A look back at the elections that shaped Africa in 2016

There were close to 20 elections in Africa in 2016. Ghana and Benin stood out as the most peaceful and democratic, while countries like Uganda were mired by violence as Gabon and Gambia had disputed outcomes.

LIBREVILLE, GABON (REUTERS) – There were several polls in Africa in 2016.

In Gabon, former African Union chairman Jean Ping, an ally turned critic of Gabon’s President Ali Bongo, ran for president, hoping to break the ruling party’s near 50-year grip on power.

Bongo, the son of long-ruling former president, Omar Bongo, won a disputed election in 2009 after his father’s death.

Bongo won his second term but Ping rejected the elections results, despite a constitutional court ruling in favour of the incumbent.

An oil producer with a population of less than two million, Gabon is one of Africa’s richest countries. However, most of the wealth is concentrated among elites.

Ping criticized Bongo’s failure to distribute Gabon’s oil riches more evenly among the population.

“It is a problem to just say that because of the terrible mismanagement of Ali, because a family has been in power for 50 years, because, because, because … In reality, we must enter modernity and people don’t want to keep on seeing the [same] system in place anymore,” Ping said.

In Uganda, tensions simmered as president Yoweri Museveni won a February election with 60 percent of the vote, extending his 30-year rule by another five-year term.

Main Opposition leader, Kizza Besigye and other candidates rejected the results, alleging widespread rigging and intimidation by security forces.

Ugandan officials said it was free and fair.

A petition seeking nullification of Museveni’s disputed re-election was submitted to the Supreme Court but was later dismissed.

The ruling had been widely expected in a country where the judiciary is frequently accused of bias toward the incumbent.

“What has to be done now is they have to embark on a political process to ensure an overhaul of an obviously biased and weak system that is unable to deliver a free and fair election in this country,” said Nicholas Opio, a lawyer.

Benin elected popular businessman Patrice Talon, after a second round of presidential elections, in polls analysts said would reinforce Benin’s credentials as a model of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa.

Talon faced the country’s prime minister Lionel Zinsou, following a highly contested first round.

Incumbent Boni Yayi, who led the cotton-producing country since 2006 was lauded by critics for quietly stepping down, after two terms as mandated by the constitution.

With a former investment banker and businessman as presidential candidates, analysts said issue based politics had won the day.

“It would seem that voters want a change, they seem to prefer businessmen as their presidential candidates. That’s the first lesson. The second lesson would be that the arrival of businessmen on the political scene has created a shift and politicians are no longer seen as the only option,” said political analyst, Serge Prince-Agbodjan.

In neighbouring Niger, a presidential run-off vote saw the incumbent Mahamadou Issoufou win a second term, despite opposition withdrawal.

The opposition accused Issoufou of seeking to suppress dissent and of ordering the arrest of opposition supporters ahead of the vote, but the government dismissed the criticism as politically motivated.

Some blamed Issoufou’s win on the opposition’s decision to withdraw from the polls.

“I don’t think it’s the right attitude to have because they should look at what’s important for the nation, and not their personal gains,” said one Niamey resident, Adamou Seyni.

In Zambia, a disputed election result threatened to divide the country and cause unrest this year.

President Edgar Lungu narrowly won the August 11 poll and his opponent Hakainde Hichilema filed court papers to challenge the result, claiming the vote was rigged.

In the petition, Hichilema, an economist and businessman and an old rival of Lungu, said that the president did not win the election legally as he failed to score more than the number of votes required to be declared the winner.

Lungu won 50.35 percent of the vote against 47.63 percent for Hichilema, according to the electoral commission.

Pockets of violence were reported from supporters of both parties.

“I think that we need to consider either a mixed member proportional representation or outright have a proportional representation system that reflects everyone who has participated in the election to participate in national affairs, failure to which, we risk having this country divided into two parts,” said political analyst Lee Hasonda.

2016 will also go down as the year Ghana cemented the country’s reputation as a standard bearer of democracy in a region that has been blighted by political unrest.

Opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo defeated President John Mahama by 53.8 percent to 44.4 percent.

“I thank you, the good people of Ghana, for this massive show of support and the confidence you have reposed in me and my party,” said Akufo-Addo.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of Congo remains in the throes of a political crisis.

President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, was required by the constitution to step down when his second elected term ended on December 19th.

The government said logistical and budgetary problems prevented it from holding the vote on time, while his opponents claimed he was deliberately delaying the polls to extend his rule.

Congo has never experienced a peaceful transition of power.

In Gambia, a shock opposition victory brought hopes that the small West African country can achieve its first peaceful transition of power in more than 50 years.

Yahya Jammeh, who took power in a coup in 1994, initially conceded defeat to little-known challenger Adama Barrow, but in a dramatic about-face he then rejected the voting results just a week after the polls, and challenged the outcome at Gambia’s Supreme Court.

“The results as they are still stand. The only recourse, of course, when you have any problem with the results of the election, one has to appeal to the Supreme Court,” said Gambia’s independent electoral commission (IEC) chairman Alieu Momarr Njai.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel peace laureate, has been leading a delegation representing regional bloc ECOWAS delegation, that also includes Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari to find a solution to the current impasse.

Jammeh’s 22 years of autocratic rule are tainted by allegations of widespread human rights abuses.