Outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger is stepping down after having served his two five-year terms at the helm of the country. The move is in itself unprecedented in a region where its not very common to have leaders calling it a day and allowing the process to go on with others leading the pack. Thousands of soldiers were deployed nationwide for the vote, set to usher in a peaceful handover between elected presidents, a first since Niger’s independence from France in 1960.
“I’m proud to be the first democratically elected president in our history to be able to pass the baton to another democratically elected president,” Issoufou said as he voted at city hall in the capital, Niamey.
Sixty-one-year-old Bazoum, Issoufou’s right-hand man and anointed heir, is widely seen as the favourite after securing 39.3 percent of ballots in the first round of voting on December 27. Ousmane, 71 – who became the country’s first democratically elected president in 1993, only to be toppled in a coup three years later – had garnered 16.9 percent.
The likelihood of these elections ending on a peaceful note is very high, and that should be commended at all costs. The fact that the incumbent saw it fit to say I have done my part for the last ten years and its now time for others to come in and pick the mantle of leadership and move the country forwards, is a good precedent in a region starved of good democratic practices. President Issoufou will go down in the history of the region as well as the African Union as a respected statesman.
Following on the recent Ugandan elections which have been contested by the main opposition challenger Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, the Niger elections makes for good news on a continent that is starved of good positive news. What makes it particularly great is the fact that that Niger is located in the Sahel region which is currently infested with terrorists fighting a joint onslaught that has been mounted by the French and Western African Armies.
Creating an enabling political environment in the country, augurs well for the government of the day and the African Union (AU) to defeat the terrorists. The people and government create a winning team together. If democracy is allowed to flourish in Niger, there is a likelihood that peace and economic development will follow suit.
To the newly elected leadership team heading the secretariat at the AU, built on what is happening in Niger in order to turn on a new leaf for the betterment of the continent. Try by all means to ensure that all members of the continental body adhere and stick to the rules. Furthermore, going forward, the leadership should be in the forefront condemning any perceived undemocratic practices on the continent. Leaders should not just decide to change presidential term limits at will. Countries flouting the rules should be immediately condemned, sanctioned, and whipped into line without fear or favour. The strengthening of the AU mechanisms which bind all African countries together, is the only panacea to moving forward as a united people.
We call upon the newly elected AU chair President Etienne Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo to really make it of prime importance during his term of office to strengthen our AU institutions that bind us all to a collective responsibility. But President Tshisekedi cannot do it alone, he requires the support of everyone on the continent. Its high time Africans we begin to take pride in our own institutions rather than pointing fingers from a distance without contributing sound suggestions that actually add value to them.
Lastly, thank you outgoing President Issoufou for setting a good example and leaving Niger a better country. My sense of gratitude also goes to the people of Niger for conducting themselves the way you have done by ensuring that the elections have been conducted in a peaceful and transparent manner. Of course, we have heard about the killing of electoral commission employees who have lost their lives in the service of the people. I hope the Niger issue might be a lesson for other African countries to follow and ensure a better and peaceful Africa. A round of applause goes to the team at the AU secretariat for a job well done!
Dr. Mustafa Mheta
Senior Researcher/Head of Africa Desk
Media Review Network.