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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 11th June 2018

ZIMBABWE: Opposition promises upturn and economic reforms poll points to tightening race

Patrick Smith

We start with the fast-moving developments in Zimbabwe's national elections due on 30 July, followed by a report on the non-elections in Congo-Kinshasa and mounting opposition frustration. In South Africa, ex-President Zuma has suffered reverses in his attempt to organise a fightback against his prosecution for corruption and in Bamako, the opposition is taking to the streets ahead of the 29 July elections.

ZIMBABWE: Opposition promises upturn and economic reforms poll points to tightening race
Election campaigning will step up several gears this week with all the main parties holding big rallies across the country and civil society organisations demanding far more transparency from the electoral commission.

Last week, street protests and party rallies were followed by the launch of a Movement for Democratic Change manifesto pledging tax cuts, a push for debt relief, more social spending and fixing the deepening chaos around the country's virtual currency, the dollar bond note. Like the ruling ZANU-PF, opposition speakers have skirted around the many tough measures being demanded by international financial institutions in return for opening negotiations on restructuring the country's estimated US$10 billion foreign debt.

The MDC's commitment to joining the rand zone – the Southern African Monetary Union – could stabilise the chaotic currency situation but it would carry a heavy price tag. As much as $8 bn. of Zimbabwe's government liabilities would have to be repackaged for the domestic bond market. It would also tie Zimbabwe much closer into South Africa's political orbit, something that more nationalist politicians in Harare have resisted.

Ultimately, the election will not be decided on such policy arcana. The MDC's promises to cut taxes and boost spending on health (dubbed Chinamasa-care) and education are likely to have more effect, if believed. If the size of crowds is a measure of voting intentions, the MDC's position has improved markedly over the last two months. For most of that time, ZANU-PF was not in the game, relying on giant full-colour posters of President Emmerson Mnangagwa on billboards in every big town. Pundits in Harare are talking about a result that's too close to call; some insist the only option will be a power-sharing government.

There are still plenty of unknowns, not least the lack of action by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to address concerns on key issues like the transparency of the electoral register and the production and auditing of the ballot papers.

The first independent opinion poll in Zimbabwe this year, by Afrobarometer, also suggests the electoral race is tightening. First, a clear majority of respondents – around 60% – said the country was heading in the wrong direction. This did not, however, imply that the opposition parties had won the unbridled confidence of the people. Some 42% said they would vote ZANU-PF, an increase of 4% since the last poll in July 2017, and 30% – that's 14% more than last year – said they would vote for the opposition MDC-T, whose presidential candidate is Nelson Chamisa. Some 7% said they did not know yet and 19% refused to answer.

Afrobarometer's responses suggest that both the major parties and their candidates – Mnangagwa and Chamisa – are increasing their support but that backing for the opposition is growing faster than it is for ZANU-PF. Afrobarometer is due to publish its next opinion poll in a month's time, just weeks ahead of the elections, set for 30 July.

CONGO-KINSHASA: Katumbi campaigns by video-link as political and security crises weaken Kabila
As the political fight heats up ahead of presidential elections, formally due in December, opposition politicians face mounting obstacles. On Saturday (9 June), thousands of opposition supporters gathered in Kinshasa to watch a speech by opposition leader Moïse Katumbi over a video-link from his base in South Africa.

Katumbi pledged to return to Congo to join forces with the other main opposition leader Félix Tshisekedi. An opinion poll in March said that 24% of those interviewed would back Katumbi for the presidency and 13% would back Tshisekedi. It also recorded 80% of the sample as opposed any attempt by President Kabila to extend his rule.

However, oppositionists face a moving target. There are new signs that Kabila is trying to engineer a constitutional change which would give him another term. This is despite the repeated insistence by the government that national elections will hold in December as scheduled. Further complicating the opposition's efforts is the quashing of the case against leading politician Jean-Pierre Bemba for war crimes at the International Criminal Court. This means that Bemba, who has considerable support in Western Congo, could launch his own campaign, likely to split the opposition vote, although he remains in custody for now.

SOUTH AFRICA: The ANC's conference in KwaZulu-Natal falls apart as ex-President Zuma's faction suffers another blow
The failure of the supporters of former President Jacob Zuma to organise a special elective congress in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal is a major blow to his cause. The plan was for Zuma supporters to take total control of the province, which has the most African National Congress members in the country, and to use it as the home base for the former president's fightback.

Top on Zuma's list is to get 16 anti-corruption charges against him over the US$6 billion arms deal in the 1990s dropped. His tactics are to mix legal pressure with politics. As his lawyers try to delay and rebut the prosecution case, Zuma goes over the head of the government to speak to his supporters. His opponents accuse him of trying to stir up dissent among Zulus against President Cyril Ramaphosa with a whispering campaign and threats to start a rival party.

MALI: As security and economic worries mount, the opposition turns up the heat on President Keïta a month before polling day
An attack on a government military base in the central town on Boni on Saturday (9 June) in which three soldiers and 13 armed militants were killed, reinforced concerns that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta's government has failed to get a grip on the deteriorating security situation. It could also put into question the preparations for national elections due on 29 July.

Although the Keïta government has signed a peace deal with militant Touareg groups in the far north, security conditions in central Mali have worsened in the past year, with militants attacking both West African and United Nations military installations.

A UN report said there had been 44 separate attacks between mid-March and the end of May, mainly in the centre of the country, claiming the lives of tens of civilians, soldiers and UN peacekeepers. There are fears that the government may use security concerns as a pretext to shut down voting in some opposition strongholds.

On 8 June, thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets of Bamako to demand free and transparent elections. This is the second time in a week that the opposition has been able to mobilise in the capital. The first attempt was broken up by riot police a week earlier.

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