Thursday, 28 April 2016

Getting serious about democracy

Unencumbered by the African Union's need to reach a consensus among its 54 member states, the Tana Security Forum, which also meets each year in Ethiopia, is expanding its influence as it confronts some of the more unpalatable realities of political stability. Its invitation to Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary General, to attend the Fifth Forum on 16-17 April allowed him to voice concern about the leaders who have been changing the constitution to extend their stay in power (see Feature, Democrats under fire).

Violence in two countries run by such leaders, Burundi and Congo-Brazzaville, was raging as Annan was speaking. Annan also focused on how attacks on the rule of law, the erosion of human rights, corruption and deepening inequality were encouraging insurgencies and serious instability in around a dozen African states. He said all these rebellions – whether backed by international jihadist groups or those of local militias – exploit poor governance standards to win grassroots support, or just acquiescence, in their military campaigns. Part of the response must be military, he argued, and that requires well trained but also more accountable security forces.

But it was his political prescriptions which produced a muted response from those heads of state present, and beyond: much more effort should go into building the integrity of the electoral process and making it less of a zero-sum game for the victor and vanquished at a time of rising economic discontent.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Voting for change

This year’s flurry of ostensibly competitive elections is prompting some activists to rethink their assessment of the forward march of democratic politics in Africa. After the unprecedented victory of the opposition presidential candidate in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest multi-party system, it seemed that the power of incumbent leaders to bend their countries to their will might be on the wane. Pro-democracy activists and oppositionists took heart.

To judge by this year’s elections,  however, the political establishment is pushing back hard. In Congo-Brazzaville, Chad, Djibouti, Niger and Uganda, sitting presidents have changed national constitutions to prolong their tenure and to rig elections, either by blatant fraud or by blocking the campaigns of rivals. Their answer to new technology is simple: turn it off. So Presidents Yoweri Museveni, Denis Sassou-Nguesso and Idriss Déby – who have been in power for about three decades each – ordered cellphone companies to shut down their services. Déby and Sassou also shut down the internet.

Africa Confidential will look at these trends in more detail in the next issue but it is clear that the current anti-democracy wave is not anchored solely in personal ambition. Oppositionists are responding to tougher economic conditions with militant campaigns and regimes are exploiting fears of spreading instability and insecurity to crack down hard. The first victim is the people’s mandate.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Buhari's team gets US$6 billion loan for infrastructure and boosts use of yuan

This week, there is some better economic news for Nigeria after President Buhari's trip to Beijing but more worries about pressure on banks in Kenya. Although Chadian President Déby looks confident of victory after general elections on 10 April, another long-time leader in an oil-fuelled state – President Dos Santos in Angola – faces deepening opposition in the face of sharp cut backs in state spending prompted by crashing oil revenue.

NIGERIA/CHINA: Buhari's team gets US$6 billion loan for infrastructure and boosts use of yuan
In Beijing to meet with President Xi Jinping and other top officials, President Muhammadu Buhari's economic team has secured some important agreements for Nigeria's ailing economy.

The first is a currency swap deal: Nigeria is to diversify its foreign reserves away from its heavy use of the US dollar and will increase the volume of Chinese renminbi (yuan) in the basket of international currencies in the reserve. Currently about 10% of its reserves are in yuan.

The second was to open negotiations for a Panda Bond, that is, a hard currency bond denominated in yuan, which Nigerian officials say will be cheaper to access than a Eurobond, denominated in US dollars. The third big deal was a $2 billion loan for Aliko Dangote, travelling alongside the government delegation, from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China to build two new cement plants.

KENYA: Growing unease about banking ructions
What's behind the deepening troubles of the financial sector in Nairobi? Some critics point to a more cavalier attitude to risk management but some official regulators are blaming reckless journalism and reports on social media. A well informed investigation of problems in Kenyan banks at seems to have worried some top officials.

On 6 April, the third Kenyan bank to hit trouble in nine months, Chase Bank, was put under the receivership of the regulator for a year. It follows Dubai Bank and Imperial Bank, which were put under receivership late last year. This month, the Chief Executive of National Bank was put on leave after it sharply increased its provision for bad loans. Over 20 banks have collapsed or been placed under receivership in Kenya since the so-called 'political banks' scandal under President Daniel arap Moi, two decades ago.

CHAD: Incumbent Déby waits for election victory sign
Running for a fifth term, President Idriss Déby Itno seems supremely confident of victory after the first round of voting on 10 April. But Déby could struggle in the unlikely event that he fails to get more than 50% of the vote, leading to a second round of voting. Whatever the case, it will be a long wait as the electoral commission doesn't have to announce the results until 23 April.

Within hours of the close of voting, Déby's campaign manager, Mahamat Zene Bada, announced the elections as a 'victory for democracy'. However, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Joseph Djimrangar Dadnaji, denounced what he called vote rigging and the targeted disruption of the cellphone networks and internet connections by loyalists of President Déby Itno.

After the barring of Ngarléjy Yorongar and five other contenders from contesting the presidential election, the opposition ranks are much depleted. Because of Déby's key security role in the region, sending his military to fight alongside French troops in Mali, the Ndjamena government is unlikely to face much serious criticism of the elections from European governments.

ANGOLA: Government cracks down after it asks IMF for loan
The political climate is heating up in Luanda as the government slashes spending and international companies close operations and lay off workers in response to the crash in world oil prices. So weak are the government's finances that it has done a U-turn on its refusal to borrow from the International Monetary Fund. This was partly because the IMF is likely to insist on much greater accountability in public finances – that's something that the growing band of activists in Luanda have been demanding.

On 9 April, police detained and beat up youths trying to organise a protest march against the gaoling of 17 activists in March with sentences of up to eight and a half years. Those detained include the sons of some prominent figures from the ruling party and their trial over the past year has exacerbated political tension in the capital. President José Eduardo dos Santos has promised to step down in two years but there is no sign that he is grooming a successor.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Panama documents cast light on shady politicians and businesses in Africa

This week the leak of the details of over 10 million account documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca dominates the news and African activists start to probe the list to track their politicians and business people. Then there is the drama of continuing pressure of South African President Jacob Zuma, the deepening crises in Congo-Brazzaville and Burundi, as well as prospects for the elections in Djibouti on 8 April.

BANKING AND FINANCE: Curtain lifted on Africa's undercover politicians and businesses
Revelations emerging from Mossack Fonseca's files implicate politicians and businesses in China, Russia, Britain, Ukraine, France and Iceland in tax avoidance and, in some cases, money laundering and other criminality. But the story has a special significance for Africa.

The continent worst hit by illicit financial flows, Africa has been losing well over $50 billion to year due to tax avoidance, deliberate trade mispricing and inflation of contracts. South Africa's former President Thabo Mbeki has been leading a campaign, backed by the African Union and the United Nations, to crack down on these flows.

Embarassingly for several African government, some key officials and their relatives were found to have used the services of Mossack Fonseca to cut their tax bills and conceal their investments.  So far the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which obtained the Mossack Fonseca files, has identified about 30 figures from Africa's business and political elite as having used the Panamanian law firm's services. 

They include: Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt's ousted President Hosni Mubarak; Mounir Majidi, personal secretary to Morocco's King Mohammed VI; John Addo Kufuor, son of Ghana's former President John Agyekum Kufuor; Jean-Claude N'Da Ametchi, financial advisor to Côte d'Ivoire's ousted President Laurent Gbagbo; Khulubuse Zuma, nephew of South Africa's troubled President Jacob Zuma; Mamadie Touré, widow of Guinea's former President Lansana Conté and key player in the dispute over Simandou iron ore reserves; Jaynet Désirée Kabila, sister of Congo-Kinshasa's President Joseph Kabila and found to have secret holding in the Vodafone subsidiary there; Abdeslam Bouchouareb, Algeria's Minister of Industry and Mines; José Maria Botelho de Vasconcelos, Angola's oil Minister; Kalpana Rawal, Kenya's Deputy Chief Justice; Ian Stuart Kirby, judge in Botswana; Brun Jean-Richard Itoua, Managing Director of Congo-Brazzaville's state oil company and financial ally of President Dénis Sassou Nguesso; James Ibori, former governor of Delta State, Nigeria; Emmanuel Ndahiro, former head of intelligence, Rwanda

SOUTH AFRICA: Pressure mounting for Zum-exit
Although allies of embattled President Jacob Zuma were proved right when they predicted that he would survive a vote of confidence in parliament, he faces more scrutiny at a meeting of the National Working Committee of the governing African National Congress this week.

Despite the growing chorus from senior ANC figures calling for Zuma's exit, insiders say that he is likely to negotiate a stay of execution at least until the local elections in August. But if the party's performance then is as disastrous as Zuma's detractors fear, the pressure for him to go could prove unanswerable.

CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE: Heavy gunfire as election fight worsens
The row over President Dénis Sassou Nguesso's claimed election victory has spilt into the streets as gunfire erupted in Brazzaville on 4 April. This latest battle threatens to reignite the civil conflict of the 1990s: Sassou Nguesso has ruled Congo-Brazzaville for 32 of the past 37 years.

His nearest rival last month's Presidential polls was Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas, whose father Bernard Kolelas led the Ninja militia two decades ago. Now the Ninjas are back on the streets of Brazzaville and Sassou's aides are blaming Kolelas junior for the latest outbreak of fighting. Last year, some 20 people were killed after security forces fired on a protest against Sassou's plan to change the constitution and prolong his stay in office. 

BURUNDI: UN police due in Bujumbura as violence spirals
President Pierre Nkurunziza's government insists it has no problems with a French-backed plan by the United Nations to deploy 500 police to Bujumbura as political violence escalates. Until now Nkurunziza's government has fiercely resisted any external intervention and undermined any regional pressure for negotiations with his opponents.

Yet the UN's latest move has not won much support from Nkurunziza's adversaries because they say the police force will lack the muscle to disarm the state-backed militias which are at the heart of the political violence which has cost over 400 lives this year.

DJIBOUTI: Tensions rise ahead of Presidential poll
He may have signed more lucrative leases for foreign military bases than any other African President, but Ismaïl Omar Guelleh is leaving nothing to chance ahead of elections due on 8 April. State security services are closely watching and controlling the three other Presidential candidates and restricting journalistic access to them.

Security operatives have arrested journalists from the Financial Times and the BBC for talking to some of the opposition candidates. A crew of BBC journalists, led by Security Correspondent Tomi Oladipo, was expelled over the weekend.