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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 22nd May 2018

NIGERIA: Fissures open up in the ruling party as it prepares to choose its presidential candidate

Patrick Smith

This week we start in Nigeria where politicians of all parties are jockeying for position ahead of next year's elections. Ghana's former President John Mahama announces he wants to stand again in 2020 and Zimbabwe has applied to rejoin the Commonwealth. In Burundi, President Nkurunziza got the referendum result he wanted and in Comoros, ex-President Sambi is under house arrest, suspected of benefiting from a passport scam.

NIGERIA: Fissures open up in the ruling party as it prepares to choose its presidential candidate
Although President Muhammadu Buhari's party – the All Progressives Congress – is riven by factionalism as it heads towards a national congress to choose its leaders, the betting is that he will get the nomination to contest for a second term next year.

The APC infighting looks more about personal ambitions rather than whether Buhari is the best flagbearer or whether his government has been a success. Indeed, much of the latest positioning for party posts takes Buhari's nomination and election victory for granted. So, the seriously ambitious politicians are thinking ahead to the 2023 elections when, in theory, the party should choose a presidential candidate from one of the southern states.

Meanwhile, much of the APC in the southern states is in chaos. There is serious trouble in the APC branches in Oyo and Kwara, where dissidents organised 'parallel congresses' to choose party officials. The courts may have the final say there.

In Ondo State, political thugs aligned to the state government broke up an attempt to organise a parallel congress. And in Imo and Rivers States, the party leaderships blocked attempts to hold elections.

This chaos doesn't bode well for the party's ability to organise an effective election campaign. However, the current state of the opposition People's Democratic Party suggests it is just as divided as the APC. But the PDP, as the opposition party, lacks the resources available to the APC to encourage dissidents back into the fold.

Two new-ish factors are worth watching in the coming weeks: the re-emergence of the 'new PDP' (nPDP) faction within the government and the formation of the African Democratic Congress, which is said to be backed by several senior dissident APC politicians. Both these groupings have the potential to weaken Buhari's campaign for the presidency.

But time is pressing for politicians on all sides. There is less than nine months before the elections and even if the dissidents were able to organise mass defections from the governing party, they would struggle to find a candidate to match, let alone surpass, Buhari's support in the north and appeal to the diverse constituencies in the south.

GHANA: Ex-President John Mahama finally confirms he will vie for nomination as the NDC's flagbearer in 2020
It has been an open secret for over a year that ex-President John Dramani Mahama is planning a political comeback with a campaign for the presidency in the 2020 elections. After his shattering defeat in 2016, Mahama at first looked intent on making a career outside politics, working for international organisations, leading election monitoring missions and perhaps vying for a top post overseas.

Although Mahama has led election missions in Kenya and Sierra Leone, he stayed close to his National Democratic Congress. On 18 May, he broke his silence on his political intentions in a Facebook post. He said he would participate in the party's primary elections, due to be held by the end of the year. He will be up against party veterans like former Trade and Industry Minister Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, Second Deputy Speaker of parliament Alban Bagbin, former chief of the National Heath Insurance Authority Sylvester Mensah and former Rector of the University for Professional Studies Joshua Alabi.

ZIMBABWE: Government applies to rejoin the Commonwealth and prepares to set out electoral timetable
The Zimbabwe government's application to rejoin the Commonwealth – 15 years after President Robert Mugabe marched the country out of it – is its latest piece of symbolic diplomacy. It also bears the hallmarks of the new, closer relationship between Zimbabwe and the British government, which is showing renewed interest in the Commonwealth.

It was in Zimbabwe in 2002, that for the first time ever a Commonwealth election monitoring mission refused to endorse an election result. The team, led by Nigeria's former head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and Commonwealth Deputy Director Ade Adefuye, was highly critical of the management of the election and Mugabe's claims to have defeated Morgan Tsvangirai. Commonwealth observers has been invited back to Zimbabwe for this year's elections. History will weigh heavily on their shoulders.

This latest announcement from Harare is a bid to reinforce President Emmerson Mnangagwa's contention that the forthcoming elections will be credible and open to international scrutiny. So far, the African Union, the European Union, the US political party foundations supporting democracy in developing countries, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, are sending delegations.

Electoral experts are sceptical about the timing. The observer missions will spend just a few weeks in the country, missing critical preparations such as the printing of the ballot papers, the security measures around them, and the creation of the new electoral register using biometric technology.
Scrutiny of those procedures, as well trying to counter the bias towards the ruling party in state media and among traditional rulers, has been left to Zimbabwe's own civic organisations. It seems that the opposition parties have been too busy campaigning to engage on some of the details surrounding the elections.

In the short term, Zimbabwe's application with the Commonwealth will make no direct difference to events on the ground. It will trigger many months of negotiation and its success will depend partly on how the coming election is judged.

Currently, the new electoral register is on view around the country for citizens to check that their names have been correctly entered and to alert the electoral commission to any fake entries, which might allow fraud. After that display ends on 29 May, President Mnangagwa says he will announce the date of the election. It looks likely to be held by the end of July.

BURUNDI: Much-criticised referendum lengthens presidential terms and allows Nkurunziza to rule until 2034
The electoral commission in Bujumbura delivered everything that President Pierre Nkurunziza wanted in the constitutional referendum on 19 May: a turnout of 96% of the 4.6 million registered voters, 76% of whom voted in favour of allowing the incumbent a further two terms in power. It also extends presidential terms from five to seven years.

This is Nkurunziza's attempt finally to put to rest the controversy caused by his refusal to leave power in 2015, when his two terms of office under the old constitution had expired. His refusal to go has sparked political violence on both sides of the argument, with regional players lining up for and against him, as well as tens of thousands of refugees, fleeing to Rwanda and Tanzania.

The opposition said the referendum result was compromised by intimidation and fraud. The government allowed some opposition activity during the designated two-week campaigning period but blocked Radio France International and BBC broadcasts. State Department officials in Washington said the process had been marred.

Nkurunziza's apparent success in elongating his tenure through a constitutional mechanism may also inspire Congo-Kinshasa President Joseph Kabila, who was due to leave power by the end of this year. Giant posters proclaiming Kabila as the father of Congolese democracy are appearing across the country and he has just appointed new judges to the constitutional court.

COMOROS: Former President Sambi held as government deepens probe into the passport scam
After being questioned for several on suspicion of involvement in an international passport scam, former President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi was put under house arrest on 18 May. Although Sambi may have been a flight risk the authorities were more concerned to prevent him mobilising. Another 10 officials from his administration have been barred from leaving the country.

Sambi's government had arranged a deal with the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait in 2008 to sell citizenship to stateless people in those countries. The quid pro quo was heavy investment in development projects in Comoros. Yet an investigation by the national assembly this year found there had been multiple abuses, with as much as US$100 million in development funds being diverted to criminal syndicates.

An investigation by Reuters news agency put the spotlight on Semlex, a Belgian-based company, and its colourful chief executive Albert Karaziwan, for their involvement in the passports scheme. Although the company is under investigation in Switzerland, it denies all wrongdoing.

The week ahead in very brief

AFRICA/SOUTH KOREA: The African Development Bank holds a critical annual meeting in Busan to boost its capital base

SOUTH AFRICA: After the ructions in the North-West province, activists are pushing for fresh elections and investigations in the Free State

KENYA: Investigators due to report on the causes of the dam disaster in Nakuru which killed more than 70 people