This week elections dominate our list of things to watch: the recent past, in the case of South Africa, where the ANC comes to terms with its loss of power in the big cities; the present, in Ghana, where the governing National Democratic Congress has just launched its campaign ahead of the national elections on 7 December; and the perhaps indeterminate future in Congo-Kinshasa where President Joseph Kabila is trying to delay elections due in November. And then, for the optimists, there are a few green shoots of recovery in Nigeria where some foreign investors are returning and there are hopes of oil production and prices going back up.
SOUTH AFRICA: In the cities, ANC starts a new life in
Post-election bargaining has enabled the Democratic Alliance to win
control of the country’s three main municipalities – Johannesburg,
Tshwane/Pretoria, and Nelson Mandela Bay (which includes Port
Elizabeth) – where no party won an absolute majority.
Along with its continuing control of Cape Town, the DA now
runs four out of the five biggest cities in South Africa, with the
African National Congress in charge in Durban, capital of
KwaZulu-Natal. The DA won the most votes in Nelson Mandela Bay and the
ANC quickly conceded control. But the post-election jockeying in
Johannesburg and Tshwane/Pretoria and adjacent municipalities has taken
much longer, with ANC politicians putting up more of a fight.
In particular, the ANC’s Parks Tau, who has
been mayor of Johannesburg since 2011, battled hard to make a deal to
give him a second term. The decisive factor was the Economic Freedom
Fighters, in third place with 8% of the vote, which used its position
to back the DA as the ‘lesser evil’ against the ANC.
CONGO-KINSHASA: Opposition strike echoes anti-Mobutu
campaign of the 1990s
The opposition alliance launched its national strike with some success
on 23 August as the next step in its campaign to force President Joseph
Kabila to step down at the end of his second term in November, as set
out in the constitution. Discreet support for this campaign from
several Western countries including the United States
and France has given the opposition a fillip.
Older Congolese say the opposition’s campaign resembles the
tortuous efforts to depose the long-time late dictator Mobutu
Sese Seko in the 1990s. A leading figure then and now, Etienne
Tshisekedi, has returned to the political stage, after a long
respite in Belgium, to mobilise his loyal supporters.
But this time much will depend on how much support the strike
gets across the country. If it extends to the economically critical
copper and cobalt mining industry, the campaign could start to put real
pressure on the Kabila government. If that happens, the government’s
response could become much tougher. After the strike was launched
police fired tear-gas in the Limité area of Kinshasa, where many of
Tshisekedi’s followers live.
NIGERIA: Come on in! The devalued water is lovely, say
As US Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting
President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja on 23 August on
regional security matters, some glimmers of economic hope started to
Prior to the meeting with Buhari, Kerry had used a speech at
the palace of the Sultan of Sokoto to call for better
international coordination in the fight against political and religious
extremism, but added critically that all governments had to do more to
promote social inclusion, and educational and economic opportunities.
Kerry was speaking as Nigeria grapples with its worst
recession for two decades and the Buhari government faces criticism
from Western officials for its reluctance to end fuel subsidies and
allow the naira to depreciate.
Yet two months after the government allowed the naira to
float, two major financial institutions – Standard Bank and Exotix –
are advising their clients to start buying naira assets again. After
falling to a record US$1=N320 in mid-August, the naira has started to
strengthen again. Other banks and financial advisors are said to be
cautiously following suit. Two unconnected pieces of good news might
also tempt investors: global oil prices are edging upwards again and,
after many conflicting signals, the Niger Delta Avengers militant
groups appear to be ready to talk to, if not negotiate with, the
GHANA: IMF passes judgement on government in midst of
With Ghana facing one of its most closely-fought elections on 7
December, the International Monetary Fund has been dragged into the
middle of the campaign which will focus on the government’s economic
record. An IMF report in June had already recommended deep cuts in
state spending to reduce the fiscal deficit; a tough demand for Finance
Minister Seth Terkper in the run up to elections.
When President John Mahama launched his
re-election campaign in Cape Coast, one of the key swing areas, on 21
August, he talked up his government’s investments in education,
healthcare, transport and electricity.
His opponent, Nana Addo Akufo Addo,
flagbearer for the opposition New Patriotic Party accuses Mahama of
mishandling the economy, allowing debt to grow to 71% of the country’s
gross domestic product, and presiding over a regime of wasteful and
sometimes corrupt state procurement. Mahama insists the country’s
electricity crisis has been addressed but Akufo Addo says any
improvements in supply have been achieved by short-term and over-priced projects. Although most voters will not delve into the
technicalities of these issues, the main interest is the country’s
economic direction: up or down. That gives a huge political importance
to the IMF’s verdict.
On 22 August, IMF officials announced that following
discussions with the Ghana authorities on the country’s fiscal outlook
for the rest of the year it will present a review to their executive
board in mid-September. Under IMF procedures, this is will be made
public and is likely to be dragged into the election campaign by both
Insiders expect the IMF report to be broadly positive after
its board delayed a fourth disbursement of some $115 million, out of a
multi-year loan of $918 mn., in June and demanded further cuts to