Summits around the Continent: AU, ECOWAS, and Arab Maghreb Union Discuss Crises, EAC Rejects Sudan

This past week saw important meetings of four important regional and continental organizations in Africa. Political crises, particularly in North Africa and the Sahel region, topped the agenda for the African Union, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), and the Arab Maghreb Union. Meanwhile, the East African Community reportedly rejected Sudan’s bid for membership.

The African Union:

African Union Chairman Boni Yayi will visit some of the continent’s conflict areas including Sudan and South Sudan, Mali and Libya for direct talks, an aide said on Saturday.

Yayi, also president of Benin, had been hosting an informal summit of the continent’s leaders in Cotonou focusing on security, especially in the Sahel, piracy and the threat posed in Nigeria by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

ECOWAS:

Over the course of its two-day summit in Abuja, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, discussed the region’s many crises, as well as its successes.  On Friday, the confederation also elected Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara as its new chairman.
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The litany of crises facing the region could not be overlooked.  Said Djinnit is the head of the United Nations Office for West Africa.  He urged ECOWAS states to exercise the same vigilance and cooperation they have shown so far.

“Despite the complexity of the region’s immediate problems – namely, food crisis in the Sahel, new flow of refugees, increased numbers of smuggled arms in the fallout of the Libyan crisis, piracy, and terrorist activities – the leadership of the region spared no effort to address them, with the support of the international community,” said Djinnit.

(In related news, the AU and ECOWAS will be sending a team to Senegal this week in an attempt to help defuse pre-election tensions.)

The Arab Maghreb Union:

Ministers from Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) member states Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Libya convened Saturday in Rabat, the first high-level conference since 1996.

During the meeting, Algeria proposed to boost cooperation with North African neighbours against terror and organised crime.

Algeria sought “true and effective Maghreb cooperation in the fields of terrorism, organised crime, illegal arms and drug trafficking and clandestine immigration,” Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci told counterparts in Rabat.

The meeting is also the first since two members, Tunisia and Libya, went through the upheavals of the Arab Spring.

Finally, members of the East African Community met last Wednesday. They rejected Sudan’s bid for membership for two reasons, according to one account: first, on geographical grounds (too far) and second, because it applies shari’a, which no other member state does.

It will be interesting to see whether there is more momentum toward regional and continental integration in the wake of all the political changes that 2011 brought.

Africa Elections Updates: Djibouti, Nigeria, Benin, Mauritania, and Chad

With so much news coming out of Africa this week – ongoing civil wars and foreign interventions in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire, a diplomatic transition in Sudan, and a tragic plane crash in Congo – I want to make sure there is some coverage of elections taking place in West and East Africa, including but not limited to Nigeria’s vote.

The calendar runs as follows:

  • April 8: Presidential elections in Djibouti
  • April 9: National Assembly elections in Nigeria
  • April 16: Presidential elections in Nigeria
  • April 17: Parliamentary elections in Benin
  • April 24: Senatorial elections in Mauritania
  • April 26: State elections in Nigeria
  • May 8: Presidential elections in Chad (there are conflicting dates for this vote, but I am following All Africa’s electoral calendar, available on their homepage)

Here is an outline of the major issues at stake in each country:

Djibouti

Presidential elections in Djibouti are nearly guaranteed to return two-term incumbent Ismael Omar Guelleh to power, and this prospect has sparked a protest movement that aims to place this small Horn of Africa nation in the company of Egypt and Tunisia. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch called on Djibouti’s government to “allow peaceful protests.” For two different views on the meaning of the elections, see pieces by Gabriel Constanza and by Awate (a website run by Eritrean dissidents).

Nigeria

This weekend’s decision to delay elections in Nigeria continues to draw criticism and stoke fears of potential disaster. A number of commentators have spoken on the elections, but I found these words from journalist Tolu Ogunlesi, writing for Think Africa Press, particularly thoughtful:

I think that what we are seeing in Nigeria at the moment is not so much a “deepening of democracy” (i.e. in terms of a transformation of democratic institutions: police, judiciary, executive, legislature, political parties etc), as it is an ‘awareness-transformation’ on the part of citizens. It is important to realise that democracy, as a system of government, is useless when citizens do not realise the extent of the power it offers them. Various interlinked factors including technology (mobile phones, social networking, a computerised voter database), the 2008 Barack Obama story (of change, and limitless possibilities), the North African uprisings and a general yearning for good leadership after 12 unimpressive years of civilian rule have combined to enlighten, inspire and empower Nigerians and to transform their understanding of what genuine democracy is all about (power in the hands of the people). So while the Nigerian judiciary remains embroiled in corruption, the Police Force continues to be as ineffective and compromised as ever, and the political parties continue to lack vision or ideological basis, what is happening is that citizens are realising that they have more power than they thought they had: the power to say “No”, or “Yes.”

For other reactions, see the Economist‘s Baobab and Amb. John Campbell.

Benin

In Benin, presidential elections took place on March 13. Incumbent President Boni Yayi won re-election with 53% of the official vote, eliciting a court challenge from the opposition. Benin’s constitutional court refused to hear the case, and has certified Yayi’s victory. Opposition leader Adrien Houngbedji has, according to the latest report I could find, refused to concede. Parliamentary elections are thus approaching in an atmosphere of tension. David Zounmenou of the Institute for Security Studies explores some of the issues at stake in the election, and asks what the election means for democratization in Benin, here.

Mauritania

In Mauritania, major opposition leaders Messaoud Boulkheir and Ahmed Ould Daddah, who respectively placed second and third in the 2009 presidential elections, are calling on the government of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to delay the senatorial elections scheduled for later this month.

Chad

Problems with Chad’s parliamentary elections on February 13 (elections the ruling party won) have provoked opposition boycotts and played into the uncertainty surrounding presidential elections that have already been delayed at least once. The elections will likely return President Idriss Deby to office, but may leave unresolved political tensions behind.

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What is your take on these elections?

Election Updates: Niger, Benin, and Chad [Updated]

Quick updates on several recent or ongoing African elections:

Let us know if you hear anything about these elections, particularly the results for Niger’s vote. I will have a longer post up later today.

[UPDATE]: Provisional results in Niger’s run-off give Mahamadou Issoufou 58% of the vote to Seyni Oumarou’s 42%. Many predicted that Issoufou would win, and the coalition he assembled between January 31 and now has held. Now all that remains for the transition back to civilian rule, scheduled for April 6, is the electoral commission’s certification of the result.