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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 15th July 2019

SOUTH AFRICA: The fight for the ANC will play out this week as ex-President Zuma takes stand at the Zondo commission

Patrick Smith

This week we start with an inquisition in Johannesburg and then fly up to Nairobi where Deputy President William Ruto's political plans are under fire. In Nigeria, the government might change or even drop its fuel subsidy which is coming under growing attack. President Denis Sassou-Nguesso will be celebrating his latest bail-out from the IMF and Angola hosts the quarrelling leaders of Rwanda and Uganda.

SOUTH AFRICA: The fight for the ANC will play out this week as ex-President Zuma takes stand at the Zondo commission

The future of the African National Congress will be at stake this week as ex-President Jacob Zuma fields questions from Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo's judicial panel about allegations of widespread corruption and 'state capture' during his nine-year presidency.

Critics and supporters of Zuma are set to descend on Parktown, Johannesburg, where the Commission hearings will be held. The Zondo hearings mark a key moment in Cyril Ramaphosa's presidency, just two months after national elections. He has been treading a fine line between incremental reform of the ruling party and state institutions and holding Zuma's militant supporters in check.

If Zuma fails to convince the commission and the wider public, it could embolden the reformers in Ramaphosa's camp. But if Zuma, a seasoned campaigner, wins over public opinion, his supporters still dotted throughout the public service will push back hard against Ramaphosa.

Leading the charge on bringing errant officials and politicians to account is Shamila Batohi, National Director of Public Prosecutions. Insiders have told Africa Confidential that of the agency's staffers inherited from the Zuma era, about half are corrupt or incompetent or both. Convicting and expelling politicians linked to the looting is vital to Ramaphosa's pledge to clean up the party and fight corruption.

KENYA: Ruto's rivals in the Rift Valley

The battle for political supremacy in the Rift Valley is heating up and Deputy President William Ruto is battling to save his position as heir apparent to President Uhuru Kenyatta. Ruto is also defending his leadership of the Kalenjin ethnic group which dominates the fractious Rift Valley.

Fellow Kalenjin political heavies, led by Gideon Moi, son of former President Daniel arap Moi, are on manoeuvres. A letter purporting to implicate several cabinet ministers in an assassination plot against Ruto has been dismissed as a fake. Ruto's rivals say the fake letter emanated from Ruto's own office.

Tiaty MP William Kamket, an ally of Moi, has threatened to start impeachment proceedings against the Deputy President over the scandal. Meanwhile, further threats to Ruto have emerged from radical constitutional changes proposed by the Building Bridges Initiative, whose members were named by President Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Today (15 July), Kenyan media reported that the initiative's proposals that could hem in Ruto, even if he wins the presidency. The constitutional amendments proposed include: a single seven-year term president, a powerful prime minister and the introduction of 14 regional governments. These could be put to a referendum, and appear to target Ruto's presidential plans.

NIGERIA: Political pressure mounts for a change in fuel subsidy regime as forex policy and budgets come under scrutiny

Governors of the country's 36 states have called for the federal government to reconsider its system of fuel subsidy, given its growing burden in the treasury as oil export revenues shrink. The cost of the subsidy, they say, escalated to 345.15 billion naira (US$950 million) by mid-2018, up from N28.6bn in 2016.

As participants in the race for the timely transfer of funds from the federal centre, the state governors have an interest in securing reform. Many also harbour suspicions that the much-criticised system of subsidy payments remains inefficient and corrupt.

Two other factors could affect federal government calculations: the Dangote Group's 650,000 barrels a day oil refinery is due to start operations next year at a production level that would more than meet local demand in Nigeria. The second factor is that several national and international banks are pricing in a merger of the official and parallel market exchange rates for the naira.

CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE: IMF bail-out for Sassou-Nguesso regime overlooks lack of accountability and fictional foreign debt figures

Once more, President Denis Sassou-Nguesso has won a bail-out from the IMF which comes close to breaking the institution's rules on financial transparency. On Thursday (11 July), the IMF announced that it will grant $448.6 million over three years to Congo-Brazzaville, hobbled by falling oil prices and economic mismanagement.

The tortuous bail-out talks dragged on for two years. Sassou's government is believed to have misrepresented his country's debt burden, thought to be over 100% of GDP. 

China holds one third of Congo-B's external debt, and the Fund may judge that its credit will allow it to maintain some influence. But the IMF's conditions – that Congo-B renegotiate its debts to China, and to Glencore and Trafigura, which did oil-backed loan deals, look easy to manipulate.

RWANDA/UGANDA: Angola hosts secret rapprochement talks between the former friends who became feuding regional leaders

Observers are waiting eagerly for signs of progress after discussions between Rwanda's President Paul Kagame and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni which started last Friday (12 July).
The former allies held talks on the sidelines of a security summit in Angola. Their officials admitted to journalists that the coming dialogue would try to resolve the border and political crisis between the two governments.

The intelligence and military arms of the two countries are in the midst of a armed stand-off. The busiest border crossing between the two countries at Gatuna (known as Katuna in Uganda) has been closed periodically in recent months. Both sides have troops along the border.


MOZAMBIQUE: Ex-minister of finance Manuel Chang, linked to Maputo's secret debt scandal, may yet face US trial after South Africa reviews decision on his extradition

ANGOLA: Kwanza's value on the parallel market hit record low as oil revenues stay sluggish but central bank talks up prospects of repatriating foreign funds

LIBYA: Rights organisations to raise alarm as migrants to be sent back to detention centre bombed on 3 July despite UN criticism of security conditions

TANZANIA: Central bank sacks managing director of TIB Corporate citing poor performance after IMF says about half of Tanzania's 45 banks risked insolvency