A Look Ahead to February 2018

Guinea’s Long-Awaited Local Elections

After years of delays, President Alpha Conde finally signed a decree on 4th December 2017, agreeing to the election commission’s proposed date for local elections – 4th February 2018. The elections have been expected since 2005 but the government has consistently delayed them and has been criticised by opposition parties for doing so. In 2016, the government, opposition parties and civil society groups engaged in a national political dialogue to resolve the issue; however, President Alpha Conde ignored the agreed date for elections in 2017. According to opposition parties, the government has postponed elections because, under the current system, central government has the power to appoint local government officials. Opposition leaders have alleged that the government has exploited this in order to increase its influence and perpetuate electoral fraud.

Consequently, next month’s local elections are highly significant for Guinea’s political environment. Given their importance, it is likely that political tensions will be very high and, if there are allegations of electoral fraud, there is the potential for widespread protests and social unrest. In 2017, Guinea was beset by political protests in Conakry, riots in Bauxite producing regions and strikes across the country. President Alpha Conde has been accused of responding to these matters in a dictatorial manner and has even interfered with the media’s coverage of such events. Against this strained political atmosphere, the local elections, if mis-managed, could be the catalyst for further unrest.

Zuma’s Last State of the Nation Address

On 8th February 2018, Jacob Zuma is expected to make his final State of the Nation Address as the president of South Africa. Although there has been much speculation about whether he would still be president by this date, it seems that the ruling ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has decided not to force Zuma to stand down before the re-opening of parliament. As the ANC’s Secretary-General Ace Magashule stated, “he will deliver the State of the Nation Address as he is still the president”.  Since the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the ANC in December 2017, he has stamped his authority on the party and emphasised the need to tackle corruption. Given the myriad of corruption allegations associated with Zuma, many expected the ANC to recall Zuma in order to strengthen Ramaphosa’s and the party’s image ahead of next year’s general election.

While there are strong indications that Zuma will be recalled before the end of his term, Ramaphosa has to be cautious as Zuma remains an influential and popular figure within sections of the ANC. The dual power structure created by the separate ANC and State presidential elections has the potential to stall Ramaphosa’s reformist strategy and increase factionalism in the party, which is trying to restore unity after the divisive National Conference in December 2017. Ramaphosa has noted that he does not want to “humiliate President Zuma” and, for the sake of the ANC’s unity, it is important that he is not seen as doing so. But, for its performance in next year’s election, the sooner Zuma is removed, the better. In the meantime, it appears that Zuma will be making his final State of Nation Address on 8th February, which, much like previous years, will almost definitely be disrupted by South Africa’s opposition parties, especially the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who will relish the opportunity to lambast Zuma in parliament one last time.

Djibouti Goes to the Polls

Legislative elections are set to take place in Djibouti on 23rd February 2018 and it looks likely that the Union pour la Majorité Présidentielle (UMP) will consolidate its position as the country’s ruling party. Ahead of the last National Assembly election in 2013, six opposition parties combined to create the Union pour le Salut National (USN) coalition, which, despite allegations of vote-rigging, managed to secure 21 seats in the 65-seat assembly that was previously fully controlled by the UMP. While there was much hope amongst opposition activists that this signalled a shift in Djibouti’s political landscape, since then, the USN has splintered and become increasingly ineffective. President Ismaïl Guelleh comfortably won Djibouti’s presidential election in 2016 after three parties in the USN coalition boycotted the election and the remaining parties failed to unite behind a single candidate. And, in 2017, the USN did not contest Regional and Communal elections.

There are already reports that at least one party in the USN coalition will boycott the upcoming election and it looks like the UMP will increase its control over the National Assembly. The election will almost certainly be tainted by allegations of intimidation and vote-rigging from the opposition, but, given the strategic importance of Djibouti, it is unlikely that the government will face significant international pressure. Although there is potential for such allegations to cause violent political protests, like those seen in 2013, given the divided nature of the opposition, such protests are unlikely to be widespread or pose any genuine threat to the government.

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Gulf Politics Intensifies Regional Tensions

As different countries seek to exert influence in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, political divisions of the Middle Eastern Gulf are being played out along the coastline of North East Africa exacerbating regional tensions.

Djibouti No Longer Alone

Since the end of the Cold War, Djibouti has presented itself as an island of stability in a volatile region and has become a favoured destination for overseas military bases. The USA, France, Italy and even Japan have set up bases in the country. Additionally, Germany and Spain have troops stationed at France’s base. In 2017, these countries were joined by Saudi Arabia and China. While China has maintained that its base is primarily for supporting its peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, Saudi Arabia’s base is closely linked to its competition with Iran and its involvement in the current conflict in Yemen. Although Saudi Arabia and Djibouti have long been close allies, the establishment of a military base in the country has drawn the Horn of Africa closer to the conflict in Yemen and the wider power struggle in the Middle Eastern Gulf.

Moreover, it seems that Djibouti is no longer alone in providing leases for military bases in the region. In 2017, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) established a joint military base at the port of Assab in Eritrea, which has been used by the Saudi-led coalition in the conflict in Yemen. Subsequently, Eritrea has become an ally of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in their diplomatic dispute with Qatar. It appears that this base is part of the UAE’s wider strategy of commercial and military expansion in the Horn of Africa. The country already has a military facility in Somalia and it is set to complete a military base in the self-declared state of Somaliland in June 2018. This base is situated near the port of Berbera, where a UAE-based company – DP World Ltd – secured a 30-year concession to manage and develop the facility in September 2016. Similarly, another UAE-based company – P&O Ports Limited – secured a 30-year concession to develop and manage the port of Basaso in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in north eastern Somalia in April 2017. Given what happened in Somaliland, there are suspicions that another UAE military facility could be established in Puntland.

Nevertheless, investment in these ports should be beneficial to the local economy and could open up new trade corridors for landlocked countries such as Ethiopia, which are overly dependent on access to the Port of Djibouti. This has been anticipated by the government of Somaliland, which plans to construct a road from Berbera to the Ethiopian border and are reportedly in negotiations with the Ethiopian government over further investment in the port. Given Ethiopia’s position as the fastest growing economy in the region, this increased access to trade routes is likely to have a beneficial effect on local economies.

While Saudi Arabia and the UAE have established a foothold in the Horn of Africa, it appears that their rivals have gained ground further north. On 26th December 2017, it was announced that Turkey secured exclusive rights to the port island of Suakin from Sudan for the next 99 years. Turkey reportedly plans to restore the historically significant island, which, since the construction of the Port of Sudan in 1922, has been largely abandoned. Although Turkey have stated that the rehabilitation of Suakin is commercial in nature, the decision has raised concerns in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who suspect that Suakin may serve a military purpose. This is unsurprising, given that Turkey has maintained relations with Iran and is a close ally of the embattled Qatar. Furthermore, only days after this announcement, Turkish, Qatari and Sudanese army chiefs met in Khartoum. While the details of this meeting are unknown, it increased the level of distrust in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where it has been alleged that Qatar funded the Suakin deal.

The Horn Engulfed

Consequently, there is a danger that the Horn of Africa will be increasingly drawn into the ongoing conflicts in the Middle Eastern Gulf, both diplomatically and militarily. Since the beginning of their dispute with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been applying pressure on countries in the region to either cut ties or downgrade diplomatic relations with Qatar. Thus far, Egypt, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somaliland have sided with the Saudi-UAE coalition, while Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan have remained somewhat neutral. However, each of these countries continue to face diplomatic pressure from both sides of the dispute.

This was especially evident during the presidential election in Somalia in February 2017, which was hampered by corruption allegations that were closely tied to the Middle Eastern Gulf dispute. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey were all accused of funding presidential candidates in Somalia to secure influence in the country. The winning candidate and now president – Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Farmajo’ Mohamed – reportedly received funding from Qatar. When this is combined with reports that Turkey has overtaken Somalia’s traditional aid donors and constructed its largest overseas military base in the country, it appears that Qatar and its allies now have the upper hand in Somalia.

Aside from the diplomatic dispute with Qatar, there is also a possibility that countries in the Horn of Africa could be drawn into the conflict in Yemen. On 24th December 2017, Houthi rebels released a video online in which a commander threatened Somaliland against continuing its lease agreement with the UAE. They reportedly stated that “if Somaliland does not heed the warning then we will fire ballistic missiles to Somaliland”. Although Houthi rebels have not yet attacked either Djibouti or Eritrea, despite their assistance to the Saudi-led coalition, given the proximity of the Horn of Africa to the conflict, this is a threat that could be acted upon, if the rebels altered their tactics.

Regional Battle Lines Drawn 

Nevertheless, the greatest concern for North East Africa is the effect this will have on regional tensions. In Somalia, the UAE’s decision to negotiate directly with the governments of Somaliland and Puntland could prove to be highly contentious. Despite its self-declared independence, neither Somaliland nor Puntland are recognised as independent countries and, consequently, there are questions regarding the legality of the UAE’s negotiations, which have already been raised by the government of Somalia. Given Somalia’s current security situation, it is unlikely that such questions will be addressed in the short-term; however, the continued vying for influence by Qatar, Turkey and the UAE in Somalia and Somaliland is only likely to deepen divisions and cause further problems for state building initiatives in the region.

Alongside Somalia, the vying for influence by Qatar and the Saudi-UAE coalition has put pressure on the relations between Eritrea and Djibouti. Although both Eritrea and Djibouti sided with the Saudi-UAE coalition, like most of the countries in the region, they have a disputed border. Qatar had been playing a key role in mediation between the two countries since 2010 and had peacekeepers stationed in the disputed regions – Dumeira Mountain and Dumeira Island. However, in response to Eritrea’s and Djibouti’s support for the Saudi-UAE coalition, Qatar withdrew its peacekeepers in June 2017, reigniting border tensions.

Beyond the Horn of Africa, the politics of the Middle Eastern Gulf has helped renew hostility between Egypt and Sudan. Turkey’s control of Suakin and the meeting between Sudanese, Qatari and Turkish military chiefs has raised serious misgivings in Egypt. While, as of the time of writing, the Egyptian government has stayed quiet about the matter, the pro-government press has condemned Sudan. It appears that, given the deterioration in relations between the two countries over the past year, Sudan’s Suakin policy is considered an offensive action focused on the disputed Hala’ib Triangle. Accordingly, it is likely that border tensions will increase, especially if Sudan develops closer military relations with Turkey.

This retrogression in the relations between Egypt and Sudan has wide-reaching implications for North East Africa. Currently, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia are trying to break a deadlock in negotiations regarding the Grand Renaissance Ethiopian Dam (GERD). Talks broke down in November 2017 and, at the time of writing, there is little indication that they will restart soon. This was illustrated by reports on 2nd January 2018, that Egypt wanted Sudan excluded from the talks, which were quickly denied by the Egyptian government. This is troubling as already 62 percent of GERD has been constructed and it is set to be completed by the end of this year. It appears that Sudan is now likely to side with Ethiopia in negotiations, which would isolate Egypt. This will widen divisions between Egypt and Sudan, as well as Egypt and Ethiopia.

Although such divisions existed prior to the influence of politics in the Middle Eastern Gulf, this factor has definitely heightened tensions in the region. Due to Egypt’s support for the Saudi-UAE coalition, and possibly Turkey’s Suakin concession, on 4th January 2018, Egyptian troops arrived at the UAE military base in Eritrea and have since been stationed there. Seeing this as a direct provocation, Sudan closed its border with Eritrea on 6th January. It appears that battle lines are being drawn between Egypt and Sudan, and, given the GERD negotiations and its history of conflict with Eritrea, its highly likely that the recent troop movements will further aggravate tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt.

Broader Implications

The investment in North East Africa by Turkey and countries of the Middle Eastern Gulf is undoubtedly going to have a positive effect on local economies and create further investment opportunities. In order to secure the Suakin concession, Turkey has reportedly agreed to invest $650 million in Sudan, which will include funding for the construction of a new airport and investment in a range of sectors, including electricity production – a burgeoning sector in the region. While DP World Ltd and P&O Ports Limited are respectively investing $442 million and $136 million in Somaliland and Puntland. Given the economically underdeveloped nature of the region, such investment will be highly beneficial and will create further opportunities, which is reflected by the increase in the price of land in Berbera. Furthermore, the development of new ports in the Horn of Africa will be advantageous for Ethiopia, which will be able to reduce its dependence on Djibouti and develop new trade routes. Given that, according to the World Bank, Ethiopia was the World’s fastest growing economy in 2017, the development of such trade routes should create further investment opportunities in the region. Additionally, even the construction of military bases along the coast should increase investment in local infrastructure, which is currently inadequate, and therefore create a better investment environment.

That being said, the influence of the politics of the Middle Eastern Gulf is currently, and will continue to, have a negative impact on regional divisions. The exacerbation of underlying tensions in an already volatile region has the potential to cause unrest and conflict, which will exhibit itself in varying degrees depending on the countries involved. Despite significant interference in Somalia and its disputed neighbouring regions, considering the current security situation in the country, it is unlikely that this will have a pronounced impact in the short-term. Nevertheless, it will hamper long-term state building initiatives. With regards to Eritrea and Djibouti, Qatar’s withdrawal has definitely increased the prospect of border clashes; however, given the strategic importance of the two countries to the Saudi-UAE coalition, there is a distinct possibility that the UAE will try to assume Qatar’s mediation role.

The most significant concern for the region is the escalation in tensions between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Emboldened by the apparent backing of Turkey and Qatar, Sudan may try to seize control of the Hala’ib Triangle, which will not be easily relinquished by Egypt. If this were to happen, given that Egypt currently has troops stationed in Eritrea, clashes on this border and in the Hala’ib Triangle should be expected. Moreover, this escalation in tensions will put additional strain on the already fraught GERD negotiations. Taking into consideration that Egypt relies on the Nile River for 95 percent of its water supply and it has been estimated that GERD could reduce the flow of water to Egypt by 25 percent, a failure to reach an agreement could be disastrous and it is unlikely that Egypt would accept this outcome. However, in light of the deterioration of Sudan’s and Egypt’s relationship and the stationing of Egyptian troops in Eritrea, an agreement seems increasingly unlikely. If Ethiopia and Sudan fail to reach an agreement with Egypt, conflict between the countries is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Prepare 4 Africa

Nairobi Cityscape

Culture Shock!

Habari yako? – your news? Habari za familia? – news of your family?  Habari za leo? – news of your day.  Za kazi? – of work?  Za safari – of your journey? And it goes on.  When will the questions end?

You are in Kenya, negotiating an oil concession.  You don’t have time for these extended niceties.  And, anyway, you don’t know how to respond.  In a hurry, you move on to business, ignoring the bafflement on the ministry official’s face.

As you leave, your host walks you to the car park.  He takes your hand in his and won’t let go.  This is unexpected.  You withdraw your hand, as tactfully as possible.  Your host again looks offended.

Your driver talks incessantly about “tribes”.  Why the obsession? Who cares about a person’s background?  What relevance is it to an oil company in Kenya?  This sounds like prejudice to your ears.

A policeman pulls you over and leans into the passenger side window.  “Habari?”, he smiles.  Here we go again – but he quickly gets to the point.  He’d like a “soda”, or some “chai”.  Why is he telling you?  Your driver is nervous,– he hands the policeman something and whispers “I will add it to the fare”.  Has something wrong just happened?

In your hotel room, you relax – until the phone rings.  The man who sold you air-time on the street this morning has just come by to “greet you”.  Habari!  How does he know where you are staying? What does he want? How do you respond?

You haven’t made time to see the baby elephants or the giraffe centre on the outskirts of town.  Or to visit the new Caramel Restaurant that everyone was talking about.  Despite this, you were pleased to leave Nairobi.  The problem is that the man from the ministry now refuses to take your calls.  Maybe you should have held his hand?

Find out with our Prepare 4 Africa (P4A) training courses.  Designed for first-time business visitors to Africa, P4A is a hands-on, practical one-day course that will help ensure your business trip to Africa is pleasurable and profitable.  You will learn about, amongst other things: the protocol of business meetings; the importance of greetings; recognition and mitigation of corruption; personal security; the best places to stay, visit and eat in your chosen destination; how to get about safely and quickly; and the language of negotiation.  Courses can cater for one to ten people and are delivered by experienced lecturers in African cultures.  Please contact us on enquiries@prepare4africa.com or visit our website www.prepare4africa.com for further details.

Elections in 2016

There are a number of important elections across Africa scheduled for 2016 and over the next year, Africa Integrity Insights will examine a selection of these. As an introduction to the upcoming publications we have compiled a list of countries where elections are set to take place in 2016, including the scheduled date (when available) and the type of election.

  • Benin: Presidential (28th February)
  • Burkina Faso: Municipal (31st January)
  • Cape Verde: Parliamentary and Presidential (February & August)
  • Central African Republic: Parliamentary and Presidential Run-off (31st January)
  • Chad: Presidential (April)
  • Côte d’Ivoire: Parliamentary (December)
  • Comoros: Presidential (21st February)
  • Congo-Brazzaville: Presidential (20th March)
  • Democratic Republic of Congo: Legislative and Presidential (27th November)
  • Djibouti: Presidential (April)
  • Equatorial Guinea: Presidential (November)
  • Gabon: Parliamentary and Presidential (December)
  • Gambia: Presidential (1st December)
  • Ghana: Parliamentary and Presidential (7th November)
  • Niger: Parliamentary & Presidential and Local (21st February & 9th May)
  • Rwanda: Local Government (8th, 22nd & 27th February and 22nd March)
  • Sao Tome and Principe: Presidential (July)
  • Senegal: Constitutional Referendum (May)
  • South Africa: Municipal (May-August)
  • Sudan: Darfur Referendum (11th April)
  • Tanzania: Zanzibar Re-run (20th March)
  • Tunisia: Municipal and Regional (30th October)
  • Uganda: General (18th February)
  • Zambia: Legislative and Presidential (11th August)

Dispatches From Africa

Tahrir Square and the Erosion of Egypt’s Democracy

Tahrir Square

Emma Hooper writes from Cairo:

A small but ever-present brigade of armoured cars remains parked on Tahrir square, providing not just a forbidding deterrent to would be protesters, but a reminder of the square’s recent past. In January 2011, an estimated 250,000 Egyptians gathered in this vast space – symbolic of the protester’s wish to fill Egypt’s political vacuum. Nearly five years on, the square lies virtually empty except for a smattering of army officers and a diminishing number of tourists who have made their way out of the National Museum. I can’t help but feel that I am looking at a microcosm of what Egypt has become.  The military still dominates state institutions, which proves a significant failure in the goals of the “Arab Spring” and in Cairo it is hard to ignore the overwhelming sense of disillusionment. With revolutionary fervour all but evaporated, even small-scale peaceful protests have been met with lethal force. Whilst after four years of turmoil, Egyptians no doubt welcome a bit of calm, it is not the promise of peace but rather the futility of revolution that keeps the possibility of further uprisings at bay. The growing sense of indifference and disenfranchisement was evidenced in the most recent parliamentary elections where turnout was estimated to be at just 28 percent. This is unsurprising considering that since 2011, two presidential elections, three constitutional referendums and two parliamentary elections have thus far resulted in no meaningful change. Furthermore, when Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was elected in 2014, he was announced to have won 96.91 percent of the votes – a laughingly high figure, which questioned some fundamental tenets of Egypt’s democracy and electoral processes. The recent elections were also not devoid of contention. Hailed by Sisi as the climax of the military’s roadmap to democracy, the results have been undermined by a heavy security crackdown on Islamist and other political opposition elements in Egypt. When on 4th December an electoral alliance loyal to Sisi was announced to have dominated parliamentary elections – nobody seemed very surprised.

With the space for free speech narrowing and dozens of journalists and activists having been jailed and tortured, I have spoken to some in Cairo who view Sisi as possessing the potential to be far worse than Mubarak. The 2010 killing of a young man in Alexandria by plain-clothed investigators, which sparked the 2011 revolution, cannot be far from the minds of many in government. Yet although the risks have not entirely diminished, the greatest threat now comes not from the disillusioned revolutionaries who challenged the government in 2011, but from religious extremists. With the divide between Islamist and secular groups widening, Sisi’s treatment of Islamists (particularly the sentencing to death and treatment of many Muslim brotherhood members) has potential to further radicalise huge swathes of the population. Indeed, no longer confined to North Sinai, in the past year sporadic militant attacks have occurred more than ever before. As a result, stringent security checks are now in place throughout Cairo, particularly in spots frequented by expats. Although these attempts may help to create the perception that security is strong and Egypt is still open to tourism, convincing people to travel to Egypt in the first place will prove the most difficult. With the future of the Sinai peninsula – home to Sharm el Sheikh – becoming increasingly uncertain in the aftermath of the suspected bombing of a Russian airliner in November and the continued threat of attacks from Wilayat Sinai – the self-styled Islamic State’s ally in the region -, tourism’s contribution to GDP could continue to deplete rapidly. With foreign reserves already dangerously low, this will be an obstacle to Egypt’s ability to achieve economic and political stability.

For now, Tahrir square remains undisturbed. The desire for normality has led to much of the populace accepting the current military regime and in the absence of any solid opposition party, democratic transition and change seems unlikely. As the unsightly Hilton hotel towers over the West side of the Square, the international hotel chain’s presence is symbolic of the international community’s continued monitoring of the country. With the potential to continue to provide a relative beacon of stability in an otherwise tumultuous region, Egypt will remain an important ally and strategic partner to the international community in the fight against terrorism. And it is this fight that will take precedence over any attempt by external powers to rebuke Sisi’s regime for undemocratic practices and human rights abuses.

The Social Media Myth

Since the Arab Spring in 2010 it seems that any revolution, mass protest or social upheaval has become defined by its relation to social media. Many point to social media as a catalyst for such events, with groups using platforms such as twitter as an organisational tool. However, in reality, this does not appear to be the case, particularly in Africa.

One major impediment to the influence of social media in Africa is simply the lack of access to it. Although internet penetration has increased rapidly over the last few years, according to figures produced by Project Isizwe (an NGO which aims to increase Wi-Fi access in South Africa) only 18% of Africa’s population had access to internet in 2014. This percentage had increased to 26% by January 2015 – according to We Are Social (a social media PR and marketing agency) – which, despite being a significant increase, still means that 74% of Africans do not have access to the internet. Moreover, internet penetration varies dramatically between different African countries. This was demonstrated by a World Bank study which showed that there were over 40 internet users per 100 people in South Africa, Egypt and Tunisia in 2013 compared to fewer than 2 users per 100 people in Burundi, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Guinea, Niger, Sierra Leone and Somalia.

Thus, it seems highly unlikely that social media would play a major role in precipitating political protest in the majority of African countries. As Professor Wisdom Tetty noted at the LSE Africa Summit in April 2015, social media platforms are privileges of the middle class. Social media therefore tends to be a lagging indicator of large scale unrest or political change. This was illustrated by a graph produced by Topsy (a social media and analytics company) and published by IRIN News, which showed the twitter activity associated with Burundi between 13th April and 13th May 2015. The graph showed that a spike of activity occurred only after the attempted coup took place on 13th May 2015. This indicates that twitter is predominantly associated with reporting, as also shown by the #lwili hashtag used during the Burkina Faso uprising, and is therefore not a useful intelligence tool in predicting events.

Even in terms of social media’s role in reporting, this is primarily used by people outside of Africa. As a report in the Mail & Guardian on 5th May 2015 showed, only 7% of Africans access their news through social media. This is compared to 46% that use radio and 37% that use television, which also indicates another hindrance for social media: illiteracy. As a UNESCO report showed, in 2012, the African adult literacy rate was 59% overall and in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone it was under 50%. Thus, social media’s influence in Africa will continue to be limited by the region’s relatively high illiteracy.

It seems that many commentators have become obsessed with social media and its role in political opposition – to the point that we overlook the fact that such events have taken place for centuries. If an event such as the Soweto Uprising happened today, it would almost certainly be attributed, at least in part, to social media. The importance of radio communications and civil society organisations are far too often overlooked. In Burundi, the closing of independent radio stations was a far more significant development than any internet blackout. Moreover, in Burkina Faso, the actions of Le Balai Citoyen were far more important than any hashtag. Even with regards to significant political change through the ballot box, social media is no replacement for old fashioned political organisation. As Funmi Iyanda – a Nigerian broadcaster, producer and journalist – noted at the Royal Africa Society’s ‘How to Fix Nigeria’ event in May 2015, “most of the people who went out to vote were not the people on social media, they were the people going out on a daily basis everyday”.

Nonetheless, this is not to say that technology has no part to play in political organisation and protest. It appears that we have skipped a step in explaining how technology aids the creation of political opposition, overlooking increased voice communication through the use of mobile phones. In contrast to internet penetration, Project Isizwe showed that in 2014 70% of Africans had a mobile handset. Professor Tetty also noted the importance of mobiles in fomenting political discussion in Ghana through radio phone-ins. Moreover, mobile voice communication is not hindered by high illiteracy rates, making it accessible to everyone. Thus, with regards to increasing the ability of people to organise political protests, it is far more likely that mobile phone communication is playing a bigger role than social media in Africa.

[The above is an extract from Africa Integrity’s upcoming June 2015 newsletter. To request a copy of this newsletter and join the mailing list please contact us]

A Tough Year Ahead for Africa’s Oil Exporters

Although the world oil price has partially recovered since hitting a six year low in January 2015, last year’s fall in price will continue to have an effect on Africa’s oil exporters throughout this year. The impact of the fall is likely to be compounded by respective governments’ previous overestimation of the price of oil in their budget predictions. The effect of this can already be seen in Ghana, where the government borrowed heavily based on expected oil earnings, and was subsequently forced to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In April 2015, the Brent Crude oil price rallied and increased by 20 percent. In early May 2015, it reached a high for this year, trading at over $67 a barrel, and at the time of writing it is trading at $66.66 per barrel. Although this is a significant improvement, it is far from the average price of May 2014 ($109.41 per barrel). Furthermore, analysts are wary about labelling this increase in price a recovery. A top commodities official at Commerzbank told CNBC that the price rise is “premature” and that it could soon fall back below $50 a barrel. The increase in price has primarily been attributed to conflict in Libya and Yemen, which has disrupted supply and created fear of further disruptions. However, since Libya’s descent into civil war its oil production and exports have been volatile, so it is possible that they could pick up again very soon. Furthermore, the Iran Nuclear Deal could also spell the end of international sanctions opening the market to another supplier. Thus, the recent increase in price should be viewed cautiously. This is reflected in Société Générale’s recent 2015 average Brent price forecast of $59.54 per barrel. Moreover, in more broader terms, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have predicted that oil prices will stay below $100 per barrel for the next decade.

If the recent recovery of oil prices is “premature” and another slump appears, this will put a strain on Africa’s oil exporters’ relationship with OPEC. In November 2014, OPEC decided to maintain production levels agreed upon in December 2011, meaning that prices continued to fall. This policy particularly hit countries with relatively high production costs such as Nigeria, where it costs $20-$40 per barrel compared to $4-$10 per barrel in Saudi Arabia. Although Nigeria did not publicly criticise this strategy like Algeria and Iran, a continuation of it after OPEC’s next conference in June 2015 could create greater opposition amongst Africa’s oil exporters.

Nonetheless, even after the recent recovery, Africa’s major oil exporters are still struggling. It has been calculated by the IMF and Deutsche Bank that Algeria, Libya and Nigeria all require oil prices of over $120 per barrel to balance their budgets, while Angola requires a price of $98 per barrel. This has unsurprisingly put pressure on these countries’ finances. In Nigeria, it was projected that even if the oil price averages at $70 a barrel for 2015, the expenditure levels outlined in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework from November 2014 would leave the country with a fiscal deficit of 1.3 trillion Naira. As a result, governments have reassessed their expected oil earnings and their budgets. As the IMF noted in April 2015 for Africa’s oil exporters the fall in price “will pose a formidable challenge” and it will “require them to undertake significant fiscal adjustment”.

In Nigeria the government has changed its benchmark price for crude oil to $53 per barrel and in Angola it is now $40 per barrel. The IMF has projected that in both of these countries GDP growth will be hit, with Nigeria’s growth falling by 2.5 percent from expectations in October 2014. This decrease in government revenue is reflected in the countries’ budgets. In Angola, the government cut spending by 1.8 trillion Kwacha in its revised budget in February 2015, and still predicted a budget deficit of 7 percent of GDP. Although Nigeria is not looking to cut its budget – which is waiting to be finalised – and are predicting a lower deficit of 1.12 percent of GDP, the House of Representatives have controversially proposed to remove the fuel subsidy and reduce capital expenditure to 21 percent of the budget. This increases the likelihood of popular unrest like that seen in January 2012 after the government first attempted to remove the subsidy. Due to the unreliable electricity supply provided by Nigeria’s national grid, a large proportion of citizens and businesses rely on subsidised fuel to power electricity generators. Thus, this will have a disproportionate impact on less well-off Nigerians and small businesses. The effect of the proposal to remove the subsidy is already being felt in Nigeria through fuel shortages which are set to worsen as marketers restrict imports over fears of the subsidy removal. Furthermore, with a restricted capital expenditure budget it is unlikely that the new All Progressives Congress (APC) government – under the leadership of President-elect Muhammadu Buhari – will be able to make the infrastructural investment needed to significantly improve the national electricity supply. Thus, in Nigeria and across Africa’s oil exporters societal tension and popular unrest are likely to increase as a result of governments’ attempts to restrict spending.

For Africa’s oil exporters, 2015 is likely to be an extremely tough year if prices stay at their current level or drop once more. Although Nigeria’s finance minister – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – pronounced last year that “we no longer want to be known as this oil economy”, Africa’s oil exporters have not been able to significantly reduce their reliance on oil. In Angola, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of the Congo oil represents over 70 percent of government revenue, and in Gabon and Algeria it represents over 50 percent. In pre-civil war Libya it even reached over 90 percent of the government’s revenue. It also accounts for a large proportion of foreign exchange earnings, with Angola owing 90 percent of its earnings to oil. This dependence has been reflected in depreciating exchange rates, as illustrated by the Naira, which reached a record low against the dollar in February 2015. As a result, governments have not only looked to cut public spending but also increase borrowing. For example, in Nigeria the government have already used over half of its projected borrowing allowance of 882 billion Naira to meet recurrent expenses, such as government employee salaries.

The outlook for 2015 in Africa’s oil exporters remains bleak. Governments are likely to increase debt considerably while depleting their foreign exchange reserves and sovereign wealth funds. Cuts in public spending are likely to cause significant social unrest and it is highly unlikely that companies will pursue new projects due to their loss of revenue. This was indicated by Shell’s and Total’s decisions to delay offshore projects in West Africa in April 2015. Africa’s oil exporters’ dependence on oil has made the impact of the fall in prices particularly acute. Only through significant restructuring of their economies will they be able to avoid such shocks in the future and adapt to OPEC’s predicted long-term slump in prices.