Learning the Lessons of Protests 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Look Ahead to 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.

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.