Mohamed Ali Soilihi votes at a polling station in Mbeni on January 25, 2015 during legislative elections (AFP Photo/Ibrahim Youssouf)
Moroni (Comoros) (AFP) – The vice president of the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros, Mohamed Ali Soilihi, won the first round of the country’s presidential elections with 17.61 percent of the vote, preliminary results released late Tuesday showed.
Soilihi edged ahead of Mouigni Baraka, the governor of Grande Comore island, who garnered 15.09 percent, ahead of Colonel Azali Assoumani, who placed third with 14.96 percent.
The three candidates will now face off in a second-round of voting on April 10, with the winner succeeding outgoing President Ikililou Dhoinine.
Some supporters of Fahmi Said Ibrahim, who had been one of the favourites but trailed in fourth place, alleged his low count had been due to fraud.
Police dispersed a small group of Ibrahim supporters who gathered at the party’s headquarters on Grande Comore.
An African Union observer mission led by former Tunisian president Mohamed Moncef Marzouki said “apart from few isolated incidents, the entire election took place in an orderly and peaceful” manner.
The first round of voting on Sunday only took place on Grande Comore, in accordance with electoral rules that ensure the president is chosen on a rotating basis from one of the country’s three main islands.
The system was established in 2001 after more than 20 coups or attempted coups in the years following independence from France in 1975.
Dhoinine’s completion of his five-term term has been seen as a sign of growing stability in the Comoros.
Voters queue in the Comoros capital Moroni to cast their ballots for the presidential election from a crowded field of 25 candidates on February 21, 2016 (AFP Photo/Ibrahim Youssouf)
By Béatrice Debut, Aboubacar M’Changama
February 21, 2016 1:32 PM
Moroni (Comoros) (AFP) – Voters in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros cast their ballots in an election for a new president Sunday from a crowded field of 25 candidates, with a struggling economy and poor infrastructure high on the agenda.
Officials started counting the ballots after polling stations closed, using candlelight and camping lamps in a country that suffers from endemic electricity shortages that paralyse the economy, said an AFP journalist in Moroni.
Polling in the country of less than one million people took place without any major incidents, although some were delayed by the late arrival of voting materials.
Voting in areas affected by delays continued after the official closing time at 6:00 pm.
A total of 159,000 voters on Grande Comore island were eligible to vote in the first round of the election, in accordance with electoral rules that stipulate the president is chosen on a rotating basis from one of the archipelago’s three main islands.
Among those running for president are a former coup leader and the vice president.
After the first round, the three top candidates will go into a nationwide run-off on April 10 that will decide the successor to President Ikililou Dhoinine.
Dhoinine comes from Moheli, the smallest of the three main islands. The other island in the trio is Anjouan.
The system of rotating candidates among islands was established in 2001 in a bid to usher in stability after more than 20 coups or attempted coups, in the years following independence from France in 1975.
Among the candidates leading the field are vice president Mohamed Ali Soilihi, Grande Comore governor Mouigni Baraka and Azali Assoumani, a former coup leader and two-time former president.
Athoumani Toioussi, an unemployed mother who was voting in the capital Moroni, on Grande Comore, said she would vote for Assoumani, despite his coup history.
“Yes, he came to power through a coup but it helped get the country out of chaos,” Toioussi told AFP.
Another voter, Houmadi Ahmedi, favoured Baraka saying “he gave learning materials to elementary school.”
– Avoiding ‘double voting’ –
Moinaecha Youssouf Djalali, a businesswoman, is the only female candidate in a country where the majority are Sunni Muslims.
Dhoinine’s successful completion of his five-year term has been seen as a sign of growing stability in Comoros, though many candidates had expressed fears of electoral fraud.
“Real efforts are being made by the election commission and international actors to ease any political or social tensions,” European Union representative Eduardo Campos Martins said.
With suspicion poisoning the political atmosphere in the archipelago nation, “we are entering the sensitive phase now, with the tallying and counting,” said Nadia Torqui, a UN consultant.
The electoral commission on Saturday had agreed to a request from 20 candidates to ban proxy voting, seen as a possible source of fraud, “to preserve the peace”.
Voters were also set to be forbidden from leaving Moroni or moving between villages unless they had an official pass “to avoid double voting”, the interior ministry said.
The election is being monitored by dozens of African and international observers as well as a 425-person monitoring platform established by local civil society groups.
The campaign of all 25 candidates had been centred on similar promises of free health care, education and infrastructure improvement, in a country where the roads are riddled with potholes and women and children queue for water.
Voters were also choosing governors for the three islands.
Early results were expected from Sunday night.
The article was originally published in Yahoo! News.
The African Union General Assembly in session. Photo Credit: The Herald (Zimbabwe)
By Aggrey Mutambo
African Union chairman President Mugabe has been strident in his consistent call for the reform of the UN, arguing that Africa, and also Asia, needed to be heard and that their voices be heard. He has never been a fan of the status quo dominated by former colonialists and western hegemons, a situation that extends even to global financial architecture.
THE African Union is to revive its push to reform the most powerful arm of the United Nations when leaders converge in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week.
Despite resistance from five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Heads of State and governments of an AU committee have recommended that member-states discuss the issue again.
The 26th Ordinary Session of the AU General Assembly for heads of state and government will be held on January 30 and 31.
Its theme in 2016: African Year of Human Rights with a particular focus on the Rights of Women.
Last week, the Committee of 10, a group of countries, was formed to lobby for UN reforms and resolved to put the issue as the first item on the agenda.
Other members are Algeria, Libya, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Zambia, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea and Congo.
Heads will arrive in Addis at the tail-end of the summit, endorsing or rejecting decisions reached by their foreign ministers.
AFRICA’S LACK OF INFLUENCE
The Security Council is charged with maintaining global peace.
It also admits members to the UN and can approve changes to the agency’s charter.
It has 15 members, but only five are permanent and hold veto powers. They are Russia, China, France, the UK and the USA.
Despite being the recipient of most declarations on peace and security, Africa can have only non-permanent members who do not influence major decisions.
On Tuesday, Foreign Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed said the push for reforms would go on.
“The Security Council does not reflect 21st century political and economic realities. This underrepresentation is discriminatory, unfair and unjust. The C-10 agreed to sustain push for reforms as per the Ezulwini Consensus and Sirte Declaration,” she said.
Kenya, alongside Equatorial Guinea were the main lobbyists for the “Africa Common Position” in 2005.
Despite meeting with permanent members of the Security Council last year, there was no substantial commitment to change anything.
AU wants at least two African countries have permanent slots in the Security Council. The C-10 proposed that the AU assembly resolves also to push for removal of veto powers if no African nation is included in the permanent category.
“The AU heads of state will decide on the timeframe and reaction to be addressed on UNSC. The C-10 will present its report to the heads of state summit,” Ms Mohamed explained.
Africa accuses the permanent members of being undemocratic and using the security council to safeguard their interests. In 2012 and 2013, Kenya was bitter when its attempts to have cases facing
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto at the ICC were deferred, after the US and the UK abstained from the vote.
The first hurdle is the five permanent members but to exact changes to the council requires more than political lobbying. Other countries like Germany, India, Brazil and Japan also feel they should be in the security council.
In fact, the UN itself formed a task force at the turn of the century to collect views on reforms. The team proposed an increase in membership of the security council from 15 to 25.
The suggestion was blocked by the current members who feared their power to veto would be diluted.
Ambassador Caabi Elyachroutu Mohamed congratulated president Michel on his re-election (Patrick Joubert Seychelles News Agency)
(Seychelles News Agency) – Seychelles and the Comoros are working on a judicial agreement to address the drug trade and future exchanges of prisoners, government officials from the two countries said Tuesday.
The agreement will allow prisoners to serve time in their respective countries’ prisons.
The Comoros already have such an agreement with neighbouring island nation Madagascar and Tanzania in East Africa.
The subject is timely. Eighteen Comorian fishermen were arrested by the Seychelles Coast Guard in Seychelles’ waters in November. Officials say the fishermen were fishing without authorisation in the lagoon of the Aldabra Atoll, a nature reserve.
Tuesday’s announcement came after a meeting between Seychelles President James Michel and Comoros Ambassador Caabi Elyachroutu Mohamed. During his meeting with Michel, Mohamed congratulated the Seychelles head of state on his December re-election on behalf of Comorian President Dr. Ikililou Dhoinine.
One of the boats caught by the Seychelles coast guards ( SIF) Photo License: CC-BY
During his trip to Seychelles, Mohamed met with the 18 fishermen in total who were arrested. Three Comorian skippers were charged last week with illegal fishing.
“I wish that the court proceedings will be done in the best possible conditions,” he said.
Mohamed is on a working visit to the Seychelles archipelago in the western Indian Ocean. The two countries enjoy bilateral co-operation in many fields given that both are small island states.
The Comorian ambassador has expressed his interest in the having the Seychelles national airline making Coromos one of its destinations.
“The Seychelles is becoming the hub of the region, this is interesting for us. We wish that Air Seychelles will be interested in flying to our island,” said the Madagascar-based Mohamed.
Thirty-six people died in Kinshasa in January during demonstrations sparked by perceived attempts by President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to stay in power after his second and final term. A few months later and just across the border, protesters took to the streets of Bujumbura in April when Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans to seek a constitutionally tenuous third term in office.
President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s security forces in the Republic of Congo used deadly force against demonstrators in Brazzaville and put opposition leaders under house arrest in October, when they expressed disagreement with a constitutional referendum to allow the leader to run for a third term. And while mass street demonstrations were noticeably absent in Kigali, Rwanda’s parliament and judiciary successfully cleared several legal hurdles this year to enable President Paul Kagame to run again after his second, seven-year term comes to an end in 2017.
It was rare that a week went by without discussion related to these East and Central African leaders’ efforts to seek a third term in office. All four leaders have been accused of human rights abuses during their tenures, with some of the loudest allegations related to crackdowns against opponents and protesters who pushed back against the maneuvers to extend presidential mandates beyond existing term limits.
Despite the controversies, the leaders kept their titles and remained at the top. This made 2015 the year that the region’s strongmen found ways to legally cling to power. Using a term recently coined by Human Rights Watch, it was the year of the “constitutional coup.”
“Military coups are no longer de rigueur,” HRW deputy director Anneke Van Woudenberg and researcher Ida Sawyer wrote in Foreign Policy in November, noting that the shift was partially caused by the African Union’s decision not to recognize administrations that achieve power by force. “Instead, African leaders who are unwilling to abide by term limits, or unfavorable election results, prefer to simply change the laws and constitutions that stand in their way.”
Constitutional changes and legal judgments helped pave the way for these presidents to pursue lifelong leadership. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC, it was a proposed amendment that would have postponed the 2016 elections until a nationwide census was completed — a move critics believed would let Kabila sidestep constitutional term limits and stay in power for several more years.
After the deadly protests in January, the proposal was revoked. But in the months since, the government has detained protesters and opposition members in an attempt to silence peaceful activists, according to a December report from Human Rights Watch. It’s still unclear what Kabila will do.
Next door in Congo, Sassou Nguesso used a constitutional referendum to lift both the age and term limits that would have made him ineligible. The changes passed with 92 percent voting in favor — although the opposition accused the regime of lying about voter turnout — and the president is expected to move forward and call elections by spring of 2016. Experts say he is unlikely to step down willingly; he has after all been president since 1997, and before that from 1979 to 1992. Sassou Nguesso has not groomed a successor who would protect the president from international criminal cases and look after the assets his family has secured during its reign, according to Stanford University fellow Brett Logan Carter.
“Sassou Nguesso doesn’t want to risk this,” Carter said ahead of the referendum vote, noting the leader has likely become more fearful after seeing fellow African strongmen like Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaoré fall from power. “There is no one else for Sassou Nguesso to transfer power to, so in a way he’s been forced into this position.”
Most recently, Rwanda held a constitutional referendum of its own on December 18, giving the public the right to chose whether to change the constitutional term limits. The country’s parliament and judiciary had already lifted several hurdles to allow President Kagame to extend his rule, and the referendum was seen as the final step. According to official results, 98 percent voted in favor of the changes that, in theory, will allow the leader to serve another seven-year term, followed by two five-year terms. In other words, he could be in power until 2034.
Earlier this year as the parliament and judiciary began to clear the way for these changes, University of Buffalo political science professor r Reverien Mfizi — a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide — explained that all those legal steps were part of an attempt to give the process a sense of legitimacy.
The constitutional changes have been framed, Mfizi said, as a normal process of Rwandans deciding for themselves whether or not Kagame gets to seek another round as head of state. All of this occurred without any public protest — in fact, the government has frequently referenced a nationwide poll showing an overwhelming majority was for Kagame running again.
“Kagame is a very smart, very thoughtful leader. I don’t always agree with him, but you have to admire how clever he is,” Mfizi said. “What’s missing from that story is it’s virtually impossible to oppose the regime.”
But arguably, the highest-profile power grab this year with the deadliest and most destabilizing effects came from Nkurunziza in Burundi. Almost eight months after the leader announced third-term plans, pushing demonstrators out into the streets to protest the move, the country has been engulfed in continued political instability and violence.
Nkurunziza pursued a new term despite a clearly outlined two-term limit in the constitution, which was established in 2005 as part of the Arusha peace agreement that ended the country’s decade-long civil war. The constitutional court cleared the former rebel leader to run, saying he had been appointed to his first term in 2005, not democratically elected.
Protests quickly turned violent as police cracked down on demonstrators, while opponents and Nkurunziza supporters clashed with each other in the streets. As dozens were killed and tens of thousands fled to refugee camps in neighboring countries including Rwanda, Tanzania, and the DRC, Nkurunziza pushed on with his reelection campaign — even as regional and international organizations and governments called on him to step aside. He ultimately claimed victory at the polls in July, and the crisis shifted to politically motivated violence, disappearances, and assassinations on both sides.
A Burundian protester during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Bujumbura, on June 3, 2015. Protesters said they were disappointed that East African leaders didn’t ask President Pierre Nkurunziza to give up his bid for a third term. Photo by Dai Kurokawa / EPA
The situation has hit a critical point in recent weeks. To date, at least 300 people have reportedly been killed and more than 200,000 have fled the country since the violence began in April. On December 11, armed assailants waged a series of seemingly coordinated attacks on three military bases. Gunfire rang through the capital all day as security forces clashed with the fighters, and the next day 87 bodies were found on the streets of Bujumbura. In the day after the attack, a report from the International Federation for Human Rights found 300 young, unarmed civilians had disappeared, 154 of whom have since turned up dead. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein became just the latest to stress the looming risk of all-out conflict, stating that Burundi was on “the very cusp of civil war.”
In response, the African Union took a major step and approved the deployment of 5,000 peacekeepers to be sent to the country. Known as the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi, the plan is backed by the United Nations Security Council, while the Burundian government has said it would not allow foreign troops to enter its borders.
“If the situation continues, the African Union and international community cannot sit by and watch genocide, if it is going to develop into that,” said Erastus Mwencha, the deputy chairman of the African Union Commission.
The international community now awaits formal notice from Burundi and for the AU to decide whether it will send troops anyway, even if the Bujumbura authorities do not approve. Meanwhile, how Nkurunziza responds internally will be key. For months, observers have cited the leader’s perceived will to get a third term at all costs.
“Is there somewhere in the Bible where leaders are called on to massacre their people?”
A lot of the discussion surrounding Nkurunziza’s political ambitions has centered around his belief that he has risen to power by God’s will. The born-again Christian leader has stuck to the divine narrative particularly hard in recent months, even thanking God for winning the July elections and saying God would take care of the country’s rebels.
His fellow strongman on Burundi’s northern border, Rwanda’s Kagame, has questioned both Nkurunziza’s power grab and his belief in God. In a November speech, Kagame said Burundi should learn from the experience of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, while calling out the government’s failure to stop the internal violence.
“Burundi’s leaders pride themselves on being men of God, some are even pastors,” Kagame said. “But in what God do they believe?… Is there somewhere in the Bible where leaders are called on to massacre their people?”