Five African elections that could shake up the continent in 2017

The international footballer, George Weah might become president. And that’s not the half of it.

Ghana experienced a successful democratic transition of power last year. But elsewhere in Africa, things weren’t quite so straightforward.

Incumbent presidents managed to secure their seats in disputed elections by arresting opposition members, shutting down the internet and silencing free media.

Africa’s major democracies will undergo a democratic litmus test in 2017. (AFP)

Congo’s President Dennis Nguesso extended his 32 years in power in a disputed election that saw the cutting of telecommunication services during the election.

The President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, also won a fifth-term in the presidential elections — but opposition candidate Kizza Besigye was arrested at least five times during election week.

Kizza Besigye was sentenced to six-week-long house arrest after he claimed recent presidential elections were rigged. (REUTERS)

Gabon’s Ali Bongo resumed nearly 50-years of one family rule, despite a popular uprising spurred on by a fraud scandal.

In 2017, more African leaders must contend with the ballot box. Here are five nations that will go to the polls to decide their future:

  1. Rwanda

Named the “global elite’s favourite strongman’’ and a “darling tyrant,” Rwandan President Paul Kagame will seek a third seven-year term in August’s presidential election.

Kagame was praised for having led a social-economic transformation of the nation after a brutal genocide destroyed its fabric in 1994.

Under his leadership, the landlocked country took significant steps towards rebuilding its infrastructure and economy by keeping itself open to Western investment.

Kagame won the presidential election in 2010 with 93% of the vote. (REUTERS)

In 2015, the country amended its constitution, allowing Kagame to run for new terms and to stay in power until 2034.

His efforts to boost the country’s economy notwithstanding, Paul Kagame faces accusations of orchestrating a violent crackdown on opposition, media and critics.

2. Kenya

East Africa’s economic giant will go to the polls in August to elect a new president, senators and county governors.

The incumbent President, Uhuru Kenyatta, will also run for his return to office. (REUTERS)

Since Kenyatta came to power in 2013, the country has faced serious problems such as terrorist attacks, failing banks and corruption scandals.

In this election, even though the opposition have not yet nominated a candidate, Kenyatta will most likely face Raila Odinga, a long time opposition figure.

3. Angola

In the last month of 2016, Africa’s second longest-serving leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos shocked the world — in a good way — by announcing that he would step down before the 2017 elections.

João Lourenco, the country’s defense minister was elected as leader of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).

Angolans prepare for new era after Jose Dos Santos (AFP)

After constitutional changes in 2010, Angola does not directly elect a president—rather, the leader of the winning party automatically becomes head of state.

Despite being a major diamond exporter and Africa’s largest oil producer, Angola has failed to tackle rising poverty.

Dos Santos and his family had long consolidated their grip on the country’s politics and economy.

His daughter Isabel, 43, is a British-educated billionaire businesswoman— and she was also dubbed the richest woman in Africa.

Africa’s richest woman, Isabel Dos Santos is the head of the state-owned oil company Sonangol. (AFP)

Forbes magazine values Isabel’s fortune at $3 billion, based on her stakes in Unitel, Angola’s largest phone operator, Portugese oil and gas giant Galp Energia, and in banks in both countries.

The 2017 elections may usher in a new era for Angola.

4. Liberia

There’s little doubt that West Africa’s tiny country Liberia will be one to watch.

After 10 years of serving her country, Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, will leave office.

Sirleaf will be remembered for winning the Nobel Peace Prize — and dealing with the Ebola Crisis that caused the hundreds of killings. (REUTERS)

At the same time, a notable contender will be in the spotlight during the election.

The presidential candidate, George Weah, is also an ex football player. He is considered one of the best African football players of the 20th century. He is currently serving his country as a senator.

“Our gathering here today is about the future of our country and our people,” said Weah while he was announcing his attempt to become next president of Liberia. (REUTERS)

The incoming Liberian president will have to fix the economy, which has taken a battering from low commodity prices and a devastating Ebola epidemic.

5. The Democratic Republic Congo

On the last day of 2016, the DR Congo government and opposition reached a deal to end political uncertainty.

According to the agreement, a transitional government will be appointed by March, and the elections are slated to take place before the end of the year.

The mineral rich DRC has long suffered from poverty, militant groups and bad governance. (REUTERS)

The deal came after deadly protests, arrests and internet shutdown were triggered by President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down despite his second term coming to an end last December 19.

Kabila’s insistence to stay in power sparked the national outrage in DR Congo. (AFP)

As a part of the deal, Kabila will step down right after the election.

The DR Congo, has never had a peaceful transition since its independence in 1960. Kabila’s insistence on staying in power has added to concerns for the country where nearly five million people were killed during “Africa’s world war” between 1994 and 2003.

A popular politician and the owner of a football club, Moise Katumbi is expected to run for the presidency.

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