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.

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