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.

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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.

Bridging Nations

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

Infrastructure Deficit

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

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

Port Expansion

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

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

Opening the Interior

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

Rail and Road Regeneration

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

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

Foundation for the Future

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

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

A Look Ahead to May 2018

Referendum on Burundi’s Future

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

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

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

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

Africa’s Economists Assemble in Korea

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

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

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

Extracting Consensus Proving Difficult in South Africa

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

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

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

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