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.

NIGERIA/SOUTH AFRICA: Storm on a SIM card
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.