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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 17th September 2019

MUGABE'S LEGACY DIVIDES ZIMBABWE: Economic crisis deepens ahead of IMF talks in Washington

Patrick Smith

We start in Harare – in the throes of economic and political crises – with the funeral of Robert Mugabe, and then to the first-round upsets in the presidential election in Tunisia. Tanzania's leader gets cash from the World Bank despite attacking civil rights and defying economic orthodoxy, and finally, Zambia's President Lunguadmits the economy is in dire trouble.

MUGABE'S LEGACY DIVIDES ZIMBABWE: Economic crisis deepens ahead of IMF talks in Washington

Economic crisis and political repression seemed to weigh heavier on many people's minds than the solemn obsequies for a departed leader. Local economists say inflation is running at over 500% and doctors are protesting, claiming that the leader of their trade union, Peter Magombeyi, was abducted by state security.

As the final arrangements for the state funeral were being made, the central bank announced that it was raising the overnight lending rate to 70% from 50% and that the born-again Zimbabwe dollar had depreciated 50% against the US dollar since its reintroduction in late June.

Officials in Harare insist that the government's harsh economic reforms will win the backing of the IMF at its annual meeting in October. That could open the possibility of bridging finance to allow the government to repay arrears to its multilateral creditors.

Whether it was economic hardship or political disillusionment, there was a low turn-out at Harare's National Sports Stadium for Robert Mugabe's last exit. The 60,000 capacity stadium was less than half-full for the state funeral on Saturday (14 September), which was attended by several African heads of state who all gave fulsome tributes.

The government's efforts to control the event only half-worked. The Mugabe family insist that they will bury the independence leader at a private ceremony in a specially designed mausoleum. Giving in to pressure from the government, Mugabe's family say they will allow the mausoleum to be built at the official burial site for liberation fighters known as Heroes' Acre.

WORLD BANK RELENTS ON TANZANIA: Magufuli continues the crackdown but gets the money anyway

President John Magufuli has won another victory after the World Bank approved a US$450 million loan to Tanzania on Friday (13 September). The Bank was one of many international institutions to withhold funds from Tanzania over the Magufuli government's ban on publishing statistics, as well as its attacks on democracy and human rights.

The strong-arming of opposition politicians and civil society activists continues. Journalist Erick Kabendera is detained on multiple charges from treason and tax evasion to money laundering.
Magufuli has shaken up his inner team, sacking intelligence chief Modestus Kipilimba, and replacing him with Diwani Athumani, a senior policeman who had headed the government's anti-corruption bureau. The change is not thought to herald a thaw.

ZAMBIA'S SOUTHBOUND ECONOMY: Lungu announces contradictory policies on austerity cuts and racking up new debt

President Edgar Lungu has cut Zambia's economic growth forecasts for 2019 against a backdrop of debt and drought. In his state of the nation address on Friday (13 September), he said that growth would be 2%, compared with the previously forecast 4%, because of 'adverse weather conditions which have affected the energy and agricultural sectors.'

Lungu says the government would delay some projects and cancel others to cut expenditure and debt, but detail is lacking. 'The art of borrowing is the ability to pay back,' the President said, even though many worry that Zambia is on the brink of, if not already in, debt distress.

He insisted that his government will press ahead with constitutional amendments to remove lawmakers' rights to approve new government loans. That does not suggest an appetite for reining in new borrowing.

TUNISIA'S ELECTORAL SPRING: Voters deliver a stinging rejection of the old guard
Anti-establishment candidates have claimed victory in Sunday's (15 September) presidential elections as the electorate signalled its anger with the post-Arab Spring political class. Preliminary results come out on Tuesday, but constitutional lawyer Kaïs Saïed and media mogul Nabil Karoui claimed they topped the polls. If that is true, they will face each other in the run-off slated for early October.

The low turnout – just 45% – surprised and disappointed in equal measure. Karoui is still in jail pending an investigation for money-laundering, which the government denies is politically motivated. His lawyers confirmed that on the eve of the first-round poll an appeal for his release was rejected.
The votes for Karoui and Saïed will be a blow both to Prime Minister Youssef Chahed and Abdelfattah Mourou, heading a first-time bid for Islamist-inspired party Ennahda.

NO EUROPEAN UNION RESET ON AFRICA: New EU Commission team fails to create a special Africa post

Hopes that European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen would appoint a commissioner specifically for Africa have disappointed those wanting a fresh policy approach to the continent. The commissioners-designate now go before European Parliament committees for hearings.

The three commissioners dealing with EU-Africa relations will be Foreign Affairs High Representative Josep Borrell Fonteilles; Commissioner for 'Protecting the European Way of Life' Margaritis Schinas, whose portfolio includes migration control; and International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen.

The nomination of Urpilainen, a Finnish parliamentarian who served as her country's special envoy to Ethiopia, has been widely welcomed, but the nominations of Borrell and Schinas from Spain and Greece respectively, suggests that the EU's preoccupation with migration control will continue. Borrell, in particular, had called for Brussels to offer more funds to North African countries to curb migration.

The only significant change is the replacement of the 'development' commissioner with a commissioner for 'international partnerships', and it is unclear whether this marks a rhetorical or substantive change.


ALGERIA'S ELECTION IN DOUBT: Interim government announces presidential election for 12 December but mass opposition rally rejects the schedule again

EGYPTIAN CORRUPTION ON CAMERA: President Abdel Fattah el Sisi dismisses claims in a video of grand corruption in his regime as 'lies and slander'

NEXT STEP IN SUDAN'S PEACE TRAIL: Confidence-building, then new ruling council in Khartoum is to launch peace process with rebel groups in October