DRAMA is when the President of a country boycotts the elections being conducted by his government. This week, it was the turn of Sao Tome and Principe to re-enact that play which was last staged by the over-rated and over-indulged former Malawian President, Joyce Banda. Manuel Pinto da Costa was Sao Tome’s founding President at independence in 1975. The 79-year-old ruled for 15 years before he was forced to give way in 1990. In the run of the mostly, meaningless elections in Africa, he rode back to power in 2011 having defeated his rival and former Prime Minister, Evaristo Carvalho by five points in that August 7 re-run elections.
This week, the same re-run scenario was to be re-enacted by the same candidates. Carvalho, 74, had reportedly scored 49.8 percent in the July 17, 2016 elections and President da Costa, 24.8 percent. Actually Carvalho had reportedly scored over 50 percent before it was reviewed downwards. At least, a re-run was announced; had it been in Nigeria, the elections would have been “inconclusive”. When this Sunday, the re-run was due, da Costa announced he was boycotting because in his opinion, the first round was rigged to favour his rival. This is not unlikely because in many African countries, under the imposed Western democracy , elections are wars won by all means necessary. Election rigging is common and the side that outsmarts or ‘out-rigs’ the other, is victorious in the winner-takes-all contest. As in Sao Tome, leaders are endlessly recycled, or at best, power rotates in the same circle of elites.
What is, however, constant is the underdevelopment of almost all African countries. In the case of Sao Tome, a country of 960 square kilometres with a 194,797 population spread over the islands of Sao Tome, Principe, Rolas and Pedras Tinhosas, it is the familiar story of rich country, poor people. The country produces coffee, palm oil, cocoa and oil with an estimated crude oil reserve of 6-11 billion barrels. Yet its people are desperately poor with 80 percent of its budget coming from foreign aid! As Sao Tome busied itself with another divisive and meaningless election, President Idris Deby of Chad was being sworn in for his fifth term in office. The last time I visited Chad was in 2014. The country remained a military camp as it has been for decades. Its people seemed under nourished with very deep North-South divide. Chad remains the largest French military base in Africa. After 25 years of Deby rule, the country remains on a war footing, expecting rival warlords or rebels to strike. Soldiers in military camouflage are common sight on the streets of its capital, Ndjamena, which remains underdeveloped.