In what is being billed as Africa’s Super Sunday, this weekend will see key votes in six countries across the region.
Benin. After a first round of voting that saw 33 candidates competing to succeed outgoing President Thomas Boni Yayi, Beninese voters are returning to the polls for the runoff between Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou and businessman Patrice Talon. With the country focused on attracting private investment in order to spur economic growth, it is a good sign that both candidates have impressive private sector credentials. Zinsou headed France’s largest investment bank before stepping down last year to become Prime Minister of Benin. Talon comes from modest origins but today is known as “The King of Cotton.” This meteoric rise has endeared him to “many young Beninese, who see in him a person who knows how to create jobs and wealth on a national scale.”
Cape Verde. The West African archipelago is holding parliamentary elections that are expected to be a tight contest between the ruling socialist party and the liberal opposition party. The incumbent PAICV party has been in power for the past fifteen years but has been heavily criticized for the high rate of youth unemployment as well as high public spending on on infrastructure projects. As a result of the adoption of a new constitution in 1992, Cape Verdeans living abroad are able to vote in elections to the legislature but registration and turnout from the diaspora has historically been low.
Congo-Brazzaville. With the exception of five years in the mid-1990s, incumbent President Sassou Nguesso has ruled Congo-Brazzaville for over three decades. Following last year’s controversial constitutional referendum, President Sassou Nguesso now is eligible to stand for another term. There are seven opposition candidates but none are considered to be actual contenders.
Niger. Having only just missed winning in the first round of voting in February, incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou seems set to win re-election for a second term in office. The main opposition candidate Hama Amadou has been in detention since November 2015 on trafficking allegations which he claims are politically motivated. Only a few days ago, he was removed from prison and sent to France for specialized medical treatment. Still, it is unclear whether the opposition will participate in the vote. Some members of the opposition coalition announced their withdrawal and a boycott on grounds of irregularities, fraud and unfair treatment of candidates. However, Amadou’s camp has maintained that he will take part in the run-off. The country is regarded as a key ally in countering terrorism in West Africa and the Sahel region.
Senegal. Against the worrying trend of African leaders using constitutional referendums to extend their rule, President Macky Sall is supporting a referendum that would fulfill his campaign promise to reduce the length of presidential terms from seven years to five years. The referendum covers other reforms including “giving more power to the National Assembly and local administrations while also expanding on existing laws about land inheritance and local communities’ control of natural resources.” A loose coalition of Senegalese have banded together in opposition to the referendum because Sall had promised that the change would apply to his current term in office. That point notwithstanding, it was the country’s Constitutional Council that stated that Sall could not apply the changes to his current term.
Zanzibar. Zanzibaris are returning to the polls after last October’s elections were annulled on grounds of irregularities and violations (that election observers later said they saw no evidence of). Unfortunately, there are signs that this Sunday’s vote will not fare better. There are reports of issues with the ballot papers and the main opposition party — whose leader declared himself winner of the October elections — is calling for a boycott of the rerun elections entirely. Several of the other opposition parties have expressed support for the boycott.
This post was updated on March 21, 2016 to include the Cape Verdean parliamentary elections.