Halloween brings major elections to West Africa
West Africa has several critical votes on the horizon that could indicate whether democratic progress is substantial and real. Cote d'Ivoire and Niger both hold votes on Halloween Sunday.
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Consider first Cote d'Ivoire, the world's top cocoa grower and the potential economic motor of West Africa (after Nigeria, of course). Its rubber, coffee, cocoa, and diamond exports have thrived alongside the financial services, tourism, and telecommunications industries in the financial capital of Abidjan. Since the country split along a north-south axis, the economy has meandered along at 1 percent growth each year, while neighboring Ghana has flaunted 7 percent growth and played host to President Barack Obama.Skip to next paragraph
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"Even now, Cote d'Ivoire is one of the stronger economies in terms of trade," Vines says. An end to conflict could see Cote d'Ivoire's rapid re-emergence, he adds.
Northwest of Cote d'Ivoire we have Guinea, a country rich in hydropower, agricultural, and mineral resources, with almost half of the world's bauxite reserves. While it remains an underdeveloped nation, "the good thing about Guinea is it hasn't imploded into a civil war," says Vines, voicing a backhand appraisal of its prospects for peace.
The country's Pular-speaking plurality was staged to elect the country's first Pular president when Cellou Dallein Diallo took 43 percent of the first round vote in June. But rival Alpha Condé is picking up support from other groups in the country.
Tension is high. The current military government has presided over numerous delays, and some election-related violence, as the two rivals bicker over the logistics of a second round.
And further northwest along West Africa's bulge we have the former Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau, famous for all the wrong things. The coastal nation is the top transit point for South African cocaine bound for Europe via unregistered planes and Saharan caravans. Its military has a history of staging wanton coups – something that could happen any minute, now that the country's diabetic president is in the hospital, as of last Sunday. The prime minister, ostensibly now running the nation, is so well-liked among the army that its top general kidnapped and threatened to kill him last April.
But, in a new twist, peacekeepers from the Economic Community of West African States and the Portuguese Language Community (Angola, Brazil) are shadowing civilian leaders, protecting them from their own Praetorian Guard.
"That is both interesting and innovative," Vines says. "The Economic Community of West African States is stronger than any other region in Africa. This is all reasonably good news."