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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 11th June 2019

SUDAN: Opposition pushes ahead with general strike as junta targets civil servants and activists

Patrick Smith

We start in Sudan where pro-democracy activists have launched a civil disobedience campaign against the junta and then to Zimbabwe where the government is promising a new dollar. In Algeria, activists want to see the Bouteflika political class exit en masse; Kenyans are unimpressed by promises on corruption; Ethiopia is starting to open up the telecoms sector and China's Huawei is winning more friends at the African Union.

SUDAN: Opposition pushes ahead with general strike as junta targets civil servants and activists

With the junta shutting down the internet and protestors halting flights at the airport as well as central bank operations, the country's political and economic crisis is deepening, one week after security forces massacred over 100 activists and wounded 600 more.

Despite the African Union's suspension of Sudan on 6 June and its demand that the generals hand over to a civilian-led transitional authority, the junta has continued its crackdown, killing and detaining pro-democracy activists.

However, activists are countering the junta's telecoms and internet shutdown with a network of underground resistance committees, clandestine meetings and the distribution of printed leaflets. So far, the general strike, which started on Sunday (9 June), seems to have widespread support.
As the stand-off continues, the activists' coalition – the Declaration for Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) – shows no sign of buckling. Despite an intense propaganda campaign waged against it on state radio and television, the DFCF has maintained broad popular support from trade unionists, traders, students and businesspeople.

However, buoyed up with arms, diplomatic backing and dollars from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, the junta looks set to dig in for a long fight.

The junta's main problem – apart from the opposition of most Sudanese – is the rivalry between the national army and the Rapid Support Forces militia, also known as the Janjaweed, who are mainly responsible for last week's massacres. For now, there is an uneasy balance within the junta, with neither side strong enough to impose its will on the other.

ZIMBABWE: President Mnangagwa bets on a born-again Zimbabwe dollar

The country must have a new currency in place by the end of the year. It's 'moving closer' to scrapping the multiple currency regime – which includes South Africa's rand and the US dollar – President Emmerson Mnangagwa said last Friday (7 June).

His announcement comes in the wake of warnings to security officials thinking of going into exile, frustrated by the country's economic predicament and the probability of worsening political tensions as the government's latest round of austerity measures hits home.

Mnangagwa said the new currency and foreign exchange management systems would cut inflation, currently running at a 10-year high.

In February, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube scrapped the link between Zimbabwe's electronic dollars and surrogate bond notes, which had long become detached from its official peg with the dollar, and merged them into a transitional currency called the Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) dollar.

The government has been promising a new currency since the start of the year to overcome long-running shortages of US dollars. Mnangagwa blamed the record prices for basic foodstuffs on profiteering traders and the multi-currency system.

ALGERIA: Protests intensify after elections called off

'Go, all of you' was one of the popular banners at the weekly Friday protests after the constitutional council last week shelved elections set for 4 July. It blamed a lack of candidates who could meet the threshold of 60,000 voter nominations.

None of the major parties had nominated candidates. Interim President Abdelkader Bensalah has called for 'inclusive dialogue' before a new election date is set, and the court has recommended that he remain in office until new elections are held.

Yet in the absence of a date and a schedule for political reforms and fresh elections, public discontent is likely to grow. One of the protestors' most popular calls is for all establishment figures connected to former President Bouteflika's regime to quit public life.

KENYA/BRITAIN: Diplomacy, hype, and action against corruption

and Kenyan investigators are analysing forex exchange bureaux to ensure that dirty money is not being changed into sterling, British High Commissioner to Nairobi Nic Hailey said last week.
Hailey, whose term is coming to a close, shied away from any substantive criticism, praising President Kenyatta's anti-corruption drive as 'the single most important thing for the future success of this country'.

Yet despite all the hype, Kenya's law enforcement and ethics authorities still stand accused of failing to do enough to secure convictions on some of the most opaque public procurement contracts and new borrowing arrangements. Interviewed in opinion surveys, many Kenyans say the lack of serious attempts to stop fraud and corruption in business is the government's worst failure.

ETHIOPIA: Inching towards telecoms reform and a new communications order

The parliament in Addis Ababa took the first step towards opening up Ethiopia's telecoms market on Monday (10 June), passing a law that will set up an independent regulator accountable to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and responsible for promoting a competitive market. Abiy has earmarked telecoms as one of the key state-run sectors that should be opened up. International telecommunications firms such as South Africa's MTN, Britain's Vodafone and France's Orange have shown interest in Ethiopia's market. With its population of 100 million it is one of the few remaining state-controlled telecoms markets in the world.

So far, details are thin on the ground. As yet, there is no schedule for government to sell a minority stake in state monopoly Ethio Telecom or to grant licences to competing operators. However, the plan to open up the telecoms sector – to boost communications capacity and to raise more investment – was one of Abiy's first promised reforms when he took power last year.

AFRICAN UNION/CHINA: Addis Ababa's welcome to Huawei points to Africa taking Beijing's side in trade war with US

There was never going to be a long debate about where Africa would come down in the Huawei versus United States rivalry. On grounds of cost and commercial access, as well as technology, Africa was set to throw in its lot with China's Huawei.

To make sure, Huawei has been stepping up its lobbying efforts from its two main offices in Africa, in South Africa and Morocco. It is wooing journalists with paid trips to China to see its operations there and is offering telecoms hardware and software at prices far below its South Korean and European rivals.

Huawei has strengthened its co-operation with the African Union despite facing accusations last year that the software of the Addis Ababa-headquartered institution, which Huawei installed, was hacked from 2012 to 2017.

Chinese-made smartphones have a market dominance in Africa, while Huawei, which has close ties to the Chinese state, has built half of the 4G networks on the continent and most of the 2G and 3G. Huawei has signed a memorandum with the African Union to expand partnerships on a range of technologies, from broadband and cloud computing to 5G and artificial intelligence. That should help it to strengthen its grip on the African market. But it's less clear what retaliatory measures the US may impose to try to get African governments to change their position.


LIBERIA: After biggest protests in Monrovia over corruption and economic mismanagement, George Weah faces severest test of presidency

UGANDA/RWANDA: President Paul Kagame reopens busiest border with Uganda despite accusing the Museveni government of fostering instability

MALI: Horrific attack on Dogon village in Mopti region killed over 90 with another 30 missing

UNITED NATIONS: Niger and Tunisia to join South Africa as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council in January 2020

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