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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 18th March 2019

SOUTH AFRICA: Will President Ramaphosa face a parliamentary rebellion after the elections in May?

Patrick Smith

Today we start a new series of news despatches from our correspondents across Africa and beyond. Our aim is to give you a sense of the news agenda for the week ahead as well as spelling out the implications of events that are still playing out.

Our news tour of the continent this week starts in South Africa and Zimbabwe, then takes in Kenya and Nigeria before heading north to assess the drama around the British government's attempts to quit the European Union.

SOUTH AFRICA: Will President Ramaphosa face a parliamentary rebellion after the elections in May?

The inclusion of over a dozen politicians linked to grand corruption on the African National Congress's list of parliamentary candidates is a serious blow to President Cyril Ramaphosa's efforts to clean up the party.

The politicians and their allies, most of whom are loyal to ousted President Jacob Zuma, could threaten Ramaphosa's authority after the national elections on 8 May.

Although Ramaphosa is expected to win over 55% of the vote, divisions within the ANC parliamentary caucus could undermine his plans for economic reforms and the radical restructuring of state-owned companies.

ZIMBABWE: As economic chaos deepens, Finance Minister Ncube wins new supporters for a bail-out

After meetings with the International Monetary Fund in Washington and the French Treasury in Paris at the beginning of the month, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube has won heavyweight backing for a financial rescue plan – although it will take at least nine months for any new money to arrive.
A 'coalition of the willing', led by France and Japan, and backed by IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, is putting together a $2.3 billion bridging loan that Zimbabwe needs to clear its arrears to international financial institutions. South Africa is also going to contribute.

However, that won't help the immediate cash crunch and worsening social conditions, such as the breakdown of the health service highlighted by protesting doctors and rampant inflation making essential commodities like bread unaffordable for many. We hear that a special conference due to be held in Washington in early April could raise some finance to address the crisis.

NIGERIA: For the opposition it's not over until it's all over

The opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) fought back hard in the elections for state governors and assemblies held on 9 March. It is almost pegging level with the ruling All Progressives' Congress as it vies for control of the powerful state authorities, some of which run budgets as big as a medium-sized African country.

Six of the 29 gubernatorial races on 9 March were declared 'inconclusive' by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It reported that the number of cancelled votes was larger than the difference between the top two candidates. The supplementary polls will be held by Saturday (23 March) in Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Kano, Plateau and Sokoto states. The PDP was leading in five of the six states.

Unlike the PDP, international observers have not disputed Muhammadu Buhari's victory in the 23 February presidential polls. But the European Union's chief election observer, Maria Arena, criticised 'systemic failings' in the poll's management.

KENYA: How geopolitics and grand corruption can tilt the presidential race

Allies of Deputy President William Ruto claim that a probe into planned dam projects in the Rift Valley costing over US$650 million is a bid to undermine his campaign to succeed Uhuru Kenyatta as president.

Treasury Secretary Henry Rotich, who hails from Ruto's home area, has already been questioned about irregular disbursements for the project – but denies wrongdoing. Rival contenders say this will add to pressure on Ruto from supporters of President Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Billions more dollars of project funding could be sluicing through East Africa after French President Emmanuel Macron's visit to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya last week. Macron signed infrastructure contracts in Kenya worth more than €2bn ($2.3bn) on Thursday (14 March), including a €1.6bn 30-year concession for a Vinci-led consortium to operate a highway between Nairobi and Mau Summit.

Both the contracts and Macron's remarks criticising China's expanding reach –  '…what can look good in the short term … can often end up being bad over the medium to long term' – reveal more European anxiety about Beijing.

UK: Undermined in the Brexit battles, Whitehall mulls new African trade arrangements

The probability that Britain will not leave the European Union on the scheduled date of 29 March will allow it more time to roll over the trade deals currently in place between the EU and African regional blocs.

So far, only the EU's agreement with the Eastern and Southern Africa trade bloc, which covers Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zimbabwe, has been rolled over. This follows a week of chaos and confusion in Westminster which ended with MPs voting to rule out a 'no-deal' Brexit and supporting a postponement of the leaving date from the agreed deadline.

Although EU leaders say that an extension should not be agreed without a change of tack from Theresa May's government, most diplomatic officials believe that an extension will be agreed at an EU summit on 21-22 March.

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