By Azu Ishiekwene
I suspected the pregnancy will not be carried to full term and now, it’s playing out. Even before the US electoral monster conceived by President Donald J. Trump was weaned, a few African countries are already taking delivery of their own premature electoral monster babies.
We saw that in Mali a few months ago when the military cited fraudulent elections as the reason for toppling President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, leaving the regional body, ECOWAS, confused and stranded.
Alpha Conde followed in Guinea by maneuvering himself in place for a third term presidency.
Tanzania is the latest theatre. While we were riveted on the cable networks following the pathetic US elections, Tanzanian President John Magufuli wangled his way back to power for a second term in a landslide victory that Trump could only envy.
Magufuli could not wait to win – and he won in a way that left his opponent, Tundu Lissu of the Chadema party, with just enough breath to thank God that he survived and none to spare for any post-election complaints.
The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) also made a clean sweep of the legislature with 97 percent of the seats in its control. Just the place that Trump would love to have former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party, if he could.
Magufuli’s government launched the first attack about three years ago with a charge of sedition, brought against Lissu and three other Tanzanian journalists. Lissu who later indicated interest in running for presidency, had called Magufuli a “petty dictator”, something close to a mortal sin in that country today.
The state was mad. Even though reasonable Tanzanians can’t find a better word – or even another word – to described Magufuli’s clampdown on press freedom and opposition, the state was nonetheless livid that Lissu had the effrontery to call out the president. To make matters worse, he was also nursing the idea of challenging him in the October presidential poll.
But neither the sedition trial nor the recent assassination attempts on Lissu that left his car with over 20 bullet holes has broken his determination to challenge the increasingly tyrannical system.
On the eve of the presidential election in Tanzania last week, Lissu and other members of the opposition expressed concerns about the prevailing cloud of intimidation and warned of systemic attempts to rig the election to pave the way for a Magufuli electoral landslide.
Magufuli’s government has made a good job silencing the opposition, including restricting access to social media under the convenient posture that he is the bulwark against so-called imperialism.
Somehow, a man who has spent more time making a fetish of himself as a messiah of sorts yet on whose watch living conditions among Tanzanians have barely improved, still managed to beat his own first term electoral record by clearing 84 percent of the votes, leaving a generous 13 percent for his closest rival.
East African election observers found nothing wrong with the vote. They arrived in Dodoma with blinkers supplied by the African Union which see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.
The observers could not even pretend to be uncomfortable with reports of widespread voter suppression or the electoral system that could not be challenged anywhere once results were declared. They simply rubber-stamped Magufuli’s re-election and took the next plane.
In the past, the US would have spoken out loud and clear against the travesty in Dodoma on October 28. For months now, human rights groups and civil society organisations in Tanzania and elsewhere have been warning about deteriorating conditions there, but the US has been too far gone in its Trump malaise to either pay attention or to be sure its attention would be meaningful.
There was some noise, of course – a muffled sound from US Ambassador to Tanzania, Donald J. Wright, who tweeted on November 2: “Reports of arrests of opposition leaders are extremely concerning,” adding, “I urge the government to ensure the safety and security of all opposition leaders, cease these targeted arrests, release detainees, restore telecommunications, and afford due process under the law to all citizens.”
That was before November 3, when the elections in the US started, leaving Magufuli looking like a Boy’s Scout in the business of electoral hubris.
There is more in play. President Alassane Quattara of Cote d’Ivoire has arm-twisted the country’s parliament to give him a third-term. In an election he was not qualified to contest and which was boycotted by the opposition after weeks of violent repression claimed 40 lives, Quattara said he won 94 percent of the vote on Monday. Not a single prominent continental voice has squished.
From Rwanda to Uganda and from Togo to Guinea, there is a growing tendency among leaders on the continent to bend the rules to secure their grip illegitimately or extend their stay in power.
And there’s hardly any question that these rule-benders share the same umbilical cord with President Trump into whose political family the world could well expect more deliveries of fraudulent electoral manipulators sooner than later.
Under Trump, the US has shed all pretence to the lofty standards and values that once defined American exceptionalism. We can criticise Magufuli, Conde and others all we want, but they share a common bond in shenanigans with the US president.
Where Trump maliciously impedes the postal service and defames constitutionally provided mail-in ballots; his cousins elsewhere bend the rules to exclude other candidates from the ballot.
Where Trump wants vote counting to stop and for him to be declared winner regardless, his cousins elsewhere simply write the figures and ask the electoral body to announce them. And where Trump packs the Supreme Court with justices sympathetic to him in expectation of an electoral quid pro quo, his cousins elsewhere put electoral disputes out of the reach of judicial review.
The difference perhaps is that while voters elsewhere will throw their dictators under the bus if they could; the voting pattern in the current US election suggests that just as many US voters love Trump warts-and-all, as those who genuinely believe the system is broken and has become a danger to itself and the world.
The Trump era and the undisguised pushback to retain it even at the polls, is one of the most damaging legacies of the last four years. It will cover the US in shame long after Trump is gone.
Azu Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview