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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 29th January 2018

AFRICAN UNION: Summiteers in Addis try to manage a military scramble in the Horn and the Sahel amid fresh reform efforts

Patrick Smith

We start this week in Addis Ababa where the African Union is faced with a slew of tough decisions on security and restructuring its management. And then to Nigeria where former President Olusegun Obasanjo's open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari has shaken up local politics. In South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa's gradualist change agenda is moving ahead with fresh investigations into political and business malfeasance, and his decision that the country cannot afford to spend tens of billions on a Russian-built nuclear power project.

AFRICAN UNION: Summiteers in Addis try to manage a military scramble in the Horn and the Sahel amid fresh reform efforts
Reforming the African Union bureaucracy, boosting its fund-raising capacity, and allowing free movement of peoples across national boundaries were all on the agenda at the organisation's summit, which was due to end today (29 January).

One plan is to follow the protocol adopted by the Economic Community of West African States, which envisages a phased ending of immigration controls. The conference also heard more about the proposal to finance the AU through a 0.2% tax on imports into all member states. This approach has won support from smaller and medium-sized states but the biggest countries are far less enthusiastic. Across the board, there has been little sign of consensus on the key reform issues so far.

AU Chairman Paul Kagame, Rwanda's President, is leading a troika of leaders, including Chad's Idris Déby Itno and Guinea's Alpha Condé, to shape the reform plans. Some ideas, such as an audit to identify bureaucratic inefficiencies, met less opposition but others, such as strengthening sanctions mechanisms against states that breach AU protocols, got a more hostile reception.

Kagame is keen to resolve key questions about relations between the AU and the regional economic communities – such as which takes precedence in resolving conflicts. For example, the AU has ceded power to regional groupings in the Sahel and Somalia but plays the leading role in Central African Republic. Then there are questions about how the AU works with organisations such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development and the African Peer Review Mechanism, which were launched 15 years ago by Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo but have since lost momentum.

Alongside these institutional issues are the pressing security concerns in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. Debate between member-states has been focusing not only on the wave of deadly attacks in Mali and Somalia but also on the increasing presence of foreign forces in those two regions. Although France has the biggest foreign military force in Africa, concentrating its troops in West and Central Africa, Djibouti is now hosting militaries from at least ten foreign powers, including China and the United States.

The United Arab Emirates has a presence in Somaliland, having opened a base at Assab port in Eritrea in 2015. We hear Egypt, at loggerheads with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project, has been in discussions with Eritrea about basing rights there. Turkey, which has a military base in Somalia, is negotiating for a presence in Sudan. Some of these deployments reflect the regional rivalries in the Middle East: the stand-off between Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt versus Qatar and Turkey.

Although the risks of this build-up of foreign forces, including African states being drawn into disputes outside the continent, have been flagged by members of the AU's Peace & Security Commission, it is unclear how they can be managed within the AU's existing structures. For now, the question of foreign military bases is regarded as wholly within the sovereign powers of national governments which are under no obligation to notify, much less consult the AU Commissions about their security arrangements.

NIGERIA: A new opposition movement – Coalition for Nigeria – is due to launch on 31 January after Obasanjo's critiqueThe epistle from Olusegun Obasanjo, retired general and head of state, to President Muhammadu Buhari urging him not to run for a second term in next year's elections continues to reverberate around the country.

It laid the ground for Olagunsoye Oyinlola, a former governor of Osun State and a close associate of Obasanjo's, to announce that he would be launching a new political movement, the Coalition for Nigeria, on Wednesday (31 January) with the backing of seven State governors, 20 senators and 100 members of the House of Representatives.

If nothing else, it has fired up the debate about the Buhari government's performance and what the opposition People's Democratic Party might have to offer. Not only did Obasanjo find little to commend in the Buhari government's performance on the economy, governance, anti-corruption and counter-insurgency in the north-east and middle belt, he also lashed out at his former political vehicle, the PDP.

Obasanjo says the two-party system in Nigeria is broken and that the country's best way forward is to support the Coalition for Nigeria, which will campaign for inclusive growth and good governance. If the new Coalition wins the support at all levels that its organisers claim, it stands a strong chance of breaking the mould of Nigerian politics.

SOUTH AFRICA: Ramaphosa rules out Zuma's mega-deal for Russian nuclear power but woos mining companies
The unravelling of President
Jacob Zuma's networks in the wake of Cyril Ramaphosa securing the presidency of the African National Congress continues apace. The National Prosecuting Authority's Asset Forfeiture Unit and the Treasury are pursuing 17 separate cases of corporate malfeasance linked to claims of 'state capture' by businesses close to Zuma. The investigations target some 50 billion rand (US$4.2 bn.) in assets.

Zuma's business associates, the Gupta family, deny all wrongdoing and are said to have left South Africa in December. The family is yet to respond to the latest round of allegations about their involvement in the Estina dairy project in Free State, the Uxolo Diamond Cutting Works and their purchase of the Optimum coal mine from Glencore.

Perhaps the biggest financial headache for Zuma will be the determination of Ramaphosa, and his ally former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, to block contracts worth tens of billions of dollars with Russia's state nuclear agency, Rosatom, to build several power stations.

On 25 January, Ramaphosa said the plans to build power stations to generate 9,600 megawatts are to be suspended first because South Africa has a surplus of generating power and secondly because it lacks the finance to make such an investment.

In December, Zuma ally Energy Minister David Mahlobo had said the nuclear projects would go ahead but at a slower pace than initially planned. It now seems he has been countermanded by Ramaphosa amid a deafening silence from Zuma.

Meanwhile, mining companies are talking up the chances of some important policy announcements at the Mining Indaba in Cape Town from 5-8 February. Companies expect some concessions from the ANC on the indigenous ownership and Black Economic Empowerment rule in the Mining Charter.
It could prove a critical test of Ramaphosa's ability to navigate between the pressures of big companies to dilute legislation in exchange for promises to boost investments and his commitment to improve living standards for South Africans more widely. 

The week ahead in very brief

ZIMBABWE: President Mnangagwa talks up prospects for growth and credible elections and then meets IMF chief at Davos

CONGO-KINSHASA: President Kabila fails to name a date for elections and his exit at first press conference in six years

CAMEROON: Political crisis in western region escalates as 43,000 nationals flee to Nigeria

BANKING & FINANCE: Blockchain and crypto-currencies could leapfrog traditional systems in Africa predicts head of research at London-based Exotix Capital