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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 8th April 2019

SUDAN: Pressure builds for El Beshir's exit as over 500,000 protest outside military headquarters

Patrick Smith

This week we start in Khartoum where protests against Omer el Beshir's presidency are reaching critical mass, then to Nairobi for President Kenyatta's State of the Nation speech. Also on the agenda is the ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, the Congolese President's hectic travel and what Africa could gain from Britain's troubles with the European Union.

SUDAN: Pressure builds for El Beshir's exit as over 500,000 protest outside military headquartersThe mass demonstrations outside the ministry of defence in Khartoum, organised to mark the anniversary of the uprising that toppled Ja'afar Nimeiri's regime on 6 April, 1985, grew sharply over the weekend as it became clear the protestors were gaining support in the military. This follows over three months of mass demonstrations across the country calling for Beshir to stand down.
At an emergency meeting with army generals and security chiefs on 7 April, President el Beshir ordered Salah Abdullah Mohamed 'Gosh', Director of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), to disburse the protests by force and criticised the army for allowing the activists to gather outside the military buildings.

An eye-witness outside the military HQ, a compound in which Beshir has one of his residences, told Africa Confidential that the armed officers from the NISS and from militias such as the Rapid Deployment Forces tried to disburse the crowd at 3.00 am and 7.00 am this morning (8 April) using tear gas and stun grenades. But younger soldiers as well as troops from naval and air force units protected the demonstrators. Then, tens of thousands of supporters from across Khartoum and Omdurman joined the protestors for a political meeting outside the military HQ in the afternoon.
There is speculation that Lieutenant General Kamal Abdul Marouf, the armed forces Chief of Staff and a firm loyalist until now, might pressure Beshir to step down in favour of a military-backed transitional regime. This would echo the role played by  General Ahmed Gaïd Salah in edging Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika towards the door on 2 April.

But oppositionists in both Sudan and Algeria oppose any leading role for the military in a transition, calling instead for a national conference to establish a broad-based administration drawing heavily on technocrats and professionals.

KENYA: In his national speech, Uhuru wobbles on anti-graft campaignAfter months of tough talk about sacking and prosecuting corrupt officials, President Uhuru Kenyatta dampened down the rhetoric in his State of the Nation address last Thursday (4 April), suggesting concerns about a split in the ruling party on the issue.

Insiders had predicted that Kenyatta would sack some top politicians and civil servants widely linked to the 21 billion shillings ($200 million) scandal over contracts for the Arror and Kimwarer dams. Kenyatta warned against 'vigilante justice', insisting that suspects would only be dismissed once they have been charged.

This disappoints Kenyans frustrated by Kenyatta's reluctance to match words with deeds on graft. It is seen as a victory for Deputy President William Ruto, whose allies had been among county governors implicated in the probe into the dams.

Ruto, who has set up a 'Team Development' of supporters to guide him to the presidency in 2021, had accused Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti and Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji of 'selective prosecutions, devoid of facts and propelled by lies'.

The climb-down does not augur well for the last 30 months of Kenyatta's presidency, buffeted by pressure from Ruto and his rival, the erstwhile oppositionist Raila Odinga. Kenyatta's 'Big Four' agenda, held up as his legacy, focuses on infrastructure projects which could be undermined by financial losses and fraud.

AFRICAN UNION: After ratification, many steps to implement the free trade treatyIt's official – the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) is in force, after Gambia became the 22nd country to ratify the pact last week. Yet many obstacles remain in the way of an increase in intra-African trade.

Nigeria is still the main holdout from ACFTA, over fears about rules of origin, and concerns about competition stifling its infant industries. Pressure in Nigeria comes not only from economic nationalists in the ruling All Progressives Congress but also from local businesses and trade unionists who fear the loss of market share and jobs.

Pressure will mount on Nigeria to sign up now that its national elections are over but the next stage is for governments to push ahead with the dismantling of non-tariff barriers across the region.

CONGO-KINSHASA: President Tshisekedi's world tour wins political ground and air milesFresh from bilateral meetings with the Presidents of Angola, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, President Felix Tshisekedi got a qualified seal of approval from the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in Washington on 4 April. But there was no red carpet and no audience with President Donald Trump.
Pompeo gave some cursory praise to Tshisekedi's 'change agenda' to tackle corruption, improve human rights and strengthen security. Tshisekedi called for US investment in Congo's rich mining sector and for money to help fight Islamist insurgent groups in the region.

Next stop for Tshisekedi will be a meeting with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government is fast expanding ties with Africa.

BRITAIN AND BREXIT: London's diplomatic foul-up could benefit AfricaPremier Theresa May's government faces another critical decision on Wednesday (10 April) in its tortuous bid to leave the European Union. EU leaders are due to decide whether to offer Britain an extension of the Article 50 process, delaying its EU exit by up to a year, or to force it out under a 'no deal' scenario two days later.

Not much would change for trade with Africa under a 'no deal' Brexit. The UK's International Trade Department has announced plans to slash tariffs, and the majority of African exports will enter the UK market duty free. For example, of the 469 tariff lines that are dutiable, South Africa trades on 118.

If May's government chooses to remain in the EU customs union then its trade relations with Africa will be governed by the existing EU accords.

The Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) economic partnership agreement is the only trade accord between the EU and an Africa regional bloc that has been rolled over, and South Africa's Trade Minister, Rob Davies, has indicated that a 'stand-alone' SACU-Mozambique deal with the UK is close to completion. Whichever path the UK chooses, African trade officials judge that their leverage is growing with British firms.


TANZANIA: Telecom wars heat upAfter the government secures equity stake in Bharti Airtel, state prosecutors charge Vodacom with a $4.8 million fraud claim.

ETHIOPIA: Addis Ababa calls on Boeing to review controls on 737 Max 8Presenting a preliminary report on the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 disaster, Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges claimed that the crash occurred in spite of the pilots following all the safety procedures recommended by Boeing.

RACE OF THE FAITHS: Africa will become headquarters for Christianity by 2060Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Uganda will have the biggest Christian populations – after the US and Brazil – within 40 years, according to a Pew Research survey.