiations over reforms to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. James Orengo, a Senator and legal adviser to NASA, said his organisation would take to the streets until the government accepted the need for a thorough overhaul of the commission and its top management.

The governing Jubilee party, Orengo argued, is trying to restructure the commission to reduce its independence from government. If the two main parties – Jubilee and NASA – cannot agree on how to reform the commission in the next few days, that leaves two difficult options. Either hold the election on 26 October on terms that NASA rejects and risk an opposition boycott; or postpone it for weeks or months while the two protagonists argue over wider reforms to electoral management.

UGANDA: Museveni to make next move to extend his tenure after last week's parliamentary pandemonium was beamed around the world
If President Yoweri Museveni, after over three decades in power, was hoping to find a quiet way to extend his tenure, he was thwarted after clashes between MPs over a bill to end the age limit of 75 for presidents. Museveni will be 76 when the next elections are due in 2021.

Footage of fist-fights, chair-throwing and other mayhem in the parliamentary chamber flashed around the world. One scene prompted a commentary from South African satirist Trevor Noah on the Daily Show in New York.

Back in Kampala, protestors took to the streets in sympathy with the combatants in parliament. Given that his own National Resistance Movement harbours increasing numbers of dissidents, Museveni will have to tread carefully to avoid some form of broad coalition blocking his plan for another term.

NIGERIA: President flies to Maiduguri to see troops on Independence Day after making a call for national unity
Showing solidarity with his former comrades in the military, President Muhammadu Buhari flew to Maiduguri – the centre of the Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east – on Independence Day. Buhari's trip may also have been intended to convey the message that he was fully recovered from his long bouts of medical treatment for undisclosed ailments.

Buhari's trip followed another stern call for national unity which singled out the secessionist movement in south-east Nigeria as a serious threat. Any call for constitutional change '…should take place in a rational manner', said Buhari. He had less to say about the Boko Haram insurgency, over which the government has claimed victory. In the past year Boko Haram has intensified operations in northern Cameroon and the southern region of the Niger Republic, but has continued to use young people in suicide attacks against mosques and market-places.


CONGO-KINSHASA: The United Nations sends troops to South Kivu after Mai-Mai Yakutumbagroups declare war against President Joseph Kabila's government

CÔTE D'IVOIRE/GHANA: Governments struggle to maintain payments to farmers as global cocoa prices fall by over 40%

RWANDA: Police say they have arrested oppositionist Diane Rwigara for security offences but are yet to charge her in court

SOMALIA: Turkeyopens $50 million base in Mogadishu to train government forces and boosts its exports