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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 24th July 2018

ZIMBABWE: Fresh row over voting rules as opinion polls point to tightening race

Patrick Smith

This week, Zimbabwe's elections due on 30 July top the political agenda, while business groups consider the commercial implications of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's reforms in Ethiopia. There was high drama in the Nigerian capital this morning (24 July) which began with police surrounding the house of Senate President Bukola Saraki, quickly followed by the defection of 15 Senators from the ruling party to the main opposition. Despite warnings about the debt build-up, African countries have welcomed China's Xi Jinping on his swing across the continent, ending with an international summit in South Africa of the BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

ZIMBABWE: Fresh row over voting rules as opinion polls point to tightening race
As the latest independent opinion poll puts President Emmerson Mnangagwa just 3% ahead of challenger Nelson Chamisa, opposition parties are stepping up their demands for more accountability in election management.

Chamisa's Movement for Democratic Change wants more amendments and time to review the voters lists and more oversight of the production and storage of the ballot papers. Without those reforms, Chamisa insists the elections will not be credible.

Both sides are calculating carefully. Mnangagwa has to do a basic minimum to ensure the elections are seen as legitimate by most foreign governments and international institutions. Chamisa, having taken maximum advantage on new freedoms to campaign, knows that a polls boycott could prove counter-productive.

ETHIOPIA/ERITREA: Companies head to Addis in search of commercial liberalisation after political reform pledges
After a month of political shocks – making peace with Eritrea, releasing political prisoners and advocating for a robust multi-party democracy – Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has started to unpick state monopolies in the economy.

Although Abiy had earlier promised to sell off state equity in the biggest companies, leaving significant stakes in only the most critical areas such as telecoms and aviation, business people were sceptical about how fast he would move. Now, teams of corporate scouts from Kenya's Safaricom and South Africa's MTN have arrived in Addis Ababa to test the potential for new ventures in the country, a market of 100 million people, the second biggest in Africa.

NIGERIA: Ruling party defections in the Senate threaten President Buhari's election strategy
At least 15 senators, led by Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and Dino Melaye, crossed the floor from the ruling All Progressives' Congress to the opposition People's Democratic Party this morning (24 July). The immediate impact of the move is to strip the APC of its majority in the Senate, rendering President Muhammadu Buhari vulnerable to an impeachment bid.

Hours earlier, police surrounded the house of Senate President Bukola Saraki saying they wanted to interview him about several murders in his home state of Kwara. Saraki, who avoided the police net, attended the Senate hearing, and announced that those attempting to keep the APC together by force would fail.

Saraki, who has presidential ambitions, looks likely to join the defectors. Of those who have already left the APC, Kwankwaso is also a contender in next year's elections.

CHINA/AFRICA: Xi Jingping strikes new economic bargain across Africa and boosts Beijing's standing on latest tour
Beijing's trade and finance strategy in Africa has made further progress over the past week after President Xi Jinping's stops in Senegal, Rwanda and South Africa.  The trip, in terms of Beijing's new commitments and growing market share, has been a success, although the United States and others warn African governments about the risks of piling up too much Chinese debt.

With South Africa due to host the BRICS summit this week, the group's New Development Bank announced on 24 July $300 million of energy projects in South Africa.


GHANA: Appointment of Jean Mensa as new election commission chief prompts opposition anger

SOUTH AFRICA: President Ramaphosa cautiously consolidates power with new ANC team in the provinces

CONGO-KINSHASA: Candidates for presidential election start to register as Jean-Pierre Bemba plans return but Kabila stays quiet