Boko Haram and Nigeria’s 2015 Elections: A Fighting Chance for Democracy?

By Brandon Kendhammer

One thing has been certain about Nigeria since the overthrow of the post-civil war military government in July 1975: No one knows what will happen next. Stability has eluded the country under both military and civilian administrations. Brandon Kendhammer, a rising scholar of this bewildering but vital country, provides guidance through the thicket of uncertainties on the eve of the elections on March 28 and April 11, 2015. On February 8, 2015 an ostensible civilian government had its chief security official, a career military officer, declare that democratic elections should be postponed. A former military, and civilian, president, Olusegun Obasanjo, has campaigned openly for the defeat of President Goodluck Jonathan, whom he steered into the country’s highest elected office. The likely beneficiary of Obasanjo’s denunciation of Jonathan is the latter’s main electoral opponent, retired general Muhammadu Buhari who also served as a military ruler.

To cap it all, a jihadist insurgency – which should have been defeated several years ago by Africa’s largest army – has terrorized large swaths of the country’s northeast, exploded bombs within and outside this sphere, and obliged the government to permit the troops of its smaller neighbors to join the fight on its own soil. Boko Haram, long dismissed as a local phenomenon, achieved heightened notoriety when its declared allegiance was accepted by the Islamic State. The respected Chairman of the country’s “independent” electoral commission has been obliged by security and military leaders to retract his opposition to postponing federal and state elections. Meanwhile, reports of mega-corruption and mega-thefts of crude oil gush forth. Will Boko Haram be defeated? Will Nigerian democracy advance or retreat during the 2015 national elections? Nothing is certain at present in Nigeria but uncertainty.

Continue reading

Militant Islam and Democracy in Nigeria: A Forum on Boko Haram and the 2015 Elections

By Rebecca Shereikis, Ibrahim Hassan, Richard Joseph, Brandon Kendhammer, and Rotimi Suberu

Nigeria is embroiled in military and political struggles in which its future as a stable, prospering, and constitutional democracy is increasingly challenged. On February 11, 2015, a group of leading scholars spoke at the Program of African Studies of Northwestern University, under the sponsorship of the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA). Created by the esteemed Islamic scholar, John Hunwick, ISITA has conducted pioneering research on Islam in Africa since 2000.

The 2015 workshop was organized by ISITA’s Interim Director, Rebecca Shereikis, who also prepared the report on this important exchange of ideas. AfricaPlus will provide an arena for pertinent academic scholarship and incisive policy commentary as Africa’s most populous country, and one of the world’s complex pluralist democracies, goes through the twists and turns of contentious electoral politics and intensified counter-insurgency warfare. Militant Islam is now a global challenge. How well Nigeria responds to it, while strengthening its multi-religious and democratic institutions and cultures, is of profound significance to its people, the African continent, and the world community.

Continue reading

Botswana Democracy: On Course or Derailing?

Amy Poteete and John Holm

In her October 20 AfricaPlus essay- “Democracy Derailed? Botswana’s Fading Halo” – Amy Poteete provides a critical assessment of democratic institutions and practices in this southern African country. She contends that in Botswana, a stellar democratic and economic performer since independence in 1966, corruption and mismanagement are increasing. The abuse of governmental authority, she claims, reflects “the absence of effective checks on executive power”. Poteete criticizes the shift from “cooperation to coercion” under President Ian Khama and the long-ruling BDP (Botswana Democratic Party). John Holm, a senior scholar of Botswana government and politics, responds to Poteete’s contentions. We publish this important debate – including remarks on the October 2014 parliamentary election and post-election disputes – which should be read in conjunction with Poteete’s initial essay: https://africaplus.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/democracy-derailed-botswanas-fading-halo/

President Ian Khama, who was re-elected in the October 2014 elections. (

President Ian Khama of Botswana, who was re-elected in the October 2014 elections. (Photo from UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Continue reading

Democracy Derailed? Botswana’s Fading Halo

by Amy R. Poteete

Botswana earned a reputation for political stability, electoral democracy, and economic growth in the 1970s and 1980s, when much of the African continent appeared to be mired in economic stagnation and authoritarian rule. This reputation has persisted despite contradictory developments. Since the 1990s, many other African countries introduced multiparty elections, and economic performance improved across the continent. Over the same period in Botswana, corruption and mismanagement have become increasingly prevalent while the abuse of governmental authority have drawn attention to the absence of effective checks on executive power.

Many observers – foreign governments, international financial institutions, Freedom House, Transparency International, and academics researchers – tend to downplay these problems. They insist, by and large, that Botswana has remained stable, democratic, and well-governed relative to other African states. The southern African country continues to enjoy “a halo effect”. But the halo has faded. Political tensions are much more serious and deeply rooted than most observers acknowledge. They have now erupted in the run-up to parliamentary elections on October 24th.

Ballot boxes from the 2014 elections. (Photo from the Independent Electoral Commission, Republic of Botswana, 2014.)

Ballot boxes for the 2014 elections. (The Independent Electoral Commission, Republic of Botswana.)

Continue reading

The Democratic Awakening in Africa, 1990-1995

By Richard Joseph

In the first essay of the Africa Demos Forum, Dr. Richard Joseph introduces the Forum and recalls its inspiration, the Africa Demos bulletin of the Carter Center of Emory University. In reflecting on the pioneering work of Africa Demos, Dr. Joseph sets the stage for the Forum’s essays on key topics and specific country experiences in democracy-building. The Forum will promote an active exchange of information and ideas.

Ghana Election 3 Dec. 1992. Anthony Allison Ghana Election 4 Dec. 1992. Anthony Allison

Ghana General Elections, December 1992
Photo Credit: Anthony Allison

Continue reading

Strategic Priorities in Contemporary Africa: Part III

By Richard Joseph

In the third of a three-part series for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Dr. Richard Joseph examines Africa’s “prismatic narrative,” in which African developments must be viewed “through the prism of how key dimensions interrelate and the complex interplay of local, regional, and global factors.” The article can be read below or on the Chicago Council’s website.

At the time of the G8 and NATO summits, Africa has assumed greater importance in global hopes and concerns. Accelerated growth and development, democracy, and the containing of organized violence are central themes of the new African security agenda. Two decades ago, African issues, except for the export of crude petroleum and other minerals, could be bottled up within the continent. That is no longer the case. Major discoveries of oil, gas, and coal are making the continent more significant in meeting global energy needs. Abundant and underutilized land will steadily contribute to global food supplies. And expanding economies will continue to provide increased opportunities for investors. It is the physical security side of the African ledger, however, that poses the greatest challenge. How this is tackled will greatly affect progress in other areas.

Continue reading