Five African Countries Held Elections Over WeekendMarch 21, 2016 in Benin, Niger, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Tanzania, Zanzibar
On Sunday, 20 March, voters in five African countries cast their ballots, including four presidential elections and a constitutional referendum. Incumbents in Niger and Republic of Congo are expected to sail to re-election, while Benin’s presidential election run-off vote is less certain.
Below is a look at the contests:
Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi is stepping down after the maximum of two terms in office, effectively enhancing the West African country’s democratic credentials. Sunday’s election was between the current Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou and businessman Patrice Talon, who was once accused of trying to poison the outgoing president, an allegation he denies. Prime Minister Zinsou, who quit his job as the head of one of Europe’s biggest investment banks when he was nominated prime minister last year, is the leading contender. The 61-year-old candidate for Boni Yayi’s Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE) has the support of the majority of lawmakers in parliament via the backing of two main opposition groups. During the first round of voting, on 6 March, Zinsou won 27.1 percent of the vote, with Talon, a 57-year-old entrepreneur who made his money in cotton and running Cotonou’s port, coming in second with 23.5 percent. However since then, 24 of the 32 other candidates who stood in the first round of the election have come out in support of Talon, including third-placed Sebastien Ajavon, who won 22 percent of votes.
Polls opened at 7:00 AM (0600 GMT), with 4.7 million people eligible to cast their ballots. Voting was to close at 4:00 PM (1500 GMT). Voting on Sunday passed off calmly, with no major incidents reported.
On Monday, 21 March, Benin Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou conceded defeat to businessman Patrice Talon in the presidential elections. He conceded after early results overnight indicated that Talon won 64.8 percent of the vote, against 35.2 for Zinsou.
- Youth Unemployment – The 15 – 34 age group makes up some 60 percent of the country’s working population. Officially, the unemployment rate is under 4.0 percent, however with 85 percent of works in the informal sector of the jobs market, the figure does not reflect reality. With few jobs available, many university graduates end up driving motorbike-taxis that are increasingly found everywhere in the West African country. Zinsou has promised to create 350,000 jobs by 2021, especially for the young and women, while Talon has pledged to take steps in order to encourage job creation in the private sector.
- Corruption – When President Boni Yayi first took office in 2006, he had vowed to stop endemic corruption in several key sectors, including in the port in Benin’s commercial hub, Cotonou, and the cotton industry. However his two terms in office have been marked by several embezzlement and bribery scandals. In 2010, the head of state ws implicated in a major savings scandal in which thousands of Beninese lost money. The construction of a new national assembly building in the administrative capital Port Novo has also taken millions of dollars however it has never been finished. Furthermore, last year, the Netherlands suspended aid to Benin after four million euros, which were earmarked for drinking water schemes, disappeared.
- Health and Education – Benin, which has a population of 10.6 million, is considered by the World Bank to be a low-income country with poor ratings in both the health and education indicators. Free primary school education has been seen as a positive from Boni Yayi’s presidency, even if subsidies do not always reach schools. Furthermore, President Boni Yayi also created a universal scheme to open up access to healthcare to the poorest in society via an average monthly subscription of 1,000 CFA francs (1.5 euros). The scheme however is not yet up and running. Prime Minister Zinsou has promised that he will make development a key priority, including helping the 100,000 poorest families and improving medical infrastructure.
- Major Port in Benin – The port accounts for almost half of the country’s tax receipts and more than 80 percent of customs tariffs. It handles some 90 percent of the country’s overseas businesses and sells itself as a transit port for neighbouring Nigeria to the east and surrounding countries, such as Burkina Faso and Niger. Major infrastructure work has been carried out, including the construction of a new quay, which allows it to handle twice as many containers in 2014 as it did in 2008. A computerized management system of truck arrivals and departures has also been put in place as well as a single counter to handle all transactions, effectively helping to streamline procedures and cut graft. However waiting times remain long due to a lack of available space and the new checks. Accoridng to sources, ships often wait up to a week before offloading, with some opting to go to Lome in neighbouring Togo, brining in the containers by lorry, which is quicker. The port of Tema, in Ghana, is also a main competitor for business.
The election in Niger effectively pits incumbent president Mahamadou Issoufou against opposition figure Hama Amadou, who has been in prison since November 2015 on charges, which critics say are politically motivated. President Issoufou is campaigning on his credentials in the fight against Islamic militancy. His opponent left the country late last week to seek medical treatment in France for an unspecified ailment.
Voting on Sunday ended in Niger with President Mahamadou Issoufou the likely winner of the election. Throughout the day, security forces were posted at polling stations. They also patrolled the streets of Niamey and monitored the city’s main intersection. As polling stations closed in the early evening and elections workers began counting ballots, observers disclosed that there were no major incidents that had been reported, adding that voter turnout had been low. Provisional results are due to be released in the next few days.
Republic of Congo
President Denis Sassou N’Guesso, 72, who has been in power for more than 30 years, is seeking another term in office after he organized a constitutional referendum that effectively removed the an age limit that would have disqualified him from running again. The run-up to the October referendum was marred by violence, and mobile phone service was blocked in the country.
On 19 March, authorities in Republic of Congo announced a 48-hour communications blackout for Sunday’s presidential election. On Saturday, a government source disclosed that all communications would be cut on Sunday and Monday, by order of the authorities in order to avoid “illegal publication” of the results. A letter from interior minister Raymond Mboulou to the country’s phone companies disclosed that “for reasons of national security, please block all communications including SMSs from March 20 and 21.” The government source added that the move would not affect the voting process and would “in no way hinder the opposition’s access to the results.”
On Sunday, voting began under a media blackout, in a tense ballot that is expected to see President Denis Sassou Nguesso prolong his 32-year rule. Polling stations opened promptly at 7:00 AM (0600 GMT), with on the ground sources reporting that voters lined up quietly outside in the capital Brazzaville. The polls closed at 6:00 PM (1700 GMT). Tensions later broke out with riot police using tear gas to disperse 200 opposition supporters who were trying to get into a polling station. According to on the ground sources, dozens of heavily armed police fired tear gas at the supporters of opposition candidate Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas and chased them away from the polling station in the south of the capital Brazzaville.
Senegal is voting on a constitutional referendum, which proposes fifteen reforms that would make sweeping changes. In contrast with many African leaders, Senegalese President Macky Sall is asking voters to shorten the country’s presidential term from seven years to five. The proposed changes also call for a strengthened National Assembly, better representation for Senegalese abroad, and greater rights for the opposition in national elections.
Voting began on Sunday at 0800 GMT and ended at 1800 GMT, with up to five million Senegalese voting in the election. Technical problems with producing voter ID cards however will prevent 200,000 from exercising their democratic rights. According to Doudou Ndir, the head of the country’s election watchdog, turnout was slow early on, with only 10 percent of votes cast by 11 AM. Activity however was likely to pick up in the afternoon. The results are no expected to be released until later this week.
Voters are casing ballots in Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania. The opposition parties have called for a boycott of the election. Zanzibar’s vote is a re-run of an October ballot, which the main opposition parties say runs counter to Zanzibar’s electoral laws.
On Sunday, voting began with tight security. Polling stations opened on time at 7:00 AM (0400 GMT), with votes lining up peacefully. Turnout however was expected to be low in opposition strongholds after the Civic United Front (CUF) urged its supporters not to participate. The Zanzibar Election Commission (ZEC) indicated that there had been no delays in the delivery of ballot boxes and papers and said both local and African observers were in place, although those from the EU had stayed away. Polls closed at 4:00 PM (1300 GMT) with results expected as early as Monday.