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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 24th January 2017

AFRICAN UNION: Key leadership vote amid debates over security and funding

Patrick Smith

All eyes are on Addis Ababa this week where the African Union summit elects a new chair for the AU Commission while there is some relief and mutual congratulation over the peaceful resolution of the post-election crisis in the Gambia. Ahead of national elections in August, Kenya's opposition tries to unite around a single candidate. Ghana's new government prepares for what could be a tough meeting with the International Monetary Fund and South Africa's MTN mobile telecommunications company faces another investigation in NigeriaTurkey's President Erdogan has  arrived in Tanzania on the first leg of a three-nation tour.

AFRICAN UNION: Key leadership vote amid debates over security and funding
Choosing the next chair of the African Union Commission will be the main event during the organisation's summit in Addis Ababa from 22 to 31 January, but there is also a packed policy agenda facing delegates (hyperlink to AU piece).The biggest organisational question will be the AU reform to be presented by Rwanda's President Paul Kagame. He has been consulting a commission of luminaries including former African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka, former Executive Secretary of the UN's Economic Commission for Africa Carlos LopesZimbabwean telecoms magnate Strive Masiyiwa and Cape Verde Finance Minister Cristina Duarte.

Linked to their report, due to be tabled at the summit, will be a new proposal to finance the AU and its peacekeeping operations from a 0.2% levy on all imports in Africa. The assembled heads of state will also have to decide on Morocco's application for readmission to the AU. This could revive a division in the organisation over the recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and the contested status of Western Sahara. Algeria and South Africa are strong supporters of the SADR and its Polisario Front. They would strongly oppose any attempts by Morocco to expel the SADR from the AU.

There are a raft of security problems and political crises on the agenda such as:

• delays in sending a special protection force drawn from regional states to South Sudan;

• concern for the durability of the political agreement over elections in Congo-Kinshasa;

• continuing instability in Burundi and reports of worsening abuses there;

• reinforcements to the AU force in Somalia (Amisom) despite doubts about future funding;

• post-conflict reconstruction in the Central African Republic;

• AU's role in proposed national dialogue in Libya;

• future of the AU-led force for the elimination of the Lord's Resistance Army.

THE GAMBIA: Jammeh flies out as questions raised over stolen assets
As Gambians celebrate on the streets of Banjul after ex-President Yahya Jammeh's flight into exile, there are claims that he withdrew over US$10 million from the central bank before he left. Mai Ahmad Fatty, an advisor to President Adama Barrow, said there were serious concerns about the state of the treasury.

Barrow, who was sworn in as president in Dakar while West African forces closed in on Jammeh, is expected to return to Banjul early in the week. Although a statement from the Economic Community of West African States says that Jammeh would be allowed to keep assets and properties held in his name, many Gambian activists are calling for a full investigation into claims of last-minute looting.

KENYA: Opposition alliance is yet to choose a leader
The grand launch of Kenya's National Super Alliance (NASA) – a coalition of five opposition parties to contest national elections in August – will have little political impact unless the parties can quickly unite around a common candidate. Talks on that issue are said to be under way now.

Leader of the Orange Democratic Movement, Raila Odinga, 72, is the favoured choice to be the new alliance's presidential candidate but he would need strong support from politicians in the Western and Coast provinces to mount a convincing challenge to President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee party.
Apart from uniting around a candidate, the NASA group must build a powerful national organisation in the next few months that is capable of monitoring electoral registration, voting and counting for each polling area. In the last national elections in 2013, Odinga's party claimed there was vote-rigging and result-fixing but its dossier failed to convince the Chief Justice.

GHANA: Calls to review $918 million deal with the IMF
Ahead of a visit to Accra by a delegation from the International Monetary Fund this month, senior minister Yaw Osafo-Maarfo told parliament in Accra that the government's arrangements with the Fund would have to be revisited.

Already, Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia, who runs the new government's economy team, has described the fiscal position as 'fairly dire'. Total debt is running at over 71% of the country's gross domestic product.

His colleague, Finance Minister Ken Ofori Atta, says that tackling the high debt levels would be a priority for the new government as it tries to promote an economic upturn and create more jobs. The new government says the budget deficit is running at over 8% of GDP, as opposed to the target of 5.3% for 2016 set by the IMF in its agreement with the former government.

NIGERIA/SOUTH AFRICA: New hurdles on MTN deal
A new investigation – this time into claims that it illegally transferred $14 billion out of Nigeria between 2006 and 2016 – is worrying South Africa's top mobile telecommunications company, MTN. The investigation, which was initiated by Nigeria's Senate, follows the resolution of a dispute over the company's failure to delete all unregistered SIM cards at the government's demand.

After investigation on the SIM card issue, Nigeria's government announced it would fine MTN $5.2 bn. for jeopardising national security: it suggested that terrorist groups and criminals had repeatedly used unregistered SIM cards. That dispute was finally settled when MTN agreed to pay a $1.1 bn. fine and list the company on the Nigeria Stock Exchange.

Due to the poor performance of Nigeria's stock market – the market index lost 40% in US dollar terms last year – MTN officials say they may wait until 2018 to list in the country. They may also be concerned about the outcome of the Senate investigation – even if Nigeria's Communications Minister Adebayo Shittu has warned the National Assembly about the dangers of 'scaring' away MTN.

TURKEY/AFRICA: Erdogan due in energy producing states
As Turkey steps up investment and trade in Africa, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is on a three-nation tour of Africa from 22 to 25 January — his third official visit to Africa in a year. This week the stopovers are in Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar; all are new energy producers. Over the past decade, Turkey has more than tripled the number of its embassies in Africa and quickly expanded the routes of Turkish Airlines.