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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 14th October 2019

The week ahead in Africa: Political and sporting triumphs, and grave warnings on economic growth

Patrick Smith

This week we start with the boost for Ethiopia and Kenya before looking at the gloomy growth forecasts ahead of the IMF and World Bank's meetings in Washington this week. Calls for the British, United Arab Emirates and Indian governments to impose sanctions on the Gupta family have won South African government support as its 'State Capture' commission sits. The border row rumbles on between Kenya and Somalia and Tunisia's Islamist party registers a triumph in the parliamentary and presidential elections. Mozambique's ruling Frelimo faces a tougher time at the polls than it had expected.

EAST AFRICA'S GOOD WEEKEND: A succession of political and sporting triumphs for Ethiopia and Kenya

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Friday (11 October) for negotiating a peace accord with Eritrea and introducing new freedoms at home will strengthen his diplomatic hand on the continent as a whole. Abiy played a critical role in support of the pro-democracy movement in Sudan this year.

The award comes at a crucial time for Abiy's national political agenda as critics accuse him of adopting a top-down strategy and bypassing Ethiopia's institutions. His policies are likely to be put to the test at next year's planned elections while communal clashes persist and the ultimate fate of the federal system remains uncertain.

Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge broke the two-hour marathon bar by 20 seconds on a specially-adapted banked track in Vienna, Austria on Saturday (12 October). Although Kipchoge's achievement will not be officially recognised as a record because he was not participating in an open competition it will stand as an iconic landmark in athletics. 'This shows no one is limited,' said Kipchoge.

The following day, another Kenyan, Brigid Kosegei, broke the women's world marathon record of 2 hours 14 minutes and 4 seconds in the Chicago Marathon, smashing the previous record, which stood for 16 years, by 81 seconds.

THE WORLD BANK AND IMF'S GLOOMY PROGNOSIS: the Bretton Woods institutions issue grave warnings as global growth slumps to lowest level for a decade

An impending economic slowdown amid trade wars between the United States, China and the European Union will top the agenda at the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank from 14-20 October in Washington DC.

Africa's economies are likely to avoid the worst of it but the biggest of them – Nigeria, Angola, South Africa and Egypt – are not growing fast enough to raise living standards appreciably. There are growing protest movements in all four countries.

Last week, the IMF's new managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, warned that although 90% of economies would slow down this year, 40 emerging markets and developing economies, including 19 in sub-Saharan Africa, will have real GDP growth rates above 5%.

Concerns are growing about financial risks and weakening creditworthiness following a recent World Bank report suggesting that nearly half the countries in Africa are either in debt distress or at high risk of it.

Kenya and South Africa will have their own agendas. As Africa Confidential reported last week, Kenya sees the IMF meetings as a chance to re-open talks with the Fund on a $1.5 billion loan facility, and South African officials want to brief the markets ahead of a key budget statement later this month and a key decision by Moody's ratings agency on whether or not to downgrade the country.

SOUTH AFRICAN STATE CAPTURE: Call on Britain, India and UAE to extend sanctions against the Gupta family and associates

The international net around the Gupta brothers is drawing tighter and could embarrass several governments in the process. Lord Peter Hain, the former British Labour cabinet minister for Africa and anti-apartheid campaigner, has called on the British government to impose sanctions on Rajesh, Atul and Ajay Gupta for their role in a 'massive corruption and money-laundering operation' linked to former President Jacob Zuma which cost South Africa at least US$500 million.

This follows a US Treasury Department ban on US companies doing business with the Guptas or handling their assets. It said the Guptas 'had stolen hundreds of millions of dollars through illegal deals with the South African government, obfuscated by a shadowy network of shell companies and associates linked to the family.'

The Guptas fled South Africa for the UAE shortly before Zuma was forced to resign by senior members of the governing African National Congress.
Witnesses at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in Johannesburg have detailed the Guptas' ties with Zuma and their involvement in state procurement contracts with companies such as power utility Eskom, South African Airways and Transnet which are now under criminal investigation.

Hain's call, which we understand has strong support from the South African government, could prove embarrassing to governments which allow the Guptas to transact business in their jurisdictions. He has accused the London operations of banks such as HSBC, Standard Chartered and the Bank of Baroda of facilitating money-laundering by the Guptas.

It reinforces demands by activist groups that the British government should pressure the City to take a far tougher line on companies and individuals linked to criminal investigations in other jurisdictions.

It will raise further questions about the stance of the UAE, which is trying to wield more influence in Africa but has provided protection for several officials and businessmen suspected of malfeasance.

Also in the frame is Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government in India, where the Guptas still have rights of residence. Earlier this year, the Gupta brothers organised a multi-million dollar wedding for two of their sons in India without triggering any questions, let alone action from authorities in New Delhi. Like the UAE, Modi's government is trying to boost its influence and trade ties with Africa.

KENYA AND SOMALIA'S NEIGHBOURHOOD ROW: Airspace row complicates regional policy stance

Relations between Kenya and Somalia are deteriorating, with Nairobi's ambassador in Mogadishu, Lucas Tumbo, being summoned by Foreign Minister Abdulkadir Ahmed-Kheri Abdi, over an incident on 5 October when an aircraft flew from Nairobi directly to Kismayo 'without official permission' from Mogadishu. The flight was carrying former Southwest State President Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden and Galmudug's Abdikarim Hussein Guled.

Somalia calls the flight, which did not go through Mogadishu as requested, a violation of its airspace. This dispute relates to Mogadishu's attempt to stop the inauguration ceremony of Jubaland President Ahmed Madobe, whose election in August was endorsed by Nairobi but rejected by Mogadishu which described the vote as a 'self-appointed process'.

The row comes in the midst of a long-running dispute over the maritime border between the two countries and could have implications for Kenya's participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).

ISLAMIST WIN IN TUNISIA: Mr 'Anti-politics' to become 'Mr President' after run-off between outsiders

Kais Saïed is set to reap the rewards of a carefully executed 'anti-politics' campaign, with exit polls giving him around 75% in the second round of Tunisia's presidential elections. The margin of victory is a surprise, and a blow to media mogul Nabil Karoui, whose campaign was derailed by his being jailed on charges of money-laundering and tax fraud, which he denies.

After a television debate between the two candidates, Tunisians joked that it was a contest between 'Robo-cop' and 'Don Corleone' – a reference to Saïed's wooden presentational skills and the corruption charges against Karoui.

Saïed's win, following a low-key campaign focused on his integrity and anti-corruption targeted at young voters, is a triumph for Rachid Ghannouchi and his Islamist Ennahda party. Saïed, who was a member of the committee of experts that helped draft Tunisia's post-Arab Spring constitution, leans towards Islamism and is said to be sympathetic to Sharia law. It could also herald a shift in Tunisia's regional foreign policy and antagonise Egypt.

POLLS GET CLOSER IN MOZAMBIQUE: With President Nyusi set to hang on, Renamo oppositionists are poised to make significant gains

Opinion polls and local experts suggest that ruling Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Frelimo), and President Filipe Nyusi will win tomorrow's (15 October) general elections but add the opposition Resistencia Nacional Moçambicana (Renamo) have run a far more effective campaign than expected.

Frelimo expects to win a comfortable majority of the seats in parliament but voter anger about the economic crisis caused by the $2 billion secret loans scandal, which threatens several ministers, means that some think that Nyusi may not clear the 50% bar needed for outright victory in the first round.

Election observers say that the campaign, which has been marked by dirty tricks, including Frelimo inflating voter numbers in its strongholds and limiting registration in Renamo areas, has not been free and fair.

Renamo leader, Ossufo Momade, has done well on the campaign trail. The battle for the provincial governorships – introduced in the August peace deal– may produce surprises. Momade is expected to win the governorship of Nampula province – the country's most populous – and his party hopes to capture Zambezia.


MOROCCO'S MONARCH RESHUFFLES: King Mohammed VI and Prime Minister Dine el Otmani keeps finance and interior ministers in place, balancing liberals and Islamists

JIHAD IN BURKINA FASO: UN reports that 500,000 have fled their homes since January as militia attacks cripple health and education services

TANZANIA'S SURPRISE BOOM: The central bank reports a 25% boost to gold earnings in the wake of the government's dispute with the Acacia and Barrick Gold mining companies

ZAMBIA'S TAX QUESTIONS: Finance minister Bwalya Ng'andu says the government is withholding tax refunds worth Kwacha 2.8billion (US$215m) to the country's biggest mining houses due to lack of correct documents