Central African Republic and Uganda: Reflecting on February’s Elections

Back in February, NewsAware examined elections in both the Central African Republic and Uganda. First, we detailed the challenges facing the Central African Republic and the two men who were running to take on those challenges. Next, we explained that Yoweri Museveni’s electoral victory in Uganda’s presidential election was more of a dictatorial inevitability than a democratic triumph. While we believed that the election in the Central African Republic had the potential to mark a turning point from conflict to peace, we viewed the election in Uganda as the promotion of a damaging status quo. Now, a few months after these elections, recent events indicate that these predictions were correct.

Central African Republic

When we first wrote about the election in the Central African Republic, it was on the eve of a run-off between former prime ministers Anicet-Georges Dologuélé and Faustin-Archange Touadéra. The candidates shared many similarities. Both advocated primarily for a restoration of national unity while also emphasizing the importance of economic development. Dologuélé, with better economic and business credentials, was in a stronger position to argue for economic development. Yet his ties to the former government were stronger, and Touadéra, an independent, was better at painting himself a unifier. After years of a sectarian civil war, a unifier is ultimately what Central Africans wanted. They were tired of war, and, as a result, elected Touadéra as their president.

Since Touadéra’s election, the Central African Republic has continued on its fragile path to peace. François Hollande, the president of France, is currently visiting the country. Yesterday, he announced the end of Operation Sangaris, a military intervention launched in 2013. France deployed troops to the Central African Republic, its former colony, in order to pacify areas that were plagued by the brutal violence of the civil war. The end of this operation, like the election of Toudéra, symbolizes the end of the post-war transitional period. So life in the Central African Republic is slowly returning to normal. Instability is slowly giving way to stability. Yet the country is still divided by religion and ethnicity; it is still one of the least developed countries in the world; and the United Nations still maintains a peacekeeping prescence in the country. Thus Touadéra is on the right track, but staying on that track will likely be a very difficult task.

Uganda

In Uganda, on the other hand, there is little uncertainty as to the track the country is on. Having used February’s election to extend his 30 years in power, Museveni is likely feeling very secure in his position. If the events of this week are any indication, it seems that, because he is in such a secure position, Museveni has quite a bit of licence to do as he pleases–and to do what he has been doing for years.

A few days ago, Museveni held his inauguration ceremony. What could have been an uneventful occasion generated some controversy when American, Canadian, and European diplomats abruptly walked out of the event. Why would they do such a thing? Well, it comes down to a disagreement over the International Criminal Court (ICC). Omar al-Bashir, the leader of Sudan with outstanding arrest warrant from the ICC, was one of the guests at Museveni’s inauguration. As a member of the ICC, Uganda was required to arrest al-Bashir and turn him over to the ICC in The Hague. Yet the country did no such thing. Why? Well, it is a common feeling in Africa that the ICC unfairly targets African leaders. So when Museveni called the ICC “a bunch of useless people” during his inauguration, the western officials decided that they’d had enough. The fact that Museveni was able to be so brash is a reflection the security of his position.

Museveni’s inauguration ceremony was not the only one that generated controversy in Uganda this week. Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s opponent in February’s election, held his own ceremony in protest of irregularities in the electoral process. In response, the government had him arrested and charged with treason, which carries the death penalty. Think about that for a moment. Museveni’s position is so strong that his primary political opponent was charged with treason and no one batted an eye. This may be because Besigye has been arrested numerous times throughout his political career. In fact, this isn’t even the first time he’s been charged with treason. So while Besigye may eventually be released in time to run in the next election–he has run against Museveni in the last four elections–he will never be able to pull off a win. If the months since the last election are indicative of anything, it is Museveni’s entrenchment.

While the Central African Republic and Uganda held elections at roughly the same time, the implications of the elections could not be more different. In the Central African Republic, we see a country marked by change in a time of instability. In Uganda, we see a country marked by a lack of change in a time of political entrenchment. These trends, which were evident in the results of each election, have become even clearer upon reflecting on the months since.

 

A Dollar Shortage Hits Hard in Zimbabwe

Since 2009, Zimbabwe has not had its own currency. Instead, its citizens rely on Dollars, Euros, South African Rand, and even Chinese Yuan. Yet over the past few weeks, an economic slowdown has caused a major shortage of Dollars held by banks and in the country’s reserve. In a country where the pain of terrible economic mismanagement is still  fresh in the minds of consumers, the economic strife has sparked fears that things are set to get worse in Zimbabwe.

It was only a few years ago that Zimbabwe experienced some of the highest levels of hyperinflation ever recorded. By overprinting money, the Zimbabwean government sparked an economic disaster. By 2008, the monthly inflation rate was estimated to have reached 79.6 billon percent. Money was printed in ever-increasing denominations, with a 100 trillion dollar note becoming nearly worthless. The economic mismanagement that led to this hyperinflation has taken a terrible toll on Zimbabwe. According to Bloomberg, the GDP is half the size it was 15 years ago, and 90% of the population is out of formal employment.

The events surrounding the hyperinflation left the Zimbabwean economy in an incredibly fragile state. Unfortunately, it is now being stressed by numerous factors. For one, Zimbabwe is currently suffering its worst drought in decades. The reduced agricultural yields have strained not only the economy but also the food security of millions. Second, Zimbabwe is currently suffering as a result of a global downturn in commodity prices. Considering most of the country’s exports are raw materials, the fall in prices has reduced GDP and government revenue. Finally, the economic crisis caused many of Zimbabwe’s companies to shut down, meaning most of the country’s products are imported. This results in a trade deficit in which Zimbabwe imports more than it exports. All this adds up to fewer Dollars flowing in from overseas and more flowing out. As a result, the banks can’t keep up and are emptying quickly.

In the short term, this will make life quite a bit more difficult for the everyday Zimbabwean. To prevent a bank run, the government has limited how much cash people can withdraw. As a result, people may be hard-pressed to withdraw enough to cover their expenses. To mitigate this problem, the government is encouraging its citizens to buy their products in Euros, Rand, or Yuan rather than US Dollars. It is also issuing “bond notes,” which are notes or coins that are used as cash but, rather than having value themselves, correspond with money in the country’s reserves. All of these factors are taking a toll in the short term, making it much harder for businesses and consumers to operate as they would under normal conditions.

Eventually, this crisis may escalate into a larger problem. The printing of “bond notes,” for example, has raised red flags with some. Some claim that, like during the hyperinflation crisis, the government will continue printing more and more “bond notes” to the point where they become worthless. While this is certainly a possibility, the most likely long term effect of this crisis is that it will weaken an already weak economy. As of now, the trade deficit is already suffocating many of Zimbabwe’s companies, forcing them to close. The crisis is also damaging the reputation of an already ill-reputed economy. Consumers and businesses are losing confidence in the economy, so they will do what they can to minimize their losses before things become even worse. In the end, the Dollar Shortage indicates that Zimbabwe is simply losing the fuel that drives an economy. Companies are leaving, consumers are uneasy, and there isn’t even enough cash to keep the country afloat. Thus growth and improvement is unlikely. This broken economy will simply become more broken.