Thursday, 14 June 2018

Kabila silent on Congo's choices

How seriously to take the 12 June statement by Bruno Tshibala, Congo-Kinshasa's Prime Minister, that President Joseph Kabila will not seek a third term in elections due in December? Such announcements might deflect foreign pressure on Kabila to leave power in December.

Unfortunately for Monsieur Tshibala, his word is not law in Kinshasa. He serves at the pleasure of President Kabila but now wants to run for the top job.

Kabila may have promised Tshibala that he won't stand but his actions indicate otherwise. His own ruling alliance in parliament has named Kabila as its 'moral authority' which suggests that he will either be its candidate in the elections or decide who is. Across the country, posters appear lauding Kabila's achievements: they look suspiciously like election posters.
The Kabila government's success in pushing through higher taxes and royalties on the mining companies (see Feature, Making the miners sweat) has boosted its popularity. Some in Kinshasa say that Kabila will back his close ally, Albert Yuma, Chairman of the state mining company Gécamines, for the presidency but retain heavy political influence.

Kabila may be encouraged by the state of the opposition. The release of veteran politician Jean-Pierre Bemba by the International Criminal Court on 13 June allows him to run for the presidency, further dividing an opposition torn between support for Félix Tshisekedi and the former governor of Katanga, Moïse Katumbi.

Monday, 11 June 2018

ZIMBABWE: Opposition promises upturn and economic reforms poll points to tightening race

We start with the fast-moving developments in Zimbabwe's national elections due on 30 July, followed by a report on the non-elections in Congo-Kinshasa and mounting opposition frustration. In South Africa, ex-President Zuma has suffered reverses in his attempt to organise a fightback against his prosecution for corruption and in Bamako, the opposition is taking to the streets ahead of the 29 July elections.

ZIMBABWE: Opposition promises upturn and economic reforms poll points to tightening race
Election campaigning will step up several gears this week with all the main parties holding big rallies across the country and civil society organisations demanding far more transparency from the electoral commission.

Last week, street protests and party rallies were followed by the launch of a Movement for Democratic Change manifesto pledging tax cuts, a push for debt relief, more social spending and fixing the deepening chaos around the country's virtual currency, the dollar bond note. Like the ruling ZANU-PF, opposition speakers have skirted around the many tough measures being demanded by international financial institutions in return for opening negotiations on restructuring the country's estimated US$10 billion foreign debt.

The MDC's commitment to joining the rand zone – the Southern African Monetary Union – could stabilise the chaotic currency situation but it would carry a heavy price tag. As much as $8 bn. of Zimbabwe's government liabilities would have to be repackaged for the domestic bond market. It would also tie Zimbabwe much closer into South Africa's political orbit, something that more nationalist politicians in Harare have resisted.

Ultimately, the election will not be decided on such policy arcana. The MDC's promises to cut taxes and boost spending on health (dubbed Chinamasa-care) and education are likely to have more effect, if believed. If the size of crowds is a measure of voting intentions, the MDC's position has improved markedly over the last two months. For most of that time, ZANU-PF was not in the game, relying on giant full-colour posters of President Emmerson Mnangagwa on billboards in every big town. Pundits in Harare are talking about a result that's too close to call; some insist the only option will be a power-sharing government.

There are still plenty of unknowns, not least the lack of action by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to address concerns on key issues like the transparency of the electoral register and the production and auditing of the ballot papers.

The first independent opinion poll in Zimbabwe this year, by Afrobarometer, also suggests the electoral race is tightening. First, a clear majority of respondents – around 60% – said the country was heading in the wrong direction. This did not, however, imply that the opposition parties had won the unbridled confidence of the people. Some 42% said they would vote ZANU-PF, an increase of 4% since the last poll in July 2017, and 30% – that's 14% more than last year – said they would vote for the opposition MDC-T, whose presidential candidate is Nelson Chamisa. Some 7% said they did not know yet and 19% refused to answer.

Afrobarometer's responses suggest that both the major parties and their candidates – Mnangagwa and Chamisa – are increasing their support but that backing for the opposition is growing faster than it is for ZANU-PF. Afrobarometer is due to publish its next opinion poll in a month's time, just weeks ahead of the elections, set for 30 July.

CONGO-KINSHASA: Katumbi campaigns by video-link as political and security crises weaken Kabila
As the political fight heats up ahead of presidential elections, formally due in December, opposition politicians face mounting obstacles. On Saturday (9 June), thousands of opposition supporters gathered in Kinshasa to watch a speech by opposition leader Moïse Katumbi over a video-link from his base in South Africa.

Katumbi pledged to return to Congo to join forces with the other main opposition leader Félix Tshisekedi. An opinion poll in March said that 24% of those interviewed would back Katumbi for the presidency and 13% would back Tshisekedi. It also recorded 80% of the sample as opposed any attempt by President Kabila to extend his rule.

However, oppositionists face a moving target. There are new signs that Kabila is trying to engineer a constitutional change which would give him another term. This is despite the repeated insistence by the government that national elections will hold in December as scheduled. Further complicating the opposition's efforts is the quashing of the case against leading politician Jean-Pierre Bemba for war crimes at the International Criminal Court. This means that Bemba, who has considerable support in Western Congo, could launch his own campaign, likely to split the opposition vote, although he remains in custody for now.

SOUTH AFRICA: The ANC's conference in KwaZulu-Natal falls apart as ex-President Zuma's faction suffers another blow
The failure of the supporters of former President Jacob Zuma to organise a special elective congress in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal is a major blow to his cause. The plan was for Zuma supporters to take total control of the province, which has the most African National Congress members in the country, and to use it as the home base for the former president's fightback.

Top on Zuma's list is to get 16 anti-corruption charges against him over the US$6 billion arms deal in the 1990s dropped. His tactics are to mix legal pressure with politics. As his lawyers try to delay and rebut the prosecution case, Zuma goes over the head of the government to speak to his supporters. His opponents accuse him of trying to stir up dissent among Zulus against President Cyril Ramaphosa with a whispering campaign and threats to start a rival party.

MALI: As security and economic worries mount, the opposition turns up the heat on President Keïta a month before polling day
An attack on a government military base in the central town on Boni on Saturday (9 June) in which three soldiers and 13 armed militants were killed, reinforced concerns that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta's government has failed to get a grip on the deteriorating security situation. It could also put into question the preparations for national elections due on 29 July.

Although the Keïta government has signed a peace deal with militant Touareg groups in the far north, security conditions in central Mali have worsened in the past year, with militants attacking both West African and United Nations military installations.

A UN report said there had been 44 separate attacks between mid-March and the end of May, mainly in the centre of the country, claiming the lives of tens of civilians, soldiers and UN peacekeepers. There are fears that the government may use security concerns as a pretext to shut down voting in some opposition strongholds.

On 8 June, thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets of Bamako to demand free and transparent elections. This is the second time in a week that the opposition has been able to mobilise in the capital. The first attempt was broken up by riot police a week earlier.

NIGERIA: Ex-governor Donald Duke shakes up campaigning for the 2019 elections with declaration for presidency and broadside against the Buhari government

GHANA: Government to raise finance by leveraging state assets and launching a sovereign wealth fund says Vice-President Bawumia

RWANDA: Government launches financial tracking system to combat corruption using mobile banking, ID cards and passports

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

NIGERIA: Ekiti governorship poll is vital test of strength for APC as President Buhari's record is questioned

This week we start with the critical governorship election in Ekiti State, Nigeria, and then to the United Nations which has published an important new report on migration trends within Africa. We also look at the claims of the power of the pro-Zuma clans within the South African government and ask why Kenya's anti-graft drive seems to have shifted gear.

NIGERIA: Ekiti governorship poll is vital test of strength for APC as President Buhari's record is questioned
Whether it was a rogue policeman or a would-be assassin, a volley of gunfire at candidate Kayode Fayemi and his entourage got the governorship elections in Ekiti State off to an ominous start. An officer who was said to have fired accidentally was later arrested, said a police spokesman.

The incident will focus attention on the 14 July governorship poll in Ekiti, which has one of the highest rates of educational attainment despite receiving one of the lowest levels of central government grant. The contest, which puts former Mines Minister Fayemi of the governing All Progressives' Congress against current Deputy Governor Kola Olusola of the opposition People's Democratic Party, will be a trial of strength between the two main parties with less than nine months before national elections.

The fight looks personal. Fayemi served one term as governor having fought a tortuous legal battle for several years, involving carefully collected forensic evidence, to overturn claimed victories by his PDP opponents. With a doctorate on international security institutions, Fayemi cast himself as a moderniser with allies such as Power Minister Babatunde Fashola. President Buhari is said to have personally encouraged Fayemi to run; the top brass of the APC are due to show up in Ekiti to back their candidate. That raises the stakes still further.

In contrast, outgoing governor Ayo Fayose is a populist and outspoken critic of President Buhari. He is also a relentless campaigner; much given to stopping his entourage on the road to meet and greet people, sometimes buying them lunch from local hawkers.

However, many of the civil servants in the state haven't been paid for the past eight months, a reality that challenges Fayose's claims to be a man of the people.

At the same time, Fayemi will have to defend the performance of the Buhari government, which has come under heavy attack in two recent opinion polls, one by NOI polls and the other by the Centre for Democracy and Development.

Both polls reported that less than a third of respondents thought Buhari was doing a good job on the economy, security or corruption. Disregarding such concerns, Buhari marked his three years in power with a national broadcast asserting there had been substantial progress against Boko Haram and against corruption while the government had launched the biggest infrastructure investment programme the country had ever seen.

AFRICA/UN: Migration within Africa strengthens economies and skills, says new UN trade study
As debate over migration polarises European politics, the issue is well down the list of priorities for African electorates. Yet in terms of total numbers and as a percentage of the host population, migrants are far bigger factor in most African countries than in their European counterparts.

A new study by UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) points to the practical gains from intra-Africa migration. It reports that 19 million people moved from one African country to another last year. About 17 million people left the continent and another five million came to live in Africa from other regions.

So far, the population shifts within Africa have been broadly positive, boosting skills levels and regional investment, according to UNCTAD. But the report's authors argue that such demographic shifts will require more economic planning to promote growth and diversification. To date, the only country where there have been widespread protests against migration has been South Africa under President Jacob Zuma's government.

SOUTH AFRICA: As his trial for corruption resumes, Jacob Zuma casts a long shadow over the Ramaphosa government
Former President Zuma still wields formidable political influence through tight-knit groups of top office-holders and intelligence agents. After heading various security organisations in the African National Congress during its exile years, Zuma has built up substantial grassroots loyalty which persists after his forced resignation as President.

Those loyalists will be put to the test when Zuma's trial for grand corruption linked to the country's US$6 billion arms procurement scandal resumes on Friday (8 June). At the initial hearing in KwaZulu-Natal, thousands of his supporters made a show of strength outside the court.

On Sunday (3 June), Minister of Transport Blade Nzimande claimed that Zuma has been working behind the scenes in the last few months to undermine the government's efforts to dismantle the corrupt networks that took over institutions such as the South African Revenue Service, Eskom and the National Prosecuting Authority.

Last month, Zuma publicly denied that he was planning to launch an alternative party to the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. Meanwhile, the government said it would intensify efforts to pursue Zuma's business allies, the Gupta family, who are said to have relocated their commercial headquarters to Dubai.

KENYA: Alarms on debt and accountability grow louder as officials scrutinise state institutions
The war on graft is finally on in Nairobi – at least, that's the official message. Five years ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to eliminate the corruption scourge from state institutions. He has been widely criticised for failing to follow through on that pledge. Since last year's disputed elections – and the celebrated handshake between Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga – the anti-corruption sleuths have been getting more active. In the week ending 2 June, over 20 officials and business people were charged for their role in the diversion of US$100 million in state funds.

Activist groups are now calling for investigations into the costings and contracts for big infrastructure projects such as the Nairobi-Mombasa railway and several of the road projects linking Nairobi to the hinterland.

This week, the government has launched a fresh round of vetting of the senior officials running the anti-corruption and revenue agencies, ostensibly to improve their efficiency. Some sceptics suggest the vetting might also be about ascertaining the officials' political loyalties.


EGYPT: Opposition parties sound warnings on public service cuts and price rises as President El Sisi starts second term

FRANCE/LIBYA: After meeting President Macron, Libyan politicians back presidential and parliamentary elections by 10 December

ETHIOPIA: Premier Abiy's government ends the state of emergency that helped drive his predecessor from power

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Zimbabwe's high hopes for a free choice

The one unsurprising thing about Zimbabwe's presidential and parliamentary elections is the date: they are now set for 30 July with a rerun on 8 September if no candidate clears 50% in the first round of the presidential poll. Few want to see a second round.

Many political insiders predict this year's vote will produce a coalition. Some insist that talks have already started. But political conditions are defying expectations in many ways. Six months ago, few believed that the elections would be remotely free and that President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, and ZANU-PF were heading for an epic majority.

Now the Movement for Democratic Change's Presidential candidate, Nelson Chamisa, 40, has the momentum and spends half the week addressing mass rallies around the country telling the electorate, 60% of whom are under 40, that the MDC is the party of youth and change. Despite his gaffes and a lacklustre BBC interview, Chamisa's message is hitting its mark at a time of record youth unemployment and a chronic foreign exchange shortage.

It's all to play for in the next two months. ZANU-PF is expected to use its incumbency and cash reserves – giant posters of a smiling Mnangagwa already adorn billboards across every city in the country – to claw back the advantage. This time, unlike a decade ago, it will be doing so under the spotlight of thousands of well-equipped and trained local and international election observers.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

NIGERIA: Fissures open up in the ruling party as it prepares to choose its presidential candidate

This week we start in Nigeria where politicians of all parties are jockeying for position ahead of next year's elections. Ghana's former President John Mahama announces he wants to stand again in 2020 and Zimbabwe has applied to rejoin the Commonwealth. In Burundi, President Nkurunziza got the referendum result he wanted and in Comoros, ex-President Sambi is under house arrest, suspected of benefiting from a passport scam.

NIGERIA: Fissures open up in the ruling party as it prepares to choose its presidential candidate
Although President Muhammadu Buhari's party – the All Progressives Congress – is riven by factionalism as it heads towards a national congress to choose its leaders, the betting is that he will get the nomination to contest for a second term next year.

The APC infighting looks more about personal ambitions rather than whether Buhari is the best flagbearer or whether his government has been a success. Indeed, much of the latest positioning for party posts takes Buhari's nomination and election victory for granted. So, the seriously ambitious politicians are thinking ahead to the 2023 elections when, in theory, the party should choose a presidential candidate from one of the southern states.

Meanwhile, much of the APC in the southern states is in chaos. There is serious trouble in the APC branches in Oyo and Kwara, where dissidents organised 'parallel congresses' to choose party officials. The courts may have the final say there.

In Ondo State, political thugs aligned to the state government broke up an attempt to organise a parallel congress. And in Imo and Rivers States, the party leaderships blocked attempts to hold elections.

This chaos doesn't bode well for the party's ability to organise an effective election campaign. However, the current state of the opposition People's Democratic Party suggests it is just as divided as the APC. But the PDP, as the opposition party, lacks the resources available to the APC to encourage dissidents back into the fold.

Two new-ish factors are worth watching in the coming weeks: the re-emergence of the 'new PDP' (nPDP) faction within the government and the formation of the African Democratic Congress, which is said to be backed by several senior dissident APC politicians. Both these groupings have the potential to weaken Buhari's campaign for the presidency.

But time is pressing for politicians on all sides. There is less than nine months before the elections and even if the dissidents were able to organise mass defections from the governing party, they would struggle to find a candidate to match, let alone surpass, Buhari's support in the north and appeal to the diverse constituencies in the south.

GHANA: Ex-President John Mahama finally confirms he will vie for nomination as the NDC's flagbearer in 2020
It has been an open secret for over a year that ex-President John Dramani Mahama is planning a political comeback with a campaign for the presidency in the 2020 elections. After his shattering defeat in 2016, Mahama at first looked intent on making a career outside politics, working for international organisations, leading election monitoring missions and perhaps vying for a top post overseas.

Although Mahama has led election missions in Kenya and Sierra Leone, he stayed close to his National Democratic Congress. On 18 May, he broke his silence on his political intentions in a Facebook post. He said he would participate in the party's primary elections, due to be held by the end of the year. He will be up against party veterans like former Trade and Industry Minister Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, Second Deputy Speaker of parliament Alban Bagbin, former chief of the National Heath Insurance Authority Sylvester Mensah and former Rector of the University for Professional Studies Joshua Alabi.

ZIMBABWE: Government applies to rejoin the Commonwealth and prepares to set out electoral timetable
The Zimbabwe government's application to rejoin the Commonwealth – 15 years after President Robert Mugabe marched the country out of it – is its latest piece of symbolic diplomacy. It also bears the hallmarks of the new, closer relationship between Zimbabwe and the British government, which is showing renewed interest in the Commonwealth.

It was in Zimbabwe in 2002, that for the first time ever a Commonwealth election monitoring mission refused to endorse an election result. The team, led by Nigeria's former head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and Commonwealth Deputy Director Ade Adefuye, was highly critical of the management of the election and Mugabe's claims to have defeated Morgan Tsvangirai. Commonwealth observers has been invited back to Zimbabwe for this year's elections. History will weigh heavily on their shoulders.

This latest announcement from Harare is a bid to reinforce President Emmerson Mnangagwa's contention that the forthcoming elections will be credible and open to international scrutiny. So far, the African Union, the European Union, the US political party foundations supporting democracy in developing countries, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, are sending delegations.

Electoral experts are sceptical about the timing. The observer missions will spend just a few weeks in the country, missing critical preparations such as the printing of the ballot papers, the security measures around them, and the creation of the new electoral register using biometric technology.
Scrutiny of those procedures, as well trying to counter the bias towards the ruling party in state media and among traditional rulers, has been left to Zimbabwe's own civic organisations. It seems that the opposition parties have been too busy campaigning to engage on some of the details surrounding the elections.

In the short term, Zimbabwe's application with the Commonwealth will make no direct difference to events on the ground. It will trigger many months of negotiation and its success will depend partly on how the coming election is judged.

Currently, the new electoral register is on view around the country for citizens to check that their names have been correctly entered and to alert the electoral commission to any fake entries, which might allow fraud. After that display ends on 29 May, President Mnangagwa says he will announce the date of the election. It looks likely to be held by the end of July.

BURUNDI: Much-criticised referendum lengthens presidential terms and allows Nkurunziza to rule until 2034
The electoral commission in Bujumbura delivered everything that President Pierre Nkurunziza wanted in the constitutional referendum on 19 May: a turnout of 96% of the 4.6 million registered voters, 76% of whom voted in favour of allowing the incumbent a further two terms in power. It also extends presidential terms from five to seven years.

This is Nkurunziza's attempt finally to put to rest the controversy caused by his refusal to leave power in 2015, when his two terms of office under the old constitution had expired. His refusal to go has sparked political violence on both sides of the argument, with regional players lining up for and against him, as well as tens of thousands of refugees, fleeing to Rwanda and Tanzania.

The opposition said the referendum result was compromised by intimidation and fraud. The government allowed some opposition activity during the designated two-week campaigning period but blocked Radio France International and BBC broadcasts. State Department officials in Washington said the process had been marred.

Nkurunziza's apparent success in elongating his tenure through a constitutional mechanism may also inspire Congo-Kinshasa President Joseph Kabila, who was due to leave power by the end of this year. Giant posters proclaiming Kabila as the father of Congolese democracy are appearing across the country and he has just appointed new judges to the constitutional court.

COMOROS: Former President Sambi held as government deepens probe into the passport scam
After being questioned for several on suspicion of involvement in an international passport scam, former President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi was put under house arrest on 18 May. Although Sambi may have been a flight risk the authorities were more concerned to prevent him mobilising. Another 10 officials from his administration have been barred from leaving the country.

Sambi's government had arranged a deal with the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait in 2008 to sell citizenship to stateless people in those countries. The quid pro quo was heavy investment in development projects in Comoros. Yet an investigation by the national assembly this year found there had been multiple abuses, with as much as US$100 million in development funds being diverted to criminal syndicates.

An investigation by Reuters news agency put the spotlight on Semlex, a Belgian-based company, and its colourful chief executive Albert Karaziwan, for their involvement in the passports scheme. Although the company is under investigation in Switzerland, it denies all wrongdoing.

The week ahead in very brief

AFRICA/SOUTH KOREA: The African Development Bank holds a critical annual meeting in Busan to boost its capital base

SOUTH AFRICA: After the ructions in the North-West province, activists are pushing for fresh elections and investigations in the Free State

KENYA: Investigators due to report on the causes of the dam disaster in Nakuru which killed more than 70 people

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Washington's new man in Africa

Retired Ambassador Tibor P. Nagy has finally emerged as the choice for Assistant Secretary of African Affairs 475 days after Donald Trump was inaugurated as United States President. Nagy, a Trump loyalist, now has to win approval in Congress, where his name was mooted in March.

The appointment may bring relief to an Africa Bureau sapped of morale, leadership, and expertise. Nagy will replace Ambassador Donald Yamamoto, who took the role on an interim basis. Under Trump, Africa has been relegated further down the totem pole of US government concerns. The Bureau faces cuts in funding, a personnel crisis in Washington and at embassies abroad, and scant interest from the White House in the human rights and good governance agenda.

However, Nagy has a long experience as a career dipomat, including postings as Ambassador to Guinea (1996-99) and Ethiopia (1999-2002). To an administration which has extolled a harder line against political refugees and migrants, Nagy brings personal experience of displacement and statelessness. He was born in Hungary in 1949, where his father, Tibor Nagy Snr., was an army engineer who later became  active in the revolution of 1956. Following the  Soviet invasion, father and son fled on foot to Austria, where they were processed for political asylum in the US. After nine months they were admitted and Nagy senior served as a senior official in the US Agency for International Development.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

ZIMBABWE: On European tour, presidential contender Chamisa calls for mass mobilisation to ensure credible elections

We start with the Zimbabwe opposition's roadshow in Europe, which is likely to be followed by as a more discrete visit to London by Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari to see his doctor. Tunisia's leading Islamist party Ennahda has scored a win in local elections but it remains in coalition with the secularist Nidaa Tounes at national level. And Kenya has reinforced its relations enough with the World Bank and IMF to negotiate another $1 billion credit.

ZIMBABWE: On European tour, presidential contender Chamisa calls for mass mobilisation to ensure credible elections
In a barnstorming speech to the Chatham House think tank in London, Nelson Chamisa, presidential candidate for the opposition Movement of Democratic Change Alliance, said his supporters would organise massive street demonstrations if their conditions for free and fair elections were not met. So far, Chamisa says that President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government has not responded to requests for a meeting with opposition parties on the modalities of the elections.

Top of Chamisa's list was for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to open an international competitive tender for the printing of the ballot papers, and a guarantee of full accountability in the bidding and contract award process.

Although the elections are due between the last week of July and the last week of August, the ZEC is yet to release a timetable for its operations.  Most importantly, these would include publication of biometrically registered voters' roll, which is said to be running at around 5.4 million, a substantial increase on previous elections.

The MDC also wants an agreement to establish an 'infrastructure for peace in the elections', says Chamisa.

That should amount to a peace accord signed by all parties. Civic activists are raising concerns about 'low-level violence' and threats against voters although no one is predicting a repeat of the thuggery in the 2008 elections in which hundreds of opposition supporters were tortured and killed.

Although President Mnangagwa has said he would have no problem in handing over power to the opposition should they win, the military, which is a powerful force in the current government, has been silent on the issue.

After his week in Europe, Chamisa is due back in Zimbabwe at the weekend to preside over his biggest test for far as MDC leader – the management of the party's primary elections. Last week, ZANU-PF set the bar low with several disputed contests and claims that the central committee had been trying to impose candidates on dissident local branches.

Both Chamisa and former finance minister Tendai Biti, who is accompanying him on his European tour, insisted that the MDC's primaries would be better managed than their opponents'. Given their MDC Alliance is an amalgam of seven smaller parties, how they run the primaries will an important indicator of the strength of the party's organization. They could also affect their ability to reach out to the opposition groupings run by former ZANU-PF luminaries such as Joice Mujuru and Dumiso Dabengwa.

Chamisa and Biti acknowledged the party faced severe funding constraints but claimed there was a new wave of popular support, especially in the countryside where they claimed that ZANU-PF's grip had been slackening.

NIGERIA: Fresh concerns about President Buhari's health as he flies out for medical consultation in London
After spending a couple of weeks in Britain to attend the Commonwealth summit last month and to meet with senior officials from Royal Dutch Shell, President Muhammadu Buhari is to return to London to see his doctor.

The trip, which the Presidency says will last four days, has prompted fresh worries about Buhari's health following his extended absences from the country last year for treatment of undisclosed ailments. Whatever the facts about Buhari's health, critics say the Presidency's unwillingness to release any details about his ailments, let alone a prognosis, creates political uncertainty within the country at a time of growing regional insecurity.

On 1 May Boko Haram militants stepped up their suicide bombing campaign, attacking a mosque in Mubi in Adamawa State, killing 26 people, one of their deadliest attacks since the insurgency began a decade ago. Those attacks seem to have been launched by Abubakar Shekau's faction of Boko Haram which has consistently targeted mosques and market places, causing maximum civilian casualties.

Abu Musab al-Barnawi's faction of Boko Haram, an affiliate of Islamic State (Da'ish's) organisation in West Africa, is said to be extending its reach across the Lake Chad basin into Borno and Adamawa States.

Alongside the factions which grew out of Boko Haram, violent crime and communal fights are escalating in northern Nigeria and the Middle Belt. Intelligence sources are unclear about what relations they may have to Shekau's or al-Barnawi's insurgents. Some suggest that Boko Haram will try to exploit the spreading clashes between herders and farmers

Police blamed 'bandits' and cattle rustlers for an attack on Birnin-Gwari, Kaduna State on 6 May in which 45 people were killed. Whatever lies behind the killings, the attackers were well-armed and showed a high level of organisation. Cattle rustlers in the area have eluded capture by police or the government's special task forces for several years but they seem to be exploiting the wider insecurity in the region to step up their attacks.

TUNISIA: Islamist Ennahda resurgent in much-delayed local elections amid rising economic gripes
Seven years after protestors in launched what came to be known as the Arab Spring with the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia and the forcing out of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, economic and security conditions in both countries have deteriorated.

Although there is little hankering for the ancient regimes, opposition to the successor regimes is patchy and divided. The region's most significant Islamist grouping – the Muslim Brothers – is proscribed in Egypt, and most of its senior figures are in detention. But the Brothers' counterpart in Tunisia, Ennahda, has fared better, due to the canny leadership and rhetoric of its eminence grise Rachid Ghannouchi.

Arguing his party was committed to multi-party democracy – although its critics insist this is a tactical ploy disguising its theocratic intentions – Ghannouchi has steered the party into coalition with the secularist Nidaa Tounes party. Now Ennahda could emerge the strongest party according to early results the first local elections in the country since the ousting of Ben Ali.

Significantly for both Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda, most of their votes came from middle aged and elderly people. Young Tunisians – most affected by unemployment and inflation – stayed away from the polls. Even the promise of more devolved local government failed to inspire them to vote.

KENYA: World Bank offers Kenyatta government concessional US$1 billion as concerns rise about mounting debt
The economic balancing act – mixing opaque mega loans from Asia with cooperation with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund – is working for President Uhuru Kenyatta's government, at least in the short term.

After many difficult meetings between officials in the Jubilee government and IMF last year, over levels of state spending and indebtedness, the World Bank announced on 4 May that it was lending Kenya US$1 billion to develop infrastructure in the north of the country. This follows an earlier $1.4 bn credit for health, farming and transport in the region.

Relations between Nairobi and the Washington multinationals had frayed after it emerged that scheduled IMF disbursements had not been made last year triggering an embarrassing public row over whether the government's economic programme had veered off course.

This latest World Bank credit will be useful as it targets areas such as Turkana and Lamu where the government is pushing ahead with its oil production and pipeline plans. Announcing the credit, Bank officials point out that poverty levels in northern Kenya – running around 38% – are almost double the level in the rest of the country, especially the much more prosperous counties around Nairobi and the old central province.

The week ahead in very brief

SOUTH AFRICA/UNITED STATES: President Trump's demand for more loyalty to Washington in UN votes targets Pretoria

SUDAN: More cuts to diplomatic service as government plans to close 13 foreign missions and lay off officials in seven more

LIBYA/EUROPEAN UNION: Italy claims 80% drop in migrants' Mediterranean crossings after coastguards step up action