President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has barely five months to save his 17-year regime from a cataclysmic ending. According to the 31 December 2016 all-inclusive political agreement, Kabila should organise elections and hand over power.
But in a recent interview, Kabila said he wasn’t going to “promise anything” on when he would leave office. This stand is in violation of the political agreement brokered by the Conférence Episcopale Nationale du Congo (CENCO).
The agreement sets clear terms for Kabila’s exit. His second presidential term ended on 19 December 2016. The agreement allowed him an extension of one year on condition that he would neither seek a third term, nor attempt to amend the constitution to remain in power beyond December 2017.
But Kabila has not implemented the reforms that would pave way for an election. In addition, the country’s national elections commission shows no momentum. The country’s national elections commissioner, Corneille Nangaa, stated recently that presidential elections would probably not take place this year because of the conflict in the Kasai region and the fact that there isn’t a comprehensive electoral register.
The opposition called Nangaa’s statement a declaration of war.
Read together, the president’s unwillingness to give a clear indication that he will step down, and Nangaa’s projection that there might not be a 2017 election, point towards a well orchestrated plan to delay the vote.
This has deeply polarised the country which is on the brink of increased violence. With just five months before Kabila’s one-year grace period expires, a number of warning bells have gone off from various corners of the globe.
Even before the expiry of his constitutional mandate in 2016 Kabila employed various strategies to prolong his stay in power. His game plan dates back to early 2011 when he amended the constitution to establish a single-round, simple-majority election system.
Since then he has made numerous other attempts to manipulate the system to his advantage. Three stand out.
In January 2015, the National Assembly passed a law that called for a national census as a precursor to national elections. The opposition parties and the public saw this as a ploy to enable Kabila to stay in power indefinitely – a national census exercise had the potential to go on for years.
After mass demonstrations across the country the senate was forced to renounce the move.
The second attempt came in May 2016 when the DRC’s constitutional court ruled that if the election did not take place by the end of his second term, Kabila could stay in office until a new president was elected. This ruling exploited a constitutional loophole which states that,
“ …if for whatever reason, there is not a new president or a president-elect in place at the time when the current president’s term ends, then the sitting president stays in place, until there is a new president elect.”
The court ruling triggered mass demonstrations particularly in the capital Kinshasa.
In a third attempt, Kabila set out to placate the opposition and to convince them that organising an election within the required time frame would be impractical. In November 2015 he announced that the country would engage in national, all inclusive political dialogue bringing together the opposition, civil society and religious groups.
He highlighted five key areas of discussion. They included creating a credible voters roll, agreeing on the election calendar, securing the election process, financing the poll, and the role of international partners in the elections.
Many in the country were sceptical about Kabila’s proposal and by June 2016 it hadn’t gained support. This was despite the African Union appointing Edem Kodjo to mediate the process.
A MONUSCO (the United Nations Mission in the Congo) report stated that the main opposition groupings – Dynamique de l’opposition, and the Groupe des sept (G7) - were describing the call for dialogue as a ‘trap’ set by Kabila.
Kodjo’s facilitation finally culminated in a political agreement between Kabila’s coalition and the Union pour la Nation Congolaise, an opposition party led by Vital Kamerhe. Among other controversial decisions, the agreement stipulated that the current president would remain in power until elections were held and his successor assumed office, in line with the May 2016 constitutional court ruling.
The rest of the opposition, which had boycotted Kodjos’s mediation, denounced the AU-led agreement. The effect was to split the country in two.
In an effort to break the impasse, a mediation led by CENCO organised consultations between the signatories and non-signatories to the AU-led agreement leading to the all inclusive political agreement of 31 December 2016. As mentioned above, Kabila seems to be ignoring its implementation.
The UN has warned that the political impasse, rising insecurity across the country, and the worsening human rights and humanitarian situation could easily plunge the country into total chaos. In particular, it has pointed to the ongoing inter-ethnic violence in the Kasai region.
The world body has called for a successful political transition underpinned by free, fair and inclusive elections.
The UK has also cautioned that unless Kabila holds elections within the agreed time lines, the political uncertainty and instability in Kinshasa will spread across the country.
And the UN Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix, has also warned that there’s a risk that the gains of the last 17 years will be reversed if Kabila fails to arrange a successful transition.
A change of heart by Kabila could see him go down in history as the first Congolese president to hand over power democratically. The decisions he makes in the next five months will determine whether his 17-year rule will be worthy a legacy.
It’s been nearly two decades since the idea of a single currency for West Africa was first mooted. Yet the sub-region is still far from having a common legal tender. What is ordinarily a good idea seems to have fizzled into a fantasy.
Now, the story is that the single currency has been scheduled for 2020. But there is scepticism about the prospects of this coming to pass, especially at a time when economic blocks like the European Union are struggling. The decision to create a single monetary zone for West Africa was reached by Heads of State of the 15 member countries at a summit of the Economic Community of West African States, the region’s economic commission, in Lome, Togo in 1999.
At the time, a currency union of Francophone West African States already existed to facilitate economic integration among countries which use the CFA Franc (courtesy of the Communauté Financière Africaine, or the African Financial Community) as their currency.
To speed up the macroeconomic convergence necessary for a single currency across the entire sub-region, six Anglophone Heads of State met in Accra Ghana in 2000 and agreed to create a second monetary zone for the Anglophone countries, with the ultimate aim of merging with the Francophone countries. The aim was to create a single and harmonised monetary union for all of West Africa by 2004.
The convergence criteria the Economic Community of West African States set for its member countries seem to be the bane of the single currency project. While the criteria are essential, they are also very high bars to scale for the countries concerned.
The hurdles to overcome
To implement the single currency, the regional economic body set some conditions.
First, it requires all countries to achieve a single digit inflation of 5% or less, which is a difficult task. In Ghana, data shows that the average yearly inflation between 2000 and 2016 was 16.92%, which is far from a single digit. Nigeria, the largest economy in the region, recorded an average inflation of 11.92% between 2003 and 2016, a rate which far exceeds 5%.
Moreover, West African countries are net importers, even of food. Nigeria, for instance, spends USD$6.5 billion annually on food imports. This sad situation compounds the inflation problem, which is made even worse by the region’s unfavourable exchange rates.
Second, the regional economic body requires all member countries to achieve budget deficit to GDP ratios of 4% or lower before the single currency is launched. In other words, budget shortfalls should be 4% or less of the total market value of all goods and services produced in the respective member countries. It will take a miracle for this to happen by 2020, three years from now.
How can Ghana, whose total debt to GDP stood at 73.3% in 2016, be expected to attain this ratio? How about Gambia whose public debt stood at 108% of GDP in 2015? Even Nigeria, which has one of the lowest debt to GDP ratio in West Africa, is far from the milestone. Essentially, budget deficits have soared and governments will continue to borrow to finance public expenditure.
If the convergence criteria are not revised to reflect the real macroeconomic situation in the sub-region, the single currency dream will remain work-in-progress for the unforeseeable future. This is because economic growth in the sub-region is slow, poverty is rife and the fundamentals for integration are far from realisation.
Is a single currency even necessary?
A single currency could help address West Africa’s monetary problems, such as the lack of independence of central banks and non-convertibility of some currencies. Ultimately, a single currency and its associated regional institutions could also boost investor confidence and promote trade within the sub-region.
But sadly, Africa does not trade with itself. Overseas trade represents 80% of total trade on the continent. Trade between African countries accounts for a woeful 10%, compared to 40% and 60% between North American and European countries respectively.
The story is not different for West Africa where trade between countries is extremely low. The sub-region’s largest partner, the EU, accounts for 37.8% of total trade. Meanwhile Nigeria, which has the largest economy in the sub-region, exported only 2.3% and imported less than 0.5% from other West African countries in 2010. Has the trend since changed? No.
In the current circumstances, the necessity of a single currency is untenable if trade is the main motivation, except the regional commission is hoping West Africa will trade more with itself or attract more investors after the launch.
Loss of monetary sovereignty
Launching a single currency will also require creating and empowering new regional institutions, such as the West African Central Bank, to manage or supervise monetary policy for the member countries.
The regional commission has made it clear that it’s committed to do what’s necessary to achieve its goal, but what remains to be tested is whether this commitment is real or rhetorical. The search for wealth drives African politics. Hence it will be interesting to see how politicians react when they lose sovereignty over the management of one of the major things that draws them into politics – money.
Nigeria is expected to play a catalyst role in the single currency project, but it’s also one of the most corrupt countries in Africa. In fact, nine of the 15 member countries of the sub-region ranked between 101st and 168th in the 2016 corruption index, out of a total of 176 countries.
To some extent, a single currency and a regional central bank will reduce corruption in the individual countries. The big question is, will the politicians’ greed allow this to happen? Even if the single currency is successfully implemented in 2020, spectators should not be surprised by any chaos or renunciation of earlier political pledges when the reality starts to kick in.