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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 10th April 2018

NIGERIA: After a mini-national tour and exhortations from his loyalists, President Buhari seeks second term

Patrick Smith

The news agenda this week starts with President Muhammadu Buhari's announcement that he will seek a second term in Nigeria's elections next year but the outlook remains extremely uncertain. Ethiopia's feted new Prime Minister is on the road in the Ogaden and Oromia. An accident in a Ghana gold mine intensifies public criticism of the sector. Julius Maada Bio, the winner of Sierra Leone's presidential elections, and his rival Samura Kamara have agreed to work together.

NIGERIA: After a mini-national tour and exhortations from his loyalists, President Buhari seeks second term
Of all the political manoeuvres ahead of next year's national elections, President Muhammadu Buhari's plan to seek a second term ranks as one of the least surprising, despite a well-coordinated attempt by his fellow former generals to stop him.

Buhari's announcement at the national executive meeting of the governing All Progressives' Congress yesterday (9 April) doesn't mean that he's guaranteed to win the nomination. But so far, no substantial party figure has emerged to take him on.

Instead, some of the party's heavyweights from the north – such as former Kano governor Rabiu Kwankwaso or the popular Sokoto governor Aminu Tambuwal – may choose to cross the floor and contest the presidential nomination in the opposition People's Democratic Party, where former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar is making all the running after announcing his intentions on 27 March.

Both Buhari and Atiku will be in London this month. Buhari will attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which is hosted by the Queen, and his office says he will also hold talks with Prime Minister Theresa May about expanding trade and security cooperation. Buhari, who made a dramatic recovery last year after protracted medical leave in London, may also fit in time for a check-up with his doctor.

Veteran businessman Atiku is giving a lecture about economic modernisation and development strategy to the Chatham House think tank on 27 April and attempting to burnish his technocratic credentials.

ETHIOPIA: Hopes for reform rise as new premier Abiy Ahmed shuts down torture centre, promising a political settlement
It took just five days after his appointment as prime minister for Abiy to get on the road, calling first on Jijiga, the capital of the Ogaden (officially, the Somali Region). He has a plan for political reconciliation in Oromia and the Ogaden after two years of violence.

A quick win was his announcement that the notorious Maekelawi detention centre, where dissidents were reportedly tortured, would be closed down and turned into a museum. Political insiders say that Abiy has a short time to prove he can get political results and keep the hawks in the security system, many of whom opposed his appointment, at bay. Those who draw parallels between Abiy's reform pledges and the early months of Hailemariam Desalegn's premiership could be mistaken.

Hailemariam was a consummate technocrat, lacking both a substantial military record or strong security ties, while Abiy was a lieutenant-colonel in the military and director of the country's aggressive cyber-security programme. That means the sceptics in the security system will take Abiy seriously, this year at least. The stakes could hardly be higher for Ethiopia, which has strong economic growth, an ambitious modernisation strategy and a population of 110 million.

GHANA: Tax write-offs, accidents and environmental damage could trigger a pushback against gold-mining companies
An accident killing six workers and badly injuring four others at Newmont's gold mine at Ahafo last Saturday (7 April) is likely to boost public demands for tougher state regulation. The victims were drowned in liquid concrete when the roof of a tunnel caved in.

Complaints are growing about working conditions both in the international companies and the artisanal sector, as well as the level of tax they pay. In the wake of the tragedy, Newmont has shut down its mines at Ahafo and Akyem, the home base of many senior figures in the New Patriotic Party.

Angry youths reeled off a list of complaints about Newmont when John Peter Amewu, Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, visited the Ahafo mine after the accident and announced an investigation.

Meanwhile, the NPP government has reached an agreement with Anglogold Ashanti to restart production at its Obuasi mine, which had been forced to close after the previous government failed to crack down on informal or 'galamsey' mining ventures in the area.

For over five years, the 'galamsey' operators, usually joint-ventures between local groups and Asian companies and backed by some local politicians, ignored worker safety regulations and environmental laws. Hundreds of miners were killed and maimed in these operations and the water table across swathes of the Obuasi region was irreparably damaged.

But the latest political fuss centres on reports that Anglogold Ashanti has secured a cut in its tax and royalty obligations of $275 million in exchange for resuming production. The furore around the deal could embarrass the government as it tries to persuade Ghanaians to pay more tax.

As part of its 'Beyond Aid' strategy the government is trying to boost its domestic revenue, but it's saying less about the big companies' tax records and is focusing on the over six million Ghanaians in full time formal employment. Last week, officials in the ministry of finance said that less than a quarter of those workers were paying income tax.

SIERRA LEONE: Lack of parliamentary support forces new President Maada Bio cut deal with rival Kamara after tight election
It was an arrangement drawn up after the country's two top politicians – presidential election winner Julius Maada Bio and opponent Samura Kamara – both devout Catholics, attended mass in the same church in Freetown on Sunday (8 April). That day, Kamara, who stood for the All People's Congress, agreed to recognise Maada Bio's victory.

Until then, Kamara and his allies had been threatening to withhold recognition of the official result, launching a legal challenge as its supporters started organising protests. However, it was the narrowness of Maada Bio's winning margin – 51.18% of the vote against 48.19% for Kamara – that prompted the agreement.

That's because Kamara's APC won 67 of the 132 seats in parliament against Maada Bio's Sierra Leone People's Party's 47. The terms of the deal, and whether Kamara will have a formal role in Maada Bio's government, remain hazy. The two men have worked together before, when Maada Bio headed a military junta in the 1990s.


ZIMBABWE: Police probe of ivory smuggling claims against ex-President Mugabe's family could scupper his ambitions for a political comeback

SOUTH AFRICA: After a cameo court appearance, Zuma ponders a political campaign against his corruption charges

AFRICA/UNITED STATES: Africo Resources claims $600 million against Och Ziff, two years after it admits corruption and cuts a $400 million plea bargain deal

RWANDA: With GDP growth forecast at 7.3% this year, President Kagame reshuffles his cabinet and names new finance minister