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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 26th February 2018

NIGERIA: Buhari calls new kidnapping of girl students in Yobe State a 'national disaster'

Patrick Smith

This week we reflect on an apparent replay of the 2014 tragedy in which armed militants abducted dozens of girl students in northern Nigeria. Then to South Africa, where speculation intensifies about the shape of President Cyril Ramaphosa's new cabinet. The crisis surrounding President Joseph Kabila's efforts to prolong his stay in power is deepening after police killed and wounded more anti-government protesters. A summit in Brussels has raised US$500 million for a bigger multinational force in the Sahel. And Mozambican officials will come face to face with creditors next month when they try to restructure the country's mega-debt.

NIGERIA: Buhari calls new kidnapping of girl students in Yobe State a 'national disaster'
The government is to send soldiers, police and surveillance aircraft to the north-east this week to boost security near the border with the Republic of Niger, following a mass kidnapping of students from the girls' technical school in Dapchi, Yobe State, on 19 February.

After several days of mixed messages from various officials, the government is promising determined action to find the students.

'This is a national disaster,' said President Muhammadu Buhari on 23 February. 'We are sorry that this could have happened … We pray that our gallant armed forces will locate and safely return your missing family members.'

Buhari and his colleagues are trying to avoid comparisons with their predecessor government under Goodluck Jonathan, which was widely condemned for its dilatory reaction in 2014 when Boko Haram fighters abducted more than 250 schoolgirls from a school in Chibok, Borno State. Security experts claimed that the delayed response by the Jonathan government made it far harder to track the kidnappers.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the kidnappings and attack on the Government Girls' Science and Technical College in Dapchi, a hundred kilometres from the Yobe State capital, Damaturu. The operation, which involved several armed vehicles and fighters in military uniforms posing as government soldiers, was well planned.

By the time residents raised the alarm and state troops arrived in the town from their base 30-40 kilometres away, the attackers had escaped, probably across the border into Niger.

SOUTH AFRICA: Ramaphosa announces leaner cabinet with Nhlanhla Nene set to return as Finance Minister
Lists of candidates for President Cyril Ramaphosa's first cabinet started circulating after the latest meeting of the African National Congress executive committee. We hear there was a consensus that the number of ministerial departments should be reduced from 35 to 25.

There was talk of top ministerial roles for Mcebisi Jonas, Thoko Didiza and Lindiwe Sisulu. One report suggests that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, beaten by Ramaphosa in the ANC leadership elections, might take a role as head of government business. Premier of Mpumalanga Province David Mabuza is tipped to serve as Deputy President in the new government. That role could prove critical in planning the ANC’s campaign for the 2019 elections.

Ramaphosa was still speaking from the Union Buildings in Pretoria as I was writing this briefing. The highlights so far are that Nhlanhla Nene is confirmed as Finance Minister and Pravin Gordhan will take over the Ministry of State Enterprises, a key area for reform. Malusi Gigaba has switched to Home Affairs and close Ramaphosa ally Gwede Mantashe is taking on the Mines Ministry.

Africa Confidential will carry a full analysis of the new ministerial team as soon as our correspondents get the full details.

The other big change is Ramaphosa's determination to bring state-owned companies under tighter control by the relevant ministries. Eskom, the state power company, will be answerable to the minister of energy; South African Airways and Transnet will report to the minister of transport; and Denel, the state arms manufacturer, will report to the minister of defence.

CONGO-KINSHASA: Police killing of church demonstrator sparks fresh outrage as anger with Kabila mounts
As the state crackdown on dissidents intensifies, Congo-K's churches have become a leading forum for opposition to Joseph Kabila's attempts to extend his tenure as President. From Kinshasa to Kisangani to Goma, churchgoers staged protest marches across the country after morning services on Sunday 25 February.

Although the Police Commissioner of Kinshasa, General Sylvano Kasongo, told journalists that his officers had been told not to use excessive force, demonstrators in several cities said police had used live ammunition to break up protests. Officers fired on a march near the Catholic church in Lemba, a suburb of the capital, killing one protester and seriously wounding two others. Police have shot dead over 10 demonstrators in church-led protests in the past two months.

Catholics, Protestants and evangelicals are increasingly frustrated with the failure of the country's opposition parties to form a united front against Kabila.

SAHEL: G5 multinational force to get $500 million for anti-terror operations and migration policing
Pausing briefly to allow her organisation to congratulate itself for its fundraising efforts, the European Union's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, asked member states to follow through quickly on their pledged contributions after a special summit in Brussels on 23 February.

The money was needed urgently, she said, to build the Mali-based force – known as G5 – into a multinational army of roughly 5,000 troops.

The summit was a particular success for President Emmanuel Macron of France, who has been trying to raise money for the Sahel force for the past six months. Macron has also increased France's contribution to development programmes in the region from €600 million to about €1 billion.

The prime movers behind G5 were Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italy's Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni.

All three leaders have been selling support for the force as a vital way of promoting regional security and curbing migration. In recent months, Macron has sounded increasingly harsh warnings about migration, perhaps in a nod to his chief foe in last year's presidential elections, Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National.

Spain's beleaguered Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, stumbled when journalists asked him to name the five countries in the force – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

However, the United States capped its contribution to the G5 effort at $60 mn. but it is also spending $100 mn. on a heavily fortified drone base at Agadez in Niger, from which it will conduct surveillance operations across the Sahel and North Africa. Although US officials insist the base will have no offensive capacity, many security experts are sceptical of these assurances.

Recent US intelligence reports have played up the growing power of groups affiliated to Islamic State in the Sahel.

MOZAMBIQUE: Government to announce plans to restructure national debt following secret loan scandal
It is over a year since Mozambique defaulted on US$2 billion in foreign loans. Now, advised by Lazard Frères, officials from Maputo are poised to launch negotiations in London on 20 March to restructure the country's debts.

A year ago it emerged that, starting in 2013, the outgoing government of President Armando Guebuza had ratcheted up roughly $1.4 bn. in hidden loans contracted by entities linked to state companies. That money is owed to Credit Suisse, Russia's VTB and Palomar Capital Advisors, all of which are under scrutiny by the regulatory authorities in Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.


DEBT AND INVESTMENTS: Private equity investments in Africa fell by 10% in 2017 and net sovereign debt will rise to US$514 billion, according to Standard & Poor's ratings agency.

KENYA: President Uhuru Kenyatta's government faces scepticism about growth targets as it floats another $2bn of Eurobonds.

AFRICA/TURKEY: Consolidating Ankara's commercial and diplomatic campaign, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is visiting Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal from late February to 2 March.

CHINA/AFRICA: The Communist Party's proposal to abolish presidential term limits will keep Xi Jinping in power and give heart to long-term leaders in Africa.