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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 27th November 2017

ZIMBABWE: President Mnangagwa to appoint new cabinet ahead of key ZANU-PF congress due on 12 December

Patrick Smith

We start in Harare where Zimbabweans wait for news about the people and policies of their new government. Their southern neighbour, South Africa, is being assailed by more bad economic news alongside deepening ructions in the governing party. Kenya's President Kenyatta is preparing for his inauguration tomorrow (28 November) as well as a tough opposition protest campaign against him. Ugandans are discussing whether their president could face the same fate as Robert Mugabe.

ZIMBABWE: President Mnangagwa to appoint new cabinet ahead of key ZANU-PF congress due on 12 DecemberThis week, newly-inaugurated President Emmerson Mnangagwa is to set out more details about his plans to revive the economy and to appoint the ministers to do that. Having told the packed sports stadium in Harare last Friday (24 November) that he has to 'hit the ground running' he will probably announce most of the new cabinet this week.

Although opposition politicians, business people and diplomats have been urging him to appoint a broad-based transitional team which would draw on talents from outside the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, sources inside the ruling party suggest this is unlikely. Mnangagwa has confirmed that he wants to go ahead with national elections next August which will give his new government just six months to boost the economy.

So, most attention is focusing on the new finance minister, whose job it will be to restart talks on the country's debt impasse and tackle the chronic shortage of foreign exchange. The new minister also needs to reopen discussions on settling the arrears with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and bring in emergency funds to pay the public sector wage bill as well as boost agricultural and industrial production.

A strong contender would be Patrick Chinamasa, who led the discussions with international financial institutions as finance minister until President Mugabe sacked him in October. Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya is a strong ally of Mnangagwa's, as is Chinamasa, and he is likely to stay in his post.

Outside the party, opposition politicians such as Tendai Biti and Simba Makoni have done the job previously, and there is a corps of impressive technocrats in Harare's banking sector who know the current international payments crisis from the inside.

Other key posts will be the ministers of Justice, Defence, State Security, Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs. Some suggest that General Constantino Chiwenga, the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces that put Mugabe under house arrest, could move across into civilian politics. That might put him in the running for Defence Minister. He and Mnangagwa, seen as the architects of Mugabe's exit, will want to consolidate control over the armed forces and security services in the coming weeks.

The choice of Justice Minister will send a signal on the nature of Mnangagwa's promised new democracy. The police and security services have already been criticised for their harsh treatment of figures such Ignatius Chombo, Mugabe's finance minister, who has been charged with corruption after ten days in custody.

SOUTH AFRICA: Pressure mounts on Zuma government from more ratings downgrades despite promises to cut state spendingWith just under three weeks before the African National Congress elects its new leader, President Jacob Zuma's government has to contend with the sharply rising cost of servicing the country's debts. Local economists project the national debt will balloon to 3.4 trillion rand (US$247 billion), or about 60% of gross domestic product, by 2020. Yet there has been little debate during the ANC's leadership contest about which of the leading candidates – Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zweli Mkhize, Cyril Ramaphosa or Lindiwe Sisulu – might be best-placed to manage the country's deepening economic crisis.

Latest verdicts by the international ratings agencies raise big questions about the role of the 'presidential fiscal committee' which can override budgetary decisions by the treasury team at the Ministry of Finance. Although the treasury team has announced it will raise some R40 bn. by 2019 through higher taxes and cuts in state spending, recent policy announcements from the presidency on nuclear power and tertiary education imply much bigger budgets over the next two years.

An announcement by S&P Global Ratings last Saturday (25 November) cutting its assessment of South Africa's local currency to junk status, and taking down its foreign currency debt one grade could trigger more capital outflows. It will certainly raise borrowing costs for the government as it searches for funds to finance the widening budget deficit.

S&P strongly criticised government policies, arguing that they were holding back growth and undermining international competitiveness. Moody's ratings agency is keeping its assessments on South Africa's local and foreign currency debt on its lowest investment grade but is putting both of them on review for a possible downgrade in the coming months.

KENYA: Uhuru Kenyatta's second presidential inauguration due on 28 November but the opposition is due to step up protestsOne conspicuous absence from Uhuru Kenyatta's inauguration tomorrow (28 November) for a second presidential term will be opposition leader Raila Odinga and the senior officials of the National Super Alliance (NASA). Odinga has rejected Kenyatta's victory with 98% of votes cast in the re-run presidential election as 'a sham' as the opposition had called for a massive boycott of the vote and turnout sank. NASA has also pledged to organise a People's Assembly as a rival to the new government next month.

This follows street protests and clashes between police and oppositionists in which over ten lives have been lost in the past week. Musalia Mudavadi, a former finance minister and Odinga's ally, said the People's Assemblies would discuss the country's 'political destiny' and the abuse of citizens' rights by the governments.

The plan is to get the opposition-supporting counties – at least twelve county governors have agreed – to organise the assemblies, which Kenyatta's government has condemned as illegal. NASA and its allies are also organising economic boycotts of Safaricom and Brookside Dairies, in which the Kenyatta family has an equity stake, as part of their protest against the conduct of the election.

UGANDA: The 'Mugabe effect' looms over Kampala as President Museveni seeks to extend his term beyond 2021Supporters of President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 31 years, are energetically dismissing comparisons with Zimbabwe, where the military put President Mugabe under house arrest two weeks ago. Despite President Museveni's long stint in power, there are some critical differences: he is almost two decades younger than Mugabe and in better health and has a much stronger grip over his soldiers.

Yet the parallels remain. Museveni's reluctance to organise or even discuss a succession is the most obvious. His supporters are attempting to change the constitution to allow a presidential candidate over 75 to contest; Museveni will be 77 when the next elections are due in 2021.

More immediate are Uganda's economic problems, which have prompted increasing discontent with the government. The national economy has been hit badly by the crisis in South Sudan, Uganda's biggest market in the region, but also by delays on big road and rail projects, as well as the postponement of oil production which is frustrating several international investors.

EGYPT: Terror attack on North Sinai mosque killing over 300 triggers reprisals against Islamic State militants and others Islamist groups
NIGERIA: Over-subscribed $3 billion bond sale boosts borrowing and next stage of the Buhari government's expansion plan
EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Obiang government to launch s $2 billion refinery project with Venezuela's state oil company in January