Thursday, 22 June 2017

Grave danger in Congo

The storm in Congo-Kinshasa has been gathering for a year and the next six months are likely to prove critical. Warning of grave danger, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, together with former presidents of South Africa and Nigeria, Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo, and seven other former Presidents, has called for credible elections as soon as possible.

Annan, Mbeki and Obasanjo have a special interest in Congo-K's stability: they played a key role in brokering and guaranteeing the pact in 2002 that set up a power-sharing government in Kinshasa, which was headed by Joseph Kabila. Now, he refuses to listen to them. However, African Union leaders have, so far, failed to register even mild concern about Congo's mounting chaos. Political dialogue has ground to a halt with the opposition accusing Kabila of sabotaging the election calendar.

Now there are signs that Angola's government is losing patience. Luanda's veteran foreign minister Georges Chikoti has openly criticised Kabila's handling of the rebellion in Kasai, which is driving refugees across the border into Angola. In December, Angola withdrew its military trainers from Congo, sending a signal it was no longer willing to prop up Kabila militarily. Sindika Dokolo, a Congolese businessman and President José Eduardo dos Santos's son-in-law, went further still, urging demonstrations against Kabila and openly backing Moïse Katumbi, the exiled Congolese opposition leader.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

NIGERIA: After the budget is signed, better news about the numbers

We start in Nigeria on a rare high note – at least on the economic plane – and then go to Tanzania, where President John Magufuli's government is stepping up his campaign of resource nationalism. In South Africa, President Jacob Zuma is also playing the resource nationalist card while in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel sees great potential for a more constructive relationship between Europe and Africa.

NIGERIA: After the budget is signed, better news about the numbers
In stark contrast to the febrile political climate, the economic data in Nigeria are looking at their most positive since President Muhammadu Buhari came to office two years ago. Some of that is due to longer-term trends: oil prices have strengthened and production is up while investment in farming and agro-processing is beginning to pay off.

Shorter term factors are also helping. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo signed the 7.44 trillion naira (US$23.6 billion) budget for 2017 on 12 June and that will release disbursements from the government's capital spending programme of N2.2 trn., a record figure. As those disbursements – many on roads, power stations and social investment – sluice through the system, they should create jobs and boost incomes, giving a much-needed lift to local economies across the federation. Of course, much will depend on how the spending is managed.

Both international and Lagos-based market analysts are putting out increasingly upbeat analyses of the country's economic prospects, much of them based around the combined effects of more spending on infrastructure, far higher agricultural production and the launching of Aliko Dangote's 500,000 barrel-a-day oil refinery and petrochemical plant next year. After 18 months in the doldrums, the Nigerian Stock Exchange is bouncing back, registering gains week after week.

Yet there are plenty of questions about the better data. For example, inflation fell to 16.25% in May, its lowest figure for a year. Food prices, however, remain extremely high across the country and are rising at a faster rate than the baseline inflation figure.

This matters because for many families, food is the biggest item of expenditure. Higher local food prices seem to be linked with the growing volumes of food that is being exported to Nigeria's neighbours, which has created some local shortages. In the medium term, higher food prices could encourage more people to go into farming.

Another concern is what happens to the naira-dollar exchange rate. As better economic news trickles out, along with big government disbursements, the naira has strengthened: the parallel market rate is currently N367=US$1. It remains an open question whether the strengthening of the currency reflects the more positive economic mood or is just a function of the government's releasing hundreds of millions of dollars. For now, officials in Abuja say their much criticised exchange rate policy has been vindicated.

TANZANIA: President Magufuli's new claims against Acacia Mining presage tougher resource nationalist measures
After giving full support to a committee which claims that the state has been losing hundreds of millions of dollars in mining taxes and royalties, President Magufuli is set to extend the scope of his campaign of resource nationalism to the oil and gas sector.

This follows the release of a government committee report on 12 June concluding that Acacia Mining had failed to declare some 40% of its production to the authorities. 'These people are ruthless,' Magufuli said in a live broadcast of the release of the report, '…They have taken all the gold and other minerals but revenues, taxes, they didn't pay.' The committee's conclusions extend across the entire mining sector, although Acacia is in the government's sights in the short term.

The report recommends that Acacia and the government should open arbitration on what it says are outstanding dues; this should be handled by Tanzania's courts, it adds.

For its part, Acacia denies all wrongdoing but is taking the report extremely seriously. 'Acacia remains open to further dialogue with the government regarding these issues and continues to assess all its options.' Top company officials met with Magufuli's team after the report came out last week and talks are continuing.

SOUTH AFRICA: Nationalist Mining Charter draws fire from the companies
With his new mining charter, Mines Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, a close ally of President Jacob Zuma, is trying out a similar blend of local politics and resource nationalism in South Africa.

Launched on 15 June, the Charter stipulates that all mining companies in the country should ensure that 30% of their shares are held by black South Africans (that's up from current threshold of 26%), and they should award 80% of their spending on services to black-owned companies and ensure that over half their top management are black. It would also end the 'once-empowered, always-empowered' principle that allows a mainly white-owned company to comply with ownership rules by selling its equity to black investors, even if they later sell it on to other white investors.

Zwane's Charter has predictably prompted loud criticism from the big mining companies, which say they will challenge it in court. No one expects it to get passed into law in the short-term but it could prove smart politics for Zuma's allies, who are under pressure to put their 'radical economic transformation' agenda into practice.

For Zuma, the spectacle of his ministers battling with big mining companies might – temporarily – distract attention from the legions of corruption allegations that he faces in connection with his own business friends. The row over the Mining Charter is surfacing just as the African National Congress prepares for its big policy conference next month.

And in December, the ANC will hold its leadership elections. The two frontrunners for the party presidency are Zuma's ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. And every ANC member knows that Ramaphosa made his fortune from astute investments in the mining sector during the first round of black economic empowerment, which is now seen as having done little more than enrich a small elite.

AFRICA/GERMANY: Chancellor Merkel calls for revisions to EU-Africa trade deals
The Afro-German partnership is going from strength to strength after a conference and a series of bilateral meetings in Hamburg earlier this month. As host of the Group of 20 most industrialised countries next month, Germany wants to push Africa up the agenda. In fact, only one African state, South Africa, is a member of the G-20.

Trade and investment, not aid, dominate Germany's revived relations with Africa, although by some measures, Berlin is also the biggest giver of non-tied development assistance to Africa.

The Africa push is led by Merkel, who has already established a reputation for a more open-minded view on migration than many of her European counterparts. Cynics says this is more about Germany's requirements for labour than high moral principle.

Now Merkel has joined the two issues: she is calling for more focus on trade and development in Africa as a means to reduce the numbers of people trying to navigate the perilous waters of the Mediterranean between Libya and southern Europe. Last week, Merkel told fair-trade campaigners in Hamburg that she understood their complaints about the trade treaties between the European Union and Africa. She said the EU-Africa summit due to be held later this year should discuss how to renegotiate them.

In London last week, Ghana's Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta said that his country had been given fast-track membership of the Germany-Africa trade partnership scheme and would be accessing over $200 million in trade development credits. He said that Germany's apprenticeship programmes for high-level technical education offered a viable solution to the skills mismatch in his country.

Monday, 12 June 2017

AFRICA/EUROPE: After political shocks, a new diplomatic order starts work

Political changes in Europe – and their effects on Africa – start the ball rolling this week. And then it's off to Lusaka where the Zambian government is about to ink a new deal with the IMF. In Nigeria, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo's profile could rise higher still should he sign the 2017 budget while his boss, President Muhammadu Buhari, stays on medical leave. There are more warnings about election clashes in Kenya, and Ethiopia needs another billion dollars of emergency food to stave off a disaster, following the recent drought.

AFRICA/EUROPE: After political shocks, a new diplomatic order starts work
As the slings and arrows of voter sentiment hit Europe's populist movements, the continent's diplomacy is adapting, particularly in Africa. This week Germany is convening several special meetings on economic and security policy in Africa ahead of its G-20 summit.

The immediate winners in these diplomatic shifts are the centrist governments that are running Germany and France. Both Chancellor Angela Merkel and newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron are espousing a more robust and internationalist approach, which they contrast to the more nationalist and inward-looking ideas espoused in the United States under President Donald Trump and Britain under Theresa May.

Last week's national election and political meltdown in Britain after the governing Conservative Party lost its majority in Parliament is likely to reinforce this trend. With Prime Minister Theresa May's position gravely weakened, there is still more confusion about the government's plans for leaving the European Union and promised reformulation of its trade and diplomatic strategy.

By contrast, Germany is leading a new generation of trade and investment pacts which Côte d'Ivoire, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal and Tunisia have already signed. Chancellor Merkel is calling for a Marshall Fund to accelerate economic growth and development in Africa. Her Development Minister Gerd Mueller is calling on the United Nations this week to establish a €10 billion (US $11.2 bn.) fund to respond to the chronic food shortages and crop failures, which have worsened as a result of climate change.

France's President Macron, further strengthened by the victory of his En Marche! party in the first round of legislative elections on 11 June, has already signaled his strong support for a stronger European security policy in the Sahel, where French special forces have been deployed to fight jihadist groups. Some big funding battles loom over how the regional security budgets are divided: France and Germany have concentrated funding and projects in the Sahel; Britain has focused its efforts in Somalia.

ZAMBIA: Lusaka prepares for IMF deal after mining rows
With its financial engineers returning to Lusaka this week, the International Monetary Fund says it could conclude a US$1.3 bn. adjustment loan deal with the government in the coming days. The government has pledged to halve its budget deficit to 4% by 2019 but the deal still has to be approved formally by the IMF board in August.

These negotiations come amid continuing political turmoil, during which challenges to last year's national elections have escalated with the detention of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema on treason charges.

Some of the political rows have spilled into the country's mining industry as the government has struck an increasingly nationalist posture as local economic pressures mount. Earlier this year a dispute over taxes and royalties prompted a public spat between President Edgar Lungu's government and the Canadian-listed First Quantum Mining. After much bluster, Lungu opted for discreet private negotiations to settle the row. But last week, local police arrested 31 Chinese citizens accused of illegal mining; Chinese mining companies, like their Western and Indian counterparts in Zambia, have been accused of financial malpractice by successive governments over the past 15 years.

NIGERIA: Why the signature on the 2017 budget is so politically important
Will he or won't he? That's the unresolved question in Nigeria about whether President Muhammadu Buhari, on medical leave in London since 7 May, will make it back to Abuja to sign this year's budget. Some staffers in Aso Rock started talking up the President's imminent return.

Such speculation about Buhari has now been formally squashed with one of his aides telling journalists that he was undergoing further tests on 12 June; the results of which would determine the date of his return to Nigeria.

Two officials in the presidency and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, insist the 2017 budget will be signed this week, having been approved by both houses of the National Assembly after a six-month delay. This means Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo would sign the bill, a move which many would see as increasing his standing in the political system. It would also unblock most of the pipelines of government spending, both to ministries and to the politically important 36 states in the federation.

However, some of Buhari's allies are getting wary about Osinbajo's political profile. No longer seen as the apolitical technocrat, Osinbajo's role as stand-in for Buhari, deal-maker in the Delta, and now presiding over the 2017 budget, positions him clearly in the front line of politics. And that means getting into the starting blocks for the 2019 elections.

KENYA: Fears mount after Odinga warns on election trickery and violence
There is a worrying sense of déjà vu about national elections in August with politicians making public condemnations of violence but saying they will not be able to hold back their supporters if there is provocation. That was the line both sides adopted in the 2007 elections and their violent aftermath. Politicians generally reined in the rhetoric in 2013 because the horror of the 2007 elections was fresh in people's minds.

Political speeches have been far less constrained this year. The latest top politician to sound such harrowing warnings is Raila Odinga, presidential candidate of the opposition National Super Alliance. In a series of press briefings, Odinga has said he thought something sinister was afoot at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission where two senior officials were dismissed this month.

One of them headed the procurement office which organises the production of some 130 million ballot papers for national, provincial and local government elections.

ETHIOPIA: Despite economic successes, desperate food shortages in drought hit areas
The government's food stocks are running dangerously low, it has warned this week, with people in the Ogaden areas neighbouring Somalia facing a 'food and nutritional' disaster next month without fresh supplies. After 15 years of high growth and talk of a long-term economic turnaround, the crisis is a blow to the government's efforts to forge a new image for the country. Officials in Addis Ababa reject any insinuation that the food crisis, which affects almost 8 million people or a tenth of the country, is in any way a replay of the famines that plagued the country in the 1980s.

Although climate change and the drought are the main causes of the current food crisis, tens of thousands of migrants trying to escape the continuing conflict in Somalia are putting added pressure on Ethiopia's state system. Mitiku Kassa, head of disaster relief in the Addis Ababa government, says the country needs at least a billion dollars worth of emergency food aid.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Grey skies for green energy

Extreme weather amid this week's storms in Western Cape in South Africa and the continuing drought in north-east Africa remind us of the realities of climate change. Cape Town hovers between devastating storms one month and worsening water shortages for the rest of the year. Drought has knocked off one per cent of growth from East Africa's economies. Fights over land and water in the Sahel, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire pit farmers against herders in clashes in which thousands of people have died in recent years.

Even before the United States government pulled out of the Paris climate treaty on 2 June, few funds for climate adaptation were reaching Africa.

Africa would benefit from a better coordinated approach on climate and environment policy, perhaps using the research capacity of the Economic Commission for Africa and the convening power of the African Development Bank. Political backing from the African Union would also help. More detailed reporting on the Sahel and the Horn should prompt research into ways to ameliorate or adapt to the environmental devastation. Some pioneering projects for local meteorological centres, assets for international climate research, struggle for funding. There is a direct link between plans for a green energy corridor up the spine of Africa, running on renewables, and tackling climate change. Africa's massive expansion of agricultural production and processing, together with its solar power farms, depend on tackling the threat of climate change.

Monday, 5 June 2017

After global protests over Washington's withdrawal from the Paris climate treaty, how will Africa react?

We start with the aftermath of the United States' withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and its implications for Africa. Then we go to Morocco, where protests are spreading. In South Africa, the relentless drip of information and claims about President Jacob Zuma's relations with the Gupta family continues while there are some glimmers of positive economic news in Nigeria. Finally, there's more news on the prospects for testing negotiations between Tanzanian President John Magufuli's team and the country's biggest gold miner.

AFRICA/UNITED STATES: After global protests over Washington's withdrawal from the Paris climate treaty, how will Africa react?European and Asian countries responded quickly and critically to US President Donald Trump's pull-out from the 2015 climate treaty on 2 June but the African response has been muted so far. This is despite the fact that seven of the ten countries most damaged by global warming are in Africa.
Africa produces just 3.8% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from its oil and coal industries. This compares with China's production of 23% emissions, while the US produces 19%. China now leads the global solar power industry in terms of units produced and is matching the US research effort. Africa is a key market for solar power projects from both Chinese and US companies – regardless of the politics over the Paris deal.

Some African politicians say discreet lobbying to persuade the USA to contribute to the proposed US$100 billion climate change adaptation fund would be of more use than joining the public criticism of the Trump government over its pull-out from the COP22 treaty. They say that they could get backing from US green energy companies.

Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, has called for much more determined action by African governments to promote the continent's 'Energy for all' campaign which aims for a 'low carbon' transition to a power sector that provides economical and sustainable electricity for most of the continent. With its 1.1 billion people and the fast rising demand for power, Africa's plans for a green electricity industry should become a showcase for the Paris accords, says Annan.

But little of the climate adaptation funding has been released to Africa so far, says Annan. This is due mainly to a lack of integrated plans and policies for the rapid expansion of energy provision on the continent, he adds. Those countries that have pressed ahead with sustainable energy projects – such as Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Morocco and South Africa – are already bringing in substantial outside finance.

A big weakness is the paucity of regional and cross-border power projects, says Annan. Less than 8% of power is currently traded across borders in Africa. That, he argues, means a big boost to regional transmission lines, new power trading accords and a harmonisation of national grids.a
MOROCCO: Escalating street protests test King Mohammed VI's resolve a week after the arrest of dissident in El Hoceima.

The protestors are not going away in El Hoceima in the northern Rif region, a week after the arrest of activist Nasser Zefzafi. This dissident mobilisation, extremely rare in Morocco, represents a growing challenge to the new Prime Minister and the Makhzen, the royal establishment around King Mohammed VI.

It was the death of a fishmonger, Mouhcine Fikri, in clashes with security forces last October that triggered the latest round of mass protests in the area. Then the government stepped up security but made some concessions to local people.

Dissident leader Zefzafi and his allies have been lambasting the regional authorities for poor services and corruption. People were enraged when the government failed to address the complaints and instead sent in security forces to put down the protests and arrest Zefzafi. In neighbouring Imzouren, police fired water cannon to break up fresh protests.

SOUTH AFRICA: Deluge of leaked emails points to the huge influence of the Gupta businesses over President Zuma and his ministersA week ago, President Jacob Zuma survived yet another bid by the National Executive Committee of the governing African National Congress (ANC) to sack him over his family's ties to the Gupta family's conglomerates. This week, the campaign to oust him continues, with the release of some 200,000 emails from the Guptas' companies purporting to show their influence on Zuma and other top politicians.

This deluge of secret emails from the company, uncovered by the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism and the Daily Maverick, adds more weight to claims of impropriety at the highest levels of government. The Johannesburg Sunday Times, one of the best-selling papers in the country, says it has evidence that the Gupta family has bought Zuma a US$25 million mansion in the United Arab Emirates. It said the story had been corroborated by local business people and senior officials in the ANC.

It follows allegations last week that the Guptas were arranging UAE nationality for the Zuma family. This claim about the Dubai mansion elicited a rare response from the Presidency, which comprehensively denied the allegation, insisting that Zuma owns no properties outside South Africa. But the ANC has called for an investigation into the credibility and origins of the leaked emails.
All of this material could become legally important if the call for a judicial probe into relations between the Guptas and government officials is heeded. The Public Protector, the country's top anti-corruption body, demanded the probe but Zuma has challenged the proposal in court. He may be fighting a losing battle. Although the NEC declined to debate a call for his removal, it agreed that there should be a judicial enquiry into links between the Guptas and his family and senior officials.

NIGERIA: New data signals some economic respite as President extends London medical tripVice-President Yemi Osinbajo is making halting progress on the economic front while President Muhammadu Buhari stays on in London for medical attention. At the end of May, the National Assembly passed the 2017 budget, after long delays, and the Senate passed a new version of the Petroleum Industry Bill. After Nigeria's share index rose 12% over the past month, local bankers forecast that it could be the start of a stronger recovery.

The next key step is for the Presidency to sign the budget and trigger the distribution of ministerial and state allocations. It's unclear whether Osinbajo will do so this week or wait until Buhari's return. Meanwhile, the National Statistics Agency is due to release key figures on exports, imports and unemployment on 6 June which should give a clearer picture of economic progress.

TANZANIA: Mining company talks with top government officials will wait for report on second presidential probeCritical negotiations between Acacia Mining, majority owned by Barrick Gold, and top state officials over tax levels, royalties and local processing will not start before the release of a second presidential report into the industry. The first presidential report accused Acacia of massively under-declaring its production, a claim that pushed down the value of its shares by 30%. Due to the robust resource nationalist position of President John Magufuli, the dispute with Acacia has taken on strong political overtones.

Officials at Acacia, led by its Chief Executive Officer Brad Gordon, met top government officials in Dar es Salaam last week and deny all wrongdoing. However, Gordon says the company is willing to discuss plans for increasing processing in the country and would finance a study in the commercial viability of establishing a local smelter plant. 

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

TANZANIA: The next test for Magufuli's resource nationalism

We start this week with another high-stakes battle between a multinational mining company and an African government, this time in Tanzania. The Ethiopian government is celebrating Tedros Adhanom winning the leadership of the World Health Organisation; and Nigeria's Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo has delivered a low-key State of the Nation address while President Muhammadu Buhari remains in London for medical treatment. President Jacob Zuma has survived one challenge to his leadership from within the African National Congress but faces another in parliament next month. Côte d'Ivoire is to float a US$1 billion Eurobond to compensate for cocoa losses and pay off mutinous soldiers. Kenya's election is looking tighter.

TANZANIA: The next test for Magufuli's resource nationalismCanada's Acacia Mining, majority-owned by Barrick Gold, is to respond in detail this week to claims by President John Magufuli on 24 May that the company had been declaring less than a tenth of the value of its gold exports. Living up to his 'Bulldozer' sobriquet, Magufuli sacked Energy and Mines Minister Sospeter Muhongo, his departmental permanent secretary Justin Ntalikwa, and the head of the Tanzania Minerals Audit Agency Dominic Rwekaza all on the same day.

Although Acacia disputes Magufuli's claims, which are based on findings from two investigative committees set up by the presidency, the share price plummeted in London. 'We do not understand the findings of the [investigation] committee and believe that they contain significant discrepancies compared to all previous data analysed,' said a company statement released on 26 May.

Senior management at Acacia, we hear, are seeking to discuss the matter with the government this week but have said they will have to consider 'all options' – which could include leaving Tanzania. Last year, gold exports earned the country around US$1.5 billion and mining accounts for 3-4% of gross domestic product.

ETHIOPIA: Tedros triumphs at WHO but tough questions lurkThe election of Ethiopia's one-time health minister, also a former foreign minister, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as the first African director-general of the World Health Organisation was an important diplomatic victory for Addis Ababa after months of tough campaigning.

However, Tedros faced protests from Ethiopian oppositionists outside WHO headquarters in Geneva. An advisor linked to his British rival for the job, Dr David Nabarro, accused Tedros of covering up cholera epidemics in Ethiopia in 2006, 2009 and 2011 when he was health minister. Known for his robust rhetoric, Tedros dismissed the British claims as 'a typical colonial mindset …and discrediting a candidate from a developing country.'

But the bigger question facing Tedros is whether he can lead a substantial reform of the WHO, which came under fire over its handling of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
NIGERIA: Mid-term economic warnings and political doubtsWith President Muhammadu Buhari receiving treatment in London, it fell to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to deliver the government's mid-term report to Nigerians on 29 May, exactly two years since it took office.

Osinbajo emphasised that the country's underperforming economy, slowly recovering from falling into recession last year for the first time in two decades, was the 'biggest challenge' as he sketched out the government's strategy.

After a succession of warnings about a coup plotters and arms caches from the Army Chief of Staff General Tukur Buratai and the former governor of Lagos State Bola Tinubu, Osinbajo kept his comments on Nigeria's febrile political scene to a minimum. Political insiders noted that Osinbajo pared down his trip to the G7 meeting in Italy last week to avoid being out of the country for more than a day.

SOUTH AFRICA: After surviving no confidence debate in ANC's top committee, Zuma is likely to win parliamentary test next monthIt was the strongest attack yet on President Jacob Zuma by senior members of the African National Congress. The National Executive Committee's 70 members debated last Sunday and Monday (28-29 May) whether he should be forced out but his opponents lacked the numbers to force a vote against him and he survived with ease.

However, it's evident that Zuma's support within the party is gradually leaching away. The publication in several newspapers today (30 May) of emails purporting to show that Zuma and his family were planning to set up a 'second home' in Dubai further poisoned the atmosphere against him. The NEC backed the call for a judicial inquiry into the close links between Zuma and businesses owned by the Gupta family which was called for by the Public Protector's report on 'state capture'.
That will create further problems for him ahead of the ANC leadership elections in December. Early next month Zuma faces another no-confidence motion in parliament. Dissident ANC MPs have been told they face tough sanctions if they vote against him.

ANGOLA: President Dos Santos's medical checks in Spain trigger more speculationVeteran Foreign Minister Georges Chikoti has dampened reports that the 74-year-old President José Eduardo dos Santos was critically ill in Spain after it was claimed he had suffered a stroke a month ago. Dos Santos's daughter Isabel posted on her Facebook page a denial that her father had passed away.

Although Defence Minister João Lourenço is due to take over the leadership of the governing MPLA after national presidential and parliamentary elections on 23 August, a sudden exit by Dos Santos could destabilise the transition. The MPLA is set to win the elections comfortably but there has been mounting criticism of the influence of the president's family over state institutions.

CÔTE D'IVOIRE: US$1 billion bond to fix budget hole and pay off mutineersAfter a 40% drop in international cocoa prices and several mutinies this year from disgruntled soldiers demanding bonus payments, President Alassane Ouattara's government has announced it will float a US$1 billion Eurobond next month. Despite security worries after protests and clashes involving government soldiers, the government enjoys a better credit rating than most of its quieter neighbours such as Ghana. Finance Minister Adama Kone said the country is also negotiating more credits from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

KENYA: Latest polls put Kenyatta and Odinga neck and neck as tensions riseAssumptions that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee coalition would score an easy victory in presidential and parliamentary elections due in August are questioned in the latest analysis by the Ipsos marketing group and other consultancies.

Most analysts say the gap between Kenyatta and his presidential rival Raila Odinga has narrowed appreciably this year mainly because of tougher economic conditions. Odinga's chances will be critically dependent, they say, on his ability to inspire a high turnout in his strongholds in Nyanza, Western Kenya and the Coast.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

America's new African insiders

The appointment of regional security specialist Peter Pham as the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs has been welcomed by African diplomats in Washington. 'We have an appointee with knowledge and a certain affinity with Africa,' said one insider. Pham has been a director of the Atlantic Council and at his confirmation hearings he may face questioning about its strong support for Morocco's position on the Western Sahara. Former US Air Force officer Rudolph Atallah, appointed last month as Africa advisor on the US National Security Council, was also a fellow at the Council.

The two appointments fit with the administration's emphasis on counter-terrorism and security. But Pham is also a doughty defender of the soft power exercised by the US Agency for International Development, which is under threat in the administration's budget plans. The recent decision by Congress to maintain support for assistance programmes was an important pushback against the more swingeing cuts being planned.

Pham also believes it's in his country's own commercial interests to step up US diplomacy and assistance in Africa, given the continent's over US$2 trillion market. Africa lobbyists in DC have also been urging White House officials to look at how Germany and Japan have been stepping up their Africa programmes. They argue it would be counter-productive for the US to withdraw from Africa or rely purely on a security-led strategy.