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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 31st January 2017

UNITED STATES/AFRICA: Furore over migrant ban could complicate diplomacy

Patrick Smith

Again, we start the week in the United States where the Donald Trump administration’s first week of frenetic activity has major implications for Africa and diplomatic deal-making. Then to Addis Ababa where delegates to the African Union summit are set to welcome Morocco back into the fold and choose a new chair. The Gambia's new leader, Adama Barrow, faces a busy week as he chooses his cabinet, responds to calls for widespread reforms of the security services and launches probes into human rights abuses. Nigeria could start a slow economic recovery this year but security worries and lack of food aid are causing horrendous problems in the north-east. Finally, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni gets a clear warning on ballooning debt from the International Monetary Fund.

UNITED STATES/AFRICA: Furore over migrant ban could complicate diplomacy
Last Friday’s (27 January) presidential executive order for a four-month ban on entry to the United States of people from Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and four Middle Eastern Muslim-majority countries could obstruct peace and trade negotiations. Already, there are reports of several citizens from these countries with business in the US being turned off flights amid considerable confusion about how the rules are meant to be implemented.

At Cairo airport, one of the regional hubs most frequently used by North Africans, officials said they would allow only those nationals with diplomatic passports or senior government officials onto flights bound for the US. In a television interview on yesterday (29 January), White House chief of staff Reince Priebus insisted that the ban would not affect people holding Green Cards, contradicting an earlier statement by the Department of Homeland Security in Washington.

Olympic gold medallist, Sir Mo Farah, who has dual Somali-British nationality but has been resident in the US, quickly denounced the ban as did other dual nationals affected, including a British Conservative MP, Nadhim Zahawi. After quick negotiations, officials in London have reportedly now secured US entry rights for people from the seven restricted countries who also have British nationality.

Much trickier to resolve will be the status of nationals from Libya, Somalia and Sudan involved in political or security negotiations at the UN in New York or elsewhere in the US, let alone those fleeing persecution. This comes at a particularly awkward time for UN-backed peace negotiations which show signs of unravelling.

There are also signs that the Trump administration’s policy on Libya could change. We hear that General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, sent an envoy to Washington in December to solicit support from the Trump government. That may mean Washington dropping its diplomatic support for the internationally-recognised government in Tripoli. Such a major shift in policy could be complicated by the ban on Libyans entering the US.

AFRICAN UNION: Morocco's King Mohammed in Addis to rejoin continental body
Despite the misgivings of Algeria and South Africa, Morocco looks set to rejoin the African Union at its summit in Addis Ababa which winds up tomorrow (31 January). King Mohammed VI arrived in the Ethiopian capital today (30 January) and hosted a grand reception for the other heads of state.
We understand that at least 40 member states back Morocco's application to rejoin the AU but there is still no resolution about the position of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in Western Sahara which is also a full member of the organisation. Morocco and the SADR have been locked in a 40-year dispute over the status of the former Spanish territory. Until now, Morocco has refused to attend any meeting at which the SADR is also present. Resolving these contrary positions will require some innovative diplomacy in Addis.

Summit delegates elected the new chair of the AU Commission today (30 January). Chad's Moussa Faki Mahamat saw off the strongly-backed and better-fancied candidacies of Senegal's Abdoulaye Bathily and Kenya's Amina Mohamed (AC Vol 58 No 3, The scramble for the chair).

THE GAMBIA: Celebrations for new President’s homecoming
After supporters cheered their welcome when his plane landed at Banjul airport last Thursday (26 January), Gambia's new President, Adama Barrow, has to pick his cabinet this week and set about the sensitive task of restructuring the country’s armed forces and intelligence services. At the head of a coalition of several opposition groups, Barrow is under pressure to form a broad, representative government and also to hold to account those officials accused of abusing their powers.

Barrow has already asked the West African forces, which played a key role in persuading former President Yahya Jammeh to stand down after he lost the December election, to stay in the country for another six months. The Chief of Army Staff under Jammeh, Ousmane Badjie, who said his troops would not waste their blood fighting regional forces to keep Jammeh in power, is to keep his post for now.

On Friday (27 January), Senegalese troops arrested General Bora Colley, the former head of prisons in Gambia, as he was trying to enter Guinea-Bissau. Human rights campaigners say that Colley presided over a regime of torture and persecution in the country’s gaols.

Although Barrow has said he will rename the National Intelligence Agency, also accused of terrible abuses under Jammeh’s regime, he is yet to respond for calls for a commission of enquiry into the organisation’s record since 1994. Some are calling for the immediate sacking of Yankuba Badjie, the current head of the NIA.

NIGERIA: Better news on economy but security crises persist
With world oil prices predicted to average $66 a barrel this year, economists are forecasting a modest economic recovery for Nigeria if the government goes ahead with its $20 billion capital spending programme. In a speech to bankers in Davos earlier this month, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo has said the government is determined to close the gap between the official exchange rate of N315 to the US$1 and the parallel rate of around N500=$1. But as the central bank in Abuja has excoriated 'unpatriotic' bidders on the foreign exchange market, many questions remain about how Osinbajo’s team intend to reform the market.

Most of the big risks in Nigeria this year are linked to national security. Nigerian troops have substantially pushed back the Boko Haram militia and destroyed some of their bases in the Sambisa forest but the after-effects of the war haunt the north-east. World Food Programme Executive Director Ertharin Cousin says that some 4.4 million people are in need of food aid in the north-east, about one third of them at risk of starvation. She said there were still hundreds of thousands of people in Boko Haram's heartlands in Borno State who could not be reached by aid convoys.

UGANDA: IMF chief sounds alarm on mounting debts
Last July, the central bank in Kampala warned President Yoweri Museveni's government that its growing dependence on foreign loans could cause grave financial problems within two years if it did not move forward on oil exports as soon as possible.

Those warnings were reinforced in Kampala on 27 January by the IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, who argued the government should do more to raise revenues domestically. The country's external debt is just over US$10 billion, much of it owed to Chinese companies building new roads, a new airport and power stations.

Lagarde said infrastructure spending could boost Uganda's growth rate to over 6% but the projects, their quality and value for money would have to be strictly monitored by the government. It has taken the government a decade to move forward on the exploitation of oil reserves found in and around Lake Albert. Progress has been hampered by a dispute with the government's partner oil companies about the viability of a local oil refinery designed to sell to the regional market and the choice of an export pipeline route towards to Indian Ocean. Last year, to some surprise, the government announced it would build a pipeline to Tanga, on Tanzania's coast instead of the widely favoured route to the Kenyan coast.