The political environment in a country is key to economic growth and development. Generally, if a country must thrive, political stability is a pertinent ingredient. The situation is the same for business. Entrpreneurs who neglect politics, do this at their peril. According to an old saying, ‘Business is politics and politics is business’. And in Africa the saying truly weighs more than gold.
Relative political stability in the past decade is one of the major factors attributed to Africa’s economic success. This year, a few elections accordingly will have investors glued to the news, and could determine economic development in a handful of African countries. The year could be telling for the political and economic future of Africa, with the following five elections being the biggest ones to watch:
Of the many elections this year, the most far-reaching could be in South Africa on May 7th. The African National Congress (ANC), led by Jacob Zuma, is arguably poised to win in an election that will mark 20 years of democracy for the country. However, an unexpected alignment between Mamphela Ramphele, life partner to the late Steve Biko, and the largely white Democratic Alliance (DA) quickly brought ‘black’ credibility to the DA by linking it to her new Agang party. Then the marriage died a death so quick that hype around it had yet to set in. The divorce definitely dulled hopes among ANC critics that a legitimate opposition party will arrive in the near term.
Moreso, Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party could steal some ANC support. Africa’s largest economy has continued to witness repeated strikes in the mining sector, high unemployment, government corruption allegations and low economic growth. The last three factors boost the EFF’s youth support, especially considering those born after the end of apartheid have less attachment to the ANC. Thus, Malema’s calls for nationalization attempt to capitalize on the palpable sentiments of inequality. But they do not bid well for attracting a winnable mass to defeat the ANC.
Maybe there is a new twist to come before May.
Prediction: The incumbent returns?
A date has not been set for general elections in 2014. But whatever the date, the election will represent a success story in a rather extended Arab Spring. The ability of Tunisian politicians to find compromise in a world of zero-sum politics has been nothing but impressive. The transition to a new constitution and new elections did not come without casualties—the previous coalition government led by Ennahda, Tunisia’s main Islamist party, only resigned after two assassinations of opposition politicians and subsequent protests.
The Tunisian Constitution will get its first test when there is a newly elected government required to put it into action. But the approval of an article in the constitution to work towards equal representation of women in all elected bodies is a sign that politicians are making their best efforts to move the country forward. An active social media scene has also been remarkably impressive. The youth suffered greatly before the Arab Spring and afterwards. High unemployment, rising food prices and slacking public services (particularly health services) imply a long road ahead. But if the government continues with public voting and supports youth participation, the road forward will be easier for whoever wins in 2014.
Prediction: This is like predicting a draft two years before any player declares eligibility. If anything, expect major shifts in the polls up to the election.
All the talk is currently about the potential re-entering of the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) led by Afonso Dhlakama into the national election. A statement by Dhlakama in October last year indicated that the capture of its base by Mozambican Armed Forces signified an end to the 1992 peace deal with the governing party, the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo). A series of clashes in the north between Renamo and Frelimo has also cast further doubt on the potential of Renamo’s political re-entry before the presidential elections.
But it is not Renamo that is creating a political stir at the voting booth. The Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM) led by Beira mayor Daviz Simango performed well in municipal elections, winning Gurue in February in a runoff after electoral fraud to go with their earlier victories in the three major cities of Nampula (following a re-run after ballot errors), Beira and Quelimane. Still Frelimo led by Mozambique’s President Armando Guebuza fended off a very strong challenge in Maputo from MDM and maintained control in most of the country’s 53 municipalities. The results however confirm that public frustration with security, specifically kidnappings, and lack of substantial returns from mining investment is boosting MDM support.
President Guebuza is constitutionally prevented from standing for a third term. The Frelimo Central Committee elected Filipe Jacinto Nyussi, the Minister of Defense, as the party’s presidential candidate by a two-thirds margin after an internal debate in which Guebuza loyalists staved off a push from a rival group backing former Prime Minister (and ex-Finance Minister) Luisa Diogo. The rival group was led by former President Joaquim Chissano and Graca Machel, who was married to the late President Samora Machel and is also the recent widow of former South Africa President Nelson Mandela.
Posts by Mozambicans on Facebook and Twitter indicate that dissatisfaction lingers with Frelimo’s presidential candidate selection. MDM should go into 2014 hopeful. But some analysts however suggest Renamo’s re-entry into the election could split the opposition vote and boost Frelimo’s chance for a ‘grand’ victory.
Prediction: Minister of Defense Filipe Jacinto Nyussi wins. Renamo’s re-entry into the political process takes some votes from MDM’s base.
The road to a new constitution and presidential election has been anything but smooth. Persistent protesters, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood who supported former President Muhammad Morsi, are tired of the current happenings. A majority of the country likely supported the recent military leadership. But the clampdown on media, mass arrests and an apparent return of the former security apparatus under former President Hosni Mubarak raised suspicion on both sides of the aisle about the military involvement in government going forward. The abrupt resignation by the caretaker government last month only furthered suspicions and speculations.
Recent news that a new presidential election could involve General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who led the coup, will only further boost concerns about any upcoming election. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Nour party both suspect the military wants to assume the role (and accompanying dictatorial control) of former President Hosni Mubarak. While farfetched, there will be supporters and detractors both wondering the same thing.
Labeling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, as recently effected by Egypt’s cabinet, could push the group out of political participation and force them to choose more unconventional options for influence. Youth unemployment, a sluggish economy, and security concerns are already enough headaches for any new leader. The next president cannot take on any more problems.
Prediction: A bold entry and carefully constructed campaign by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi could be hard for anyone to overcome.
Last but not least. Although Nigeria’s presidential election is slated for 2015, 2014 is a year to watch for Africa’s second largest economy if only for the polictiking and campaigning, which has already begun with the two major parties (People’s Democratic Party and All Progressives Congress ) recording cases of “decamping” members.
Security concerns over al-Qaeda-linked Boko Haram in northern Nigerian continues to hover over current administation. Although government crackdowns has slowed attacks, many Nigerians and foreign investors wonder if this is temporary, especially as election year draws closer.
In addition, former president Olusegun Obasanjo joined the fray with a harsh public letter attacking President Goodluck Jonathan and his administration for failing to confront piracy (including oil theft), kidnapping and corruption in the society. Also, Jonathan’s recent suspension of central bank governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi raised dust. Sanusi, a well respected governor for tackling the banking collapse in 2009, was ousted after his claim that the state oil company, Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), failed to pay $20 billion to government coffers. Although allegations of financial misapproriation on the part of Sanusi has emerged, the suspension has drawn criticism from a significant number of Nigeria’s over 170 million population.
Prediction: There will be, at the least, a lot of political repositioning by different opposition camps but Goodluck Jonathan remains the man to beat.