May 2019 served a mixed news bag for the continent with a heavy dose of elections in southern Africa – Malawi, South Africa. Two swearing in ceremonies also took place in Nigeria and Comoros.
Over in Sudan and Algeria, the struggle for transition has yet to materialize with protests still continuing despite the deposing of long-serving leaders Bouteflika and Omar Al-Bashir in April.
As part of our review of major events per month, we review May 2019 as we have done with January, February and March.
Ramadan 2019 kicks off across the world
Muslims around the world started the Ramadan fasting in the first week of May. The unified date of commencement was Monday May 6, 2019 given that the new moon was not sighted across the world.
Ramadan is the ninth month as per the Islamic dating system, i.e. the Hijri calendar. Unlike the Gregorian calendar where days of a month are fixed, the Hijri calendar depends on the sighting of the moon.
Ramadan is a period of one full month that the faithful undertake a dawn – dusk fasting which primarily entails abstinence from food, drink, marital intimacy and any such prohibitions as instructed by Allah (God).
Saudi Arabia employs the use of technology in looking out for the new moon. They are a reference point for many Muslims across the world in terms of starting the fast.
South Africa’s national elections
South Africans marched to the polls on May 8, 2019 to elect members of its National Assembly and in the process pick the new president of the nation.
The ruling African National Congress, ANC, went into the election with mixed signals but one thing was clear, that the party was due to maintain its dominance in the national assembly.
The question, however, was how much loss would it suffer in the face of corruption scandals and perceived factionalism. The main opposition Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF, were breathing down the ANC’s necks.
As projected, the ANC won a clear majority but with a much lower percentage. The DA looked to have stagnated, if you want maintained their standing. The biggest winners being the EFF.
By May 11, the final largely uncontested results had been released with the following breakdown for the top three parties:
- ANC: 10 026 475 votes representing 57.50%
- DA: 3 621 188 votes representing 20.77%
- EFF: 1 881 521 votes representing 10.79%
President Ramaphosa, himself a Member of Parliament, and his colleagues have since been sworn into office. The MPs subsequently voted him as president of the country following which a swearing-in took place on May 25 in Pretoria.
Malawi’s May 21 tripartite vote
Malawi’s 2019 general elections ended with the contested victory of president Peter Mutharika, who has since been sworn into office for his second and final term.
The tripartite elections that saw Malawians vote for president, members of parliament and local councillors also produced one of the youngest legislators on the continent, 23-year-old Fyness Magonjwa.
The presidential election was contested by Mutharika and his deputy, Saulos Chilima who quit the ruling party last year, citing rampant corruption. The main opposition leader, Lazarus Chakwera was also participating in what was projected to be a tight race.
Voting went on largely peacefully till opposition protested irregularities with tallying. A court subsequently slapped an injunction, filed for by opposition, on the release of results when about 30% of results were yet to be announced.
Days later, the injunction was vacated allowing the electoral body to announce final results that handed Mutharika a second term. He was sworn in same day before an inauguration was held on May 31.
Sudan transition headaches
In Sudan, over a month after the ouster of Omar Al-Bashir, the junta has yet to agree on terms of leadership for a civilian-led transition. Progress was made with a legislative set-up during the month.
Under the agreement, the two parties – Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change (FDFC) and the military – have agreed for a three-year transition period to a civilian administration.
The Transitional Military Council (TMC) disclosed that the FDFC alliance would have two-thirds of the seats on the legislative council. The sticking point this far has been with the sovereign council.
Whiles talks have now been deadlocked, the sit-in that helped depose Bashir continues especially in capital Khartoum, several attempts to break them up by special forces led to the loss of lives but the protesters have held on.
Meanwhile the junta leaders have also been active with movements within the region and the wider gulf. TMC head Burhan in under a week visited Egypt, the UAE, South Sudan and Ethiopia. His deputy Hemedti was also in Saudi Arabia at some point.
It remains to be seen when talks are restarted but protest leaders have roundly accused the army of trying to forcibly disperse protests. The international community has largely called for talks and a quick transition to civil rule.
Algeria standoff remains
May was a protest filled month in Algeria as the north African country also grappled with events following the ouster of Abdul Aziz Bouteflika.
Security forces and protesters clashed during the traditional Friday protests that are calling for he entire political system to be scrapped before a democratic transition is pursued.
Late in the month, a deadline to register for controversial presidential election passed without a single candidate putting themselves forward, the national radio said.
The brother of Bouteflika was also arrested over corruption charges whiles the army chief still popped up twice – once advocating for polls and before that cautioning that the army will jealously guard state security.
Buhari, Azali Assoumani sworn in
President Buhari of Nigeria was finally sworn in for the second and final term in charge of Africa’s most populous nation.
He had won hotly contested polls in February 2018 even though its legitimacy was the subject of a legal challenge by his main rival and opposition chief, Atiku Abubakar.
Comoran President Azali Assoumani took the oath of office, two months after his controversial re-election, pledging to take “appeasement measures” to quell accusations of election fraud.
Azali has put oil revenue at the centre of his development plans, vowing to make the Comoros an “emerging economy” by 2030.
Other top news incidents in the course of the month are as follows:
- Benin held a ‘historic’ parliamentary vote that had no opposition representation.
- Botswana’s ruling party experienced infighting as ex-president Khama quit, describing his successor as a tyrant. The country also lifted a ban on elephant hunting.
- Spate of terrorist attacks on churches in northern Burkina Faso also spiked.
- Burundi’s plan to join sub-regional bloc SADC was rejected.
- Ex-governor of DRC’s Katanga province Moise Katumbi finally returned from exile, the country also named a new Prime Minister and the remains of the president’s dad returned for burial after two years in Belgium.
- Egypt opened the world’s largest suspension bridge built across the Nile River
- Eritrea was removed from the United States list of nations not cooperating with anti-terrorism efforts.
- Ethiopia hosted World Press Freedom Day and PM Abiy was awarded the Houphet Boigny Prize.
- Gabon president fired VP and Minister of Forestry over a scandal around special timber racketeering
- Ghana’s leading goal scorer, Asamoah Gyan, retired over captaincy but rescinded his decision after presidential intervention
- Kenyan High Court upheld the criminal status of same-sex relations and famed author and gay rights activist, Binyavanga Wainaina, died.
- Fighting in Libya for control of the capital Tripoli continued through the month with eastern-based rebel Khalifa Haftar and head of internationally recognised governments making trips to Europe.
- Mozambique continued its recovery efforts in the wake of the double cyclone – Idai and Kenneth – that ravaged parts.
- Namibia declared a state of emergency in relation to a drought
- Rwanda early in the month commemorated 25 years after the 1994 genocide with an elaborate series of activities in Kigali
- Somalia’s maritime row with Kenya escalated after top government officials were detained at Nairobi airport.
- South Sudan extended the period for the implementation of a peace deal reached in Addis Ababa earlier this year.
- eSwatini government had cause to refute a fake news report that suggested that polygamy had been decreed by the King.
- Uganda opposition – Besigye and Bobi Wine – agreed deal for joint opposition front and a former Prime Minister died.
- Zimbabwe government started paying compensation to white farmers who lost their lands in Mugabe-era.
Shaban Abdur Rahman Alfa