Central Africa : the regimes dig in

 2017 03 burundi

In Central Africa, there is now a reversal of the democratic dynamic of the 90s that was characterised by the rise of political pluralism and competitive elections. Authoritarian creep, ‘constitutional coups’ and electoral fraud have become widespread, undermining all hope for a political changeover and the reinforcement of the rule of law.  

The reforms of the 90s in Central African countries brought about the hope of democratic transitions. The limitation of Presidential mandates, the birth of multiparty and pluralist elections were rightly seen as real democratic improvements.

However, since the 2000s, `constitutional coups’ have multiplied which means that Presidents stay in power beyond the mandates provided for in the Constitution. Thus, Paul Biya has stayed in power since 1982 in Cameroon, Ali Bongo and his family since 1967 in Gabon. As for Denis Sassou Nguesso, he has been president for 32 years (from 1979 until 1992, and then 1997) in the Republic of the Congo. These measures have reinforced the political system organised around the monopolization of power and wealth by the heads of state and their inner circles.

Serious irregularities marred the last presidential elections in the Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Gabon, causing uprisings and social protest movement that were violently repressed by the authorities.

In April 2016, Denis Sassou Nguesso was re-elected in the Republic of Congo. The opposition parties, civil society and many Western countries have reported irregularities undermining the honesty, credibility and transparency of the election. These massive frauds have created a climate of popular unrest in Brazzaville, leading to massive detentions and arrests of young people in the Southern neighbourhoods of the capital, known for being close to the opposition.

In Burundi, in July 2015, President Nkurunziza was fraudulently re-elected for a third mandate, in a context of a serious political crisis marked by popular protests, a massive exodus and a failed coup attempt (May 2015). The government forces and the militias close to the centre of power exerted violence against presumed opponents to the regime through waves of arrests, arbitrary detentions and the use of widespread torture.

In Gabon, the country is also going through a grave political crisis following the contested results of the presidential election on 27 August 2016. According to official data, the President, Ali Bongo, was re-elected with 49.8 % of the votes. Jean Ping, his opponent, believes that the participation rate of 99,93% in the province of Haut- Ogooué (stronghold of Ali Bongo in the Southeast of the country) that accounted for 95% of the votes for the elected candidate, was rigged to ensure the victory of Ali Bongo. The electoral observers of the European Union backed these doubts, emphasizing the ‘opacity revealed in the organisation of the procedure in this province’ and considered that ‘a study into the number of non-voters and blank ballot papers reveals an obvious anomaly in the final results in Haut-Ogooué’.


Joël Phalip

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