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confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 5th November 2018

The week ahead: Zimbabwe, Madagascar, South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria

Patrick Smith

This week our correspondents have filed from Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Nigeria, and you will find their more detailed stories in the main newsletter on the website on Thursday 8 November.

ZIMBABWE: As cash crisis deepens and budget cuts loom, government promises mining boom
Manufacturers and mining company representatives held a crisis meeting with President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week amid spiralling prices and shortages of cash and foreign exchange. Their main mission was to lobby against a plan to lift restrictions on imports. Any let-up on those measures would further damage local industry and push up unemployment, said the companies.

The industry barons met President Mnangagwa just days after George Guvamatanga, a top Treasury official, warned that the budget deficit would hit 11.1% of GDP this year, more than double the level forecast before the elections. Opposition activists says the ballooning deficit has been caused by the ruling party ramping up funding to its key constituencies, such as hikes in civil service salaries and more help for farmers ahead of the elections on 30 July.

Revenues would be up to US$5.7 billion according to Guvamatanga, compared with earlier projections of $5bn. Government would have no choice, he added, but to cut spending sharply over the next few years. This would include public sector job cuts to save $330 million in 2019 and 2020.  Against that gloomy forecast, Mines Minister Winston Chitando predicts that a resumption of platinum mining could help double mining export revenues, currently around $5bn, within five years.
That has done little to mollify the opposition, which says it plans a series of demonstrations to protest against the effect of the economic crisis on most Zimbabweans.

MADAGASCAR: Incumbent and three past presidents vie for power in marathon election on 7 November
Wednesday’s election (7 November) in Madagascar breaks all sorts of records: with 36 presidential candidates, it will mean the longest ballot papers in the country's history and it has seen the most money ever spent in candidates' campaigns.

That's partly because of another first. Three rich and powerful former presidents are vying for power with the incumbent President Hery Rajaonarimampianina. Of the three, Andry Rajoelina looks set to give the incumbent the most serious run for his money.

But few are ruling out the chances of other two former presidents – Didier Ratsiraka and Marc Ravalomanana – engineering an upset, although there are major concerns about the integrity of the electoral register.

SOUTH AFRICA: Future of Home Affairs Minister Gigaba in balance after he's accused of lying under oath
First, it was a Johannesburg court which ruled last December that Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba had lied under oath about an attempt by the Oppenheimer family to open a private airport immigration facility. That prompted the Public Protector to ask President Cyril Ramaphosa to discipline Gigaba.

The latest accusations against Gigaba, contained in a leaked copy of the parliamentary report into malfeasance at the state power company Eskom, then under Gigaba's stewardship, are more serious. So far, Ramapahosa has declined to comment on the affair. It was with great reluctance that he accepted Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene's resignation last month after it emerged that he had made misleading statements about meetings with the Gupta family.

Gigaba, seen as once extremely close to the Gupta family and ex-President Jacob Zuma, has vowed to fight his corner. This leaves the decision about his immediate future in Ramaphosa's court.

TANZANIA: Government charges leading oppositionist Zitto Kabwe in dispute over killings in Kigoma
The arrest of opposition MP Zitto Kabwe on Friday (2 November) on sedition charges comes as external pressure is mounting on President John Magufuli's government over human rights abuses.
Kabwe had claimed that over 100 people had been killed in clashes near Kigoma last month but the government accused him of exaggerating the toll which it put at just four deaths. Kabwe pleaded not guilty and was released on bail.

But his case could turn into a cause célèbre. Two lesser-known oppositionists were jailed in February on charges of insulting President Magufuli. Meanwhile, the European Union has recalled its envoy and said that it will review its relations with the government in the light of a planned crackdown on homosexuals.

NIGERIA: Banks and ratings agencies differ over prospects for Africa's biggest economy
Following its research note in July warning that another presidential term for Muhammadu Buhari raises the 'risk of limited economic progress' and further 'fiscal deterioration', HSBC is closing its offices in Nigeria. UBS is doing the same, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Although neither institution has made its reasons public, they are seen by government critics as part of wider slowdown in investment. Lobbyists for the South African mobile phone giant MTN, which has been asked to return billions of dollars taken out of the country in breach of regulations and to pay back taxes, argue that business conditions are deteriorating fast.

This plays to the opposition People's Democratic Party argument that Buhari is anti-business and is holding back the economy. Atiku Abubakar, the PDP candidate, has substantial support among banks and businesses in Lagos, the country's commercial capital, and is pushing a strong pro-market policy agenda.

However, the Fitch ratings agency disagrees with the Atiku prognosis and forecasts that higher oil production and prices, together with a growth in the non-oil economy and deeper forex would drive growth strongly over the next two years.

News in very brief

UGANDA/CHINA: Kampala ready to sign $2.2 billion deal with China to build railway to Mombasa

SUDAN: Complaints grow and confidence crashes as cash runs out