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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 6th December 2017

ZIMBABWE: President Mnangagwa to announce policy changes after swearing in cabinet of loyalists

Patrick Smith

We start in Harare where the new cabinet and its policies are coming under scrutiny. To the south, the contest for the leadership of the African National Congress is heating up with Cyril Ramaphosa in the lead, for now. And in Nigeria, veteran politician Atiku Abubakar is joining the presidential race with all guns blazing, and Kenyan oppositionists are accusing the Kenyatta government of reverting to the tactics of the one-party state.

ZIMBABWE: President Mnangagwa to announce policy changes after swearing in cabinet of loyalistsThis week, new President Emmerson Mnangagwa will offer more detail about his strategy for an emergency rescue of Zimbabwe's ailing economy. Top priority will be boosting the country's foreign reserves to shore up the monetary system – a complex and dysfunctional mix of United States dollars, South African rand, state-backed bond notes and 'virtual money'.

In the wake of Robert Mugabe's resignation, some countries and financial institutions are offering to reopen discussions on bridging finance to allow Zimbabwe to repay its arrears to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Patrick Chinamasa, the new finance minister, started those negotiations in league with Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya but his allies complained that he was being stymied by the Mugabe camp.

Bankers in Harare were highly sceptical about the plan, but they say that the Mnangagwa takeover could win new backing for an arrears deal from Western states. They cite a vague promise from British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to offer a 'bridging loan' if the new government passes some unspecified democratic tests.

We hear there has already been an offer of support from Beijing, which sent its deputy Foreign Minister Chen Xiadong to see Mnangagwa last week. That signal seems to have encouraged states such as Britain and France to talk up their own role. Officials from both countries have told our correspondent that they do not see the shape of Mnangagwa's cabinet – three ruling party military officers–as a deal-breaker.

SOUTH AFRICA: Winning in the provinces, Ramaphosa edges ahead in ANC leadership battleA week ahead of the conference which picks the new ANC leader, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has stolen a march on rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma with backing from 1,862 party branches against her 1,309, a strong but far from unbeatable position.

The results will depend first on whether all the provincial delegates to the conference vote as they have promised. The high stakes – which could affect the fate of President Jacob Zuma, his myriad allies and his favoured projects – mean they will come under heavy pressure. One insider suggested that as many as a quarter of the delegates might switch sides at the conference.

The other factor is the 10% of votes from the ANC's affiliated organisations, such as its Youth and Women's Leagues and the veterans' organisation. Dlamini-Zuma is reckoned to have almost unanimous backing from the first two, with Ramaphosa being supported by the veterans. Meanwhile, the threat of the conference being postponed has receded. Backers of the two main candidates are confident there will be a final decision next week.

NIGERIA: Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar joins opposition to run against President Buhari in the 2019 electionsIf the opening salvos of the next presidential election campaign are an indication, it will be a no-holds-barred contest. A day ahead of announcing his return to the People's Democratic Party on 3 December, Atiku Abubakar launched an attack on President Muhammadu Buhari, accusing him of 'religious extremism'. He claimed that Buhari had been barred from entering the United States for 15 years because of his theological views, which the president immediately denied.

This attack follows claims from the governing All Progressives' Congress that Atiku has been embroiled in corruption, including a scandal that snagged US Congressman William J Jefferson, who was found by the FBI to have hidden US$90,000 his freezer.

Although Atiku's name was never mentioned in court, his opponents claim that Jefferson had intended to use the cash to bribe him. Atiku was Vice-President in President Olusegun Obasanjo's government at the time. The government's anti-corruption agencies have been investigating Atiku's business affairs, particularly his company Intels, for several months.

With Buhari's support in northern Nigeria remaining strong, Atiku is hoping to win substantial support in the Middle Belt and the south, where criticism of the President and governing party are growing. If Atiku were able to peel off some senior figures in the APC, his campaign could represent a serious threat.

But already, two key figures – Senate President Bukola Saraki from Kwara in the Middle Belt and Bola Tinubu from Lagos in the south-west – have pledged themselves to Buhari. Both men, however, would be among the top candidates to succeed Buhari if he decided not to run for re-election after all.

KENYA: Opposition leader due to inaugurate 'people's assembly' as militants claims over 200 killed by police in election clashesOpposition activists say the arrest over the weekend of David Ndii, top opposition strategist, and several other activists shows the government's determination to shut down their plans for a 'people's assembly'. The assembly, headed by opposition leader Raila Odinga is due to be launched on 12 December.

Opposition campaigners also claim that at least 215 Kenyans have been killed by 'trigger-happy' police in street clashes since the presidential elections in August.

Ndii was the chairman of the steering committee to organise the 'people's assembly', which is to campaign for reform of the electoral laws. Odinga and his National Super Alliance (NASA) have rejected the presidential elections of August and October, claiming widespread fraud and mismanagement. Ndii was released on 4 December on police bail but is still said to be facing charges. Civic activists have lambasted police tactics, saying that they represent a return to the days of one-party rule.


GHANA: Akufo-Addo wins wide backing for aid critique
'Beyond aid' campaign launched in Accra wins growing support after meeting President Emmanuel Macron

MOROCCO/SOUTH AFRICA: Pretoria and Rabat to re-establish diplomatic ties
President Zuma's deal with Morocco suggests a cut in historic support for Polisario in the Western Sahara

EGYPT: Wobbles over next year's presidential election
Former premier Ahmed Shafik might still change his mind again and run against President Abdel Fattah el Sisi for the presidency next year