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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 10th September 2019

The week ahead in Africa: South Africa/Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Botswana

Patrick Smith

This week we start with a move to dampen down tensions between South Africa and Nigeria and a political row over President Mugabe's funeral. Also on the agenda are China debt talks, the political succession in Botswana and repression ahead of elections in Burundi.

SOUTH AFRICA AND NIGERIA RAPPROCHEMENT: President Buhari to go ahead with Ramaphosa summit in October after week of street violence

Officials in Abuja and Pretoria are trying to dampen down tensions between their two countries after a week of attacks on migrant-owned businesses in South Africa. These were followed by reprisal attacks on South African businesses such as MTN and Shoprite in Nigeria.

President Muhammadu Buhari is to go ahead with a planned state visit to South Africa for a bilateral meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa. Originally, the meeting was to focus on boosting trade and investment and resolving some of the tax and regulatory issues for South African companies in Nigeria. Now it will try to reset bilateral relations and calm public anger in both countries.

Last week, Buhari sent a special envoy to meet with Ramaphosa to discuss the crisis, and how to repair relations. The plan is to launch a bi-national Nigeria-South Africa commission.

Migrants from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Zambia, and Kenya were the main targets of the attacks in South Africa's inner cities. Some local communities say they targeted 'foreign drug dealers' because the police were taking no action against them. At least 10 people have been killed in the violence over the last week.

Another factor in the clashes is the competition for jobs against the backdrop of chronically high unemployment and deepening inequality. There is also growing pressure on social services in South Africa's biggest cities with housing and healthcare squeezed by mismanagement and corruption.

South African politicians of all stripes have been accused of inflaming tensions. Both the African National Congress and opposition Democratic Alliance vowed to curb migration ahead of May's parliamentary elections. The Economic Freedom Fighters, which had claimed to have a Pan-African agenda, have questioned whether people born outside the country can be considered 'true South Africans'.

ZIMBABWE DIVIDED BY MUGABE'S DEMISE: Government faces fight over funeral plans for the independence leader that it ousted

The state funeral for President Robert Mugabe to be held at the National Sports Stadium in Harare on 14 September will be something of an impromptu pan-African summit with leaders from South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Uganda likely to attend.

They will arrive in a country deeply divided over Mugabe's legacy. Most of the politicians and military officers who ousted him in November 2017 are now showering him with accolades.

So far, President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government has not been able to agree with Mugabe's family about where he should be buried, according to family sources.

The government want to bury him in the hillside cemetery known as Heroes' Acre but his family, acting on Mugabe's own wishes, want him to be buried at his birthplace, Kutama village, some 80 kilometres from the capital.

Meanwhile, Nelson Chamisa, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has called a mass rally at Rufaro Stadium, the other big stadium in Harare, on 14 September just as the dignitaries gather for Mugabe's state funeral. Even in death the ousted President will be in the middle of a political fight.

CHINA RETHINKS AFRICA FINANCE PLAN: Beijing's envoy suggests moves to boost business returns but pre-empt debt crises

Yang Jiechi
, the special envoy of President Xi Jinping visiting Kenya, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, is talking up the role of China's private companies in Africa and downplaying expectations of Beijing underwriting more mega-loans for the region.

Of the US$60 billion pledged at China's Africa summit last year, Beijing wants at least a fifth to support private companies.

Bankers see the changing strategy as a bid to stop arrears on repayments of China's loans in Africa getting out of control. Zambia is having problems servicing Chinese debt. Congo-Kinshasa and Kenya also face fast-growing repayments over the next five years.

Yang's trip to Nairobi last week comes four months after President Uhuru Kenyatta tried unsuccessfully to secure a further $3.8bn to fund an extension of the Standard Gauge Railway to Kisumu, on Lake Victoria.  The focus of Kenyatta's latest talks with Yang was on attracting investment from China's private companies rather than securing new state-backed loans.

There is also concern that the Chinese-financed SGR between Nairobi and Mombasa made a loss of $100m in its first year of operations. Its prospects of attaining profitability are remote without a sharp increase in freight.

To this extent, China's strategy follows that of Africa's other big trade partners which have been sounding alarms about debt. Private investment, rather than state-backed loans, are on offer from major European countries, as well as Japan.

BURUNDI BATTENS DOWN THE HATCHES: President Nkurunziza dismisses UN warnings about attacks on opposition ahead of elections

The government's rejection of a UN report that Burundi risks plunging into violence ahead of elections next year has increased the isolation of President Pierre Nkurunziza's regime.

The report by UN experts including Doudou Diène of Senegal and Lucy Asuagbor of Cameroon, documents politically-motivated violence against opposition politicians and their supporters, linking it to the Imbonerakure, a youth wing of the ruling Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD). Nkurunziza said he won't run next May, but many believe he will change his mind and seek a fourth term.

Investigators for the report – dismissed by Nkurunziza's spokesman Willy Nyamitwe as 'fake news' – were neither allowed into the country, nor given any cooperation by authorities.

KHAMA'S COMEBACK IN BOTSWANA: President Masisi faces challenge from his predecessor in the most fraught elections since independence

Ian Khama
picked Mokgweetsi Masisi to succeed him as Botswana's president and leader of the Botswana Democratic Party, but now seems determined to topple him.

Khama may only be the unofficial patron of the Botswana Patriotic Front, but the party, which launched in May, is his in all but name. Fronted by Biggie Butale, a Khama loyalist who Masisi fired from cabinet earlier this year, the BPF will launch its campaign on the weekend of 14-15 September. Crucial parliamentary and local elections are due on October 23: the winner will take the presidency.

BPF officials are coy on the question of whether they will form some kind of electoral pact with the main opposition coalition, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). Should this happen, the chances of defeating the BDP would be far greater.


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