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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 7th November 2017

LIBERIA: Supreme Court puts election on hold and tells electoral commission to fix registration lists and vote-tallying

Patrick Smith

This week we start with a Kenya-style election-on-hold in Liberia and the sacking of one of President Mugabe's oldest lieutenants for disloyalty in Zimbabwe. In South Africa, Jacob Zuma's spies have reverted to apartheid-regime tactics to ban a critical book and in Abuja, we hear President Muhammadu Buhari is going to run for a second term in the 2019 elections.

LIBERIA: Supreme Court puts election on hold and tells electoral commission to fix registration lists and vote-tallyingClaims by defeated candidate Charles Brumskine of wide-ranging mismanagement in the first round of Liberia's presidential election were enough to persuade the Supreme Court to postpone the second round until the issues are resolved.

The decision will frustrate the front-runner, George Weah, who won 38.4% of the votes in the first round, because he could lose momentum during the delay. It gives a boost to Vice-President Joseph Boakai, who got 28.8% in the first round and faces Weah in the run-off.

Liberia's Chief Justice Francis Korkpor shied away from the nuclear option chosen by Kenya's Supreme Court of annulling the elections completely. Instead, he ordered the Electoral Commission to review its operations and hold discussions with the candidates. That lack of precise guidance could prove tricky for the Commission. Ultimately, the Court may have to rule again on whether enough changes have been made to comply with its order.

The Court gave no opinion on claims by some in Boakai's camp that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had intervened with the Electoral Commission to favour Weah. Last week, she rubbished the claims, dismissing them as 'hate speech'. But an advisor to Johnson Sirleaf told Africa Confidential that Vice-President Boakai had been 'captured' by business interests in Monrovia, which could explain her apparent coolness towards his campaign.

ZIMBABWE: Reports of deepening political crisis after President Mugabe sacks Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Zimbabwe Defence Force chief Constantine ChiwengaIt was her clearest statement yet of her plans for when her husband dies. On 4 November, Grace Mugabe told Zimbabweans that she could become President if people wanted to work with her.

She was throwing down the gauntlet to Emmerson Mnangagwa, known as 'Ngwena' (crocodile), on the day before her husband sacked him as Vice-President for plotting. The reality is that most of the hierarchy of the governing Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) spend inordinate time plotting against each other as well as the President.

There is no question that Mnangagwa wants to take over from Mugabe as soon as possible, and could win substantial backing from local and foreign business. Britain's Foreign Office has been accused by oppositionists in Harare of secretly backing Mnangagwa, who has cultivated strong links with the country's security chiefs. Some think he offers a good prospect of stability in a post-Mugabe world, even though he is unpopular in the ruling party. His business associations with multi-millionaire John Bredenkamp might help in the next stage of the power struggle.

Until recently, many senior politicians didn't take Grace Mugabe's political ambitions very seriously. But she seems confident that Mugabe would name her Vice-President this week. For Mnangagwa that could be a provocation too far.

Some Zimbabwean satirists are accusing President Mugabe of trying to keep up with the Zumas: that's a reference to South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, who has been spending much time and resources to ensure that his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma wins the presidency of the African National Congress at its elective conference next month.

SOUTH AFRICA: Government uses apartheid-regime measures to ban book exposing criminal networks around President ZumaVeteran investigative journalist Jacques Pauw might weigh the truth of the adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity. His latest book, The President's Keepers, about Zuma's business allies, has been flying off the shelves of bookshops across South Africa.

Pauw introduces readers to a cast of criminal businessmen and gangsters, all of whom are thriving from their connections to the President. For good measure, he adds that Zuma hasn't filed any tax returns since becoming President and that his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's ANC leadership campaign has benefited from contributions from cigarette-traders accused of serial tax evasion.

The State Security Agency wrote to Pauw's publishers, warning them to 'cease and desist' publishing and promoting the book, which they said breached national security laws. Invoking arguments and statutes from the apartheid era, the securocrats failed to get the book banned. Now, it is circulating on social media and other internet platforms and the clumsy attempt at censorship has had the opposite effect to that intended.
NIGERIA: A whispering campaign insists that President Buhari will run for a second term in 2019 as party dissenters quieten downThis week, President Muhammadu Buhari will paint a much more upbeat picture of Nigeria's economic prospects when he reads the 2018 budget in the National Assembly. Together with his Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, Buhari is backing a Keynesian-style spending boom to reinforce the country's economic recovery after the oil crash of 2015-2016.
The budget will outline bold plans to borrow billions of dollars for new roads, ports, power stations and transmission lines as part of the country's 'technology revolution'. Buhari and Osinbajo insist the money will be used productively as they answer sceptics. Last week, the International Monetary Fund reported that Nigeria was spending over 60% of state revenues on servicing local and foreign debt after the value of oil exports halved.
This spending spree could set up the government for the 2019 elections and we hear that President Buhari will seek a second term on the ticket of the governing All Progressives' Congress. Buhari's advisors believe that he has conquered his health problems after months of treatment in London this year and is up to the rigours of another four years at the top. The plan has been run past some senior diplomats in Abuja who have commented that they think a Buhari-Osinbajo ticket would be a better option than the obvious alternatives at the moment.

So far, we have heard nothing from other contenders in the party such as Atiku Abubakar or Bola Tinubu. For now, such dissenters are keeping quiet, monitoring developments at Aso Rock.

THE WEEK AHEAD IN VERY BRIEF

KENYA: Mobile-money king Safaricom's earnings slow down, hit by serial political problems

COMMODITY TRADING/CONGO-KINSHASA: Activists step up pressure on British authorities to probe trading giant Glencore after Paradise Papers uncover secret Congo deals

BANKING/SOUTH AFRICA: HSBC could face prosecution in the USA after it failed to respond to warnings over handling Gupta funds