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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 11th July 2018

CONGO-KINSHASA: President Kabila snubs US envoy Nikki Haley and UN chief over elections as churches plan protests for next month

Patrick Smith

We start in Kinshasa with the cancellation two high-level meetings and what this tells us about President Joseph Kabila's political plans. Then to Asmara for a breakthrough meeting between Eritrean President Issayas Aferwerki and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. There was a smaller breakthrough in Nigeria where 38 political parties have formed an opposition coalition to fight next year's elections. If it holds together, it could change everyone's calculations. And in Kampala, President Yoweri Museveni is considering a Chinese company's radical offer to become the national electricity provider.

CONGO-KINSHASA: President Kabila snubs US envoy Nikki Haley and UN chief over elections as churches plan protests for next month
Citing an extra demanding work schedule this week, President Joseph Kabila is unavailable for meetings either with United Nations Secretary General António Guterres or Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the UN. Both have voiced concerns about political conditions in Congo-Kinshasa as evidence suggests that Kabila wants to extend his time in office.

Lambert Mende, Kabila's Information Minister, insists the fuss over the two meetings is misplaced while Haley and Guterres maintain a diplomatic silence. Guterres has been in Addis Ababa this week and was preparing to meet Kabila in Kinshasa later in the week.

So far, Kabila has steadfastly refused to say whether he plans to change the constitution and run for a third term. The Haley and Guterres meetings were due at a critical moment in the political calendar. Candidates for the presidential elections, scheduled to take place before the end of the year, are meant to register between 25 July and 8 August. If this goes ahead and nominations close without Kabila's intervention, it will be a critical signal.

Congo is one of the most important issues for Guterres this year: it houses the UN's biggest and costliest peacekeeping operation. UN staff fear the worsening political crisis could trigger fresh conflict across the country and beyond. The US has been stepping up sanctions on Kabila's allies accused of corruption but at the same time wants to cut its contribution to UN peacekeeping operations, such as Congo.

Next month, a coalition of Catholic church groups is to organise protests across the country to press Kabila to leave office and organise free elections. Previous protests by the group have met with heavy state repression.

ETHIOPIA/ERITREA: Issayas and Abiy speed up political and economic rapprochement after breakthrough meeting in Asmara
A month after Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that his government was to accept the 2000 peace agreement with Eritrea and withdraw troops from the border area, the two countries have reopened full diplomatic and commercial relations.

Although Abiy was warmly received during his ground-breaking visit to Asmara on Sunday (8 July), there are difficult details still to resolve on security arrangements, land rights and, perhaps, compensation. Of the two leaders, Issayas has the most to gain in the short term if Ethiopia can help his country end its isolation. Abiy's position is riskier, with some senior security officials said to be sceptical of the deal.

NIGERIA: People's Democratic Party agrees 38-party opposition alliance to step up campaign against President Buhari
After several dissidents left the governing All Progressives' Congress last week, the country's many opposition parties have been belatedly putting together a united front to prepare for elections due in February and March.

At the helm of this Coalition of Unity Political Parties is the PDP, which claims the coalition members are committing to agree on a common presidential candidate to challenge Buhari. Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar appears to have been leading the negotiations for the unity front, drawing on his political networks and cash reserves.

In the coming days, attention will focus on political heavyweights Senate President Bukola Saraki and former governor of Kano Rabiu Kwankwaso, who are said to be on the brink of quitting the governing APC. They would add great weight to the new coalition but would also be likely to want the presidential candidacy, competing with each other and Atiku for the nomination.

UGANDA: China's $3 billion bid for national power company could get President Museveni's backing
Such is President Museveni's dissatisfaction with the performance of the national electricity distributor, Umeme, that he is said to be considering terminating its concession, which was due to last until 2025. Instead, he has been examining a US$3 billion bid by the China Electric Power Equipment and Technology to supply and distribute Uganda's electricity.

It would be a bold move by both sides, getting China even more deeply involved in Uganda's economy. China already has substantial stakes in the local oil industry and is promising to use smart technology to improve the reliability of power supplies. But ending the concession held by the stock exchange-listed Umeme would shake the local financial markets could damage investor confidence.

The week ahead in very brief

SUDAN: Sacked spy chief Mohamed Atta appointed Ambassador to US to push negotiations on removing Khartoum from terror list

SOUTH AFRICA: Jacob Zuma's son Duduzane charged with corruption over links with the Gupta family and wielding political influence

ITALY/LIBYA: New government in Rome revives offer of $4 billion in investments if Tripoli agrees to accept returnee migrants

SOUTH AFRICA/UNITED STATES: New chief of McKinsey consultants apologises for links to graft scandal and admits it overcharged on power contract