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A history of opposition: Africa’s contested elections

Thomas Samson, AFP | Supporters of Gabonese opposition leader Jean Ping demonstrating their support in Paris on 25 February 2017.

Election results in Africa are frequently contested by the opposition, most recently a presidential vote in Kenya that is still in dispute. FRANCE 24 takes a look at the most controversial elections of the last two years.


On a continent where leaders sometimes remain in power for decades, rival candidates often contest the results of democratic elections. In some cases the disputes are settled peacefully, in others post-election violence can linger for months and cause long-term instability. FRANCE 24 takes a look at some of the electoral disputes that have recently shaken the continent.

Kenya: Odinga contests Kenyatta’s win

The official results of this month’s Kenyan presidential election, which were announced on August 11, gave President Uhuru Kenyatta 54.27 percent of the vote to 44.74 percent for his opponent, former prime minister Raila Odinga.

But Odinga, a 72-year-old political veteran, refused to concede defeat and is contesting the validity of the ballot. At least 24 people have been killed in protests following the disputed vote. Odinga called for a general boycott on Monday but shops mainly remained open in the capital Nairobi, the BBC reported.

Odinga previously contested the results of a general election in 2007, calling on his supporters to protest and sparking deadly ethnic violence that ultimately killed more than 1,000 people and displaced another 600,000. He and his supporters maintain that he was robbed of victory.

He also unsuccessfully challenged the results of a 2013 vote.

Gambia: Yahya Jammeh’s U-turn

Businessman and opposition candidate Adama Barrow won Gambia’s presidential election on December 1, 2016, defeating veteran strongman Yahya Jammeh, who had ruled the country with an iron fist for 22 years.

Jammeh initially conceded defeat and congratulated his rival, before retracting his statement one week later. "In the same way that I accepted the results faithfully believing that the Independent Electoral Commission was independent and honest and reliable, I hereby reject the results in totality," he said in a statement broadcast on state television on December 10, 2016.

His statement was criticised by the US Department of State.

Following a military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States, Jammeh fled into political exile in Equatorial Guinea on January 21.

Gabon: The Bongo dynasty

“The whole world knows who is president of the Republic, it’s me, Jean Ping,” declared the defeated presidential candidate on September 2, 2016, nearly one week after the ballot. The Gabonese opponent refused to accept his defeat against the incumbent President Ali Bongo, who had been in power since the death of his father in 2009 and re-elected with 49.80 percent of votes, according to the electoral commission.

Complaining of vote-rigging, Ping lodged a challenge with the country’s Constitutional Court. He called for a recount of the votes, alleging fraud in Bongo’s home province of Haut-Ogooué, where Bongo won 95 percent with a turnout of 99.9 percent.

Violent protests erupted in Libreville, the central African country’s seaside capital, where at least seven people died and more than 1,000 were arrested, according to The Guardian.

However, on September 24, 2016, the constitutional court validated Bongo’s election, stating that he had won 50.66 percent of the votes against 47.24 percent for Ping.

Bongo was sworn in for a second term three days later, but his victory by less than 6,000 votes drew international scrutiny. On February 2, the European Parliament called the election results “non-transparent and highly doubtful”. It said that the appeal procedure that led to Bongo being declared the winner “was conducted in an opaque manner” and that the constitutional court “failed to take proper account of the irregularities noted in some provinces, notably in Haut-Ogooué”.

The parliament added that it regretted the court’s “refusal to recount the votes and compare the ballots before they were destroyed”.

São Tomé and Príncipe: A president folds

Elected with 100 percent of the vote, the unequivocal victory of Evaristo Carvalho in the presidential election of São Tomé and Príncipe – a tiny central African state of two islands – on February 17, 2016, was astonishing.

After Carvalho won 50.1 percent of the vote in the first round, the electoral commission annulled the result on the pretext of a delay in some of the votes. Carvalho’s adversary, incumbent president Manuel Pinto da Costa – the country's first president after independence from Portugal in 1975 – denounced the results, alleging fraud, and withdrew from the electoral race. By doing so, he effectively boycotted his own run-off election, handing victory to his rival. Finding himself alone in the arena, Carvalho was elected by 46 percent of registered voters, with zero contest from his former opponent.

Democratic Republic of Congo: An electoral “hold-up”

After 32 years in power, Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso was re-elected on March 20, 2016, with 60 percent of the vote in the first round.

Five opposition leaders, however, denounced the “electoral hold-up”. In a statement, Charles Zacharie Bowao, coordinator of the opposition parties, lamented that the ballot took place in a “chaotic” manner, claiming that the electoral lists were put up on voting day and that numerous people who could not find their names were unable to vote. According to Reuters, some people waiting to cast their votes at a polling station complained that the posted voter list contained the names of people who had died years before.

The constitutional court validated Sassou-Nguesso’s victory on the evening of April 4, 2016, the same day that 17 people were killed in clashes over the disputed vote.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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