Africa Blog Roundup: Algeria, Somalia, Michel Djotodia, South Sudan, and More

The Moor Next Door: “Comments on Algeria.”

Baobab has a video analysis of the London conference on Somalia.

Missed this during my hiatus in April, but it’s still relevant: Louisa Lombard‘s biography of Michel Djotodia, the rebel-turned-leader of the Central African Republic.

Amb. John Campbell: “What Next for Nigeria’s Oil Patch?”

Dibussi Tande: “President [Paul] Biya [of Cameroon] Appoints Thirty Senators.”

Roving Bandit: “So What Exactly Just Happened to the Economy of South Sudan?”

Via Amb. David Shinn, the Spring 2013 bulletin of the Sudan Studies Association (.pdf).

Cameroon Elections Open Thread

Cameroonians go to the polls today to vote in a presidential election that pits incumbent President Paul Biya against a host of challengers. Biya is widely expected to win, so the key question may not be who wins, but rather how smoothly the elections go.

The BBC has a Q&A that provides background on the vote. Please use this thread to share any news or observations you have.

Cameroon: Ugly Notes in Presidential Campaigning

Cameroon will hold presidential elections on October 9. Over twenty challengers are facing off against President Paul Biya, 78, who has held his post since 1982. Biya won elections in 1984, 1992, 1997, and 2004, and is running again after removing a two-term limit imposed by the 1996 constitution. Almost all observers expect Biya to win re-election this time as well. Official campaigning, which Voice of America describes as “sluggish,” only began recently, but on a rhetorical and now physical level, the process has been punctuated by violence.

In terms of rhetoric, the major opposition candidate has used highly inflammatory language to describe other contenders:

The chairman of Cameroon’s main opposition party, John Fru Ndi, said Monday that the other opposition parties competing in October’s presidential race are “maggots.”

Fru Ndi told supporters at a rally in the opposition stronghold of Bamenda that nearly all the parties running alongside his Social Democratic Front were set up by President Paul Biya as a ploy to fracture the main party.

Fru Ndi has also made vague threats of protests and boycotts:

“I would not opt for youths to take to the streets in protest like that of the Arab Spring, but if Mr. Biya’s regime this time violates a free, fair and transparent election as he has always done, I would change my mind,” he told supporters.

Amid this heated rhetoric, now there has been a flash of physical violence as well:

Witnesses report a heavy military presence in Cameroon’s commercial hub, Douala, after gunmen dressed in military uniform opened fire on a major bridge to protest the country’s longtime president.

Officials say at least five gunmen blockaded the busy Wouri Bridge early Thursday and exchanged gunfire with security forces for about three hours. No injuries were reported.

Authorities say four suspects were taken into custody and another one plunged from the bridge into the river below. Cameroon police said they were interrogating the suspects to determine if they were soldiers.

Five men is not so many, but the dramatic action they took certainly attracted attention and increased the level of tension in the country. If the men turn out to be soldiers, that could raise questions about how widespread such discontent is within the security forces.

None of this directly threatens Biya, but the rhetorical and physical violence does point to underlying political strains in Cameroon. The big question will not be what happens during the election, but what happens afterward, especially as politicians, soldiers, and other powerful forces in Cameroon look toward a post-Biya future.

Cameroon to Hold Elections in October

The Cameroonian government has announced that presidential elections will take place on October 9. Incumbent President Paul Biya is almost certain to win:

He would face a divided and weak opposition that has not been able to challenge him in the last two elections.

Biya’s ruling party, the CPDM, plans to hold a congress on September 15-16, when it is expected to name him as its candidate.

The real question is what happens after Biya, currently 78, leaves power. Ajong Mbapndah L has a fairly grim take:

Beyond the brouhaha about the 2011 elections looms the spectre of the post Biya era. With a balance sheet that is largely below expectations at the onset of his accession to power in 1982, many Cameroonians long and hope for someone else to pilot state affairs. For those who have fed fat from the regime, the prospects of a post-Biya era are something to be dreaded. What happens when President Biya and his ruling CPDM are no longer there to serve as cover for criminal activities ranging from flagrant human rights abuses to looting the public treasury with impunity?

Even within the ranks of his ruling CPDM, there have been reports of vicious off camera struggles of eminent presidential associates to position themselves as heirs to the throne. Former Ministers are languishing in jail today like Atangana Mebara former Secretary General to the Presidency, Olanguena Owono, former Minister of Public Health and Polycarp Abah Abah former Minister of Economy and Finance. All are said be victims of the power games of succession. Officially arrested for corruption, the real reason for their incarceration in the dreaded Kondengui maximum security prison was their allegiance to the G11 group exploring options for the post-Biya era. With the wear and tear of age, the growing intolerance of leading world powers for sit-tight leaders and the desire for a graceful exit which avoids the humiliation suffered by Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt and Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast, it is hard to say what Biya may have in store for Cameroonians.

Cameroon saw a few protests against Biya this year, and more serious protests in 2008.

Cameroon Looks Toward Elections as Incumbents in Africa Face Popular Anger

If I were an African incumbent facing re-election, I would feel pretty good about my chances: in the past year, presidents like Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, and Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan have won solid victories over divided oppositions. But I would not be eager to face the popular anger that has dogged incumbents this year. In Burkina Faso, civilian protests and soldiers’ mutinies shook Compaore’s regime from late February through early June. Museveni cruised to re-election in February only to see the world-famous “Walk to Work” movement spring up weeks later. Jonathan’s April electoral triumph was followed by riots in Northern Nigeria. In Senegal, incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade last week withdrew a set of proposed constitutional changes because of the backlash they generated.

Yaoundé

Yaoundé, Cameroon

Cameroonian President Paul Biya is a veteran politician. But at 78 years old, and with over twenty-eight years in power, he is the type of figure that protesters, especially in Senegal and Uganda, have been rejecting in 2011. That does not mean Biya will lose when Cameroon holds its presidential elections in October – after all, he has won three multi-party elections (1992, 1997, and 2004), including a close contest in 1992, and he maintained power through the mass protests of 2008, which concerned high costs of living as well as Biya’s decision to remove constitutional term limits on his tenure. Biya is still the favorite to win. But if the current wave of dissatisfaction with (in particular West) African incumbents lasts through the fall, Biya’s victory might come at the price of serious popular anger.

US officials recognize this potential. While calls from Washington for African countries to hold free and fair elections are pretty standard, I find it noteworthy that Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson has taken pains, over three months before Cameroon holds its elections, to raise concerns:

Carson met with Cameroon president Paul Biya and the country’s prime minister during a visit and urged the leaders to hold a free and fair election, a statement from the U.S. Embassy said.

[…]

“He (Carson) said…that any intimidation of presidential candidates and leaders of civil society by governmental authorities in the run up to the elections will be viewed by the international community as having a negative impact on the credibility of the electoral process,” [the statement] said.

With political tensions swirling, Cameroon’s external borrowing increasing, and inflation mounting across much of Africa, Cameroon has many of the ingredients that produced protests elsewhere. That possibility has clearly already occurred to officials in Washington, and likely it is a topic of discussion in Yaounde as well.

Quick Item on Cameroon’s Protests

Yesterday Cameroonian activists held protests against President Paul Biya, but according to one report security forces quickly suppressed the demonstrations. Cameroon saw widespread protests against Biya in 2008.

Cameroonian activist Kah Walla describes her own experience over at Dibussi Tande’s blog.

Here is a video allegedly showing Cameroonian police beating a protester:

Finally, for those interested in Africa’s protests generally, check out this awesome piece from Al Jazeera (h/t Nate).

Cameroon: President Paul Biya Begins Re-Election Campaign

Cameroon will hold elections in October 2011. President Paul Biya, who has ruled since 1982, won the previous elections in 2004 with over 70% of the vote. In 2004 the BBC characterized Biya as a “reluctant campaigner” because he only made a few appearances on the trail. This time around, though, he has already started campaigning: this week he traveled to the north west part of the country and began his re-election bid. Amidst “rising public frustration,” this trip to “a region traditionally hostile to his rule” suggests that Biya feels he must now do more to assuage anger in Cameroon. His visit to the north served partly to honor the military on the fiftieth anniversary of its creation, but also afforded him an opportunity to make new pledges regarding infrastructure and development and to make a symbolic gesture toward national unity.

The elections themselves may not worry Biya. Given his landslide win in 2004 and the fact that ten out of twelve members of the electoral commission belong to the ruling party (audio), some observers believe that Biya is guaranteed re-election whether by fair or foul means.

What might worry the president more is the aforementioned discontent with his regime, which could manifest in other arenas than just the ballot box. The International Crisis Group gave its take on Cameroon’s situation this summer:

After 28 years of the Biya presidency, Cameroon faces potential instability in the run up to the presidential elections scheduled for late 2011. Constitutional and legal uncertainty; rivalries between the regime’s leading figures; the government’s attempts to control the electoral process; the rupture of the political contract between leaders and the population; widespread poverty and frustration; extensive corruption; and the frustration of a large part of the army all point to the possibility of a major crisis.

[…]

The ruling party is increasingly divided. Although it dominates political life, it knows that it lacks legitimacy, and it is weakened by intense internal rivalries over control of resources and positioning for the post-Biya period. Having done away with the constitutional limitation on the number of presidential terms, Biya, who is at the same time feared and opposed in his own party, is deliberately maintaining uncertainty over whether he will stand again. Many members of his party harbour their own presidential ambitions.

The security forces, a pillar of support for the regime, are also divided. A small number of elite units have good equipment and training, while the rest, although they do receive their correct salaries on a regular basis, lack resources and are poorly prepared. The military as a whole suffers from tensions between generations, not least because the refusal of older generals to retire blocks promotions for more junior officers. Some members of the security forces are also widely believed to be involved in criminal activities.

With the country afflicted by high levels of corruption, a clientelist political system and a heavy security presence in all areas of life, many citizens feel excluded from the system. Fully half the population is younger than twenty, so the high level of youth unemployment and under-employment is a considerable source of social tension. Given such fissures, were Biya to die in office a serious crisis could unfold, aggravated by the unclear constitutional provisions for a transition. Such an event may not occur for some time, but, with democracy at an impasse, the immediate post-Biya period is already a significant factor in intra-regime politics, and acknowledged as a major potential cause of instability. In any event, the 2011 elections could easily lead to conflict if they are poorly organised or lack transparency. The organising body has no legitimacy and has already made a bad start in the preparations. If there is no option for democratic political change, there is a good chance ordinary citizens, members of the political class and/or military elements will eventually choose violence as a way out of the current impasse.

Serious issues lie before the country in 2011, and Cameroon has already seen political troubles in recent years. A series of riots in 2008, sparked by anger over fuel and Biya’s extended tenure in office, claimed at least forty lives and shook the regime’s legitimacy. That anger still exists in some quarters, and the regime undoubtedly knows that. In light of ICG’s commentary and Cameroon’s recent political history, then, Biya’s decision to begin his re-election bid with a simultaneous tribute to the security forces and a nod to national unity dramatically illustrates the perils of the road ahead.

Bamenda, Cameroon, site of President Biya’s visit this week: