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Election Fever – Cameron the least of our worries!

March 28, 2010

For those not tuned into British politics, the UK will go to the polls in (what is expected to be) May to decide on whether we would prefer the fiery temperament of Gordon Brown or the slimy PR stunts of David Cameron. What is extremely sad is that despite a lack of any ‘substance’, the Conservatives are going into the election with a lead – helped by the recent news that Cameron’s wife is pregnant – could the timing be a little too convenient?

However, although this is extremely depressing, I would like to use this article to draw your attention away from the slippery forehead of David Cameron, to the recent turn of worrying events that have unfolded in a pocket of Africa in the run up to elections next year in Uganda, Rwanda, the D.R.C. and South Sudan. The potential conflict surrounding these elections and the cross border implications put our fears of a Conservative government in the UK into perspective, but what events have taken place in the region that cause one to worry?

Democratic Republic of Congo

2011, presidential, legislative, provincial and local government elections

The government of the D.R.C. recently bluntly told the Security Council that they want the UN Peace Keeping team, MONUC, out of the country as soon as possible. On Thursday of last week the Security Council had a closed door session where despite US desire to maintain the peacekeeping force in the country, strong opposition from China and an apathetic stance from France means that the force is unlikely to stay. MONUC will remain in the Kivus and Ituri for a little longer before pulling out completely for the 2011 election.

For many observers this may seem like a step in the right direction, but one must remember that MONUC had a huge role in coordinating the last election, and that Eastern DRC has not yet been fully stabilized – the Hutu rebel group FDLR are still controlling areas of North Kivu, and it is unfounded to say that the problem posed by the Tutsi CNDP group has been completely neutralised by mainstreaming their troops into the Congolese military (for more read here).

The end of MONUC – a solid platform for a new era or a treacherous path to further conflict?

Rwanda

Presidential – Aug 2010, Parliamentary elections – 2011

An opposition leader, Victoire Ingabire has stoked a sensitive debate in Rwanda over the countries ethnic make up, provoking conflict from groups opposing and supporting her rhetoric. The government is accused of favouring the Tutsi populace and intimidating opposition parties. Critics of Ingabire claim she is recklessly stoking an ethnic debate for political gain, which could cause serious conflict. Sixteen years after the genocide, the issue of free speech, government criticism and direct ethnic confrontation in Rwanda is still extremely contentious.

An international security observer from an aid mission in the region commented on AllAfrica, “A political crisis in Rwanda could trigger a humanitarian problem, including displacement across borders”.

Uganda

Presidential and Parliamentary elections 2011

In Uganda three people were shot dead last week when presidential guards opened fire on protestors attempting to stop the President from visiting the recently burned down Kasabi Tombs (world heritage site, sacred to the Buganda, where four previous kings are buried). This is only the latest manifestation of rising tensions between President Museveni and the Baganda, over the political autonomy and remit of the tribal institution. In September 27 people died in riots when Museveni stopped the Kabaka (king) Buganda from visiting part of the Buganda district.

Whether we see this conflict as a failure of the decentralised political system or as manipulated by political elites, things could get significantly worse as the election approaches.

Sudan

Presidential and Parliamentary 2010, Referendum on South 2011

Sudan will hold a general election this April, followed in 2011 by a referendum on independence for the South. The general election will be the first  actual multi-party election since 1986. Although this is extremely encouraging, current President, Omar al-Bashir caused worries this week when he stated that if foreign election monitors intervene in Sudan’s affairs “we will cut off their fingers and crush them under our shoes” (BBC).

Additionally, the implications of an independent South after the 2011 referendum could cause one some anxiety. Have we ever seen a scenario when a guerrilla group has been asked to practice democracy in so short a time? Additionally although the SPLM has always called for an independent, democratic South Sudan, the organisation itself is not inherently democratic. This led one commentator to ask whether this was akin to teaching elephants to fly?  With this in mind, is too much being asked of the SPLM?

So, of the upcoming elections in four neighbouring countries, we can see signals of rising conflict in Uganda and Rwanda, as well as extremely weak political institutions and a potential lack of foreign electoral observers in the D.R.C. and Sudan. Perhaps I am being extremely sceptical but this all adds up to potentially disasterous scenario unfolding. One that makes the threat of David Cameron’s forehead appear decidely unpallatable but not nearly as disasterous. Then again, perhaps the situation is more bleak than I have painted; Conservative policy on international development might simply serve to make any external efforts to alleviate problems even more futile!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Craig M permalink*
    March 28, 2010 8:53 pm

    “If the United States of America or Britain is having elections, they don’t ask for observers from Africa or from Asia. But when we have elections, they want observers. ” Nelson Mandela

    Are foreign election observers necessary? Should they be there at all?

  2. Chahafi Man permalink
    March 29, 2010 9:48 am

    Mr. Craig:

    I enjoyed your article, and in particular your broad coverage of the Great Lakes region which definitely poses challenges for development in the years to come in light of the elections you covered. However, I must admit that at times I had the piece confused with a sports article I recently read. I found your tone to border on excitement and anticipation of events that could possibly displace millions and change the geopolitical situation for years to come. I do agree that it is critical to be informed and prepared about the issues you raised; yet we must also be fully aware of how this prevailing wisdom creates an industry preying on the crisis of confidence that “we” in part contribute to. Instead, what if we focused our attention and gave support to the efforts of many within these countries tirelessly working towards their elections being more free, more fair, and responsive to critical issues in the lives of the poor, vulnerable and disenfranchised. Perhaps we should also ask who has “election fever”: the outsiders or the millions of citizens we deem ourselves to be representatives of.

    Thank you for the work on the blog, I check it every time I come to the internet.

    Mark

  3. Rie permalink
    April 6, 2010 2:01 pm

    There’s the June ’10 presidential election in Burundi as well – don’t forget!

    http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=1172

  4. Nawasalawo Nzolani permalink
    April 27, 2010 2:45 pm

    I am from the DRC and now a UK resident.I know more from my own research about the ongoing problems in the DRC.For the sake of peace and straetgy I kept myself in darness as i am holding a great secret.But the time is near to prove my own skills.For now,I suggest that the UN peacekeeping forces should remain in DRC to support the country for the next election.A full report and own futire plan will follow to all the agencies and officials involved to help the DRC vast Nation but victimes of its owns potentials.

    Good Luck to any Coming elected Government.

    with Kind Regards

    Nawasalawo Nzolano.

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