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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 9th May 2018

ZIMBABWE: On European tour, presidential contender Chamisa calls for mass mobilisation to ensure credible elections

Patrick Smith

We start with the Zimbabwe opposition's roadshow in Europe, which is likely to be followed by as a more discrete visit to London by Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari to see his doctor. Tunisia's leading Islamist party Ennahda has scored a win in local elections but it remains in coalition with the secularist Nidaa Tounes at national level. And Kenya has reinforced its relations enough with the World Bank and IMF to negotiate another $1 billion credit.

ZIMBABWE: On European tour, presidential contender Chamisa calls for mass mobilisation to ensure credible elections
In a barnstorming speech to the Chatham House think tank in London, Nelson Chamisa, presidential candidate for the opposition Movement of Democratic Change Alliance, said his supporters would organise massive street demonstrations if their conditions for free and fair elections were not met. So far, Chamisa says that President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government has not responded to requests for a meeting with opposition parties on the modalities of the elections.

Top of Chamisa's list was for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to open an international competitive tender for the printing of the ballot papers, and a guarantee of full accountability in the bidding and contract award process.

Although the elections are due between the last week of July and the last week of August, the ZEC is yet to release a timetable for its operations.  Most importantly, these would include publication of biometrically registered voters' roll, which is said to be running at around 5.4 million, a substantial increase on previous elections.

The MDC also wants an agreement to establish an 'infrastructure for peace in the elections', says Chamisa.

That should amount to a peace accord signed by all parties. Civic activists are raising concerns about 'low-level violence' and threats against voters although no one is predicting a repeat of the thuggery in the 2008 elections in which hundreds of opposition supporters were tortured and killed.

Although President Mnangagwa has said he would have no problem in handing over power to the opposition should they win, the military, which is a powerful force in the current government, has been silent on the issue.

After his week in Europe, Chamisa is due back in Zimbabwe at the weekend to preside over his biggest test for far as MDC leader – the management of the party's primary elections. Last week, ZANU-PF set the bar low with several disputed contests and claims that the central committee had been trying to impose candidates on dissident local branches.

Both Chamisa and former finance minister Tendai Biti, who is accompanying him on his European tour, insisted that the MDC's primaries would be better managed than their opponents'. Given their MDC Alliance is an amalgam of seven smaller parties, how they run the primaries will an important indicator of the strength of the party's organization. They could also affect their ability to reach out to the opposition groupings run by former ZANU-PF luminaries such as Joice Mujuru and Dumiso Dabengwa.

Chamisa and Biti acknowledged the party faced severe funding constraints but claimed there was a new wave of popular support, especially in the countryside where they claimed that ZANU-PF's grip had been slackening.

NIGERIA: Fresh concerns about President Buhari's health as he flies out for medical consultation in London
After spending a couple of weeks in Britain to attend the Commonwealth summit last month and to meet with senior officials from Royal Dutch Shell, President Muhammadu Buhari is to return to London to see his doctor.

The trip, which the Presidency says will last four days, has prompted fresh worries about Buhari's health following his extended absences from the country last year for treatment of undisclosed ailments. Whatever the facts about Buhari's health, critics say the Presidency's unwillingness to release any details about his ailments, let alone a prognosis, creates political uncertainty within the country at a time of growing regional insecurity.

On 1 May Boko Haram militants stepped up their suicide bombing campaign, attacking a mosque in Mubi in Adamawa State, killing 26 people, one of their deadliest attacks since the insurgency began a decade ago. Those attacks seem to have been launched by Abubakar Shekau's faction of Boko Haram which has consistently targeted mosques and market places, causing maximum civilian casualties.

Abu Musab al-Barnawi's faction of Boko Haram, an affiliate of Islamic State (Da'ish's) organisation in West Africa, is said to be extending its reach across the Lake Chad basin into Borno and Adamawa States.

Alongside the factions which grew out of Boko Haram, violent crime and communal fights are escalating in northern Nigeria and the Middle Belt. Intelligence sources are unclear about what relations they may have to Shekau's or al-Barnawi's insurgents. Some suggest that Boko Haram will try to exploit the spreading clashes between herders and farmers

Police blamed 'bandits' and cattle rustlers for an attack on Birnin-Gwari, Kaduna State on 6 May in which 45 people were killed. Whatever lies behind the killings, the attackers were well-armed and showed a high level of organisation. Cattle rustlers in the area have eluded capture by police or the government's special task forces for several years but they seem to be exploiting the wider insecurity in the region to step up their attacks.

TUNISIA: Islamist Ennahda resurgent in much-delayed local elections amid rising economic gripes
Seven years after protestors in launched what came to be known as the Arab Spring with the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia and the forcing out of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, economic and security conditions in both countries have deteriorated.

Although there is little hankering for the ancient regimes, opposition to the successor regimes is patchy and divided. The region's most significant Islamist grouping – the Muslim Brothers – is proscribed in Egypt, and most of its senior figures are in detention. But the Brothers' counterpart in Tunisia, Ennahda, has fared better, due to the canny leadership and rhetoric of its eminence grise Rachid Ghannouchi.

Arguing his party was committed to multi-party democracy – although its critics insist this is a tactical ploy disguising its theocratic intentions – Ghannouchi has steered the party into coalition with the secularist Nidaa Tounes party. Now Ennahda could emerge the strongest party according to early results the first local elections in the country since the ousting of Ben Ali.

Significantly for both Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda, most of their votes came from middle aged and elderly people. Young Tunisians – most affected by unemployment and inflation – stayed away from the polls. Even the promise of more devolved local government failed to inspire them to vote.

KENYA: World Bank offers Kenyatta government concessional US$1 billion as concerns rise about mounting debt
The economic balancing act – mixing opaque mega loans from Asia with cooperation with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund – is working for President Uhuru Kenyatta's government, at least in the short term.

After many difficult meetings between officials in the Jubilee government and IMF last year, over levels of state spending and indebtedness, the World Bank announced on 4 May that it was lending Kenya US$1 billion to develop infrastructure in the north of the country. This follows an earlier $1.4 bn credit for health, farming and transport in the region.

Relations between Nairobi and the Washington multinationals had frayed after it emerged that scheduled IMF disbursements had not been made last year triggering an embarrassing public row over whether the government's economic programme had veered off course.

This latest World Bank credit will be useful as it targets areas such as Turkana and Lamu where the government is pushing ahead with its oil production and pipeline plans. Announcing the credit, Bank officials point out that poverty levels in northern Kenya – running around 38% – are almost double the level in the rest of the country, especially the much more prosperous counties around Nairobi and the old central province.

The week ahead in very brief

SOUTH AFRICA/UNITED STATES: President Trump's demand for more loyalty to Washington in UN votes targets Pretoria

SUDAN: More cuts to diplomatic service as government plans to close 13 foreign missions and lay off officials in seven more

LIBYA/EUROPEAN UNION: Italy claims 80% drop in migrants' Mediterranean crossings after coastguards step up action