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As election fever sweeps across the continent, Dibussi Tande presents a selection of blog posts on the situation in Cote D’Ivoire, Tanzania and Cameroon, along with a view from Africa on Obama’s US presidency.

Ivory Hotel looks at the role of ethnicity in the Presidential elections in Cote d’Ivoire:

‘A few thoughts on the results from the first few regions. Seems that people haven’t really taken in the message of Alpha Blondy’s hit song Multipartisme, and voted very much along ethnic lines.

‘That is maybe not very surprising given a high rate of illiteracy and a far too small middle class.

‘It’s tough creating a functioning democracy where issues and not ethnicity is at the key to voting preferences in a multiethnic country without a sizeable middle class. I think the votes from abroad are an indication of how it would look if the Ivory Coast had a large middle class.

‘Also, after a civil war with an ethnic component to it, ethnic voting is to be expected. Image the UN stepping in and stopping the war in Juguslavia in 1991, and then there being an election in a united Juguslavia. I wouldn’t expect many Bosnian Muslims to vote for Milosevic, or Serbs voting for Croat etc.’

West Africa Always Wins takes a diametrically-opposed view by pointing out that many voters who were not from President Laurent Gbgabo still voted for him:

‘Ivory Coast is in limbo. People are staying at home to wait for the results from Sunday’s vote. Last night the results from ten provinces were finally read out on state television, in between monotonous music videos and endless repeats of the evening news. By the time the electoral commission called it a day, at 3 in the morning, Laurent Gbagbo was slightly ahead of his main rival Alassane Ouattara. It remains a mystery why we had to sit through the night to hear the first results, but that’s the impenetrable logic of Ivorian officialdom.

‘Another thing I find difficult to understand is why people would vote for Gbagbo. Ivorians tend to choose someone of their own tribe, but the first results indicate that thousands of Ivorians have set tribal and religious loyalties aside to keep Gbagbo in power. His self-congratulatory speeches make my hair stand on end, and I would think that his indifference to corruption, police extortion and army brutality is enough to disqualify him as a leader. But that’s the point of view of the white man, said my friend F., arguing Gbagbo is not as unpopular as westerners think. “The question people ask themselves is: who can give us peace and stability? Put yourself in the shoes of a villager who has lost everything in the war. All he wants is peace. Remember how Liberians voted for Charles Taylor in the 1997 elections? Same thing: they wanted peace. Gbagbo did not start the civil war, even though he used the situation to his own benefit. He agreed to organize elections, he allowed his rivals to campaign nationwide, and he has adopted a conciliatory tone. This has struck a chord with many people. They think Ivory Coast will never have peace if Alassane Ouattara wins. He once famously said he would set the country on fire, and the Ivorians have never forgotten that.’

Africa on a Blog’s Jimmy Kainja points to the same phenomenon during the October 31 legislative and Presidential elections in Tanzania which were relatively free of any significant ethnic tensions:

‘The East African country’s elections have passed relatively unnoticed, this is untypical of many African elections... the elections lacked the ‘usual’ tribal and ethnic tensions that make most African elections ‘newsworthy’ for the most international media.... the tribal harmony that exists in Tanzania today is the legacy of the country’s founding president, Julius Nyerere.

‘Indeed. Nyerere’s emphasised on national building over personal interests, “UJAMAA”, which can loosely be translated as familyhood (Swahili speakers may translate this better) – one person for another. This formed what has come to be known as African Socialism; an ideology that has never been popular with most westerners, whose idealism and economic model(s) Nyerere objected...

‘They say “bad news is good news.” This rings true on how African affairs are covered in the western mainstream media. This cliché may well explain the lack of coverage for Tanzania elections. The elections are devoid of tribalism and ethnic tensions, which would qualify it as “newsworthy.” Given that tribalism has been a constant feature in the region’s (east African) elections, Kenya and Rwanda, in particular, the lack of ethnic tensions in Tanzania is an interesting development – a development that would interest not only media organisations but historians and social scientists alike. Therefore this is a genuine story, a newsworthy material. Kudos to the BBC for their attempted coverage.’

Voice of the Oppressed looks at the implications of the announcement by Kah Walla, a prominent Cameroonian civil society activist, that she will contest the 2011 presidential elections as an independent:

‘At 45, Kah Walla embodies a younger breed of the older generation and at the same time, an older breed of the younger generation. Though she is relatively a newcomer into the political arena and virtually unknown to the larger Cameroonian populace, especially those in the Diaspora, it would be simplistic to discount her impact in a desperate political case like the Cameroons where one is tempted to believe that any alternative leadership will be better than these 28 years of Biya's muddled leadership...

‘By exercising her rights to run for president, Kah Walla has submitted herself to the scrutiny of the Cameroonian people. It is only through this scrutiny that her ambition will have a ripple effect on the political landscape.

‘She will definitely appeal to the greater proportion of the Cameroonian populace- women- who greatly influence political course consciously or unconsciously; and the desperate unemployed youth, whose future is opaque. Therefore, she will need to form a strategy and build a following that will not only participate in the electoral process, but will also participate in its aftermath.

‘It will be a blissful dream for anyone to imagine that someone other than Biya will be declared: “President(e) de la Republique du Cameroun” in late 2011, taking into consideration the egoistic distortion of the constitution to enable him to rule for life.

‘I strongly believe that Kah Walla's slogan: “THE TIME IS NOW” is not limited to any conviction that through the ballot box she could become president , but more to do with how she could galvanize international pressure on the Biya regime as a post-election strategy ,in case of any popular revolt due to electoral fraud.’

Africommons uses the backdrop of the just concluded midterm elections in the United States to challenge the notion in Africa that President Obama is not paying enough attention to the continent:

‘It seems to me that African expectations for Obama were always misplaced and failed to account for both Obama’s main focus as a politician and the realities of the American political system and the American electorate.

‘In particular, in Kenya, I never thought that Obama’s decision to make a quick visit to Ghana rather than to Kenya should be seen so much as a criticism of Kenya’s political failings as a reflection of Obama’s needs as President of the US. Obama has been under vigorous, and quite effective, attack since the early part of his campaign from the right in the US for being too “Kenyan” and too much associated with Islam–and of course as actually both Kenyan and Muslim rather than American and Christian. This has only gotten worse as it has crawled out of the e-mail networks and blogosphere and into open discussion by current and former elected officials, the cover of Forbes and Glenn Beck. A state visit to Kenya with a riotous outpouring of welcome from Kenyans has always been the last thing he has needed in America, and has become more and more politically untenable as his popularity has slipped...

‘If over the next two years he regains more confidence among white independents, primarily presumably on the basis of economic issues, and he is re-elected, then Obama, having completed his career as a candidate, might find the opportunity and motivation to deploy the advantages of his unique background to offer specific focused leadership on policy toward Africa that would appeal to both liberals and conservatives in Congress who will remain the primary consistent advocates in the meantime.’

Method to the Madness carries an excerpt of Johann Harris’s argument, while reviewing VS Naipaul’s, ‘The Masque of Africa’, that non-Africans have a right to speak about African religions:

‘I have stood in a blood-splattered house in Tanzania where an old woman had just been beaten to death for being a "witch" who cast spells on her neighbors. I have stood in battlefields in the Congo where the troops insist with absolute certainty they cannot be killed because they have carried out a magical spell that guarantees, if they are shot, they will turn briefly into a tree, then charge on unharmed. I have been cursed in Ethiopia by a witch-doctor with "impotence, obesity, and then leprosy" for asking insistently why he charged so much to "cure" his patients. (I'm still waiting for the leprosy.)

‘Where do these beliefs come from? What do so many Africans get out of them? Can they be changed? These are questions that are asked in Africa all the time, but we are deaf to the conversation. It's not hard to see why. The imperial rape and pillage of Africa was "justified" by claiming Africans were "primitive" and "backward" people sunk in a morass of voodoo, who had to be "civilized" in blood and Christianity. Just as there are legitimate and necessary criticisms of Israel but nobody wants to hear them from Germany, any legitimate and necessary criticism of the problems with Africa's indigenous beliefs will never be welcome from Europeans or their descendants. And yet there they are, ongoing and alive, waiting to be discussed. Must we ignore it?’

Scribbles from the Den publishes an investigative report on corruption by officials in charge of football in Cameroon:

‘In 2007, one of the private mobile telephone operators in the country (MTN) signed a convention with Fecafoot [Cameroon Football Federation"> for the renovation of a number of stadiums in the country for a total sum of 400 million FCFA (about US $800 000). The telephone company was to provide 300 million FCFA (US $600 000) and FECAFOOT 100 million (US $200 000). While MTN disbursed part of its own share of the money for work to start on the stadiums, Fecafoot would not come up with its own money. At one time the company threatened to stop financing the project unless Fecafoot would pay its share. But instead of football management paying up in order to ensure that the renovation work continued, it gave 73 million FCFA (about US $146 000) to the then Minister of Youth and Sports Thierry Augustin Edzoa so that he could “breathe better” – as he said after receiving the money.

‘At one time, staff at the Fecafoot headquarters almost brought football activities to a standstill because they were owed 44 months’ salary. FIFA sent money to Fecafoot to pay the arrears. However, officials only paid 16 months’ arrears and pocketed the money for the remaining 28 months.

‘Parliament appropriated a total of 12 035 585 000 FCFA (about US $24.1 million) for the renovation of existing infrastructure and the preparation of players for international competitions within three years. There is nothing to show for this money. In fact, the two soccer stadiums in Yaoundé and Douala that were constructed in 1971 are in an advanced state of disrepair.

‘During the 1998 World Cup, the then Minister of Communication, Prof. Augustin Kontchou Kuoumegni, who was in charge of allowances intended for players, simply pocketed the money and announced that he had ‘forgotten’ the bag containing the money in the aircraft.

Another minister, Prof. Bipoum Woum, collected eight million FCFA (US $16 000) for an air ticket saying that the ticket bought for him had gone missing. He eventually boarded the plane using the ticket which was supposedly missing.’


* Dibussi Tande blogs at Scribbles from the Den.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.