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).