The Africa Confidential Blog
SOUTH AFRICA: New ANC leader Ramaphosa treads carefully as pressure mounts for him to take over the national presidency
The New Year begins with a wave of change in Southern Africa. The new leaders in South Africa and Zimbabwe are under pressure to turn around their countries' weakening economies, but they have also inherited a morass of political and legal problems. At least eight countries across Africa are due to hold presidential or parliamentary elections in 2018; several more governments may organise elections this year if they see some benefit in bringing forward the political timetable. In another eight countries, civil conflicts are swirling as governments and their opponents, many of them armed, square up as negotiators try to broker peace agreements.
But for most countries in Africa, economic prospects on the continent and in the international markets will dominate thinking. Although the latest forecasts from private and multilateral financial institutions point to a gradual upturn in growth across the region, they also sound warnings about dangerous levels of debt in some of the stronger economies such as Kenya, Ghana, and Zambia. Weaker economies, such as those of Congo-Brazzaville and Mozambique, missed repayments on their Eurobonds last year and face more financial turmoil in 2018.
More widely, economic risks include the appreciation of the United States dollar, which remains Africa's main currency for international trade, and higher US interest rates. No economists are forecasting a return to the 2005-2015 commodity boom that made some African economies among the fastest growing in the world. Instead, there are big questions about the trends of oil and gas prices. The continent's biggest producers, such as Algeria, Angola, Libya and Nigeria are expecting an incremental rather than major boost to export revenues.
Demand for copper and cocoa is growing again in the international markets but the ability to benefit from it depends both on political factors in Congo-Kinshasa and productive capacity in Zambia, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana.
For the last month, Africa Confidential correspondents have been assessing the political, security and economic prospects for the region in 2018. We will publish their reports in the first edition of the year out on 12 January. Meanwhile, here are some of the highlights of the reports so far.
SOUTH AFRICA: New ANC leader Ramaphosa treads carefully as pressure mounts for him to take over the national presidencyMany senior officials in the African National Congress assume it will be their newly-elected party leader Cyril Ramaphosa who delivers the State of the Nation address at the opening of parliament in February. That means they have less than six weeks to persuade President Jacob Zuma to vacate the state presidency and his impressive offices in Pretoria's Union Buildings.
Some of Zuma's allies have been sounding out terms for his early departure from the state presidency, although he could hang on until national elections in early 2019. They propose some kind of deal to protect him from the myriad anti-corruption cases hanging over his head.
For now, power is finely balanced within the ANC's National Executive Committee, with Ramaphosa's supporters gradually building up their position. But a vote in the NEC to recall Zuma from the national Presidency could still backfire and would certainly worsen factionalism in the party.
Ramaphosa's best hope might be to wait for the array of pending legal cases against Zuma to make his position untenable. On 29 December, the Constitutional Court ruled that parliament had failed to hold President Zuma to account over the use of state funds to improve his homestead in Nkandla. Judge Chris Jafta said parliament should put in place a process that could be used to remove Zuma from office.
ZIMBABWE: As the military strengthens its position and promises of cash come in, ZANU-PF is confident of winning national electionsTwo developments last month gave a good sense of new President Emmerson Mnangagwa's intentions for 2018. His appointment of General Constantino Chiwenga as Vice-President consolidates the military's role in the new government just as a leaked national intelligence report suggests the former commander of Zimbabwe's military is already being tipped as the next head of state.
For the divided opposition, the growing role of the military in politics is a worrying omen, given their doubts about Mnangagwa's commitment to free and fair elections, which are due by August 2018.
Mnangagwa's other move will boost the economy: he pushed ahead with the release of the 2018 budget, announcing some dilution of the indigenisation laws and some opening up of other investment rules. That was enough for him to convene a more hopeful meeting with local and regional businesses in Harare before the Christmas break. However, there is widespread scepticism about his forecasts for 3.75% growth this year.
NIGERIA: With a revived Buhari set to run again in 2019, will he keep Vice-President Osinbajo on the ticket?The best guesses about the field in the national elections, due in March 2019, are that President Muhammadu Buhari will seek another term, standing on the All Progressives Congress ticket, facing former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar running on the opposition People's Democratic Party ticket.
The jostling for the running mate positions looks more problematic. Some in Lagos expect that state's former governor and political godfather Bola Tinubu to vie for the post of running mate to Buhari. With massive personal wealth and residual influence in the south-west, Tinubu could make a strong showing at the APC's party congress this year.
With party politics now centre-stage, some worry that key decisions on the economy and security could be shelved. Buhari's government is focusing on building as many new roads, bridges and power stations as possible but has postponed many of its ambitious ideas for governance reform.
Most critically, Boko Haram's fighters remain a regional threat with the capacity for mass killings by bombing mosques and market places. There are also worries that its insurgency is fuelling the clashes between cattle-herders and farmers in the north and the middle belt. Security rumbles continue in the Niger Delta, despite deals with militants and secessionists.
GHANA: A critical year for President Akufo-Addo as the focus shifts to his pledges on industrialisation and modernising agricultureAfter an election manifesto promising a factory in every district, US$1 million for a development fund in each constituency and a dam in every village, President Nana Addo Akufo-Addo's government will be held to account this year by the opposition and the media.
Many Ghanaians are asking when he will appoint, as promised, an Independent State Prosecutor to deal with all cases of corruption. This follows a stream of complaints about suspect deals and arrangements raised on social media.
Constraining the government is the country's mammoth burden of foreign and local debt. Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta's efforts to restructure the debt have prompted further lively debate. A positive for the government was the news of the economy growing by 9% in the final quarter of 2017.
KENYA: Political uncertainties are still dragging down the economy with the opposition committed to a non-cooperation strategyLast year's confrontations over two national elections are still undermining the economy with President Uhuru Kenyatta's government and the opposition led by Raila Odinga still at loggerheads. Economic growth has slowed to 4.4%, its lowest level since 2013. Industry, construction and banking are all down on the year with few prospects for an early revival in 2018 in the absence of a political breakthrough.
Odinga's National Super Alliance, which controls over 20 county governments, wants to continue its economic boycott and its non-recognition of Kenyatta's legitimacy. In turn, the government has rejected Nasa's call for constitutional and electoral reforms after it disputed both presidential polls last year.
2018 ELECTION PROSPECTS IN BRIEF
CAMEROON: Mounting protests amid growing hostility to President Paul Biya could mean a messy national election in October
CONGO-KINSHASA: The killing of over seven protesters over the New Year presages more chaos as President Joseph Kabila tries to delay leaving office
EGYPT: With foreign funds and pressure on the opposition, President Abdel Fattah el Sisi will win elections due before June
MADAGASCAR: Former leaders Ravalomanana and Rajoelina are to challenge President Rajaonarimampianina in December's elections
MALI: Unless veteran candidate Soumaïla Cissé can unify the opposition, President Ibrahim Keïta will win elections in August
SIERRA LEONE: Technocrat Yumkellah could force his opponents Kamara and Maada Bio to focus on policies in the March elections
SOUTH SUDAN: Another unravelling peace deal and empty government coffers mean that President Salva Kiir's plans for elections in July are likely to be shelved.