Monday, 5 December 2016

GHANA: Peace pact signed ahead of polling day as opinion polls send mixed messages

This week we hit the election trail: first to Ghana where over 15 million citizens are due to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections on Wednesday (7 December), and then to Gambia for the aftermath of the shock election defeat of President Yahya Jammeh. Another exit is on the cards, this time in Angola, with President José Eduardo dos Santos due to hand over power to the MPLA Vice-President, João Lourenço. On the economic front, Nigeria is due to announce another mega-budget on Thursday (8 December). South Africa has just avoided a ratings downgrade, and Kenya is talking to bankers about floating another bond.


GHANA: Peace pact signed ahead of polling day as opinion polls send mixed messages
Pundits and pollsters are offering wildly differing forecasts for the outcomes of presidential and parliamentary votes on 7 December, suggesting the result is likely to be close. Campaigning is due to end at midnight today (5 December) as most of the parties plan their final rallies in Accra.
In a strongly-worded assessment of the risk of clashes during the elections, the African Union election observer mission in Ghana warned that much more should be done by political leaders to dissuade their supporters from resorting to political violence.


Franklin Cudjoe, executive director of the Imani Centre, an Accra think tank, said the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) has regained substantial ground against the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) over the past month. 'In early November, I would have put the opposition well ahead,” Cudjoe told Africa Confidential, 'but the NDC's campaign of pointing to big infrastructure projects as signs of government success is beginning to pay off.' Other polls conducted by the University of Ghana and the Centre for Democratic Development still give a clear lead to the opposition. Other commentators point to the NPP gaining ground in NDC strongholds such as northern Volta and parts of the Northern region.

The surprise defeat of Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh in the 1 December elections could also put more wind in the sails of Ghana's opposition.

The closer the vote, the more pressure on Charlotte Osei, Chairwoman of the Electoral Commission. Osei has pledged to improve scrutiny of the vote and has encouraged Parallel Vote Tabulation by the Imani Centre and other groups. She also promised that the verified results for each polling station would be posted immediately after the count. It is up to the party agents to raise any objections before they sign the results sheet. The results should be out on Friday (9 December).


GAMBIA: Jammeh concedes election defeat and the nation holds its breath
For the past few days supporters of Adama Barrow, who defeated the incumbent President Yahya Jammeh, have careered through the streets of Banjul celebrating the shock victory in the 1 December elections.

It seems divisions within the army and security services over the value of Jammeh continuing as president are what led him to make his dramatic and unexpected televised concession of defeat on 2 December. Jammeh has said he intends to stay in State House until January when he is due to hand over to Barrow. Jammeh has bought a property in Cape Town, suggesting that he intends to spend more time outside his own country after January, our South Africa correspondent reports.

The next four weeks could be extremely tense unless there is some clear commitment from the military's top brass, who are extremely close to Jammeh, to making the transition work.

Barrow told journalists on 2 December that his priority is bringing the country together and assembling a strong team of ministers who could relaunch the national economy. He said he was committed to re-establishing the rule of law in the country after 22 years of Jammeh's dictatorship.

In an interview with Jeune Afrique, the Paris-based weekly, Barrow said he did not want a witch-hunt against former members of the Jammeh regime but added that everyone would have to be accountable before the law.


ANGOLA: President Dos Santos to hand baton to Joao Lourenço after parliamentary elections next year
João Lourenço, Defence Minister and Vice-President of the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), is to take over the leadership of the country after next year's parliamentary elections, the party decided on 2 December, ending President José Eduardo dos Santos's 37-year rule. The succession plan assumes the MPLA, which currently controls over two-thirds of parliament, will win next year's elections. It seems that Dos Santos and party leaders have agreed that Lourenço should be in place at the head of the party well ahead of the election campaign. Known and trusted in the MPLA as an effective administrator, Lourenço, who said he was 'surprised' at his selection, would take over at a time of mounting economic problems as oil and gas revenues remain at their lowest for nearly two decades.


NIGERIA: President Buhari is to announce another mega-budget aimed at kick-starting growth
President Muhammadu Buhari is due to announce a record budget of 7.3 trillion naira (US$23.3 billion) in parliament on Thursday (8 December) after a cabinet meeting on the country's continuing recession. Output and jobs have been falling for a year.

Although this year's budget was an estimated N6.1 trn., actual spending has fallen far short of that level due to chronic shortfalls in oil and gas revenues. There has been some improvement in earnings in recent months and officials hope that the latest cut in production by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will help boost oil prices.

If production can rise to full capacity of 2.2 million barrels a day, even at current world oil prices, Nigeria would have over 2% growth, according to Moody's, the credit ratings agency.


SOUTH AFRICA: Zuma dodges the downgrade but tries to set aside critical report on his ties with Gupta companies
The decision by Standard & Poor's Global Ratings to maintain its assessment of South Africa's sovereign credit-worthiness at BBB-, one notch above junk status, is a conditional reprieve for the crisis-torn economy. It vindicates the diplomatic efforts of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who has been personally briefing the ratings agencies on the government's commitment to steady the economy.

S&P was the third of the big ratings agencies, after Fitch and Moody's, to pass judgement on the country's creditworthiness in the past month and none have called for an international downgrade yet. Junk status would trigger an investment exodus from South Africa's bonds and stock market, and a pullback by private equity funds.

It would also complicate the government's efforts to raise some $12 bn. to finance next year's projected budget deficit. However, S&P downgraded local debt by one notch to BBB reflecting concerns about the low growth in production and employment.

President Jacob Zuma, who has been desperately trying to replace Gordhan with a more pliable politician, told investors last week that his country would remain a 'strategic partner' in the region. Later, he also called on parliament to set aside the report by outgoing Public Protector Thuli Madonsela on links between the presidency and the Gupta family. The report was flawed and should be returned to the new Public Protector for review, he argued.


KENYA: Kenyatta's economic team to return to the markets to raise funds to sustain growth spurt
In a bid to sustain growth rates at over 6%, among Africa's highest, Kenya's government is talking to international banks about floating a $1.5 bn. bond next year. Ostensibly the money would be used to boost foreign reserves and to finance the projected budget deficit. The government is keen to maintain the economic tempo ahead of national elections due next August.

However, the move to float another bond is likely to attract barbs from the opposition which argued that the proceeds from a $2.8 bn. bond issued in 2014 were misused and that there was no proper accounting of the transactions involved. Kamau Thugge, Principal Secretary at the Treasury, has said publicly that the government would need to raise $1.5 bn. next year but did not elaborate on its borrowing strategy.

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