Reports from Africa Confidential Vol 63 | No 9

Abiy Ahmed and Issayas Afewerki, July 2018. Pic: Tiksa Negeri / REUTERS / Alamy

Under international pressure, the federal government promised a truce in Tigray but is now losing ground to the Oromo insurgency

 Thursday 28th April 2022Vol 63 No 9
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Last weekend the IMF and World Bank wound up their Spring Meetings in Washington DC warning of the spiralling cost of fuel and fertilisers for farmers across Africa. They also urged state and commercial creditors to act on the looming international payments crisis.

The economic downturn has started in many countries. Less knowable is how it will affect this year’s elections. In this edition you’ll find reports from the campaign trails in Angola and Kenya which go to the polls in August.

You’ll also find analysis of how Zambia’s President Hichilema is trying to chart a path out of indebtedness and political dysfunction. Our South African correspondent assesses how President Ramaphosa’s government might benefit from stronger commodity prices triggered by Russia’s war.

Also see our reports from the front lines in Ethiopia on the human and economic consequences of the conflicts there which rumble despite declarations of a truce by two of the protagonists.

Yours sincerely,

Patrick Smith

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Alarm grows over vote-rigging plans
Vladimir Putin and João Lourenço at the Kremlin, April 2019. Pic: Mikhail Metzel / TASS / Alamy

Never has the ruling party faced as powerful an opposition as in the election due in August. But officials hope an oil bonanza will boost the party war chest

Falling living standards, mass unemployment and hunger mean the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) and its leader, President João Lourenço, face the first realistic chance since independence of losing an election.

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Hichilema accused of 'losing focus’
Hakainde Hichilema. Pic: Public domain

The President's public appearances are criticised for fighting yesterday's battles instead of concentrating on rocketing prices and the debt burden

President Hakainde Hichilema gave a long and emotional press conference on 25 April further cataloguing his persecution by the previous government – which many critics believe irrelevant to the current political situation – while making vague promises about his government's programme.

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War offers Ramaphosa more options
Palladium mining equipment. Pic: Sunshine Seeds /

African mining and energy companies move into new markets and try to steer around sanctions on Russia

Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and western sanctions complicate strategy for some South African mining companies but other African companies are benefiting as Europe scrambles for alternative sources of energy and minerals.

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Refugee deal faces delays as legal and political challenges grow
Boris Johnson and Paul Kagame, 2018. Pic:Aaron Chown/Reuters/ Alamy

The arrangement under which London could send asylum-seekers to Kigali would be politically useful for both countries' leaders

Britain's plan to send asylum-seekers who cross the English Channel to Rwanda was due to start next month but faces serious legal challenges which could delay its introduction for many months, perhaps indefinitely. It has been condemned by politicians of all parties, retired senior civil servants and several religious leaders.

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The junta's revolving door – Kaboré released and Compaoré convicted
Thomas Sankara supporters gather after Blaise Compaoré is convicted of complicity in his murder, Ouagadougou, 6 April 2022. Pic: Anne Mimault/Reuters/Alamy

Pierre-Henri Damiba's military regime is managing the politics better than its war against the insurgents

Of the three military regimes in West Africa under pressure to hand over to civilians, Burkina Faso's junta led by Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba is proving the most adept at navigating national and regional politics.

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Navigating through the fog of cold war
Pic: oleksii /

Only one national cause defines policy in Algiers and Rabat – and it isn't Ukraine

For Algeria and its ally, the Polisario Front, as for their bitter rival Morocco, a 'national cause' remains their main preoccupation. For Algeria it is independence of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) under Polisario rule, in tandem with Algiers's strong support for Palestinian rights. For Morocco it is sovereignty over the former Spanish colony – as recognised in December 2020 by then United States President Donald Trump and not gainsaid by his successor Joe Biden, even if the Ukraine war is forcing a rethink.

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An Oromo rebellion constrains Abiy
Abiy Ahmed and Issayas Afewerki, July 2018. Pic: Tiksa Negeri / REUTERS / Alamy

Under international pressure, the federal government promised a truce in Tigray but is now losing ground to the Oromo insurgency

Just weeks after its 24 March announcement of an 'indefinite humanitarian truce' in the civil war in northern Ethiopia centred around the defiant Tigray region, the federal government declared another offensive against the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) in Oromia, the largest of Ethiopia's 11 semi-autonomous regional states.

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Insurgents take on the state on all fronts
Copyright © Africa Confidential 2022

Prime Minister Abiy’s plan for a unitary state and a modern economy is challenged by myriad local and regional rebellions

The mushrooming Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) insurgency is just one of many security challenges to the federal government in Addis Ababa that have spread since Abiy Ahmed took over as Prime Minister in 2018. Promising to make peace and modernise Ethiopia, Abiy won international plaudits, including a Nobel Prize.

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Rivals struggle to balance their tickets
Azimio La Umoja rally, Nairobi, March 2022. Pic: Thomas Mukoya / REUTERS / Alamy

The presidential candidates are agonising about their running mates as the deadline for nominations approaches

Coalition and power-sharing deals have been struck ahead of the 9 August presidential elections so the next question is the choice of presidential running mates, as the deadline nears for submitting candidates' names.

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The political class salute Mwai Kibaki, the last of the independence generation
Mwai Kibaki. Pic: DEMOSH (CC BY 2.0)

One of the region's most eminent economists, Kibaki stoked growth and cut debt but failed to rein in the corrupt and thuggish barons on all sides of the system

The rival presidential candidates Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga have heaped praise on former President Emilio Mwai Kibaki, who has died at 90. He was the last senior political figure in the country to have played a key role in the struggle for independence from Britain.

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Oil spills and theft spike as big oil goes offshore
Zainab Ahmed. Pic: @FinMinNigeria

Bureaucratic rivalries and vested interests are blocking efforts to hold companies and officials responsible for the ecological destruction of the Niger Delta

Nigeria should meet its OPEC quota, due to rise to 1.753 million barrels a day next month, in a matter of weeks after months of struggling to produce around 1.2m-1.3m b/d due to theft and sabotage. 'The security authorities have been doing a lot of work and we have seen the production numbers pick up …some of the wells that had to be shut in because of the criminality have now been opened,' finance minister Zainab Ahmed told Bloomberg News on the sidelines of the Spring Meetings of the IMF in Washington DC on 21 April.

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President Ramaphosa shifts back to market economics despite heavy political risks

ANC leaders push bold new plan to boost business role in state firms, energy transition and big infrastructure projects

Ahead of the African National Congress's policy conference slated for the middle of this year, its leaders are backing a radically pro-business plan to redraw the role of the state-owned enterprises such as Eskom, the power utility, and Transnet, its counterpart in transport.

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King coal makes its grand return

The energy transition plans agreed in Africa at last year's UN COP26 climate summit are on hold due to Russia's war

South Africa's coal exports to the European Union have increased tenfold so far this month compared to last year as European utilities ramp up purchases amid efforts to replace Russian volumes, according to vessel tracking data.

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Russia opens diplomatic front against the West for global food crisis

Moscow may block food exports to states opposing its war, blaming Western sanctions for rocketing wheat and grain prices

As the finance ministers and bank chiefs meet top officials from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank over the food and fuel crisis sweeping developing economies, Moscow is stepping up diplomatic pressure threatening to cut grain exports to 'unfriendly states'. That is, those supporting the United States position.

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Washington and Brussels edge back on Western Sahara

Recognising Algeria's power on gas supply, the US and the EU are rowing back on support for Morocco's plan for the disputed region

After tilting strongly in favour of Rabat's offer of 'limited autonomy' to the Western Sahara as an alternative to a UN-organised referendum, the United States and the European Union now say it is just one of several ways to resolve the four-decade-long dispute. And they both see the UN's involvement, of which Rabat is suspicious, is central to negotiating a solution.

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Financial institutions prepare over $500 billion of funding as IMF warns of 'crisis on top of a crisis'

War in Europe, broken supply chains and spiralling food and fuel prices slow post-pandemic recoveries in emerging markets

As their spring meetings get under way in Washington DC, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are putting together financing facilities worth over US$500 billion to help countries hardest hit by the pandemic and Moscow's war on Ukraine over the next two years.

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Experts and activists demand more generous vaccine waivers

Over a year after India and South Africa called for emergency measures, WTO members have proposed a plan to waive patents on COVID-19 vaccines

Pressure is building on President Cyril Ramaphosa to reject a compromise proposal offered by the United States and the European Union for a temporary waiver of intellectual property (IP) on Covid-19 vaccines.

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Fake passports unseat advisor
Carlos Vila Nova. Pic: ITU Pictures (CC BY 2.0)

President Carlos Vila Nova has been forced into an embarrassing climb over one of his appointees, raising questions about accountability and ethics at the heart of the government. On 9 April, returning from a three-day visit to Portugal, his first state visit after assuming office in October, Vila Nova was asked why he had hired Stephan Welk, a German national linked to passport fraud, as his special advisor for international relations on 27 January.

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Gunning for Khama
Seretse Khama Ian Khama.Pic: FB

The diplomatic rift between Botswana and South Africa is set to deepen after Gaborone charged its former President Ian Khama with illegally possessing arms with a messy extradition case in prospect. Well connected to South Africa's political and business class, Khama has been living there in self-imposed exile for the last five months.

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Muhoozi's coming out party
Pic: Muhoozi Kainerugaba FB

With the help of a high-level organising committee, General Muhoozi Kainerugaba marked his 48th birthday with a bash at Lugogo Cricket Oval in Kampala that amounted to a political coming out party, four years ahead of the next election. The lavish party, painstakingly choreographed down to carefully worded warnings about the traffic jams, supports the claim that Kainerugaba is being lined up to succeed his father, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. Star musician Intore Masamba and former Miss Rwanda Jolly Mutesi were among the guests.

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All in the family
Kofi Koduah Sarpong. Pic: GNPC FB

Few tears have been shed at the news that Kofi Koduah Sarpong has been retired after five years at the helm of the state oil firm, the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC). It comes as the Presidency circulates a memo imposing 30% cuts in budgets for ministries and state companies, reflecting the country's deepening financial pressures and debt burden.

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With bizarre timing, a report forecasting that private wealth in Africa will balloon by 38% to over US$3 trillion by 2031 has emerged as the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank warned that tens of millions would be thrown into poverty by roaring food and fuel prices. The report's authors, South Africa-based New World Wealth, concluded that patterns of hyper-accumulation by Africa's wealthiest matched other developing regions.

An important difference is that personal and corporate tax revenues in Africa lag behind levels in Asia and Latin America – partly because of over-generous fiscal codes and poor enforcement capacity. Africa's private wealth contrasts with the reality of hard-pressed state treasuries while rocketing prices force down living standards.

'A war in Europe, in Ukraine, translates into hunger in Africa,' IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in Washington DC after meeting finance ministers from around the world. At least 20 African economies are in debt distress or close to it. Interest rates hikes in the west are hitting Africa, pushing up the debt burden.

Of the 12 African states that export oil and gas, a handful will benefit from Europe's dash to find alternatives to Russian oil and gas. But those gains will be more than offset by wheat and grain shortages and disrupted supply chains. That underscores why the IMF is pushing on debt restructuring and raising taxes.

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