Last weekend, the tense presidential election in Guinea raised some issues that are often experienced in national election campaigns across sub-Saharan Africa. President Alpha Condé ran for a controversial third term in office, having amended the national constitution to reset presidential term limits. This has led to widespread civil unrest, which has been managed violently by security services. The opposition has claimed victory, but official results have not yet been released, and it is likely that parts of the country will experience further violence before a widely-accepted government can be installed.
At the end of October, two more major presidential elections will take place, in Côte d’Ivoire and Tanzania, both of which seem to have a number of similarities despite the countries being at opposite sides of the continent and in different cultural regions. Both countries are host to international mining operations that may become increasingly vulnerable depending on the long-term fallout of these elections.
In Tanzania, President John Magufuli is running for a second term for a party that has been in power for forty years. After two promising years following his election in 2015, he has been accused of political intimidation and of amending legislation to dampen opposition voices; he is falling into the caricature of a sub-Saharan power-hungry dictator after just five years in office.
In Côte d’Ivoire, President Alassane Ouattara has meddled with the constitution to make a case for a third term, while the list of opposition candidates has been cut by the Constitutional Court from 43 to three. Two of those three (heavyweight candidates, a former president and a former prime minister), pulled out of the race last weekend, calling for widespread civil unrest in protest against the president’s autocratic behaviour.
Intimidation of Opposition
In both countries, the incumbent governments have sought to intimidate opposition candidates and their supporters in an attempt to persuade them to either withdraw from the race, or to water down their political rhetoric and thereby limit any anti-government messages that can be expressed.
In Tanzania, the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party has been in power since 1980, so is well-rehearsed at intimidating opposition figures (mostly those from opposition party Chadema), but for many years the country was seen as a beacon of democratic stability. However, President Magufuli has clamped down heavily on political and civil rights, while allowing CCM the freedom to campaign as it sees fit. As a result, opposition politicians and activists have faced arrest, criminal charges, abductions and raids by police and state security forces. This intimidation has targeted both individuals (such as government critic Mdude Nyagali from Chadema who was dragged from his office and beaten in May 2019), and groups (earlier this summer, police arrested eight members of opposition party ACT-Wazalendo, including its leader, Zitto Kabwe).
Intimidation of opposition supporters has escalated in the weeks running up to polling day, with dozens of Chadema activists arrested two weeks ago for planning to attend a local campaign. Public order officers have dispersed Chadema crowds violently, even using live ammunition. Chadema presidential candidate Tundu Lissu’s campaign was suspended by the electoral commission for one week, for his “seditious comments” about President Magufuli, while Lissu (who survived an assassination attempt in 2017) now says that he fears for his life in the wake of police disruption of his campaign. In August, two of Chadema’s regional offices were burned down by unidentified men. In June, Chadema’s chairman Freeman Mbowe was attacked in his home by unidentified men, who beat him and broke his leg.
In Côte d’Ivoire, intimidation of opposition politicians has also been ongoing for years, particularly since the question of Ouattara’s third term was raised in 2016. In January 2019, an MP allied to recent presidential candidate and former PM, Guillaume Soro, was found guilty of disseminating “false news”, and jailed for one year. In the last weeks of the election campaign, there have been clear examples of political intimidation. Last weekend, presidential candidate Pascal Affi N’Guessan’s home was set on fire. Just a few weeks ago, the leader of the opposition Coalition for Change party (CNC), Samba David, was stabbed in his office by four unidentified men.
The government has also used the system to limit the power of the opposition – only last month, 40 of the 44 original presidential candidates were rejected by the Constitutional Council, including two of the major contenders (former president Laurent Gbagbo and former prime minister Guillaume Soro). This has been seen as a major blow for the democratic process, particularly after the government rejected international calls for a delay to the election and for more political dialogue. In response, two of the remaining four candidates (former president Henri Konan Bédié and former prime minister Pacal Affi N’Guessan) pulled out of the election, calling for nationwide civil unrest, and leaving only one candidate to face Ouattara.
Suppression of the Media
In Tanzania, President Magufuli has attempted to suppress media outlets and individuals by increasing censorship and targeting free speech. New legislation over the last five years, such as the “Media Services Act”, “Cybercrimes Act”, “Online Content Regulation” and the “Statistics Act” have led to prosecutions and attacks on government critics – in June this year, the government removed the licence from Tanzania Daima Daily, an opposition-leaning paper, one of at least six outlets (including online and television stations) that have been suspended for publishing reports on government corruption and human rights violations. Journalists have also been targeted – in July last year, Erick Kabendera, a prominent critic of the government, was arrested for tax evasion and money laundering, although rights groups have asserted that this was wholly politically motivated. Such pressures have reduced the willingness by many media outlets to produce anti-government material, giving much more freedom to operate to the ruling CCM.
Whilst not to the same extent, freedom of expression in Côte d’Ivoire has also experienced a difficult time under the Ouattara presidency. Journalists have been arrested for investigating corruption stories relating to the government or the military, and the government has brought in a new press law (designed to introduce harsh penalties for vaguely defined media offences) without putting it to parliamentary vote. It is now a crime to insult the president, which has given the government the opportunity to eliminate opposition in the media from an early stage. Last year, there were several attacks by police officers on journalists, particularly during demonstrations.
Accusations of vote-rigging are not uncommon in sub-Saharan Africa, and it should be of little surprise that voters in both countries fear that such practices will take place this month.
Tanzania. The 2015 presidential election was steeped in controversy, after Magufuli claimed victory amid widespread claims of vote-rigging and intimidation. On the Zanzibar archipelago, initial results suggested that the opposition Civic United Front candidate was on course to win in the region, when the electoral commission suddenly annulled the local vote over “irregularities”, and ordered a re-run, in which the CCM candidate won with 91%. In November 2019, opposition party candidates were prevented from running in local elections on Zanzibar, again allowing the CCM to take more than 90% of the vote. In 2020, approximately 150 non-governmental organisations, mostly election observers, have been denied government permission to operate across Tanzania during the election, leaving the very few remaining NGOs with an almost impossible task to ensure that nationwide voting is free and fair.
Côte d’Ivoire. The results of the Ivorian election, particularly if close, are very likely to be challenged by the losing side. In 2016, Ouattara amended the constitution to (according to his argument) permit him to run for two further terms, an issue that has been hotly debated over the last four years, and will be resurrected if he wins. Both the voter registration process and the Independent Electoral Commission have been criticised by the opposition and African Union observers for being biased in favour of Ouattara, and a majority of the electorate does not have confidence in the commission’s ability to deliver free and fair elections. At the same time, the current environment of the pandemic (Yamoussoukro at least acknowledges the risk from COVID-19) gives opportunities to corrupt electoral authorities to eliminate postal ballots in a way that has not been possible in previous votes when postal ballots were used to a much lesser extent.
Backdrop – Deeper National Problems
Another important shared trait is that both countries have serious problems that go far beyond petty political squabbling and electoral corruption. These are national and regional problems that, if unchecked, will overwhelm the national politics and civil unrest that is inspired by the short-term authoritarianism pursued by these presidents.
COVID-19. By early May, 509 cases and 21 deaths had been reported in Tanzania (a cases-per-million ratio of 8, significantly lower than the 25k reported in the United States, or the 11k reported in the United Kingdom). However, there have been no updates to the statistics in the subsequent five months, and in July, President Magufuli declared the country to be COVID-free, an unrealistic assertion given the virus’ rate of progress internationally. (His declarations about the virus have been erratic and eccentric, including the suggestion that it can be defeated with prayers). Importantly, there are also no statistics for the number of tests conducted nationwide: clearly the official figures do not give anything like a true reflection of the impact that the virus is having on the population and the economy. The three refugee camps in the country remain particularly vulnerable to a major spread – more than 300,000 refugees from neighbouring countries are hosted in Tanzania (mainly from DR Congo and Burundi), in great poverty and very close conditions. Medical facilities are limited in the country, and there is already a major threat from cholera, malaria and tsetse, so it is likely that the healthcare system is (or will be) overwhelmed by cases.
Côte d’Ivoire faces a similar outlook. Statistics there are less influenced by political expediency, with a reported total of over 20k cases, and 121 deaths, as well as a modest 180k total tests conducted. However, the national healthcare facilities are poor, meaning that the accuracy of any statistics can be legitimately called into question. The country is also host to a similar number of refugees as Tanzania, and its six major refugee camps present a potential hotbed of infection as the country faces outbreaks of meningitis, hepatitis and HIV (there is an adult infection rate of 2.6%).
Islamism. The most significant change to the political environment in Côte d’Ivoire is the growing threat from Islamist militants in the wider Sahel region. Since the spread of jihadism from Mali in the last decade, the threat to the region has grown exponentially, including to the north-east border of Côte d’Ivoire. Since late 2018, Islamist militants have been conducting attacks in the south-west regions of Burkina Faso, particularly Comoé province, which sits on the Ivorian border with Savanes province, and there are concerns in the Ivorian government that Islamists are seeking access to coastal nations in pursuit of a wider caliphate. In June, the country experienced its worst terrorist incident in four years, when a group of Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) militants attacked a military border post in Kafolo (one mile from the Burkinabe border), killing 12 Ivorian soldiers and wounding seven. In response, the government has created a military zone in the north, designed to defend against incursions from Mali and Burkina Faso.
Similarly, despite little history of it in recent years, Tanzania’s southern border now faces an increasing threat from Islamist militants. In the last twelve months, an insurgency has enveloped the province of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, to the extent that the province is now the focus of major counter-terror operations. From secure locations, insurgents have launched attacks not only into southern parts of Mozambique, but also north into Tanzania. In November 2019, Mozambican Islamists crossed the border and killed six Tanzanian villagers, leading to the deployment in May of Tanzanian military units to the southern border in an attempt to guarantee security. This August, the military launched its own operation against militants along the border, during which arrests were made of Tanzanian militants en route to joining Islamist groups in Cabo Delgado. In the run-up to the election, last week Islamic State affiliates conducted a cross-border raid from Cabo Delgado, killing 20 civilians and two soldiers.
Ethnic divisions. Tanzania is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the region, with more than 120 different ethnic groups. Two-thirds of the country is Christian, with one-third Muslim, which exacerbates issues related to Islamism. Many of these groups can be expected to vote along ethnic lines: as a result, any violence that breaks out after the election could turn into a more serious civil conflict than just community-based civil unrest.
Côte d’Ivoire is also host to important ethnic divides. After the burning down of Pascal Affi N’Guessan’s house last weekend, ethnic violence broke out in his political stronghold, Bongouanou, between local Agni and Dioula people (most of whom support Ouattara), with at least two people reportedly killed. Similarly, if violence breaks out after the election, it may lead to a larger-scale civil conflict and re-open some of the ethnic divisions related to the two recent civil wars, 2002-07 and 2010-11.
Likelihood of Violent Civil Unrest
Tanzania. Violence after the 2010 election led to three deaths, so there is a precedent for major tensions around elections. Zanzibar, already interested in increasing its autonomy, could descend into serious widespread violence if it experiences the same censorship that it did in 2015, as the local population already has a tense relationship with Dodoma. The increased authoritarianism by the government over the last five years has stoked political tensions within regional communities, so although the opposition may not be able to organise large-scale protests at the moment, they may break out organically in major urban areas, particularly in Dodoma and Dar es-Salaam. Importantly, the national security forces have a habit of using tear gas and even live ammunition to control crowds: any post-election protest that is met with this sort of response will be treated as an attempt by the government to use violence against the electorate, and will only perpetuate the violence.
Côte d’Ivoire. A consideration of the situation in neighbouring Guinea is insightful. There, President Condé’s decision to run for a third term in office resulted in two years of protests, in which dozens of people died. Since last weekend’s election, violence has already been reported after both Condé and the opposition challenger Cellou Dalein Diallo claimed victory. At least three opposition protesters have reportedly been killed by security forces in civil unrest since the election.
In exactly the same vein, President Ouattara has amended the constitution in an attempt to make a case for a third term in office. This meddling has not been well received by the public, and has resulted in months of civil unrest against him. If Ouattara wins, there is a ready-made reason for protesters to demonstrate against his victory. Since the removal of 40 potential presidential candidates from the list by the Constitutional Council, major opposition figures (including Henri Konan Bédié, Laurent Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro) have called for civil disobedience to protest against Ouattara, so the environment for unrest has already been set.
It is very likely that the election results will be close, regardless of how rigged they might prove to be. Criticisms have already been raised about voter registration, so it is hard to image the opposition accepting any claim of victory by Ouattara’s team. The inevitable result will be violent civil unrest in major cities, primarily Abidjan and Yamoussoukro. They may even go further: the 2010 elections were so divisive that they resulted in a civil war that claimed at least 3,000 lives, and Ouattara’s presidency has not done much to heal the ethnic and social divisions that lay behind that conflict.
In any situation of national instability – political violence, civil unrest, terrorist militancy or any sort of conflict, the mining industry is likely to experience more attention than usual. Different national actors can be expected to take advantage of insecurity to try to secure the revenue that is generated from major international mining operations. Accordingly, nationalist movements across Africa are pushing for greater national ownership of natural resources, and may use the opportunity granted by any insecurity to make a case for seizing control of foreign-owned assets. (The Tanzanian government has already demonstrated its approach to international mining companies with its 2017 bill to Acacia Mining for USD190 billion over alleged owed tax).
African governments and their officials, particularly those that have become increasingly authoritarian in the manner of both Côte d’Ivoire and Tanzania, are likely to become concerned about possible loss of earnings from operational downtime if they start to feel that expats are planning an evacuation in the face of security breakdown. This could prompt the deployment of groups of government supporters: in some African countries these are often party-affiliated or youth militant organisations (such as the Wanagambo or UVCCM in Tanzania). Such groups would pressurise mining projects by seizing control of access routes (particularly infrastructure choke points like bridges and junctions), and setting up roadblocks and barricades. In addition to harming supply chains, this would ultimately add to local instability, and increase the risk of petty and violent crime in the area.
International mining companies therefore have a two-fold problem – securing their personnel and securing their operations. The safety of personnel will depend on thorough and fully resourced evacuation planning. As security situations escalate, evacuation resources can become vulnerable. For instance, aviation may become over-subscribed (some areas of West Africa have a limited number of aircraft available for private charter and many have a poor rotary aviation capability, while some mining sites have limited access to suitable fixed-wing landing locations); or major arteries can easily be blocked by protesters, militant groups or disgruntled employees. If roads are blocked, then operators have a limited amount of time before fuel, food and other supplies begin to run out. The safety of both personnel and operations therefore relies upon making the decision to hibernate or to extract at exactly the right time.
Operators should also consider the longer-term issues. In the wake of any sort of conflict, whether months or years later, an economic downturn is inevitable. During any sort of nationwide recession, local nationals will be looking for employment opportunities or other financial benefits from big mine sites, and will expect engagement from operators. Disgruntled former workers or other unemployed locals may seek to disrupt operations with protests and blockades if they feel that they are not being heard by those in a management position, particularly foreign nationals. Mine site operators will need to consider how best to engage and co-operate with local communities to ensure that everyone can benefit positively from a smooth and ongoing operation in a post-conflict environment.
When faced with the possibility of increased insecurity, mine site operators can only give themselves the opportunity to make the right decisions at the right time if they conduct detailed preparations, considering evacuation planning, security mitigation, emergency medical and transport options, all overseen by clear and thorough risk and threat assessments pertinent to their location and situation. Nationwide conflict in the wake of the presidential elections in both Tanzania and Côte d’Ivoire is clearly possible, but the risks to personnel and to operations can be managed if given serious consideration in enough time.
Author: Jamie Thomson, Senior Risk Analyst, NORTHCOTT GLOBAL SOLUTIONS
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A version of this article has appeared in Professional Security Magazine: https://www.professionalsecurity.co.uk/news/commercial-security/ahead-of-african-elections/
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