Africa Elections: Guinea-Bissau to vote

While Americans are glued to the polls, anxious to find out who will be the next president, at least 20 elections across Africa this year present massive challenges for developing democracies.

These elections may result in a wave of change across the continent. Some fear they could also lead to violence.

“Hypothetically, the year 2012 seems to be going down in political history as the most democratic year on the African continent as far as elections go,” reads a statement on the Ghana government’s website. “Unfortunately, however, elections in Africa end up more in war than in peace. But should elections be life and death affairs?”

Next up for elections: Guinea-Bissau. Bordered by Senegal and Guinea, Guinea-Bissau is one of four countries on earth with the word ‘Guinea’ in its name. The list includes Guinea and Equatorial Guinea, also in Africa, and Papua New Guinea off the coast of Australia.

After the Jan. 9 death of the Guinea-Bissau President Malam Bacai Sanha, the troubled country is bound by law to hold elections within 90 days, reports AFP. The vote will be held March 18, and for Guinea-Bissau, a country best known for political instability and porous borders, the stakes are high.

One of the major challenges the country faces is the flow of narcotic drugs from Latin America to Europe. The CIA World Factbook says the trade is probably the country’s “most lucrative trade.”

The CIA World Factbook reports: “The combination of limited economic prospects, a weak and faction-ridden government, and favorable geography have made this West African country a way station for drugs bound for Europe.”

Several military leaders are alleged to be involved in drug trafficking, complicating efforts to crack down on the trade, and “prompting fears that the drugs trade could further destabilize an already volatile country,” the BBC reports.

Since independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has experienced several coup d’états and a crushing civil war. On Dec. 26, a gun battle erupted between two factions of the army in the capital, Bissau, Reuters reports.

In a February report, the Portuguese Institute for International Relations and Security said that the winner of the election this March will face challenges such as solving existing military feuds and implementing drug-trafficking reform.

“Guinea- Bissau stands once again at an all too familiar crossroad, where the choices made will greatly impact any intended course, which could then bring the country either up to its feet or down to its knees,” reads the report.

Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in Africa, with most of the population of 1.5 million living on less than $2 a day, according to the World Food Program.

Other African presidential and/or parliamentary elections expected this year include Gambia, Mali, Algeria, Lesotho, Seychelles, Burkina Faso, Republic of Congo, Egypt, Cameroon, Angola, Togo, Ghana, Guinea, Libya, Madagascar, Mauritania, Tunisia, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone, according to the African Union.

Senegal held presidential elections on Feb. 26 and they are going to a runoff, also on March 18.

More from GlobalPost: Senegal presidential election to go to a second round

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