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Three African Nations Face Important Polls in August

  • Anita Powell

FILE - Angolans queue at a voting station in Kicolo, Luanda, Angola to cast their ballots, Aug. 31, 2012.

Three African nations are holding major elections in August: oil giant Angola, East African powerhouse Kenya and tiny, rapidly developing Rwanda.

Campaigning is under way in all three nations ahead of these votes. While these nations are geographically, politically and economically very different, analysts say each of these polls could be a turning point for their nation.

Rwanda

First up is tiny, landlocked Rwanda, which will vote August 3-4. Again, the undisputed favorite is the longtime president, who has ruled since the end of the tiny nation’s horrific 1994 genocide.

Even the head of the European Union electoral commission said to VOA in May, “I think you would not lose any money if you bet on Mr. Paul Kagame.”

Senior Horn of Africa analyst Murithi Mutiga of the International Crisis Group says poll watchers agree, but that the democratic exercise is an important one for Rwanda and its wealthy aid partners.

FILE - Supporters of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) cheer during a rally by Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Nyanza, Rwanda, July 14, 2017.
FILE - Supporters of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) cheer during a rally by Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Nyanza, Rwanda, July 14, 2017.

“It’s been essentially the Paul Kagame show for the last two decades, and not too many people see that changing,” he tells VOA from Nairobi. “…I think it matters to the extent that obviously there have been questions as to whether Rwanda is an authoritarian country, whether it respects the norms and practices of a democratic country, and especially as a major recipient of aid from the West.”

Kenya

Kenya, he says, is a different story: the August 8 poll is a contest between incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga. That may be why the EU has decided not to send observers to Rwanda, but to deploy more than 100 observers to Kenya.

FILE - Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks to the crowd during a Jubilee Party election rally in Nairobi, Kenya, July 21, 2017.
FILE - Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks to the crowd during a Jubilee Party election rally in Nairobi, Kenya, July 21, 2017.

The African Union is sending an observer mission headed by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, and the U.S.-based Carter Center will send a mission co-led by former Secretary of State John Kerry.

FILE - In this photo dated May 28, 2017, National Super Alliance Presidential candidate Raila Odinga, addresses supporters after he presented his presidential papers in Nairobi, Kenya.
FILE - In this photo dated May 28, 2017, National Super Alliance Presidential candidate Raila Odinga, addresses supporters after he presented his presidential papers in Nairobi, Kenya.

This poll falls 10 years after the worst episode of post-election violence Kenya has ever seen. Odinga's loss in 2007 sparked weeks of political and ethnic violence that took the lives of more than 1,100 people.

FILE - A bicycle lies amongst the debris of houses destroyed in post election violence in the village of Rukuini near Eldoret, northwest of Nairobi, Jan. 7, 2008.
FILE - A bicycle lies amongst the debris of houses destroyed in post election violence in the village of Rukuini near Eldoret, northwest of Nairobi, Jan. 7, 2008.

This year, voters are again divided along ethnic lines, but since 2007 Kenya has enacted constitutional reforms designed to prevent such violence.

This poll, Mutiga says, is a test, of whether those reforms can hold up.

"Just as in 2007, the outcome will be close, the stakes are high for the candidates and the institutions, especially the electoral commission, are struggling to cope with the huge responsibility on their shoulders," he says.

Angola

And last up, the oil juggernaut, Angola. On August 23, the southern African nation will hold its first vote in decades without President Jose Eduardo dos Santos at the helm. The 74-year-old, who has recently taken several trips to Spain for medical reasons, is stepping down after 38 years in power.

FILE - Angolan President and MPLA leader, Jose Eduardo dos Santos attends a party central committee at a meeting in Luanda, Angola, Dec. 2, 2016.
FILE - Angolan President and MPLA leader, Jose Eduardo dos Santos attends a party central committee at a meeting in Luanda, Angola, Dec. 2, 2016.

The poll itself is a straightforward two-way race, between the longtime ruling party and the established opposition; but, the winner will lead a nation whose fortunes are heavily dependent on oil, which accounts for about 45 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, and 95 percent of exports.

Angola’s economy has recently been shaken by the slump in oil prices, which has hit the economy hard.

Analyst Maja Bovcon of business consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft says that while the poll itself is interesting, the real test will come after the winner is announced. The new president will have to address the nation’s foundering economy and gaping inequalities.

To do so, Bovcon says, the president will have to untangle the complicated network of state resources, which until now have been largely controlled by President dos Santos and his family.

“Because Angola has never actually had this transition — or, okay, it has not had a real transition for almost the past 40 years, nearly 38 years — means that everybody now, all analysts, everybody, is looking at how this transition will succeed,” she says.

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