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Welcome 2019: Africa’s year of elections and integration

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Elections everywhere and the march towards integration continues

By Richard Mammah

In a matter of hours, the year 2019 would be upon us and we welcome it even as it is looking like it would continue from where 2018 is closing: as a year of elections and integration.

On the elections flank, if things remain on course, the prospects are that the year would indeed be a better one for the continent. For example, as the year came to a close, long-delayed elections finally took place on December 30 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Though the conduct of the exercise was fraught with several logistical and political challenges, the fact of the polls holding in the first place is a marked relief for everyone. And if the post-voting challenges are also fairly well managed, the very critical overriding plus that would emerge from the process would be that Congo has finally been able to undertake its first person-to-person democratic transition in 58 years!

And as we cross into the new year, notable among nations that have elections scheduled to hold in 2019 are Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, Botswana, Cameroon, Chad, the DRC, Egypt and Ethiopia.

Others are Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Senegal, Somaliland and Tunisia.

Indeed, almost half of the countries of Africa will be holding elections of one sort or the other in 2019. And this clearly is a far-cry from a season in the past when you could count on your finger-tips the number of nations in the continent that even cared to make a show of attempting to hold elections, no matter how farcical they really were in real terms.

And while cliff-hanger situations are expected from notably the Nigerian and South African polls, the hope is that somehow, somewhat, both nations would also be able to cross the Rubicon and move on to better days.

On the plane of continental integration, 2019 would also be momentous as it is expected to be the year of the practical coming into effect of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, #AfCFTA.

A process that was flagged off to very loud applause in March 2018 with the signing of the Agreement by 44 (more than the minimum number of signatories required) of the states that attended the historic Extraordinary Summit of the AU that took place in Kigali, Rwanda, it got a further boost in July of the same departing year when the number of signatories increased to 49.

As for the final part of the ratification process which requires the individual assent of the parliaments of member countries, Rwanda flagged off the process on April 24 and Ghana, Kenya and four other countries following suit. By October 28, the National Parliament of South Africa (which only signed the agreement in July) was confirming that it had fully ratified the process! It is therefore expected that the 14 more ratifications by parliaments of individual member states that are needed would be secured in 2019 and the treaty which would inaugurate the world’s biggest free trade zone ever, would then come into effect.

But then there are questions. Is the conduct of elections enough to fix the many problems of Africa? Is integration the cure-all for the myriad challenges of the continent? How does the continent stem the presently most debilitating situation where some of its best trained human capital seem to be in endless flight out of the continent? What is to be done about the situation with persisting hold-out despots like the fellow in Sudan who has been in power for almost forever and who is under one more bout of sustained ‘assault’ from his people at this time of writing? Indeed, how well is the continent preparing to address the challenges of today and tomorrow?

The debates of course would continue. And all of the solutions are clearly not on the table presently. But for a continent that has seen and experienced waves upon waves of challenges and difficulties, the fact of its continuing to engage at different levels, is a basic point of hope upon which its peoples can yet build.

Moussa Faki al-Mahamat, AU chief


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