Jump to navigation

confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 6th March 2018

SIERRA LEONE: Will Candidate Yumkella break the duopoly in the elections on 7 March?

Patrick Smith

This week it's the Sierra Leone elections, the Tillerson tour, choosing Ethiopia's new prime minister and progress in fixing Ghana's spat with the International Monetary Fund.

SIERRA LEONE: Will Candidate Yumkella break the duopoly in the elections on 7 March?For the first time in decades, voters tomorrow (7 March) have a credible alternative candidate outside the two-party system – between the Sierra Leone People's Party and the All People's Congress ‒ that has dominated the country since independence. The pioneer candidate is Kandeh Yumkella, a former United Nations Under Secretary General and specialist in economic development, who has put together what he calls the National Grand Coalition.

Yumkella appeals to the many voters who seem unenthused by the two main parties. The SLPP and APC are considered part of the Sierra Leonean political establishment, and their two candidates, Julius Maada Bio (SLPP) and Samura Kamara (APC), have worked together in the past and are seen as deeply embedded in old power structures. Aside from Yumkella's NGC, none of the other 13 parties looks able to affect the outcome of the polls.

UNITED STATES/AFRICA: Secretary Tillerson aims to make amends and strike security deals on his five-country Africa tripFourteen months after the inauguration of Donald Trump as US President, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has embarked on an Africa tour from 6-13 March, taking in Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria. Despite the low billing Trump has given Africa so far, Tillerson knows his way around the continent's resource-rich countries from his years as Chief Executive of ExxonMobil.

Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Donald Yamamoto told journalists that Tillerson was visiting some of Washington's most important sub-Saharan allies ‒ and biggest diplomatic centres in the region ‒ with which it has tight security relationships. Nigeria has just closed a fighter-bomber deal with the US, and President Uhuru Kenyatta's government has benefited from strong support from Washington amid post-election clashes with Raila Odinga's opposition.

NDjamena will be a particularly demanding escale for Tillerson. Although it is a key component of the multinational force fighting jihadists in the Sahel, Chad was put under a blanket immigration ban after it failed to meet some of Washington's technical criteria last year.

By contrast, Tillerson is expected to adopt a sterner tone in dealing with President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh in Djibouti. Washington's frustration with Guelleh centres on his raising of the rent for the US military bases there ‒ made worse for the Americans by his granting of basing rights near Djibouti Port to China's air force and navy.

Finally, Tillerson may try to mediate between Ethiopia and Egypt, currently one of Washington's closest regional allies, in their dispute over the Nile and the issue of Addis Ababa's ambitious Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project.

ETHIOPIA: New premier due to emerge this week as ruling coalition goes into national conferenceAfter a controversy in parliament over whether enough votes were cast to endorse the government's imposition of a state of emergency ‒ some 88 MPs voted against ‒ the ruling Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front has gone into conclave to pick a successor to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. He remains in office, despite offering his resignation nearly three weeks ago, because of deep disagreements over his replacement. Unprecedented splits in the ruling party have been on show.

In his resignation statement, Hailemariam said he wanted to leave government to allow a successor to initiate a reform process.

Both the content of those reforms and the election of the new premier will dominate the ruling party's conference this week. Abiy Ahmed, leader of the Oromo People's Democratic Organisation, looks to be leading the field (AC Vol 59 No 4, The edifice cracks). The OPDO's Lemma Megersa is also fancied. But elsewhere in the party, particularly in its Tigrayan-dominated security wing, Lemma is regarded as unacceptably radical and the other parties in the Front fear the consequences of having an Oromo as leader. Securocrats may see Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu, also an Oromo, as a safer choice.

Certainly, the EPRDF's final decisions on policy and top office-holders will give a clearer sense of the changing balance of power within the ruling coalition.

GHANA: Accra resolves its tetchy relationship with the IMF after differences over revenues and spending cutsAfter weeks of public debate over policy, President Nana Addo Akufo-Addo's government has come to terms with the International Monetary Fund over management of the final year of its US$1 billion extended credit facility programme. From its inauguration in January 2017, Akufo-Addo's government was lukewarm about the terms of the deal it inherited from the predecessor government under President John Mahama.

The new government argued chiefly that everything the IMF was advising it to do ‒ such as cut the debt and deficit as well as rationalise the tax system ‒ was already part of its policy programme.
There may also have been political frustration with the IMF. Some in Akufo-Addo's party criticised the Fund as having been too timid in its criticism of Mahama's economic management, which racked up the national debt to over 70% of Ghana's gross domestic product, often because of overpriced contracts with obscure foreign supplier companies.

But now the Ministry of Finance, under Ken Ofori-Atta, and the IMF team are to work on a financial plan that will boost revenues, strengthen public sector finances and rationalise the tax credit and exemption schemes. The IMF also warned about the danger from the banking sector of a 40%-plus increase in non-performing loans over the past year.

Agreement on the plan will trigger a last tranche of credit ‒ worth $190 million ‒ under the programme, to be discussed by the IMF board in April.


NIGERIA: President Muhammadu Buhari to visit Dapchi in Yobe State to show solidarity with families of abducted schoolgirls

SOUTH AFRICA: Minister of State Enterprises Pravin Gordhan launches big clean-up of the public sector as economic indicators look brighter

TANZANIA: After a year of economic nationalism, President John Magufuli rejects Moody's downgrade of national debt