Sub-Saharan Africa politics: Who's next? by The Economist Intelligence Unit

January 28, 2011 10:09 AM | Deleted user
With the ousting of the Tunisian president being followed by substantial challenges to the authority of both the Egyptian and Yemeni presidents, there is inevitably speculation about whether the pattern will be repeated elsewhere. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the overthrow of a regime by spontaneous popular uprisingundefinedrather than a military/palace coup, or the intervention of a rebel group from across national borders (as in the overthrow of Uganda's Idi Amin, or Rwanda in 1994)undefinedis extremely uncommon. Nonetheless, a number of Sub-Saharan governments may well be looking nervously at the unfolding events.

One African country that does have form in the area is Madagascar, where in 2009 Andry Rajoelina was swept to power on a wave of popular support in the capital, as well as widespread resentment at the former president's heavy-handed manner and his government's favouritism towards his business empire, the Tiko foods conglomerate. However, enthusiasm has since faltered as the unelected administration headed by Mr Rajoelina has repeatedly deferred polls. The livelihoods of the urban poorundefinedparticularly those in the capital, Antananarivoundefinedhave suffered as a result of the political crisis and international sanctions imposed upon the country, and a popular uprising cannot be discounted. That said, there have been markedly few mass demonstrations as yet, and no figurehead who could mobilise popular discontent has yet emerged, suggesting that Mr Rajoelina and his administration are more likely to be overthrown by disaffected members of the security services than people power.

Other possibilities include:

* Cameroon, where some of the conditions seen in Tunisia also apply. The president, Paul Biya, has been in power since 1982, and, having altered the constitution, is set to stand again this year. Corruption within the bloated ranks of government, together with reports of the president's frequent and costly foreign trips, is fuelling popular resentment of an administration perceived to be self-serving and out of touch with the hardships faced by most Cameroonians. At the same time citizens have few avenues for democratic expressionundefinedopposition political parties have been largely marginalised and freedom of speech is curtailedundefinedand Mr Biya has relies heavily on the security services to maintain his authority and suppress discontent, often in a heavy-handed manner. Social unrest, fuelled by high levels of poverty and the rising cost of living, is already on the rise, and a violent crackdown by the security services could spark wider unrest. However, a series of small-scale protests have been taking place since third-quarter 2010, with little sign of momentum building as yet, while Mr Biya has been making a series of populist pledges. As in Madagascar, any threat to the regime is more likely to arise from the armed forces (increasingly ill-disciplined and dissatisfied) rather than the populace at large.

* Nigeria. In April Nigeria will hold presidential elections that could be the most closely contested polls in year. The run-up to these is in any case likely to be fraught with outbreaks of political violence, and unrest could escalate if competing politicians choose to exploit existing fault linesundefinedsuch as the ongoing low-level conflict in the oil-producing Niger Delta; the Muslim-Christian divide, responsible for several serious explosions of violence in recent years; or a host of local tensions, such as between the Tivs and Jukuns in Benue stateundefinedfor their own ends. As elsewhere in the region, the government will use the army to control any such flare-ups, but this could lead to further tension given their poor training and the potential for human-rights abuses. A particularly contentious or poorly run poll could lead to much more substantial unrest, but Nigeria remains a relatively small risk: Nigerians seem almost inured to corruption and poor leadership, while the sheer size and diversity of the country would make a popular uprising difficult. Equally, it does not have a long-standing leader: although it was only in 2007 that power was first successfully transferred from one civilian leader to another, heads of state have changed relatively regularlyundefinedeven if they have all belonged to the People's Democratic Party. Serious instability in Nigeria would have a substantial impact both in the region and globally: it is Africa's second-largest economy, and most populous nation, as well as being a substantial player in the hydrocarbons industry. And this is one more reason why the government is unlikely to be overthrown: whereas in Tunisia there were limits on the willingness of the US (and other Western powers) to sustain the regime, Nigeria is simply too strategically important to be allowed to fail in this way.

* Uganda. Elections are also imminent in Uganda, with the president, Yoweri Museveni, seemingly determined to extend his 25-year rule, not least because substantial oil revenues are coming on stream. However, Mr Museveni's share of the presidential vote has declined in each of the last three elections, and if the poll should go to a second-round run-offundefinedas is feasible given that there are eight candidates standingundefinedthe incumbent might just lose to his main challenger, Kizza Besigye. The problem is that Mr Museveni would be highly unlikely to accept such a defeat, potentially leading to unrest over the conduct of the poll. Potential hotspots include Kampala and the Buganda region, an area with a constitutional monarchy and a local parliament. Set against that, the country's economic circumstances have improved of lateundefinedinflation has fallen sharply in the past year, improving living standards for many, and growth looks set to remain robustundefinedwhile Mr Museveni remains personally popular, not least because of his role in the overthrow of Idi Amin. In addition, Mr Museveni has total control of the Ugandan army and has strengthened his grip on the police force, which suggests that wider political instability is unlikely unless there should be a brutal crackdown by the security services.

* Zimbabwe. In some respects, it is surprising that there has not been a popular uprising against the president, Robert Mugabe. In power since 1980, Mr Mugabe heads a repressive regime that has persistently manipulated elections and brutally cracked down on dissent, while at the same time implementing economic policies that led to more than a decade of recession, mass unemployment and inflation that eroded income per head by the day. Now, elections are in prospect once again (possibly this year), and all the signs are that the poll will once again be manipulated. Will this latest example of electoral theft finally provoke a mass uprising? Possiblyundefinedbut this is by no means guaranteed. Mr Mugabe, an extremely wily political operator, still retains support because of his role in the liberation war in the 1980s, and many of those who would oppose him have simply left the country in search of better prospects. At the same time, the head of the former opposition movement, Morgan Tsvangirai, has proved something of a disappointment, as has the country's experiment with power-sharing, and it remains to be seen whether the Zimbabwean populace will risk what is likely to be a vicious crackdown by taking to the streets in large numbers.

All told, therefore, a re-run of the Tunisian regime changeundefinedwhich combined elements of a popular revolution and a coupundefinedseems unlikely to be repeated south of the Sahara. This does not mean that African governments are safe from overthrow: the region does not lack long-standing and greedy presidents, and highly repressive states, or populations facing high unemployment and with long-standing (but bottled-up) resentment. It is just that regime change executed by other elements of the eliteundefinedwhether the security services or disgruntled politiciansundefinedseems more likely. However, as the experience in Tunisia has shown, it can be the apparently stable regimes that fall.

Reprinted from the Economist Intelligence Unit - ViewsWire, January 28, 2011. To view, go to 
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