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Continuity or change?

Millions of Africans will in 2019 cast ballots in presidential, legislative and local government elections across 22 countries. Some will usher head-spinning leadership changes in the name of enhancing democracy. Others continuity.

Crowded fields will be knocking on doors soliciting votes. The tendency to hope for a better future through politics and politicians is nothing new. Promises of heaven here on earth will be plentiful, yet little will actually change. Politicians have mastered the art of promising change and seldom delivering.

In our little corner, elections are a pedestal for folks with no discernable income, riding on an environment where accountability amounts for nothing, to secure plush jobs.

And so, at least 20 times politics will take precedence over everything else.

African elections follow a continuum of two distinct extremes and grey middle with outcomes almost predictable – that is, until the just held election in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Despite claims of vote rigging Mali, Senegal, South Africa and Botswana can be given credit for a fair environment. Civil society, abundant free press, independent electoral bodies, a competitive political landscape and respect of rule of law all add to credible systems.

Post-civil war elections have posted mixed results in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In some, elections were followed by a quick return to war as in Angola in 1992. In other war ridden countries, polls were merely a tool to legitimise the winning side whilst the war continued by other means.

Former President of the Republic of Congo, Pascal Lissouba once professed, ‘one does not organise elections to end up on the losing side’. Strongmen in countries with weak institutions see elections as a window dressing exercise to maintain a status quo. Fraudulent ‘victories’ are achieved by suppressing and forcing opposition boycotts, monopolizing state apparatus and intimidating voters.

Congo is a tale of two of the world’s closest capital cities, on opposite shores of the mighty Congo River and within shouting distance of each other. Imagine Kazungula with another beauty of a city located across the Zambezi in Zambia. We need to dream big!

Brazzaville is the capital of the Congo, and so is Kinshasa. But they are capital cities of different Congo nations: the Republic of Congo, and the DRC, respectively.

Thoughts from 2,5km across the river can be contagious. And it takes two to Congo. A young Joseph Kabila, sworn into power for years after Lissouba was dethroned by Dennis Sassou Nguesso, mastered the art of deceptive electioneering leading to disputed ‘victories’ in 2006 and shambolic 2011 elections. Kabila, who was constitutionally barred from standing for a third term, only reluctantly called the elections for December 2018.

Herein, lies the twist.

Protests are streaming surrounding the recently announced result. Colonial masters, Belgium and occupiers of Congo Brazzaville in France, have also lent their weight to a recount. Surprise victor is Félix Tshisekedi, leader of the main opposition party. The margin to opposition counterpart Marytin Fayulu is said to be narrow. Lying a distant and poor third is Emmanuel Shadary, Kabila’s handpicked candidate.

Runner-up Fayulu claims a landslide win and that Tshisekedi struck a deal with Kabila to be declared outright victor. Come on now! Is it possible for a movement to fail a Lissouba test and rig itself out of power?

An opposition victory should prove a turning point for any troubled country. The general curse

with opposition parties in troubled states is that there is none of consequence. They remain flaccid, disorganised and with that ‘opposition’ mentality that never transitions to ‘administration’ mentality.

Rather than embrace Kabila’s ouster, Fayulu’s ECD is concerned with who becomes first princess and in the process slide a country into anarchy and violence. This is typical opposition pageantry where alternate opposition parties are more in competition amongst themselves than in unseating an establishment.

The formation of Alliance for Progressives (AP) is a thorn amongst the opposition collective. Competition is primarily around which party has the foulest brigade of ‘insultists’. Formation of pacts is secondary.

With Botswana for Movement for Democracy (BMD) on its death bed, factionalists aligned to Sidney Pilane – a man who just cannot keep friends – and those swept to Ndaba Gaolathe, trade unparalleled unpalatables. The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) is also well endowed with ‘insultists’. No mention whatsoever of a value proposition as an alternate government.

Infighting in fact is in the DNA of opposition. The membership would be worried as to the existence of their parties if there wasn’t any fracas. The leader of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Duma Boko’s tertiary interest is in chest thumping thrusts of self-praise. For a lawyer, I wonder where the simple principle that, one can’t be their own judge and jury only to acquit themselves, eluded him.

The liberation movements turned political parties in South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique face stiff tests. The BDP, although not a liberation movement joins the ranks of dominant parties that have ruled independence. Consensus seems to suggest that despite political dissatisfaction the weakness of opposition parties guarantees unlikely surprises in the SADC bloc.

But what if…?

The opportunity for the opposition to shine is golden. Unsavoury events are turning the tide.

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) faces an existential threat to its long hold to power. The war between President Masisi and his predecessor Ian Khama escalates with every passing hour. Warring militants have shoved the script of a party with a well-earned reputation for order and discipline into the shredder. The levels of vitriol and outright hostility between the pro-Masisi vs pro-Khama/Moitoi factions is something never before experienced even during the polarised climate that birthed BMD.

Social media platforms are heaving under the weight of toxic exchanges hurled at all and sundry no matter their rank. We are left guessing if the party will be able to pick up the smashed pieces after its forthcoming congress, or if the focus of factional infighting is so much that by the time it is over, no matter who emerges victor, the price and cost of this war could find opposition collective with state power forced on it by default and collective suicide of the ruling party.

The opposition in DRC, without credit to any semblance of strategy or conscious collective effort, put Kabila and his troops on the run. Could we also see African National Congress (ANC) and SWAPO being given a chase and run to the ground in their respective elections?

2019 is the year for every punter who bets on politics to fancy their chances!

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