Thursday, 24 December 2015

Big social social spending and big borrowing in Buhari's maiden budget

In a final splurge of news before the new year, Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari presents a mega-budget and Burkina Faso's new government issues an arrest warrant for ousted President Blaise Compaoré. And there is electoral competition in Uganda and Djibouti, both of which face polls early next year. But in Rwanda, which has just seen a referendum offering President Paul Kagame the change to stay in power for another two decades, there is an eerie absence of political competition. Finally, a heartening story from northern Kenya where Muslim passengers protected their Christian compatriots from a terrorist attack.

NIGERIA: Big social spending and big borrowing in Buhari's maiden budget
Allocations for health and education topped planned spending on defence in the 6.08 trillion naira (US$30.8 billion) budget – the country's biggest ever – announced by President Muhammadu Buhari on 22 December. Buhari's budget for 2016 is heavily expansionist despite the country's tough financial and security conditions.

Central bank officials said an economic stimulus was necessary to stop the economy from slipping into recession. Buhari's budget statement forecast 4.4% economic growth in 2016 on the basis of the planned spending on jobs and infrastructure. The economy still takes its lead from the state sector although Buhari announced plans such as tax breaks to help small to medium scale companies.
Education gets N396 bn. which provides for the hiring of 500,000 new teachers to address the crises in the schools and colleges; health gets N296 bn.; and defence gets N294 bn. or well under a third of the defence budget in President Goodluck Jonathan's last year in power. Those defence allocations are now the subject of a sweeping anti-corruption investigation which has already resulted in charges against Colonel Sambo Dasuki, the former National Security Advisor.

The uptick in social spending and infrastructure (at least 30% of the budget will be capital spending) means a doubling of the budget deficit to N2.2 tn. or about 2.16% of gross domestic product. To fund the deficit the government will borrow some $5 bn. for international markets and slightly more from the local market. We hear there are continuing discussions with Qatar about a multi-year loan programme and some project finance.

Just as the final touches were put to the budgetary calculations this week, the government's economic team decided to base revenue estimates on an oil price of $38 a barrel. By the time Buhari read the speech, the spot market oil price had fallen to $34 a barrel. Yet Buhari insisted that his government was determined to end Nigeria's dependence on crude oil exports which still account for about 95% of the country's foreign exchange revenues.

Buhari also hinted that the government would be more flexible on exchange rate policy in 2016 which prompted some bankers to suggest that there could be a managed devaluation of the naira next year. Yet insiders insist that Buhari wants to block what he considers to be the wasteful use of foreign exchange to import items that Nigeria could be manufacturing.

There are also signs that the government might take advantage of low international oil prices to phase out national fuel subsidies. Given this is one of the most sensitive issues in Nigerian politics, the government is likely to tread very carefully before announcing any policy shift. In another change of style from his days as military leader in the 1980s, President Buhari apologised to Nigerians for the shortages of gasoline, telling the National Assembly that the latest reforms to the oil sector should put an end to all that.

BURKINA FASO: Arrest warrant issued for ousted President Compaoré
Less than a month after his election victory, President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré has shown his differences with the ancien régime and laid down a challenge to neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire. On 21 December, Kaboré's government issued an international arrest warrant for Blaise Compaoré, the ousted Burkinabe President, who is now living in Côte d'Ivoire.

The arrest warrant was issued in connection with the murder in 1987 of Thomas Sankara, Compaoré's popular and radical predecessor. Sankara's body was found to have multiple bullet wounds when it was exhumed last May as a part of a new investigation into the circumstances of his death. Already General Gilbert Diendere, Compaoré's security chief, has been charged with complicity in Sankara's murder.

Given Compaoré's closeness to senior figures in President Alassane Ouattara's government in Côte d'Ivoire, it is uncertain whether the former Burkinabe leader will be handed over to Ouagadougou. Failure of Côte d'Ivoire to comply could lead to a rapid worsening of relations with the new government in Burkina.

DJIBOUTI: Clashes as Guelleh prepares to stand again
Accounts differ about the latest confrontations in Djibouti ahead of the Presidential elections due in April 2016. Having insisted he had no interest in standing again, President Ismail Omar Guelleh, now seems set to run in the election at a time of heightening security tensions in the region.
Government sources insist that just nine people were wounded when 'dozens of armed' oppositionists attacked a state security facility in the Buldhoqo area. But opposition groups say at least 19 people were killed as government forces tried to suppress a demonstration.

By hosting French and United States armed forces and now a Chinese military base, Guelleh may reckon that these security deals could shield his government from serious foreign criticism over his political tactics. That calculation will be tested over the next few months as electoral tensions grow.

RWANDA/UGANDA: From third term to endless terms
Those two old comrades, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda's Paul Kagame are showing a clean pair of heels to other would-be long stay leaders in the region. Museveni, in power for 30 years, has serially orchestrated constitutional changes to allow him to extend his tenure but shows no signs of mellowing as one of his former lieutenants, Amama Mbabazi, challenges him in Presidential elections due in February 2016.

On 21 December, police raided Mbabazi's political headquarters and arrested 20 people, raising fears of worsening violence ahead of the poll. Yet Museveni is tipped to win, given a combination of the government's incumbency, some political crookery as well as the fact that the other two main candidates, Mbabazi and Kizza Besigye, are likely to split the opposition vote.

And also on 21 December, President Kagame thanked Rwandans for voting in a national referendum over the weekend to allow him to run for another seven year term, and then two more terms of five years each. On paper this means Kagame could extend his tenure until 2034.

Although 98% of those casting ballots backed Kagame in the referendum, opposition activists complained they were given very short notice of the vote and were not allowed to campaign. The United States, which has generally supported Kagame, said he could best serve his nation by stepping down in 2017 and upholding the constitution's term limits.

KENYA: True bravery on the road
The courage of some Muslims in Mandera, north west Kenya, saved the lives of many of their Christian compatriots on a bus when ten heavily armed Al Shabaab militants sprayed it with bullets and killed two passengers.

The militants ordered the Christians and the Muslims on the bus to separate. A year ago, Al Shabaab attacked in the same area and killed all the non-Muslims on a bus bound for Nairobi. But this time the Muslims refused to cooperate with the Al Shabaab fighters, some even gave Muslim attire to the Christian passengers.

Apparently surprised by this show of community solidarity, the Al Shabaab fighters left the scene but threatened to return. Accounts of the Muslim passengers' bravery have been reported on many national and international news outlets and contradict claims of a religious polarisation in Kenya, following a wave of terrorist attacks over the past five years.

And for 2016… The team at Africa Confidential want to take this opportunity to send you all our best wishes for the new year. We will be back in the first week of January with a special edition of Africa Confidential full of detailed political and economic forecasts for developments in 2016.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Ambition and change

Wobbly governments, imploding companies and crashing commodities mark out a coda to the past decade of high growth and political self-confidence. Economists argue about how much rising national incomes could be attributed to better macro-economic management and the role of Asia’s gargantuan appetite for oil, metals and soft commodities. Although deficits, inflation and debt all fell as economies grew and currencies strengthened, some old ailments are returning. Alarm bells are ringing louder as so many countries issue sovereign bonds just as interest rates rise again.

A new chapter has opened with China's economic rebalancing and reduced demand for Africa's resources. A strengthening United States' economy and some consolidation in Europe are prompting renewed interest in African economies, at least outside the mining and oil industries.

Of necessity, tough economic changes are on the agenda: governments will have to boost tax collection and cut illicit financial outflows. And more ambitious structural changes will need finance for local production: to process local crops and more manufacturing, as well as the region’s fast- growing service sector. Money and technology from both China and the West could foster these changes but these will require some hard bargaining by African governments. So far, only a few governments seem set to navigate the choppier economic waters.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

China's new diplomatic mission

An early winner in the diplomatic gamesmanship around the COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris, where 150 world leaders gathered this week, is China. Environmental degradation and fossil fuel pollution have become physical dangers for hundreds of millions of people in its mega-cities but China is now producing over half the world's solar panels and is said to be nearing a breakthrough in the production and storage of solar electricity.

The next stage is establishing a new generation of green power stations in the world's sunniest continent: Africa. China also produces about 40% of the world's electrically powered high-speed trains and 20% of its wind turbines.

Hours after President Xi Jinping addressed the Paris conference on 30 November, he flew to Zimbabwe for glad-handing and on to South Africa for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. Since Beijing's economic rebalancing has depressed world commodity prices and shaken several African countries, Xi wanted to reassure his audience. Accordingly, its delegation to Johannesburg has come with funding for new transport and power projects. A week later, China will take over the chair of the Group of 20. Although it is still not a member of the World Trade Organisation, Beijing wants to use its G-20 leadership to push for a conclusion to the Doha round of trade reform negotiations – in the process having a jab at those rich countries and their agricultural subsidies which suppress the price of African farm products.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Corruption in Africa - a complex picture

By Chantal Uwimana, Regional Director for Sub-Saharan Africa at Transparency International 
Finn Heinrich, Director of Research at Transparency International 

When it comes to corruption, much of Sub-Saharan Africa is seen as a lost cause. There are almost daily media reports on major corruption scandals or on political leaders expressing their frustrations about the lack of progress against corruption (often followed by the sacking of senior anti-corruption officials). In international league tables, most African countries occupy ranks in the lower ranks of these indices, such as our own Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. But what do Africans think about the state of corruption in their own country? 

To find this out we partnered with Afrobarometer who asked a representative sample of a total of 43,143 Africans in 28 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa a number of questions about their views on, and experiences with, corruption. On 1 December, we launched the report on People and Corruption: Africa Survey 2015. Interestingly, the answers we got from across Africa defy an easy story. Neither is the state of corruption seen as bleak everywhere on the continent; nor do most Africans think that corruption is on its way out in their countries. As we know – but as global public opinion often forgets – Africa is extremely diverse and, some would argue, in a process of diverging even further in a number of key areas. Our survey finds that the issue of corruption is not an exception to this diversity. 

In our survey, we asked Africans about their views on the degree of corruption in the public sector and its change since last year, their approval of the government’s handling of the issue, their own sense of empowerment to do something about corruption, and their own experience in having to pay bribes, among others. We summarized these country findings in a Citizen Scorecard (below) which visually shows the diversity of the corruption landscape in Africa.  Apart from two countries (Sierra Leone, Nigeria) which are given negative ratings by their citizens on all five areas, all other 26 countries have a mixed picture of positive, medium and negative ratings. Some interesting examples: While most Malawians and Madagascans perceive corruption to be rocketing and their government to be totally ineffective, they still feel that they can do something to change it. South Africans are also very negative about corruption) and particularly its perceived increase over the last year (83% see it as on the rise), but they rarely encounter situations when they are being asked for a bribe (only 7% did in the last year, while the regional average is 22%). The list could go on.

What to make of this picture? Geographically or population-wise, small states (Lesotho, Cape Verde, Namibia, Mauritius) seem to be doing relatively well in their fight against corruption; a pattern which we have seen elsewhere – see the positive rankings for Hong Kong, Singapore, Barbados or Estonia in global corruption indices. Other than the geography and population – two factors which are arguably among the most distant from any policy influence – there are no apparent patterns. Neither the degree of democracy, economic development nor internal conflicts seem to have a clear influence on how people feel about corruption: citizens of the relatively rich, democratic and non-violent countries of South Africa and Ghana provide a rather negative scorecard, while citizens of poorer and less stable places such as Burkina Faso and Lesotho are rather positive about the state of corruption in their country. 

What becomes clear is that each country faces its own set of corruption challenges – from tackling high levels of street-level bribery (such as in Liberia where 69% of people paid a bribe last year), ensuring that government makes more progress in the fight against corruption (such as in Madagascar, where 90% of people consider the government ineffective), to giving its people a sense of agency against corruption (Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe). But, most countries also have some positive aspects to build on. While this is certainly good news, the challenge will be to sustain these advances as corruption has a tendency to fight back.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Target Africa

As the global media spotlight stayed on the Da'ish attacks on Paris and the aftermath, a suicide bomber killed more than 80 people in a vegetable market in Yola, Nigeria, attracting little attention. In fact, there was more fuss about the demand from Africans for Facebook to extend its safety service – which allows friends and families in areas hit by terrorist attacks to check up on each other – to Africa. Ever image-conscious, Facebook quickly made the service cover Kenya and Nigeria.

This points to a bigger truth: that Africa is disproportionately targeted by Islamist and other terrorist attacks. Researcher Olivier Roy of the European University in Florence makes the point that the attacks on Paris are a sign of Da'ish's strategic limits in the Middle East, bounded as it is by Kurdish forces in the north, Iraqi Shiites in the west, and President Bashar al Assad's forces in the east. Da'ish will step up its international recruitment and efforts on spectacular international terrorist attacks as it did on 13 November, Roy says.

What Roy omits to point out is that Da'ish has already opened a second front: in Libya, which has become an important base for it. Alarmingly, the military stalemate between Libya's secularist forces and an Islamist coalition, with which Da'ish cooperates, continues to rip apart the country and its people. More alarmingly still, Da'ish has started a push in southern Libya to corral the Islamist and jihadist factions there to reinforce their attacks on Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Valletta summit tries for new migration deal

This week African and European leaders head to Malta to discuss new plans to limit migration while Senegal hosts a summit on the growing security problems in the region. Tomorrow, Nigeria's President Buhari is due to announce his cabinet at last and some massive spending plans as UN officials sound alarms on the worsening crisis in Burundi. And Tanzania's new President, John Magufuli, gets down to work while Nigeria's old President, Goodluck Jonathan, tries to mediate in the row over the annulment of Zanzibar's elections.

EUROPEAN UNION/AFRICA: Valletta summit tries for new migration deal
A report by the European Commission that some 3 million migrants are to arrive in Europe over the next two years – and boost the region's economic growth in the process – sets the stage for the Africa/EU summit in Valletta, Malta, on 11-12 November. Migrants are projected to add 0.2-0.3% to Europe's gross domestic product by 2020, according to the report.

The figures highlight the contradictions about migration as the delegates try to find ways to reduce it. Highly-skilled migrants from Africa and the Middle East boost European economies but could weaken their places of origin. Anti-migration groups are pressuring Europe's political establishment. Plans for reception centres for migrants outside the EU, some in North and West Africa, will be set out at the summit as will new aid deals for African governments which try to control migration. There is also a plan to cap the transaction costs on remittances from Europe to Africa at 3%. Most companies charge around 8% in this highly lucrative business.

SENEGAL/WEST AFRICA: President Sall hits out at Islamist groups
Chairing a security summit in Dakar, President Macky Sall has lambasted militants pushing an 'excessive form of Islam' and urged mainstream Imams to do more to promote religious tolerance. The Islamists should not be allowed to 'impose another form of religion' which does not correspond to 'our traditions or our conceptions' of Islam, Sall said. Some Islamist proselytising was encouraging jihadist groups in the region, he added.

President Sall's statement is particularly significant because of Senegal's powerful Islamic brotherhoods which are adherents to Sufi and more liberal Islamic traditions. In neighbouring Mali, Wahhabi groups financed by Saudi Arabia have taken control of the National Islamic Council and are lobbying for much stricter religious laws. Over the weekend a group of men accused of affiliation to the Nigeria-based Boko Haram jihadist fighters were arrested in Senegal, following a fresh series of attacks by the group in southern Chad and northern Cameroon.

NIGERIA: New cabinet to be named after plans to double the budget emerge
President Muhammadu Buhari is set to name the new cabinet on 11 November following a ministerial retreat in which it emerged that state spending in 2016 could go up to US$40 billion, almost twice the size of the 2015 budget. The boost is said to be part of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo's plan for massive investment in agriculture and infrastructure to counter the country's economic downturn. No details were given about how such spending could be financed although Nigeria's external debt is still regarded as low given the size of its economy.

The other main points emerging from the retreat included a concerted effort to make Nigeria self-sufficient in rice and wheat within three years, that is before the next elections, in 2019. Other spending goals are said to include the building of a million new houses and a new north-south highway to unite the country.

BURUNDI: UN to mull intervention as killings risePrince Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has called for the most serious international response to the growing violence in Burundi over President Pierre Nkurunziza's assumption of a third term after winning controversial elections in July.

The UN Security Council should consider all options to stop the killings, Al Hussein said in New York on 9 November, including asset freezes and even external intervention. France strongly backed his calls and over the weekend, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame publicly criticised what he characterised as Nkurunziza's abdication of responsible leadership.

TANZANIA: President Magufuli gets tough on tax and officialsFollowing his inauguration, President John Magufuli has quickly got down to work with new rules banning foreign travel for officials unless specifically approved and plans for a massive boost to the government's tax-collecting apparatus. He is also due to set up a special court to try all corruption-linked offences.

Meanwhile, Nigeria's former President Goodluck Jonathan is trying to mediate in the bitter political dispute after the annulling of elections in Zanzibar where the opposition Civic United Front had been clearly in the lead.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

India steps up

Just in time to offer some respite from the China slowdown blues, enter India, hosting an Africa summit on 26-29 October. With 41 African heads of state in attendance, it seems Prime Minister Narendra Modi got the timing right, with promises to deepen trade and diplomatic ties.

Nobody expects India to repeat the dizzying rise of China's trade with Africa – from under US$10 billion in 1995 to over $220 bn. in 2015 – but India's attention is useful tactically for African leaders. They can play off India against China, just as they have played off Beijing against Washington, Paris and London, and even Moscow. There is also strategic substance in the India-Africa relationship. Like India, most African countries run multiparty political systems and Premier Modi has put some useful money on the table: $10 bn. in soft loans over the next five years and $600 million in grants. Much of China's aid disproportionately benefits local leaders' interests.

Most Indian trade with Africa is private sector-led, so the hope is that it will be more resistant to government budget cuts and slowdowns. Indian businesses have been implanted in Eastern and Southern Africa for the last century. As the two regions look across the Indian Ocean at each other, they are building closer security and diplomatic links. One predictable agreement from the summit was on reform of the United Nations Security Council: African leaders joined with Modi to press for new seats on the council to represent their regions. Cue deafening silence from Beijing.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

No third term in Congo-K, just a very long second one

This week there is a warning of more trouble to come as Congolese officials suggest national elections be postponed, while the dispute between Nigerian officials and South Africa's MTN over a US$5 billion bill might escalate further. President Alassane Ouattara and Filipe Nyusi of Côte d'Ivoire and Mozambique respectively are on a roll with some good economic news while Tunisia tries to bring in more dollars. And Pope Francis may cancel a planned visit to Bangui on his coming Africa tour.

CONGO-KINSHASA: No third term, just a very long second one
The announcement by one of President Joseph Kabila's close aides that 'conditions' could force the postponement of next year's national elections must count as one of the biggest non-surprises of the week. But it does presage a deepening crisis in a country whose economy has been badly damaged by crashing copper and cobalt prices.

A year ago, an advisor to Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo told Africa Confidential that there was 'virtually no possibility' of his boss seeking to change the constitution so as to permit a third term. Indeed, we were told, Ponyo would immediately resign if that happened. But Ponyo's advisor could conceive of a scenario in which Kabila was 'compelled' to extend his term in power by a few months to complete some important projects and ensure that conditions were right for a credible election in which Congolese would vote for his successor.

Now the plan is out publicly with the trial balloon being launched by André Alain Atundu, the top spokesman for Kabila's party in the national parliament. The Congolese people should grant Kabila 'two to four years', proposed Atundu.

But the opposition parties are unlikely to grant such an indulgence. They are already crying foul at goings on inside the electoral commission. Over the last month both the President and the Vice-President of the electoral commission have resigned for health reasons. The Constitutional Court ordered the suspension of provincial elections on 25 October because financial and logistical constraints.

It started off as a lack of cellphone diplomacy. Now it has escalated into a $5.2 billion trade dispute. For over a decade, many Nigerians have regarded South Africa's MTN cellphone giant as something of an ingrate. Although MTN gambled on success in the Nigerian mega-market when other international operators doubted the profitability of the move, its operations in the West African economic giant are now bigger than any of its other affiliates.

Yet Nigerian business people and MTN subscribers argue they have seen few benefits from MTN's hugely successful bet. There are claims that the MTN service is overpriced and unreliable and the South African owners have been slow to appoint Nigerians to senior positions.

But the Nigerian Communications Commission's decision to fine MTN US$5.2 billion for failing to disconnect customers who have not registered their SIM cards has shocked the company. It amounts to about $1,000 for every non-registered MTN SIM card still operating.

As MTN tries to negotiate a lower penalty, the regulators and ratings agencies are making their own judgements. Moodys has downgraded its rating for MTN to negative from stable, and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange is investigating why MTN failed to inform its shareholders immediately of the hefty fine in Nigeria.

CÔTE D'IVOIRE: Ouattara's grand growth plan
Undoubtedly, it's been a good week for Alassanne Ouattara. As soon as the electoral commission announced his landslide win in the presidential elections of 25 October, this former deputy chief of the IMF announced the optimistic economic goals for his second term.

If Ouattara keeps up the pace – he forecasts average annual economic growth of 9% over the next five years – Côte d'Ivoire will become one of Africa's top-ranking economies. Ouattara's forecasts that his country will be producing more than half of the world’s cocoa may prompt some raised eyebrows in neighbouring Ghana, which was the second biggest cocoa producer in the world for many years.

But Ouattara's incentives make it far more profitable to be a cocoa farmer in Côte d'Ivoire than Ghana. He has also pushed through giant railway and road-building schemes far faster than Ghana. Most of the remaining doubts are political: it is hoped Ouattara will use his overwhelming win to proceed with serious national reconciliation, five years after the clashes after the 2010 elections which cost over 3,000 lives. We report from Abdijan in the next issue.

MOZAMBIQUE: As prices slide – an oil and gas surprise
At last some good news for President Filipe Nyusi as he tries to juggle rival political interests and consolidate power. Against the global trend of falling oil and gas investments, Mozambique is bringing in ExxonMobil, Rosneft, ENI SpA, Statoil, Sasol and Delonex to invest some $700 million in six blocks, half of them offshore.

Optimists in Maputo say this round of investment could turn the country into the world's third biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas within a decade. Geography – Mozambique's position on the rim of the Indian Ocean facing the hyper-economies of Asia – gives it a distinct advantage over its West African counterparts.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Peacemaking pontiff postpones… perhaps
It is a mark of how fragile the situation is in Central African Republic that the redoubtable Pope Francis may have to cancel his visit to the country, planned for 28-29 November, owing to continuing violence between Christians and Muslims.

Last week, eleven people died in clashes in the capital as community representatives prepared for negotiations and it emerged that national elections would be postponed. It had been Pope Francis's plan to go to Bangui after visiting Kenya and Uganda. He was due to visit a mosque in Bangui at the centre of some of the recent violence. It had been Pope Francis's aim to encourage dialogue between the increasingly polarised communities

TUNISIA: New scheme to bring in the dollars
Trying to resuscitate the national economy in a turbulent region, Tunisian Prime Minister Habbib Essid has bought off some of the most powerful trades unions and launched a massive investment drive. It will be heralded by a new investment law due to be passed early next year which is meant to cut the bureaucracy for incoming companies and offer big incentives for those wanting to use Tunisia as base for production for export.

Officials in Tunis expect the new rules will attract big motor manufacturing companies who could see the country's location as ideal, both for exporting across the Mediterranean to Europe and to the rest of Africa. Development Minister Yassine Brahim said the government wants to bring in some $2.8 bn. worth of investments next year, and aims for an annual inflow of some $5 bn. by 2020.

The government also hopes it may have pre-empted another round of labour unrest. Last month it agreed to raise wage levels for the 800,000 trades unionists in state companies. That hike was said to have cost the government some $1.2 bn.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

CCM tipped to win as opposition raises doubts

It's a bumper election week with results coming in from the national contests in Tanzania and Côte d'Ivoire and from Congo-Brazzaville's referendum on changing the constitution to allow President Denis Sassou-Nguesso yet another term. Meanwhile, a Nigerian court has annulled the election of Ezenwo Nyesom Wike as Governor of Rivers State as veteran South African politician and businessman Tokyo Sexwale stands for the presidency of the world football body FIFA. 

TANZANIA: CCM tipped to win as opposition raises doubts
A high turnout and widespread disaffection with the governing Chama Cha Mapinduzi party have made the presidential and parliamentary elections on 25 October a tight contest. Some opposition politicians complained of police interference soon after the polls closed. Many are frustrated with the long dominance of the CCM while conceding they believe that its presidential candidate, John Magufuli, is honest and competent.

Some 22.7 million people registered to vote and the electoral commission is due to declare the results this week. Edward Lowassa, opposition candidate for Chadema and a former Prime Minister, says he will only concede defeat if the vote is free and fair. We'll be providing a full analysis of the political battle. 

CÔTE D'IVOIRE: Ouattara rides the economic upturn in presidential race
Peaceful polls with a turn out of around 60% and an early commendation by international observers of the election management suggest there is no appetite for a repeat of the political stand-off in 2010. 

President Alassane Ouattara, the incumbent, is widely tipped to walk to an easy victory over divided opposition parties. Some allies of Laurent Gbagbo, the former President whose trial on charges of fomenting political violence is about to start at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, boycotted the polls. They accuse Ouattara of taking no serious measures towards political reconciliation. We'll be looking at the challenges facing Ouattara in his second term. 

CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE: Sassou-Nguesso tries to extend his mandate
In power since 1979 – with one five-year break – and presiding over a corrupt regime and a dysfunctional economy, President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, 71, hopes that last Sunday's referendum will approve an amendment to the constitution that will allow him to stand for yet another term. Current term limits and his age do not allow him to stand again.

His political opponents, whose protests last week were broken up by riot police, say the low turnout for the referendum should render it invalid. The government has yet to announce the turnout figure but claims that voting picked up after a slow start. 

NIGERIA: Court overturns election of Rivers State governor as Delta tensions rise
Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, the People's Democratic Party candidate as Rivers State governor, has vowed to appeal against a court ruling which cancelled his election in April and ordered a fresh poll. Rivers State is the richest state in the federation after Lagos but most of its revenues come from its share of the country's oil earnings.

Presiding Judge Suleiman Ambursa criticised the management of the election, saying there was malpractice and intimidation of voters. The judgement could worsen the tension expected to follow President Muhammadu Buhari's plan – due in three months – to end the multi-million dollar amnesty scheme which offered training and stipends to militants from the Niger Delta. We'll be assessing the political dangers facing the new government in the Delta.

SOUTH AFRICA: Multi-millionaire Sexwale throws his hat in FIFA's ring
Tokyo Sexwale, former top politician in the governing African National Congress and erstwhile contender for the national presidency, says he is going to run for the top job at FIFA, the governing body of world football. He will be the third African candidate after Nigeria's Segun Odegbami and Liberia's Musa Billy. Jordan's Prince Ali Bin Hussein has also confirmed he will stand for the job.

Sexwale will have to address concerns that the sweeping investigation into corruption and fraud at FIFA may touch on claims that South Africa made payments to secure its selection as host country for the 2010 World Cup.

AFRICA-INDIA SUMMIT: India steps up diplomacy and trade across Indian Ocean as China slows
's biggest-ever Africa summit started on 26 October. It's set to launch several important trade and investment deals in natural resources and information technology. Trade between India and Africa is currently running about $70 billion year, about a third of the level of African-Chinese trade.

Although Indian officials were cautious about the pace of expansion, many reported that Indian company interest in Africa and in co-operation agreements was sharply up while China tries to rebalance its economy. There was also growing strategic interest in building what officials on both sides refer to as the Indian Ocean community. 

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Britain's Africa continental shift

Britain's Africa relations have been peppered in recent years with near misses, faux pas and a general lack of policy, but this may be changing with major conferences on migration, next month in Malta, and on climate change, in Paris in December. British diplomats are trying hard to get agreements in advance with African delegations. Britain has extracted itself from its declaration of 2013 that it would have 'only essential contacts' with Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, then under indictment by the International Criminal Court. This reversal was due to some nimble diplomacy by Christian Turner, Britain’s High Commissioner in Nairobi. Now British Prime Minister David Cameron is due in Kenya on a state visit next year.

Nigerian voters brought to an end the difficult relations between Britain and President Goodluck Jonathan, who had held an awkward meeting with Cameron a year ago. We understand that UK officials are now planning a meeting between Cameron and Muhammadu Buhari, Jonathan’s well regarded successor. President Buhari has already been feted in Washington and Paris.

British-South Africa relations are still problematic: President Jacob Zuma failed to turn up at a scheduled meeting with Cameron last year, citing a calendar clash. However, this week Britain has welcomed to London Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairwoman of the African Union Commission. She also happens to be the leading contender to succeed her former husband, Jacob Zuma, in the presidency.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Economic crisis? What crisis?

This week South Africa's African National Congress starts preparing for next year's municipal elections after their policy conference and predictions of more economic troubles. Political troubles could worsen in Guinea as the opposition refuse to accept the results of the first round of presidential elections while Egyptians seem little interested in what the main parties have to offer in parliamentary elections due this month. Ghana and Zambia, two of the countries worst hit by commodity price falls, face more difficult economic adjustments in the months ahead and doubts still linger about the sincerity of President Joseph Kabila's plans to leave office in Congo-Kinshasa next year.

SOUTH AFRICA: Economic crisis? What crisis?
Delegates to the ANC's policy forum last weekend were more exercised by the crisis in their own organisation than the economic storm clouds gathering. True, the fall in ANC members to around 750,000 today compared to 1.2 million in 2010 makes grim reading for the leaders of the governing party. Grimmer still because no one had a good explanation for this falling support.

Certainly, it will make the elections in the country's key metropolitan areas – such as Johannesburg, Tshwane/Pretoria and Port Elizabeth – a more important test for the party with rising support for the Economic Freedom Fighters on the left and the Democratic Alliance on the right.

Although the policy forum talked about the need for state backing for agriculture, more power stations and the steel industry, the debates on the economy at the forum lacked much sense of urgency. But outside the party bubble, the International Monetary Fund was forecasting that economic growth would fall to 1.3% next year, the lowest since the recession of 2009.

Part of the reason for that is due to the China slowdown. Falling demand from China for South Africa's platinum, iron ore and gold – metals that make up about half the country's exports – is threatening jobs and state revenues. Such financial pressures, combined with the government's plan to boost spending ahead of next year's elections, will complicate Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene's target of cutting the budget deficit to 2.5% of GDP next year from its current level of 3.9%.

Another bit of bad news for the ANC was delivered by French economist Thomas Piketty whose pioneering research on global inequality cast more doubt on the success of the government's black economic empowerment programme. Despite the programme's aims, said Piketty at the Nelson Mandela memorial lecture at the beginning of the year, South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world with less than 10% of the population owning about 65% of the wealth.  Of the wealthiest 5% of the population, some 80% are white, added Piketty.

GUINEA: Condé's contest turns sour
Agreements on the electoral rules and hundreds of election observers notwithstanding, Guinea's second multi-party elections on 11 October have triggered widespread protest and an opposition walk out. In the country's complex coalition politics, no single party was likely to win outright in the first round but the results announced this week are key to how the parties line up for the second round of voting next month.

As the early results indicated a resounding lead for President Alpha Condé, opposition parties responded with accusations of blatant rigging and interference with the collation of votes. Celou Diallo, veteran politician and Condé's closest rival, is refusing to accept the results announced so far.

EGYPT: Parliamentary polls go back to the future
The much delayed legislative elections, now due in two rounds on 17-19 October and 22-23 November, could see the return to power of many politicians from the National Democratic Party of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak. Hundreds of former NDP members, the party was dissolved after the 2011 uprising, are standing in the contests to elect the 568 members of the new parliament.

With their wealth and business connections, many of these former NDP members are expected to do well and are likely to endorse the strengthening of the executive powers of the presidency under the General-turned-President Abdel Fattah el Sisi.

How much legitimacy the new parliament will have, as criticism grows of the El-Sisi government's arbitrary methods, is another matter. Local commentators say the turnout is unlikely to exceed 30% of the registered voters.

GHANA: Another high-price loan
Finance Minister Seth Terkper has got his billion dollar bond but at a price. Ghana had to offer 10.75% interest on the the US$1 bn. bond to bring in the investors; a year ago it floated a billion dollar bond at 8.25%.

The higher rate that Ghana had to pay signals an end to the heydays of African sovereign bond issuance, at least until commodity prices start to rise again. The good news for Terkper is that as market analysts reported that Ghana's bond was 'comfortably over-subscribed', it shows a continuing international interest in Ghana despite an 'annus horribilis' of power cuts and floods.

CONGO-KINSHASA: Kabila's election wobbles
Lambert Mende, chief government spokesman, is insistent: President Joseph Kabila has no intention of seeking a third term in power and will leave office on schedule next year. Clear enough? Not quite because the Kinshasa rumour mill is full of stories about plans to extend the presidential mandate for 'reasons of security' or even the need to complete 'vital infrastructure' projects.

And the departure of Father Apollinaire Malu Malu, head of the electoral commission, has nothing to quieten the speculation. Meanwhile the opposition parties are making their own plans. It sees that the former Governor of Katanga, Moise Katumbi, has great support from those opposition parties planning to unite around a single candidate in next year's elections. And those parties seem to view Kabila's plan to leave power next year with great scepticism.

ZAMBIA: Bashing budgets without the IMF
Its economy hit by tumbling copper prices and spiralling debts, Zambia has been hit by the China slowdown syndrome. After a stint of using copper and cobalt exports to pay for several ambitious road, rail and power projects, Zambia is facing a reckoning. Its kwacha is now rated the worst performing currency, having lost 47% of its value against the dollar this year.

Undaunted, Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda, 76, says he will cut the budget deficit to his target of 3.8% of GDP without the help of money or policies from the International Monetary Fund. His confidence is based on his prediction of a 20% boost in tax revenues, despite the closure of several mines.

Bankers are heartily sceptical with some forecasting the deficit will be as high as 8.7% next year. Although Chikwanda talks sternly about the need for 'greater fiscal discipline' he will face huge pressure from his political colleagues who are facing a difficult national election next year.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

African governance: best and worst

This year’s Index of African Governance from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation shows that since 2011 – the year of the Arab Spring and the United States’ financial recovery – human development and rights, and participation have improved but security and economic opportunities have not.

Over the same period, 21 countries, including five of the ten best performers, have fallen in overall governance performance. The six countries that have shown consistent improvement are: Côte d’Ivoire (recovery after electoral crisis), Morocco (monarchy avoiding regional uprisings), Rwanda (authoritarian but economically efficient), Senegal (pluralist and pragmatic), Somalia (a regional intervention evicted Al Shabaab from the main cities and imposed a new government) and Zimbabwe (the power-sharing government’s achievements).

There has been some shuffling of the top five, which includes four of Africa’s smallest economies and its second biggest: it is headed by Mauritius, Cape Verde and Botswana (all of which have lost points) followed by South Africa and Namibia (which have gained points). The worst performers are brutally predictable: Somalia (still the lowest ranked despite gaining 1.2 points since 2011), South Sudan (torn apart by civil war), Sudan (Khartoum fighting on four fronts since the secession of the South), Eritrea (closed regime with the highest percentage of political refugees) and Chad (poor national governance as the president rents out his army to quell regional insurgencies).

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Is a Buhari doctrine emerging?

Despite the lengthy delays in forming a cabinet, President Muhammadu Buhari has been much quicker to appoint his top military and security officers and to push ahead with a series of bilateral and multilateral summits. Not only did he chair the regional leaders' meeting to tackle the Burkina Faso coup, having unequivocally condemned it five days earlier, he has agreed on the agenda for a new regional security conference with French President François Hollande. The plan for this meeting, aimed at strengthening military coordination and sharing intelligence about Boko Haram's operations in Nigeria and its Francophone neighbours, was discussed during Buhari's trip to Paris on 14-16 September.

Flanked by his National Security Advisor, General Babagana Monguno, Buhari told French officials that Nigeria would be taking a far greater role in regional security. Buhari talks about the 'concentric circles' of Nigeria's foreign policy, which puts peace and security on its borders as the top priority.

France, traditionally wary of a militarily assertive Nigeria, now finds its forces overstretched in Africa as problems multiply in its operations in Mali and Central African Republic, so it wants to encourage Buhari. Several other governments, such as Kenya, South Africa, Britain and the United States, are also keen to discuss security matters with Buhari when he arrives in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly meetings.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Opposition lines

On his coming travels to France and New York for the United Nations General Assembly this month, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and his delegation will be sought out by the posse of lobbying companies advising Africa’s ever hopeful opposition parties.

Building the national opposition alliance in Nigeria was much easier once six of the most powerful state governors had defected from the PDP. They brought with them resources, political networks and insider knowledge of how the governing party works and fights its elections. But that pattern is unlikely to be repeated in next month’s elections. Certainly in Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea, incumbent presidents Alassane Ouattara and Alpha Condé look set to see off their opponents. It’s more exciting in Burkina Faso, where Blaise Compaoré was chased from power a year ago and his camp followers are being kept away from the elections.

Only in Tanzania is the opposition, Chadema, copying part of the Buhari model before elections on 25 October. It has succeeded in wooing a former Prime Minister, Edward Lowassa, with in-depth knowledge of the governing Chama cha Mapinduzi. Sadly for Chadema, he doesn’t bring a Buhari-style reputation for honesty. After Chadema’s adoption of Lowassa as its presidential candidate, Wilbrod Slaa, one of the opposition party’s founders, resigned in protest. Previously Chadema had included Lowassa on a list of politicians who merited investigation.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Cementing the future

Hats off to Nigerian magnate Aliko Dangote. Amid global panic about China's imploding stock market and the plunge in the price of oil, Nigeria's top export, Dangote chooses to announce a US$4.3 billion joint venture with China's Sinoma to build cement plants in eight African countries. Dangote always knows exactly what the markets are doing, so his timing is likely to have been deliberate. Like China, Dangote is playing the long game. Neither side wants to put their plans on hold because of the current market crisis.

Confidently predicting that all the new factories will be operating within two and half years with a production of capacity of 70 million tonnes a year, Dangote says he will add a further 30 mn. tonnes by 2020. Dangote wants to challenge France's Lafarge cement conglomerate for market supremacy within and beyond Africa.

Although Nigeria's growth rate has slumped to 2.4%, and Beijing's economic restructuring is hitting turbulent waters, there is a logic to Dangote's big China deal. Cement is a bet on the dynamism of Africa's internal market: that regardless of commodity and share price roller-coasters, demand from the world's fastest growing population for new houses, offices and factories is set to outstrip supply for years to come. It also looks like the next stage in China-Africa relations – joint-ventures for manufacturing companies that will play a leading role in modernising African economies and weaning the continent from its dependence on primary commodities.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Many challenges ahead

With a cluster of key economic meetings stretched out in the last quarter of the year, Africa’s economic policymakers are grappling with two main challenges: rising youth unemployment and the falling prices of export commodities. The first two meetings – the United Nations summit on Sustainable Development Goals in New York in mid-September and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund annual meetings in October – will address those topics head on. The third meeting, the Climate Change conference in Paris in December, will address the issues more obliquely in terms of the damage that desertification and extreme weather are doing to Africa.

For jobs and export revenues to become such pressing concerns for Africa’s governments, especially those in charge of the bigger economies such as Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya, is not to ignore the past 15 years of impressive growth on the continent but to point to changing regional and international dynamics. The tempo and direction of China’s economy is changing and its appetite for raw materials diminishing. In the longer term China will want to buy more processed goods from Africa. How far African economies can take advantage of those trends will depend on both on technical skills and availability of cheap and reliable power and transport links. But for state budgets and jobseekers the lessons are clear: the commodity boom is over, probably for another decade.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The week ahead - Tuesday 28th July

The week ahead will be dominated by reflections on President Barack Obama’s historic visit to East Africa, President Buhari’s radical action over oil, and the repercussions of the Burundian President’s insistence that he has a right to govern for a third term after his election.

NIGERIA: President Buhari to launch radical reform of state oil company

A week after President Muhammadu Buhari asked President Barack Obama in Washington to help repatriate some of the $150 billion in oil and gas revenues stolen over the past decade, he is to split the state oil company Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation into two parts. One part will be an independent oil and gas regulatory authority with oversight over the entire sector, and the other would be restructured into what presidential spokesman Femi Adesina described as 'an investor vehicle'.

This suggests the government may revive the core ideas behind the much-delayed Petroleum Industry Bill – that the NNPC's joint ventures with international oil companies be incorporated, properly audited and managed with the capacity to raise investment on the international and local markets.

SOUTH SUDAN/US: Warring parties risk sanctions

Tough measures – such as an arms embargo, freezes on individuals' assets and travel bans – await South Sudan's warring parties should they fail to accept the latest peace proposal 
by 17 August.

US officials, noting that Uganda is supporting President Salva Kiir's forces in Juba and Sudan is covertly backing sacked Deputy President's Riek Machar rebel forces, said they were not optimistic that the latest deadline would produce a breakthrough. President Barack Obama’s delegation was with the African Union in Addis Ababa yesterday and tougher measures to pressure Salva and Riek into an agreement were on the agenda. “The parties have shown themselves to be utterly indifferent to their country and their people, and that is a hard thing to rectify,” said a US officials quoted by Reuters.

BURUNDI: Overwhelming rejection of Nkurunziza’s election

The country's political crisis looks set toescalate with the main opposition party, Front pour la démocratie au Burundi (Frodebu) rejecting President Pierre Nkurunziza's claimed victory in the 21 July elections with 69.41% of the votes. The European Union and the United States are threatening further aid cuts and sanctions against the Nkurunziza government. The African Union, which had previously discussed sanctions against Nkurunziza, is to announce its position this week.

ZAMBIA/GHANA: Investors buy into bonds despite growing risks

Ghana and Zambia, both resource-based economies with substantial budget deficits, are going ahead with major new sovereign bondissues despite financial analysts' warnings over the unsustainability of the strategy. Last week Zambia floated a US$1.25 billion bond offering a yield of 9.4% and Ghana announced it would shortly float a $1.5 bn bond, $500 mn. more than previously announced, as its government struggles with budget overruns and falling commodity prices.

MOBILE PHONES: e-money’s boundaries expand

Two of the biggest mobile phone companies in Africa – South Africa's MTN and Britain's Vodafone – are launching a plan this month to allow their subscribers in East and Central Africa to send money across borders and from one network to another. The deal will boost trade and consolidate Africa as a leader in the mobile money systems, pioneered by Mpesa in Kenya more than a decade ago.

Don't forget to check for our latest stories.

Yours confidentially,

Patrick Smith

Thursday, 23 July 2015

On trial

After two decades of obstruction, the trial of Chad’s ex-President, Hissène Habré, for crimes against humanity got under way this week in Dakar. The Special Court, jointly set up by the government of Senegal and the African Union, offers another forum for the prosecution of leaders accused of atrocities. It comes as several AU leaders, including South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, criticise the International Criminal Court for ‘targeting Africa’.

In fact, setting up Special Courts and working in parallel with African justice systems is well within the remit of the ICC, which was meant to reinforce, not replace them. Some argue that the ICC should set up an adjunct or Special Court in South Africa or another state with a credible judiciary.

Without the matchless determination of Chadian lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina, herself a victim of a grenade attack in 2001, the trial might never have happened. Habré used his close relations with Cold War leaders such as Ronald Reagan and François Mitterrand in the 1980s to give him cover to obliterate his guerrilla opponents and civilian allies. It helped that some of them were backed by Reagan’s arch enemy Colonel Gadaffi.

Chad’s current President, Idris Déby Itno, came to power by overthrowing Habré with backing from Sudan. But until he seized power, Déby was Habré’s head of military intelligence and a key part of his security apparatus. Habré’s defence team must be tempted to call Déby as a witness, if only to embarrass him.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Keeping up relations

This month, two Western powers, the United States and France, are trying to remind Africa that it hasn’t been totally left out of their calculations. On 20 July, US President Barack Obama is to welcome Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari to Washington DC (see Pointer, The clock ticks faster) and just days later, he jets off to Addis Ababa and Nairobi, where he will meet Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and President Uhuru Kenyatta. Growing insecurity is on the agenda but Obama also wants to address longer-term growth.

US oil and gas imports from Africa have almost stopped due to its use of fracking technology to produce more energy locally. China, the world’s biggest market for oil and gas, pushed up its trade with Africa to US$222 billion last year. That’s over three times the level of US-Africa trade. The more adventurous US officials and companies are looking for ways into Africa’s retail and agricultural markets but few have found ways to build on the unexpectedly popular Africa summit that Obama hosted in Washington a year ago.

France, whose President François Hollande swung through Benin, Angola and Cameroon last week, looks equally stuck in the past. The Parisian daily l’Opinion described the mini-tour as ‘La nouvelle Françafrique de Hollande’. France’s economy still benefits critically from its skewed trading relations with its former colonies in Africa and its backing for the two CFA currency zones there which compel the member governments to keep a substantial part of their foreign reserves in Paris.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Turbulent times for international justice

A turbulent few weeks for international justice. First, Sudan’s President Omer el Beshir arrived in South Africa on 13 June for the African Union summit despite his indictment by the International Criminal Court for genocide. He left barely two days later as the Pretoria High Court deliberated on the South African government’s legal obligations to arrest him.

It has emerged that foreign ministers at the AU summit had earlier called for the ICC’s charges to be dropped against both Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto and Omer el Beshir. They also called for the UN Security Council to withdraw the referral of Sudan to the ICC. Last December, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the UNSC that she had 'hibernated' work on the Darfur investigation due to lack of international cooperation.

And on 20 June, British officials arrest Rwanda's spy chief General Emmanuel Karenzi Karake on a Spanish arrest warrant issued under European Union rules. Rwanda condemned his arrest on war crimes charges as outrageous, given his role in the military force that stopped the genocide.
Britain had little choice once Spain had submitted the warrant but to detain Karenzi and test the charges in court. If they are as weak as Kigali and others maintain, the court will throw them out and Karenzi will be on his way back to Kigali. If the London court finds merit in them and approves Karenzi’s extradition for trial in Spain, yet another politically charged case will be in the making.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Coordinating carbon

With just six months before the climate change treaty talks in Paris, Africa is battling to coordinate an effective negotiating strategy. Governments should muster the political will, says the Africa Progress Panel (APP), to push harder to defend the interests of a continent that contributes least to global warming yet suffers most from it through drought, desertification and increasingly frequent flooding.

In its latest, 180-page report, the APP, under former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, says the treaty should stipulate phasing out the estimated US$600 billion a year subsidies on fossil fuels. 'They should be pricing carbon out of the market through taxation, not subsidising a climate catastrophe,' says Annan. The European Union, China and the United States have improved their position on fossil fuels but Australia, Canada, Japan and Russia have withdrawn from serious dialogue, says the APP.

Most importantly for Africa, the report argues there should be no trade-off between growth and low-carbon development. It sets out research showing how the pioneering technology being developed for low-cost, renewable energy in storing and distributing solar, wind and mini-hydro electricity could give Africa an even bigger economic boost than the introduction of mobile telephone technology two decades ago. Priorities might include redirecting over $21 billion spent annually on subsidising loss-making utilities and electricity consumption to connecting remote areas and developing renewable energy.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

In Kaberuka's footsteps

The new President of the African Development Bank, who was being elected as we went to press, will face harsh financial and political conditions after a decade of economic growth on the continent averaging 5-7% a year. Outgoing AfDB President Donald Kaberuka combined a capacity for strict financial management with experience in government and strong views on development.

Kaberuka’s successor will struggle to match his record as commodity prices slump and security crises plague some of Africa’s biggest economies, such as Egypt, Kenya, Libya and Nigeria. The AfDB’s Chief Economist, Steve Kayuzzi-Mugerwa, agrees with the World Bank’s and International Monetary Fund’s lowered forecasts for African growth of 4.5% this year.

Growing private investment raises new questions about the AfDB’s role. Kaberuka presided over a tenfold expansion of its private sector operations. He was also sharply critical of IMF and World Bank policy in Africa. This year in Addis Ababa, Kaberuka praised the decision by Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to disregard advice from the Bretton Woods Institutions in favour of adapting policies from fast-growing Asian economies, such as China and South Korea. Asia’s rising economic power also raises more questions about the role of the World Bank and even the AfDB, at a time when China is setting up development banks for Asia and the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

Thursday, 30 April 2015

The shameful tide

The drowning of thousands of people in the Mediterranean shames both the countries they left and those they were heading for. Whether these individuals were fleeing political oppression or poverty, the governments and international organisations were nowhere to be seen. About 40,000 people fleeing Africa, Asia and the Middle East have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy so far this year. At least 2,000 have died at sea, but many more die en route from their countries to the Mediterranean ports, mainly in Libya.

The European Union’s new plans for a war on traffickers will do little to staunch the flow of migrants, let alone tackle the root causes of the exodus. The mélange of militias and politicians controlling Libya’s western ports have already threatened to block any European action. For the sake of the migrants and Libyans themselves, international efforts to end the civil war must go into higher gear.

As for the economic causes of the migration, the IMF’s Spring Meeting heard that of the 450 million people working in Africa, fewer than 40 million are on payrolls and paying tax. By 2030, according to projections, the number of people reaching working age in Africa alone will exceed those in the rest of the world. Without far more focused and determined strategies to create sustainable jobs across the continent, there may be ebb and flow, but the tide of migration will not stop rising – Fortress Europe or not.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Mugabe v. Zuma

The 91-year-old President Robert Mugabe's State visit to his stripling of a 73-year-old counterpart, President Jacob Zuma, left observers wondering which of them was in better shape. Zuma is beset on all sides: his popularity is plummeting. Unemployment, corruption, the falling rand and the Eskom crisis are eating away at his authority. Mugabe, unlike his compatriots, seems to have a serene existence.

Mugabe has weathered more violent storms than his neighbour and been prematurely written off so often that few dare to do so any more, regardless of his extreme age. Zuma may look enviously at his fellow comrade's freedom from bothersome elements like independent courts, parliament and free media but Mugabe has had 35 years to whittle away at such institutions.

Between 7th and 9th April, every South African commentator found some apposite comparison between the two nations born of anti-colonial war but in the end it was the legacy of their common enemy that offered the strongest symbol. Cecil Rhodes, the founder of one nation and the super-exploiter of the other, still had the symbolic power to stir passions. Students attacked the statue of him at the University of Cape Town and it was removed for safe keeping. Mugabe, whose country hosts Rhodes's grave, quipped, 'We have his corpse and you have his statue. What do you want us do with him? Dig him up? We cannot tell you what to do with the statue but we and my people feel we need to leave him down there.'

Thursday, 2 April 2015

A new hope

The government-elect taking shape in Nigeria under General Muhammadu Buhari will have to contend with meeting not just the expectations of its own citizens but the high hopes of the wider continent. For almost a decade, there is a feeling of an ideas vacuum at the heart of Africa’s leading countries: Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya. Although all four have benefited from the wave of high economic growth that has lapped across Africa in recent years, all four have been struggling to convert that into jobs for the swelling ranks of school-leavers and to tackle worsening insecurity and criminality. And their own political systems are mired in corruption.

That is why Buhari’s promise to stop the rot in Nigeria, reinforced by his personal asceticism, is drawing attention far beyond its borders. A more youthful and martial Buhari had the same ambitions 30 years ago. This time, the rot has run deeper, even as the economy and population have grown. It is Buhari’s conversion to the tenets of pluralist politics – he has gone out of his way to praise Goodluck Jonathan for being the first elected incumbent to concede that he has lost an election – while retaining the stance of a disciplined general, that is intriguing Nigerians and giving fresh hope.

Buhari, his policy team says, will be a ‘big picture’ president. He will ask his advisors and ministers to set up policies and systems to meet the election pledges on anticorruption, jobs and security. His team of technocrats promises the same technological flair they used in the campaign.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Nigeria's election-winners

Three issues – corruption, jobs and security – have dominated campaigning in what promises to be Nigeria’s closest ever presidential election, on 28 March. All three put President Goodluck Jonathan’s government on the back foot as it faced a resurgent national opposition under former military head of state General Muhammadu Buhari.

The six-week delay in the elections, announced on 7 February, has certainly helped Jonathan. The government claimed that by 17 March its armed forces, aided by Chad and Cameroon, had pushed Boko Haram out of 17 of the 20 local government areas in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states that it controlled at the beginning of the year. Although the fightback has bolstered the government’s military credibility, it is still exposed on jobs and corruption.

Voters across the country – not just in the opposition’s northern heartlands – take seriously claims by the former central bank governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi that about US$1 billion a month in oil revenues were not reaching government coffers. Worse for Jonathan, many are attributing fuel shortages, rising unemployment and power cuts to those claimed diversions. That’s why Buhari and the opposition All Progressives Congress have rallied supporters with promises of 'positive change' and a crackdown on malfeasance. Yet the government's ability to spring surprises – such as the recent military turnaround – means the two candidates are going neck and neck into the final straight.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Ebola conference - crisis not yet over

The chaotic conference on the Ebola crisis at the European Union’s Palais d’Egmont in Brussels on 3 March reflected the confused, ad hoc response to the emergency from national governments and international organisations. It wasn’t a fund-raising meeting: that is due in May under United Nations auspices. Neither was it a meeting to draft the regional recovery plan that the finance ministers of the three most affected countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – say is essential. That is to be hammered out at meetings starting next week in Freetown and then at the Spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington in April.

The World Health Organisation should have led the response but it has no money. Some 75% of its funds come from voluntary contributions and in its 2014/15 budget the WHO has cut allocations for health crises by over half, to $228 million. This followed a $500 mn. cut to its total budget of $4.5 bn. in 2013/14.

Untangling such crossed wires over money and strategy is harder still after reports of the theft of Ebola funds in Sierra Leone, now under investigation by Parliament in Freetown. The governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone announced their goal to reach ‘zero Ebola’ – no new cases – by April, but much work remains to be done. The clearest message from Brussels came from a non-governmental organisation, Médecins sans frontières: the Ebola outbreak is not under control and the crisis is not yet over.

Friday, 20 February 2015

A spreading crisis

The crisis that has Libya at its centre has been brewing since oppositionists – backed by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation airpower – overthrew Moammar el Gadaffi’s regime in 2011. Despite hopes for a transition to a stable and prosperous democracy underwritten by Africa’s biggest oil reserves, Libya has become an object lesson in the unintended consequences of armed intervention.

The crisis zone now stretches from the south – Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso – to Egypt, which this week publicly launched an air war on the Islamist militants fighting for control of Tripolitania (western Libya). To the north, the zone stretches to the Italian island of Lampedusa, to which thousands of refugees are fleeing, desperate to escape Libya’s inferno. The confrontation between Libya’s secularists and its Islamists has morphed into a regional war: this week Egypt called for a United Nations-backed force to fight Libya’s Islamists. Qatar and Sudan still back the Islamists.

Most scandalous, however, since the horrific deaths and drownings could be avoided, is European Union policy towards the desperate migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. It seems some EU officials regard the casualty rates as a useful deterrent. For a while, Italy beefed up its coastguard and saved shipwrecked refugees but the EU cut funds for the programme. Now Italy’s offer to send 5,000 troops to an international force in Libya shows fresh thinking. Just how that force might work is another matter. The UN is making only halting progress in brokering negotiations between the two sides.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Tackling Boko Haram

The scowl on the face of Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Aminu Bashir Wali spoke volumes as he emerged from a meeting at the Sheraton hotel on 29 January. Earlier that day, Nigeria had suffered the indignity of its internal security failings being scrutinised by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council at the AU summit.

Two weeks earlier, Ghana’s President John Mahama had suggested that the AU consider backing a multilateral force in West Africa to tackle the Islamist insurgents of Boko Haram. Based in north-east Nigeria, Boko Haram  was fanning out and slaughtering civilians in neighbouring states. But, if the AU were to set up a multilateral force to help Nigeria fight Boko Haram, President Goodluck Jonathan’s detractors would inevitably compare it with the AU force helping Somalia fight Al Shabaab. So Nigeria’s diplomats at the AU, including Wali, fought to scupper the proposed force.

That will now be just a Lake Chad Basin security initiative between Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. However, Chad’s military successes against Boko Haram this week have raised fresh doubts about Nigeria’s political will to tackle the militia. Some 2,500 Chadian troops crossed into Nigeria and ejected Boko Haram  fighters from Gambaru near the Cameroon border. So far, General Muhammadu Buhari, Jonathan’s main opponent in this month’s election, has resisted publicly reminiscing. Thirty years ago, he was military head of state, having seized power after a weak civilian government had failed to back its military in border skirmishes – with the Chadian army.

Friday, 23 January 2015

The human factor

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa came as a bolt from the blue, an apparently natural disaster. And yet, as we approach the anniversary of the first diagnoses deep in the bush of Guinea, new facts are emerging about how opportunistic politics and bad governance – locally and internationally – made the crisis far worse. This is particularly true in Sierra Leone.

The once narrow gap between Monrovia’s handling of the crisis and Freetown’s is now a chasm. Liberia’s new cases are dwindling into single figures, while Sierra Leone’s continue at an alarming rate. Many more now link the persistence of Ebola to Freetown’s disorganisation, lack of capacity and corruption. As our Feature,  The politics of Ebola, makes clear, the evidence cannot be ignored. The health ministry is one of the most corrupt: ghost-workers stalk its corridors and ambulance crews and nurses have to strike to get paid. More of Sierra Leone’s brave health-workers have died than in any other affected country.

The government presents statistics that underestimate the crisis. Public education about the disease, even in the worst affected areas, is appalling. But politicians have received millions to help them sensitise their constituents. When Liberia accepted that cremation of the dead was vital, Sierra Leone demurred. The main Freetown cemetery is now unable to cope and turning into a health hazard.

Both Liberia and Sierra Leone’s recent past has been marked by rebellions, civil war and chronic underdevelopment. So that does not explain why Sierra Leone’s situation is so dire.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Je suis Charlie

As shock-waves spread after the murderous attack on staff at the Paris weekly Charlie Hebdo on 7 January, African security officials are weighing the implications for their own countries. Given the global coverage earned by the attacks in Paris and on the Westgate Mall in Kenya in September 2013, some Islamists see such armed assault as a means to bludgeon opponents, divide communities and step up recruitment. Even in remote areas of north-east Nigeria, the repeated attacks by Boko Haram on schools – with a far higher death toll than the 141 children killed in December’s jihadist attack on the military school in Peshawar, Pakistan – has won the group the notoriety it sought.

Some, like the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, are bold enough to speak out against the Islamists, while others have been cowed. Some of Africa’s foremost intellectuals have fallen in these battles. Libyan human rights lawyer Salwa Bughaigis, who campaigned against Colonel Moammar el Gadaffi’s brutal secularist regime and then against Islamist repression, was murdered in Benghazi in June. At the start of this cycle of confrontation, the left-wing Algerian intellectual Salah Chouaki was shot dead in September 1994 after a succession of threats from the Groupe islamique armé. That was in the early stages of the war between Algeria’s security state and its Islamist opponents. An unrelenting opponent of Islamism but a doughty defender of religious freedom for all, Chouaki wrote: ‘The best way to defend Islam is to put it out of the reach of all political manipulation’.