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.

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