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 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 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.

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.