Tense countdown to Liberia’s presidential election run-off tomorrow

Liberian riot police gather as they clash with supporters of presidential challenger Winston Tubman in Monrovia November 7, 2011. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

 From Reuters:

By Richard Valdmanis and Alphonso Toweh MONROVIA (Reuters) –
Clashes and sporadic gunfire rocked part of Monrovia on Monday, killing at least one person after Liberian riot police fired tear gas to disperse several hundred supporters of presidential challenger Winston Tubman.
Members of Tubman’s CDC party said at least three other people were killed, though this could not be confirmed. Two United Nations helicopters flew overhead as police and Tubman’s rock-throwing supporters clashed in side streets.
Liberian police firing tear gas and live rounds later stormed the CDC headquarters before they were repelled by U.N. peacekeepers, who have set up a cordon around the building.
Tension has risen in the Liberian capital ahead of a November 8 election run-off between Tubman and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf after Tubman called on his supporters to boycott the vote over alleged irregularities, despite international pressure on him to stand.
Violence erupted after police tried to break up a crowd of several hundred CDC supporters. Shooting then broke out and a police officer said both the police and Tubman’s supporters had fired, but it was not possible to confirm the information.

Johnson-Sirleaf took nearly 44 percent of the first round vote on October 11 and has since won the backing of the third-place finisher, former warlord Prince Johnson, all but sealing her victory in the second round run-off.
Former U.N. diplomat Winston Tubman – who took roughly 33 percent in the first round – announced last week he would withdraw from Tuesday’s race and called on Liberians to boycott the poll due to evidence of fraud.
But international election observers called the October 11 vote mostly free and fair, and the United States, regional bloc ECOWAS and the African Union have all criticized Tubman’s decision to boycott the second round.

And here‘s an interesting commentary from Clair MacDougall at African Arguments (extract):

Opposition leader Winston Tubman’s decision last week to boycott the runoff, has also suggested that Sirleaf is the frontrunner. However, if she wins, her government could be perceived as lacking legitimacy, posing further challenges for Africa’s first female president. But with an opposition that lacks coherence and political parties without clear policy platforms or core principles and ideals, will Johnson Sirleaf’s victory further enhance or inhibit the development of a multiparty system in the fledgling West African democracy?

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Cameroon elections this Sunday – Achille Mbembe’s take

Cameroon his holding Presidential elections this Sunday, and incumbent Paul Biya – who’s ruled the country for 29 years – is expected to win and continue its authoritarian rule.
The Cameroonian philosopher and post-colonial theorist Achille Mbembe is one of the most insighhtful commentators on African politics. His recent interview at Slate Afrique (translated into English by Dibussi Tande on his blog “Scribbles from the Den“) on the subject of the elections, which he defines as a “non-event”, is a must-read from start to finish, but here’s an extract I found particularly interesting:

QS: How do you explain Paul Biya’s longevity at the helm of the state for 29 years?
ANS: Having understood very early on that in order to stay as long as possible in power, one had to do nothing, Biya put in place a new system of government which I call government by inaction. Biya studied Machiavelli a lot, and successfully adapted his lessons to a typically African situation. Paul Biya’s genuis is to have discovered that power has no objective other than power itself. The goal of those in power is not to accomplish any grandiose project whatsoever. It is simply to hold on to power. Thus, to govern is to not govern.

Zambia’s presidential election – a reflection on the power of silence

Following the September 20th presidential and pegislative elections, Michael Sata (a.k.a. King Cobra) has become the new Zambian President (here’s his inauguration speech, delivered on Friday 23rd). Sata’s victory, standing on the opposition party ticket of the the Patriotic Front (PF), constituted a surprise to most observers (although not all) who had predicted that the incumbent Rupiah Banda of the MMD would benefit from the “uneven playing field” that characterises the country’s electoral process.

In reflecting on the reasons why the PF was able to ovecome the challenges that stood ahead of them, Jack Hogan writes on the African Arguments website:

One slogan more than any other has dominated Zambia’s 2011 elections, the PF’s ‘Don’t Kubeba!’, or  ‘Don’t Tell!’. It lies at the heart of the PF’s seemingly successful campaign to negate the benefits of incumbency enjoyed by the MMD. It appeared on posters, on the lips of cadres and at rallies. Dandy Krazy’s ‘Donch Kubeba’ (with appropriate shushing dance move) has been one of the most popular tunes heard out and about during the last two months. In essence, it encouraged voters to take the chitenge, maize meal, oil, or even bribes offered by the government, even attend the rallies, but not feel they couldn’t vote against them anyway. As a way of upholding the secrecy of the ballot, and running a campaign against an opponent with resources far in excess of your own, it is a risky, but clever strategy. Indeed, the EU Observer Mission stated that unequal access to resources meant a “level playing field” was distinctly lacking during campaigning. Despite this, it appears “Dont Kubeba!” paid off. (Emphasis added)

This strategy was not only extremely intelligent, but also contains an important reflection, in my view. These are times dominated by new Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), from mobile phones to social networks. Tools we all (including myself) praise as a powerful way to bring social change, or at least help to create alternative narratives and mobilisation opportunities. More information, and the ability to share and communicate this, will help to bring political transformation. And yet, in the Zambian case it has been precisely the opposite strategy, one of silence, which has unleashed the power of the Zambian people in voting for a change of government (something possibilitated also by Banda’s acceptance of defeat, something that unfortunately cannot be taken for granted in other African cases). In an era of abundant information and a myriad of communication channels, it has been a strategy built deliberately on remaining silent, that has proved successful in bringing about political change. Something to relfect on, I think.

But before that, have a listen to “Donch Kubeba”, which is also a great song and a prime example of “kombi music” (it was my girlfriend who came up with this label, to refer to the music commonly heard on Southern Africa’s public transport system). Enjoy!

27 year old Oxford graduate wants to be Kenya’s next President – will she succeed?

27 year old Kingwa Kamencu has just launched her bid to become Kenya’s President in next year’s elections.
Kamencu, a poet, winner of the Kenyatta Prize for Literature in 2007, was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford in 2009. Now, the self-described “driven, passionate, intense, seeking soul” wants to become Kenya’s next (and first female) President.
And over 3,000 people support her Facebook group.

Taking the plunge greatly deserves an applause, and I wish her best of luck. The question is, on a notoriously fierce political arena like Kenya’s, does she stand a chance?

To help you decide, have a look at her recent interview with Citizen TV.