Top Election Predictions For Africa In 2018

By Kurt Davis Jr. AFKI Original Published: December 13, 2017, 2:04 am
Election predictions - Zimbabwe's Emmerson Mnangagwa will run for president in 2018. Photo - VOA NewsZimbabwe's Emmerson Mnangagwa will run for president in 2018. Photo - VOA News

Last year’s election predictions for 2017 were pretty accurate (if a little self-indulgence can be allowed).

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) did not have an election (guess we can repeat the 2017 prediction for 2018). The Liberia election provided a runoff between Vice President Joseph Boakai and former Liberian soccer player and current senator, George Weah.

Paul Kagame wins again in Rwanda (that was the ‘lay-up’ pick), and Angola was an easy one to pick for the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and João Lourenco.

And Kenya? This was last year’s comment:

“The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) wins if the election is peaceful…i.e., the IEBC can prevent any violence, ease the ethnic polarization, and simply appear as a strong and fair administrator in the election process…expect the IEBC to do all of those things and more. Secondly, it is hard to see Uhuru Kenyatta losing a second term…but do plan for a race tighter than any observer can imagine.”

Not much can be added to that one other than the fact that the prediction may have underestimated the economic challenges caused by a drawn out election process. But let’s hope for a big economic recovery in 2018 for Kenya.

So this year will be interesting to watch again, with countries like Egypt, DRC (hopefully), and Zimbabwe on the calendar. The elections are sure to be very exciting for the countries going to the polls and those investors and other interested parties gauging how to engage such countries.

Here are the top elections to watch in Africa and predictions for 2018.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

(italics are the words from the 2017 prediction for the DRC election)

Last year, I pondered repeating my 2016 prediction…

“Can I repeat the same section from the 2016 predictions? My sentiments remain the same…President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, COULD face multiple challenges in 2017. Why say ‘could’? The political parties struck a last-minute deal at the end of 2016 to potentially ensure the first peaceful transfer of power for the DRC since its independence in 1960. But it remains a big uncertainty if the Congolese officials can organize an election by the end of 2017.

And some critics believe that Kabila may renege on his promise and find a way to prevent elections in 2017. The avenues for doing such are vast: (1) lack of funding for elections by the end of year, (2) state of emergency if violence breaks out over the speed of getting elections up and running, and/or (3) renewed negotiation over Kabila’s exit due to his concerns that he will not receive fair treatment once outside the presidential office.”

Here we are now, and the same question is pondered about the 2017 prediction…

“Despite the potential for another delay of the Congolese election, the deal struck requires (or allows) us to consider the outcome of the election. One certainty remains in this election discussion.”

…I am going to be bold and try not to change any words at this stage.

“The influential former governor of the Katanga province, Moïse Katumbi, resigned from the ruling party in 2015. Previous speculation around his participation in the next election will become certainty when the election date is set.

The uncertainty remains around how many G7 signatories will run. The G7 are the seven party leaders from within the ruling alliance that signed an open letter in 2015 urging Kabila to not run for a second term. The signatories include Social Movement for Renewal (MSR) Party president Pierre Lumbi, planning minister Olivier Kamitatu, José Endundu, member of parliament Christophe Lutundula, and three leaders from Katanga — Charles Mwando-Simba, Kyungu wa Kumanza and Dany Banza. The list of entrants into this election from this list and beyond could get interesting if Katumbi does not build the grand coalition on the ground that his supporters are envisioning.”

The DRC section is easy to describe now that I have some practice under my belt…

Who will win? The Congolese people win if there is an election. If Kabila is out, then this is Katumbi’s to lose.

Zimbabwe

The peaceful military coup on the evening of Nov. 14, 2017 culminated in the resignation of President Robert Mugabe on Nov. 21 and the installation of ousted Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa, a longtime ally of Mugabe, was sacked by Mugabe reportedly at the favor of Grace Mugabe, wife of Robert, who had expressed interest in taking up the position.

The removal of President Mugabe effectively eliminates the potential presidential rise of Grace Mugabe, consequently opening the door in 2018 for Mnangagwa, also a member of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZAN-PF) party.

All that said, the removal of the Mugabes from the presidential palace after nearly 20 years opens the door for speculation on potential contestants for the higher office.

The main opposition will come from the Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai (MDC-T), led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai has been the key opposition figure against Mugabe, contesting in the 2002 presidential election (which Mugabe won with 56 percent) and the 2008 presidential election (which Mugabe won with 86 percent in the runoff).

Although the Organisation of African Unity concluded that the 2002 elections were “transparent, credible, free and fair”, the Commonwealth of Nations, Western governments, and Norwegian observers challenged that assessment with the Commonwealth of Nations also suspending Zimbabwe for a year.

The 2008 elections began with Tsvangirai winning about 48 percent in the first round to Mugabe’s 43 percent, but Tsvangirai dropped out before the 2nd round, blaming widespread violence and risks to voters as the primary reasons that the runoff would be a “sham.”

Having served as prime minister nevertheless from 2009 to 2013 after the 2008 election, Tsvangirai’s political craftiness should not be underestimated. The main deterring factor may be his health and his ability to overcome colon cancer. Much speculation suggests that he will sit out the 2018 election which would essentially hamstring the MDC-T party.

Beyond ZANU-PF and MDC-T, there is Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (now the National Alliance for Democracy) led by Simba Makoni, a former minister of finance and economic development in Mugabe’s cabinet from 2000 to 2002.

His history with Mugabe is as colorful and contentious as Tsvangirai. Maybe Makoni runs in 2018. Or academic Ibbo Mandaza may run, but he will have to overcome a poor track record as editor-in-chief of the defunct publication, “The Sunday Mirror”.

Jonathan Moyo, former minister of higher education (2015-2017) and former minister of information (2000-2005, 2013-2015), will be lurking after being expelled from the government and the ZANU-PF…he left the party in 2005 and returned in 2011 (so not unfamiliar ground to be on the outside).

Who will win? Zimbabweans win if the election still happens in 2018. If the election happens, transitional President Mnangagwa likely wins with Tsvangirai likely not representing MDC-T due to health (or not having the full energy to launch an energetic campaign).

The remaining opposition has a lot of question marks. But you can expect someone (after the dust settles) to launch a serious campaign to at least force a public discussion on economic growth, jobs, and the future of Zimbabwe (Zimbabweans are excited for a conversation on the future of the country).

Egypt

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi consistently says he will only run if the people ask him to do so…nothing suggests he will not find a significant portion of the population prepared to back his candidacy.

The former military man, as minister of defence and effectively commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, and key architect in the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi, el-Sisi is a political savant in his current reincarnation.

Having survived the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak (during the Egyptian revolution of 2011) and later overthrow of the aforementioned Morsi (and banning of the Muslim Brotherhood), el-Sisi is poised, according to many insiders, to win the 2018 election for president.

Critics constantly target el-Sisi’s authoritarian rule and style (and fears of growing repression) as method to pave a way for an opposition candidate.

Amnesty International remains highly critical of his treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood, with the BBC estimating that about 40,000 people have been jailed since Morsi’ overthrow, of which a majority are loyalists to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Public protests remain banned, austerity economic measures are in place, and a stubborn Islamist insurgency in the Sinai continues to cause violence and death. It all spells an opening for the opposition.

But who is the opposition?

Former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, a former presidential candidate, announced his candidacy for 2018. He served under Mubarak (last prime minister to dos so) and barely lost in the 2012 Egyptian election, winning more than 48 percent of the vote to Morsi’s near 52 percent.

After Morsi’s government issued an arrest warrant for him, he fled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and later formed a new political party called the Egyptian Patriotic Movement.

It is unclear if he will run the election from the UAE or return to Egypt, as he alleged to Al Jazeera that the UAE was restricting his travel while UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash argued otherwise.

Hamdeen Sabahy will likely represent the leftist current in the country. Famous TV anchor Lamis al-Hadidi recently asked Sabahy to run for president while he was on her show.

Sahaby wants to unite the leftist factions in the country but the reality is he is the face of the leftist opposition. Prominent human rights lawyer Khalid Ali, a former presidential candidate in 2012, will toss his hat in the ring.

His inclusion in the process will likely increase the discussions around civil rights and el-Sisi’s style of rule, but most observers do not think he will alter the poll numbers.

Dr. Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fotouh, a famous Egyptian physician and Islamist politician, is likely out due to his Muslim Brotherhood affiliation, despite leaving the party in 2011.

Former head of the state-run Central Auditing Organization’s (CAO) Hisham Geneina will consider entering this election too but many observers believe he will sit it out.

Who will win? El-Sisi will win. The militancy threat in the Sinai will likely ensure many Egyptians will rally around the former general. Economic challenges and civil right complaints will lower the winning margin and be a major focus. But the opposition is also split and likely will not coalesce around a unifying candidate.

Liberia

The original prediction was not too far off:

“Vice President Joseph Boakai will likely lead the ruling party but will need President Johnson-Sirleaf to articulate her successes such that the base will buy in…it has an Obama-Clinton-esque feel to this aspect of the election for the ruling party (those who know American politics may find irony in this description for the country founded by free blacks who fled from the U.S.). 

Former Liberian soccer player and current senator George Weah will be a frontrunner, having contested in the 2005 and 2011 elections. His policy focuses are improved education, in particular vocation training, religious peace and economic growth.”

Who will win?

The original prediction:

“This looks like an election made for the opposition to win.”

Senator Weah will likely win by a small margin. This may be appear as a blow to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s record as Africa’s first female president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and overall appreciated figure in the fight against Ebola and a stalwart in the economic rebuilding in Liberia.

But Boakai is not Sirleaf and change of party in leadership should not be read as a complete stamp of disapproval against the former leader. As it goes in the U.S., many Americans still like Obama but did not like Clinton.

Cameroon

Paul Biya is currently the longest and oldest (at 84 years) ruling leader in Africa following the resignation of Robert Mugabe this year.

Biya was part of the multiple-party system implementation in 1990s. Since winning the 1992 election with 40 percent of the vote against 36 percent by John Fru Ndi of the Social Democratic Front, he has won by significant margins in 1997, 2004, and 2011.

The opposition, with the support of Western governments consistently allege fraud in each election. Thus, many critics ponder if any opposition can make a strong challenge in 2018.

Akere Muna is the main opposition figure in Cameroon, or at least the first to declare his candidacy. The former vice-chair of Transparency International and former president of the Cameroon Bar Association is a prominent lawyer looking to parlay his anti-corruption prominence into a political agenda and campaign.

He also hails from the Anglophone region. And, as protests have persisted since October 2016 in the Anglophone regions, Muna may already have a significant base of support as the Anglophones in Cameroon account for approximately 20 percent of the population.

No internet and a school year lost will be an incentive to Anglophone voters to look elsewhere beyond Biya.

Rumors speculate that young (36-year-old) football legend Samuel Eto will challenge Biya.

The professional player for Turkish club Antalyaspor—who won African Player of the Year in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2010—may try to emulate the success of George Weah in Liberia.

His candidacy seems unlikely but could excite the younger voters in the country. And maybe he finds the ‘Weah’ touch in relating to Cameroonians.

Who will win?  Paul Biya is the early frontrunner despite having encountered protests in the south-west and north-west of the country for all of 2017. If Muna or Eto can challenge him with a strong campaign focused on economic growth and jobs, it could get interesting.

There is youth frustration around jobs, Anglophone grievances, and a slow voluntary and involuntary movement away from older leaders on the continent (i.e., Mugabe, Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos). But, as it stands today, Biya is the best bet for any gambler on this election.

And Why 2018 will be hard to solely focus on?

The Nigerian presidential election comes in 2019…

General elections will be held in February 2019 for the presidential office. Presidential primaries will likely take place within the last six months of 2018.

The Nigerian election will be a pivotal election for the continent.

The recent economic troubles in the country have not only hurt locals or devastated returns for investors. The challenges have made many investors question the long term viability of investing in Africa, with many observers using Nigeria’s struggles wrongfully as a representation of the entire continent.

The delays and challenges in the Kenyan election likely reduced economic growth to 4.5 percent for 2017 compared to the original 6 percent at the beginning of the year…thus many observers will ask how will the government coffers and overall economic growth in Nigeria be affected by this election?

The decision by Nigeria’s Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president and key ally of President Muhammadu Buhari, to quit the ruling party earlier this month opens speculation on his candidacy. Buhari has not declared his candidacy.

Nigeria accordingly could be in for an interesting and highly contentious (as well as costly) election.

The South African presidential election comes in 2019…

President Jacob Zuma is limited from running for a third term by the South African Constitution. Thus South Africans (and others) will be watching to see who the African National Congress selects as his successor.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa will likely square off against Zuma’s ex wife Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. The competition could split the party, with Ramaphosa backed by the anti-Zuma faction and Dlamini Zuma backed by the pro-Zuma faction.

The Democratic Alliance, led by Mmusi Maimane and the Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema, formed coalition agreements in 2016 during the South African municipal elections with some speculation this could lead to a national coalition.

Most observers believe otherwise, especially if the ANC split becomes very tenuous and actually splits the party and creates a very open multi-party race.

The Ramaphosa-Dlamini Zuma fight will not be a nice one and the potential fears of a split in the 105-year old party is palpable as leaders gather this month.

Added to that, the National Prosecuting Authority head Shaun Abrahams was asked to vacate his post by the High Post with Ramaphosa to appoint a new chief because President Zuma has a conflict of interest…the NPA is set to decide if President Zuma will be charged for corruption.

The year of 2018 could be very interesting in South Africa for all the right or wrong reasons when it comes to this election.

Kurt Davis Jr. is an investment banker focusing on the natural resources and energy sectors, with private equity experience in emerging economies. He earned a law degree in tax and commercial law at the University of Virginia’s School of Law and a master’s of business administration in finance, entrepreneurship and operations from the University of Chicago. He can be reached at kurt.davis.jr@gmail.com.

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