Sunday, August 13, 2017

It’s a good time to be an incumbent: the case of Kenya, Rwanda and DRC


By Erick Mwakibete

This week all eyes were in Kenya which went to the polls in a tightly contested election which sparked “exodus” and stocking of basic supplies as Kenyans worried of the possible post-election violence, and far south, in South Africa where the much anticipated vote of no confidence against the Teflon man that is President Jacob Zuma was the best chance yet for those opposed to him to remove him from power through parliament.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Rwanda’s Paul Kagame comfortably won his third term in office with his detractors and critics arguing that there was no point of holding an election because the winner was already known before the votes were cast. That is entirely missing the point and reduces the issue of democracy in Africa to a question of scheduled elections. Much of what happens prior to such “unnecessary” elections is important as well. One need not look far than the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where the incumbent is hanging onto to power courtesy of among other reasons claiming that his country is “unprepared” to hold elections.

Then came a story from Uganda about yet another twist in the actual age of President Yoweri Museveni. Amidst efforts of changing the constitution and scrap the age limit for the person eligible to hold the office of the president, President Museveni and the rest of us were presented with a baptism document which shows the president is much younger than previously thought, young enough to make efforts in parliament to scrap the age limit unnecessary for now.

Even in faraway Mauritania, its president Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz achieved electoral success through a referendum which abolished the senate after that body had rejected proposals to change the constitution in which opponents of the former army general who first came to power through a coup, accuse him of trying to extend his mandate in office.

In South Africa, President Zuma survived a vote of no confidence in parliament. Even though the final results suggest that more than 20 ANC MPs crossed the political divide to cast their votes with opposition MPs, the ANC majority held the day for now. Ironically, Zuma’s many political lives partly owe to the deep divisions within the party he leads for now. With a party conference to choose another leader to replace him scheduled for December, there are no shortages of those who are betting against Africa’s biggest political survivor and his future after he is replaced as party leader.

ANC MPs calculated that the political price was too much in removing Zuma with the help of the opposition. In choosing to keep him in office for now, ANC MPs in particular and the ANC in general decided that the fate of one of their own was firmly in their hands and not those of the political opponents. Had Zuma lost the vote of no confidence, ANC would have lost the narrative as well in which the opposition would have claimed to have unseated Zuma, a huge political victory.

For now though, he has a lot to celebrate as he felt vindicated with the outcome which he had denounced as an attempted coup through parliament for the opposition to try and take power even though they did not have the numbers.

And finally in Kenya where by as you are reading this piece, a winner has already been declared--it is Uhuru Kenyatta of the Jubilee coalition.

This is something the opposition candidate Raila Odinga from the Nasa coalition disputed saying according to their figures they had the lead. The electoral body called for calm until it announces the official results.

Regardless of what happens in Kenya, for now though the stars are aligned in favour of incumbents in Africa. It is a good time to be one.