Tuesday, 31 January 2017

UNITED STATES/AFRICA: Furore over migrant ban could complicate diplomacy

Again, we start the week in the United States where the Donald Trump administration’s first week of frenetic activity has major implications for Africa and diplomatic deal-making. Then to Addis Ababa where delegates to the African Union summit are set to welcome Morocco back into the fold and choose a new chair. The Gambia's new leader, Adama Barrow, faces a busy week as he chooses his cabinet, responds to calls for widespread reforms of the security services and launches probes into human rights abuses. Nigeria could start a slow economic recovery this year but security worries and lack of food aid are causing horrendous problems in the north-east. Finally, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni gets a clear warning on ballooning debt from the International Monetary Fund.

UNITED STATES/AFRICA: Furore over migrant ban could complicate diplomacy
Last Friday’s (27 January) presidential executive order for a four-month ban on entry to the United States of people from Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and four Middle Eastern Muslim-majority countries could obstruct peace and trade negotiations. Already, there are reports of several citizens from these countries with business in the US being turned off flights amid considerable confusion about how the rules are meant to be implemented.

At Cairo airport, one of the regional hubs most frequently used by North Africans, officials said they would allow only those nationals with diplomatic passports or senior government officials onto flights bound for the US. In a television interview on yesterday (29 January), White House chief of staff Reince Priebus insisted that the ban would not affect people holding Green Cards, contradicting an earlier statement by the Department of Homeland Security in Washington.

Olympic gold medallist, Sir Mo Farah, who has dual Somali-British nationality but has been resident in the US, quickly denounced the ban as did other dual nationals affected, including a British Conservative MP, Nadhim Zahawi. After quick negotiations, officials in London have reportedly now secured US entry rights for people from the seven restricted countries who also have British nationality.

Much trickier to resolve will be the status of nationals from Libya, Somalia and Sudan involved in political or security negotiations at the UN in New York or elsewhere in the US, let alone those fleeing persecution. This comes at a particularly awkward time for UN-backed peace negotiations which show signs of unravelling.

There are also signs that the Trump administration’s policy on Libya could change. We hear that General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, sent an envoy to Washington in December to solicit support from the Trump government. That may mean Washington dropping its diplomatic support for the internationally-recognised government in Tripoli. Such a major shift in policy could be complicated by the ban on Libyans entering the US.

AFRICAN UNION: Morocco's King Mohammed in Addis to rejoin continental body
Despite the misgivings of Algeria and South Africa, Morocco looks set to rejoin the African Union at its summit in Addis Ababa which winds up tomorrow (31 January). King Mohammed VI arrived in the Ethiopian capital today (30 January) and hosted a grand reception for the other heads of state.
We understand that at least 40 member states back Morocco's application to rejoin the AU but there is still no resolution about the position of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in Western Sahara which is also a full member of the organisation. Morocco and the SADR have been locked in a 40-year dispute over the status of the former Spanish territory. Until now, Morocco has refused to attend any meeting at which the SADR is also present. Resolving these contrary positions will require some innovative diplomacy in Addis.

Summit delegates elected the new chair of the AU Commission today (30 January). Chad's Moussa Faki Mahamat saw off the strongly-backed and better-fancied candidacies of Senegal's Abdoulaye Bathily and Kenya's Amina Mohamed (AC Vol 58 No 3, The scramble for the chair).

THE GAMBIA: Celebrations for new President’s homecoming
After supporters cheered their welcome when his plane landed at Banjul airport last Thursday (26 January), Gambia's new President, Adama Barrow, has to pick his cabinet this week and set about the sensitive task of restructuring the country’s armed forces and intelligence services. At the head of a coalition of several opposition groups, Barrow is under pressure to form a broad, representative government and also to hold to account those officials accused of abusing their powers.

Barrow has already asked the West African forces, which played a key role in persuading former President Yahya Jammeh to stand down after he lost the December election, to stay in the country for another six months. The Chief of Army Staff under Jammeh, Ousmane Badjie, who said his troops would not waste their blood fighting regional forces to keep Jammeh in power, is to keep his post for now.

On Friday (27 January), Senegalese troops arrested General Bora Colley, the former head of prisons in Gambia, as he was trying to enter Guinea-Bissau. Human rights campaigners say that Colley presided over a regime of torture and persecution in the country’s gaols.

Although Barrow has said he will rename the National Intelligence Agency, also accused of terrible abuses under Jammeh’s regime, he is yet to respond for calls for a commission of enquiry into the organisation’s record since 1994. Some are calling for the immediate sacking of Yankuba Badjie, the current head of the NIA.

NIGERIA: Better news on economy but security crises persist
With world oil prices predicted to average $66 a barrel this year, economists are forecasting a modest economic recovery for Nigeria if the government goes ahead with its $20 billion capital spending programme. In a speech to bankers in Davos earlier this month, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo has said the government is determined to close the gap between the official exchange rate of N315 to the US$1 and the parallel rate of around N500=$1. But as the central bank in Abuja has excoriated 'unpatriotic' bidders on the foreign exchange market, many questions remain about how Osinbajo’s team intend to reform the market.

Most of the big risks in Nigeria this year are linked to national security. Nigerian troops have substantially pushed back the Boko Haram militia and destroyed some of their bases in the Sambisa forest but the after-effects of the war haunt the north-east. World Food Programme Executive Director Ertharin Cousin says that some 4.4 million people are in need of food aid in the north-east, about one third of them at risk of starvation. She said there were still hundreds of thousands of people in Boko Haram's heartlands in Borno State who could not be reached by aid convoys.

UGANDA: IMF chief sounds alarm on mounting debts
Last July, the central bank in Kampala warned President Yoweri Museveni's government that its growing dependence on foreign loans could cause grave financial problems within two years if it did not move forward on oil exports as soon as possible.

Those warnings were reinforced in Kampala on 27 January by the IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, who argued the government should do more to raise revenues domestically. The country's external debt is just over US$10 billion, much of it owed to Chinese companies building new roads, a new airport and power stations.

Lagarde said infrastructure spending could boost Uganda's growth rate to over 6% but the projects, their quality and value for money would have to be strictly monitored by the government. It has taken the government a decade to move forward on the exploitation of oil reserves found in and around Lake Albert. Progress has been hampered by a dispute with the government's partner oil companies about the viability of a local oil refinery designed to sell to the regional market and the choice of an export pipeline route towards to Indian Ocean. Last year, to some surprise, the government announced it would build a pipeline to Tanga, on Tanzania's coast instead of the widely favoured route to the Kenyan coast.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

AFRICAN UNION: Key leadership vote amid debates over security and funding

All eyes are on Addis Ababa this week where the African Union summit elects a new chair for the AU Commission while there is some relief and mutual congratulation over the peaceful resolution of the post-election crisis in the Gambia. Ahead of national elections in August, Kenya's opposition tries to unite around a single candidate. Ghana's new government prepares for what could be a tough meeting with the International Monetary Fund and South Africa's MTN mobile telecommunications company faces another investigation in NigeriaTurkey's President Erdogan has  arrived in Tanzania on the first leg of a three-nation tour.

AFRICAN UNION: Key leadership vote amid debates over security and funding
Choosing the next chair of the African Union Commission will be the main event during the organisation's summit in Addis Ababa from 22 to 31 January, but there is also a packed policy agenda facing delegates (hyperlink to AU piece).The biggest organisational question will be the AU reform to be presented by Rwanda's President Paul Kagame. He has been consulting a commission of luminaries including former African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka, former Executive Secretary of the UN's Economic Commission for Africa Carlos LopesZimbabwean telecoms magnate Strive Masiyiwa and Cape Verde Finance Minister Cristina Duarte.

Linked to their report, due to be tabled at the summit, will be a new proposal to finance the AU and its peacekeeping operations from a 0.2% levy on all imports in Africa. The assembled heads of state will also have to decide on Morocco's application for readmission to the AU. This could revive a division in the organisation over the recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and the contested status of Western Sahara. Algeria and South Africa are strong supporters of the SADR and its Polisario Front. They would strongly oppose any attempts by Morocco to expel the SADR from the AU.

There are a raft of security problems and political crises on the agenda such as:

• delays in sending a special protection force drawn from regional states to South Sudan;

• concern for the durability of the political agreement over elections in Congo-Kinshasa;

• continuing instability in Burundi and reports of worsening abuses there;

• reinforcements to the AU force in Somalia (Amisom) despite doubts about future funding;

• post-conflict reconstruction in the Central African Republic;

• AU's role in proposed national dialogue in Libya;

• future of the AU-led force for the elimination of the Lord's Resistance Army.

THE GAMBIA: Jammeh flies out as questions raised over stolen assets
As Gambians celebrate on the streets of Banjul after ex-President Yahya Jammeh's flight into exile, there are claims that he withdrew over US$10 million from the central bank before he left. Mai Ahmad Fatty, an advisor to President Adama Barrow, said there were serious concerns about the state of the treasury.

Barrow, who was sworn in as president in Dakar while West African forces closed in on Jammeh, is expected to return to Banjul early in the week. Although a statement from the Economic Community of West African States says that Jammeh would be allowed to keep assets and properties held in his name, many Gambian activists are calling for a full investigation into claims of last-minute looting.

KENYA: Opposition alliance is yet to choose a leader
The grand launch of Kenya's National Super Alliance (NASA) – a coalition of five opposition parties to contest national elections in August – will have little political impact unless the parties can quickly unite around a common candidate. Talks on that issue are said to be under way now.

Leader of the Orange Democratic Movement, Raila Odinga, 72, is the favoured choice to be the new alliance's presidential candidate but he would need strong support from politicians in the Western and Coast provinces to mount a convincing challenge to President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee party.
Apart from uniting around a candidate, the NASA group must build a powerful national organisation in the next few months that is capable of monitoring electoral registration, voting and counting for each polling area. In the last national elections in 2013, Odinga's party claimed there was vote-rigging and result-fixing but its dossier failed to convince the Chief Justice.

GHANA: Calls to review $918 million deal with the IMF
Ahead of a visit to Accra by a delegation from the International Monetary Fund this month, senior minister Yaw Osafo-Maarfo told parliament in Accra that the government's arrangements with the Fund would have to be revisited.

Already, Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia, who runs the new government's economy team, has described the fiscal position as 'fairly dire'. Total debt is running at over 71% of the country's gross domestic product.

His colleague, Finance Minister Ken Ofori Atta, says that tackling the high debt levels would be a priority for the new government as it tries to promote an economic upturn and create more jobs. The new government says the budget deficit is running at over 8% of GDP, as opposed to the target of 5.3% for 2016 set by the IMF in its agreement with the former government.

NIGERIA/SOUTH AFRICA: New hurdles on MTN deal
A new investigation – this time into claims that it illegally transferred $14 billion out of Nigeria between 2006 and 2016 – is worrying South Africa's top mobile telecommunications company, MTN. The investigation, which was initiated by Nigeria's Senate, follows the resolution of a dispute over the company's failure to delete all unregistered SIM cards at the government's demand.

After investigation on the SIM card issue, Nigeria's government announced it would fine MTN $5.2 bn. for jeopardising national security: it suggested that terrorist groups and criminals had repeatedly used unregistered SIM cards. That dispute was finally settled when MTN agreed to pay a $1.1 bn. fine and list the company on the Nigeria Stock Exchange.

Due to the poor performance of Nigeria's stock market – the market index lost 40% in US dollar terms last year – MTN officials say they may wait until 2018 to list in the country. They may also be concerned about the outcome of the Senate investigation – even if Nigeria's Communications Minister Adebayo Shittu has warned the National Assembly about the dangers of 'scaring' away MTN.

TURKEY/AFRICA: Erdogan due in energy producing states
As Turkey steps up investment and trade in Africa, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is on a three-nation tour of Africa from 22 to 25 January — his third official visit to Africa in a year. This week the stopovers are in Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar; all are new energy producers. Over the past decade, Turkey has more than tripled the number of its embassies in Africa and quickly expanded the routes of Turkish Airlines.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Pan-Africanist solutions

In the new edition of Africa Confidential, our correspondents complete their tour d'horizon of the developments and people who will shape 2017 on the continent. Throughout the edition, we trace the effects of the changing international backdrop, particularly the political changes in Europe and the United States, which are likely to reduce their involvement in Africa. That means a proportionately greater role for the bigger Asian countries, as the opening article makes clear.

It is also likely to lead to a more robust pan-African strategy by the continent's biggest economies for cross-border integration and consolidation of the regional economic groupings. There is no agreed blueprint across the continent but senior officials in Southern, East and West Africa are stepping up plans to open their markets for wholly pragmatic commercial reasons: a response to investors' demands for scale.

That could have its corollary in political developments in West Africa. The decision by the region's leaders to face down Gambian President Yahya Jammeh's attempts to hang on to power after losing the election in December is a litmus test for the continent. Regional leaders say they will cease to recognise Jammeh as President on 19 January.

The next steps will depend on Jammeh's response but the omens are not good. Although most of his senior ministers have resigned, Jammeh has declared a state of emergency and shows every sign of using force to stop Adama Barrow from assuming his mandate.

Read all about it in AC Vol 58 No 2.

Monday, 16 January 2017

AFRICA/UNITED STATES: Tussling for influence in Trumplandia

This week we have two presidential inaugurations to follow, both idiosyncratic in their own way: that of Adama Barrow in Banjul and of Donald J. Trump in Washington DC. United States policy is also under scrutiny on relations with Sudan, as is Nigeria's policy towards China and the further downgrading of ties with Taiwan. Finally, South African President Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, have taken their differences over the succession into the open.

AFRICA/UNITED STATES: Tussling for influence in Trumplandia
Although Egypt's President, Abdel Fatah el Sisi, was the first foreign leader to congratulate Donald Trump on winning the US elections, Africa was hardly mentioned in the election campaign. Authoritarian leaders such as El Sisi are betting that the Trump presidency, starting after the inauguration on Friday (20 January), will be good for them.

There are also suggestions that Trump's government will join forces with Egypt and Russia in backing the secular nationalists in Libya, led by General Khalifa Haftar against sundry Islamist factions. A US diplomat in Southern Africa pointed out discreetly that Trump's warmth towards President Vladimir Putin could prove helpful to South Africa's beleaguered President Zuma. But a former insider in Washington cautioned: 'As for policy matters, this is Trump. No one knows and anyone who says they do is lying.'

There is a little more clarity on personnel. Peter Pham, Director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, is strongly tipped as the new Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. An Associate Professor at James Madison University, Virginia, Pham specialises in regional geopolitics and security policy.

A former Marine and National Intelligence agent, Rob Townley, has been confirmed as the new Director for Africa at the National Security Council. Said to have a 'strong personality', Townley has served in combat operations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and his last job was Chief Strategy Officer at Doc-to-Dock, which provides medical support and conflict management services across Africa.

Tipped for a senior Africa role at the Department of Defense is Kate Almquist Knopf, Director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies since 2014. And Jeffrey R. Krilla, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy and Human Rights at the State Department, might move across to the African Affairs Department. Some Washington-watchers are also suggesting the return of Charles Snyder, the veteran intelligence officer and State Department official who played a key behind-the-scenes role in US policy under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush.

SUDAN/UNITED STATES: Sanctions deal and President Omer el Beshir's heart
The outgoing administration of President Barack Obama, having cleared the decision with President-elect Donald Trump's team, has ended sanctions on US companies investing in and trading with Sudan in what it calls 'an acknowledgement of progress by the government' in Khartoum.
The move follows over six months of secret negotiations between officials in Washington and Khartoum. However, Sudan remains on the US list of countries accused of sponsoring terrorism. Human rights campaigners in Africa and beyond have lambasted the decision.

Sudan's Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ahmed Ghandour says his government wants to intensify the dialogue with the USA and get the tougher security sanctions lifted. On the day before Washington made the announcement, President El Beshir had an exploratory cardiac catheterisation at the Royal Care Hospital in Cairo.

Choosing a hospital in neighbouring Egypt for this sensitive procedure suggests relations have improved between the two countries' presidents. Or perhaps that was what the detailed announcement released by the President's office in Khartoum was meant to convey.

THE GAMBIA: Jammeh digs in against Barrow's inauguration
After the failure of talks between regional leaders and President Yahya Jammeh to allow the inauguration of declared election-winner Adama Barrow to go ahead on 19 January, the stage is set for confrontation. Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari and Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf led a last-ditch mission to Banjul on 14 January to persuade Jammeh to stand down. He refused.

Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the United Nations Special Representative for West Africa, says regional leaders are likely to confirm their willingness to send troops into Gambia to uphold Barrow's electoral mandate. Yesterday (15 January), Barrow was reported to have arrived in Senegal, where he is likely to remain until just before Thursday (19 January), when his inauguration should take place. Regional leaders have said they will attend the ceremony but no details have emerged on how this will be organised. Reports from Banjul speak of heightening tension and say that Jammeh's allies have been recruiting mercenaries to shore up his regime against any regional intervention.

NIGERIA: Chinese cash but more devaluation talk
Latest forecasts from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for this year suggest Nigeria's economy will return to modest growth of 1.7% this year after it sank into recession last year. The government's ambitious Keynesian public investment plans will require massive financing. One estimate refers to US$30 billion in new loans.

There is much talk of a mega-loan from Qatar but the latest report comes from Chinese officials who speak of a plan to invest $40 bn. in Nigerian infrastructure. This has not come without a diplomatic price.

Following a visit to Abuja by China's Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama has restated his government's 'One China' policy. And on 12 January, he ordered Taiwan to downgrade its trade office by moving it from Abuja, the political capital, to the commercial capital, Lagos.

Despite slightly higher oil prices and multiple promises of new money for Nigeria, the naira remains vulnerable to market pressure. It has lost more than 40% of its value since the Central Bank removed its peg to the US dollar last June. Many bankers insist that the authorities will have to end their attempts to manage the exchange rate and let the naira float.

SOUTH AFRICA: Zuma disses deputy
Factional disputes at the top of the African National Congress have resurfaced in the new year with President Jacob Zuma dismissing the political ambitions of his Deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa. Zuma rejected the idea that it was an ANC tradition for the Deputy President to succeed the President and suggested that the trades unions' endorsement of Ramaphosa would not be a significant factor in leadership elections at the end of the year.

The usually painfully cautious Ramaphosa is stepping up his campaign. In a not-so-oblique reference to Zuma's links to the wealthy Gupta family, currently the subject of legal action, Ramaphosa said on 15 January: 'There have been instances where internal processes have been infiltrated by individuals and companies seeking preferential access to state business.'

Until now, Zuma's preferred candidate as next president of the ANC has been his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, whose candidacy was endorsed by the party's Women's League last week. ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said late last year that some six candidates were running for the top job.

We hear from Johannesburg that another contender may come into the open: Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba is said to have won the backing of the ANC Youth League. A former leader of the Youth League, Gigaba has been a strong supporter of Zuma but is a generation younger than most of the others in the leadership race.

Monday, 9 January 2017

WEST AFRICA/THE GAMBIA: Steering Jammeh to the door, again

We start in Accra, where regional leaders attending the inauguration of Ghana's new President, Nana Akufo-Addo, also found time to discuss ways to make the Gambia's defiant Yahya Jammeh leave the stage. Starting work with an inspection of the presidential guard and a gloomy economic briefing, Akufo-Addo is expected to announce his first ministerial appointments this week. After a busy weekend, Côte d'Ivoire's President Alassane Ouattara is due to announce a new Prime Minister this week. Infuriated by laws allowing the electoral commission to use both manual and electronic voter registration and results systems, Kenya's opposition is threatening mass protests. And an apparently chastened President Jacob Zuma has told African National Congress activists that the party leadership would from now on listen more intently to the people.

WEST AFRICA/THE GAMBIASteering Jammeh to the door, again
It was Ghana's successful transition and the inauguration of new President Nana Akufo-Addo last Saturday (7 January) that gave regional leaders meeting in Accra the chance to discuss how they are going fix the explosive situation in the Gambia.

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Senegal's President Macky Sall and Guinea's President Alpha Condé held impromptu discussions on the Gambian crisis after attending Akufo-Addo's swearing-in.

Johnson-Sirleaf, Chairwoman of the Economic Community for West African States, used the occasion to send Jammeh a message, saying the regional organisation was closely watching events in Banjul. 'We call on the people of the Gambia to follow the example of Ghana and put the interest of the nation above all personal interests.' She added, 'We stand with the people of Gambia.'

Regional leaders resumed talks on Gambia today (9 January), this time chaired by Buhari in Abuja. Ghana sent outgoing President John Mahama, perhaps to show there is a life after the presidency. Jammeh has closed four local radio stations. The Gambia's much-depleted Supreme Court is due to hear his election petition tomorrow (10 January), only nine days before the date on which the president-elect, Adama Barrow, is due to be sworn in.

For now, Ecowas is sticking to its position: that it will recognise Barrow as the legitimate president after 19 January. How it will handle Jammeh – once again a rogue president – is the trickiest issue. Nigeria and Senegal have emphatically refused to rule out using military force.

GHANA: Now Accra's extravaganza is over, back to work
Over 200,000 people gathered in Black Star Square under the red, gold and green of the national flag to cheer on Nana Akufo-Addo as he took the oath of office. Sporting a chief's kaleidoscopic kente cloth from Bonwire in Ashanti region, Akufo-Addo promised that his presidency would protect the public purse.

'State coffers are not spoils for the party that wins an election,' he told the crowd to resounding cheers, 'but resources for social and economic development. Money is to be made in the private sector, not the public.'

Business people in Accra say they expect a detailed audit of, at least, all the biggest construction and financing deals with a view to renegotiation if the terms are judged too detrimental to the country. Ken Ofori-Atta, the founder of the pan-African Databank Group, who has been managing the economic policy part of the transition, is likely to be formally appointed finance minister this week.

COTE D'IVOIREA mutiny and a reshuffle — all in Ouattara's week
With the news of a mutiny over soldiers' pay and conditions starting in the military base in Bouaké, the capital of the country's northern region, on 6 January, panic started spreading across the country. The following day, it had spread to Abidjan, the commercial capital.

With memories still fresh of street-fighting five years ago, Abidjan quickly shut down and everyone moved off the streets. Meanwhile, President Alassane Ouattara, who has been presiding over the shaky integration of regular army and militia forces, jetted off to Accra for the inauguration of his friend, Nana Akufo-Addo. As guest of honour at the event, Ouattara extolled the virtues of democracy but omitted to mention his local difficulties in Bouaké and Abidjan.

As soon as the Accra ceremony ended, Ouattara flew back to Abidjan to be greeted by Guillaume Soro, the highly ambitious National Assembly Speaker and former leader of the Forces nouvelles guerrillas. Despite the mistrust between them, the two men cobbled together a deal that quelled the mutiny within hours. Many say Soro is unsackable, despite allegations of serious human rights abuses against him, because of his influence over militia fighters across the country.
Perhaps a clue to the deal can be found in the statement Ouattara made today (9 January): that veteran Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan and his team of ministers are to resign immediately. The ostensible reason was the passing of the country's new constitution late last year.

Whatever government team is now formed will be a foretaste of the shape of Ivorian politics after Ouattara leaves office, and a sign of the role Soro will be playing in it.

KENYAOpposition fumes at new election laws
Although the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (Cord), led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, furiously opposes a new law that will allow manual – as well as electronic – voter registration and results transmission, some election experts think they may have picked the wrong target and are putting undue faith in the infallibility of electronic systems.

Odinga's ally in Cord, Moses Wetangula, says the new laws, pushed through parliament by the governing Jubilee party, would provide a 'solid foundation for rigging' presidential and parliamentary elections in August. Odinga says his party will organise nationwide protests if President Uhuru Kenyatta signs the bill into law.

However, political activists in Ghana and Nigeria insisted that the key to election scrutiny was comprehensive checks and verification of the system for electoral registration and results transmission and ensuring that opposition parties have full access to verified results sheets from every polling station.

An official with the victorious New Patriotic Party in Ghana pointed out that the party ran its own manual and electronic voter tabulation in parallel, as did many civic groups, as a check on the state's electoral commission. There was a brief moment of panic on the day after elections in Ghana when it emerged that the electoral commission's electronic system of results transmission had been hit by a cyber-attack.

SOUTH AFRICAZuma calms down the ANC, as his ex-wife prepares to succeed him
Dialling down the arrogance, President Jacob Zuma tried to rally the faithful at the African National Congress's 105th birthday rally at the Orlando football stadium in Soweto yesterday (8 January). It was a sharp change of tone from a man who once said the ANC would rule 'until Jesus comes'.

The ANC, racked by factionalism, corruption and challenges to the 74-year-old Zuma's leadership, faces a demanding year, leading up to its elective conference in December. Zuma told the crowd, 'Our people have told us that we come across as too busy fighting one another and do not pay sufficient attention to their needs.'

Big political battles are playing out behind the scenes, with two undeclared candidates — Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and outgoing Chairwoman of the African Union Commission and Jacob Zuma's ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — vying for the job of ANC president. Also over the weekend, Dlamini-Zuma got a boost from the ANC Women's League which is backing her for the top ANC job.

Friday, 6 January 2017

A year of transitions

Good, bad, ugly or interminable political transitions will loom large in 2017. The theme of transition will dominate the first two editions of Africa Confidential, which carry a set of economic and political forecasts for countries facing major changes this year.

In Ghana, defeated President John Mahama quickly conceded and jointly managed a transition with winner Nana Akufo-Addo, who is due to take over on 7 January. Not so in Gambia, where President Yahya Jammeh changed his mind about accepting defeat in December's elections. The head of the military, General Ousman Badjie, who initially pledged support for election winner Adama Barrow, has changed his mind, too. A trial of strength looms between Jammeh and regional leaders who insist they will recognise Barrow as the legitimate President after 19 January.

Transitions in Congo-Kinshasa and South Africa will also attract attention. After talks mediated by the Catholic Church, President Joseph Kabila now says he will hold elections and step down by December. His opponents insist he signs the deal in public. Jacob Zuma will be replaced as President of the African National Congress by the end of the year: if he goes with his favoured successor in place, he will still wield influence. If he's forced out early, it would end his political career and that of his key allies. Big changes are looking more likely in Zimbabwe. In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta is tipped to win elections in August but with a high risk of a messy dispute.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The year ahead

People across the world, bar journalists, seem to want to live in less interesting times after the political conflagrations and shifting geopolitics of last year. There is no sign that this wish will be granted, even in Africa.

The preoccupations of the West and much of Asia with the consequences of the election of President Donald J Trump in the United States as well as Great Britain's exit from the European Union, will mean less diplomatic and, perhaps, less investment attention on Africa.

After Trump and Brexit, the forecasting industry geared up for a bumper year based on a range of assumptions which would affect Africa: weakening US commitment to the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation; a US-China trade war; a new geopolitical carve-up between the US and Russia in Europe and the Middle East; rapid growth of nationalist and populist parties in Europe; a more inward-looking, temporarily at least, UK.

At the end of this week, Africa Confidential publishes its traditional edition looking ahead at the politicians, parties, banks and businesses, militaries and militias that will shape the New Year. Meanwhile, here are a few signposts.

GHANA: Happy new government, happy New Year, but the bills are coming in
On 7 January, President-elect Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo will be sworn in with pomp, ceremony and before an array of African heads of state but his officials are quietly dampening expectations of a speedy economic turnaround.

Forecasts from the World Bank suggest economic growth may rise to over 6% this year from under 4% in 2016 but recovery will be hindered by a mounting debt burden. Domestic and foreign debts are reckoned to be well over 70% of gross domestic product. This week, fuel importers are demanding payment for debts of some US$400 million accumulated since the last election.

Outgoing President John Mahama's belated appointment of two key officials – the Auditor General and the head of the Anti-Corruption Commission – in the dying days of his government prompted widespread criticism. But for this week, partisan wrangling is likely to be suspended.

GAMBIA: Jammeh goes to the brink
It's not just enough for President Yahya Jammeh to lose an election, concede defeat and then change his mind last month. He looks determined to hold the country – and much of the region – in suspense until 19 January, when the election winner Adama Barrow is due to be sworn in as President.

Shortly after Jammeh changed his mind about conceding defeat to Barrow, he sent soldiers to seize the Independent Electoral Commission, which had announced the fateful results. Regional leaders met in Nigeria to make clear their support for Barrow's election, diplomatically and militarily, if need be. Senegal and Nigeria reiterated the stern message to Jammeh.

Since then Jammeh has pulled the soldiers out of the Commission but he closed down a couple of radio stations and has inveighed against regional interference in Gambian politics.

CONGO-KINSHASA: More brinkmanship from Kabila and his party
The New Year deal which is meant to see Joseph Kabila unambiguously out of the presidency by December has been signed by everyone except the man himself. With the Roman Catholic church mediating and oppositionists such as Kasai's Etienne Tshisekedi and Katanga's Möise Katumbi making big concessions, the hope is that Kabila will sign and avert catastrophe.

His long-term backers in AngolaCongo-Brazzaville and South Africa have, for various reasons, indicated they have run out of patience with him. That could prove decisive.

SOMALIA: A President emerges, at last
After meeting in Mogadishu on 27 January, some 284 of the country's MPs have to elect a speaker, and then a national President in this much extended and indirect election.

For all that, incumbent President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud remains the favourite candidate among a dozen contenders. None of this is likely to have much bearing on the pressing security issues confronting the new government.

MALI: Fresh attacks in the north sound alarms
A round of attacks and kidnappings in the three northern provinces is adding to concerns about the stability of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta's government in Bamako. Mali hosts one of the UN's biggest peacekeeping missions but also one of its most dysfunctional.

AFRICAN UNION: A continental election at a critical point
Six candidates are due to join battle at the end of this month in Addis Ababa for the chair of the African Union Commission. A late surge by Senegal's Abdoulaye Bathily, who is backed by many West African and North African states, is challenging Kenya's Amina Mohamed who was hoping to benefit from a high-profile campaign in East Africa.

Another leading contender is Botswana's Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, the Southern African candidate. Incumbent AUC chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is leaving after one term to run for the presidency of South Africa.

MOROCCO: Rabat courts the African Union with regional repercussions
After submitting its formal application to join the AU last year, some 40 years after it walked out of the continental organisation, Morocco has been gradually building up support for its re-admission.
But it also wants to secure the expulsion of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) which has been in a hot and cold war with Rabat over control of the Western Sahara. For now there seems little chance that even Morocco's skilful diplomats could persuade the SADR's main backers – Algeria and South Africa – to change their strong support.

NIGERIA: Buhari claims security successes and makes overtures to the Delta
In the division of labour that was meant to shape his government, President Muhammadu Buhari claimed successes on the security and anti-corruption front in his New Year message. But there are plenty of caveats. Nigeria's army may have pushed Boko Haram out of the Sambisa forest but the surrounding areas are far from secure.

Apart from sporadic militia attacks, there are horrendous shortages of food and medicines for the displaced peoples trying to move back into their home areas. Down in the oil-producing Niger Delta, Buhari repeated his efforts to woo over local people and outflank the still highly-dissatisfied militant groups.

GUINEA: Arrest of Steinmetz complicates the iron-ore power play
It takes more than an internal purge in mining giant Rio Tinto and the arrest, in Israel, of the company's deadly commercial rival, Beny Steinmetz, to resolve the tortuous litigation surrounding Guinea's Simandou iron ore deposit, one of the biggest in the world.

Rio, Steinmetz and Brazil's Vale continue their three-way legal battles but the low world price of iron ore is an equal, if not greater, obstacle to its exploitation. There is promise of investment from a new Chinese shareholder, however.

ZIMBABWE: Mnangagwa edges Mugabe towards the exit
Southern Africa's recent political history is strewn with confident but erroneous predictions of President Robert Mugabe's departure. But as the economic failures deepen and opposition parties coalesce, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa is taking on more and more day-to-day control of the government and the President becomes an increasingly ceremonial figure.

That is a nightmare scenario for First Lady Grace Mugabe and she can be expected to launch more political fightbacks this year despite the diminishing credibility of her faction within the ruling party.

KENYA: Smart alliances, economic winds and vigilance will determine election
Opposition leader Raila Odinga has been carefully studying the opposition victory in Ghana, based as it was on a mastery of information technology and electoral systems, together with a tightly-organised party structure. Odinga's organisation is lacking on all those counts but shows signs of trying to stitch together an effective regional alliance outside his bailiwick of Nyanza province.
President Uhuru Kenyatta's chances of re-election will depend on division in the opposition and on the strength of the economy as complaints mount about corruption and banking failures.

ANGOLA: Dos Santos announces his own eventual exit
With a remarkable lack of fanfare, President José Eduardo dos Santos has made public his own exit strategy after nearly four decades in power. After parliamentary elections in August, he will hand over presidential duties to the current Defence Minister and long-time loyal follower João Lourenço.

That's not quite the end of the Dos Santos dynasty: his daughter Isabel will continue to run the state oil company, as well as having a strategic stake in all Angola's major banks, and his son José Filomeno de Sousa 'Zenu' will still head the country's sovereign wealth fund.

LIBERIA: Making history the Johnson-Sirleaf way
Talking with our correspondent earlier in the year, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf made clear that she intended to break some national political traditions: she would leave office without a military fight and she would continue to live in the country peacefully after the presidential elections in October. Meanwhile, over ten serious candidates are lining up to succeed her.

SOUTH AFRICA: The ebbing of Jacob Zuma's political tide
This will be President Jacob Zuma's most testing political year. Top officials in the African National Congress insist that Zuma will be replaced as President of the party at its elective conference in December. Although the party constitution doesn't bar presidents standing for a third term, they say there is broad consensus that they should elect a new leader of the party in December who would go on to stand as its candidate for the national presidency in the 2019 elections.

But the story doesn't end there. Zuma could still wield substantive power if he gets one of his favoured candidates to succeed him. That is why Zuma's foe in the ANC want to push him out of the national presidency as soon as possible and several more factional battles are likely before December.
As canny as any of his rivals, Zuma is unlikely to go quietly.