This week we start in Lusaka where the dispute between the government and First Quantum Minerals is still simmering. And then to Mali, where French President Emmanuel Macron has been outlining a tougher military policy. In South Africa, President Jacob Zuma faces an ever-louder chorus of criticism over his links to the Gupta family and another key vote this week. Finally, in the new axis of nationalists Presidents Donald Trump and Abdel Fattah el Sisi hit it off at a meeting in Riyadh.
ZAMBIA: Mixed messages on copper confrontation with
Both the government of President Edgar Lungu
and the management of First Quantum Minerals have tamped down the
rhetoric in their public confrontation over claims that the Canadian-listed
mining company was liable for US$1.4 billion for having allegedly
broken regulations governing company borrowing. The dispute went
nuclear after government officials said that FQM directors could be
arrested if they entered the country and be charged with fraud (AC Vol
58 No 10, Spat
with FQM continues). FQM has denied any wrongdoing.
Since then President Lungu has sent out his Finance Minister, Felix
Mutati, with a more conciliatory message: talks between
government negotiators and the company would begin on 30 May and should
be over within a week. There has been no further mention of arrest
All this comes as Zambia is also negotiating a balance of
payments facility of at least $1.2 bn. from the International Monetary
Fund. Last week World Bank Vice-President for Africa, Mahktar
Diop, was in Lusaka and agreed new development financing of
$600 million. Although the two Washington financial institutions have
not commented publicly on the FQM affair, their officials and United
States diplomats are known to be extremely concerned about the
Lungu government's direction of travel. On 21 May, opposition
leader Hakainde Hichilema's wife, Mutinta,
launched an international appeal on behalf of her husband, who has been
in prison for over five weeks for supposed treason. Officials say that
some of Hichilema's foreign backers have also been lobbying on behalf
AFRICA/FRANCE: President Macron draws Germany closer
in anti-terror alliance
In a strong statement about his commitment to fighting
terrorism, France's new President, Emmanuel Macron, flew to Mali on 19
May for talks with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta
and to meet the 1,600 French troops stationed there. Although one of
the main impediments facing the United Nations and regional forces in
Mali appears to be a failure of negotiations between the Bamako
government and Tuareg nationalists, little of substance emerged about
the discussions between the two presidents. Keïta's officials have been
increasingly critical of French policy in the Sahel under Macron's
predecessor François Hollande.
Macron made much of the need to speed up the tempo of the
international military operation 'to secure the Sahel' – an area bigger
than Europe. Greater collaboration with Germany in
that anti-terror campaign would be critical, said Macron, which would
be providing more advanced attack helicopters and armoured cars.
SOUTH AFRICA: What next after ANC rejects return of
Zuma ally to run state power company?
After another daring round of appointments and
subterranean moves against his opponents, President Jacob Zuma faces
yet more tests this week with a key vote on his presidency at the
National Executive Committee of the governing African National
Congress. In past debates, Zuma has circled the wagons, drawn enough
loyalists from his home province of kwaZulu-Natal and from the
so-called premier league of provincial premiers to see off any serious
Last month, an attempt to sanction Zuma for his sacking of
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan at the ANC's National
Working Committee ended in ignominy for some of his main foes as they
publicly withdrew their criticism. Since then sentiment in the ANC has
moved further against Zuma.
A key point of contention has been the state power utility
Eskom's decision to reappoint Brian Molefe, a Zuma
ally, as its chief executive. Molefe resigned from the post last year
after a report by the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela,
suggested the close relations between Molefe and the Guptas had a
hugely negative effect on Eskom's policy-making and finances.
Several senior ANC officials have called on Zuma to reverse
Molefe's reappointment and the issue looks certain to be raised at the
NEC. On 21 May, Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa made a
strident call for the ANC to stop South Africa being turned into a
mafia state. He also called for a judicial inquiry to investigate
Madonsela's reports on the influence of private business interests on
the Zuma presidency.
EGYPT/UNITED STATES: Mutual admiration society on the
On the first foreign tour of his presidency, Donald
Trump lavished praise on Egypt's President Abdel
Fattah el Sisi after a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Telling journalists that 'safety seems to be very strong in Egypt',
Trump said that he has been having 'very important talks' with
President el Sisi. He also admired El Sisi's shiny black shoes.
In turn El Sisi described Trump as a 'unique personality
capable of doing the impossible'. Trump shot back, 'I agree.' Last
November, El Sisi was the first foreign leader to congratulate Trump on
his election victory. The two men shored up US-Egypt government
relations, lubricated by $1.4 bn. a year in military aid and a common
opposition to militant Islamist groups in the region. There is some
speculation that Trump will support Egypt's role in neighbouring Libya,
where El Sisi backs the hardline nationalist leader Khalifa
Haftar. But no details emerged of any policy change.