Thursday, 20 July 2017

Holding companies to account

The list of international companies getting snarled in battles about fraud and politics in Africa has lengthened this year to include hitherto more pristine names, such as McKinsey, KPMG and Germany's SAP software company. They have all been named in the widening probes into the Gupta family's relations with South Africa's President Jacob Zuma.

Remarkably, the companies continued to work on Gupta-linked projects long after the family started attracting intense scrutiny from the media. At a minimum, the companies will have to review their due diligence procedures which seem, in many cases, elaborate box-ticking exercise. All three risk reputational damage, most seriously for McKinseys, which advises companies and governments on how to avoid such problems.

Other companies such as Credit Suisse and Russia's state bank VTB are in denial about corporate failings, such as their role in structuring the notorious tuna bond deals as part of a package of some US$2 billion of secret loans that nearly bankrupted Mozambique.

So what are the prospects of tougher government measures to hold companies to account in Africa and elsewhere? Not high, according to Hui Chen, who has resigned from a top fraud-busting post in the Department of Justice in Washington. She was going, she said, partly because of the 'cognitive dissonance' of 'trying to hold companies to standards that our current administration is not living up to'.

Monday, 17 July 2017

NIGERIA/UNITED STATES: US prosecutors accuse ex-oil minister of taking bribes for fraudulent contracts

Our tour this week starts in Houston, where an assets seizure case could invigorate Nigeria's anti-corruption investigations. Still on anti-corruption, the International Monetary Fund has arrived in Mozambique to assess the damage caused by the US$2 billion secret loan scheme; and in neighbouring South Africa, veteran anti-apartheid campaigner Lindiwe Sisulu joins the race to become leader of the governing African National Congress (ANC). In Bamako, protestors show what they think of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta's reform plans and the IMF makes a politically-charged reply to a loan request from Kinshasa.

NIGERIA/UNITED STATES: US prosecutors accuse ex-oil minister of taking bribes for fraudulent contracts
A bid by the United States' authorities to seize a $50 million apartment in Manhattan and an $80 mn. luxury yacht signals some critical advances in the investigations into about $30 bn. of swap deals backed by Nigeria's former Oil Minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke.

Last week, Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, told Africa Confidential that he expected to see substantial progress in the case against Allison-Madueke in the coming weeks. She has been in London since British police arrested her in October 2015, seizing her passport and over £30,000 ($39,000) in cash. Under English law, police have until October this year to charge her; if they fail to, they will have return her cash and papers and allow her to leave the country (AC Vol 58 No 7, The great oil chase).

The US Department of Justice's Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative filed a suit in Houston, Texas, on 14 July claiming that oil traders Kolawole Akanni Aluko and Olajide Omokore paid substantial bribes to Allison-Madueke to approve their highly profitable deals, which swapped crude oil exports for imports of refined products. Some of the evidence cited includes covertly recorded conversations between Aluko and Allison-Madueke.

For now, the case is solely about the US authorities seizing control of the flat and the boat, which are held by companies linked to Aluko. But those involved in the case say the next stage will be to target individuals named in the asset recovery case for further investigation.

Much interest surrounds reports that some of Allison-Madueke's former associates have been cooperating with foreign prosecutors to identify corporate entities into which hundreds of millions of dollars from fraudulent deals were paid.

MOZAMBIQUE: IMF delegation arrives in Maputo as Russian state bank offers to restructure secret loan deal
Inch by inch, investigators are discovering the true cost to Mozambique of the $2 bn. of secret loans ostensibly extended for a tuna fishing fleet and maritime security. Sources close to an audit of the deal have told Africa Confidential that the overpricing could be more than $1bn. (AC Vol 58 No 14, Rock and Kroll).

A senior Swiss financial official described the role of foreign banks in the deal – Credit Suisse and Russian state bank VTB Group – as 'scandalous' and requiring 'full investigation'. This follows revelations in the audit that the two banks had extracted some $200 mn. in fees from Mozambique for structuring the deal.

Britain's Financial Conduct Authority would have to take a major role in this probe because the secret deal was structured by the VTB and Credit Suisse operations in London.

The IMF, whose officials arrived in Maputo last week, demanded an internationally credible audit of the $2 bn. deal.

The banks are questioning the audit's figures but VTB said last week that it was prepared to review Mozambique's financial obligations: 'We have proposed several different restructuring options to Mozambique. Currently the involved parties are waiting for IMF debt sustainability assessment.'
Any progress between the IMF and the Maputo government on fresh financing would depend on prising open many more secrets linked to the tuna bond scandal.

SOUTH AFRICA: Sisulu joins leadership race as the standing of Zuma and his wife heads downhillThe entry of a third heavyweight politician, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, into the African National Congress leadership race complicates everybody's calculations. It may also prompt more public criticism of President Jacob Zuma, accused of damaging the ANC's standing.
Sisulu told the independent eNCA television channel that she wanted to undertake the 'daunting task' of restoring the 'dignity' of the ANC, an indirect criticism of Zuma's tenure under which corruption scandals have proliferated.

Until now the contest, to be decided at the party's elective conference in December, looked like a two-horse race between Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and the former Chairwoman of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Party insiders say that President Zuma's efforts to back his ex-wife, Dlamini-Zuma, have proved counter-productive, partly because she is suspected of wanting to protect him from the numerous corruption charges he faces.

MALI: President Keïta looks weaker after mass protests against his bid to boost his powers and counter separatists
The standing of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) suffered another blow on 15 July when thousands of Malians joined a demonstration in Bamako against his reform plan to strengthen the executive and establish new regions in the north.

Rattled by widespread opposition to his proposed constitutional reforms, IBK has abandoned plans for a referendum on them this month but his office says there will still be a constitutional referendum later this year.

The proposed reforms and redrawing of regional boundaries were part of peace talks with Tuareg separatists in the north two years ago but many in the south oppose any concessions on the issue. These proposed reforms and the stalling of the national peace process are understood to have been raised in talks between Keïta and France's President Emmanuel Macron last month.

SOMALIA: Communication crisis continues a month after Swiss-owned ship cuts underwater internet cableOfficials in Mogadishu says the country's businesses are daily losing more than a $10 mn. after MSC Alice, a Swiss-owned container ship, dropped anchor last month and cut the country's main underwater cable linking it to the internet. Now only the small group of Somalis who have access to satellite connections have been able to get out their messages.

Indeed, Africa Confidential's correspondents in the country have had to find new ways to file their stories. Most importantly, the internet crash is hampering the effort to provide relief to those Somalis hit by drought, food shortages and cholera.

CONGO-KINSHASA: IMF to set tough conditions for loans as political crisis worsens
Financial pressures are mounting on President Joseph Kabila's government as he seeks to extend his time in office. Despite his rhetoric against outside interference in the country's politics, his government is desperately seeking foreign aid after export earnings crashed and the Congolese franc lost 40% of its value this year.

After Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala wrote to the IMF last month, the Washington-based organisation said the government would have to show greater accountability in its financial operations and that it had established 'a credible path towards political stability'. That last comment is as overtly political as the IMF gets.

Relations between Kabila's government and most of the IMF's biggest shareholders are at an all-time low. In 2012, the Fund suspended a $560 mn. lending programme because of secret and highly lucrative deals in the mining sector.

Monday, 10 July 2017

KENYA: Row between President Kenyatta and judges heats up after election ballot ruling

We start with another election ruling by Kenya's High Court which is pitting the Chief Justice David Maraga against President Uhuru Kenyatta. Then we look at the row in Zimbabwe over a US$120 million maize subsidy scheme and the latest multinational company to get embroiled in scandals around President Jacob Zuma in South Africa. Finally, to Algiers where President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is trying to garner backing for economic reforms and Kinshasa where the head of the electoral commission says he thinks it will be impossible to organise presidential elections this year.

KENYA: Row between President Kenyatta and judges heats up after election ballot ruling
The governing Jubilee party has reacted with fury after the High Court in Nairobi's decision to 7 July to nullify the electoral commission's award of 2.5 billion-shilling ($24 million) contract to print ballot papers for next month's national elections to Dubai-based firm Al Ghurair. The court said the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission's (IEBC)'s award broke the new rules on contract transparency.

Complaining it was not consulted about the procurement of ballot papers for the 8 August elections, Raila Odinga's opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) launched a legal case to block the contract award. Several newspapers claim that there are business links between President Uhuru Kenyatta's family and the Al Ghurair company. Websites which carried photographs of Al Ghurair officials visiting State House were told by government lawyers to remove them.

This is the second court major legal victory for the opposition in the past month and it leaves less than a month for the electoral commission to find a new supplier to print the ballots. Officials in the Jubilee government insist there is no question about delaying the election.

This latest court ruling prompted any angry outburst from President Kenyatta: 'I want to tell those in courts, we have respected you. But do not think respect is cowardice. And we will not allow our opponents to use the courts and to intimidate the IEBC, thinking they will win using the back door.' A few hours after Kenyatta spoke on 9 July, Chief Justice David Maraga shot back with a statement on the implications of the President's remarks: 'When political leaders cast aspersions on the administration of justice based on a misinterpretation of my statements, it has the potential to impair public confidence in our courts, and this concerns me a great deal.'

ZIMBABWE: Opposition lambasts government on Command Agriculture and maize subsidy scheme
A politically-loaded plan to subsidise the country's maize farmers could cost the treasury almost US$120 million, say independent agricultural experts and opposition politicians. President Robert Mugabe, currently in Singapore for medical treatment, says the scheme will make the country self-sufficient in its key staple and boost local farmers. Mugabe faces a tough election next year against the backdrop of mounting economic woes.

Opposition politicians argue that the subsidy scheme is a blatant attempt to shore up support for the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front from small-scale farmers, its key support base in the countryside. It adds that previous subsidy schemes have been undermined by corruption and turned into mechanisms to enrich local party officials.

SOUTH AFRICA: McKinsey is latest multinational to get embroiled Gupta saga
One by one, leading multinational companies have been dragged into the growing political scandal over the business  links between President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family.
The pattern is similar each time. At first, there is a blanket denial of any wrongdoing or any improper dealings with Gupta family or Zuma's other allies.

Then the company expresses concern about the possibility that some mistakes were made, and accordingly launches an investigation. Details of the investigation then emerge in the media after which some of the multinational company's local directors are suspended or resign.
International lobbying firm Bell Pottinger, which had a contract with the Guptas has now made a formal apology for its operations in South Africa. International auditors KPMG, which had also been hired by the Guptas, are being probed by South African regulators for failing to sound warnings over the company's management of a massive agricultural subsidy from the Free State provincial government.

The latest company going through this drama is McKinsey, one of the most high-profile global consultancy companies, which has specialised in advising governments how to boost efficiency and cut corruption and mismanagement. The matter turns on McKinsey's relationship with the Trillian group of companies, which are in turn close to the Gupta family.

Outgoing Chairman of Trillian Tokyo Sexwale appointed top South African lawyer Geoff Budlender to look at whether Trillian may have commercially benefitted from insider information about government decisions, such as President Zuma's sacking of finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in December 2015. McKinsey was advising the state power company Eskom which had been paying tens of millions of rand to Trillian without following procurement rules. After Budlender concluded that McKinsey had made misleading statements about its dealings with Trillian, the consultancy company has launched its own investigation into the matter, helped by an outside law firm, Norton Rose Fuller.

ALGERIA: President Bouteflika tries to clear way for tough economic reforms and subsidy cuts
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika used his Independence Day speech on 6 July to try to rally support for economic reforms as the government tries to adjust to an era of lower oil and gas prices. In a rare public statement, the ailing 80-year-old whose current term expires in 2019, told Algerians that the reforms were not being imposed from outside but were in the country's 'sovereign interest'.

Until now the government has been using a system of social grants to help the poorest. It fears widespread unrest if subsidies on basic consumer products are cut back. The reform plan envisages a much closer targeting of the subsidies.

Over the past three years, the country's foreign reserves have dropped to $108 billion from $178 bn. and state officials said the government's current dependence on oil and gas exports for 60% of state revenues is unsustainable. Much of the implementation work for the reforms will be carried out by a team under Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune who plans a series of consultation meetings with local people and political parties.

CONGO-KINSHASA: Presidential vote not possible this year says election chief
Opposition parties in Kinshasa have denounced as a 'declaration of war' a statement from Chairman of the electoral commission Corneille Nangaa suggesting presidential elections cannot be held this year. Nangaa's statement flies in the face of an agreement signed between President Joseph Kabila's government and the opposition on 31 December.

Should the commission be unable to organise elections this year, this will add to the climate of crisis in the country. Opposition politicians believe there is a conspiracy between the commission and the government to find a way to extend President Kabila's term in office. His second term formally expired at the end of last year.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Unanswered questions at the African Union

It was 'noises off' that dominated the first summit of the African Union under its new Commission Chairman, Moussa Faki Mahamat, on 3-4 July. As Chad's veteran Foreign Minister, it was hoped that he would be able to make progress on the continent's multiple conflicts, but sundry external political and financial quarrels overshadowed initiatives in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. The looming crisis in AU operations in Somalia next year, when troops from Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda could pull out and the European Union could end funding for the regional peacekeeping operation, was barely discussed.

The real work on the Sahel conflict was done when the leaders of Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania met in Bamako on 1-2 July and agreed to form a five-country force to fight terrorist groups in the region. Although the United Nations and the EU are backing it, the United States' refusal to contribute prompted a new panic about financing.

Conflicts such as the Kasai rebellion and the political deadlock in Congo-Kinshasa did not make the agenda. This was despite a strong warning to the AU from Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, and nine African former Presidents, that Congo was in grave danger unless a political agreement to hold elections this year was respected. Instead, President Joseph Kabila got the summit to back a resolution condemning 'outside interference' in Congo-K's politics, presumably a reference to European sanctions rather than African Presidents' warnings.

Monday, 3 July 2017

AFRICAN UNION: Money and peacekeepers top summit agenda

We start this week in Addis Ababa for an important but poorly attended summit of the African Union, then take stock of a regional security summit held over the weekend in Bamako. Looking at a big real estate foreclosure linked to a Nigerian oil baron in Manhattan, we ask what this might mean for the Abuja government's anti-graft campaign. Finally, we go to Johannesburg where an African National Congress policy conference is being dominated by the coming leadership contest.

AFRICAN UNION: Money and peacekeepers top summit agenda
A lengthening list of security crises and a shortening roster of funders for peacekeeping operations greet the new African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat at his first summit in the post in Addis Ababa today and tomorrow (3-4 July). He will be presiding over some important debates at the summit but several of the continent's top leaders – Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari, Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Egypt's Abdel Fattah el Sisi and South Africa's Jacob Zuma – will not be attending.

There are also calls for the AU to take a far more robust approach to resolving the conflicts in Congo-Kinshasa and South Sudan, as well as ensuring that rumbling conflicts like those in Congo-Brazzaville and Mozambique are put on the official AU agenda.

Although there is consensus that African member states must pay more for peacekeeping operations on the continent and the upkeep of the AU, there is still no agreement on the system to be used. Last year, Donald Kaberuka, former President of the African Development Bank, proposed a 0.2% levy on all imports from outside Africa to cover the assessed contribution of member states. That was agreed in principle and would mean member states would pay a quarter of the cost of all peacekeeping operations on the continent. The goal is for the AU to secure some $400 mn. for peacekeeping operations by 2020.

Last month Kaberuka told the United Nations Security Council that more needed to be done to coordinate finance for peace and security operations in Africa. There is serious concern in the UN that United States' President Donald Trump's planned budget cuts will force the winding-up of several peacekeeping operations as well as block the start-up of new ones. The US is still the biggest funder of peacekeeping operations globally as UN rules link to contributions to the size of national economies.

Such rules are now being contested by US politicians close to Trump. There are also some policy shifts among Africa's other international partners. There are questions about whether Britain will fill the gap if the European Union pulls out of financing peacekeepers in Somalia next year. China and India want to do more business in Africa and are taking a bigger diplomatic and security role in the process.

Germany has also launched a well-financed Africa strategy, albeit without much consultation on the continent. Perhaps to rectify that, Chancellor Angela Merkel last month met with several leaders including Ghana's Nana Akufo-Addo, Rwanda's Paul Kagame and Guinea's Alpha Condé.

Other countries courting the AU include Brazil, Japan, Israel and Turkey: they want rights to attend all the meetings as observers in exchange for stepping up contributions. But some member states want tougher rules on this new wave of foreign friends: Kagame suggested that outside states should attend only those sessions on issues in which they have a direct interest.

AFRICA/FRANCE: Regional security forces goes ahead but US pulls back
Five West African states met in Bamako yesterday (2 July) to plan a new regional security force Despite the US withholding diplomatic support it secured backing from France and the European Union worth around €60 million. Leaders from Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mauritania said their governments would pay €10 mn. each to the force.

Also at the summit was France's President Emmanuel Macron who pledged over 70 armoured vehicles and more troops to add to the 4,000 that France already has in the region. But Mali's President Ibrahim Keïta said there was still a shortfall of around €300 mn. of funding for the force.

NIGERIA: Government's anti-corruption drive surfaces in New York
After two years of tortuous investigations into claims that the previous government had improperly awarded tens of billions of dollars' worth of oil trading contracts to its business and political friends, there are signs that some have been making progress. However, the immediate beneficiaries are likely to be financing companies and others owed money by those under investigation by the Nigerian authorities. So far there has been little information about what funds have been recovered and on what terms.

Last year, Nigeria's Federal High Court announced a global freeze on assets tied to oil trader Kola Aluko which include luxury homes in New York, Los Angeles, and London as well as a mega-yacht called Galactica Star, which has been leased out to several international celebrities.

This month a $50 mn. apartment on Manhattan's so-called 'Billionaires' Row', which had been purchased by one of Aluko’s companies, is to be sold off at a foreclosure auction in New York on 17 July.  Aluko is accused by the Nigerian authorities of benefiting to the tune of some US1.8 billion from illicit oil trading contracts.

There is still no public information on Aluko's whereabouts or any contacts that he may have had with Nigeria's investigators. The British authorities, who have been holding the passport of former Oil Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke for about a year and a half, are due to announce within three months whether they will proceed with a criminal case against her. Much of Aluko's fortune was built up during her tenure as oil minister.

SOUTH AFRICA: More revelations on Zuma-Gupta links as ANC policy conference meets
The big political news in South Africa this week was meant to be the six-day policy conference of the African National Congress in Johannesburg but it is competing with the latest allegations against President Jacob Zuma and his business friends, the Guptas.

Both the debates over policy and arguments about Zuma's relations with the Guptas will shape preparations for the ANC's leadership elections at the end of the year. The two frontrunners to lead the ANC – Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and the former Chairwoman of the African Union and ex-wife of Jacob Zuma, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – are using the policy conference to set out their differing ideas.

Dlamini-Zuma is echoing the talk of 'radical economic transformation' such as wide-ranging land and wealth distribution being pushed rhetorically by her husband, but her rival, Ramaphosa, talks more about 'inclusive growth' and cutting out corruption. How those debates play out at the conference will influence sentiment amongst the 4,000 or so ANC delegates voting for the party's new leadership in December.

Meanwhile, two new allegations are fuelling public concern about the Zuma-Gupta relations.  Firstly, senior ANC politician Tokyo Sexwale has called for a criminal investigation into whether local finance company, Trillian Capital Partners, was given an advance warning of Zuma's plan to sack finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in late 2015.

Sexwale, who is retiring as chairman of Trillian, said an internal investigation at the company highlighted concern about collusion with government officials.

The other development prompting interest is the claim that the South African affiliate of KPMG auditors did not raise concerns when its then clients, the Gupta family, diverted some 30 mn. rand (US$3 mn.) of public money to finance a family wedding in 2013. The money is said to have come from the Guptas' Estina agricultural project which is part-financed by the Free State provincial government. Those claims by the amaBhungane team of investigative journalists are based on financial spreadsheets found amongst the over 100,000 emails leaked from the Guptas' accounts.

The Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors in South Africa has announced a probe into KPMG's work with the Gupta companies on this period. When South Africa's Public Protector announced in 2016 that she would be investigating links between the Guptas and government officials, KPMG ended its 15-year long auditing contract with the family's companies.

Monday, 26 June 2017

KENYA: Opposition applauds court ruling against right of national counting centre to change local results

This week there is some important court reporting. First from Nairobi where the Appeal Court has backed an important ruling on vote counting, to the delight of civil society and the opposition. And then to South Africa's Constitutional Court which has made a landmark ruling on the rights of Parliament to organise a secret ballot. And from Zimbabwe, comes the news that Pastor Evan Mawarire, whose patriotic #ThisFlag campaign won support from millions via the internet, has been arrested again – this time for talking to protesting medical students. On the international diplomacy front, France is at odds with the United States over who pays for a new, regional anti-terror force in West Africa. And in EthiopiaNigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote has to struggle with some home-grown resource nationalism in the Oromo region.

KENYA: Opposition applauds court ruling against right of national counting centre to change local results
In a judgement that could greatly help election monitors, the Court of Appeal ruled on 23 June that results of the presidential election announced in the counties would be final and not subject to change by the national counting centre. In previous elections, the national counting centre in Nairobi had changed tallies submitted by polling stations across in the country, provoking suspicions of foul play.

The court decision comes as concerns grow about the risks of violent clashes around national elections on 8 August as opinion surveys suggest the presidential race between President Uhuru Kenyatta and challenger Raila Odinga is tightening substantially.

Civil society groups had won the first stage of the battle at the High Court in April. But the Independent Electoral and Border Commission (IEBC), which manages the elections, had asked the Appeal Court to reverse the decision.

The three-judge panel declined to do so, arguing that the IEBC's Presiding Officers at polling centres were capable of overseeing the voting, counting, collation and publication of results before these were transmitted to the national counting centre in Nairobi. If the Appeal Court had rejected the High Court's ruling, the main opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) said it would have pulled out of the elections. Now it is quietly celebrating the decision.

Kenya's Appeal Court ruling in favour of official IEBC results being released at constituency and county level parallels a similar ruling by Ghana's High Court ahead of national elections there in December 2016. In Ghana, that ruling allowed the New Patriotic Party to run its own fast and highly efficient vote tabulation system which released accurate results days ahead of the official Electoral Commission. Based on results verified and agreed on by party agents at the polling stations, the NPP's vote tabulation system also operated as a check on vote tampering.

With two digital data experts in each constituency, the NPP was able to release accurate results based on real voter numbers as well as monitor what was happening with the official count. We hear that Kenya's Nasa officials have taken a particular interest in tactics used by the opposition in the Ghana election.

Presiding judge William Ouko at Kenya's Appeal Court said the case for the IEBC's national counting centre to overrule the decisions of its organisation at county and constituency level didn't stand up. "It is hypocritical for the appellant [IEBC] to doubt the competence, proficiency and honesty of its staff."

SOUTH AFRICA: Supreme Court says Parliament's speaker can order secret ballot for confidence vote on Zuma
Parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete faces the dilemma of her career this week following a ruling from the Supreme Coourt which gives her the right to organise a secret ballot for the forthcoming confidence vote on President Jacob Zuma. Mbete has batted away the opportunity once, telling MPs that it wasn't her prerogative to organise a secret ballot in parliament.

Dissident MPs took the case to the Supreme Court. Now they have their answer from Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, with the unanimous support from the rest of the Court. Justice Mogoeng said that MPs should feel free to vote without fear or favour and that Speaker Mbete should consider the interests of the country, above the governing African National Congress.

President Zuma's foes within and outside the ANC hope a secret ballot would embolden dissident MPs on the ANC benches to vote against him. Zuma has survived four no-confidence votes in parliament but the margin of victory has been getting tighter. In last November's no confidence vote, several dissident ANC MPs simply didn't turn up.

Mbete, who has been one of Zuma's closest allies, will be under enormous pressure to turn down the request for a secret ballot on the confidence vote. Zuma has already said a secret ballot wouldn't be fair as it gives the opposition a majority it doesn't have. He knows that it would take just over a fifth of the ANC's 249 MPs to swing the no confidence vote against him.

In South Africa's current political mood, that's a risk he can't afford to take. The question now is whether Mbete herself would be prepared to heed Chief Justice Mogoeng's advice to put country ahead of party. Previous behaviour suggests she won't but South African politics has been throwing up some big surprises recently.

ZIMBABWE: Arrest of Pastor Mawarire sends harsh message ahead of fraught elections next yearIf the authorities in Harare hope that today's arrest of Pastor Evan Mawarire would deter others from protesting against President Robert Mugabe's government, they may have badly miscalculated. Strategists in the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front seem to have been rattled by some tentative steps to organising a united front among the opposition parties for next year's elections.

Previous attempts by the government to rein in Mawarire, who abjures any partisan alignment, have simply fired up Zimbabweans, eventually forcing the government to back down.

This time Mawarire was praying with a group of medical students from the University of Zimbabwe who had been protesting about heavy increases in their fees. Their predicament shines a light on the wider crisis in the country. Zimbabwe's 15 universities turn out about 30,000 graduates a year into an economy where the unemployment rate is running at over 90%, according to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.

At the very least, Mawarire is likely to get the students on his side, quite apart from the millions of people who have been fruitlessly seeking jobs in the still-shrinking formal economy.

AFRICA/FRANCE/UNITED STATES: Washington and Paris clash over Sahel counter-terror bill
This is the diplomatic sequel to that 'trial of strength' handshake between Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France last month. Now the arm-wrestling is moving to what countries pay for regional security.

Washington wants to cut its funding for United Nations peacekeeping missions, and in its sights is France's plan to boost a five-country African military force in the Sahel. A US refusal to pay its share of the bill at the UN could jeopardise the entire initiative.

It is a top priority for new President Macron. Within days of his election victory in May, he flew to Mali to meet President Ibrahim Keïta, then went to visit French soldiers serving in the current regional anti-terror force.

For now, France is the greatest contributor to that force but Macron's plan is to cut foreign troop numbers and improve training for African counter-terror forces. There is no official figure for the budget for the five-country force but the Mali operations alone, have a budget of over US$900 million.

Britain, currently embroiled in difficult negotiations to leave the European Union, has its own interests. London is one of the biggest foreign contributors to anti-terror operations in Somalia; it makes those resources available as part of an informal agreement under which France takes the lead on security operations in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and the wider Sahel.

It may be that Britain could act as a bridge between Paris and Washington on the Sahel force. It will be a difficult negotiation given the Trump administration's determination to cut back its US$7.9 billion a year dues for UN peacekeeping operations.

It also comes when Pentagon officials are quietly warning that the Trump administration's cuts to humanitarian and diplomatic initiatives in Africa could lead to more violence and terror on the ground. That in turn, argue the defence officials, would require still more US military spending to pursue what Washington sees as its national interests.

ETHIOPIA: Dangote could quit Oromia project after imposition of new local content rules
In the latest twist over battles between nationalist African governments and multinational companies, Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote is squaring off against the Oromia government in Ethiopia over demands that his cement manufacturing plant give supply contracts to local entrepreneurs.

Specifically, Oromia's East Shewa Zone administration argues that Dangote's company should buy from pumice, sand and clay mines worked by the region's young people. This follows a spate of protests last year against foreign companies in Oromia. The protestors were also demanding land and political rights.

But for now, Dangote's officials are taking a tough line, arguing that the supply chain order contravenes the terms of its mining licence in Ethiopia. Without an acceptable resolution on the matter, the officials suggest that the Dangote operation would have to close.

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.