LEADERS CLAMP DOWN AS ELECTIONS IN 10 COUNTRIES NEAR

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Jan. 27 (GIN) – It’s election time in nearly a dozen African countries and the wish of some leaders to fiddle with the constitution and have a forbidden third term in office is sending tremors through the fragile states involved.

Ten elections are coming up this year – among them Nigeria, Burundi, Togo, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo – and the African Union should be a backstop for free and fair polls, said Yves Niyiragira, co-editor of the AU Monitor and a fellow at Fehamu, a pan-African umbrella organization for movements that focus on social justice.

“We are observing a trend where sitting heads of states and government are either attempting to change constitutions or attempting to extend their term of limit in many countries,” Niyiragira said. “The attempt was done in Burkina Faso, it did not succeed.

“There are attempts to do so in many countries, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Congo, Benin, Sierra Leone and many others which are going that route.”

The African Union insists it supports free and fair elections, noting that it sends observer teams to countries holding polls, and advises member states on how to address election-related problems.

Later this week, the African Union will name a new president and there is near unanimous certainty that it will be Zimbabwe Pres. Robert Mugabe.

Mugabe, Africa’s oldest president at 90 going on 91 next month, is the current chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). To lead the African Union, he has the support of the 15 SADC members, including South Africa, to succeed Mauritania’s Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, one of the AU’s lowest-profile chairmen for some years.

"This is a way of honoring President Mugabe and his record," said Kaire Mbuende, a Namibian and a former SADC executive secretary, when asked about the reasons for choosing someone so controversial to be the face of Africa in its political interactions. "Zimbabwe has everything it takes to rise from the ashes. It has the human capacity — the only questions are about time and resources."

Meanwhile, civil groups in Burundi have been pleading with African leaders to prevent President Pierre Nkurunziza from seeking an unconstitutional third term in the May and June polls.

"Hundreds of civilians have been killed or disappeared," said a group calling itself ‘The AU We Want Coalition.’ "Evidence that Burundi will revert to atrocities and ethnic violence is glaringly present."

In Nigeria, polls are scheduled to open on Feb. 14 even as some 30 million people have not yet received their voter cards. The elections will be the first where Nigeria's 68.8 million voters must have a biometric cards, a measure introduced to guard against fraud that has plagued past polls. w/pix of Pres. P. Nkurunziza of Burundi

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