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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 21st November 2018

The week ahead in Africa: Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Eritrea

Patrick Smith

We start on the election bandwagons in Abuja, Nigeria for the beginning of the campaigns and move on to Pretoria where President Cyril Ramaphosa is facing a heavy challenge to his leadership of the anti-corruption campaign. And then to the Horn of Africa: first to Sudan where Washington is dialling down sanctions against the Sudanese regime; and then to Eritrea whose UN sanctions are ending after the peace pact with Ethiopia this year.

NIGERIA: And then you wake up! Election frontrunners launch their manifestos with billions of dollars' worth of promises
First, it was the turn of President Muhammadu Buhari to unveil election promises in a document headed 'Next Level: we are all going higher' with goals of creating a million jobs for graduates and retraining another ten million workers in partnership with business. It envisages that a special farmers' loan plan, a livestock transformation plan and a farm mechanisation programme will create another 7.5 million jobs.

Alongside the new jobs are promises to complete a second bridge across the River Niger, together with a revamped railway line between Lagos and Ibadan, and a new network through the Middle Belt and South East. To that will be added a new universal healthcare system, free for the poorest 40%, and the 'remodelling' of 10,000 schools a year.

Upping the ante, challenger Atiku Abubakar, standing on the opposition People's Democratic Party ticket, promises no less than US$90 billion of investments in infrastructure, through public-private partnerships, each year for four years and to double the size of the national economy to $900bn by 2025.

Despite such gargantuan figures, Atiku's promises to create three million jobs are more modest than Buhari's, although his policy advisors are focusing on the employment crisis above all. He adds a strong pitch to business, local and foreign, with a pledge to make corporate tax rates the lowest in Africa, to float the naira and to abolish fuel subsidies.

Both manifestos may fail the credibility test. After two decades of civilian rule and multi-party elections, most Nigerian voters are battle-hardened when it comes to politicians' promises and there are several civil society groups – monitoring public finances and social spending – which will try to hold the successful candidate to account.

The latest opinion polls are showing a tightening race between Buhari and Atiku, increasing the prospects of a fierce fight in the weeks up to national elections in February.

SOUTH AFRICA: Its payback time for Cyril Ramaphosa's presidential election campaign

After two of his ministers resigned over impropriety, the spotlight turns to a campaign backing Cyril Ramaphosa's bid for the presidency of the African National Congress last year. Campaign finance has long been one of the most contentious issues in South African politics. The twists and turns of this story are undermining Ramaphosa's leadership in the fight against political corruption.

It has emerged that a company called African Global Operations contributed 500,000 rand (US$36,000) to Ramaphosa's campaign for the ANC leadership last year. When initially asked about this in parliament, Ramaphosa said the payment was made to his son for a consultancy contract. In the wake of follow-up questions from the opposition, Ramaphosa said he had inadvertently misled parliament and acknowledged this was a campaign contribution. Soon after, his campaign repaid the donation to African Global Operations, a company which faces several other accusations about corporate ethics.

Neither of the two substantive opposition parties – the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters – are going to let go of the bone. They are pushing for a full parliamentary enquiry into the matter, in keeping with the standards of accountability that the Ramaphosa government has been demanding of others.

SUDAN: US prepares to take Khartoum off the state terrorism list as economy goes into free-fall

President Omer el Beshir's regime in Khartoum may be on the brink of earning an accolade and a massive economic boost from President Donald Trump's administration, which says it is preparing to end the last set of sanctions on Sudan.

The US State Department has said it is '…to initiate the process of rescinding Sudan's designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism if the determination is made that all the relevant statutory criteria have been met.' Sudan has been on the US's State Sponsor of Terrorism list since 1993. At the time, President el Beshir's regime was hosting Osama bin Laden some years before he and his Al Qaida associates had become a target for the US administration. In 1998, Bin Laden was linked to the bombing of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam which killed over 200 civilians.

In the closing weeks of his presidency, Barack Obama relaxed trade sanctions on Sudan but maintained its position on the state terror list. In practical terms, lifting the trade embargo did little. Due to corruption and mismanagement, as well as lack of foreign capital, Sudan's economy has been shrinking for the past decade. Now, inflation is running at over 60%, one of the highest rates in the world, and there is a chronic shortage of bank notes.

Apart from demonstrations about the rising price of bread in January, the opposition has been cautious since police and soldiers are reckoned to have killed around 185 people in protests at economic hardship in 2013.

ERITREA: After the UN lifts sanctions, hopes rise for peace dividend from deal with Ethiopia

There are great expectations in Asmara that the lifting of UN sanctions this month will trigger a new era of economic recovery, and perhaps even political reform. Those hopes have been triggered by Ethiopia's remarkable volte face under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed which resulted in a much-publicised reconciliation between the two countries and a formal end to hostilities.

Eritrea's President Issayas Afeworki has accepted Abiy's olive branch: full diplomatic and commercial relations have been restored. Issayas is also warming up relations with its other neighbour Djibouti, a close ally of Ethiopia's. Issayas says the resumption of relations with Ethiopia and the lifting of sanctions open the way to a 'transitional stage that will lead to a new era'. Without going into details, Issayas said his government would have to ensure these changes could be sustained. Their sustainability could depend more on the Asmara regime's ability to withstand political pressures in the region than to its adaption to the new economic opportunities.


AFRICA/RUSSIA: Planning accelerates for Moscow's Africa summit in 2019 despite growing criticism of its security role in Central African Republic

ZIMBABWE: Harare searches for buyers for indebted state airline as finance minister Ncube tries to cut back on public sector spending and parastatals

CONGO-KINSHASA: Global mining companies target cobalt and gold reserves despite mounting uncertainty over elections