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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 3rd April 2018

SOUTH AFRICA: National mourning for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela galvanises radicals as government tries balancing act

Patrick Smith

This week we start in Soweto where mourners are assembling after the death of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela yesterday (2 April). And then to Addis Ababa, where there are hopes that the new Prime Minister will be able to lead serious talks with the opposition in the Amhara and Oromo regions. For Nigerians, the herder-farmer clashes and attendant casualties are dominating politics. Zimbabwe's President Mnangagwa is on a state visit to China – his only one before the elections due in July. Also, government and opposition in  Ghana are fighting it out in a dispute over the terms of a new security pact with the United States.

SOUTH AFRICA: National mourning for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela galvanises radicals as government tries balancing act
Within hours of the announcement of her death at 81, political leaders on the left were falling over each other to praise Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as a torch-bearer in the country's freedom struggle. They focused on the glory days of the anti-apartheid struggle, in which she stood defiant after being beaten, tortured and starved by the apartheid regime.

A minority of voices – mainly journalists, civic activists and centrist opposition politicians – picked out the depredations of Madikizela-Mandela's later life when she faced charges of rights abuses and corruption.

Yet her most enduring legacy looks likely to be bolstering the cause of radical politics within the African National Congress and among younger militants such as Julius Malema. After quitting the ANC Youth League to form the Economic Freedom Fighters, Malema found common cause with Madikizela-Mandela in his attacks on former President Jacob Zuma for selling out South Africa to business interests.

ETHIOPIA: New Premier Abiy Ahmed breaks with precedent, talks national reconciliation and a deal with Eritrea
The first Oromo to hold national political leadership since the foundation of the Ethiopian empire over 2,000 years ago, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's appointment is a ground-breaking move on many levels. As his mother is Amhara, Abiy can claim  affinity with the country's two biggest ethnic groups (Oromo are around 34%; Amhara are around 27%).

Over the last two years, opposition protests in the Amhara and Oromo regions have rattled the federal government in Addis Ababa, which has imposed a state of emergency and detained thousands of dissidents. Over a month ago, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn suddenly resigned, leaving a vacuum at the centre.

Now, the focus will be on the security services and their willingness to permit some political reforms to meet the protestors' demands. As a former top intelligence official, Ahmed has strong ties within the security system, in which Tigrayans – about 6% of the nation – predominate.

One of his first public calls as premier was to reopen talks with Eritrea on settling their common border. Many in the government suspect Egypt of financing Eritrea to cause trouble in Ethiopia recently. Addis Ababa and Cairo are at loggerheads over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which could restrict the flow of the Nile in Egypt.

NIGERIA: Generals, faith leaders and now traditional leaders sound warnings to Buhari over herder-farmer clashes
The Emir of Anka, Attahiru Ahmad, is the latest prominent Nigerian to lambast President Muhammadu Buhari's government for its mishandling of the herder-farmer clashes. He follows in the footsteps of Generals ObasanjoDanjuma and Babangida whose clear message was that Buhari should not seek a second term.

Although the Emir avoided local political prescriptions, he called for UN mediation in the crisis. Over the past month, over 100 people have been killed in these clashes in Zamfara state alone. The crisis, perhaps part of a wider breakdown of law and order in northern Nigeria, is outpacing the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency as a security threat in the region.

ZIMBABWE: With US$6 billion of promised mining investments from Africa and Europe, Mnangagwa signs a new deal with China
It seems that some are listening to President Emmerson Mnangagwa's oft-repeated mantra that 'Zimbabwe is open for business'. Over the past month, a Cyprus-based financier, Loucas Pouroulis, pledged $4.2 bn. for a platinum mining project and South Africa's Moti Group is doubling its investments to $500 million. There's more coming in the gold, chrome and diamond sector.

All that should be helping Mnangagwa's talks with President Xi Jinping's government this week in Beijing. Although security ties are close – China was one of the few governments to have known in advance about plans to oust President Robert Mugabe last year – Beijing takes a hard-headed view on the debts that the previous government has ratcheted up. Another bone of contention will be the involvement of some Chinese-owned entities in Zimbabwe's notoriously opaque diamond mining sector.

GHANA: Partisan row over US military cooperation deal heats up after street demos and detention of leading oppositionist
The announcement of a $20 mn. security deal between Washington and Accra was a gift to the ailing opposition National Democratic Congress. On hearing of the deal, its caucus walked out of parliament as radical opposition groups took to the streets in protest. A leading NDC figure, Koko Anyidoho, was detained for a couple of days and faces charges of threatening national peace after suggesting the behaviour of the government could trigger a coup d'état.

Embarrassingly for the opposition, it has emerged that the US-Ghana military deal, complete with infringements of sovereignty and tax-free concessions for security equipment, was mooted under the previous government led by the NDC's John Mahama. Now both sides look stuck in the mire as they fight for the moral high ground.

The week ahead in very brief

EGYPT: Dramatic fall in presidential election turn-out to well under 40% as Abdel Fattah el Sisi claims 97% of the vote

ZAMBIA: Government expels Cubanenvoy Pages Vilas for attending opposition Socialist Party rally in Lusaka
ISRAEL/AFRICA: Under pressure from ultra-right, Prime Minister Netanyahu reneges on commitments to UN on 30,000 migrants

UNITED NATIONS: Secretary General António Guterres re-authorises probe into predecessor Dag Hammarskjold's plane crash in 1961