Elections in Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, and Tanzania, a fragile peace process in South Sudan, a conflict over the use of Nile waters between Ethiopia and Egypt, and a constitutional amendment that might change the governance structure in Kenya are some of the top stories that will be covered by the press and political blogs this year.
Here is a more incisive look at the issues surrounding these developments and what to expect over the next twelve months:
2020 could see Somalia have its first election in 50 years. If all goes as planned, this will be the third time Somalian citizens will be exercising their voting rights since attaining independence in 1960. The other times the country conducted elections was in 1964 and 1969.
After three decades of civil war, extremist attacks and famine, Somalia established a functioning transitional government in 2012 and has been working to rebuild stability.
In the most recent presidential elections held in 2017, lawmakers were elected by 14,000 clan delegates and they, in turn, elected a president.
Addressing the UN Security Council two months ago, the head of Somalia’s electoral commission, Halima Ismail Ibrahim, said that the country’s political leaders must follow through on agreements since 2011 to hold a one-person, one-vote election as replacement of “clan-based power-sharing.”
Even as it seeks to restore universal suffrage in the decision of the country’s top leadership, James Swan, the UN envoy to Somalia says the country will still need to find means of effective cooperation between the central government and federal states which has in the past one year been “an obstacle to achieving important national priorities. ”
Somalia’s leaders must act urgently to break this stalemate between the central and the federal states in the interest of the nation.
– James Swan, UN envoy to Somalia.
Somalia will however still need to battle with violent extremism, terrorism, and corruption even as the Africa Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) starts planning its withdrawal from Somalia. Last year, the UN Security Council extended AMISOM’s mandate for one year and allowed the withdrawal of 1,000 uniformed personnel.
Across the border to the west, Ethiopians expect to go to the polls in May 2020 to elect new leaders to the House of Representatives. The last elections which were won by The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRF) coalition, were held in 2015. On 1st December 2019, all the political parties forming the EPRF coalition, with the exception of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front were dissolved to form the Prosperity Party which is led by the current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Alluding to past incidences of political violence in Ethiopia, Ahmed says any attempts to push the elections beyond May 2020 will result in problems.
Democracy needs exercise. If we say we cannot hold elections now, it will bring a lot of problems. We should work wholeheartedly by building public trust.
– Abiy Ahmed, while addressing parliament in October 2019.
The polls will be the first under Abiy, who took office in 2018 and began introducing political and economic reforms that have among other things seen the release of political prisoners who included journalists and bloggers. Reforms which led to him winning the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
Popular activist and media owner Jawar Mohammed who was a one-time supporter of Abiy is expected to challenge him in the next election. He has on several occasions tore into the PM’s reform record accusing him of attempting to return the country into the era of dictatorial politics.
[Abiy] has resorted to the early signs of dictatorship, of trying to intimidate people, even his very close allies who helped him come to power who happen to disagree with some of the policies and positions and ideologies he’s advocating.
-Jawar Mohammed in an interview with AFP.
Both Abiy and Jawar hail from the Oromo ethnic group.
With regard to freedom of expression, the ‘hate speech law’ will be of great concern to media practitioners and political commentators. The law proposes criminalization of misinformation and disinformation without any clear definition of the same providing room for misuse of the law to stifle free speech.
Still in Ethiopia, the country’s plans to build a five-billion-dollar dam on the Blue Nile ran into headwinds with Egypt threatening to take military action against Ethiopia if it were to attempt to proceed with the plans. Egypt argues that the dam will deny the country water that it needs to satisfy its food production and domestic usage. The North African country is relying on the colonial era Nile Treaty as a basis of it’s right over the usage of the Nile waters.
The US has been spearheading talks between the two nations with the hopes of forestalling a full-blown conflict. The power project has massive support among Ethiopian citizens. US President Donald Trump has previously said that he is looking forward to visiting Ethiopia to commission the dam.
Hopefully, the talks between the two countries will result in a deal that sees Ethiopia continue with the dam construction with the possibility of exporting excess power to Egypt and other neighboring countries.
Across the south-western borders, Africa’s youngest nation which has been faced with civil war since December 2013 is on the brink of signing a deal that could bring lasting peace to South Sudan. In December 2019, South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his former Vice President Riek Machar announced that they are ready to form a unity government. The announcement was made following three days of talks on what the two considered as sticky issues which include security in Juba, a unified national army and the number of states in South Sudan.
The government of National Unity is expected to be formed in March 2020. While it might be too soon to celebrate as this was not the first such announcement between the two leaders since signing a peace deal in 2018, there is hope that the deal will hold, with the US and other international players continuing to impose sanctions on leaders from both sides of the conflict.
Crossing the border further South to Uganda, elections are not coming up this year, but in 2021. Vocal musician-turned-politician Robert Kyangulani, popularly known as ‘Bobbi Wine’ has vowed to face off with President Yoweri Museveni who has been in office since 1986. In 2005, the Ugandan parliament voted to remove presidential term limits and last year there was yet another court ruling removing the age limit for presidential candidate previously set at 75, essentially setting the stage for Museveni who will be 76 in 2021 to run for another term in office.
Museveni has previously heavily cracked down on his opponents and their supporters. In 2016 elections, his main challenger Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) was a constant victim of police harassment, house arrests, and assaults. A similar fate has befallen Kyangulani who has been arrested several times since declaring his interest in running for the country’s top job. Several of his concerts have also been stopped by the police. Kyangulani is a first-time member of parliament, representing Kyaddondo East constituency in Uganda’s Central Region. It’s still not clear whether FDC’s Besigye will make another stab for the presidency.
Rwanda has continued to have frosty diplomatic relations with her neighbors as President Paul Kagame accuses them of supporting the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and other rebel groups to undermine his government.
In his 2019 New Year’s message, Kagame said such moves were jeopardizing regional integration.
Some neighbors have tried to revive the danger posed by the FDLR, the RNC, and other negative forces,Kagame said. This jeopardises the otherwise good progress in East African integration, as well as regional security.
– Paul Kagame, President Rwanda.
While he did not mention any particular country in his remarks, they were widely interpreted to be targeting Burundi. Over the past year, Rwanda has continued to accuse other neighbors including Uganda and DRC of supporting Rwandan rebel groups.
It will be interesting to see how Rwanda’s claims affect relationships within the East African Community in 2020.
Burundi will be coming under more scrutiny as they head to the polls in a presidential this year. Pierre Nkurunziza’s government has long been criticized for silencing dissent. Human Rights Watch has previously accused the government of killings, rapes, and intimidation of political opponents. Opposition groups have also accused the ruling party of attacking them and creating a climate of fear, allegations which have been rejected by the government insisting that the polls will be free and fair.
A UN report says that there was a climate of fear among anyone who did not show support for the ruling CNDD-FDD party. Police, Security forces and the ruling party’s youth league, the Imbonerakure, had continued to commit serious human rights violations, including killings, disappearances, torture and gang rape of people allegedly opposed to the president.
It is extremely dangerous to speak out critically in Burundi today, the stifling of such voices is what allows the country to present an illusion of calm but “it is a ‘calm’ based on terror as shown by the continued commission of crimes against humanity and the very serious human rights violations that we have documented.
– Mr. Doudou Diène, Chairman Comission of Inquiry on Burundi.
Burundi’s neighbor to the East, Tanzania will also be going to the polls later in 2020. While the electoral laws do not allow campaigns before the electoral period is officially declared, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) is expected to retain President John Pombe Magufuli as its candidate. There are however others who are also interested in the CCM ticket including former Foreign Affairs Minister, Bernard Membe. The main opposition party CHADEMA has not declared who their flag bearer in the October polls will be but there is a high likelihood that it will settle on it’s Vice Chairman Tundu Lissu who was stripped of his parliamentary seat in 2019.
Zitto Kabwe’s ACT Wazalendo is also expected to field a candidate in the coming elections. Kabwe has been a fierce critic of Maghufuli’s strong-arm presidency. There is also the possibility of an opposition coalition with all parties fronting one candidate to run against Maghufuli.
Magufuli’s first term has been riddled with accusations of high-handedness, stifling of the democratic space, attacks on freedom of the press, and human rights abuses. These issues will remain central to conversations around elections in Tanzania.
Magufuli is also praised by his supporters for his tough stance on corruption and abuse of office by civil servants.
While elections are still two years away in East Africa’s largest economy, Kenyans might go through a constitutional amendment that will see a change in the structure of government. This is the product of a report released last year following a peace deal between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his main opponent in the 2017 elections and former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga.
The push for a constitutional amendment will definitely put political factions in a collision path with leading figures already differing on how to achieve the proposals in the report. Factions allied to President Kenyatta and Mr. Odinga have publicly vouched for a constitutional referendum, while political factions allied to the Deputy President William Ruto want amendments through parliament.
The relationship between Mr. Ruto and Kenyatta have been frosty since the deal between Mr. Odinga and Mr. Kenyatta was entered into in 2018. Supporters of the Deputy President have accused Mr. Odinga of plotting to split the ruling coalition and stop the Deputy President from succeeding President Kenyatta.
As Kenya draws closer to the 2022 elections and with a possibility of a referendum before the next elections, the rift in the ruling coalition is expected to grow wider, culminating in new political realignments ahead of 2022 polls.
Away from politics, 2019 saw the prosecution of high profile corruption cases. Even though no one has been convicted yet, senior public servants have been forced out of offices and the purge is expected to continue in 2022. Those who have so far been charged with corruption charges include a finance minister, three governors (Kenya is divided into 47 administrative units each headed by a Governor elected by voters during the general elections) and several senior civil servants.
With contributions from Haimanot Ashenafi (Editor-In-Chief, Addis Maleda), Antony Masake (Africa Blogging/ Chapter Four, Uganda), and Ipyana Gwaselya (Jamii Forums, Tanzania).