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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 9th January 2017

WEST AFRICA/THE GAMBIA: Steering Jammeh to the door, again

Patrick Smith

We start in Accra, where regional leaders attending the inauguration of Ghana's new President, Nana Akufo-Addo, also found time to discuss ways to make the Gambia's defiant Yahya Jammeh leave the stage. Starting work with an inspection of the presidential guard and a gloomy economic briefing, Akufo-Addo is expected to announce his first ministerial appointments this week. After a busy weekend, Côte d'Ivoire's President Alassane Ouattara is due to announce a new Prime Minister this week. Infuriated by laws allowing the electoral commission to use both manual and electronic voter registration and results systems, Kenya's opposition is threatening mass protests. And an apparently chastened President Jacob Zuma has told African National Congress activists that the party leadership would from now on listen more intently to the people.

WEST AFRICA/THE GAMBIASteering Jammeh to the door, again
It was Ghana's successful transition and the inauguration of new President Nana Akufo-Addo last Saturday (7 January) that gave regional leaders meeting in Accra the chance to discuss how they are going fix the explosive situation in the Gambia.

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Senegal's President Macky Sall and Guinea's President Alpha Condé held impromptu discussions on the Gambian crisis after attending Akufo-Addo's swearing-in.

Johnson-Sirleaf, Chairwoman of the Economic Community for West African States, used the occasion to send Jammeh a message, saying the regional organisation was closely watching events in Banjul. 'We call on the people of the Gambia to follow the example of Ghana and put the interest of the nation above all personal interests.' She added, 'We stand with the people of Gambia.'

Regional leaders resumed talks on Gambia today (9 January), this time chaired by Buhari in Abuja. Ghana sent outgoing President John Mahama, perhaps to show there is a life after the presidency. Jammeh has closed four local radio stations. The Gambia's much-depleted Supreme Court is due to hear his election petition tomorrow (10 January), only nine days before the date on which the president-elect, Adama Barrow, is due to be sworn in.

For now, Ecowas is sticking to its position: that it will recognise Barrow as the legitimate president after 19 January. How it will handle Jammeh – once again a rogue president – is the trickiest issue. Nigeria and Senegal have emphatically refused to rule out using military force.

GHANA: Now Accra's extravaganza is over, back to work
Over 200,000 people gathered in Black Star Square under the red, gold and green of the national flag to cheer on Nana Akufo-Addo as he took the oath of office. Sporting a chief's kaleidoscopic kente cloth from Bonwire in Ashanti region, Akufo-Addo promised that his presidency would protect the public purse.

'State coffers are not spoils for the party that wins an election,' he told the crowd to resounding cheers, 'but resources for social and economic development. Money is to be made in the private sector, not the public.'

Business people in Accra say they expect a detailed audit of, at least, all the biggest construction and financing deals with a view to renegotiation if the terms are judged too detrimental to the country. Ken Ofori-Atta, the founder of the pan-African Databank Group, who has been managing the economic policy part of the transition, is likely to be formally appointed finance minister this week.

COTE D'IVOIREA mutiny and a reshuffle — all in Ouattara's week
With the news of a mutiny over soldiers' pay and conditions starting in the military base in Bouaké, the capital of the country's northern region, on 6 January, panic started spreading across the country. The following day, it had spread to Abidjan, the commercial capital.

With memories still fresh of street-fighting five years ago, Abidjan quickly shut down and everyone moved off the streets. Meanwhile, President Alassane Ouattara, who has been presiding over the shaky integration of regular army and militia forces, jetted off to Accra for the inauguration of his friend, Nana Akufo-Addo. As guest of honour at the event, Ouattara extolled the virtues of democracy but omitted to mention his local difficulties in Bouaké and Abidjan.

As soon as the Accra ceremony ended, Ouattara flew back to Abidjan to be greeted by Guillaume Soro, the highly ambitious National Assembly Speaker and former leader of the Forces nouvelles guerrillas. Despite the mistrust between them, the two men cobbled together a deal that quelled the mutiny within hours. Many say Soro is unsackable, despite allegations of serious human rights abuses against him, because of his influence over militia fighters across the country.
Perhaps a clue to the deal can be found in the statement Ouattara made today (9 January): that veteran Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan and his team of ministers are to resign immediately. The ostensible reason was the passing of the country's new constitution late last year.

Whatever government team is now formed will be a foretaste of the shape of Ivorian politics after Ouattara leaves office, and a sign of the role Soro will be playing in it.

KENYAOpposition fumes at new election laws
Although the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (Cord), led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, furiously opposes a new law that will allow manual – as well as electronic – voter registration and results transmission, some election experts think they may have picked the wrong target and are putting undue faith in the infallibility of electronic systems.

Odinga's ally in Cord, Moses Wetangula, says the new laws, pushed through parliament by the governing Jubilee party, would provide a 'solid foundation for rigging' presidential and parliamentary elections in August. Odinga says his party will organise nationwide protests if President Uhuru Kenyatta signs the bill into law.

However, political activists in Ghana and Nigeria insisted that the key to election scrutiny was comprehensive checks and verification of the system for electoral registration and results transmission and ensuring that opposition parties have full access to verified results sheets from every polling station.

An official with the victorious New Patriotic Party in Ghana pointed out that the party ran its own manual and electronic voter tabulation in parallel, as did many civic groups, as a check on the state's electoral commission. There was a brief moment of panic on the day after elections in Ghana when it emerged that the electoral commission's electronic system of results transmission had been hit by a cyber-attack.

SOUTH AFRICAZuma calms down the ANC, as his ex-wife prepares to succeed him
Dialling down the arrogance, President Jacob Zuma tried to rally the faithful at the African National Congress's 105th birthday rally at the Orlando football stadium in Soweto yesterday (8 January). It was a sharp change of tone from a man who once said the ANC would rule 'until Jesus comes'.

The ANC, racked by factionalism, corruption and challenges to the 74-year-old Zuma's leadership, faces a demanding year, leading up to its elective conference in December. Zuma told the crowd, 'Our people have told us that we come across as too busy fighting one another and do not pay sufficient attention to their needs.'

Big political battles are playing out behind the scenes, with two undeclared candidates — Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and outgoing Chairwoman of the African Union Commission and Jacob Zuma's ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — vying for the job of ANC president. Also over the weekend, Dlamini-Zuma got a boost from the ANC Women's League which is backing her for the top ANC job.