Central Africa and Southern Africa: Elections and Economics

Predictions of a 'sub-Saharan spring' in southern Africa have as yet proved unfounded, but elections in the DRCongo and Zimbabwe are proving to be risky in the current climate of domestic turmoil.

By Dr Knox Chitiyo and Anna Rader for RUSI.org

Last year's elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) raised fears that the political war of words between incumbent and challenger could translate into conflict on the ground. Tensions remain as Congo gears up for more elections in 2012. In South Africa, economic progress continues apace but there remain challenges: planned internal elections in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party could offer some surprise results. Zimbabwe will also have an uncertain year, as progress on the constitution stalls. Whilst Zambia's late 2011 election offers hope for a genuine anti-corruption push, elsewhere regimes are looking to inoculate themselves against instability, with Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Malawi and the Kingdom of Swaziland resisting political change in favour of economic policy. In the third article in the overview of Africa in 2012, we examine the trends and themes for Southern and Central Africa.

The DRC: Kabila Consolidates Power

The long-anticipated elections in the DRC in November 2011 were marred by allegations of fraud and electoral discrepancies. The fierce rivalry between incumbent president Laurent Kabila and opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi led to conflicting initial poll results, with Tshisekedi declaring victory before Kabila took back the presidency for a second term. Fears that the divisive poll could lead to war between rival supporters as occurred in 2006 between Kabila and Bemba supporters have so far not been realised. Although Tshekedi has considerable support in Kinshasa, he does not have truly national support. Election violence has continued with repression by security forces; there are some concerns that these tensions could presage a return to violence in the eastern part of the country where Kinshasa's reach is weak and where unemployment is leading to an upsurge in militia recruitment.

Nevertheless, a return to war is unlikely, not least because influential neighbours, particularly Uganda, as well as the UN, are determined to prevent a backslide. But refugees have started to trickle across the border to Rwanda, and Congo will be closely watched to ensure that safeguards are in place against an uptick in violence. The real challenge for 2012 will be whether the national election body can learn from the mistakes of 2011 and craft a more credible and less divisive electoral process for the municipal elections in the region's largest country. 2012 may also see a reduced role for UN peacekeepers and electoral officials as Kabila follows through on his insistence that, in the interests of national sovereignty, national institutions should, wherever possible, do work which has been done by international organisations. 

Oil Underwrites 'Stability' in Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Zambia

Elsewhere in Central Africa, there is little to suggest change in 2012. Though both Equatorial Guinea and Angola's presidents have been in power since 1979, making them now the longest-serving heads of state on the continent after Gaddafi's overthrow, huge oil receipts oil the wheels of their respective kleptocracies, making anything more than limited protest unlikely. Zambia, on the other hand, has the opportunity to become a poster child for anti-corruption following the appointment of new president Michael Sata in autumn 2011 who pledged to clean up the country. Though progress on a new constitution has stalled, the new government will hope to use the momentum of King Cobra's election to build a firm supporter base amongst newly registered voters to inoculate it against discontent.

Southern Africa: Balancing the Books

In 2012, as ever, politics and the economy will dominate regional dynamics in southern Africa. A number of countries are scheduled to hold parliamentary or party elections including Lesotho and the Seychelles; in December 2012, South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) will hold internal party elections. Zimbabwe is likely to hold a constitutional referendum and possible national elections, although considerable doubts remain as to whether it is feasible to attempt both in 2012. Although southern Africa (and South Africa in particular) were buffeted by the global recession, economic growth across the region has, and will likely continue to average, between 3 and 4 per cent per annum.

But for Swaziland and Malawi, both of which are best by fragile economies and demands for political reform, 2012 could be a far more fraught year. The Southern African Development Community's commitment and capacity to mediate and resolve long-running political crises in Zimbabwe and Mauritius as well as newer tensions in Malawi and Swaziland are also likely to be tested. The SADC's regional military capabilities will also be under scrutiny: SADC Brig, which is the Southern African component of the Africa Standby Force brigades, will be expected to 'deliver' in peace support operations across the region.

South Africa: the ANC Celebrates its Centenary

2012 marks the centenary of the founding of the ANC and the year will be dedicated to the celebration of liberationism in South Africa. The epic struggles against apartheid will be remembered and the ruling party will seek to ride the wave of liberation sentiment and recapture some of the urban vote which it lost to opposition Democratic Alliance in the 2011 municipal elections. The ANC remains the dominant party in South Africa and on the continent because of its pivotal role in establishing continental and global pan-Africanism.

Internationally, South Africa will also seek to reassert African internationalism at the UN Security Council and push back at what it and a number of other African countries see as Western 'adventurism' in Africa following the Cote d'Ivoire and Libya interventions. But the main energies of the ruling party will be focused on preparations for the national party elections at the end of the year. All the key contenders, including President Jacob Zuma, will be aiming to consolidate their constituencies. The five-yearly national party congresses are renowned for being no-holds-barred events, which often deliver surprise results, irrespective of rank. In 2007, the Polokwane Congress resulted in the fall of Thabo Mbeki. Zuma remains popular but he will also be aware that no one can take re-election for granted.

Zimbabwe: the Certainty of Uncertainty

In 2011, the Zimbabwean Government of National Unity (GNU) became increasingly fractious. The GNU has always been marked by infighting between the two dominant parties, Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change under Morgan Tsangirayi. But there was also a surge in intra-party conflict, particularly in ZANU-PF, as the Wikileaks disclosures documented ruling party officials engaging in taboo discussions about Mugabe's health and the succession crisis with US officials. Despite repeated calls by ZANU-PF to hold national elections in 2012, it is doubtful as to whether credible polls can be held this year. The Zimbabwe roadmap agreement calls for a constitutional referendum before elections; the constitutional process made headway in 2011 but is still far from being referendum-ready. The electoral process is even further behind. Despite all the talk of imminent elections and the dissolution of the coalition government in 2012, a more likely scenario is a quiet renewal of the GNU agreement for another year. Nevertheless the political uncertainty and queries about Mugabe's health will continue to deter large-scale investment.

Malawi and Swaziland: Whither Reform?

Malawi's declining agricultural output, increasing urban poverty and the authoritarianism of President Muluzi precipitated mid-2011 street protests and military clamp-downs. There was also a war of words between Muluzi and the donor community on which Malawi is heavily reliant. Malawi will in 2012 be a test case for the donor-host country dynamic. Malawai's economy needs stimulus but, with donors becoming increasingly recalcitrant, it remains to be seen whether, and how, this can be generated domestically.

Swaziland also endured a turbulent 2011, with demonstrations against the monarchy and government. There is increasing pressure for a constitutional monarchy in Swaziland, and for economic reforms to create employment. Civic leaders have called for King Msawti to lead by example through austerity. Swaziland remains a popular tourist destination, but many of its citizens seek better remuneration in neighbouring South Africa. The challenge, as ever, is to create a good climate for investment.

Dr Knox Chitiyo is an Associate Fellow at Chatham House.



Anna Rader is an Associate Fellow at RUSI.



The views expressed here are the authors' own and do necessarily reflect those of RUSI 




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