Learning the Lessons of Protests 

While the removal of long-term dictatorial leaders is undoubtedly a cause for celebration, it seems that protestors and opposition groups in Algeria and Sudan have learned lessons from the the removal of such leaders by the militaries and ruling parties of countries elsewhere on the continent. Unlike in Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe’s successor and one-time close ally – military darling Emmerson Mnangagwa – received almost a hero’s welcome from oppositionists, demonstrators in both Algeria and Sudan have maintained pressure on their interim leaders after changes in leadership. 

Protestors in both countries have rejected a simple military takeover and have remained on the streets, calling for genuine democratic reforms prior to any electoral process. It appears that demonstrators in these two countries have learned from mistakes elsewhere and this is especially evident in Sudan, where the phrase “either victory or Egypt” has become a popular slogan. This statement is a reference to the failure of the Arab Spring to bring about genuine long-term reforms in Egypt, where recent constitutional changes have enabled former military general turned President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to extend his presidency until 2030.

It is too early to tell whether the protestors and opposition groups in Algeria and Sudan will be successful, as both the Transitional Military Council (TMC) in Sudan and Algeria’s interim government are determined to protect the status-quo. Although the TMC recently agreed to form a joint-governing body with opposition groups, there is good reason to suspect that this will be used to manipulate demonstrators.

Either way, it appears that African opposition groups have learned from experiences elsewhere on the continent and, therefore, militaries and ruling parties will now be less able to quell demonstrations through simply removing a figurehead. The longevity of such pro-democracy protests is likely to increase across the continent and, if they do not lead to meaningful reforms, widespread and lasting unrest should be expected.

This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s May 2019 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.

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Is Africa’s Strong-man Era Reaching its End-game?

In early April, after months of protests in Algeria and Sudan, the long-term presidents of both countries were forced out of power within less than ten days of each other. A mixture of public protests and pressure from the military brought an end to the ageing leaders’ terms in office. Following a similar conclusion to Robert Mugabe’s reign in Zimbabwe in late 2017, there is reason to believe that Africa’s elderly strongmen are fast-approaching their end-games.  

Although Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned, it was the military that essentially ousted him, much like his counter-part in Sudan, Omar al-Bashir. It was no coincidence that Bouteflika submitted his resignation only hours after the head of the Algerian Army reiterated his call for the president to be removed. While Bouteflika, Bashir and Mugabe came to power through different paths – an election, a coup and a war of independence – all three leaders previously served in the military and relied on it to keep them in power. And, ultimately, either directly or indirectly, it was the military that brought an end to their presidencies.

Aside from the military’s role in Bouteflika’s, Bashir’s and Mugabe’s rise and fall, the three former presidents also all belonged to an older generation of leaders. Bouteflika resigned at the age of 81 with questions being raised about his mental and physical capacities following a stroke in 2013.  Mugabe was removed at the age of 93 following similar questions about his mental capacity and the growing influence of his wife. Of all three leaders, Bashir was the most youthful at 75; however, his physical health was a matter of speculation.

Significantly, the ages of all three leaders contrasted with their countries’ youthful populations. Despite their being 75 or over, a large percentage of the populations of Algeria, Sudan and Zimbabwe are estimated to be under the age of 25. Algeria has the oldest populace with only 45 percent under the age of 25, while in Sudan 61 percent are under that age and, in Zimbabwe, the proportion is estimated to be 59 percent. Although Bouteflika’s, Bashir’s and Mugabe’s ages were not considered a problem when they came to power, after serving for 20, 30 and 37 years respectively, they became increasingly out of touch with their citizens.

While there are various reasons why each of these leaders came under pressure prior to losing power, it appears that their respective militaries could see a growing gulf between the elderly long-term leaders and their increasingly restive and youthful populations.  They acted accordingly to protect their interests. The military has long been considered an essential pillar of Africa’s strongmen and, although it was once seen as an instrument under the control of such leaders, this no longer seems always to be the case. The militaries of such regimes appear to be increasingly willing to intervene to protect their interests, at the expense of the figureheads they helped to put in place.

This growing trend could have repercussions across the continent, triggering soft coups in countries such as Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Uganda. Much like the former presidents of Algeria, Sudan and Zimbabwe, Presidents Paul Biya, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and Yoweri Museveni are significantly older than their populations. The youngest of the three, Museveni, is 74 years old, while an estimated 69 percent of the population of Uganda is under the age of 25. Biya, Obiang and Museveni have served for 37, 40 and 33 years, respectively, and, although Biya was not previously in the military, all three leaders have relied on the military establishment to keep them in power. Accordingly, as pressure begins to mount on these ageing leaders, it is possible that their respective militaries will take inspiration from elsewhere and act to protect their interests, at the expense of Africa’s remaining strongmen.

This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s May 2019 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.

A Look Ahead to 2019

Nigeria Goes to the Polls

On 16th February 2019, Nigeria will hold a general election in which the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Muhammadu Buhari will face a tough contest against the formerly dominant People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar. Buhari and the APC were swept into government on a wave of optimism in 2015, which, in light of the country’s faltering economy and increasing communal violence in central Nigeria, has dissipated since he assumed office. Although Buhari has consistently secured electoral support across Nigeria’s northern states, this no longer seems guaranteed, especially as Abubakar is also a northern Muslim. That said, given the controversy surrounding Abubakar in his previous role as vice president, he is far from a popular choice and, as a result, voter apathy is noticeably high. Against this backdrop, tensions are beginning to show. The PDP have called into question the independence of the electoral commission and alleged that the APC plans to rig the election, while the APC has accused the PDP of fomenting electoral violence. This has increased the potential for social unrest during and after the election, which will be most pronounced in central and northern states, and could have repercussions for Nigeria’s stability throughout 2019.

Ramaphosa’s First Test

South Africa’s general election is expected to take place in May 2019 and will be President Cyril Ramaphosa’s first electoral test since narrowly securing the support of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in December 2017. This year’s election is expected to be the toughest yet for the ANC, which has seen its parliamentary majority decline in every election since 2004. In the past, local elections have provided a strong indication of the ANC’s performance at subsequent general elections and, as the ANC’s vote share fell below 55 percent in municipal elections in 2016, there is good reason to believe that a similar result will be replicated in May. Since assuming the presidency in February 2018, Ramaphosa has struggled to unite a divided ANC in which former President Jacob Zuma and his allies continue to exert influence. There have been rumours of plots to oust Ramaphosa as leader and, given the sluggish state of South Africa’s economy and the fact that Ramaphosa was forced to remove his own finance minister as a result of the inquiry into ‘State Capture’, he is struggling to live up to his promises of kick-starting the economy and tackling corruption. Ramaphosa needs a convincing win to stamp his authority on the party and the country; however, as things stand, this year’s election looks as if it will be another chapter in the ANC’s continuing decline.

A Look Back on 2018

Africa Unites 

On 21st March 2018, 44 of the African Union’s 55 member states signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which seeks to remove tariffs on 90 percent of continental trade. This was a significant step forward in increasing intra-African trade, which lags behind other regions, and could act as an important foundation for the diversification of African economies. Currently, as a percentage of total African exports, intra-African trade accounts for less than 20 percent, whilst in Europe and Asia such trade accounts for over 50 percent. The African Union has projected that implementation of the agreement could increase intra-African trade by more than 52 percent and it has put specific emphasis on diversifying away from extractive industries. This should provide a growing number of investment opportunities for both African and foreign investors. The agreement also has the potential to trigger investment in much needed cross-border infrastructure, opening up land-locked countries in the continent’s interior. Although the AfCFTA is in its early days and, at the time of writing, still requires ratification by at least four more country governments to come into force, it is symbolic of Africa’s economic growth and has the potential to act as a strong foundation for local economies.

US Disengagement

While it is not possible to point to a single event that showed US disengagement with Africa, the Trump administration’s approach to the continent throughout 2018 revealed Africa’s peripheral position in US foreign policy. From allegedly using derogatory language to describe African countries, to sacking his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, during his trip to the continent, President Donald Trump showed his disdain towards Africa. As any discussions during Tillerson’s trip to Africa were effectively undone by his sacking, the Trump administration’s primary diplomatic engagement with the continent in 2018 was through Melania Trump’s visit on behalf of USAID. The fact that this trip is mostly remembered for the First Lady’s decision to wear a colonial-era pith helmet on a safari in Kenya, not only revealed the lack of diplomatic weight attached to it, but also a disregard for Africa’s history on the part of the current administration. Although this approach has not caused a rift between the US and Africa, it would have certainly reinforced the continent’s close alignment with China and reoriented countries towards other outside powers, diplomatically, economically and militarily. Turkey, Russia and the UAE are just a few examples of the countries which have recently increased their engagement with Africa and are likely to take advantage of the US disengagement with the continent.

 

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.

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.