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.

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Is Kabila Finally Preparing to Step Down?

DRC flagSurrounded by accusations of wanting to alter the constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in order to remove presidential terms limits, President Joseph Kabila has refused to stand down since the end of his second term in December 2016. Although Kabila has had to contend with anti-government protests since then, it appears that regional, rather than domestic, pressure may be what finally convinces him to step down and allow a democratic transition to take place.  

Since the violent suppression of anti-government protests in January 2018, there have been signs that Kabila is inclining towards a more conciliatory position. On 26th January 2018, Kabila held his first press conference in five years and reiterated his commitment to holding elections by December this year. Although he refused to accept responsibility for the violence and took a swipe at the opposition, such a public proclamation is a rare occurrence and indicates that Kabila recognises that the electoral process cannot be delayed further. While Kabila did not address the ever-increasing calls for him to stand-down, his Minister of Communications – Lambert Mende – addressed this issue in an interview in early February. In the interview, Mende asserted that Kabila does not intend to stand in this year’s election or to choose a successor and rule by proxy. He said that “this is not a kingdom […], it is a democratic republic”. Although Mende’s comments have received significant attention in international media, it should be noted that he reportedly backtracked on them later, when speaking to Congolese media. Nevertheless, such confusion at least suggests that Kabila is unsure about running again.

Despite criticising the opposition during his press conference and insinuating that they will cause the DRC to descend into “chaos”, there are signs that Kabila is willing to re-open negotiations with opposition figures and adopt a more placatory stance. This is demonstrated by the proposed release of two prominent political prisoners – Jean Claude Muyambo and Eugène Diomi Ndongala. At the time of writing, both prisoners are expected to be released on 20th February 2018. There is an expectation that this could lead to the release of more political prisoners and maybe even the dropping of charges against Moïse Katumbi, the former governor of Katanga, who announced his presidential candidacy on 2nd January 2018. Although there is little indication of this happening in the short-term, Africa Integrity has been informed that Kabila has offered an olive branch to Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo – a figurehead of the protests in January, which were backed by the Catholic Church in the DRC. According to our sources, Monsengwo has been invited by Kabila to discuss ways to “revive” the December 31st Saint-Sylvestre Agreement between the government and opposition. This readiness to reengage with the opposition is a radical change in approach from Kabila, which could be an indication of his willingness to step aside.

The Catholic Church’s support for anti-government protests is undoubtedly significant, given that around 50 percent of the DRC’s population is Catholic. Moreover, Africa Integrity understands that other religious groups have been following the Catholic Church’s example. Nevertheless, according to our sources, it is Kabila’s loss of regional support that has had a greater effect on his apparent change in approach. It is understood that Kabila has had to reassess his position since the fall of two of his powerful regional allies: Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe; and Jacob Zuma in South Africa. In spite of international pressure, both of these individuals were unwavering in their support of Kabila since December 2016. For example, in June 2017, Zuma invited Kabila to South Africa and publicly pledged his support for the embattled president. We have been informed that since Mugabe and Zuma resigned, Kabila has started to feel increasingly “isolated” and has begun to re-evaluate his future.

Although Kabila can still count on the support of President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, Paul Kagame in Rwanda and Edgar Lungu in Zambia, Museveni and Kagame are facing increasing criticism for their alleged support of rebel groups in the DRC and Lungu is preoccupied by an opposition which aims to prevent him from standing in the next election in Zambia. Furthermore, Kabila’s close ties with Congo-Brazzaville and Angola seem to be weakening. The pressure put on these countries, especially Angola, by the influx of refugees from the DRC, has put strain on their governments’ relationships with Kabila. It has been reported that the ruling MPLA in Angola, which has previously provided much needed military support to Kabila, will no longer be willing to intervene directly in the country, particularly under its new president – João Lourenço. Similarly, given the current instability in Congo-Brazzaville, it is highly unlikely that President Denis Sassou Nguesso will be in a position to support his neighbour. Senior political sources in Congo-Brazzaville and Angola have confirmed that both Lourenço and Sassou Nguesso have recently informed Kabila that they will not intervene on his behalf and that they support elections going ahead this year.

Along with the fall of Mugabe and Zuma, this constitutes a loss of regional backing for Kabila, leaving him increasingly exposed. It appears that Kabila has begun to realise that, without regional support, elections cannot be delayed any further, and it will be extremely difficult for him to stand again. After his motorcade was involved in two accidents in February, suspicions of assassination plots are rife, and it seems that Kabila sees a more conciliatory approach towards the opposition as his best means of protection. While Kabila may still try to put his name forward for the election, there are strong indications that he has realised that a third term will not be possible and that he is finally preparing to stand down.

Southern African Dynasties: The Parties Strike Back

Southern African Dynasties

In recent years, political dynasties have received a lot of attention across the African continent as ageing presidents have been accused of trying to manoeuvre family members into the line of succession, to protect them and their interests after they step down. Until last year, it seemed that Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa could have been following this path; however, the leaders of these countries evidently underestimated the power of their parties.

Decline of Dos Santos

It had long been speculated that Angola’s former President Eduardo dos Santos planned to appoint one of his children, or possibly his nephew, as his successor. After assuming power in 1979, dos Santos inserted his family into Angola’s political and economic hierarchy, and to many, the dos Santos family transcended the ruling MPLA. Consequently, it was expected that a member of the dos Santos family would take over the presidency. However, in December 2016, it was announced that dos Santos’s “hand-picked” successor was former Minister of Defence Joao Lourenco, who, unlike dos Santos family members, had the support of the MPLA.

Given that he was a member of dos Santos’s inner circle, it was widely expected that Lourenco would protect the former First Family’s interests.  However, as Africa Integrity predicted in our July 2017 Newsletter, Lourenco has sought to assert his authority by side-lining members of the dos Santos family. Africa Integrity understands that dos Santos is seriously ill and no longer has the influence he once had over the party, which has seemingly taken the opportunity to reassert itself as the primary organ of power in Angola.

A Fall from Grace

In Zimbabwe, it was a working assumption that Robert Mugabe’s successor would be either Joice Mujuru or Emmerson Mnangagwa – both former Vice Presidents. However, in 2014, Mugabe’s wife – Grace Mugabe – entered Zimbabwean politics and rapidly ascended to ZANU-PF’s politburo. By the end of 2014, Mujuru was removed from her position and later expelled from the party following a factionalist campaign led by Grace Mugabe. After Mujuru was removed, ZANU-PF coalesced into two factions, one aligned with Grace Mugabe, which was dominated by younger party members, and one aligned with Mnangagwa. Although Mnangagwa had more support in the party, on 6th November 2017, Mugabe seemingly cleared the path to the presidency for his wife by sacking Mnangagwa, who subsequently fled the country.

This move appeared to signal the creation of a Mugabe dynasty in Zimbabwe, but it was short lived. On 14th November 2017, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) seized control of the country and initiated negotiations with Mugabe for his resignation. There was very little resistance to this from within ZANU-PF and the party’s favoured candidate – Mnangagwa – was sworn in as president on 24th November 2017. Given ZANU-PF’s close relationship with the ZDF, the military’s actions cannot be separated from the party’s wishes and, much like the MPLA, it appears that ZANU-PF reasserted its superior influence over that of the Mugabe family.

Not Another Zuma

In contrast to dos Santos and Mugabe, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma had not been in power as long, nor was his family as entrenched in the political and economic structures of the country. But he also wanted a family member to succeed him: in this case, his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Dlamini-Zuma was a prominent figure in the pro-Zuma faction of the ruling ANC. Her candidacy faced opposition from influential sections of the party, which were acutely aware of the damage caused by corruption allegations against Zuma. But the pro-Zuma faction was very influential in the provincial ANC, which would play a vital role in selecting the party’s new president at the ANC’s National Conference in December 2017. Accordingly, the leadership race between Dlamini-Zuma and Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa was too close to call. But, on 18th December 2017, Ramaphosa narrowly defeated Dlamini-Zuma. Again, this signalled a rejection by the liberation party of a future dominated by Zuma, his allies and his family.

The Power of the Liberation

Although the MPLA, ZANU-PF and ANC are all markedly different political parties, they share a common history of being liberation movements. And it is this shared history that may explain why each of the parties rejected the prospect of family dynasties. In all three countries, liberation credentials remain very important and in Angola and Zimbabwe, the presidents’ preferred successors lacked such credentials. In contrast, Lourenco fought in the Angolan War of Independence and Mnangagwa fought in the Zimbabwe War of Liberation. For many in the MPLA and ZANU-PF, the presidency should be held by individuals with such credentials in their own right.

Although the situation in South Africa was different, as both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma were anti-Apartheid activists, another important aspect of these liberation struggles is that the movement or party is paramount. In South Africa, Dlamini-Zuma’s victory risked splintering the ANC and potential electoral defeat. Similarly, in Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe’s leadership would have brought underlying factionalism in ZANU-PF to the surface and, without the support of the ZDF, electoral defeat would have been a very real prospect. While the MPLA was probably in a stronger electoral position, a family dynasty would have further damaged the country’s international reputation and, given Angola’s poor economic situation, this would have posed a threat to the MPLA’s leadership.

Although cults of personality developed around dos Santos and particularly Mugabe, it is important to recognise that their power derived ultimately from their political parties and the military. While the circumstances are different in South Africa, the ANC is still the dominant political force in the country and it can be difficult to differentiate between the party and state. After fighting protracted liberation struggles, the MPLA, ZANU-PF and ANC were not willing to risk their supremacy by allowing family dynasties to emerge. It seems that, amongst the Southern African liberation movements, no individual or family is bigger than the party.

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

Angola: Bracing for Unrest

This month’s slump in the price of crude oil seems to suggest that the slight recovery seen in May-June 2015 was premature. On 6th July, the Brent Crude oil price fell below $60 per barrel for the first time since April and it has since remained there. At the time of writing, it is trading at $56.84 per barrel. This continuation of a low oil price has not only hit the economies of Africa’s oil exporters but also caused a ripple effect in the political sphere and across society. One such country which has felt this is Angola.

Angola’s economy and government are highly dependent on the country’s oil exports. Oil sales represent over 70 percent of government revenue and account for 90 percent of foreign exchange earnings. As a result, the fall in price caused: the government to cut its budget by $17 billion in February 2015; Angola’s currency – the Kwanza – to weaken 15 percent against the dollar between 1st January and 30th June 2015 (the Angolan government devalued the Kwanza on 4th June 2015); inflation to hit a more than one year high of 7.73 percent in February 2015; and the government to increase borrowing to $25 billion for this year. In addition to this, Angola’s petroleum parastatal – Sonangol Group – announced on 13th July 2015, that it plans to find $1 billion in cost savings by the end of the year. This came shortly after the company denied claims in Portuguese media that it had gone bankrupt. Although Sonangol’s Chief Executive Officer – Francisco de Lemos Jose Maria – reportedly said that the company probably won’t fire workers, there is no guarantee that this will be the case if crude oil stays at its current price or falls even further. The World Bank has already reacted to this unfolding situation by agreeing to provide Angola with $650 million in financial support on 2nd July 2015. However, its country manager – Clara Ana de Sousa – was reported as warning that “given the current global environment, Angola needs to put in place a fiscal policy to be able to continue its efforts to diversify the economy, with greater discretionary expenditures, while protecting the poor and most vulnerable”.

Such economic conditions have unsurprisingly impacted Angolan politics. The MPLA government of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who is in his 36th year as Angola’s president, appears to be worried that the falling oil price will lead to unrest. Oil revenue has long been the financial backbone of dos Santos’ regime, which has used it to buy support and quash opposition to its patronage politics. The president, his family, and senior government figures have all been accused of exploiting their positions and stealing money from the Angolan state. An IMF report from 2011 showed that during the period 2007-2010, $32 billion, or 25 percent of GDP, could not be accounted for. This level of corruption is also reflected in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2014, which found Angola to be the 14th most corrupt country in the world. As falling oil prices have hit government revenue, the dos Santos regime is acutely aware of its diminishing ability to placate opposition through buying them off. Cuts in government spending have already hit a key support base for the MPLA – government employees – which may alter their allegiance if conditions do not improve. Thus, the party are conscious of the fact that they need to be prepared for the possibility of increased popular opposition.

As a result, the government have cracked down on youth opposition groups. On 26th June 2015, the government released a statement informing the public that over the past week the security services had arrested 15 youth activists for allegedly preparing acts of collective disobedience to overthrow the government and unseat dos Santos. This was followed by the arrest of Captain Zenobio Lazaro Muhondo Zumba, an intelligence officer allegedly connected to the detained youth activists, on 30th June 2015. In addition to this, the government has reportedly increased the military’s presence in the capital Luanda. This is highly significant as Luanda has long been a strong support base for the MPLA. Thus, it appears that the government are preparing to combat unrest amongst its supporters.

Furthermore, dos Santos has also postponed his succession in reaction to the current conditions. In a statement provided to the state-run news agency – Angop – dos Santos said “in restricted circles it was almost a given that the president wouldn’t carry out his mandate until the end, but it’s evident that it’s not wise to consider that option under the current circumstances”. This seems to suggest that dos Santos is concerned that a change in leadership combined with the current economic conditions could pose a threat to the MPLA’s rule. Nonetheless, his current mandate finishes in 2017 and due his age and rumours about his health, it is likely that he will want to resolve the succession question by the end of his mandate.

Although the dos Santos regime appears to be concerned about the MPLA’s future in light of the low oil price, it is unlikely that any opposition could currently challenge their rule. Angola’s opposition parties are weak and the MPLA have the full support of the country’s security services. The fall in the price of oil will undoubtedly put pressure on the regime and its patronage system but it’s unlikely to pose a major threat in the near future. Nevertheless, if prices remain low it’s possible that the regime may begin to struggle to pay the security forces wages, which could potentially lead to a far more dangerous opposition. However, it will be a priority of the government to avoid this from happening and at the time of writing it seems that this is a highly unlikely occurrence. The only concern which remains is the question of dos Santos’ succession. The longer this remains unresolved, the greater the threat it could potentially pose to the ruling party. Dos Santos has delayed the process so as to try to ensure that the MPLA have weathered the storm of falling oil prices before the decision is made. However, if the decision is forced on the MPLA through dos Santos’ apparent poor health, the party may struggle to contain unrest while trying to select a new leader. Thus, it is likely that dos Santos will try to resolve this question before the end of his mandate.

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.