Jump to navigation

confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 19th February 2019

NIGERIA ELECTIONS: The two main parties lash out at poll delay

Patrick Smith

This week we look at the delayed general election in Nigeria, a tough budget in South Africa, an oil rights dispute between Kenya and Somalia and the complexities of Ethiopia's plan to sell a large stake in its state-owned telecoms company.

NIGERIA ELECTIONS: The two main parties lash out at poll delay

Politicians and businesses are warning of serious costs if the one-week delay to the elections announced just hours before Nigerians were due to vote on 16 February should stretch out still further. Already, some election observers doubt that the commission will have everything in place for the presidential and parliamentary vote by 23 February.

With tempers fraying in what is looking a very close race, the two biggest parties, the All Progressives' Congress and the opposition People's Democratic Party, are accusing each other of colluding with partisans inside the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu blamed logistical hold-ups for the postponement and some insiders claim that the National Assembly had delayed part of its funding. Others say the commission's logistical task force, recruited at the beginning of the year, lacked the capacity to keep to the schedule.

The last national election, in 2015, in which an opposition party won the presidency, was widely regarded as free and fair but was delayed by six weeks.

Yet PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar accuses INEC of colluding with the governing party to suppress voter turnout by announcing the delay at the last minute. Many who travelled from the cities intending to vote in their home villages will probably return to work in the coming week.

The delay is likely to affect the turnout. And the opposition PDP's fear is it will be hit harder than the governing party. It was the low turnout in the PDP strongholds in the south-west and south-south that did it so much damage in 2015.

In this campaign, the PDP told us that it has been successful in boosting the number of registered voters in its strongholds but harbours concerns about the turnout. However, it also claims to have substantial inroads into the north-west, particularly the states of Kaduna, Katsina (President Muhammadu Buhari's own states) and Kano where it predicts it will make great advances.

SOUTH AFRICA'S BUDGET: Finance minister's plans will shape strategy for the election and beyond

On Wednesday (20 February), Finance Minister Tito Mboweni is to read the most important budget to parliament since the first democratic elections in 1994. Although Mboweni has said that he will return to the private sector after national elections on 8 May, some insiders say that President Cyril Ramaphosa will prevail on him to stay on.

After a decade of grand corruption and overspending under Jacob Zuma, the African National Congress government has to reform and restructure the big state-owned companies while improving the standards of public services ahead of elections. Mboweni takes a tough line towards state companies, having suggested that South African Airways should be shut down or sold off rather than receive a continuing subsidy.

Last October, Mboweni gave a grim prognosis for the state's finances, which face a 85 billion rand (US$6.3bn) shortfall over the next three years.  At the same time, the government's debt service costs are set to grow by 11% in each year, to hit R247bn by 2022, according the finance ministry's medium-term statement.

At the centre of the government's economic concerns is the fate of the state power company, Eskom, which is looking for a R100bn bail-out. In his State of the Nation Address at the beginning of the month, President Ramaphosa said that the government would prioritise Eskom's revival despite the painful measures that it could entail. He said the company would be unbundled into three separate entities for generation, transmission and distribution.

Critics of Ramaphosa said this was code for privatising the company, although the government denies this. The Confederation of South African Trades Unions (COSATU), a big supporter of Ramaphosa in the past, has warned the government that it would oppose any job cuts at Eskom.

Last week, South Africa's urban areas and industries were hit by a succession of power cuts. With an election less than three months away, few expect the government to start its rescue programme for Eskom in the short-term. Several trade unions are expected to march against job losses in state corporations in Cape Town today (19 February).

KENYA AND SOMALIA ROW: Kenyatta pulls out ambassador as oil rights dispute escalates

Somalia's London auction on 7 February to sell offshore oil blocks, some of whose ownership is disputed with neighbouring Kenya in a case before the International Court of Justice at the Hague, has triggered a diplomatic row.

President Uhuru Kenyatta's government, which is a key supporter of the African Union force meant to provide security support in Somalia, Amisom, has withdrawn its ambassador from Mogadishu in protest. The Kenyatta government also expelled the Somalia ambassador. Somalia's auction was seen as 'an act of aggression against the people of Kenya and their resources', it added in a statement.

ETHIOPIA STATE SELL-OFF: Political and financial hurdles to government's planned sale of equity in state telecoms company

Although with over 40 million subscribers, Ethiopia's state telecoms company is one of the biggest in Africa, the plan to sell over a third of its equity to private investors has exposed a deep lack of agreement over how to restructure the company.

Although Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has set up a dedicated committee to steer his promised programme of state asset sales, the plan has powerful political opponents. Although the state telecoms company Ethio Telecom is the first to be considered for part-privatisation, it is likely to be one of the most complicated.

Some officials in Addis fear that some of the leading telecoms companies in Africa, such as MTN, Safaricom and Orange, could take a large slice of Ethio Telecom, using their access to more advanced technology to put the state company at a disadvantage. Other voices have raised concerns about the loss of a major source of revenue for the government after the income from the initial sale.

Not yet ready to subscribe to Africa Confidential? Then why not register for our free email alerts instead. Every fortnight you will receive a concise snapshot of the latest issue of Africa Confidential.