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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 5th August 2019

The week ahead in Africa: Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Tunisia

Patrick Smith

This week we have another step towards a political transition in Sudan, a surprise presidential contender in Kenya, a storm in Nigeria over the arrest of a protest leader and another in Tanzania over a journalist's detention. Zimbabwe's Finance Minister takes his biggest gamble yet and Tunisia's presidential race opens up.

SUDAN: More detail needed on justice and army transitional reforms but a new prime minister is to start work

The ruling generals and democracy activists are nearer the start of a power-sharing interim government with the initialling of a constitutional accord on Saturday (3 August) but celebrations in Khartoum were muted. A new civilian prime minister, agreed by both sides, is to start work in the coming days.

A formal signing ceremony, under the auspices of the African Union, is due in Khartoum on Saturday 17 August. Before that, both sides have to agree on how to reform the judicial and security systems. The generals want immunity from prosecution and control of economic sectors such as gold mining and arms manufacturing.

KENYA: The government's 'Mr Fix it', Fred Matiang'i, could spring a surprise in the race for the presidency as he wins broad support

Watch Fred Matiang'i amid the wrangling over presidential nominations ahead of national elections in 2022, when Uhuru Kenyatta has to step down. Matiang'i, the Interior Cabinet Secretary and the government's chief coordinator, is in charge of monitoring and implementing Kenyatta's much-trumpeted 'Big Four' agenda.

Although Matiang'i says has no presidential ambitions he already has endorsements from coastal kingpin Hassan Joho and Kisii leaders.

Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga has hinted he may not contest the presidency in 2022. And insiders say that he might back Matiang'i as a compromise candidate.

All that suits Kenyatta. It would boost Matiang'i's incentive to make sure the 'Big Four' agenda succeeds. At the same time, Matiang'i has been trying to cool tempers in ruling party factions as Deputy President William Ruto intensifies his increasingly desperate campaign to succeed Kenyatta.

NIGERIA: Row over arrest of leader of 'Revolution Now' protests on eve of planned national demonstrations against insecurity

The detention of Omoyele Sowore, presidential candidate of the African Action Congress and the man behind a protest campaign against the Buhari government, raises the political stakes in the country's deepening security crisis. Sowore says the national day of protest planned for today (5 August) would go ahead without him.

Opposition politicians accuse the government of repression and partisanship in its response to the crisis, as social and regional tensions grow. Last week, leaders from the Niger Delta refused to attend a conference chaired by former military leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar which aimed to bridge the widening regional divide on security matters.

They objected to the attendance of a herders' organisation which they said had received a preferential deal from the government.

TANZANIA: Government wobbles after claims that police abducted journalist Erick Kabendera

The storm over the disappearance of investigative journalist Erick Kabendera points to a growing pushback against President John Magufuli's restrictions on free speech and opposition political activity. Opposition parties are backing activists in the mainly Zanzibar-based Civic United Front's call to end the ban on political meetings.

After news flashed around the country that Kabendera had disappeared, there was confusion about his whereabouts, and worries he had been kidnapped, until the police admitted they had detained him. They claimed that there were questions over his Tanzanian citizenship, although Kabendera has been working in Tanzania as a journalist for two decades.

Now, he has been charged with sedition over an article published in The Economist last month the authorities have linked him to. He was expected in court today (5 August) to apply for bail.

ZIMBABWE: Economy shrinks as Ncube pushes harsh reforms, censors inflation stats and negotiates for IMF cash

Political tensions are mounting as the government pushes through tough policies set to shrink the economy by another 5% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Months after reintroducing the national currency and banning the use of foreign currencies, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube is making the government's biggest gamble since the ousting of President Robert Mugabe in 2017.

Just how big is evident from Ncube's banning of the publication of inflation data for the rest of the year. Inflation is running at over 500% on a year-on-year basis after several hikes in the price of fuel and other commodities. Government supporters say the inflation statistics breed despondency and encourage oppositionists.

Although Ncube forecasts the budget deficit will fall by 5% this year, the economy is due to shrink by the same amount as the government reduces public spending and cuts state sector jobs. He is also raising cash from higher vehicle licence and road toll fees.

The country's first Treasury Bill auction in seven years, to raise US$3.25 million, was four times over-subscribed.

In exchange for steering the country through this harsh economic rebalancing, Ncube reckons that the IMF and World Bank will back a debt write-off deal for Zimbabwe in October which could trigger new capital flows.

TUNISIA: Technocrats, populists and Islamists to launch campaigns for the Presidency

The race to succeed the late President Béji Caïd Essebsi is opening up, even if the government is keeping a tight grip on security. Interim President Mohamed Ennaceur has extended the state of emergency for another month.

The stage is set for competitive elections and that could mean a populist winner. In June, parliament passed an electoral bill changing the rules on candidates' eligibility. But the bill, which was not signed by President Essebsi, has been 'buried', says Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.

In fact, Chahed's supporters say he will run for the presidency, as will the veteran Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi. The front-runner is Nabil Karoui, the owner of Nessma TV, running on a populist ticket with polls showing he has at least 25% of the vote. Olfa Terras-Rambourg, the president of the NGO 3ich Tounsi, is to fight parliamentary elections, slated for 6 October.


ROW OVER GHANA'S POWER PRIVATISATION: US suspends aid facility after political row erupts over claims that ruling cabal has hijacked sale of electricity company

EXPLOSION IN CAIRO: Egypt now says that the car crash and fire on the coast road which claimed 20 lives was in fact a militants' car bomb in transit exploding prematurely

DIVIDING THE SPOILS IN CONGO-KINSHASA: Ex-President Kabila keeps grip on mines and soldiers after agreement with successor Tshisekedi over new premier

OUATTARA CAUTIOUS ON DEBT: Ivorian government chooses local loans over more Eurobonds due to constraints of the Euro-linked CFA zone