Let's face it: There are always going to be plenty of elections going on in Africa. It's a continent, for God's sake. But trust me when I say this: 2012 is going to be a totally crucial year in African politics.
Maybe you don't want to trust me. Maybe you're the kind of sceptic who doesn't believe every little shred of African political gossip you hear as you meander through your day, but honestly, 2012 could be even more disastrous for the Cradle of Mankind than 2011 was. For starters, we're already experiencing the after-effects of last year's big elections—in Nigeria, there's been the rise of murderous Islamist militant group Boko Haram, while in the DRC, dismay's been simmering at the re-election of the corrupt Joseph Kabila.
With the agenda for political despair set in those two countries, let's turn our attention to the places where things could get even worse.
Abdoulaye Wade with Akon
The election: Presidential elections are coming up in February. Previously a shining example of how to run a country as an Islamic African democracy, Senegal has begun to look more and more unstable lately, like your once-favorite aunt tottering drunkenly towards a group of your friends at her ex-husband’s wedding.
The contenders: Incumbent president, possible Freemason, and designer of 160-foot vanity statues, Abdoulaye Wade, was expecting to sleepwalk his way to a third election victory. That comfortable assumption has been burst by the arrival on the scene of international singing sensation and all round chilled out Sufi Muslim Youssou N’Dour, who wants everyone to take seven seconds to calm down and learn to love each other. N’Dour may well miss out on victory, but credible opposition candidate Macky Sall looks set to send Wade packing, which is good news for everyone in the enormous vanity statue industry.
Zuma, Sexwale and Motlanthe in friendlier times
The election: The ruling ANC party has its leadership elections in December to determine who will run for president in 2014. Given that they have no serious opposition, the winner will be the next president. In-fighting will stop anyone from the ANC doing anything of any use until the big showdown, so get ready for 11 months of South Africa doing fuck all.
The contenders: Possible rapist, freedom of information hater, and polygamist Jacob Zuma is the man in charge at present. A brief examination of his rivals' credentials reveals that this is unlikely to change. On the one hand, vice-president Kgalema Motlanthe's name is hard to pronounce. On the other, Tokyo Sexwale— former host of the Saffer version of The Apprentice—has been criticized for being "too indecisive" (his catchphrase on the show was the rather namby pamby "you're dismissed"). Given Zuma’s love of dirty tricks, these two challengers may have already decided that it’s just not worth the hassle, though a growing debate about the nationalization of industry could yet see the president slip up on a youth movement/ trade union banana skin. And, as toppling government ministers/ despots in Greece, Egypt, and Libya have already shown, those are the slipperiest kind of banana skin imaginable.
All elections should look like Egyptian elections
The election: …may not actually happen. Parliamentary elections, recently concluded, have left the Muslim Brotherhood and those connected to it in a good position. The military council has made promises indicating that presidential elections will be held before June this year, but in private, they are said to be hoping to draw the process out for another two years. So the Sphinx had better wait before he comes out of the closet and gets back on the gak, because it’s all feeling pretty Mubarak-era right now. The candidates: One person who won’t be throwing his hat in the ring is Nobel Laureate and cause of Western hard-ons Mohamed ElBaradei who has, quite correctly, pointed out that the military regime are ruling the country as if nothing ever changed. There are currently four candidates from across the political spectrum, but the Muslim Brotherhood maintains that it will not put forward its own man (and it would definitely be a man). Liberals fear some kind of Military-Islamist evil axis. Can't wait to find out!
President Jammeh with the Obamas
The election: Presidential elections last year returned one-man regional wrecking machine and ornate horn fanatic Yahya Jammeh to power. Parliamentary elections this March will see that terrible power solidified. The Commonwealth and the United States made some censorious noises last time, but when it came to the crunch, they did fuck all. Expect nothing more than the same thing this time round.
The candidates: Our man, the aforementioned “Sheikh Professor” Jammeh, who has said that, if God wills it, he will rule for “one billion years.” After last year’s presidential elections he told those who criticized him for intimidation and fraud to “go to hell,” and God must be on his side because he’s still firmly in control of his country and able to talk about cutting the heads off gays as if he were referring to the opening of a municipal park.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai
The election: Both Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC claim to want an election. Like two guys afraid to fight, they knock heads and accuse each other of not letting the fight begin. Really, this could go on all year, given that at the time of writing, there is no new constitution to provide a framework for the vote and nobody feels they can administrate it without getting lynched by a mob of "campaigners." Without these things, a repeat of 2008’s heinous violence would be likely. Still, Mugabe, the old crocodile, has returned from his annual trip to the beaches of South East Asia and is talking about forcing through an election in the next few months.
The contenders: Mugabe and Tsvangirai: the original odd couple! One’s a crazed, old dictator whose interests include regional massacres and whose pet peeves include being disagreed with and white people; one’s a widower whose interests include avoiding assassination attempts and whose pet peeves include elections that are rigged by the opposition. Time is of the essence for Mugabe, who is about to turn 88 and needs to get elected in order to put a successor in place. His PR people are worried that Mugabe gets less and less marketable ("how is that possible?," you might think) as time passes. Either way, he’s coming to the end of his public life.
The election: Presidential elections will take place in either August or December. The ICC’s indictment of two potential candidates, William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta, as well as two other high-profile members of the Kenyan political elite, has changed the game. Unpleasantly surprised by the ICC’s determination, battle lines are being redrawn and challenges from liberal activists and old reformist politicians may now be forthcoming.
The candidates: Prime Minister Raila Odinga and vice-president Stephen Musyoka are the two best known candidates. Both speak of wanting to end tribalism and reconcile the nation, while at the same time seeming eerily disconnected from the real problems of their electorate. An outside shot, Kingwa Kamencu, is described as “a graduate of Nairobi University” and has become the preferred Kenyan politician of choice among western liberals because she wrote something in The Guardian. With all sorts of shit flying around, a re-run of the violence of a few years ago shouldn’t be ruled out.
So there you are. Elections are also taking place in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and Sierra Leone, but you can read about them in your own good time. Libyan elections are expected, but that’s a whole other can of worms. And I don't feel like eating any worms today.
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