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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 14th May 2019

The week ahead in Africa: South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, Togo, Zambia

Patrick Smith

We start with the aftermath of last week's elections in South Africa and then to neighbouring Angola where the relatively new head of the state oil company has been sacked. In Nigeria there are ambiguous signs about the government's willingness to crack down on illicit financial flows. In Togo, President Faure Gnassingbé, who is planning a charm tour of Western capitals, looks to have secured himself a further 10 years in power while the finance minister of debt-distressed Zambia fails to reassure, yet again.

SOUTH AFRICA: Despite ANC's shrinking vote, Ramaphosa has the mandate to sack errant ministers and pursue the corruption probes

Ahead of his inauguration on 25 May, President Cyril Rampahosa is set to sack some of his most criticised ministers as he slims down the cabinet, probably to less than 30. Although the African National Congress's share of the vote in the national elections fell to 57.7% from 62.1% in 2014, officials close to Ramaphosa say he plans a lightning strike against some of the worst holdover ministers from Jacob Zuma and a restructuring of the executive.*

Insiders say that Ramaphosa will revive the Research and Policy Unit that used to operate under Thabo Mbeki's presidency. Apart from developing new ideas about economic and social policy, it will have a review function on government performance.

It's not clear whether it will also have a role in the reform of security and intelligence institutions. During his tenure, Mbeki set up an independent intelligence and monitoring unit in the presidency.

Those most vulnerable in the coming reshuffle include: Nomvula Mokonyane, Minister for the Environment, accused of bribe-taking by a state tribunal; and Bathabile Dlamini, who presided over serial mismanagement and corruption in the government's Welfare Department and was accused of lying under oath by the Constitutional Court.

Both women are close allies of ex-President Zuma, as is Ace Magashule, Secretary General of the ANC, but his position is stronger than theirs because he was elected to his office by the party's national conference in December 2017.

Although Magashule faces multiple investigations about his conduct as premier of the Free State, he makes little secret of his opposition to Ramaphosa's plans to reshape the government and crack down on corrupt officials.

ANGOLA: Change at Sonangol and failure to retrieve stolen funds raises questions about Lourenço's reforms

Just 18 months after being brought back to run the troubled state oil company, Sonangol, Carlos Saturnino has been fired by President João Lourenço. Saturnino was appointed in 2017, after Isabel Dos Santos, daughter of the former President, was dismissed amid a crackdown on members of the former first family who had been appointed to high office.

Saturnino is carrying the can for drastic fuel shortages which have caused a growing number of power cuts because of the country's dependence on imported diesel for electricity generation. Lourenço promised to sort out the shortages, which many say are in fact the result of a dearth of foreign exchange, the day before he sacked Saturnino. Sebastião Gaspar Martins, a former Sonangol board member and forty-year company veteran, takes over the company's leadership but faces the same root problems.

NIGERIA: Accusing a former President of grand corruption and reappointing his central bank governor sends mixed signals about reform commitments

As the Milan trial of Shell and ENI officials over the sale of the OPL245 offshore oil field rumbles on, the MuhammaduBuhari government takes an ambiguous stand on grand corruption. Some members of the government appear determined to prosecute Nigerian, as well as foreign oil company, officials involved in the scandal, which may cost the state over $5 billion in lost revenues.

Yet, other officials want to bring the case to a speedy conclusion and then work closely with Shell and ENI to bring OPL245 into production as soon as possible. So far, they have failed to convince President Buhari.

In the particulars of claim in the Nigerian government's civil law suit against various parties for recovery of the proceeds of the OPL245 sale, Abuja states its contention that former President Goodluck Jonathan and his oil minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, took bribes to broker the oil deal eight years ago. They deny all wrongdoing.

Speculation is growing as to whether the government will rescind the rights to the OPL245 block, as demanded by civil activist groups.

Yet Buhari's reappointment of Godwin Emefiele as governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria raises further questions about policy coherence. Emefiele, who was CBN governor under Jonathan when a series of massive off-budget foreign transfers were made in support of a secret 'security budget', has pursued a dogged defence of the national currency under Buhari.

Emefiele's foreign exchange policy is accused of allowing a group of privileged officials and their business allies to get access to foreign exchange at bargain rates.

TOGO: Like father, like son – Faure Gnassingbé goes for another decade in power despite opposition protests

President Faure Gnassingbé's two-year campaign to extend presidential term limits concluded last Thursday (9 May) when MPs voted to change the constitution to allow him to contest for two further five-year terms. Gnassingbé can now fight the 2020 and 2025 elections, despite having already served three terms since succeeding his late father 14 years ago.

The government's crackdown on the opposition has intensified in recent months. A rally by the Parti national panafricain last month resulted in 27 arrests. But the opposition coalition C-14 may be fracturing. Several of the fourteen parties in the coalition have broken ranks, as they did in December's parliamentary election. The remaining opposition lawmakers boycotted the parliamentary vote on term limits, leaving Gnassingbé's deputies to vote through the changes by a 90-0 margin.

ZAMBIA: Finance Minister Mwanakatwe's bizarre claims do little to restore confidence in debt management

Those worried that President Edgar Lungu is leading his country into debt distress weren't reassured when the finance ministry admitted it had contracted an additional $2.6 bn in new external loans last year.

Embattled Finance Minister Margaret Mwanakatwe told reporters that the government would maintain 'a sustainable debt profile going forward'. But few will find that credible – the combination of largesse and graft has already forced the government into extreme measures to pay its bills and public sector salaries in recent months.

The IMF and other international financiers have been warning the Lungu government to rein in its spending, while investors are getting spooked by the government's ballooning debt service burden.


SUDAN: Military council charges ousted President Omer el Beshir with shooting protestors while itself cracking down on opposition road blocks in the capital

UGANDA: Veteran oppositionist Kizza Besigye joins forces with radical singer Bobi Wine to challenge President Museveni in 2021 elections

GERMANY/AFRICA: Bundestag votes to extend military missions in Mali and Somalia but parliamentarians question plans to deploy in Niger and Cameroon

* Correction.  Last week we wrongly reported that the ANC won 56% of the votes in national elections in 2014. Thanks to John McDermott of The Economist for pointing this out.

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