Monday, 12 June 2017

AFRICA/EUROPE: After political shocks, a new diplomatic order starts work

Political changes in Europe – and their effects on Africa – start the ball rolling this week. And then it's off to Lusaka where the Zambian government is about to ink a new deal with the IMF. In Nigeria, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo's profile could rise higher still should he sign the 2017 budget while his boss, President Muhammadu Buhari, stays on medical leave. There are more warnings about election clashes in Kenya, and Ethiopia needs another billion dollars of emergency food to stave off a disaster, following the recent drought.

AFRICA/EUROPE: After political shocks, a new diplomatic order starts work
As the slings and arrows of voter sentiment hit Europe's populist movements, the continent's diplomacy is adapting, particularly in Africa. This week Germany is convening several special meetings on economic and security policy in Africa ahead of its G-20 summit.

The immediate winners in these diplomatic shifts are the centrist governments that are running Germany and France. Both Chancellor Angela Merkel and newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron are espousing a more robust and internationalist approach, which they contrast to the more nationalist and inward-looking ideas espoused in the United States under President Donald Trump and Britain under Theresa May.

Last week's national election and political meltdown in Britain after the governing Conservative Party lost its majority in Parliament is likely to reinforce this trend. With Prime Minister Theresa May's position gravely weakened, there is still more confusion about the government's plans for leaving the European Union and promised reformulation of its trade and diplomatic strategy.

By contrast, Germany is leading a new generation of trade and investment pacts which Côte d'Ivoire, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal and Tunisia have already signed. Chancellor Merkel is calling for a Marshall Fund to accelerate economic growth and development in Africa. Her Development Minister Gerd Mueller is calling on the United Nations this week to establish a €10 billion (US $11.2 bn.) fund to respond to the chronic food shortages and crop failures, which have worsened as a result of climate change.

France's President Macron, further strengthened by the victory of his En Marche! party in the first round of legislative elections on 11 June, has already signaled his strong support for a stronger European security policy in the Sahel, where French special forces have been deployed to fight jihadist groups. Some big funding battles loom over how the regional security budgets are divided: France and Germany have concentrated funding and projects in the Sahel; Britain has focused its efforts in Somalia.

ZAMBIA: Lusaka prepares for IMF deal after mining rows
With its financial engineers returning to Lusaka this week, the International Monetary Fund says it could conclude a US$1.3 bn. adjustment loan deal with the government in the coming days. The government has pledged to halve its budget deficit to 4% by 2019 but the deal still has to be approved formally by the IMF board in August.

These negotiations come amid continuing political turmoil, during which challenges to last year's national elections have escalated with the detention of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema on treason charges.

Some of the political rows have spilled into the country's mining industry as the government has struck an increasingly nationalist posture as local economic pressures mount. Earlier this year a dispute over taxes and royalties prompted a public spat between President Edgar Lungu's government and the Canadian-listed First Quantum Mining. After much bluster, Lungu opted for discreet private negotiations to settle the row. But last week, local police arrested 31 Chinese citizens accused of illegal mining; Chinese mining companies, like their Western and Indian counterparts in Zambia, have been accused of financial malpractice by successive governments over the past 15 years.

NIGERIA: Why the signature on the 2017 budget is so politically important
Will he or won't he? That's the unresolved question in Nigeria about whether President Muhammadu Buhari, on medical leave in London since 7 May, will make it back to Abuja to sign this year's budget. Some staffers in Aso Rock started talking up the President's imminent return.

Such speculation about Buhari has now been formally squashed with one of his aides telling journalists that he was undergoing further tests on 12 June; the results of which would determine the date of his return to Nigeria.

Two officials in the presidency and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, insist the 2017 budget will be signed this week, having been approved by both houses of the National Assembly after a six-month delay. This means Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo would sign the bill, a move which many would see as increasing his standing in the political system. It would also unblock most of the pipelines of government spending, both to ministries and to the politically important 36 states in the federation.

However, some of Buhari's allies are getting wary about Osinbajo's political profile. No longer seen as the apolitical technocrat, Osinbajo's role as stand-in for Buhari, deal-maker in the Delta, and now presiding over the 2017 budget, positions him clearly in the front line of politics. And that means getting into the starting blocks for the 2019 elections.

KENYA: Fears mount after Odinga warns on election trickery and violence
There is a worrying sense of déjà vu about national elections in August with politicians making public condemnations of violence but saying they will not be able to hold back their supporters if there is provocation. That was the line both sides adopted in the 2007 elections and their violent aftermath. Politicians generally reined in the rhetoric in 2013 because the horror of the 2007 elections was fresh in people's minds.

Political speeches have been far less constrained this year. The latest top politician to sound such harrowing warnings is Raila Odinga, presidential candidate of the opposition National Super Alliance. In a series of press briefings, Odinga has said he thought something sinister was afoot at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission where two senior officials were dismissed this month.

One of them headed the procurement office which organises the production of some 130 million ballot papers for national, provincial and local government elections.

ETHIOPIA: Despite economic successes, desperate food shortages in drought hit areas
The government's food stocks are running dangerously low, it has warned this week, with people in the Ogaden areas neighbouring Somalia facing a 'food and nutritional' disaster next month without fresh supplies. After 15 years of high growth and talk of a long-term economic turnaround, the crisis is a blow to the government's efforts to forge a new image for the country. Officials in Addis Ababa reject any insinuation that the food crisis, which affects almost 8 million people or a tenth of the country, is in any way a replay of the famines that plagued the country in the 1980s.

Although climate change and the drought are the main causes of the current food crisis, tens of thousands of migrants trying to escape the continuing conflict in Somalia are putting added pressure on Ethiopia's state system. Mitiku Kassa, head of disaster relief in the Addis Ababa government, says the country needs at least a billion dollars worth of emergency food aid.

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