Bumpy political 'transitions' in store

The coming year will be challenging for those trying to find peaceful solutions to conflict on the continent. Four African countries – Mali, Chad, Guinea and Sudan – are in the midst of political 'transitions', which were scheduled to end by elections in 2022. These, however, are unlikely to take place.

A tough role for ECOWAS

Following protests and a coup that removed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020, Mali entered a tumultuous political 'transition'. The situation was further complicated by the removal of transitional President Ba N'daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane in May 2021. Assimi Goïta, leader of the military junta, then ascended to the presidency and appointed a civilian prime minister and opposition figure, Choguel Maïga.

In November 2021, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed individual sanctions, including asset freezes, on 150 members of the transitional authorities. These included Maïga and several cabinet colleagues and 121 members of the National Transitional Council, which stands in as an interim parliament.

ECOWAS had remained increasingly dismayed with the Mali situation since the removal of N'daw and the declaration by Goïta and Maïga that February 2022 elections will not be held as previously agreed. These developments will likely persist into 2022 as the transitional authorities have not given a new date for elections.

In November 2021, ECOWAS imposed sanctions on 150 members of Mali's transitional authorities

This is against the backdrop of a continued precarious security situation, marked by intercommunal violence, among other issues. Malians taking to the streets again cannot be completely ruled out, nor can another political imbroglio. Although elections will not resolve Mali's myriad problems, the return to legitimate rule is important for revising, devising and implementing reforms that the country so desperately needs.

Crucial months ahead in Chad

The sudden death of Chad's president, Idriss Déby, in April 2021 plunged the country into uncertainty. A military junta led by his son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, took over the reins in contravention of the constitution.

Significant challenges facing Chad are the relaxation of the political and social climate through opening up of civic space and dialogue with opposition groups and the revitalisation of the economy. If the junta in power initially showed little openness and held on to control of key institutions of the transition, it now wants to organise an inclusive dialogue.

The transitional authorities recently announced plans for amnesty for several rebels and political dissidents following opposition demands that this is a prerequisite for the national dialogue. However, there is no agreement yet on the modalities of the dialogue.

The groups and individuals demanding amnesty and expected to participate in the dialogue appear inclusive, including rebels from the Front pour l'Alternance et la Concorde au Tchad that killed Idriss Déby. The country's fate now hangs on whether the dialogue is genuinely inclusive and whether its conclusions are accepted by all and properly implemented.

In the absence of trust among stakeholders, an inclusive national dialogue in Chad is unlikely

In the absence of trust among stakeholders, an inclusive and accepted national dialogue is unlikely and, therefore, the probability of violence is high. In the next few months, the Chadian transition will be crucial, and the junta's decisions will have repercussions on the peace and stability of the country and the region.

Hope for better days in Guinea

Guinea's former president Alpha Condé was deposed in September 2021, less than a year after being controversially re-elected for a third term. Several protests had taken place before the elections against poor governance and Conde's bid for another term. Coup leader, army officer Mamady Doumbouya, has promised a peaceful and inclusive transition culminating in the re-establishment of civilian rule. A transitional charter has been drafted that sets out the principles and institutions of the arrangement.

The charter categorically states that individuals who are part of the transitional authorities will not be eligible to contest the upcoming elections. While ECOWAS requested a six-month transition until March 2022, Doumbouya advised that Guineans themselves would decide this. The charter states that the Transitional National Council (TNC) – the interim parliament – will set the duration of the transition.

A fairly inclusive and overwhelmingly civilian government has been appointed while the TNC is still being formed. Expected challenges aside, the relative consultative and participatory process thus far seems a positive sign and is supported by many Guineans. However, military coups have very rarely bred democratic dispensations. Overall, ongoing developments in Guinea suggest that the journey may be genuinely inclusive and peaceful, and could lead to a genuine paradigm shift in the governance of the country.

Appeasement required in Sudan

Sudan's fate has hung in the balance since protests and military takeover ousted President Omar al-Bashir in 2019. The coexistence between the civilian-military transitional authorities has not been without challenges and led to a coup in October 2021 that removed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and civilian cabinet members.

Sudan's fate has hung in the balance since protests and military takeover ousted Omar al-Bashir

As a result, sustained protests against the military and its leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan ensued across the country, leading to Hamdok's reinstatement as prime minister. This was part of a deal with the military, but Sudan's Forces of Freedom and Change Coalition has rejected it.

Sudan's transition is scheduled to end next year with the election of new authorities. However, the recent coup seems to have irremediably broken the trust between the military and civilians (and the people). It is unlikely that the current arrangement will stabilise the country into 2022. The end of the transition will require confidence-building measures among the parties to create an appeased climate for elections.

Trends in the above countries and across the continent also indicate a  high likelihood of protests. Although it is impossible to predict coups, they cannot be ruled out should the current governance and socioeconomic trends persist.

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