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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 7th May 2019

SOUTH AFRICA: Voters to judge Ramaphosa's credibility on jobs, anti-graft and curbing inequality

Patrick Smith

This week, South Africa prepares for landmark elections on 8 May and Sudan edges towards a power-sharing transitional government. There is another alert in Tanzania after a critic of the President goes missing and another delay in the plans for a national unity government in South Sudan. Finally, a sacked British minister is accused of harbouring plans for military interventions in Africa.

SOUTH AFRICA: Voters to judge Ramaphosa's credibility on jobs, anti-graft and curbing inequality

The national elections on Wednesday (8 April) are a vital test of President Cyril Ramaphosa's plans to remodel his country's economy and clean up the mess left by his predecessor.

Battered by the graft scandals of Jacob Zuma's presidency and the failure of state bodies such as the national power company Eskom, the African National Congress could record its worst result in national polls since the end of Apartheid.

Many of Zuma's supporters have refused to campaign, hoping that a poor performance for the ANC will give them an opportunity to blame the party's woes on Ramaphosa, then grab back control of the party leadership. Many of Zuma's people could face trial on corruption charges and tougher disciplinary action should Ramaphosa secure a good result for the ANC this week.

The picture is complicated by the resurgent Economic Freedom Fighters under the leadership of Julius Malema, a former President of the ANC Youth League who lambasts the ruling party for doing nothing to cut economic and social inequalities.

In key regions such as Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, the combined forces of the EFF on the left and the Democratic Alliance on the right could push the ANC vote to under 50%, which would be a psychological blow for the ruling party.

To convince his party that he has the winning ticket, Ramaphosa has to ensure the ANC wins over 56% of the votes this week – that's the percentage that it got under Zuma in 2014.

SUDAN: Protestors braced as revolutionary forces and military edge towards a deal on a transitional authority

Negotiations on a new government, after the ousting of Omer el Beshir on 10 April, are moving forward this week with military officers and leaders of the Declaration for Freedom and Change due to release their positions on the structure of an interim government.

Beshir is now in Kobar maximum security prison, facing charges of corruption and financing terrorism according the National Prosecutions Agency. The Transitional Military Council has promised to show sceptical journalists and activists some proof of Beshir's detention.

Omer el Digair, leader of the opposition Sudan Congress Party, has told Africa Confidential that a provisional agreement on a transitional authority could be finalised by the end of the week. Negotiations, he said, have been helped by a committee of mediators which includes journalist Majoub Mohamed, businessman Osama Daoud Abdelatif and activist Nasreddin Salkami.

To break the deadlock, the mediators have proposed that the ruling body, the sovereign national council, should have a majority of civilians but there should also be a defence and security council with seven military officers and three civilians, the prime minister, the foreign minister and the finance minister.

Under the plan, the 17-strong council of ministers would all be civilians, as would the legislative council consisting of some 120-150 members.

TANZANIA: President Magufuli's crackdown against oppositionists takes ever more sinister track

A strong critic of President John Magufuli and an activist with the opposition Chadema, Mdude Nyagali was abducted by four gun-wielding men as he left his workplace in Mbozi on the evening of 4 May, according to a statement by the party. Witnesses report that he was screaming for help as he was bundled into the cars. At the time of writing, his whereabouts was unknown.

Opposition MP Tundu Lissu is still convalescing in Belgium after an assassination attempt last September left him with multiple bullet wounds. Lissu insists he will return home to contest elections in 2020. It is looking unlikely that he and Chadema will be able overcome the legal obstacles, let alone security threats, confronting them ahead of the polls.

SOUTH SUDAN: Despite papal blessing, leaders delay formation of unity government

Once again South Sudan's leaders have chosen to stall the establishment of a power-sharing government, the key part of the peace deal they signed in September. Instead they are delaying it for another six months.

This latest extension agreed will be signed off by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development council of ministers' meeting on 7 May in Juba.

Little progress has made been since the peace deal was struck last year. Opposition leader Riek Machar – set to resume a post as Vice-President in the new administration – complains that security issues allowing him to return from exile in South Africa have not been resolved. Machar is now said to be in Khartoum, monitoring the political changes in Sudan.

President Salva Kiir, who separately announced the lifting of a state of emergency in northern parts of the country on Friday (3 May), wants to focus on what the joint administration will look like.
Both sides are anxious to secure more international financing despite reports of serial corruption and mismanagement. This latest delay makes the prospect of a workable national unity government involving both Salva and Riek still more improbable.

AFRICA/BRITAIN: Sacked minister accused of harbouring rogue military plans in Africa

The defenestration of Gavin Williamson from his position as Britain's Defence Secretary on 1 May for leaking National Security Council briefings about the award of a 5G contract to Chinese tech giant Huawei was sudden. The aftermath has been bizarre.

Media in London reported a Ministry of Defence official claiming that Williamson had been 'finding excuses' to deploy British armed forces in Africa – the targets for Williamson's interventions allegedly included Zimbabwe, Kenya, Egypt and Nigeria. Williamson has denied the claims, and says he is a victim of malicious briefing by Prime Minister Theresa May's officials.

In the meantime, Williamson's sacking led to a minor reshuffle of May's government. Penny Mordaunt takes over the defence portfolio, while former Africa minister, Rory Stewart, has taken her International Development brief.


NIGERIA: Investors question market prospects as debt servicing takes 66% of federal revenues and growth and tax take remain sluggish.

CAMEROON: Government faces charges of illegal detentions and torture of opponents by Human Rights Watch as secession crisis deepens.

GABON: High Court rejects call for medical exam of President Ali Bongo Ondimba to test his fitness for office since his return to Libreville on 23 March.

BENIN: Soldiers patrol streets after campaigners call for annulling of elections in which opposition was excluded.