Archive for December, 2012

When I moved to Bamako a bit more than a year ago, the international community praised Mali for being a beacon of democracy and stability.

 I did not see that. I am not pretending that I knew that almost two-third of the country would fall under the control of rebels link to Al-Qaeda, nor that the military will take over in one of the most useless coup in West Africa, ousting President Amadou Toumani Touré (locally known under the acronym ATT).

What I knew was Malians did not see their country as the model that the international community kept referring to. They talked about corruption, lack of real democracy and injustice.

Nevertheless, there was such a consensus of Mali being the good Western-friendly pupil that I started to believe in it myself. Then the double crisis hit.

Being both a journalist and a researcher, the constant flow of news forced me in 2012 to be more of the first than the second. One day, I was making an interview with an academic. I felt something was wrong while writing my article. I sent him the article for review. He answered me: “You got more or less everything wrong”.

He was right. I was not alone getting everything more or less everything wrong about Mali this year. Mali has been out of the radar of most Sahel specialists, and there have been terrible reporting and analysis since the beginning of the crisis.

Parts of it come from the confusion over the chain of events. Most Malian actors that I have talked to had no idea that things would happen that way, and could not figure out what will happen next. Main politicians did not expect to be marginalized. The Green Berets did not expect to take power (the coup was a mutiny that turned out to be a coup when two pick-ups drove towards the presidency). The Red Berets and the elite battalions did not expect to lose their prestige. The Tuaregs did not expect to control the territory. And nobody expected Islamists and Al-Qaeda to seize control of the North. From the inside, the whole crisis has been a question of seizing opportunities while a failed state fell apart. And now, nobody seems to have an idea on how will 2013 look like.

Analysts’ narratives of the crisis have work mostly with dichotomies. First, it was the Tuaregs vs. the rest. Then, it became the Islamists/Al-Qaeda/Ansar Dine vs. the secular (Tuaregs + State). And now, the lines are more and more Malians vs. foreigners. In parallel, there was Bamako’s politico-military game that has also been simplified in pro-ATTs vs anti-ATTs. Those dichotomies seem more like ad-hoc creation to provide temporary guidance than real explanations on the cause of the crisis.

It seems to me that the current crisis is the sum of several social points of tensions that do not matter individually. The earthquake has been caused by the accumulation of individual clashes, like tectonic plates. Confusion over the direction of the crisis comes also from the fact that there are too many fault lines to bring the crisis in one single direction.

Three tectonic plates are more relevant.

First, ethnicity matters in Mali, even if it has not been utterly politicized in comparison to other neighboring countries. Mali has known several episodes of ethnic tensions since its independence. Tuareg rebellions have been the main incarnation of ethnic politics in Mali for many years, but the reactivation of Ganda Koy, ethnic militias that have been created by ethnic Songhais for self-defense of “their” territory, reinforce ethnic identity.

Ganda Koy members have committed several atrocities against Tuareg populations during the 90s. Its members have never been worried for the trauma they have caused to civilian population. Now, they are back to fight Tuaregs. Recruitment goes beyond Songhai communities and includes all ethnicities, including Bellas, the so-called black Tuaregs. If leaders of the new militias try to avoid talking overtly in terms that could be perceived as genocidal, their recruits are radicalized. 

As the economy in the south is worsening, there are already growing tensions between Southerners and Northerners. The ethnic fiber is not as harmonious as it has seemed to be in the last decade. Politicians, to face the political crisis, are themselves using more and more ethnic mobilization. Nobody can speak for “all Malians” anymore.

Second, the rise of political Islam is an important factor. Mali has been described as a secular country. But it was difficult to see Mali as such when Malians took the street in 2011 to protest a new family code granting women’s equality and forcing the president to step back.

Mali’s High Islamic Council is the only Malian organization able to fill stadiums with supporters. No political parties or civil society organization can achieve that. Not even unions. The High Council has always been involved in every aspect of Malian life. But with the double crisis, it has been able to play a political role, mediating tensions, sending envoys to the north and putting pressure on all actors.

ATT has always tried to restrict the Council’s influence over politics. Now, it is stronger than ever, and as several of its members have received training in the Gulf countries, more politicization will occur. This does not mean that the Council endorses AQIM or the application of the Sharia. This only means that Islam is increasingly political and that the next regime might not enforce a secular western-friendly the way ATT did.  It also means that Malians have lost faith in their secular politicians and that the Council has been able to channel the anger of Malians who saw a corrupted elite taking all the spoils.

A third fault line lies within the army.  This year, the clash between the Green and the Red Berets (from which ATT is from and who have received particular favors from the president) has been evident while both factions fought directly in Bamako’s streets last May. The army is more fragmented than that. There are the former Ganda Koy members, angry for having been recruited in the army in the 90s at lower ranks, while seeing Tuareg rebels integrated at higher levels. There is the Colonel-Major Elhadji Ag Gamou and several military followers that have sought refuge in Niger and are considered suspicious by the rest of the army. There are the junta members, including Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, who seem now to be mesmerized with power, money and influence, and other young ambitious young men who also want their share as it is now not uncommon in Bamako to see flashy SUVs driven by arrogant young military. Besides, there are all those young men joining militias preemptively expecting a retribution for liberating the north. Western countries made a priority of reforming and training the Malian army. Its first mission will be to bring together several irreconcilable factions.

Of course, several other fault lines can also matter, notably the relationship with former colonial power France. No matter how many there are, upcoming shocks can only be more brutal as Malians is facing a social crisis, as well as humanitarian and an economical one.

Military-wise, the United Nations and ECOWAS are now preparing a intervention to liberate the north. Politically-wise, plans to bring back a democratic regime in Bamako are compromised with the inability to hold credible elections without two-third of its territory. The outcome of the transition is even more uncertain than ever since the recent dismissal of Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra.

Besides, there are no plans to fix the social fault lines that brought the military and political crisis.  The international community seems to believe that once the Islamists will be out of the territory, everything will go back like in 2011.  Malians do not believe it.

Every time I need a taxi in Bamako, I call the same cab driver. His name is Maiga. He is reliable, he is on time, his car is in perfect order and he offers me his own analysis of the events. He helped me when I had problems with the army and he did not hesitate to move me around when the situation was tensed in Bamako.

Last time I requested his services, he was late, his car was dirty and it kept stalling on the way. Maiga was confused and sick. Like most Malians, Maiga is obviously suffering for the crisis. But he provided me a short piece of advice about Mali’s infortunes: “Nothing will be the same.  We will get back the North. We will have a new elected government. But, us, Malians, we will never be the same.”

My resolution for 2013: always follow local advise rather than the international rumors.

Marc-André Boisvert is a freelance journalist and researcher who has worked and lived in Bamako and Abidjan during the last few years.

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The latest conflict in Mali’s troubled history is coming to a breakpoint, or at least some kind of a turning point. While in the north of the country the Tuareg rebels continue their recently accelerated fighting against the Islamists of MUJAO, AQMI and the new-found Malian Ansar al-Sharia, in New York the United Nations’ Security Council is still weighing the details and options of an ECOWAS led military intervention.

After been given 45 days to come up with a detailed plan for an invention, ECOWAS is now waiting whether the UN will eventually give a mandate to an operation that has already the backing of the European Union. The 2012 Nobel Peace Prize winner has promised, at least with bilateral agreements through France and Germany, to assist in training the Malian armed forces and possible logistic assistance for an African lead military operation. The US and some of the other countries don’t seem to be too convinced about the plan, at least not on first sight.

Regardless of a possible UN mandate, a military intervention would face numerous challenges due to the multi-layered nature of the conflict itself. First of all, defining the forces to beat with an intervention poses a problem. Should the action target all militant forces in the area, supporting the now largely defunct Malian army in the fight? Or should the MNLA and Ansar al-Din be involved in the fight against the insurgents of the radical MUJAO and AQMI alongside ECOWAS and Malian forces? After all the Tuaregs’ MNLA and “home-grown” Islamist movement Ansar al-Din are the ones who lately have been showing signs of possible solution through negotiations. They, MNLA especially, have priceless knowledge of the terrain and its features in the northern parts of the country. That would be an asset to any military force fighting in the area. But would their involvement be beneficial for the future, for a new more comprehensive approach to Mali’s political, social and cultural problems? The Malian interim government in Bamako has said that everything is up for negotiations, except that the future will be a one united Mali, with one Armed Force and that the judicial system of the country will be based on laws of a republic, secular one compared to one driven by strict Sharia law.

From a purely military point of view, what can realistically be achieved with the amount of boots on the ground that the ECOWAS plan suggests? A force of some 3300 strong will be stretched at best in an area the size of northern Mali, especially considering the harshness of the terrain and the lack of support from basic infrastructure.

Regardless of the present enthusiasm surrounding the possible ECOWAS operation, it is not supported without reservation by everyone. Algeria for one fears the influx of Islamist fighters back north to its territory should a military intervention go ahead. Recently Algeria agreed to tighten its borders should the need arrive. Not an easy task to fulfill remembering the difficulties in controlling the insurgents’ movement going the other way.

There are also reservations towards any outside military intervention inside Mali. The Armed Forces, even though having faced humiliation in the north, still has mixed feelings considering the ECOWAS plan. The latest twists and turns, arrest of the prime minister and his subsequent resignation as well as that of the government, only serve to deepen the unrest in the country. Especially as this was a change forced by captain Amadou Sanogo and his troops. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has been in favour of an intervention, but has stressed the humanitarian risks involved. A UN report on the risks of the situation has been said to envisage large amounts of refugees still to come in all its four different possible outcome scenarios. These scenarios are said to range from sustain the status quo in the country to an Islamist counter-attack towards the southern part of Mali, including Bamako.

Whatever the UN Security council decides concerning a military intervention, the conflict is and will be far from over. The possible limited achievements of beating the insurgency by military force need to be accompanied by a much wider and in-depth operation of installing legal governance in the now invaded regions, tackling the poverty which drives the young into joining the armed rebel groups in hope for a future of at least some kind and ensuring development for the area as a whole. ECOWAS, the other neighbouring countries as well as the European Union all have a part to play in supporting the Malians to set the ball rolling. Negotiations are on-going on different levels and at different forums. The plight of the Malian people continues in the meantime.

Olli Teirilä (captain) is a lecturer at the Finnish National Defence University’s Department of Strategic and Defence Studies. His areas of interest include African security issues.

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The Election Day in Ghana has passed. The incumbent president John D. Mahama and his National Democratic Congress, NDC, have been declared winner by the Electoral Commission, EC. Celebrations have been held across the country.

But the electoral process is not over. The leading opposition New Patriotic Party, NPP, with its ‘flagbearer’ Nana Akufo-Addo is contesting the result, claiming their victory has been stolen by the NDC and EC. They have decided to gather their evidence and go to court, testing the judicial side of the Ghanaian democracy.

Due to malfunctioning verification machines the election day of last Friday the 7th had to be stretched to the following Saturday as well. However, already on Friday results were coming in that leaned toward a NDC victory. Still, NPP representatives held a press conference on Saturday afternoon claiming that reports they received from their polling agents all over the country predicted their much wanted victory. On Sunday EC declared NDC the winner. Speculations are rife. Were the reports given to NPP false, or has NDC been able to defy the new biometric verification machines and somehow added NDC votes to the ballot boxes? Or have NPP early on realized the outcome of the voting, and hence spreading suspicions of irregularities, hoping for a second chance? Nevertheless, their early press conference was criticized from NDC as well as the Ghana National Peace Council.

On Saturday the 8th, the same day as the press conference, information and rumors spread through twitter and the websites of the major radio channels in the country that two NPP supporters under gunpoint had tried to steal verification machines from a polling station in Aboabo in Tamale during Friday the 7th. Allegedly they had pointed their guns at the line of voters but were obstructed and overpowered by the crowd. I was in Aboabo during that day and experienced only calm, peacefulness and hope.

courtesy of Ulrik Jennische

courtesy of Ulrik Jennische

For the rest of Tamale and Ghana, it came as no surprise that the incident occurred in Aboabo. The neighborhood is an important business and residential district in the centre of Tamale, the major city in northern Ghana, and capital of the Northern Region. Aboabo has during the last decades been characterized by occasional clashes between supporters of the two major parties. The murder of the Yaa Naa, the Paramount Chief in 2002 further intensified the tension. This chieftaincy dispute centers on the alternation of the chiefly power between the two branches, or gates, of the royal family, Abudu and Andani, to which all Dagomba belong. The perpetrators of the murder are believed to be Abudus, who affiliated with the, at the time, ruling NPP, were somehow able to avoid justice. Residents of Aboabo are primarily Abudus and as the conflict over the years have been politicized, further linking the Abudus to the NPP (and Andanis to the NDC), most of them are strong NPP supporters.

Violent incident have occurred in Aboabo on several occasions as politics and chieftaincy matters interact. Houses have been burnt, and individuals have been killed. After a clash in 2009 just outside Aboabo, in which a NDC supporter was killed, five NPP supporters of which some reside in Aboabo were arrested. The clash occurred directly after the results of the previous elections became public, acknowledging the NDC victory. The five young men have been imprisoned for almost four years without trial. Friends and family members of the arrested are convinced of their innocence, a conviction that is strengthened by the stalled legal process.

It is difficult to write about this conflict, as everything told must be further explained, historicized and contextualized. Perhaps the most important aspect to emphasize is how this conflict is not only formed by incidents in past, but constantly being reproduced and reshaped in the everyday interaction of the present. Therefore, it becomes particularly important to stress the peacefulness and calm that that do characterizes Aboabo and Tamale of today. Despite the deeply politicized situation, despite all the wrongdoings from both sides, and despite being in the middle of an electoral process where so much is at stake, I am struck how the worries and concerns are blended with kindness, peace, humor, and anticipation of the Aboabo voters.

On Saturday the 8th, I went back to Aboabo.

I meet Amir in his little shop. Amir is a strong member of one of the NPP youth wings in Aboabo and his shop is conveniently located directly opposite the office of his youth wing. He is listening to the news broadcast on the radio. The information he receives makes him irritated and anxious. He says he is not worried, though, as NPP has just promised victory in the press conference, but his eyes and his tense voice says something else. As it is time for the evening prayers he sees me off and directs me down to the school where one polling station is still active. I walk along the narrow street that was improved with lights and asphalt during the NPP rule 2001-2008. The low houses have shops and openings facing the street. Many residents are out walking, either toward the mosques for their prayers or following me down to the school that for the time functions as a polling station. We cross a sewer canal, face a crowd of sheep and stretch our steps to avoid the mud as we approach the schoolyard.

Many people have gathered at the schoolyard. They are standing around an open area demarcated by plastic ropes. Inside the demarcation police officers and the military are stationed. Party representatives together with EC officers stand around a big table on which they have sorted the ballots. We the spectators are ready with pen, paper and cell phone to note and communicate the results as they eventually will be declared. Husein is standing on the other side of the plastic rope. He is an observer for the NPP and is supposed to make sure everything is made transparent and correct. I have spoken to him before on his and his family’s deep involvement in the NPP in Aboabo. He constantly receives reports from constituencies and polling stations all over the country that NPP has surprisingly won, so he is happy with the results so far, convinced NPP in the end will be declared the winner. Meanwhile he is worried over the many incidents having occurred at polling stations all over Ghana, incidents in which NPP representatives and voters have been obstructed. In one constituency not a single NPP vote has been registered, despite the local chairman of the party and the polling agent being certain they have put their ballots in the box. Some NPP observers in another constituency have been hindered to approach the table when expressing concerns over the slow sorting and counting process. There are many rumors and unconfirmed allegations over smaller and bigger incidents that together form a narrative in which the NPP in Aboabo are seen as discouraged and obstructed in their democratic attempt to regain power.

courtesy of Ulrik Jennische

courtesy of Ulrik Jennische

I ask Husein if he knows anything about the incident where the two verifications machines were stolen. He says he knows what happened very well as he visited the two NPP supporters in the hospital. They were both placed at the polling station located in one of the few strong NDC sites in Aboabo. According to them they were of course completely innocent to all allegations. They did not try to steal any machines, nor did they bring any weapon. They were however attacked by the NDC crowd, beaten and abused before they were sent to the hospital. “They want to abuse and frighten our people”, Husein says and continues “It’s a lie, a very big lie and wicked one of course.” What is true is at this stage impossible to know. But for the people gathered at the schoolyard it further supports the narrative of injustice.

A military officer points at me and my neighbors with a stick, as my bag has touched the plastic rope. “Let the rope have a breathing space” he says. We all take a few steps back, but shortly find ourselves leaning at the rope once again.

It is time to count the votes for the presidential election. They start with NDC and the EC officer counts the votes loud, holding up each and every ballot until 73. Husein is surprised, “last election they got maybe twenty”, he says. After counting the three ballots for one of the smaller parties it is time for NPP. The EC officer begins to count, “one, two, three…” He holds up the ballot so everybody can see. When he reaches 100 he becomes slightly tired. While the other EC men bundle the ballots he drinks some water and wipes the drops of sweat from his forehead. He continues, “one, two, three…”. It all takes a long time; everybody can see the thick pile of votes. At 300 the police begin to feel tired. Some of them sit down on some plastic chair and one officer leans the head in his hands, while closing his eyes. By 500 even the children are sitting down. They are drawing in the sand. The boys next to me look at each other, asserting “we’ll reach 1000!” They did not reach 1000. But they did get 747. We all look around to control each other’s notes, confirming the number. They text and call their family and friends.

The transparency is complete. The spectators or voters see everything that happen, they control and guarantee the correctness of the procedure in a similar way as it is done in most of the 26 000 polling stations all over Ghana. How can that transparency coexist with the suspicions and conspiratorial rumors spreading at the schoolyard of Aboabo?

I am thinking of what Husein is saying. What has happened, who is the perpetrator, and who is the victim? He speaks convincingly and the more I listen the more I begin to lean on him, feeling his concern and his injustice. If I, with an intention and salary, to be neutral and analytical begin to fold, giving in to the rumors and allegations how is it for the people living in this reality? How do they stay calm when constantly facing injustice, feeling nobody is listening to them, and being accused for actions they have not committed? No matter what has happened the narrative being formed in this context shapes and is shaped by the reality in which it exists. That such a narrative would lead to conflict and perhaps violence, would be of no surprise. But what is surprising and more interesting is the serenity and convinced democratic belief in Aboabo.

Last Friday, the 14th and a week after Election Day, I find myself once again in Aboabo. I am trying to find Amir, but he has not yet come to town. Some other members of the NPP youth wing are there, however. They are as disappointed and irritated as they are talkative. “They stole it, NDC stole it, and everybody knows it.” Encouraged by NPPs decision to go to court, they claim to be convinced their victory will come. Still, I believe I hear some doubts in their voices. While NDC supporters see themselves as the winner, looking forward to four more years of Mahama rule, the residents in Aboabo, believe the fight is not yet over. “The country is silent,” one of youth wing executives say, obviously not listening to the ongoing celebrations and cheers in most part of the city. “Nobody is crying, nobody is singing.” Once again their perception of the political situation differs from that of the NDC counterparts.

Ulrik Jennische is a PhD Candidate in Social Anthropology at Stockholm University. He is currently conducted a fieldwork in Tamale, northern Ghana. He is blogging (in Swedish) at www.faltrapport.wordpress.com.

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Polling station in Ussher Town under a billboard suggesting a different kind of vote

Polling station in Ussher Town under a billboard suggesting a different kind of vote

Yesterday I spent much of the day walking between polling stations: first in James and Ussher towns (downtown Accra) where things seemed to be working really well and then in Ashaiman. The latter location is a market town located close to the port of Tema. It contains of many poor settlements and had its share of violence during the last elections. At the first ten stations the voting was flowing smoothly and people were very satisfied. In the late afternoon I however visited several polling stations where the “machines”, as people said, had stopped functioning. The new biometric system requires electronic fingerprints for voters to vote and without a functioning finger print scanner they cannot vote. In some places people waited for hours with little information of when they could vote. Election functionaries in these locations knew little more than the voters and expressed great frustration over the “machines”. In one case the machine had simply frozen and could not be restarted, in the other cases they did not work after batteries had been replaced. One functionary told me that in all of Ashaiman they had just one spare fingerprint device and of all the defunct polling stations I visited none had gotten any technical support (in fact many voters thought that I was the technician that would fix their “machines”). At five o’clock when the polling stations were officially supposed to close voters and functionaries had still not received information of how to proceed. Only after dark they learnt that they would be allowed to vote the following day.

The Election Commission must have foreseen that problems would arise and should have had a functioning backup system in place. Still, although people were upset with the technical “glitches” at the polling station it was great to see how patient voters were. Many just hung around waiting for news of how to proceed. Patience was the virtue of many Ghanaian voters yesterday. Before I left Ashaiman I visited a few polling stations where they had started counting votes witnessed by scores of concerned onlookers. From the little a saw it worked smoothly.

Twitter turning into a rumor mill!

During the evening radio and TV started to read results from the various polling stations. This has been quite a confusing event as people have little chance of getting a real overview of the situation. It is quite clear that Ghana is a two party country now, and the results reading lead supporters of both parties to believe that they were ahead. Today (Saturday) the twitter hashtag Ghanadecides has turned into a rumor mill where people are publishing not just results from constituencies but also statistics that unfortunately tend to differ widely. Up to last night twitter was a forum where people chiefly urged for peaceful elections, but it has since then turned into a forum where supporters of the two main political parties not only publish statistics with doubtable content, but also complaints over the other parties “regionalism” and ethnic voting. There are also tweets with suggestions that certain radio channels send biased reports followed by demands of shutting them down as well as the odd tweet claiming election fraud without any evidence (becomes even more problematic as tweets can only be very brief). It is unfortunate that #ghanadecides has taking this turn, but it is also the proof of how the temperature is rising in the country when we are drawing closer to results.

In the streets people are clinging to their radios listening to the announcements of the results and guessing the winner. Real world Accra is cooler than Twitter. At the time only 85 out of 275 constituencies have been declared and without contributing to the rumor mill I can only say that it is a close race.

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Mr. Vanderpuye, NDC MP candidate for Odododiodioo constituency, with late president Atta Mills…… (picture from June 2012)

…. had to spend a lot of extra money to get the new President John Mahama onto his massive election posters

…. had to spend a lot of extra money to replace Atta Mills with new President John Mahama on his massive election posters (picture from December 2012)

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Ghana votes 2012

I must say that I have been slightly disappointed with the political temperature in Accra. The few days I have spent in Accra have showed nothing like the political spirit of Sierra Leone, or even Liberia. But Wednesday turned out to be the real campaigning day in Accra and there was suddenly nothing wrong with elections frenzy and party spirit. Small rallies of supporters in party attire with banners and flags roamed downtown; a few groups of young men ran along the streets, but most of the campaigning takes place in caravans of cars, with supporters leaning out through the windows shouting party slogans and blowing vuvuzelas. Typically a group of motorbike riders would come first, driving at maximum speed, blowing their horns, ignoring traffic rules; at times against busy traffic on one-way streets. A posh car or two, and then tro-tro’s (minibuses) and taxis would follow. In the evening heads of parties and local MPs held meetings at various places and crisscrossed through town creating a joyful chaos. Supporters of the parties met up in friendly clashes where abusive language was used but violence was not in the air. Mockery is a common form of campaigning and a friend of mine saw a tro-tro driver in one of the NDC crowds stopping in the middle of the road just to throw himself on the ground with feet and hands up in the air. This act was with reference to an NPP meeting a few days ago in Kumasi when a stage broke down under the weight of presidential candidate Akufo-Addo and other NPP seniors who subsequently fell to the ground with hands and feet in the air. There is clearly room for comedy. Thursday has been much more quite with no real rallies, although lots of talks about politics. Friday is time to vote.

Voting according to belonging

President John Mahama and followers at Legon University

President John Mahama talks to followers at Legon University

In the elections President John Mahama and his incumbent NDC stands against Nana Akufo-Addo of the NPP. There are several other contesting parties but they will only get minor votes. The question is if one of the two parties will win outright in the first round, but there is a good chance/risk that there will be a run-off scheduled for December 28. Mahama inherited the presidency when president John Atta Mills passed away in July this year and he has managed to appear as a serious candidate, partly surfing on the waves of Atta Mills passing and the smooth transition that subsequently followed. Tuesday night I heard him talk in front of a crowd at the University of Legon and his appearance was rather down to earth and his speech was short and direct. Nana Akufo-Addo, who won the first round in the 2008 elections only to lose the run-off, on the other hand is said to be more elitist and arrogant but has a firm grip on southern much of the south. A discussion with a young man from NPP heartland gives an indication of how he is viewed, but also why he and NPP still stands a good chance.

Collins from Kumasi told me he will vote for NPP because it is in his blood. He is however not very keen on Akufo-Addo as he “talks too much and cannot really be trusted”. He really puts more trust in Mahama, but would never vote for NDC. The presidential candidate he believes most in is however Kwesi Nduom, the candidate for the newly formed PPP. When I ask him why he would vote for NPP he states that it is like a family and that people from NPP areas vote NPP because they know that if they are in power they have good chances of pushing their “projects” forward. In the NPP sphere he has several family members, in the extended sense, that will likely receive positions if not within the government itself so within state agencies that he would indirectly benefit from. Indeed he also has acquaintances within the NDC, but then he prefers to call them friends and although he states that he may benefit a little from them it is not to the same extent.

Political messages and peace

Being used to politics in Sierra Leone and Liberia it has been rather impressive to follow the debates leading up to the Ghanaian election. It is in fact quite hard to compare Ghanaian politics with the two other West African countries I am more familiar with. In Ghana there is a real debate over what we in the western world perceive as real political issues. For instance the question of free schooling has been a hotly debated issue. Still however regional voting patterns are the most decisive feature of the elections as indicated by Collins above.

The close results of last election and the violent skirmishes that followed, but fortunately never escalated to anything serious – but see the early parts of this documentary – have made people anxious that a similar scenario may arise if the elections are close again. Although there have been little violence up until today, except the few minor incidents that would be anticipated, media is to a surprising extent talking about peace clearly indicating the fear that another close election could lead to renewed tension between the two main parties. Also on social media such as twitter, little party politics is played out and the peace message dominates. A peace pact between all parties was signed on November 27th in Kumasi showing that all parties really aim at peaceful elections but also that amongst them as well there are worries that the situation could get out of hand. At this time there is not much indicating that this will be the case and interaction between the followers of the parties appear very peaceful, but we know that small incidents and the rumor mills around such events may have serious repercussions.

A heavy thunderstorm currently cools down Accra whilst people prepare for tomorrows elections in a country that has seen much progress over the last decades; a route that any of the two parties contesting power will clearly continue to follow.

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As elections loom over Zimbabwe in 2013, there is still no resolution to the longstanding political stalemate. The three political parties that formed a Government of National Unity (GNU) in 2008 have not implemented the reforms that would have prepared the country for elections.

A key reform was the drafting of a new constitution which has passed the formation stages and allowed for people driven and participatory process. The July 18, 2012 draft constitution was accepted by an All Stakeholders Conference and is now to be decided upon by the three political party heads – Robert Mugabe (Zanu PF), Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) and Welshman Ncube (MDC-N). This is unfortunate, as the result of this whole constitutional making process will lead to a negotiated constitution that reflects the immediate interests of the three parties (which include self-preservation, protection from prosecution and access to resources among others), and not a national constitution that proscribes the governance mechanisms and legal framework for the state: irrespective of who is in power. Thus, the end product will not solve the problem but is instead likely to prolong it.

The country is not ready for elections and neither are the political parties as not one of them is assured of winning an election. The MDC formations have spectacularly lost ground since 2008. The MDC MP’s and Ministers are enjoying the same perks as those in Zanu PF and, as such, the people see them as one and the same. This is compounded by the cases of corruption by MDC councillors and Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s “Sex-Gate” scandals which have led to the MDC losing the moral high-ground. Additionally, the MDC are unable to campaign freely. They are not allowed to campaign through open rallies as the police refuse them permission to do so. They also do not have access to the media which is controlled by Zanu PF.

While Zanu PF (and in particular president Mugabe) have strengthened their position amongst the voters since 2008 (recent opinion polls show they lead the MDC), there are no certainties that they will win the elections as there are a large number of protest voters. Furthermore, elections will intensify the divisions within Zanu PF and raise the sensitive subject of the presidential succession. The Mujuru and Munangagwa factions within Zanu PF are well known. However, a closer look at Zanu PF suggests that president Mugabe may have a faction of his own that is closely linked to the unofficial “Joint Operations Command” which includes the security chiefs. A smaller faction called the “opportunists” and sometimes the “hardliners” is said to also exist, as does a faction from within the military made up of less senior officers, who may also have their own preferred presidential candidate. Thus, the convergence on the presidency within Zanu PF itself could become a fierce battle. Additionally, it has also dawned on Zanu PF that if they lose the election they may not be allowed to refuse to leave office again. As a result, all three party leaders would prefer things to continue as they are. It is my sense that the three party heads are likely to strike a deal between themselves and move into a continued or second GNU (a GNU II).

The economy has improved from the all-time lows of 2003 and 2008 and this has lightened the atmosphere across the country. However, as soon as one scratches below the surface and asks about the forthcoming elections, a whole world of fear and uncertainty presents itself. It is as if everybody is consciously living in a “make-belief-world” at present, cautiously experiencing the peace, and just waiting for the violent reality of the elections to descend upon them. There is not one person that I have spoken to that is not dreading the elections and the violence they believe it will bring. Youth Bases are already visibly being established at local community level around the country and it is understood that some War Veteran associations are already mobilising for the elections. It was from these bases that much of the election violence in 2008 was carried out. The presence of these bases strikes fear into individuals and communities and this may make it possible for political parties to “harvest” the fear created in 2008. So it may not be necessary to resort to overt violence – “Toy-Toying” may be enough. Having said that, with unemployment and poverty still high, and especially amongst the youth, generating violence is very cheap. As a member of the MDC put it: “A scud (local beer) costs fifty cents, so twenty dollars can go a long way, especially if you have impunity.”

Normal life in Mbare township, Harare. This is one of the most tense constituencies at election time in the country. Photo by Eldridge Adolfo.

Normal life in Mbare township, Harare. This is one of the most tense constituencies at election time in the country. Photo by Eldridge Adolfo.

This leaves the country in a very awkward situation in that neither the political parties, civil society, the business community nor the ordinary people want to have elections. It prompts the question of whether elections are actually the way out of this stalemate – especially if elections simply act as a catalyst for increased election violence and instability, which, in any case, reproduces the status quo. What are the alternatives? A GNUII? There are many problems with the current GNU that are mostly generated from the political parties in Zimbabwe and Zanu PF in particular. However, because the GNU is not truly supported by the international community – who are solely focused on removing Zanu PF from power and have thus retained sanctions on the country – the MDC has been thrust into the GNU that has loaded it with lots of responsibility, but given it absolutely no power or resources (from neither the Zimbabwean state nor the international community), to do anything about those responsibilities. This has sorely exposed the MDC and has not created a platform to initiate the necessary reforms which would have prepared the country for elections.

Conversely, if elections do go ahead, and the MDC win those elections, and the MDC is in fact allowed to take control of the state, there is every possibility that the MDC would behave exactly the same as Zanu PF has: simply because they can. Zimbabwe’s problems are structural and are centred on the governance mechanisms of the state. For example, the “Imperial Presidency” in Zimbabwe means that the president is not accountable to anyone and can thus do whatever he/she wants to. Power is concentrated in the office of the presidency and even President Mugabe has recently said that “parliament is merely a decoration.” The reality is that the executive negotiates legislation, parliament simply rubber stamps it and the judiciary dares not go against it. Power needs to be diffused from this imperial office and shared with the Parliament, Senate and Judiciary, so as to counter balance this centralised power which will increase forms of accountability. Power also needs to be decentralised to allow other provincial state apparatus to exercise some power at the local level. This also applies to the electoral system that needs to be more inclusive. The first-past-the-post electoral system has been divisive and makes millions of votes worthless in Zimbabwe. An inclusive system does not necessarily have to be a strict Proportional Representation system, which may not by itself suite the Zimbabwean context. A mixed system will probably need to be explored.

Issues surrounding sanctions are likely to sustain the deadlock in the GNU and the international community will have to re-think the effectiveness of sanctions. With the international community focusing exclusively on humanitarian support in Zimbabwe, it is ignoring the greater complexities surrounding the socio-economic challenges faced by ordinary Zimbabwean people who are the most affected by sanctions. This is strengthening Zanu PF’s rhetoric that accuses the MDC of asking for sanctions to be imposed on the country and it is in-fact gaining support for Zanu PF in some quarters – which is somewhat counterproductive. While the people suffer, the politicians and their associates are profiting from the sale of diamonds (often illegally), mined in the eastern part of the country. It is claimed that between 2010 and 2012, over US$2 billion dollars’ worth of diamonds sales were made but were not passed through the Ministry of Finance or the Zimbabwean Treasury.

President Jacob Zuma of South Africa has taken the strategic step of moving the responsibility for the mediation efforts on Zimbabwe away from South Africa as a country and into SADC as a regional organisation. This has gained buy-in from the SADC countries which has seen some of President Mugabe’s supporters take a firm stance against him and Zanu PF. The leniency of the Mbeki Mediation era has somewhat subsided and Zanu PF understands that it needs to tread carefully and make certain it remains legitimate in the eyes of SADC and the African Union. Maybe a solution could be found through these organisations?

Eldridge Vigil Adolfo is Researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden. His particular interests are Conflict, Peacebuilding, Elections, War Economies and Democratic Transformation.

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