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Welcome to 2023, Africa’s year of elections

As the world ushers in 2023, citizens of 26 African nations would be cleaning their thumbs in preparation for change or the endorsement of more…

As the world ushers in 2023, citizens of 26 African nations would be cleaning their thumbs in preparation for change or the endorsement of more of the same. Sixteen African states would hold parliamentary and general elections while 15 nations would hold gubernatorial and other local elections. Nigeria’s neighbour, Republique Populaire du Benin kicks off with parliamentary polls barely a week into the New Year on January 8.

Mali holds a referendum this year ahead of its general elections in one year. It is one of the many West African states under the power of armed soldiers.

Crisis-torn Central African Republic (CAR) is expected to kick off the general electoral calendar this month, followed by Nigeria, which holds general elections in February. Sierra Leone and crisis-torn Sudan go to polls in the middle of the year. Libya, a prosperous nation destroyed by Western envy and spite is hoping to truly put the past behind and enrol in the college of democracy planned by democracy’s global supervisors. With luck, Libya hopes to realign as a nation with a successful transition that would produce a leader acceptable to all Libyans and the so-called international community.

Nigerians are faced with the uphill task of finding a more suitable replacement to their lacklustre born-again general, Muhammadu Buhari. If you ask the god of elections, s/he’ll likely predict a three-horse race between Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president; Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the powerful godfather of Lagos and southwestern politics, and Peter Obi, a former governor and former vice-presidential candidate.

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If polls were won on social media, Obi would be Nigeria’s next president. However, surprises are in the offing in an election in which money, tribe and religious politics play important parts. Nigeria’s general election is bound to produce upsets and possible outcry.

Sierra Leone turned the page on its civil war and reposed faith in Julius Maada Wonie Bio, an ex-military dictator as president. The 58-year-old hopes to regain the confidence of his compatriots to continue in power at the polls.

Sierra Leone is blighted by its natural resources including diamonds, coltan, tantalite, gold and chromite among many, but its citizens remain incredibly poor and its infrastructure largely decimated. If he succeeds at the polls, Bio would either consolidate his gains or lose the support of his citizenry angling for development.

In Zimbabwe, Emerson Mnangagwa, the man who goes with the unenviable sobriquet of the Crocodile, hopes to convince his compatriots that Nelson Chamisa and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga are not worthy of the electorate’s trust. At 80, Mnangagwa, who pushed Robert Mugabe out of office, may retain his position as the oldest president in the southern hemisphere. The elections will be held in the second half of this year.

In Central Africa’s Gabon, 63-year-old Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba remains the sole candidate of the Gabonese Democratic Party, known by its French acronym PDG. Relatively younger than most African presidents, Ali has suffered a stroke and is largely infirm. But in Gabon, there is no credible opposition to the Bongo Dynasty that has ruled the country since 1967.

In former Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) the country known as the bastion of the man with the longest name in African political history – Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga – teeters on the brink. From the Mobutu dynasty, the new DRC fell into the hands of the Kabila Dynasty where it remained till 2019 when Joseph Kabila eased out in a power deal to Felix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo with whom he has now fallen out.

The power tussle in the Congo is likely to show why the grass suffers when two elephants fight. It is unlikely to change the bottom line for the average Congolese or resolve the war in the north of the country.

Like Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Gabon and many other mineral-rich nations of Africa, Congo’s globally-on-demand mineral resources have remained its undoing rather than a blessing. It has not benefitted the average Congolese, attracted the presence of foreign buccaneers and left the nation’s flora and fauna in ruins.

This year, Tshisekedi hopes to prove to his opponents, Moise Katumbi, a former governor and businessman and one-time premier and senator Augustin Matata Ponyo as well as Martin Fayulu why he deserves the voter’s trust. Already, the opposition has declared a lack of trust in the ability of the incumbent to run an all-inclusive electoral or transition process.

In the poli-tricks of this poll, Rwanda’s born-again dictator Paul Kagame is involved and aligns with the opposition. The world’s democracy umpires tend to take sides with Kagame who is often brandished as a poster-boy for democracy when all the evidence proves that, left alone, Kagame would shoot at his own shadows.

Many would remember Madagascar; the country that pulled off the biggest magical hoax over COVID-19 with its claim to finding a herbal cure to the virus. Several African nations, including Tanzania, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Congo-Brazzaville bought into that scam spearheaded by Andry Rajoelina, the country’s president. Malagasy’s citizens would be checking the political landscape either for a replacement to Rajoelina or any of the mushroom opposition leaders.

Liberians go to the poll this year hoping to either renew the mandate of ex-football star, George Oppong Weah, or his challengers. Weah’s coalition government collapsed as the elections drew near just as the trust his citizens had in him. Last year, he abandoned ship for a much-criticised global tour that earned him the sobriquet – absentee president.

Two prominent Liberian politicians are challenging Weah’s presidency.  They include 76-year-old former vice president Joseph Boakai, of the Unity Party and businessman Alex Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC). With these elections slated for October, Weah has a very limited time to prove that he still has what it takes to make change happen.

The two Sudan were poised for elections this year until the South broke its promise. In the Sudan proper where opposition to the Bashir dictatorship led to his overthrow, there is no tranquillity on the streets as the military plays yoyo with politicians for a credible transition. Seven frontline political parties are famed as contestants if a central electoral body could be formed to organise a credible transition.

In South Sudan, where Salva Kiir Mayardit has held sway since independence in 2011, an electoral timetable did not favour polls this year leading to a postponement. Quondam friends and eternal rivals, Kiir and Riek Machar have sustained a fragile power-sharing agreement that balances the swing of political uncertainty.

Both Sudan appear jinxed in political transition yet both nations hope to find the lost track to manifest destiny. The problem is that there are too many rivers to cross and the boat of entente lists far away from those who need it.

Nigeria’s northern neighbour, Chad hopes to consolidate its democracy. Years of unrest led to the installation of Idris Derby Itno as a benign dictator. He became a casualty of a war exacerbated by his dictatorship. Rather than break with the past, Chad’s political wheeler dealers installed his son –Mahammat Derby Itno – as his successor. Itno promises a transition, but nobody believes the 39-year-old son of a gun.