AfricaSource Strategic Insight on the New Africa

Burundi, the central African nation entering its third month of political crisis, held parliamentary elections last week. Seventeen opposition parties formally boycotted the polls (though several others appeared on the ballot); preliminary results suggest that the ruling party of incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza—whose announcement that he would seek a third term sparked widespread protests—won a large majority of parliamentary seats.

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On Wednesday, presidents and other leaders representing twenty-six African countries meeting at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh signed an agreement to launch a “Cape to Cairo” free trade zone spanning the length of the continent. The Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA), as it will formally be known, will embrace three of Africa’s major economic blocs—the East Africa Community (EAC), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)—with a combined population of some 625 million people and an overall gross domestic product of more than $1 trillion.

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Reading recent pronouncements about the crisis in Burundi issued by the US State Department, one would think that the ambitions of incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza for a third term are the only real issue. Of course, the question of whether he can and should seek another five years in office raise, respectively, serious, distinct issues of law and of policy, which constitute legitimate topics for debate not only by jurists and political scientists, but ultimately by the people of the Central African country who should have the final say. However, outsiders, well-meaning or otherwise, hardly make this task any easier by repeatedly framing it exclusively as a matter of term limits while ignoring key aspects of the social, historical, and political dynamics at play.

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In power for more than a decade and a half with precious little to show for it and yet facing the possibility of a one-way ticket to the International Criminal Court at The Hague should he ever yield the presidency, it is no wonder that Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is desperate to cling on to his current job, despite being term-limited by the constitution he himself promulgated in 2006.

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On Thursday, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Akinwumi Adesina, was elected the new President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) during the fiftieth annual meeting of the multilateral financial institution in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The choice of the dapper, bow tie-sporting 55-year-old economist is not only a personal victory of the man, but also a boost for his country and, most importantly, a potentially momentous pivot for Africa.

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Embattled Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza was in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania today for talks with the East African Community (EAC) about the political crisis in his country.

After more than three weeks of often-violent demonstrations in the capital against what protesters call an unconstitutional third term attempt by the sitting president, elements of the military took action today and launched a coup d’état.

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Two months ago, I warned that unless the international community steps up quickly to pressure the incumbent regime in Guinea to achieve a consensus with the political opposition and civil society regarding the sequencing and scheduling of the elections constitutionally required less than six months from now, the West African country’s belated and fragile democracy might well prove stillborn. Last month, I noted that there were alarming signs that tribal tensions were being stoked and that, in a region where ethnic groups transcend borders which themselves are all-too-porous, such a conflict will be impossible to contain. Now these worst fears are being confirmed by the actions of Guinea’s President Alpha Condé.

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about the danger of Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s intentions to run for a controversial third term, and how his efforts could undermine the country’s fragile peace.

Much has happened in two weeks: the ruling party did, indeed, nominate Nkurunziza as its candidate for June’s presidential elections. When he accepted the nomination, widespread protests in the capital Bujumbura—which began the previous week—surged. 

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Amid the attention recently focused on the Nigerian presidential election and the resulting democratic transition in Africa’s most populous country as well as on the brutal al-Shabaab terrorist attack on Kenya’s Garissa University College, an equally momentous event that took place at roughly the same time passed relatively unremarked. On March 23, the leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan met in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum and reached an historic agreement on principles that opens the way for broad regional cooperation on the use of the waters of the Nile River.

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The ruling party of the tiny, Great Lakes nation of Burundi will make arguably the most momentous decision in the young country’s history when it chooses a candidate for June’s presidential elections this Saturday. Despite an apparent constitutional limit of two five-year terms, current President Pierre Nkurunziza, in power since 2005, is angling for a third.

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