Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the ruling Zanu-PF hope a credible victory in the July 30 election will legitimise the power (both party and state) they gained from the “soft coup” that toppled his predecessor Robert Mugabe last November.
With victory, they say, the donors and dollars will flood in to the country they have resurrected from nearly two moribund decades. Zimbabwe is now “open for business” and will thrive. Zanu-PF’s resurrection will thus be complete.
But a new survey suggests Zanu-PF should stall any premature celebration plans. The latest one showed that, in the space of one month, Nelson Chamisa’s MDC-Alliance has closed the gap with Zanu-PF. The surveys are conducted by Afrobarometer, an independent research network that conducts public attitude surveys across Africa and its Zimbabwean partner, Mass Public Opinion Institute, a non-profit, non-governmental research organisation.
If the respondents were to cast their ballot now Mnangagwa would take 40% of the votes and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa would take 37%. The still undecided or not-saying potential voters are at 20%. Split that and you get a 50/47 race.
The numbers are very close indeed. If not a victory for the MDC-Alliance, this looks like a presidential runoff. The MDC-Allaince has a 49% to 26% lead in the cities and towns and in the countryside the figures are 30% for the opposition to Zanu-PF’s 48%. In parliament Zanu-PF would get 41% to the MDC-Alliance’s 36. This is a big change from May’s survey.
Given the MDC-Alliance momentum, the post-Mugabe Zanu-PF’s hopes of a resurrection may be dashed. A great deal hangs on both parties’ ability to manage this interregnum.
Big trade-offs will be negotiated, ranging from coalition governments, which the poll shows has the backing from 60% of respondents, to amnesties for the chief crooks and killers.
Striking deals might indeed lie at the centre of whether or not the election is a success. That’s because this election is about grabbing back the core of hardwon democracy from a military dominated regime. It’s about cleansing out generations of fear.
That is a hard task at any time. It’s harder still when it took a coup to retire its prime source.
A divided Zanu-PF
Mnangagwa has been spectacularly unsuccessful at winning past elections in his own constituencies, standing for parliament three times and losing twice.
The factions in Zanu-PF that squared up against one another prior to the coup - the Generation-40 group that supported Grace Mugabe for the party and state president and Lacoste, which supported Mnangagwa – are still battling along lines more ethnically drawn than ever. Some of the losers in the Generation-40 group have left the party to form the National Patriotic Front.
Although the perpetrators have not been found, the blast at Zanu-PF’s Bulawayo rally in late June that killed two people and only narrowly missed a whole stage of luminaries, could suggest that the party’s wounds have yet to heal.
And the soldiers are not of one mind.
If the military side of the somewhat shaky post-coup pact in Zanu-PF fears losing an election, and thus access to more of the wealth more power can bring, the free and fair dimensions of the electoral contest would be drastically diminished. Would a repeat of mid-2008’s post-electoral mayhem, when at least 170 people were killed and nearly 800 beaten or raped, ensue?
To make matters more complex, there are no guarantees that hungry and angry junior army officers would follow their seniors’ attempts to alter the peoples’ will.
Others argue that the two leaders need each other if the régime is going to deliver on promises of a clean election
And as George Charamba, Zimbabwe’s permanent secretary for information, put it:
This election is about restoring international re-engagement and legitimacy …. It must be flawless, it must be transparent, it must be free, it must be fair, it must meet international standards, it must be violence free and therefore it must be universally endorsed because it is an instrument of foreign policy … It’s about re-engagement and legitimacy; we are playing politics at a higher level.
This is a clarion call for a free and fair poll. If the election fails to meet these expectations and its results are tight, legitimacy could be maintained with carefully calculated deals. Perhaps the unity government widely expected during the coup could reappear.
A rising opposition
Chamisa and the MDC (the alliance is made up of seven parties, most having split from the late Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC), appear to be building on the momentum they seem to have gained by challenging the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s management of the contest. The alliance has challenged the commission’s neutrality and raised concerns over the accuracy of the voters’ roll.
Not all its allegations necessarily stand up to scrutiny. The 250,000 alleged ghosts may be a canard, but as Derek Matyszak, the Institute for Security Studies man in Harare, argues, the roll was not released in time for the primaries so none of the candidates are constitutionally valid.
Emboldened by the lack of police, thousands of protesters led by the MDC-Alliance marched to the commission’s headquarters on July 11, showing no fear.
If this impetus keeps building over the next week, a victory is conceivable. So is a presidential run-off. To be sure, the ruling party might win fairly, but the opposition will have to be convinced of that. The mode of politics for the next round should be peacemaking, not war.
Low bars, high stakes
The bars are low – ‘the west’, led in this case by the UK, seemed to be happy with the winners of the coup, perhaps hoping for a renewed Zanu-PF. Perfidious Albion (Treacherous England) could end its schizophrenic career in Zimbabwe with a whimper about the end of a liberal democratic dream. But the stakes are high for Zimbabweans: much higher than the reputation of a minor global power past its glory.
The people of Zimbabwe face a lot more than reputational damage: maybe the former colonial power will have a Plan B that helps more than hinders.
On 1 July 2018, South Africa, along with five other countries, became party to the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement (AfCFTA), joining the 44 existing signatories to the agreement.
AfCFTA is a treaty between consenting countries whereby a free trade area is constituted which allows member countries to conduct trade with each other without tariffs or other hindrances.
The African Union Summit that took place in July this year, saw South Africa, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Lesotho and Burundi take the total signatories to 49 of the 55 member states. However, there is still a long way to go for the AfCFTA to become a reality, as only six of the required 22 countries have ratified the agreement.
As early as January 2012, the African Union (AU) decided to adopt a free trade area covering the African continent, which they hoped to have in place by 2017. Fast track to March 2018, where a significant decision was taken towards the fulfilment of the AU's mandate of a continental free trade area - 44 countries indicated their commitment through signing the agreement in Kigali, Rwanda. Two further agreements were also presented at the Kigali Summit, namely the Kigali Declaration and the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community relating to the Free Movement of Persons, the Right to Residence and the Right to Establishment.
Two of Africa's leading economic powers, Nigeria and South Africa, however, did not sign the agreement in Kigali. Both countries had indicated support of the agreement before the Summit, however, the reasons for their reservations took two different routes.
Nigeria was largely considered as a supporter of the free trade area and was expected to play a major role during the negotiations at the Kigali Summit. However, uproar by local businesses within Nigeria led President Buhari to cancel his trip to Kigali in order to respond to complaints that their interests were not being accommodated.
At Kigali, South African President Ramaphosa expressed his country’s support for the agreement and through his signature on the Kigali Protocol, indicated South Africa’s commitment to signing in future. South Africa first had to review and consider the agreement in light of its Constitution, which requires that any international agreement be considered by legal advisors.
When he eventually did sign the agreement, President Ramaphosa said that it would create many opportunities and benefits for South Africa and moreover, would grow and diversify the South African economy through the reduction of inequality and unemployment. He indicated that South Africa’s position as a major supplier of goods and services to the continent would also be strengthened by the agreement.
Through the AfCFTA, South Africa is also expected to be benefit from an increase in foreign direct investment, a broader range of expertise and the possibility of lower governmental spending. This is because, through its implementation, there is the possibility of removal of subsidisation on local industry segments due to advantageous outcomes of the agreement. However, two disadvantages arising from the agreement could include increases in the outsourcing of jobs as a result of the significantly reduced tariffs and the possible degradation of natural resources.
The AfCFTA is expected to provide businesses across Africa with many opportunities and in so doing, it complies with Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want. Agenda 2063 is an AU goal aimed at socio-economic transformation. In addition, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) estimates that intra-African trade should increase by 52.3%, with the elimination of import tariffs. Currently, trading outside Africa is subject to lower tariffs than the 6.1% tariff imposed on trade within Africa. The scope of the changes AfCFTA will affect is relatively wide - businesses, traders and consumers in Africa will no longer be constrained by tariffs and mechanisms will be put in place to assist traders that are burdened by non-tariff barriers.
Further, extractive commodities including oil, minerals and metals, have traditionally been the continent’s leading source of exports, accounting for 76% of exports outside Africa. Due to the volatile nature of these extractive exports, financial assurance is not certain. It is hoped that AfCFTA will encourage a shift away from reliance on extractive exports towards more sustainable trade in Africa. Moreover, encouraging more labour intensive trade such as manufacturing and agricultural goods, will increase employment on the continent.
Currently, the Regional Economic Committees (RECs) are in place to oversee trading between the variety of regions. The implementation of the AfCFTA will not result in the disappearance of the RECs, instead they will be considered as the building blocks for the AfCFTA.
The AfCFTA will not only have an impact on the trade of goods and services in Africa, but through the implementation of Phase II, it will also see an extension of the disciplines covering investments, competitions and intellectual property. Negotiations for Phase II are expected to commence shortly.
It is without a doubt that the AfCFTA introduces a new landscape for trade within South Africa and Africa and it presents exciting prospects for trade, development and sustainability. It seeks to encompass all 55 member states, which make up a market of more than 1.2 billion people, with a combined GDP of more than US$ 3.4 trillion.
The agreement is set to greatly benefit the continent, improve intra-Africa trade, reduce unemployment, increase infrastructure and create a more competitive yet sustainable environment for trade. However, a number of steps still need to be completed for the agreement to fully take effect. An additional 16 countries are required to ratify the agreement into law. The agreement will come into force 30 days after the 22nd country has ratified the agreement.
- By Itumeleng Mukhovha, Associate, Corporate/M&A Practice, Baker McKenzie Johannesburg
The Nigerian government has announced that USD$322 million (£244 million) stolen by Nigeria’s former military ruler, Sani Abacha, has been returned by the Swiss authorities.
Abacha, an army general who was head of state from 1993 until his death in 1998, is suspected to have embezzled between USD$3 to 5 billion of public money.
Plans have also been announced to distribute the recovered loot to around 300,000 households in 19 of Nigeria’s 36 states. Under the plan each household would get around USD$14 a month. The handouts would be paid to poor Nigerians for about six years.
Roberto Balzaretti, one of the Swiss officials involved in the negotiations with Nigeria, reported that there would be strict conditions attached to the transfer of the money back to Nigeria. Nigeria has signed a memorandum of understanding with Switzerland and the World Bank agreeing the modalities for the return of the stolen funds.
The Nigerian government has opted for cash payments to be made to help poor families as part of the Nigeria National Social Safety Net Program. The money is to be paid in instalments and in small amounts under the supervision of the World Bank, which will also conduct regular audits. If the first instalment is not properly accounted for, subsequent payments will be halted. This is to prevent the funds from being stolen again.
But there are fears that this is not the best way to use the recovered funds and that the “distribution” is just a ruse to influence the Nigerian elections next year. Concerns have been raised that it’s an easy way for the ruling political party to score cheap points ahead of the 2019 polls. And there are strong views about how the money can be better spent, particularly on the country’s crumbling infrastructure.
The money is being returned to Nigeria at a delicate time. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has announced that he will be seeking reelection next year. This despite his ill health and corruption scandals.
Nigerian politicians are infamous for buying votes.
Suspicions that the redistribution scheme is another vote buying ruse have been fuelled by the fact that the government plans to give money to only 19 states out of the 36. The government has said that 17 states where excluded from the scheme because they didn’t have the “appropriate platform” to implement the conditional cash transfers.
There are also fears that the recovered loot might end up in the coffers of ghost beneficiaries.
The Nigerian house of representatives – the lower house of Nigeria’s bicameral National Assembly – has passed a motion that the money must be distributed in line with the country’s revenue sharing formula for disbursing money to all 36 states.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, a Nigerian nongovernmental anti-corruption agency, has added its voice to criticisms of the plan. It has pointed out that the distribution of funds is
mis-targeted and would not bring any tangible benefits to the beneficiaries.
The project argues that the president should renegotiate the memorandum of understanding with the Swiss authorities in consultation with the communities affected by grand corruption so that the recovered loot can be put to better use.
A better way?
Is there a better way to utilise the recovered loot?
Nigeria needs proper procedures to manage recovered money as it continues with its anti-corruption agenda. The government will be better placed in the future to manage recovered funds if it has a coherent plan detailing how they should be handled. The plan will need to be overseen by the country’s anti-corruption institution.
Infrastructure projects, such as proper transport systems and power generation, also have the advantage of being highly visible and could be easily tracked through Budgit and Tracka. Construction projects would also create jobs.
There is a clear link between infrastructural development and economic growth – an area where Nigeria could really do with some help. The country struggles from infrastructure deficits, particularly in power generation, transport, education and health care.
Experts also argue that giving the money to poor households will only serve as temporary respite from poverty. Investing in infrastructure that can improve growth, employment, production, education and health care would create better and longer-term value.
The government might be wise to listen to these views.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Saturday assured Zimbabwe's white farmers that their land will not be taken, calling on them to work together with the government ahead of landmark elections on July 30.
Under his predecessor Robert Mugabe, white farmers were evicted in favour of landless black people from 2000 by a controversial policy that wrecked agriculture and triggered an economic collapse.
But less than two weeks to go before Zimbabwe's first elections since Mugabe's ouster, Mnangagwa moved to quash any fears the practice would be repeated.
"This issue of new (land) invasions is a thing of the past. The rule of law must now apply," Mnangagwa told a group of about 200 white and Asian people gathered in the capital Harare, adding that the "animal farm mentality," was a thing of the past.
"I am saying we should cease to talk about who owns the farm in terms of colour. It is criminal talking about that. A farmer, black farmer, a white farmer is a Zimbabwean farmer."
Mnangagwa said his government was "racially blind" and needed the expertise of everyone across the economy.
Zimbabwe's white population has fallen to less than one percent of the country's 16 million after Mugabe imposed the policy to expropriate farms in 2000.
Agricultural output crashed in the aftermath, with investors leaving and mass unemployment forcing millions of Zimbabweans out of the country to seek work.
- 'A lot of encouragement' -
Mnangagwa acknowledged the failure of the land reforms, saying the expertise of white people in the farming sector was still needed and encouraging them to take part in rebuilding Zimbabwe.
"We must build the Zimbabwe we want. We want to restore the status of Zimbabwe as a food basket of the region," he said.
"He gave us a lot of encouragement. We came here to ask for options for farming," Louisa Horsely, 51, told AFP.
"I wanted to know if my husband's expertise is still needed if he wants to farm and wants to help other people to farm and that is what we are interested in. It sounds (like) he wants us to be part of it."
Tara Chatterton, 39, who runs an auctioning business, said she attended the rally to hear what Mnangagwa's plans were since the military intervention last year that resulted in the removal of Robert Mugabe after nearly four decades.
"We are here just to see... what he is aiming at in trying to bring the country back up and trying to get people to work together as one nation," Chatterton said.
Paul Sexton, 71, who works for a printing company, said he was impressed that the leader "didn't make any outlandish promises".
"It's going to take time and that's the truth."
China’s President Xi Jinping pledged during a visit to Senegal on Saturday to strengthen economic ties with Africa, a continent already awash with cheap Chinese loans in exchange for minerals and huge construction projects.
Xi arrived in Senegal on Saturday for a two-day visit to sign bilateral deals, the first leg of an Africa tour that will also take him to Rwanda and South Africa, the latter for a summit of BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
China now does more trade with Africa than any other nation does, and its consistent overtures to the continent contrast sharply with the United States, whose President Donald Trump has shown little interest in it.
The visit was Xi’s first trip to West Africa as president, but his fourth to Africa, he told a joint press conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall after their third ever meeting.
“Every time I come to Africa, I have seen the dynamism of the continent and the aspirations of its people for development,” Xi said. “I am very confident in the future of Sino-African relations.”
Earlier, Xi was greeted by a brass band and hundreds of people waving Chinese and Senegalese flags and wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the two leaders’ faces.
LOADING UP ON CHINESE DEBT
Africa is in the midst of a boom in infrastructure projects, managed and cheaply financed by China, part of Xi’s “Belt and Road” initiative to build a transport network connecting China by land and sea to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
China has pledged $126 billion for the plan, which has been praised by its supporters as a source of vital financing for the developing world. In Senegal, Chinese loans have financed a highway linking the capital Dakar to Touba, its second main city, and part of an industrial park on the Dakar peninsula.
China’s ambassador to Senegal Zhang Xun was quoted by the local press in March as saying China had invested $100 million in Senegal in 2017.
“Senegal takes a positive view of China’s role in Africa,” Sall said at the news conference. “For its contribution to peace and stability and equally ... for the financing of budgets.”
But critics say Africa is loading itself up on Chinese debt that it may struggle to repay, with estimates ranging in the tens of billions of dollars. That could leave African nations with no choice but to hand over controlling stakes in strategic assets to the Chinese state.
U.S. officials have warned that a port in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, a host to major U.S. and French military bases, could suffer this fate, although Djibouti rejects the fear.
In Guinea, meanwhile, one of the world’s poorest nations, China is lending $20 billion to the government in exchange for aluminium ore concessions.
As well as trade and minerals, China has also seen Africa as a source of political support. Chinese diplomacy has, as of May this year, succeeded in getting every African country except Swaziland to break off diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China sees as a renegade province.
I spent part of last month in Cameroon travelling to various communities and listening to ordinary voices about the ongoing Anglophone crisis.
I witnessed the devastating impact of the conflict on people and their community. In city after city, businesses have shut down, night life is almost absent and kids gallivanted the streets instead of going to school.
In some places, things had deteriorated to a point that residents sleep on the floor in their homes for fear of stray bullets. Homelessness, previously a rarity, is now a fixture on the urban landscape. And there is an increasing number of “internally displaced persons” – those who abandoned their homes and communities for safer places. Given the absence of reliable figures, it’s impossible to tell the number of people displaced or killed.
Armored vehicles escorted public transportation vehicles between the different cities in the region. Significant parts of the Southwest Region, a vital Anglophone territory, looked deserted.
The situation is the result of a peaceful protest started two years ago by teachers and lawyers that turned into a brutal conflict between government forces and those fighting for secession over the marginalisation of Anglophone regions.
After two years of brutal conflict, the crisis needs urgent attention. One useful option would be to reschedule the presidential elections recently announced for October 7. Even if that doesn’t happen, the Anglophone region needs help now.
There will be debates about restoring federalism, and constitutional amendments but immediate relief cannot wait until those issues are all resolved. The killing, displacement, destruction of property and businesses, and capital flight need to stop immediately.
Annexed by Germany in 1884, Cameroon remained a German colony until 1916 when Germany was pushed out of the colony. Three years later it was split into two unequal halves and handed to Britain and France after Germany lost the war.
In that division, Britain received one-fifth of the former German Kamerun, which was a narrow strip of territory stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Chad. Britain sought to use the Cameroonian territory as a buffer to protect its larger Nigerian colony.
The administration of British Southern Cameroons became a “colony” of Eastern Nigeria. The people were exploited, brutalised, and turned into second class citizens. The Igbos, then labelled as “Black imperialists,” were the de facto colonialists of British Southern Cameroons. Their behaviour turned English speaking Cameroonians against any illusion of joining Nigeria when the 1961 plebiscite was organised.
On the other side, Ahmadou Ahidjo, Cameroon’s first president, launched a pro-reunification campaign in towns in the British Southern Cameroons region. He promised Anglophones equality and respect, insisting that Anglophone Cameroon’s political, economic, and social institutions would thrive in a new federal system. In the plebiscite, the people of British Southern Cameroons voted in support of reunification with East Cameroon. The decision was approved by the UN General Assembly.
Soon after reunification, Ahidjo began to renege on promises he’d made and systematically ignored agreements that had been reached. He finally dealt a crushing blow to the federal system in 1972 when, in a hurriedly organised referendum, he replaced it with a united republic.
Over the past nearly 50 years voices of protest have kept reminding the government to keep to its promises to Anglophone Cameroon. Each time the response from the men in Yaoundé was either intimidation, bribery, jail, or sometimes death.
Unaware of changing times, a similar approach was taken to the current crisis when teachers and lawyers went on strike two years ago. They were demanding changes to government policy which increasingly undermined the use of English and Anglophone values in schools and the judicial system.
A different time
Government responses included arrest, jail, beatings, and intimidation. Disconnection of the internet in the Anglophone region changed little as images of police brutality and killings shown on social media became an embarrassment for the Paul Biya regime, and garnered sympathy for the push for a return to the pre-1972 federal system.
The Biya team failed to read the signs of the times. What changed the dynamics of the current protest was social media and the resilience of the young people.
Simultaneously, another faction intensified demand for Anglophone Cameroon’s complete secession. Leaders of that group formed the Ambazonia Republic, created the Ambazonia Defence Force, and used it to hit back at government forces. A year into the crisis, Biya, reacting to the killing of six military officers in the Anglophone region, declared war on those he termed “separatists,” vowing that they would be “eliminated” . The Ambazonia Defence Force responded that war was made on them by Biya, and raised the stakespromising to fight to the end.
Both sides were now on a collision course, and increasingly the population felt trapped between the two. Massive casualties have been reported on both sides. Poverty, crime, and despair have reached a new level in the country, and there is no end in sight.
Major powers such as the US, China, France and the UK have done little. Cameroonians need to stop looking to these major powers for solutions to the problems. They must realise that only they can solve their problems.
The way forward
The president needs to go on nationwide television to assure the people that he heard the grievances, call for an immediate ceasefire, and implement immediate relief and recovery programmes. He must also commit to releasing those arrested for exercising their political and freedom of speech rights.
The problems are daunting, and the president and his team must mobilise the country to be involved in finding solutions. There should be a public debate on the restoration of a federal system in the country. Leadership alone cannot solve the problems. Each one should be asked to do their part.
As I was repeatedly told, “Enough is enough.”
The end of hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea has been met with relief in the region as well as globally. But what does it mean for Eritrea, which has been dubbed the North Korea of Africa. The Conversation Africa’s Julius Maina spoke to Martin Plaut about the implications for the small and reclusive state.
How did Eritrea earn its reputation as a reclusive state?
Isaias Afwerki, the Eritrean president, has operated on the presumption that no-one would come to Eritrea’s aid after it launched its armed struggle for independence from Ethiopia in 1961. It was never entirely true, but they certainly didn’t have the support of any major power.
When Eritrea gained its independence in 1993 he saw no reason to alter his view. As a result, major international aid agencies were made unwelcome. Even the United Nations has found it difficult to work in the country.
After 2001, when the president cracked down on all opposition – including from within his own party – all major news organisations, including the BBC, Reuters and AFP – were banned from having offices in the country. International journalists have only been allowed to visit sporadically. This has left Eritrea under-reported.
Isaias is moody and reclusive by nature. Since the regime is a dictatorship which has never allowed elections of any kind, the country reflects the politics of its leader.
The country has been named as a sponsor of regional terrorism. To what extent is this still the case?
Following Eritrea’s bitter border war with Ethiopia between 1998 and 2000, the government in Asmara became a sponsor of the Somali Islamist group, Al-Shabaab, and a number of Ethiopian rebel groups . It did so to undermine the Ethiopian government, which was fighting a war in Somalia against the Islamists. Eritrea’s support for Ethiopian rebel groups had a similar aim in mind.
These activities – as well as a border clash with Djibouti – led to the UN Security Council imposing an arms embargo against Eritrea in 2009. The embargo didn’t include economic sanctions.
UN appointed experts monitored the arms and logistical support Eritrea provided to Al-Shabaab in great detail. In recent years they’ve reported back that they have no evidence of current Eritrean backing for Al-Shabaab.
In the last few weeks the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has said he thinks the sanctions regime will become obsolete, since Eritrea and Ethiopia have resolved their differences.
How will recent events affect politics and commerce in the Horn?
The prospects for the Horn could be transformed if the Ethiopia-Eritrea rapprochement holds and their border dispute is truly resolved.
The closure of their mutual frontier for the past two decades has had a terrible effect on people all along the 1,000 km long border. Family ties and trade patterns were severely disrupted.
The people of the two countries have never been at loggerheads: there is little real animosity between them. The divisions have been between the ruling parties of both countries.
With these apparently resolved, life in the Horn can resume as normal. The Eritrean ports of Massawa and Assab will hum with life once more, as Ethiopian trade flows through them. And the potash deposits on their border can be developed. Since Ethiopia is currently Africa’s fastest growing economy this could ease bottlenecks such as international investment in Eritrea which will no longer be viewed as a war-risk. And instead of competing to fund and support rebel movements in each other’s countries, Ethiopia and Eritrea can combine to tackle the real enemy: poverty.
What will the impact be on Eritrean society?
This is the most difficult question and predictions are fraught with difficulty. Having been such a closed dictatorship it is impossible to say with any certainty how the country will be transformed.
On the one hand, Isaias could allow democracy to emerge, since he no longer has a foreign enemy on his doorstep. The constitution, which was ratified by the National Assembly, could be implemented. Free and fair elections could be held and a multi-party system allowed to emerge. The president might even decide to retire now that peace has been achieved – he is 72 years old.
This is all possible. But it’s not very likely. The president is extremely cautious and believes he is indispensable to the country: without him it will lose its way. He is more likely to move only gradually towards allowing limited freedoms. This could include ending indefinite conscription, since the rationale for this has ended. Such an approach would be consistent with his past behaviour. But it might result in growing frustration from citizens who have accepted economic hardship and a lack of democracy during a time of war, but might do so no longer. What forces this might unleash and how the citizens will react, only time will tell.
How do these developments affect Eritrea’s refugee outflow?
The end of hostilities should mean that Eritrea’s indefinite National Service is ended. National Service (or conscription) is required of all citizens between 18 and 40 years old. In theory this lasts for no longer than 18 months. Yet many Eritreans have served for 20 years and more. Pay is minimal and conditions harsh: for women there is the threat of rape or sexual abuse. This has been – by a long shot – the main driver of the refugee exodus that has seen up to 5,000 people leaving the country every month.
Freed from conscription, some servicemen and women will return to their farms or seek employment in towns. One possible consequence is that unemployment could become serious, unless inward investment takes up the slack.
If the border with Ethiopia is opened up again thousands of people in refugee camps in Ethiopia might return home. The refugee outflow might even be reversed. This is an optimistic prognosis. More likely, refugees who have risked everything to reach safety will remain in the camps until the outcome of the dramatic changes can be assessed and the transformation is made permanent.
Eritrea’s refugee outflow will only end when both prosperity and freedom become established facts. Until then it is likely that some will continue to seek a better life abroad, even if in smaller numbers.
The Federal Government of Nigeria have unveiled the branding and livery for the new national carrier, Nigeria Air, and stated that the airline would be inaugurated at the end of this year.
According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Aviation in Abuja, the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, unveiled the carrier at a press conference during the Farnborough Air Show in London.
Sirika was quoted as saying, “I am very pleased to tell you that we are finally on track to launching a new national flag carrier for our country, Nigeria Air. We are all fully committed to fulfilling the campaign promise made by our President, Muhammadu Buhari, in 2015. We are aiming to launch Nigeria Air by the end of this year.
“We obtained the Certificate of Compliance from the Nigerian Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission two weeks ago and can now go into the investor search. I am confident that we will have a well-run national flag carrier that is a global player, compliant with international safety standards and one which has the customer at its heart.
“We hope to establish an airline that communicates the essence of our beautiful country; an airline we can all be proud of.”
The ministry said the branding and naming of the new national carrier came after a social media campaign that was undertaken by the Ministry of Transportation (Aviation).
It said invited Nigerian youths were asked for their input in order to come up with a name for the new flag carrier, adding that the ministry’s Facebook page and website engaged over 400,000 people.
The ministry said extensive market research was carried out, which involved focus groups across the country, and over 100 interviews with aviation stakeholders and professionals, politicians as well as business owners.
It also stated that it was currently running an aviation road map that includes airport concession, aerotropolis, an aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul centre, agro allied terminals, the national carrier and an aircraft leasing company.
“The government will support the launch of the new flag carrier with viability gap funding in a public private partnership arrangement to deliver a national flag carrier guided by international standards,” the ministry added.
Sirika said the Federal Government had learnt a lot of lessons from the experience of the defunct Nigeria Airways, and was now determined not to repeat the mistakes that led to its demise.
Meanwhile, Sirika has stated that the Federal Government has selected 81 routes for the commencement of operation of Nigeria Air.
Speaking at the Farnborough Airshow in London following the unveiling of the new national carrier, the minister was quoted to have said that for a start, the airline would operate 40 domestic, regional and sub-regional and 41 international routes.
He added that the airline would operate on a Public-Private Partnership model, while investors and strategic partners would decide who would run it.
He said, “This airline is a business and not a social service. It is not intended to kill any airline in Nigeria but complement it and promote it. It must be done in the right way so that it will be here to stay.
“Government will not hold shares beyond five per cent at the topmost. This airline has the backing of the government. Government will come up with funding according to the business case that has been delivered to the government. We will engage the youth of Nigeria because we do believe in the ‘Not Too Young to Run’.
“We engaged them in the campaign to name this airline. We engaged 400,000 Nigerian youths to arrive at the name of the airline. All of their ideas were taken and digested and we came up with what is an average. The airline will take into cognizance the multicultural nature of the nation through its diversity. We want to use this airline to make a statement that yes, we can do it.”
The minister also said the government would fast-track the airline’s International Air Transport Association’s membership and safety audit.
An aviation expert, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (retd), however, stated that the Federal Government’s route plan was not properly thought out.
He said the routes were already saturated with the new airline’s competitors, adding that this might stifle its growth.
“Whoever is planning these routes for the new national carrier should go into records and see what happened along same routes between Nigeria Airways and KLM; Nigeria Airways and South Africa Airways and Nigeria and Virgin Atlantic. You cannot go into the same business with your competitor(s) as partners,” he said.