This Week in Africa 6423: Somalia’s transition to direct voting in elections; Former Lagos governor as Nigeria’s new president; Zimbabwe’s 2023 general election schedule; Senegal’s political crisis; CAR constitutional referendum; South African diplomatic immunity for leaders attending August summit; Uganda’s anti-homosexuality laws, and others
On Sunday, Somalia announced its plans to transition from indirect voting to direct voting for the election of its president and other officials starting next year. This move marks the end of a system that relied on lawmakers and clan leaders to select government representatives in a country plagued by conflict and insecurity. The decision to implement direct elections was made during a meeting chaired by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in Mogadishu. As part of the new system, the position of prime minister will be abolished, and a presidential system will be established, with the president and vice president elected directly by the people. The transition to direct voting comes after protracted political disputes and ongoing security challenges delayed universal suffrage implementation, originally planned for 2020. The first election under the new system will be local council elections in June 2024, followed by voting for regional lawmakers in November 2024. According to the announcement, only two political parties will be permitted to compete in the upcoming polls.
It was all colorful in Abuja as Bola Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos was sworn in as Nigeria’s new president on Monday. The inauguration ceremony took place in Abuja, attended by local and foreign dignitaries, including the presidents of Ghana and Rwanda. Tinubu, a member of the All Progressives Congress, succeeded Muhammadu Buhari, who completed two four-year terms. In his inaugural speech, Tinubu emphasized inclusivity, promising to prioritize women and youth in his administration. He also highlighted the need for monetary policy reforms and addressing Nigeria’s struggling economy and security challenges. Supporters believe Tinubu’s experience in Lagos will help replicate his success at the national level, while critics raise concerns about allegations of self-enrichment and questions about his health and academic qualifications. Tinubu played a key role in aiding Buhari’s presidential victory in 2015.
On Wednesday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that Zimbabwe will hold its presidential and parliamentary elections on August 23rd. The country, grappling with a severe economic crisis, is preparing for the upcoming elections. Mnangagwa, who took office in 2018 following a military coup that ousted Robert Mugabe, will run for a second term. His primary challenger is Nelson Chamisawho, a 45-year-old lawyer and pastor leading the newly formed Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).
On Thursday, Senegalese opposition politician Ousmane Sonko, a candidate in the 2024 presidential election, was been sentenced to two years imprisonment by a court in Dakar. He was found guilty of “corrupting young people” but was acquitted of rape. The court also sentenced Ndèye Khady Ndiaye, the beauty salon owner where Sonko was accused of abusing a female employee, to two years’ imprisonment. “Corruption of youth” is considered an offense under Senegalese law, distinct from rape. Reclassifying the offense as a misdemeanor under the electoral code could impact Sonko’s eligibility to run in the upcoming presidential election.
In other news, prominent African author, playwright, and feminist Ama Ata Aidoo passed away after a brief illness, according to her family’s announcement on May 31, 2023. Aidoo was known for her exceptional literary contributions and activism, challenging Western stereotypes of African women and advocating for their empowerment. She received accolades for works like “The Dilemma of a Ghost” and “Changes.” Aidoo also served as Ghana’s Minister of Education in the 1980s but resigned due to her unfulfilled vision of free education for all. Her impactful criticism of colonialism and resource exploitation resonated with artists like Burna Boy. Born in 1942, Aidoo began her writing career after winning a competition at the age of 19 and went on to become a renowned author and university professor.
Next up. President Faustin Archange Touadera of the Central African Republic announced his intention to hold a referendum on a new constitution that would allow him to seek another term. In a Facebook address to the nation on Tuesday, he stated that he would submit the constitution project for a referendum, although the vote date was not mentioned. Touadera’s opponents have accused him of attempting to extend his rule beyond constitutional limits. Touadera was reelected for a second term in 2020 despite allegations of electoral irregularities. In October, he faced criticism for removing the country’s top judge, Daniele Darlan, after she opposed presidential decrees to revise the constitution, leading to accusations of a “constitutional coup d’etat.” Currently, the presidency is limited to two terms, but the proposed changes would reset the count, potentially allowing Touadera to seek reelection.
On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Tanzania free of the first-ever outbreak of Marburg, an Ebola-like virus. The outbreak, which began in March in the northwest Kagera region, resulted in nine cases, including six deaths. Marburg, transmitted to humans from fruit bats, shares symptoms with Ebola such as fever, headache, fatigue, and blood-stained vomit and diarrhea. While there are no specific vaccines or antiviral treatments for Marburg, timely intervention and collaborative efforts by the local WHO office and the Tanzanian government prevented the further spread of the disease. The outbreak was declared over after a 42-day countdown from the last confirmed case, which tested negative on April 19. Scientists warn that increased human development encroaching upon bat habitats raises the risk of global pandemics. Over the past two years, Marburg outbreaks have occurred in four African countries previously unaffected, including Tanzania and ongoing efforts in Equatorial Guinea. The WHO plans to declare the Equatorial Guinea outbreak over if no new cases are reported in the coming week.
South Africa announced that it would grant blanket diplomatic immunity to all leaders attending an upcoming summit in August, potentially allowing Russian President Vladimir Putin to travel to Johannesburg without fear of arrest. The move comes despite an international criminal court warrant issued for Putin’s arrest in March regarding the alleged deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia. South African officials maintain that the diplomatic immunity offer may not supersede the ICC warrant. As an ICC member, South Africa would typically be under pressure to arrest Putin. The immunity, issued in a government gazette, is standard practice to protect conference attendees from the host country’s jurisdiction during international events. On a related note, Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said on Thursday that the BRICS Summit of heads of state will be held in Johannesburg in August despite rumors that it will not hold in the country.
Kenya’s central bank has revised its economic growth projection for this year to 5.5%, lower than the previous estimate of 5.8%, according to Governor Patrick Njoroge on Wednesday. The economy expanded by 4.8% in 2021, primarily due to a contraction in the agriculture sector. However, Njoroge expects a strong rebound in farming this year, supported by favorable weather conditions. The tourism sector also shows promising forward bookings. Despite these positive factors, Njoroge highlighted risks such as proposed tax increases, rising electricity costs, and a weakening Kenyan shilling. The central bank anticipates exchange rate stability over time, with efforts to revive the interbank foreign exchange market already showing positive results. Njoroge is set to leave his post next month, and his successor is currently undergoing parliamentary vetting.
On Monday, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed the anti-LGBTQ laws, introducing the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” despite attracting criticism from the West. The law also imposes severe punishments for other offenses related to homosexuality. Despite some provisions being toned down, the president’s approval was widely anticipated in Uganda, where conservative attitudes and the influence of Western evangelical groups have fueled anti-LGBTQ sentiments. The enactment of this law has raised concerns about human rights and potential sanctions from aid donors.