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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 31st July 2018

ZIMBABWE: Both sides claim victory in elections after Mugabe attacks Mnangagwa and endorses oppositionist Chamisa

Patrick Smith

This week, it's votes galore – national elections in Zimbabwe and Mali, and a constitutional referendum in the Comoros. All of them are high-stakes votes whose effects will reverberate beyond national boundaries. And as the debt crisis deepens in Zambia, the government is looking for help from Turkey and China.

ZIMBABWE: Both sides claim victory in elections after Mugabe attacks Mnangagwa and endorses oppositionist Chamisa
A last-minute intervention by ousted President Robert Mugabe in the already-fraught national elections might just help the opposition Movement for Democratic Change but big questions remain about the security of the vote-counting and communication of results after the polls closed yesterday (30 July).

The United States' former ambassador to Harare, Johnnie Carson, who is leading a team of election observers, has already raised alarms about the custody of the ballots and the lack of an independent audit of the electoral register.

Leading MDC politician Tendai Biti said his party would make the country ungovernable if the electoral commission announced a rigged result. Results are due to be announced on 4 August, but civic groups reckon they will have a clear picture later on today (31 July).

Mugabe launched his broadside against the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and its presidential candidate, Emmerson Mnangagwa, at a meandering two-hour press conference on Sunday (29 July).

'I must say very clearly that I cannot vote for those that have tormented me,' he told journalists, accusing Mnangagwa and allies of organising a coup against him last November, and then mistreating his family.

When pressed on how he would vote, Mugabe replied with a cursory wave of the hand: 'What is left? It is only Chamisa… He seems to be doing well and if he's elected I wish him well.' That endorsement is a leap for Mugabe after 18 years of hostility to the MDC.

Although Mugabe's critique of Mnangagwa's leadership was overwhelmingly personal, it could further exacerbate divisions and tensions within the ruling party. Some suggest that party supporters might vote for ZANU-PF parliamentary candidates but abstain in the presidential vote.

Mugabe's intervention was enough to prompt Mnangagwa to issue a statement that a vote for Chamisa would now be a vote for Mugabe. In turn Chamisa held a press conference arguing that all support for his party was welcome, from whatever source. Following those responses, the electoral commission has said that two candidates have breached electoral law, apparently referring to the statements by Mnangagwa and Chamisa on 29 July, the day after campaigning formally closed.

MALI: Incumbent Keïta tipped to win second term despite sporadic turnout and terror attacks on polling day
With a slick, well-funded campaign and raising the spectre of worsening security should he lose power, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is reckoned by Bamako's political insiders to be set for victory over his main rival, Soumaïla Cissé. But most predict that Keïta's winning margin will be much lower than in the 2013 elections.

Back then, Keïta campaigned as a guarantor of national security, having brought in regional and French troops to help the national army deal with attacks from secessionist groups and Islamist militants. Those claims have worn thin and violence persists across the central and northern regions of the country, despite a peace deal signed with Tuareg groups in 2015.

Two factors could upset Keïta's calculations: the electoral irregularities cited by Cissé and another leading oppositionist, the astrophysicist Cheick Modibo Diarra. And many younger Malians, unimpressed by Keïta's economic management and failure to cut back corruption, have joined the opposition campaign known as 'Father must quit' aimed squarely at 73-year-old incumbent.

COMOROS: Opposition protest against referendum which could give President Assoumani another decade in power
The third national poll this week in Africa could prove to be its most contentious, drawing in regional and pan-African organisations. The referendum on 30 July held across the three islands in the Indian Ocean that make up the Comoros is an attempt by President Azali Assoumani and his supporters to change the constitution, allowing him another 10 years in power.

The changes would also end the system of rotating the presidency between the three islands which was intended to keep a balance between Grand Comore and the two smaller islands, Moheli and Anjouan. The opposition have been mobilising with a campaign headlined 'No to dictatorship', accusing Azali of unpicking the fragile power-sharing agreement of 2001 for personal gain.

Ahmed Ben Said Jaffar, one of Azali's Vice-Presidents, together with the governors of Anjouan and Grand Comore, has appealed to the African Union to intervene. In 2008, the continental body sent in troops to pre-empt a bid by secessionists in Anjouan to break away from the union with the other two islands. After an assassination attempt against the other Vice-President, and Azali's suspension of the Constitutional Court, the political climate is heating up.

ZAMBIA: Government looks to China and Turkey to refinance debt but no structural reforms are in prospect
Although President Edgar Lungu and Finance Minister Margaret Mwanakatwe deny that the government's untrammelled spending and borrowing have weakened the economy, they are stepping up efforts to refinance Zambia's Eurobonds, totalling US$3 billion. On 26 July, Moody's downgraded Zambia's long-term issuer ratings to CAA1 from B3.

Overall, the national debt is approaching US$10 bn., according to the International Monetary Fund. A bid by the Lungu government to cut a deal with the IMF fell apart a year ago. And the Fund criticised the government's borrowing plans, arguing they would exacerbate its debt problems.

The latest bid to refinance some of the debt follows a move in mid-June by Mwanakatwe to postpone indefinitely all loans in the pipeline, and cancel contracted loans amounting to about $5 bn. On 28 July, President Lungu announced after talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Lusaka that a Turkish company was interested in refinancing Zambia's $750 mn. Eurobond which falls due in 2022.

Zambia has two other Eurobonds: one for $1 bn. due in 2024 and one of $1.25 bn. due in 2027. The cost of servicing those bonds has risen, along with concerns about the government's lack of transparency on its total debt commitments. Along with the Turkish offer to refinance one of the Eurobonds, Mwanakatwe says that Beijing is also expected to help. A delegation from Lusaka is heading to Beijing next month.

ETHIOPIA: Mysterious death of the Millennium dam's chief engineer clouds Premier Abiy Ahmed's trip to the US and meetings with diaspora

NIGERIA: Two biggest parties claim victory in battle for defecting senators and governors ahead of 2019 elections

MALAWI: Citing government corruption, Vice-President Saulos Chilima is to run against President Peter wa Mutharika in 2019 polls