Sunday, November 21
Presidential elections in Nigeria and Liberia: the stakes and the contenders

The October 1 Abuja bombings and the catch of heavy weapons, artillary rockets and mortars, and ammunition in Lagos in the same month may be related to an international gang of drug traffickers or to Nigerian militants of MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta - or they may be inspired by the forthcoming National and State elections. In any case, it seems increasingly likely that next year will be a violent one in Africa's most populous country. The stakes are getter higher in Nigeria's 2011 presidential elections: not only national unity and the distribution of the oil revenues amounting to tens of billions US dollars - see my November 14 post - but also regional peace and even Nigeria's ambitions to join the world's top twenty economies by the year 2020. The presidential elections are likely to be accompanied by political instability and north-south clashes.
Over 60 political parties have registered with the Independent National Election Commission (INEC), for the National and State elections, but for the presidential elections the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) is the only one that has a nation-wide base, all other parties being based on specific regions or States. The battle for the presidential nomination divides the north and the souyh of the country. Under the unwritten regional power sharing rules of the PDP a President - from the south or the north of the country - may serve two terms. After the southerner Olusegun Obasanjo had served two terms, the northerner Yar'Adua became President but he died before the end of his first term and was succeeded by the Vice President, Jonathan Goodluck who hails from the south. The latter hopes to win the party's nomination for next year's presidential elections but the northerners are convined that it is their turn. Four northerns hope to win the PDP's nomination: General Ibrahim Babangida (aka IBB), former military ruler (1985 - 1993) and one of the wealthiest men in the country; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; Kwara State Governor Abubakar Bukola Saraki, and former National Security Advisor Lieutenant-General Aliyn Mohammed Gusau. Governor Saraki is with his 49 years the youngest of the four, IBB being the oldest (69), closely folowed by Gusau (67) and Atiku (65). It is hard to tell who will be the consensus candidate from the north but that a consensus candidate will have to be found is certain. If the northerners fail to realize this, Jonathan Goodluck is sure to win the PDP's presidential nomination. What will happen if Jonathan Goodluck does not win his party's nomination is a big question mark, but increased violence is very likely.

In Liberia 72-year old President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf hopes to win a second term. Her party, the Unity Party (UP), successfully merged with the Liberian Action Party (LAP) and the Liberia Unification Party (LUP) which significantly increased her chances to win the presidential elections. However, the outcome of the 2011 presidential elections will depend much on two factors. First, the verdict in the Taylor trial, expected at the end of this year or early 2011. If Charles Taylor would be acquitted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone - which cannot be totally ruled out - everything is likely to change. Secondly, the winner of the power struggle within what is sometimes called 'the coalition of rivals': former footbal star George Weah's Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) which also includes the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) of former LURD leader Sekou Damate Conneh, the National Patriotic Party (Taylor's party), and the Liberia National Union of Winston Tubman. George Weah ended second in the 2005 presidential elections and with his 44 years he stands for the candidate of the youth. For the past few years he has studied business administration in the USA to improve his experience and reputation.
Other presidential candidates are Charles Brumskine, a former Taylor ally, who ended third in the 2005 presidential elections, Dew Mayson, academician, businessman and politician who was ambassador to France under President Doe, Varney Sherman, now leader of the New Unity Party after winning an internal struggle from Henry Fahnbulleh, Sherman was fifth in the 2005 elections, and - last but not least - former warlord and Senator for Nimba County, Prince Johnson (see my October 13 post commenting on his candidacy).

Also in Liberia the stakes are high: peace, political stability, national reconciliation, economic recovery and the country's international reputation. Until the elections, peace will more or less be guaranteed by the UN Mission to Liberia; UNMIL may even stay beyond October 2011 which will favorably affect the much needed political stability. However, national and foreign investors will need guarantees to expand investments: political stability, national reconciliation, economic reforms, and less corruption which nowadays is rampant. National reconciliation will have to come from within and Liberia will need leaders who are objective, competent, visionary and - above all - unpartial. The ethnic divide and the still existing cleavage between 'Americo-Liberians' and 'Afro-Liberians' will have to disappear if Liberia is to develop and prosper.

Most if not all presidential contestants - both in Liberia and Nigeria - are silent about their views and strategies to tackle the most important political, economic and social problems of the country of which they aspire to be President. The objectives of the political parties which they represent are largely unknown - if they even exist. In both countries the struggle for the presidency seems to be held between politicians who only seem to be interested in power or money - or both.


Sunday, November 14

Presidential elections in Nigeria and Liberia: The issues at stake

Abuja officially became the capital city of Nigeria in 1991, replacing Lagos. It is located in the centre of the country in the Federal Capital Territory. Built in the 1980s and 1990s, it is a planned city, comparable to the capital of Brazil since 1960, Brasilia, which must have inspired the Nigerians. The Federal Republic of Nigeria comprises of 36 States. Click here if you want to know more about each State and here for a map showing the 36 States. Lagos is by far the largest of the Nigerian cities and with an estimated population of some 15 million people it is the second largest city on the African continent, after Cairo. Nobody knows how many mega cities Nigeria counts, there must be at least 20. With an overall population of 150 million people (estimate) and black Africa's second largest economy, after South Africa, Nigeria is a giant.

With a total population of 3.5 million and a modern economy still devastated, seven years after the end of the Second Civil War and the departure of warlord-president Charles Taylor, Liberia cannot compare to Nigeria. Yet, in my opinion the forthcoming presidential elections are equally important in both countries. I will clarify this statement because I do realize that there will be many people who disagree with this comparison.

In Nigeria, the 2011 presidential elections might stir unrest. After the death of President Yar'Adua, a 'Northerner', earlier this year, a 'Southerner' took over, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan. With over 250 ethnic groups Nigerian politics are characterized by an uncertain balance. Broadly speaking, we may distinguish 'Hausaland' in the north and 'Yorubaland' in the southwest, whereas in the southeast of the country live the politically important Igbos - who unsuccessfully tried to break away from the rest of Nigeria in the late 1960s ('the Biafra war'). The political party of Yar'Adua and Jonathan Goodluck, the Peoples Democratic Party, is the only of the more than 60 registered political parties in Nigeria which does not have a specific, narrow regional base (read: ethnic base). However, the first successful presidental candidate of the PDP, Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba and 'southerner', served two terms (1999 - 2007), after which a 'northerner' would serve two terms. Obasanjo was succeeded by Yar'Adua who, however, did not complete his first term. Consequently, northerners in the PDP now claim that not someone from the majority-Christian south - Goodluck Jonathan - but someone from the mainly Muslim north should be the presidential candidate of the PDP in the 2011 elections. Nigeria is not only an ethnically diverse country but also there are important religious cleavages. But the most important difference may be yet to come.

The oil wealth of the country is exploited in the south, in the Niger Delta, and the proceeds are distributed among all 36 States though a complicated system which leaves the southern states - where the wealth is generated - unsatisfied whereas the northern states are always looking for ways to increase their share. The Nigerian constitution does not allow the Federal Government to intervene in the affairs of the States. The governors of these States are nearly allmighty people.

This is exactly what is at stake in the Nigerian presidential elections of next year: national unity, the distribution of oil revenues, and the immediate future of the continent's potential superpower. 'Nigeria is a nice set of countries' as someone once told me. In fact, the 36 States of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are 36 mini republics, their Governors being the unproclaimed presidents of these mini republics. Some of these States have a larger Gross Domestic Product or population than in neighbouring independent countries - like Liberia.

To be continued


Friday, November 5

The 2011 presidential elections in Nigeria and Liberia

As of October 2010, it is foreseen that next year in one out of every three African countries presidential elections will be held, in 18 countries to be precise. In 9 more African countries parliamentary and/or local elections will be held too. This is a near-unprecendeted high number. Given the uneven distribution of Africa's population over the continent it is hard to tell how many people are involved in this democratic upsurge. My estimate would be that in total this may affect the lives of about 500 million people, slightly over half the total population of the continent. Three countries alone - Nigeria, Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo - account for over 300 million, a striking illustration of the uneven distribution of the population over the continent.

Presidential elections are going to be held - apart from unexpected postponements - in one North African country: Egypt, in 6 West African countries: Benin, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, in 5 Central African countries: Cameroun, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sao Tomé & Príncipe, in three East African countries: Djibouti, Seychelles, Uganda, and in Madagascar, Zambia and Zimbabwe in Southern Africa. Before readers of this blog will accuse me of diffusing misleading information, I will immediately add that the number of 'truly democratic countries' can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Many countries have seen the tenure of office of the sitting president repeatedly prolonged, and the rulers of four countries even are among the longest serving African presidents: Hosni Muburak in Egypte (29 years), Paul Biya in Cameroun (28 years), Yoweri Museveni in Uganda (24 years) and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe (officially since 1987, de facto head of state since the country's independence in 1980). To call these countries democratic countries would be besides the truth. The same applies to a number of other countries mentioned above though I will not dwell on this issue.

I will focus on two countries where in 2011 presidential elections will be held: Liberia, where Africa's first democratically elected female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, aspires a second term, whereas in Nigeria the successor of president Yar'Adua, a 'northerner', who died in office earlier this year, Goodluck Jonathan, a 'southerner' hopes to be become elected as the leader of Africa's most populous country. The reasons why I selected these two countries out of the 18 where presidential elections will be held in 2010 are, first of all, that this blog is dedicated to events in Liberia, and secondly, because Nigeria - second in rank as Africa's most important economy - is going to be an economic superpower, comparable to the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) that impress us nowadays.

Last week when I was in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria - inspired by the capital of Brazil since 1960, Brasilia......

To be continued