Britain Dances Around Relations with Africa

Africa Integrity finds it remarkable that five years elapsed between former prime minister David Cameron’s attendance at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013 and prime minister Theresa May’s official visit to Africa in August this year. The most recent previous prime ministerial trade mission was in 2011. Quite apart from a tendency to treat the entire continent as one country, it is also striking how limited both leaders have been in their continental ambitions. In 2011, Cameron had intended to spend five days on the continent, visiting South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda and the then-newly formed South Sudan.  In the event, he cut the visit to just two days and then slashed that paltry window of time by seven hours to return home for domestic political reasons.  He managed to make flying visits only to South Africa and Nigeria, both pretty obvious destinations that already enjoy reasonably cordial trade relations with Britain.

In August, Theresa May did slightly better, calling again on South Africa and Nigeria, and adding Kenya to her itinerary, where she showed off her dance moves and extolled a bright trading future between Britain and Africa.  If this is what she intends, her actions don’t match her rhetoric. A whirlwind tour of the three anglophone giants among the African economies is simply not good enough.  Where is the engagement with francophone economies, some of which (such as Rwanda and Gabon) have made symbolic overtures to the UK by bringing the English language to the centre of their political and commercial spheres? Why are Britain’s diplomats and politicians hesitant to engage meaningfully with the francophone bloc, which – with its currencies tied to the Euro – is increasingly keen to break free of the constraints put on it by the European Central Bank and reduce its dependency on the former colonial power?

Where is the engagement with Angola, an oil-economy to rival Nigeria that has recently embarked on an exciting new post-dos Santos era?  Why did Zimbabwe, historically so close to the UK and now struggling to free itself from the mire of the Mugabe-era, not merit a supportive visit?  And, as for South Sudan – which so badly needs friends in the west – and Somaliland – which wishes to establish itself as independent from Somalia – they might as well not exist.

Africa is a mighty continent, with a young, generally well-educated population that is as hungry for political change as it is for consumer goods. Whether or not Brexit is the right choice for Britain, it is looming large.  And, in Africa Integrity’s experience, many Africans embrace Brexit. They see opportunities for post-Brexit Britain to adopt a more inclusive global immigration policy.  And they are optimistic about the advantages that potentially freer trade with Britain – still held in such high regard and affection by many Africans – will bring.  The youth of Africa no longer see themselves as supplicants for aid but as potential partners to a more globally-orientated Britain after its departure from the EU.  The response from Britain’s political leaders to date has been woefully inadequate, if not insultingly dismissive, and will only weaken its relationship with the continent as other international players increase their engagement.

This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s October 2018 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.

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Taxing Questions

In 2018, there has been a growing trend of African government’s trying to tax, and in some instances restrict, the internet usage of their citizens. While governments see this as a way of strengthening their positions by raising much-needed funds, protecting state-owned telecom companies and reducing online criticism, it appears they have overlooked the long-term effects of such policies and their potential for provoking unrest.  

It has long been recognised that East Africa has led the way with respect to internet and mobile money innovations on the continent; as illustrated by the growth of platforms such as M-Pesa. It is therefore unsurprising that governments in East Africa have similarly been at the forefront of taxing and restricting internet usage and mobile money transactions. As user-bases have rapidly grown and opposition groups have increasingly used online forums, governments have simultaneously looked at the potential tax revenue provided by such users and the ability to which they can restrict opposition activities online. In the past year, the governments of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have imposed taxes on internet and mobile money usage. In Kenya and Uganda, the focus has been on mobile money payments and data usage, particularly in relation to social media, while in Tanzania the government imposed a so-called ‘blogger tax’, which required online bloggers to purchase a license that costs the equivalent of the country’s average annual income.

Although it can be argued that taxes on internet and mobile money usage help to broaden the narrow tax base that exists in most African countries, such taxes tend to be regressive. While Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni considers mobile money and social media platforms as “luxury items”, he overlooks their broad user-bases and the increasingly important role they play in Uganda’s economy and society. In Kenya in particular, where over 93 percent of the population have mobile money accounts, taxes on mobile money transactions are likely to affect disproportionately the poorer in society, who do not have bank accounts and have become reliant on such platforms.

The imposition of taxes on internet usage and mobile money is not limited to East Africa and it seems that governments across the continent are increasingly examining the viability of such taxes. Since August 2018, the governments of Benin, Zambia and Zimbabwe have announced similar taxes on internet usage and mobile money. In Zimbabwe, this has had a had a damaging effect on the economy, where mobile money was one of the very few economic successes of recent years.

In Benin, the tax was so unpopular that the #TaxePasMesMo [Don’t Tax My Megabytes] protest movement managed to force the government to overturn its decision within less than a month. Similar protests have been seen elsewhere, not least Uganda, where Museveni was forced to halve the levy on mobile money following protests. It is likely that such protests will continue and intensify as people increasingly feel the everyday cost of such taxes.

Much has been written about the role of the internet in protest movements and, at least in the African context, commentators have tended to exaggerate its influence. That said, although it has not been particularly effective at strengthening the organisation of opposition groups, the restriction of access to internet and mobile money platforms is likely to become an important catalyst for protests and social unrest across the continent. The direct implications of such taxes can be easily exploited by opposition groups and, due to broad user-bases, it is possible that protest movements that coalesce around such issues could cut across traditional political divisions. Accordingly, African governments should think twice before following Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania’s examples.

This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s October 2018 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.

A Look Ahead to June 2018

The Beautiful Game Turns Ugly in Ghana

On 6th June, renowned undercover investigative journalist – Anas Aremeyaw Anas – will premier his new documentary in Accra entitled ‘Number 12’. After previously exposing corruption in Ghana’s police service, passport office and, most famously, the judiciary, Anas has turned his attention to the Ghana Football Association (GFA). Anas has said that he hopes that ‘Number 12’ will provide a “fresh start” for Ghana’s “tainted football system” and, given the fallout from his last exposé, it is likely that June will be an eventful month for the GFA. In the wake of his documentary on the judiciary in 2015, scores of judges and magistrates were suspended or sacked, and similar actions are expected at the GFA. Moreover, there are rumours that politicians and other government officials may be implicated in the documentary.

Given that President Nana Akufo-Addo was elected on an anti-corruption platform, ‘Number 12’ is seen as an important test of the administration’s commitment to this. And, thus far, it appears that the government is passing the test. After reportedly viewing part of the documentary in late May, Akufo-Addo called for the arrest of the GFA’s president – Kwesi Nyantakyi – on the grounds of “defrauding by false pretences”. It was reported that Nyantakyi allegedly offered access to the president and other senior government officials, in return for money. Akufo-Addo’s quick response was likely a reaction to the potential damage such an allegation could do to his anti-corruption credentials. However, it remains to be seen whether he will adopt this uncompromising approach to other individuals identified in the documentary, especially those with closer links to his party. Akufo-Addo has been praised for appointing a senior opposition figure in the newly created role of Special Prosecutor and it is hoped that this will prevent the government from adopting a politically partisan approach to anti-corruption, of which other governments in the region have been accused. Consequently, there are strong signs that those that are implicated will be properly investigated, no matter their political allegiance.

While ‘Number 12’ is set to reveal the ugly side of football in Ghana, its release further demonstrates the vibrancy of investigative journalism and anti-corruption activism in the country, which is seemingly supported by a government that is committed to improving Ghana’s international image.

Will Guinea-Bissau cope without ECOWAS’s guiding hand?

For the last three years, Guinea-Bissau’s government has been prevented from serving its purpose by a continuation of political crises. These were sparked by President Jose Mario Vaz’s decision to remove Domingos Pereira as prime minister in August 2015, which was opposed by the majority of the ruling party – Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC). Vaz and the rest of his party (PAIGC) were unable to agree on a new prime minister and, given Guinea-Bissau’s tumultuous history, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) quickly assumed the role of regional arbitrator, brokering a deal between the two sides. While this deal looked promising, it was broken by Vaz in December 2017, which led to ECOWAS imposing sanctions on individuals connected to the president, including his son. This was evidently an effective tactic as, following the imposition of sanctions, there was a breakthrough in negotiations and, on 17th April, Aristides Gomes was appointed prime minister and the government resumed its activities.

This was another success for ECOWAS, which is becoming increasingly effective at upholding democracy in the region. However, as Guinea-Bissau looks ahead to its legislative election in November 2018, it is slightly concerning that the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea Bissau (ECOMIB) will be withdrawn before the end of June. As voter registration has already started, it is likely that the coming months will experience an increase in political tension and the divide in the ruling party will be tested further. Considering the country’s recent experiences of political violence, the lack of ECOWAS’s presence in the country may see a resurgence in instability ahead of the election. An extension of ECOMIB’s mandate would allay these fears and help to create an environment which is conducive for a peaceful election. Without ECOMIB, the lead up to the election will be an important test of the resilience of Guinea-Bissau’s democratic system.

Bridging Nations

On 21st March 2018, 44 African heads of state signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which seeks to remove tariffs on 90 percent of continental trade. For many years, experts have recognised that increasing intra-African trade is key to economic development; however, this has been hindered, not only by tariffs, but also by Africa’s infrastructure deficit. Nevertheless, there are recent encouraging signs of improvement, particularly in the south and east, which should complement AfCFTA.

Infrastructure Deficit

In March 2018, the Export-Import Bank of India claimed in a study that inadequate transport infrastructure adds 30 to 40 percent to the cost of goods traded among African countries. In May 2017, the African Development Bank (AfDB) claimed in a report that, although intra-African trade has increased, transport and communication infrastructure is less developed between countries on the continent than it is between Africa and the rest of the world. Given this situation, it is unsurprising that intra-African trade continues to struggle.

However, there are signs of change. In Southern and Eastern Africa there are many transport infrastructure projects in development, seeking to build economic (as well as literal) bridges between nations and open the interior to international trade.

Port Expansion

International trade in Southern and Eastern Africa has been through a small number of ports, many of them in need of development. In the past year, improvements have started to be made. In July 2017, the World Bank approved a $345 million loan for the expansion of the Port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and in October 2017, it was announced that the Japanese government would provide a loan worth close to $350 million for the second phase of expansion at the Port of Mombasa in Kenya. Even Africa’s largest and most developed port – the Port of Durban in South Africa – commenced an upgrade and expansion project in 2017.

There has also been a growing number of rehabilitation projects at undeveloped ports along the eastern seaboard. Nacala in northern Mozambique, the mega-port at Bagamoyo in Tanzania and Berbera in Somaliland are three examples of such projects. These projects are vital to landlocked countries, which are often over-reliant on a specific transport route for exports. For example, nearly 95 percent of Ethiopia’s foreign trade is through the Port of Djibouti; a dependency that should be alleviated by rehabilitation of the Port of Berbera.

Opening the Interior

It is recognised that developments on the coast must be matched by infrastructure projects inland. The development of the Port of Nacala is part of a wider Nacala Corridor project, which includes a railway line to link north western Mozambique and Malawi to the coast. There are plans for this line to be extended into Zambia. Similarly, the expansion of the Port of Mombasa was preceded by the development of a new railway between Mombasa and Nairobi. This railway is part of an ambitious East African Railway Network, which will link Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. The second phase is currently under construction and the line should reach Uganda’s border by 2021.

Rail and Road Regeneration

In recent years, there has been investment in railway infrastructure across Southern and Eastern Africa which not only links the interior to ports but also facilitates intra-African trade. Projects in the region include: Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway between Ethiopia and Djibouti; Tazara Railway between Zambia and Tanzania; Lobito-Luau Railway between Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); and Trans-Kalahari Railway between Namibia and Botswana. While such projects have progressed at different paces, governments in the region have at least acknowledged the importance of modernising railway infrastructure: an important step to increasing intra-African trade.

There has also been increased investment in road infrastructure. The LAPSSET Corridor project in Kenya seeks to strengthen transport links between Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan. Although this project’s progress has been sluggish, new highways have greatly reduced travel time between Nairobi and the Ethiopian border, suggesting strong potential for the rest of the project. Another example of reducing travel time through improved road infrastructure is the Kazungula Bridge, which is set to be completed by March 2019. The road and rail bridge will link Zambia and Botswana and create a one-stop border post between the two countries. It is estimated that this will reduce the time crossing the border from 30 hours to 6 hours. This will greatly improve transport along the North-South Corridor from the Port of Durban to the Copperbelt in the DRC and Zambia. Zimbabwe also joined the Kazungula Bridge project in March 2018. Although there are concerns that it could divert business away from Zimbabwe, the country’s road network will be linked to the project and it may encourage the government to upgrade its current road infrastructure to remain competitive.

Foundation for the Future

While many of the transport infrastructure projects in Southern and Eastern Africa have been slow-moving and have suffered from bureaucratic inefficiency, and in some instances corruption, improvements are evidently being made. This will not only open the interior to a growing number of international ports, but also increase intra-African trade. While established sectors such as mining will be the primary beneficiaries in the short-term, it should also contribute to the development of a range of sectors in the medium to long-term. Such development will be aided by the AfCFTA, which, although still to be ratified by each country’s government and lacking the support of important economies like Nigeria, will further reduce barriers to intra-African trade. The combination of the AfCFTA and improvements to transport infrastructure in Southern and Eastern Africa is providing a strong foundation for local economies.  This will doubtless present a range of investment opportunities in the coming years.

This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s April 2018 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.

A Look Ahead to May 2018

Referendum on Burundi’s Future

In March 2018, it was announced that a referendum on changes to Burundi’s constitution would take place on 17th May 2018. The proposed changes include the extension of presidential terms from five to seven years and the implementation of a two-term limit. However, importantly, this term limit will not account for any previous terms, enabling the current president – Pierre Nkurunziza – to serve until 2034.

Since Nkurunziza decided to run for a controversial third-term in 2015, which seemingly contradicted the terms of the Arusha Accords – a peace agreement that helped to end Burundi’s civil war – Burundi has experienced a prolonged and violent political crisis. During this crisis, it is estimated that over 400,000 civilians have fled the country and over 1200 people have been killed. The security forces and the ruling party’s youth league – Imbonerakure – have coordinated a violent crackdown on opposition groups and the media. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has opened an investigation into Nkurunziza as a result of this, which demonstrates its severity. And, with the constitutional referendum fast approaching, it appears that the regime has intensified its repressive strategy to ensure the continuation of Nkurunziza’s presidency.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been highly critical of the regime and has warned that intimidation is being used in order to pass the constitutional changes. There has been an increase in arbitrary arrests of members of the opposition Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), who have also been the targets of violent attacks from the Imbonerakure. The government has suspended the online comments section of the IWACU newspaper for a three-month period and the National Assembly has passed a law allowing the security forces to conduct night raids without warrants. Moreover, senior figures in the regime have issued explicit threats to those who oppose the government. For example, in January 2018, the First Vice President – Gaston Sindimwo – reportedly stated that “political opponents who campaign for the no vote must be arrested because, for us, this is rebellious against the orders of the head of state”.

Under such conditions, the result of the referendum is almost predetermined. That said, as government repression increases ahead of the vote, there is potential for violent unrest, particularly in the capital – Bujumbura.     

Africa’s Economists Assemble in Korea

The 53rd Annual Meeting of the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) Board of Governors will take place in South Korea between 21st and 25th May 2018. The meeting will attract heads of state, finance ministers, central bank governors and other public and private stakeholders from across the continent. The theme of the meeting will be ‘Accelerating Africa’s Industrialisation’ and it seems that the aim is to learn from the successes of their host.

The decision to hold the meeting in South Korea reflects the increase in its investment in Africa. This has been particularly pronounced in East Africa, where, following the fifth Korea-Africa Economic Co-operation Conference in October 2016, South Korea pledged $155 million in concessional loans for development projects in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia. In addition to such development finance, South Korean companies have increased their presence on the continent. This is especially noticeable in Rwanda, where the state-owned telecommunications company – KT Corporation – has played an important role in developing Rwanda’s communications infrastructure. The company reportedly plans to use Rwanda “as a regional hub” as it seeks to expand its “Pan-Africa business”.

It appears that both the AfDB and the South Korean government see next month’s meeting as an opportunity to further develop such partnerships between Korean companies and African governments. Deputy Prime Minister Kim Dong-yeon has described the meeting as the most important event on South Korea’s calendar, other than the Winter Olympics in 2017, and AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina has stated that the event will be “short on talk and high on transactions and project pipelines”. If this is the case, it should be beneficial for Africa. South Korean investment could help to further reduce the continent’s infrastructure deficit and next month’s meeting may act as a catalyst for this.

Extracting Consensus Proving Difficult in South Africa

Since June 2017, when the former Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane unveiled a third, and apparently final, version of South Africa’s Mining Charter, the sector has been enveloped by uncertainty. The Chamber of Mines, which represents 90 percent of South African mining companies, applied for an urgent court interdict to prevent the new charter from being implemented and Zwane responded by suspending the charter until the case was settled. The primary point of contention between the two sides was the degree of black ownership in the sector.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s ascension to the presidency in February 2018, was treated as an opportunity to bring all of the stakeholders back to the negotiation table in order to try to resolve this impasse. Ramaphosa side-lined Zwane, before replacing him with the ANC’s National Chairperson – Gwede Mantashe – and the Chamber of Mines agreed to suspend its court case.

In early April 2018, it seemed that progress was being made and that Mantashe, who has a long history in the sector, was a good choice as minister of mineral resources. Although the Chamber of Mines claimed a victory on 4th April, when the high court ruled in favour of the “once empowered, always empowered” principle, Mantashe appeared to be understanding and there was no indication that he would seek to appeal this decision. He was critical of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) partners who sold their shares to make quick profits and said that each company would be assessed on a case by case basis. And on 10th April, he announced that 80 percent of the negotiations had been completed and reaffirmed his aim to finalise the third version of the charter by the end of May 2018. However, on 24th April, Mantashe declared that the Department of Mineral Resources would appeal the court’s decision. He said that the ruling could have “dire implications” for “economic transformation” in South Africa.

Accordingly, it is highly unlikely that the new charter will be finalised by the end of May. It is important that Mantashe continues to seek consensus through negotiations and not repeat the mistake of his predecessor by prematurely gazetting the new charter. The decision to appeal the ruling undoubtedly reflects the views of other stakeholders and it is going to take time to find common ground between the government, Chamber of Mines, unions and mining communities. The negotiations next month will provide a strong indicator of whether Mantashe will be able to resolve this matter and end the prolonged uncertainty that is hindering the sector. He certainly has the skills to do so, but divisions will be difficult to overcome.

Ramaphosa Plays Politics

Since becoming the leader of the ANC in December 2017 and president of South Africa in February, Cyril Ramaphosa’s ability to turn around South Africa’s fortunes has been increasingly called in to question. He was widely seen as the antidote to economic decline under Jacob Zuma but, following re-emergence of the land redistribution controversy, confidence in Ramaphosa is waning, especially amongst investors. However, when Ramaphosa’s decisions are examined in the context of 2019’s election, a different, far more encouraging, picture emerges.

Since its electoral highwater mark in 2004, support for the ANC has declined at every general and local election. This decline was particularly pronounced in municipal elections in 2016, when the ANC lost control of major municipalities and its vote share dropped below 55 percent for the first time. Worryingly for the ANC, local elections provide a strong indication of the ANC’s performance at subsequent general elections. In 2006, the ANC secured 66.3 percent of the vote in the municipal elections and, in 2009, it obtained 65.9 percent of the vote at the general election. In 2011, the ANC secured 61.95 percent of the vote in the municipal elections and, in 2014, it obtained 62.15 percent of the vote in the general election. If this pattern continues, the ANC is on course to secure some 55% in next year’s election; a matter of which Ramaphosa is no doubt acutely aware.

The ANC’s decision to support the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) motion on land expropriation without compensation must be seen within this context. Ramaphosa recognises that land redistribution is an important matter for the ANC’s base and that any perceived opposition to it would be used by the EFF to discredit him. Before he even became president, it was clear that the EFF planned to portray Ramaphosa as being out of touch with normal South Africans and supportive of ‘White’ economic interests. As its leader – Julius Malema – stated in early February, “What we were doing with Zuma, it was a picnic […] Wait and see what is going to happen with Ramaphosa. What we are going to do to White monopoly capital”.

Consequently, it is unsurprising that Ramaphosa supported the motion, with two effects. First, it helps to protect Ramaphosa and the ANC from EFF criticism ahead of next year’s election. And, second, it helps to weaken the two main opposition parties – the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the EFF. Although the DA and the EFF formed an unlikely alliance in opposing Zuma, this has rapidly broken down since the land expropriation motion, which was opposed by the DA. Accordingly, the EFF has focused its criticism on the DA and is currently trying to remove its mayor in Nelson Mandela Bay – Athol Trollip.

With the DA and EFF at loggerheads, Ramaphosa and the ANC have undermined both parties. In February, the ANC helped to protect the DA’s Mayor of Cape Town – Patricia de Lille – from a motion of no confidence brought by her own party. This was embarrassing for the DA and revealed divisions in the party’s Western Cape stronghold. In March, Ramaphosa invited Malema to re-join the ANC. Although some commentators saw this as further evidence of an ANC lurch to the left, it is more likely that this was a tactical decision to undermine the EFF. Ramaphosa described the ANC as the “home” of EFF supporters and, after backing its motion, he seemingly challenged the need for its existence. The EFF will become increasingly radical in its policies and rhetoric to distance itself from the ANC. This will damage its electoral appeal and, given that it has already been described by sections of the South African media as a “fascist” party, should ensure that it does not pose a significant threat to the ANC’s dominance.

Regarding the land expropriation motion, despite the panic it has invoked, it is unlikely that it will be applied aggressively. There is little reason to believe Ramaphosa will pursue a policy akin to that of neighbouring Zimbabwe. He understands the effect that the policy could have on South Africa’s economy and he has made it clear that his priority is to protect it. Given racial inequalities in South Africa, it is unsurprising that such a motion has widespread support and it should be considered positive that its potential implementation will be overseen by Ramaphosa. The former union leader turned business tycoon has always been able to adopt a range of guises and straddle different groups. Ultimately, he is a pragmatic political negotiator; the type of character which is needed to oversee a potentially explosive matter.

Thus, although it seemed that the land expropriation motion was a victory for the EFF and the far left, it appears that Ramaphosa is using it to the ANC’s advantage. It is highly unlikely that the president will pursue Malema’s interpretation of the policy. Rather, its implementation will most probably be the result of a well thought through process. In the meantime, Ramaphosa will use land redistribution to weaken the opposition and help stem the ANC’s decline. While it is unlikely that Ramaphosa will be able to halt a long-term decline in the ANC’s fortunes, his manoeuvres may mean that next year’s election will be better than those of 2016.

This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s April 2018 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.

A Look Ahead to April 2018

Gambia’s Road to Democracy

On 12th April, the Gambia will hold its first municipal election since the fall of Yahya Jammeh, who lost the presidential election in late 2016. This represents another step towards strengthening democracy in the small nation after a successful parliamentary election in April 2017. As the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) – Alieu Momarr Njai – stated last year, the municipal elections are a “key pillar in promoting and building grass roots democracy” in the Gambia. While EU observers identified shortcomings in the electoral legal framework following last year’s parliamentary election, it recognised that these were “offset” by broad trust in the IEC and genuine political competition. They concluded that “goodwill on behalf of the people and institutions of the Gambia provided for the restoration of key democratic rights”. Undoubtedly, democratic reforms are still needed, as too much power continues to lie with the president; however, it is expected that the Ministry of Justice’s constitutional review should bring about such reforms. Although more needs to be done to engage the electorate, as there was only a 42 percent turnout last year, next month’s election is set to be another free, fair and peaceful election in this fledgling democracy.

Politically speaking, next month’s election is extremely important for the former ruling party – Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) – which lost 43 of its 48 seats in the 58-member National Assembly. Given the APRC’s association with Jammeh, it is likely that it will experience similar losses in the municipal elections, which could spell the end of its role in Gambian politics. While Adama Barrow won the presidential election as a representative of an opposition coalition, after this coalition separated, it was his party – the United Democratic Party (UDP) – which dominated last year’s election, securing 31 seats in the National Assembly. Although progress has been slow, the UDP is expected to perform well again, in light of the praise bestowed on Barrow by the IMF for stabilising and strengthening the economy. However, the long-term maintenance of such support will be largely dependent on the UDP’s ability to reduce unemployment in the Gambia, particularly amongst the country’s youth.

Counter-terrorism Conference Converges in Algeria   

Late last year, the African Union (AU) announced that Algeria would be the coordinator of its counter-terrorism strategy and, on 9th April, the country will host a conference on counter-terrorism in Africa. The conference is expected to be attended by high-level political and security officials from across the continent and it is seen as an opportunity for different countries to exchange ideas about counter-terrorism strategies. Such a conference opens the possibility of broadening co-operation between different countries, which is vital in the fight against terrorism on the continent. The majority of terrorist organisations active in Africa have a regional, rather than national, focus and have launched attacks across the continent’s porous borders. Consequently, regional co-operation will be important for any counter-terrorism strategies. Furthermore, the conference will specifically address cross-border terrorist-financing and ways in which different countries’ security apparatuses can restrict funding sources.

In March 2017, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation reported that terrorist attacks had grown by 1000 percent in Africa since 2006 and, considering the attacks in Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Somalia earlier this month, there is little sign of this slowing. Countries have begun to recognise the importance of regional co-operation, which was shown by the meeting of the heads of intelligence agencies from 13 East African countries in Kampala on 19th March; however, much more is needed. While the G5 Sahel Taskforce exists in northwest Africa, Algeria has been criticised for not supporting its operations, supposedly because it considers it a tool of France. Algeria has also been criticised by Morocco for its lack of co-operation in counter-terrorism initiatives in North Africa. The country was chosen by the AU because of its “pioneering experience” of dealing with terrorism and hopefully next month’s conference will demonstrate its desire to share this experience and represent the beginning of a greater level of continental co-operation on security matters.

Elections in the Ashes of Gabon’s Democracy

In the aftermath of the disputed 2016 presidential election, Gabon’s National Assembly was set on fire by opposition demonstrators. Images of this event became a symbol of the heated dispute between the government and opposition, which is continuing to engulf Gabonese politics. While the building has been repaired, for many in the opposition, little has been done to address what it represents. Despite only narrowly defeating Jean Ping by less than two percentage points, President Ali Bongo Ondimba has increased presidential powers over the last two years and failed to make any headway in negotiations with the opposition. In January 2018, changes were made to the constitution, which, not only removed presidential term-limits and provided Ali Bongo with immunity from prosecution, but also enabled the president to determine the policy of the nation without government or parliamentary consultation. Consequently, political power in Gabon is now firmly concentrated around Ali Bongo.

Since the presidential election, Gabon’s National Assembly election has been postponed twice because of the failure of reconciliation talks between the government and opposition and is now scheduled to take place before the end of April. The ruling Gabonese Democratic Party dominate the National Assembly holding 115 of the 121 seats; a majority used by Ali Bongo to increase presidential powers. Given its performance in the presidential election, there were strong indications that the opposition Coalition for the New Republic (CNR) would be able to end this dominance. However, in light of the weakening of the National Assembly’s role in Gabonese politics, it appears that the coalition is fragmenting. Nine of the twelve parties in the coalition have called for a boycott of the election, while other senior CNR figures met with the Minister of the Interior in early March to discuss preparation for them. Significantly, the coalition’s presidential flag-bearer has remained silent on this matter. Accordingly, it appears that the Gabonese Democratic Party’s dominance is not under significant threat.

Despite the election being less than a month away, there has been little preparation for it. The Gabonese Elections Centre, which is meant to manage the election, has not yet been established and, given that its chairperson is meant to be selected by the government and opposition, it is increasingly unlikely that it will be ready to run the election. There are growing calls for the election to be postponed again amid concerns that it could descend into violence. Although this will do little to address the underlying political tension in the country and only enable it to continue to build, if the election goes ahead, it is likely to cause widespread social unrest as elements of the opposition come out in protest.