The physical, political, legal, institutional and psychological walls that he erected in the last four years kept many immigrants out of the United States but outgoing President Donald Trump could not stop native African political ideas from seeping into the US. Beginning with sit-tightism, of which he became an instant convert and the most prominent advocate in recent times.
Try though he did, Trump could not completely upstage original sit-tight African rulers. The year 2020, spilling into early 2021, is best remembered for COVID but it was also the year that some epochal elections took place in Africa. Four of them conformed to the well-known pattern of African sit-tightism but two others, in Ghana and Niger Republic, somehow deviated from the norm.
Last October’s election in Cote d’Ivoire was a big embarrassment for Africa. President Alassane Ouattara was deeply respected across Africa, a veteran IMF economist, as the prime minister who propelled his country’s economic progress under President Felix Houphoet-Boigny, the man who stoutly resisted being branded as a foreigner from Burkina Faso, and as winner of the 2010 polls that required AU/ECOWAS pressure and French military intervention to thwart President Laurent Gbagbo’s sit-tight ambitions.
Ouattara became president in 2010. The constitution specified that he could serve a maximum two terms of five years each. After his re-election, he introduced a new constitution in 2016. Ouattara probably intended to retire because his ruling Rally of Houphouestists for Democracy and Peace [RHDP] party fielded Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly as its candidate for the October election. Coulibaly suddenly died last July. Ouattara then entered the contest, saying he just completed his first term under the new constitution. The ruling party fielded the 78 year-old Ouattara, which ignited widespread protests by the opposition. To compound matters, the Constitutional Court disqualified former President Gbagbo and former National Assembly President Guillaume Soro from the contest. Ouattara’s main opponents, 86-year-old former President Henri Konan Bedie and 67-year-old former prime minister Pascal Affi N’guessan, then boycotted the election.
Despite the crises, Cote d’Ivoire’s Constitutional Council validated the provisional election results which declared Ouattara winner with 94.27% of total votes cast. Opposition candidates, who boycotted the poll, got 5.73%. It was an election result that will make North Korea’s President Kim Jong Un green with envy. Opponents then formed a rebel National Transition Council (NTC) chaired by Bedie; its members were promptly put under house arrest. Riots more violent than the storming of the Capitol followed in the country’s main cities. AU, ECOWAS, US and European powers all received the events with deep anxiety. Noticeably, Nigeria’s President Buhari did not congratulate Alasanne Ouattara.
Unlike in Cote d’Ivoire, where Ouattara initially planned to hand over to a chosen successor, President Alpha Conde of Guinea Bissau had been planning his third term bid for at least a year before last October’s elections. Maybe it was part of it that he spent Sallah Day with President Buhari in Daura in 2019. We pitied him when we saw on television that our president gave him a plate containing only four pieces of Sallah meat.
In March last year, Conde organised a fraudulent referendum in which an alleged 91.59% of Guineans voted for a new Constitution that waived the two-term limit for the President and provided for another six-year presidential term. This, after he had served two terms of five years each. At the same time, Conde organised fraudulent National Assembly elections in which his Rally of the Guinean People [RPG] party won 79 seats out of 114, or more than two-thirds.
Crises, mass arrests, boycotts and violence then attended to last October’s polls in Guinea, at the end of which the Constitutional Court certified Conde as winner with 59.5 percent of votes. At least that was modest compared to Ouattara’s margin. Main opposition candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo is under house arrest while Conakry now resembles Washington DC, with soldiers placed all over the city to protect democracy. Again AU, ECOWAS, US and European powers expressed apprehension. President Buhari did not send a congratulatory message, guaranteeing that Conde, still unhappy with those four pieces of meat, will not visit him again next Sallah.
Last year also witnessed the tragedy in Mali, where President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was overthrown in an old-style military coup after months of unrest. A fragile transition to another round of elections is currently underway in the country. No one expected Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to be the first to depart from the newly invented Afro-American tradition of presidential sit-tightism. Museveni is now one of the longest serving rulers in Africa, an intellectual guerilla who emerged from the bush in 1986 and chased President Milton Obote back into exile in Zambia. We soon came to love Museveni because he has sharp intellect, a lot of humour and deep African patriotism. I personally remember his speech at the OAU Summit in Abuja in 1991. His speech before the Ugandan Parliament last year, about the Covid pandemic, which was widely circulated on social media, was an African classic.
Yet, Africans will not forget in a hurry another viral video from Uganda, this time of main opposition candidate Bobi Wine’s wife being arrested, pushed to the ground and stripped near naked by Ugandan policemen days before last week’s election. Amidst all the violence and intimidation, Uganda’s Electoral Commission said Museveni won 59% of the vote, to Mr. Wine’s 35%. Again I congratulate Museveni for his modesty in not winning 99.99% of the vote, as Comrade Enver Hoxha used to do in Albania. Maybe Museveni will not get a congratulatory letter from Nigeria, but then, he could easily explain that away with a deprecatory native African wise crack.
My fear for Museveni however is that longevity in office tends to squander all African goodwill and destroy a legacy of good and patriotic service. The best contemporary African examples were Muammar Gaddafi and Robert Mugabe. If both men had left power at the right time, they would have become permanent African folk heroes but Gaddafi stayed for 42 years while Mugabe ruled for 37 years and planned to handover to his wife.
It is in this light that Niger Republic President Mahamadou Issoufou deserves an African standing ovation for planning to step down next month when he completes his second term in office. It will be Niger Republic’s first peaceful transfer of power since independence. We recall with grimace our northern neighbour’s tragedies of Diori Hammani, Seyni Kountche, Mahamane Ousmane and Ibrahim Ba’are Mainasara. Nigeriens, like Nigerians, love presidential power. 41 of them applied to run for president in the December 27 election. 11 were disqualified, including Hama Amadou, candidate of the main opposition party. The constitutional court rejected him because he was once imprisoned for a year for baby trafficking, which he said was politically motivated.
Results of the first round of voting showed the Arab-Nigerien Mohamed Bazoum in the lead with 39% of the vote, short of the 50+% needed to win outright. This was impressive by African standards because Bazoum is the candidate of the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism and is heavily supported by the outgoing president. In second place was former President Mahammane Osumane of Democratic and Republican Renewal party, with 16%. All 28 other candidates got some votes, the lowest being 0.2%.
In the wake of the election, I have seen some videos on the social media where Niger opposition figures claimed that Nigerian billionaire Dahiru Mangal interfered with their elections by supporting Bazoum. Maybe, but from these figures, if all the opposition parties had bandied together in the first round, they probably could have defeated Bazoum, Mangal support or no. It is another African election lesson; you don’t field 29 opposition candidates and expect to defeat a ruling party, unless you were Nigeria in 2015. They can still bandy together during the February run-off election.
Sit-tightism has been native to Africa for 60 years. It is our biggest soft-power export to the United States in 2020-21.