Recent events in Algeria and Sudan have brought the difficult and complicated task of democratic civilian transition in African countries back into focus.
By Abhishek Mishra*
Recent events in Algeria and Sudan have brought the difficult and complicated task of democratic civilian transition in African countries back into focus. Scores of protestors took to the streets in huge numbers demanding an inclusive transition that would meet the “democratic aspirations” of the country’s people. These anti-establishment demonstrations drive home the point that Africans no longer remain just passive bystanders. Today, African youths want to effect change by not just overthrowing authoritarian leaders but also by overhauling the entire political structure. Such level of political uprising was witnessed in Tunisia in late 2010 and then across the Arab world, which toppled several regimes.
A new phase with new faces is what people want now.
In Algeria, pressure continued to build since February when demonstrations were sparked by former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s announcement that he would be standing for a fifth term. The 82 year old leader has ruled Algeria for twenty years since 1999 but came under severe scrutiny especially after suffering a stroke attack in 2013. With rare public appearances, Bouteflika’s ability to govern the country came into question. Pressure on Bouteflika to quit came from three ends – young protestors and demonstrators, Algeria’s powerful military, and from the ruling National Liberation Front’s (NLF) coalition ally. Weeks of protests and sit- downs with slogans like “Algeria, country of heroes that is ruled by zeros” and “System change…..99 percent loading” eventually culminated in Bouteflika resigning as President on 2 April after immense pressure from the military to immediately step down.
But were the protests a result of deep segregation between the civil society and the Algerian government? Indeed it was. Public street protests had been outlawed over twenty years ago. Growing frustration amongst the public due to unemployment, corruption, uneven development, and a leader increasingly viewed as inept to run the country, provided the rationale and driving force behind the rebellion.
In Sudan, demonstrations and protests saw a gradual transition starting with demands for urgent economic reforms into demands for President Omar al-Bashir to step down. Sudan has been plagued by famine and war for thirty years. Its economy has struggled since Bashir’s ascent to power in 1989. His decision to devalue Sudanese pound in October last year led to widely fluctuating exchange rates and a shortage of cash in circulation. Bashir, a controversial figure, has been accused of organising war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur since 2003 by the International Criminal Court. Protests were coordinated and led by civil society organisations like Sudanese Professionals Association, opposition groups like Nidaa Sudan, National Consensus Force, university students, telecom giants like MTN, and women protestors like Alaa Salah who became a face of Sudan’s protest. The events which took place from December last year to 11 April – the day Al-Bashir was unseated from Presidency – is a tale of two sides, one of jubilation at Bashir’s ouster, and other of the anxiety of what will follow him.
The ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) and its chairman Abdel Fattah Burhan has failed to assuage people’s concern of replacing old faces with military men who are essentially cut from the same cloth. The TMC’s terms – a two year transition steered by military council, curfews after 10 p.m., dissolution of government, and suspension of constitution – left Sudanese citizens bewildered and disappointed. Is it just a case of Bashir’s aides and henchmen taking over? Even the resignation of three top military generals – Omar Zain al-Abideen, Al-Tayeb Babakr Ali Fadeel, and Jalal al-Deen al-Sheik – has failed to reassure Sudanese people of the military council’s intention of handing over power to a civilian government. Protests have continued in Khartoum despite the military council’s claim of reaching an agreement on most demands and its decision to set up a joint committee to resolve outstanding disputes with the Alliance for Freedom and Change – an umbrella group of protestors who have called for a ‘million-strong march’ demanding a civilian government.
The protests in Algeria and Sudan, largely ignored by the world for months, have captured global attention in recent weeks. It is amply clear that the Algerians and Sudanese demand and insist on a civilian-led government. Only an inclusive, credible political process with new elected leaders – rather than army officers – can meet the democratic aspirations of its people.
But the dramatic events in another African country over the last few months have not received the media coverage they should have.
DRC’s tryst with destiny
On 30 December 2018, general elections were held in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to determine a successor to former President Joseph Kabila. DRC is one of the largest resource-rich country in Francophone Africa having the potential of becoming a leading driver of the African growth. But the country has been ravaged by waves of chronic violence, political instability, and weak governance structures. Joseph Kabila had been severely criticised for his heavy-handed crackdown on opposition members, intimidating worshippers, and disrupting planned demonstrations. Despite his constitutionally mandated term expiring in December 2016, Kabila continued to be in power by continuously postponing the elections. The election saw a three-way contest between – Felix Tshisekedi of Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), Martin Fayulu of Dynamic of the Opposition (DO), and independent candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. The Independent National Electoral Commission on 10 January declared the results announcing Tshisekedi as the winner with 38.6% votes, followed by Fayulu with 34.8% and Shadary with 23.8% of votes. Subsequently, on 24 January Tshisekedi was sworn in as President, making it the first peaceful transition of power in DRC. But a close examination of the election process reveals glaring inconsistencies.
Was Tshisekedi the true victor of the 2018 elections? Leaked numbers from the electoral commission (CENI) computers, data collected by Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s (CENCO) observers, and the principle opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, certainly believes Tshisekedi is not the true winner.
Fayulu has accused former President Joseph Kabila of colluding with Tshisekedi in a bid to continue his reign and exercise his influence in the present government by proxy. Whatever the allegations against Tshisekedi are, fact remains that the Constitutional Court of DRC has rejected Martin Fayulu’s challenge of the election results, and has upheld Tshisekedi’s victory. The DRC now has a new President. But has anything changed? Even bigger question is that now with Martin Fayulu calling for protests, will DRC be the next stage for an uprising? Will Congolese voters accept this alleged power-sharing deal or compromise between Tshisekedi and the Common Front for Congo (FCC) coalition led by former President Joseph Kabila? Only time will tell.
As of now, Martin Fayulu considers himself not as the opposition, but as the self-proclaimed ‘President-elect’. Although Fayulu continues to insist on holding fresh elections within twelve to eighteen months on all levels after consultations between DRC’s stakeholders, financing the elections will be a difficult and challenging task. During the interim period, Martin Fayulu wants to implement a National Council for Institutional Reforms to undertake reforms in areas like Electoral Commission, Constitutional Court, Security Services, and Governance and fight against corruption.
No matter the outcome of Fayulu’s calls for protests, one thing for certain is that like the Algerian and the Sudanese people, the Congolese people want a strong, stable government, with a legitimate leader. DRC needs to get the basics right. Democracy indeed means the will of the people is upheld. In the absence of any legitimacy, both governance and government will be challenged. Therefore, only by strictly following the rules of the ‘democratic game’, will the DRC be able to avoid instabilities in the future.