President Obama's trip to Ghana was a celebration of African democracy. Similarly, Secretary Clinton's ongoing 7-country, 11-day trek across the continent will hit the democracy promotion theme, especially during her stop today in Nigeria.
But it's hardly been a good month for democracy in Africa:
- Congo. In the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou-Nguesso won another seven years in office with 79% of the vote. Ok, they held an election, but Sassou has been in power since 1979 (except for 1992-97).
- Gabon. Next door in Gabon, Omar Bongo -- who was married to Sassou's daughter -- recently died after ruling that country for 42 years. But Gabon might not be looking at a new era. The ruling party just selected Bongo's son, Ali Ben Bongo, as their candidate to run in the upcoming August 30 elections.
- Niger. President Mamadou Tandja won a dubious 92% in a referendum to extend his term and remove term limits. If at first this sounds like a legitimate mandate, consider that the courts ruled the referendum illegal in June, so Tandja just dismissed all the judges. Yikes. Unfortunately, Tandja is far from alone in removing term limits.
- Mauritania. In a sad but little-reported event last month, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was elected president of Mauritania. The vote was so obviously suspicious that the electoral chief resigned and the opposition rejected the results. The real problem is that Mauritania already had a promising democracy before (who else?) General Aziz launched a coup last August. (Full disclosure: I was the State Dept lead for West Africa at the time of the coup and went to Nouakchott to lay down the U.S. position, so this one especially stings.) For an excellent article on the U.S. response to the coup, see this New York Times Magazine article.