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Africa 2016. A challenging year ahead

2016 promises to be a challenging year for Africa, with several elections in a tense climate, the aggravation of the crisis in Burundi and the opening of the Gbagbo trial in front of the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

One of the main questions is whether the situation will improve or further deteriorate in Burundi, where Pierre Nkurunziza’s army and police continue to clamp down against those who oppose his third presidential mandate, which they claim, is against the Arusha Peace Agreement and the constitution. During the first half of December, tension has been rising with gunfire in the capital on the 10 December, when pro-Nkurunziza military attacked three military camps whose soldiers were suspected to sympathize with the authors of the May 2015 coup. The question is also whether the government will accept an investigation into the killing by the police of 100 to 200 youths whose dead bodies were found on the 12 December, most of them with their hand tied in the back, suggesting that they were victims of summary execution and were not armed rebels as claims the government. In these circumstances, unless a spectacular improvement occurs and perpetrators are brought to justice, it is likely that the European Union and other donors will suspend their cooperation.

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January will be the month of all dangers in the Central African Republic, where final results of the first round of the presidential election should be announced on the 21 January and should be probably followed by a second round on the 31 January. As showed the constitutional referendum vote organised on the last 13 December, one of the main challenges is to hold the election in peaceful conditions, which is not guaranteed, since the entire election round is occurring in a country where no proper disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of militias has taken place and where all sorts of weapons were on sale on the markets in December. And everyone is crossing fingers, in the hope that there will not be a repetition of the 10 December clashes in  Bangui, orchestrated by the supporters of former President François Bozize who were upset by the constitutional court’s decision not to allow him to participate to the election, since he accordingly failed to provide in time some documents.

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Besides, elements from the former predominantly Muslim Seleka militia have attacked polling stations with machine guns and RPGs on the day of the vote. It seems that the hardliners of the ex-Seleka commander Nourredine Adam but also their enemies of the anti-balaka group have a common vested interest in disturbing the elections in order to prevent a legitimate government to put an end to their diamond and gold trafficking operations. By mid-December, it was still difficult to predict who might qualify for the second round of the presidential election though a few names emerged among the 30 candidates, including the former prime ministers Martin Ziguélé and Anicet Georges Dologuélé and the Muslim businessman Karim Meckassoua.
Apparently less problematic presidential and parliament elections are scheduled in February in Niger and Uganda. The presidential election of April in Chad will be followed with utmost interest, since President Idriss Déby Itno has emerged over the last two years as the leader of a country whose army is at the forefront of the fight against the jihadists in Mali and around Lake Chad. Since the October 2015 referendum, President Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville has managed to remove the only obstacle that prevented him to run for another term but strong opposition from the Southerners may again spark a new wave of violence.

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Other hotspots could be the first elections in August since the 1980s in Somalia, where Al Shabaab militias are expected to disturb the presidential and parliament elections. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), any scenario that would allow the outgoing President Joseph Kabila to violate the constitution by running for a third term in November or any attempt to postpone the election might trigger new protests and turmoil. By contrast, the election in August of a new parliament in Angola and the presidential elections in the Seychelles and in Zambia, look less challenging. The presidential elections in Equatorial Guinea or Gambia, owing to the lack of freedom for the opposition seem a formality for both President Teodoro Obiang Nguema and Yaya Jammeh, the president of the new Islamic State of Gambia. Whereas presidential and parliament elections scheduled for December in Ghana are not expected to create much problems, the situation looks more sensitive in Gabon and in Côte d’Ivoire, where the former President Laurent Gbagbo, has still many supporters.

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The opening on the next 28 January of the trial for the former Ivorian President for crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court will no doubt be one of the main events on the political agenda of next year and might raise tensions in Côte d’Ivoire. Another important date will be the 18 January with the expected confirmation of charges against the jihadist leader Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi of the Ansar Eddine group who is suspected, according to an ICC arrest warrant of war crimes committed in Timbuktu, Mali, between about 30 June 2012 and 10 July 2012, through intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion and/or historical monuments such as nine mausoleums and the Sidi Yahia mosque. On the same 18 January, the ICC will also release his first prisoner, the Congolese militia leader, Germain Katanga.
But in the DRC, the most expected event is the verdict of the trial against Jean-Pierre Bemba. Proceedings are concluded and the deliberation phase has started for several months. Things are complicate since the main case interferes with another trial for false evidence against Bemba, his lawyer and a Senator which is not finished yet. One of the key questions will be whether Bemba will be released or not before being able to register as a candidate for the November presidential election.

François Misser

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