We present current news and views from four West African countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire and The Gambia. By Desmond Davies.
Liberia: Presidential run-off favours Weah
In Liberia, former World Footballer of the Year George Weah is trying to change things. Having come out top during the 10 October presidential election, he was preparing for a run-off when the result was challenged by Vice-President Joseph Boakai and other opposition candidates.
Their gripe was that the National Elections Commission (NEC) did not run the process in the right manner, and that there should be a re-run of the election. For Boakai, who is representing the ruling Unity Party, it was a strange challenge; it has invariably been opposition parties in Africa complaining about ruling party interference with electoral commissions, not the other way round.
But Boakai, it would seem, is not favoured by the outgoing president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. He is being backed by politicians who fell out with the president over the issue of curbing corruption. And as such, it is noted, Johnson Sirleaf would prefer to see Weah at the helm. He is said to look up to her for inspiration. On 7 December, though, the Supreme Court ruled that there should be a run-off – not the re-run that Boakai was hoping for. He will now face Weah in an election set to take place on 26 December.
It is looking clear that Weah could land the presidency, and with Jewel Howard Taylor as vice-president. What a turn up for the books this would be: she is the wife of ex-President Charles Taylor, who is serving a 50-year jail sentence for crimes in Sierra Leone during that country’s civil war.
Sierra Leone: Yumkella leads presidential challenge
In March, President Ernest Koroma of Sierra Leone is expected to say farewell to the country’s leadership, having served two mandatory five-year terms. So, Sierra Leoneans are expecting a new leader. But whether he will come from the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) is another matter.
The country is gearing up for what could turn out to be closely fought presidential, parliamentary and local elections. The former director-general of the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), Dr Kandeh K. Yumkella, one of the presidential candidates representing the recently formed National Grand Coalition (NGC), appears to be presenting a formidable challenge, as he appeals to the youth vote.
It has not been a laughing matter this time round for the APC, a party that has never lost an election while it has been in power. The only time it was removed from office was after the coup in 1992 by young army officers led by Captain Valentine Strasser. And that was after the APC had had a grip on power for 24 years.
But because Sierra Leoneans are so fed up with Koroma’s 10-year regime, there is a possibility that the APC could be booted out of office.
The voices of opposition to the party are coming from disaffected young people; the APC has constantly played fast and loose with their wretched lives. But for once, they seem to be wise to the ways of the APC’s political chicanery. Using social media, young people are making clarion calls for the electorate to use its power to punish politicians who have taken Sierra Leoneans for granted for far too long.
Indeed, young people will have a considerable say on who becomes president. Some 650,000 of them have registered to vote for the first time, and they are the ones that Yumkella is targeting. The NGC wants to end the control that the APC and main opposition party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), have had over political power in the country since it became independent from Britain in 1961.
Ironically, the SLPP’s presidential candidate is retired Brigadier Maada Bio, who was one of the Young Turks that ousted the APC from power in 1992, and who himself held power for a few months before the country returned to democratic rule.
He is largely remembered for trying to stall the return to civilian rule, by encouraging time-wasting conferences to discuss the issue. In the end, he gave in to local and international pressure and President Tejan Kabbah then came to power.
The late Kabbah was an ex-UN man. So is Yumkella – and the talk now in Sierra Leone is that the UN wants to “fix” the election so that their man becomes President. But if you want to challenge Yumkella’s international credentials, you have to come up with a candidate who is up to the task. This is what the APC has done. Koroma wrong-footed his party by plumping for Foreign Minister Samura Kamara as the APC’s presidential candidate – much to the chagrin of the 28 contestants, including Vice-President Victor Foh, who had lined up for the position. Kamara was not even in the starting line-up – at least officially.
Kamara has worked for the Commonwealth Secretariat in London and was a candidate for the presidency of the African Development Bank in 2015. Whether this will hold sway among the electorate is another thing. Yumkella has played on the monumental scale of corruption under the APC, and he is hoping that this will land him the presidency. He is wont to point out: “There are too many contracts that have been awarded without the projects being finished.”
Côte d’Ivoire: First AU-EU summit in Africa
The outrage caused by images of young Africans being sold as slaves in Libya overshadowed the first ever African Union-European Union Summit in sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the “slaves” are West Africans who have found themselves in the ungoverned parts of Libya, as they try to cross to Europe.
During the three-yearly gathering of the 83 Heads of State in Abidjan in December, President Emmanuel Macron of France took the lead in the race to find a solution to the problem.
He said that a number of countries, including Libya, France, Germany, Chad, Niger, as well as the UN, had “decided on an extreme emergency operation to evacuate from Libya those who want to be”. Some West African countries, such as Nigeria, have begun evacuating their stranded nationals from Libya.
The problem with this is that it has been an ongoing issue for quite a while, but African leaders were mute about it. After all, it is their poor governance that is leading to the exodus by young people.
The key topic of the summit discussed was: “Investing in youth for a sustainable future and inclusive growth”. This was apt, given the major concern over youth unemployment in Africa. It is so obvious that if jobs are not provided for a youthful population, the urge to take the difficult migration route again would be difficult to resist – leading to further insecurity and abuses.
Amid the debate on migration, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, railed against the trade relationship between developing countries, including those from Africa, and the EU:
“It is high time that we assess the 42-year-old ACP-EU partnership, together with our European friends. These types of relationships are outdated.”
The Cotonou Agreement, to which he was referring, governs trade between the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) bloc and the EU. This is up for review in 2020. Will it continue or not? The AU’s position will be made clear this month when its summit takes place in Addis Ababa.
The Gambia: Human rights under scrutiny
The state of human rights protection in Africa, three decades on from the creation of the African Union Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, was the main focus of the recent 61st session of the Commission in Banjul.
For Gambians, the fact that the Commission has been based in their country since its inception in 1987 is ironic, given that for 22 of those years they were under President Yahya Jammeh, who is now being accused of human rights violations.
However, the country’s new leader, President Adama Barrow, thought otherwise: “The people of The Gambia recognise the commitment and support of the African Commission in ensuring that human rights are protected in The Gambia despite the uncooperative attitude of the former government. The Commission never shied away from carrying out its mandate even when it seemed impossible to do so in The Gambia, and for this we will remain eternally grateful.” Really?
A statement on behalf of the participants noted that serious restrictions on freedom of expression and information “still abound” in Africa. It added: “The existence of draconian laws curtailing the enjoyment of rights of citizens, censorship and cyber laws institutionalising internet restrictions and blockages remain disconcerting… The African Commission is urged to call on states to remove or amend laws that are not in compliance with protection guaranteed in national constitutions and under regional and international law…”
The main objectives of the session, which commemorated the Commission’s 30th anniversary, was to assess the impact of its work since inception; raise awareness of its mandate; highlight its achievements and challenges; assess its prospects; and propose ways of moving the human rights agenda forward.
Some human rights activists believe that the achievements of the Commission have been mixed. One human rights lawyer noted: “I’d say Africans have not felt the Commission’s impact.”
It would appear to be the same for AUC Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, who told the gathering: “Time has come for the continent to resolutely overcome decades of numerous human rights challenges resulting from a diverse range of factors, including war, poverty, autocratic rule, and exclusion of women from all spheres of life. I call also on member states to cooperate with all the organs and other relevant bodies to ensure that human rights and dignity are fully reinforced across the continent.” NA