Thursday, 14 July 2016

SOUTH SUDAN: Risk of chronic food crisis after Juba shoot-out

This week we start with the fighting in South Sudan and then look at the prospects for more anti-government protests in Zimbabwe. In Zambia, tensions are rising ahead of what many expect to be a very close election next month while Ghana is channelling the spirit of Kwame Nkrumah with its introduction of a visa-free entry scheme for all African visitors. Finally, we look at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's swing through East Africa last week.

SOUTH SUDAN: Risk of chronic food crisis after Juba shoot-out
Widespread food shortages and a worsening cash crisis will complicate negotiations between the rival factions in Juba after three days of fighting killed at least 270 people. The biggest risk is that the fighting could spread to other regions of the country, according to Tedros Adhanom, Ethiopia's Foreign Minister and Chairman of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

On 12 July, Tedros called for a stronger UN mandate in South Sudan to include a beefed-up military force capable of intervening in future clashes. He was speaking a day after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had called for an arms embargo against South Sudan and the deployment of attack helicopters to UN forces so they were better able to protect civilians.

After President Salva Kiir Mayardit ordered government forces on 11 July to cease operations against forces under the command of his rival and Vice-President Riek Machar, the ceasefire appears to have held for the first day. But there is little agreement on what happens next. Reports say many of Riek's fighters have fled the capital after heavy fighting, some of it involving SPLA helicopter gunships, at their base at Jebel. Riek is said to be sheltering in a foreign embassy in the capital but no details of dates or locations for a possible reopening of negotiations with Salva have emerged.

ZIMBABWE: Arrest of protest organiser shows limits of ZANU-PF reform
Undaunted by being charged with inciting public violence, which carries a possible ten-year prison sentence, Pastor Evan Mawarire, the leading light of the #ThisFlag movement and coordinator of last week's mass stayaways in Harare and Bulawayo, has urged people to demonstrate against the government again today and tomorrow (13 and 14 July).

Last week's protests were the biggest in Zimbabwe for over a decade, and coincided with a strike by nurses, doctors and teachers protesting at the late payment of their June salaries. Business in the major cities was brought to a grinding halt.

The government's decision to charge Mawarire comes as Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa tries to negotiate desperately-needed credits from the IMF and the World Bank. Ostensibly, the loans won't include political conditions but the government is under pressure to show that it has consulted with the wider society about the terms of its proposed economic reform programme. Gaoling an extremely popular dissident like Mawarire could jeopardise the negotiations.

ZAMBIA: Police shootings and suspension of campaigning raise stakes in the polls
The opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) plans major protests in Lusaka this week after police shot dead one of its supporters during clashes on 8 July. Fighting broke out after police tried to stop UPND supporters from marching through the capital. The Electoral Commission has suspended campaigning for ten days in Lusaka and in Namwala district, west of the capital.

Opposition supporters accused the police of siding with the governing Patriotic Front as party militants took on their rivals in running street battles last week. UPND Presidential candidate Haikainde Hichilema told Africa Confidential that some Patriotic Front cadres had donned police uniforms to give them cover to harass opposition activists. The presidential and parliamentary elections on 11 August are expected to be extremely close. Growing violence and claims of a government plan to rig the vote could trigger a serious confrontation next month unless there is mediation between the two sides.

GHANA: Accra pushes Pan-Africanism with continental free entry scheme
The efforts of founding President Kwame Nkrumah to promote African unity some 60 years ago have won a new lease of life with a scheme to allow all African citizens to enter Ghana without pre-arranged visas. Under the scheme visitors would get a 30-day visa stamped in their passports on arrival. Up to now, that facility has only been granted to citizens of countries in the 15-member Economic Community of West African States.

President John Mahama's government, which has introduced the scheme partly to encourage tourism, says it is a step on the road to an African passport which would guarantee free movement across the continent for all citizens of member states of the African Union. The first version of the African passport is set to be launched at the AU summit in Kigali this week; initially it will be available only to heads of state and ministers of AU member states.

AFRICA/ISRAEL: Netanyahu searches for votes at the UN
The first Israeli Prime Minister to visit Africa in three decades, Benjamin Netanyahu's grand sweep through Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda last week could yield a few more helpful votes in the United Nations General Assembly. All four African countries reinstated diplomatic ties with Israel in the 1990s.

However, the vast majority of African countries back the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the Palestine Liberation Organisation has observer status at African Union meetings. Rwanda and Israel were already particularly close. As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Rwanda abstained on a vote to support Palestinian statehood, and again on a vote to order Israel to withdraw from occupied territories in Palestine.

Ethiopia, which takes up a seat on the UN Security Council next year, also has developed ties with Israel. Apart from some security cooperation, tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews, known as Beta Israel, have migrated to Israel since the 1970s, although race relations have deteriorated there sharply in recent years.

In Kenya, where Israeli companies have invested heavily in local agribusiness, Netanyahu offered support for Kenya's aim of building a 600-kilometre wall between northern Kenya and Somalia. Israel is a world leader in fence technology, having erected thousands of kilometres of security fences in Israel and the occupied territories.

Netanyahu's visit to Uganda marked the 40th anniversary of the raid on Entebbe airport by the Israeli Defence Force to free hostages held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The diplomatic climate wasn't helped when President Yoweri Museveni repeatedly referred to the close historical ties between Uganda and 'Palestine', when he presumably was referring to his country's close ties with Israel.

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