Africa: The summer of living dangerously

02 August 2017 Coface

Over a nine day span, from July 30th to August 8th, no fewer than five sub-Saharan African countries will hold nationwide elections.

Citizens of Senegal, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Mauritania and Kenya will successively be called to the ballot boxes. They will be quickly followed by a seventh election on 23rd August in Angola.

These elections, sometimes in name only, presents varying challenges but all carry a certain level of risk. In addition to the six elections, a ninth no-confidence motion against President J. Zuma, which may have a different outcome this time, is on the African political agenda for August 8th. Hence, the concentration of high stakes political event will pep up the summer below the Tropic of Cancer.

Senegal: a model stumbling on organisation issues

Senegal will kick-start an election period on the African continent with its legislative elections to be held on July 30th. Often considered a model of democracy in Africa and in the West African sub-region, controversies over the organization of the ballot are tarnishing the standing of the Senegalese democracy. At the core of the controversy is the new biometric ID card, launched last year, which, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs, were not delivered to close to a third of the population but is, nevertheless, mandatory to vote. In addition, with no fewer than 47 candidate lists, confusion and congestion at the polling booth are likely to prevail.

Congo, Rwanda, Angola: May the best (incumbent’s) bid win

On the same day, Congolese citizens in Brazzaville might envy the choice offered to their Senegalese counterparts. Dominated by President Denis Sassou-Nguesso since 1979 - bar five years between 1992 and 1997 - and his Congolese Party of Labour (PCT), the outcome of the legislative elections leaves no room for surprises. After the first round, on July 16th, the PCT had already won 70 out of the 151 seats at stake. A year after a controversial presidential election, the legislative election will merely entrench Sassou’s dominance of the political stage.

Similarly, the presidential election in Rwanda, on August 4th, and the general election in Angola, on August 23rd, should also be free of surprises. The Rwandan Constitution, amended with a suspicious 98% of the vote in 2015, could potentially let Paul Kagame, in charge since 1994, extend his rule until 2034. Muzzled media and bullied opposition should not prevent Kagame to serve its third 7-year term.

In Angola, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, 38 years in office, will step down but it will only bring a cosmetic change. Designated successor, João Lourenço is a new face but will perpetuate the MPLA’s supremacy.

Kenya: ten years after

In Kenya, a nail-biting general election, which will see Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent, face Raila Odinga, two times unsuccessful candidate (2007,2013), raises the vivid memory of the 2007 post-election violence (1,300 dead, 600,000 displaced). Even though the 2013 election, marked by intense accusations of rigging, went on quite peacefully, it fuelled distrust in the impartiality of the judiciary. Hit by a severe drought in 2017 and still plagued by domestic insecurity, from al-Shabaab, extra-judicial killing and corruption, the country is leaving room for exasperation. A divisive campaign sometimes led on ethnic lines could turn exasperation into violence.

Mauritania: a controversial referendum

Political tension is also on the rise in Mauritania after President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz called on a constitutional referendum. The constitutional amendment provides the abolition of the Senate, changing the national flag and modifying the lyrics of the national anthem. The opposition rejects the proposed change, which they argue would cement the president’s grip on power. Moreover, the referendum is deemed a “constitutional coup” by the opposition because it questions the legitimacy of the Parliament, which rejected the same amendment in March.

South Africa: ‘comme d’habitude’? Not quite

In South Africa, not spared by political woes in the past few years, it is not a nationwide election that receives attention but a no-confidence motion against President Jacob Zuma in the National Assembly. Admittedly, he survived eight such votes since he took office in 2009 and the 49-seat majority the ANC party enjoys in the lower chamber of Parliament could indicate that it will not be different this time.

Nevertheless, for the first time, the ballot might be held in secret, meaning that names and parties would not be recorded. It would open the door for quiet dissenters among the ANC to vote the no-confidence motion without fear of reprisal from Zuma or the party. According to a June 2017 High Court ruling, this decision depends solely on the Speaker of National Assembly. Hence, observers of the Rainbow Nation’s politics hang upon Speaker Baleka Mbete’s every word.


Election-related violence is the main risk to anticipate from in the forthcoming month. The risk is, nevertheless, unevenly distributed:

1) The Kenyan general election will probably be the most anxiously awaited: recent history and the campaign fuel worries.
2) Even if it is not risk-immune, the Senegalese election is probably has lower risk.
3) Elections, in name only, in Angola and Rwanda present the only issue of entrenching the stability of, respectively, a one-party state and a one-man state.
4) In Congo, already plagued by violence in the Pool region, no change is expected: this year’s election is unlikely to administer relief, never mind change for the country.
5) In Mauritania, a controversial referendum could potentially expose the delicateness of a nascent democracy.

It is also worth noting that the no-confidence motion against J. Zuma is widely seen as an opportunity rather than a risk.




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