The news cycle in 2016 was filled with talk of populism and surprise political victories around the world. 2017 promises further potential victory for so-called populist leaders in countries such as France, Germany, and the Netherlands. In order to help usher in the new year, let us look at a few of your author’s favorite African countries to follow. There is still much progress to be made, but hopefully this piece offers a change of pace from the themes of populism and “Russia this, China that” which have been so thoroughly discussed in the current news cycle.
Paul Kagame has a mixed record in Rwanda. He is a favorite of many western leaders, such as his friend Tony Blair. Kagame has overseen huge amounts of economic growth and development in the country during his first two seven-year terms. Attention was brought to his business-savvy leadership style in a 2014 book by Andrea Redmond and Patricia Crisafulli entitled Rwanda, Inc. Interestingly, he has used Twitter to enter into the fray of public debates for much longer than Donald Trump, and with a similar demand to write his own material.
However, he is kept busy dodging allegations of stifling free speech, rigging elections, and heavily influencing the press. Many, including high-level officials who fled Rwanda, have accused him of assassinating or imprisoning political opposition leaders. The 2010 imprisonment of United Democratic Forces leader Victoire Ingabire Umuhoze and the shutdown of the Umuseso newspapers leading up to the last election are key examples of this disturbing trend in Rwanda’s political landscape.
The election, which is to be held on August 4, 2017, will likely lead to the re-election of Kagame. Without any real viable challengers, inside or outside of Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) party, the future focus should move from the 2015 controversy of extending the constitutionally mandated term limits to the development of successors to the Presidency.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
On the topic of term limits, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and President Joseph Kabila dealt with deadly riots and an internet shutdown after he failed to step down after reaching his constitutionally mandated limit of two terms on December 19, 2016. New Year’s Eve finally saw a deal made between the two groups – a deal which demands elections to be held in 2017 instead of April 2018 as previously planned.
With the aftermath of the two Congo Wars still playing out through various rebellions in the eastern half of the country, there is plenty of incentive to keep the violence from spreading. The agreement signed New Year’s Eve brought renewed hope for the first peaceful transfer of power since 1960. The actual election date will most likely be later in the year since the electoral commission in the DRC have previously given a timeline of 17 months just for the preparation of a national election. Someone is going to be working overtime.
Moise Katumbi, a businessman and former governor of the Katanga Province in Southern DRC, announced his candidacy a few days into 2017 and thanked the Catholic Church in the DRC for their efforts in brokering the peace. A supporter of Kabila during his first few terms in office, Katumbi distanced himself in late 2015 by leaving the ruling party and calling for Kabila to step down at the end of his constitutionally allotted time. Generally viewed positively for his social work, strong growth of the Katanga Province during his time as governor, and international work on bodies that promote soccer (including FIFA and his wildly successful club, TP Mazembe), Katumbi is already widely considered the frontrunner in the race for the presidency.
Less than a week after Rwanda heads to the polls, Kenya will follow suit. On August 10, 2017, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto will run for re-election after winning their first four-year term in 2013. Forced to lead through a rough four years which saw terrorist attacks, multi-sector strikes, corruption scandals, etc. the two will face an opposition with a plethora of ammunition to level against them. Though the opposition has not yet chosen a candidate, Raila Odinga is the likely choice as he has been seeking the presidency for almost 20 years now.
The 2015 attack on Garissa University College by Al-Shabaab brought international media attention to the region for all the wrong reasons. The memory of the attack, in which 148 students tragically died, is still excruciatingly prescient in the minds of Kenya’s students. Small fights and bangs have caused student stampedes at multiple different universities across the country. Reports have percolated out, stating that students have jumped from multiple stories above ground level to avoid a perceived attacker. With the violence that accompanies nearly every election in the memory of most alive in Kenya (especially the one thousand plus killed in 2007-2008) and nerves frayed beyond belief, it is little wonder that the opposition resorted last summer to holding protests every single Monday. This weekly occurrence gained the moniker “Tear Gas Monday.”
The largest recipient of foreign direct investment in Africa, Kenya could lose this and other economic advantages if the protests and political malarkey continue unabated. Let us hope that 2017 does not leave us all missing the rains down in Africa.
Andrew Cech is a Master’s candidate at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, majoring in International Commerce and Economics. He is interested in East African politics, free trade agreements, and Chinese international development policies. He hopes to pursue a career in international trade facilitation with the US Department of Commerce.
Featured Image: Raila Odinga with school children at Langata primary school by DEMOSH, Flickr Creative Commons