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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 9th May 2017

FRANCE/AFRICA: President-elect Emmanuel Macron set to fly to Mali in first Africa trip after inauguration

Patrick Smith

This week we start with the celebrations greeting the newly-elected President of France and look at some implications for Africa. Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari is back in London for more medical treatment as his deputy puts the finishing touches on this year's budget and a couple of security deals. Another tough few weeks face South Africa's President Jacob Zuma as his support dwindles and he prepares for a no-confidence motion in parliament. Algeria's parliamentary elections have done little to settle the country's biggest economic and political questions. Finally, a new cooperation pact on cocoa between Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire could offer some ideas to Africa's hard-pressed commodity producers.

FRANCE/AFRICA: President-elect Emmanuel Macron set to fly to Mali in first Africa trip after inaugurationAlthough the technocrat and political centrist Emmanuel Macron, who won 66% of the votes in France's presidential elections on Sunday (7 May), will focus heavily on economic restructuring at home and reforming the European Union his government is set to make some shifts in Africa policy. Expect to see further efforts to shut down the old Françafrique networks – which had sustained the Gaullist and Socialist political parties – if Macron's En Marche party wins substantial support in next month's parliamentary elections.

One of the candidates that Macron is considering as Prime Minister is Pascal Lamy, the former director general of the World Trade Organisation, who takes a keen interest in African economic development. Lamy is on the board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, set up by the Sudanese telecoms billionaire, in London.

Macron's first port of call in Africa is likely to be Mali, where a French military contingent is working alongside United Nations peacekeepers in one of the most dangerous international missions. Last week, a group of insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades into a UN camp on the outskirts of Timbuktu, killing about five soldiers.

An early priority for Macron's team will be to improve relations between Paris and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta's government in Bamako. Security specialists in Paris say the Keïta government's policies in Mali's northern regions have been sending recruits into the arms of the jihadists.

Macron may also choose to work more closely with Algeria, which remains a key player in Sahelian security matters. Earlier this year, Macron went to Algiers and had some substantive discussions Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra.

Macron's other significant African interest is Nigeria where he worked as an intern in the French Embassy about 16 years ago. A French businessman told Africa Confidential that Macron had turned down a job in the United States for a temporary post in Nigeria on the basis that its mixture of cultures, religious faiths, and oil-fired politics would tell him more about new global trends than a stint in Washington DC. Friends joke that Macron speaks English with a uniquely French-Nigerian accent.

Macron is still fondly remembered by some Lagosians, we are told, some of whom have closely followed the latest step in his career after he launched his new political movement just a year ago. At Macron's victory party at the Louvre museum in Paris, his African credentials were further burnished when the Ivorian band Magic System, which pioneered the Zouglou sound, topped the list of artists entertaining the crowds.

NIGERIA: New security strategy emerges as President Buhari returns to London for more treatmentTwo big security initiatives – one in the Niger Delta and the other with the Boko Haram militia in the north-east – are taking shape as President Buhari receives yet more medical treatment in London. Officials didn't release any further information about the nature of his ailments or the expected length of his stay in London, but Buhari has notified the National Assembly that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo will take over again as acting President in what is set to be a busy period, with negotiations over the 2017 budget, new financing arrangements, and some important changes in security policy.
The government's latest deal with Boko Haram, announced just before Buhari's departure for London last Sunday (7 May), secured the release of 82 of the 200 Chibok schoolgirls abducted three years ago in return for the release of some militants detained by the army.

About 20 of the Chibok schoolgirls were released last October in a deal organised by the Red Cross. President Buhari has confirmed that his government is talking to Boko Haram about the release of all the abductees but officials won't give details.

Boko Haram has been pushed out of much of the territory it controlled in north-east Nigeria since Buhari took over, but remains a powerful threat in the area, launching cross-border suicide bombing missions from north-western Cameroon.

The government is also changing its policy in the Niger Delta, tripling its budget for the amnesty programme for former militants to 30 billion naira (US$95 million) for this year, with a further N5 bn. in prospect. Initially, the Buhari government's plan was to wind down the Niger Delta amnesty, replacing it with a more wide-ranging development strategy for the region. But the government's priority now is oil production. Militant attacks had cut it to 1.2 million barrels a day last year amid concerns that the amnesty programme was going to be stopped and militant leaders would be arrested. This year, under the direction of Vice-President Osinbajo, a new policy of dialogue with local groups in the Delta appears to be bearing fruit, although six soldiers were killed in clashes with militants in Ondo state, west of the Niger Delta, last weekend. The military said the soldiers were breaking up gangs involved in stealing oil and kidnappings but the Ijaw Youth Council, one of the key groups in the Delta, said the violence was the result of local resistance to the army acting an occupying force.

SOUTH AFRICA: New court challenge to President Zuma ahead of confidence voteIt has been an exceptionally bad week for President Jacob Zuma as he prepares for another motion of no confidence in parliament. It threatens to be the closest yet. He was chased from yet another public meeting, at Vuwani, Limpopo province on Sunday (7 May). Also, he must shortly respond to a North Gauteng High Court demand that he explain why he sacked Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
Initially, Zuma claimed he was acting on an intelligence report that Gordhan and his Deputy Mcebisi Jonas were plotting against the government. Once these reports were discredited by top African National Congress figures, Zuma then claimed he had sacked Gordhan to inject 'young blood' into the government. Since Gordhan's departure, three international ratings agencies have downgraded South Africa's credit status, which is likely to prompt further capital outflows.

ALGERIA: Small election win for FLN doesn't allay fears over oil cash and ailing President BouteflikaThe governing Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) can take little solace from the results of the parliamentary election on 4 May. The FLN's strength in the 462-seat Assemblée Nationale is down to 164 from 221 seats in the elections five years ago. Turnout at 38.25%, down from 43% in 2012, was one of the lowest ever in Algerian elections, although the real figure is believed to be far lower, reflecting widespread alienation from the mainstream political process. Indeed, many believe that political change – when it comes – is likely to be led by the military or the powerful security services.
The biggest party in a very divided opposition, the Rassemblement national démocratique (RND) won 97 seats, up from 70 in the last election. A coalition of Islamist parties won 30 seats.

GHANA/COTE D'IVOIRE: New plan to tackle fall-out from cocoa crashNeighbours Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire are discussing a common response to the 40% crash in cocoa bean prices over the past year. Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana are respectively the world's biggest and second-biggest cocoa bean producers. Their governments' discussion on joint investments to process more beans locally and create economies of scale have been helped by good personal relations between President Alassane Ouattara and Ghana's new President Nana Addo Akufo-Addo. They are asking the African Development Bank to draw up plans to boost regional capacity to process cocoa, and boost to the local manufacture of chocolate.

They are also discussing ways to coordinate production and marketing; last year Ouattara joked that what Africa needed was a 'Chocpec', which like the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries would coordinate production levels among member states. The possibility of such coordination among producers outside Africa looks remote.

One of the main problems for Africa's cocoa producers has been the high volume but low-quality cocoa producers of countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, which sell into the expanding Asian market.