Kingsley Ibokette

Kingsley Ibokette

Kingsley Ibokette BT

Thirteen presidential and legislative elections are scheduled to take place in Africa during the course of 2021, despite the presence of COVID-19.

While fear of contracting COVID-19 has possibly contributed to lower voter turnout, it is not the only reason people are staying home from the polls. Across the continent, there have been many reports of security crackdowns on public rallies, intimidation of opposition parties their leaders fleeing into exile if they have not been arrested and much of the media has been muted with many journalists being harassed, threatened, and imprisoned.  

The legitimacy of a country’s electoral process is closely tied to its prospects for stability.

In a number of countries, such as Uganda, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, and Djibouti, leaders have held their seats for decades, and are holding onto their positions by any means necessary including force removal of term limits, and giving limited operating space to opposition parties. Increased internal conflict in many countries as a result of increased corruption, lack of accountability, and lack of reform, is threatening to undermine the economic stability of the entire Horn of Africa region.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, for example, ranks Uganda and Djibouti at 142 out of 180 countries; Chad at 160 out of 180; the Republic of Congo at 170 out of 180.

In it’s CPI 2020: SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA Report it reveals that Sub-Saharan Africa with an average score of 32 is the lowest performing region on the CPI, showing little improvement from previous years and underscoring a need for urgent action. There is a desperate need for reform in every sector of each of these countries, if their economies are to be salvaged, security improved, and youthful populations employed.

Tensions high

In January 2021, Uganda’s national electoral commission declared President Yoweri Museveni the winner of a sixth term with 58% of the vote, but the results have been widely contested. The main opposition candidate Robert Kyagulanyi was placed under house arrest for 12 days post-election, and opposition parties called for national defiance of Museveni’s government. Human rights groups and foreign governments slammed the government for shutting down the internet during the election, and banning outside voting observers.

Yoweri Moseveni Supporters after election Celebration Reuters

Elections in Somalia which were scheduled for the 8th of February 2021, are yet to take place due to lack of agreement on how the vote should happen. As protests and tensions grow in the country, the U.N. Security Council has urged Somalia’s government to organize elections “without delay” in a resolution that stressed the pressing threat to the country’s security from al-Shabab, and armed opposition groups. The UN resolution, which was adopted unanimously, authorized the African Union to maintain its nearly 20,000-strong force in Somalia until the end of the year, with a mandate to reduce the threat from the extremist groups.

In Niger, accusation of election irregularities have led to mass protests and government repression. On February 23rd, 2021, the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) declared, Bazoum, the ruling party’s candidate and a former minister of the interior, the winner with 55.75 percent of the vote. Ousmane, who won 44.25 percent of the vote, carried the opposition strongholds of Tillabéry, which includes the capital, Niamey, and Zinder. Despite CENI’s announcement, however, Ousmane declared himself the winner.

Republic of Congo’s election held on 21st March 2021 was the first time that voters went to the polls in two phases since the first multi-party presidential election in 1992. In power for 36 years, the country’s 77-years old incumbent president Dennis Sassou Nguesso is one of the longest serving presidents in Africa. His challengers included Mathias Dzon, the former Minister of Finance between 1997-2002 and just until recently, the late Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas, who died of COVID-19 complications.

Up next - elections in Djibouti

Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of democracy, and are one of the major drivers of foreign investment into any country.

Djibouti map

 

On the 9th of April 2021, Djiboutians go to the polls, as President Omar Guelleh attempts to extend his tenure to a fifth term in the country’s presidential elections. Guelleh has been in power since 1999, a total of 22 years. Term limits that stated that Presidents could only serve two terms were lifted in 2010, just prior to his third term.  

The media is not free in Djibouti. The 2020 World Press Freedom Index ranks the country at 176th place out of 180, down three places since 2019. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) report that there is no privately-owned or independent media outlet operating in the country. Media outlets that are operating are used for propaganda purposes by the government.

Djibouti journalists live in fear. There is one exile station, La Voix de Djibouti that broadcasts from Belgium, but the signal is often jammed and its website blocked. In 2019, a La Voix de Djibouti reporter, based in Djibouti, was badly beaten and arrested several times.

Members of opposition parties even those recognized by the electoral commission are harassed, arrested, and prosecuted. In September 2020, several opposition parties joined together under the banner of the USN Coalition aimed at blocking a fifth Guelleh term. They want elections delayed until the Election Commission is reformed, and until that happens, they are calling for a transitional government.

Djibouti is strategically located near the Bab al Mandeb, and its access to maritime traffic through the Indian Ocean and into the Red Sea has resulted in the country hosting naval bases of France, China, Japan, and the United States. This has meant there is little international pressure on the country to reform.

The government draws much of its revenue from port and basing fees and it took on external debt of 103 percent of GDP to support rail, port, and the requisite power projects. Between 2019 and 2021 Djibouti’s debt service payments have increased by around 120 percent leaving the country and its people in high risk of debt distress. There are high levels of inequality and poverty in the country, unemployment sits at 48 percent, and as the youth continue to struggle to find employment, their discontent is rising.

Djibouti Free Trade Zone

In order to overcome these challenges, the country needs to court foreign investors who are intent on improving infrastructure, facilitating international trade and creating jobs in a dampened economy.

While in theory there are no laws practices or mechanisms that discriminate against foreign investors, navigating their bureaucracy can be complicated. According to the US Department of State’s 2020 Investment Climate Statements: Djibouti, “Government policies are sometimes not transparent and do not foster competition on a non-discriminatory basis. Likewise, the legal, regulatory and accounting systems are not always transparent nor are they consistent with international norms.” This poses a potential threat for foreign investors like DP World who are currently pursuing all “legal means” to defend its claim to a Djibouti terminal, after the African nation nationalized the facility.

According to recent reports, the concession agreement between DP World and Djibouti signed in 2006 is governed by English law through the London Court of International Arbitration. The decision by Djibouti to nationalize the Doraleh Container Terminal came after the government scrapped a 50-year concession contract with DP World, triggering a dispute between the two sides.

DP World is believed to have won three rulings from Britain-based courts over the matter, most recently an injunction at the High Court in London on August 31, 2020, however Djibouti’s government is failing to accept and implement the rulings from the British-based courts. When you consider the financial losses DP World faces, since the terminal was nationalised, as well as the legal costs that continue to mount, one must carefully consider whether investing in Djibouti would be a safe bet.

While DP World clearly continues to see value and invest in the Horn of Africa recently signing an agreement worth US$442 million to expand and operate a regional trade and logistics hub at the Port of Berbera, in partnership with the Somaliland Port Authority and Ethiopia there are perhaps strong reasons for international investors to hold their breath and adopt a wait-and-see approach when it comes to the results of presidential elections not only in Djibouti but in Benin, Chad, Sâo Tomé and Principe, Zambia, and other countries who are going to the polls nearer the close of the year.

The Republic of Congo's veteran president, Denis Sassou Nguesso, has been re-elected with 88.57 percent of the vote, according to provisional results released Tuesday.

Sassou Nguesso, 77, has been in power for an accumulated 36 years, first taking the helm of the central African state in 1979.

His landslide first-round victory, announced by the interior minister citing figures from the electoral commission, had been widely expected.

Sunday's ballot had been boycotted by the main opposition and overshadowed by the death from Covid of Sassou Nguesso's only major rival, Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas, 61, who reaped 7.84 percent of the vote.

Turnout was put at 67.55 percent.

One of the world's longest-serving rulers, Sassou Nguesso has long been accused by critics of authoritarian rule and turning a blind eye to corruption, poverty and inequality despite the country's oil wealth.

Congo Brazzaville Map AFP

Rival's death

Kolelas, the son of a former prime minister who was a leading government critic, died aboard a medical plane that flew him to Paris on polling day, his campaign director Christian Cyr Rodrigue Mayanda said.

Kolelas initially thought he had malaria, but belatedly discovered that it was COVID-19, a friend of his said.

He posted a video from his sickbed, declaring he was "battling against death" and urging followers to "rise up as one person."

Mathias Dzon, a former finance minister who picked up 1.9 percent of the vote, announced on Monday that he would file suit to the Constitutional Court to overturn the vote, which he described as "disastrous."

On polling day, access to the internet and social media, as well as text messages, was cut while in the centre of the capital Brazzaville, shops were closed and only security vehicles were seen.

In some areas voters complained that their names were not on the electoral list.

The victory, placing Sassou Nguesso on course for another five-year term, marks his fourth election win since 2002.

The former paratrooper first rose to power in 1979.

He served three presidential terms until he was forced to introduce multi-party elections in 1991 and was defeated at the ballot box the following year.

But he returned to power in 1997 following a prolonged civil war.

No limits

In 2015, a constitutional amendment ended a ban on presidential candidates aged over 70 and scrapped a two-term limit, enabling him to run again.

"Why has there been this Stalinist result?" a senior government official said to AFP, commenting anonymously on Sunday's outcome.

In the 2016 ballot, Sassou Nguesso was re-elected in the first round with 60 percent of the vote, against 15 percent for Kolelas, after a much harder-fought campaign.

Sassou Nguesso put himself forward this time as the defender of Congo's youth -- the average age of the country's five million people is 19 -- and outlined plans to develop agriculture, to ease dependence on food imports.

Flanked by its giant neighbour the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as Gabon, the former French colony -- also known as Congo-Brazzaville -- has abundant oil reserves and most of its budget comes from petroleum revenue.

But its economy is in a slump, hurt by a collapse in world crude prices and by a mountain of debt.

 

(AFP)

China’s drug authority has approved for clinical trials an inhaled Covid-19 vaccine co-developed by domestic firm CanSino Biologics, the company said in a filing on Tuesday.

The move comes after the National Medical Products Administration gave another CanSino vaccine conditional approval last month, allowing it for public use.

China currently has five coronavirus vaccines that have been given conditional market approval or allowed for emergency use, but none of these are administered by inhalation.

CanSino said in its latest filing on the Hong Kong stock exchange that the vaccine for inhalation was jointly developed by the company and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, adding that their clinical trial application got the green light on Monday.

But it warned that the vaccine’s safety and efficacy remain “subject to confirmation” in trials.

As of March 20, China had administered 74.96 million coronavirus vaccine doses, according to Our World in Data, a collaboration between Oxford University and a charity.

Chinese embassies in some countries including the United States, Australia and India have issued notices saying the country will open visa applications to select people who have taken a China-made jab.

On Tuesday, a Chinese foreign ministry official said it is in “close communication” with various countries and “willing to reach mutually beneficial arrangements” to facilitate cross-border travel.

 

Reuters

The elite Green Berets have been deployed to help defeat Islamic State insurgents accused of beheading children as young as 11 in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique.

US Army Special Forces soldiers are to train Mozambican marines for the next two months to counter the rapidly escalating insurgency from ISIS-linked terrorist group al-Shabab.

It comes after the US officially listed the group as a foreign terrorist organisation last week because of its links to ISIS, who it pledged allegiance to in 2018 and who claimed its first attack in June 2019.

Mozambique, in southern Africa, represents the worrying spread of Islamic insurgency on the continent. Other nations facing ISIS-linked violence include Somalia, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, and Libya.

The deployment of the Green Berets is "to prevent the spread of terrorism and violent extremism," the US Embassy in Maputo, Mozambique's capital, said, The Times reported.

According to an Insider report last month, the Green Berets are called on to deploy worldwide, build lasting relationships with local groups friendly towards the United States, and then teach those groups how to kill effectively. The SF soldiers then begin going on missions with the locals and fight side-by-side.

The situation in the northernmost province of Cabo Delgado, which began in 2017, became even more urgent last year, with up to 3,500 fighters regularly engaging with the military to capture key towns.

At least 2,000 civilians have been killed, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project and 670,000 have been displaced, Save the Children added. Around a million people are also in need of food aid, the UN estimated.

'They took my eldest son and beheaded him'

Children as young as 11 years old have been executed, according to Save the Children, that has spoken to displaced families that have described horrific executions by the Islamic insurgents.

One mother, Elsa, 28, whose name has been changed, told Save the Children: "That night our village was attacked and houses were burned. When it all started, I was at home with my four children.

"We tried to escape to the woods, but they took my eldest son and beheaded him. We couldn't do anything because we would be killed too."

Impoverished Mozambique, in southern Africa, had been relying on foreign mercenaries, mainly from South Africa, who have also been accused of human rights abuses.

An Amnesty International report found that both sides committed war crimes, with government forces responsible for abuses against civilians, something it has denied.

Cabo Delgado has a population of 2.3 million, most of whom are Muslim, and is one of the poorest provinces in Mozambique with high illiteracy and unemployment rates, according to the BBC.

Al-Shabab, not to be confused with the Somalian al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group of a similar name, means The Youth in Arabic.

It has found ready recruits among the unemployed young people from the area, al-Jazeera reported.

Although a ruby deposit and gas field were discovered in Cabo Delgado in 2009 and 2010, creating dreams of a better life for locals, these were soon undermined by violence and extreme flooding, the BBC noted.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Tanzania's Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan is set to be sworn in today as the sixth president of the country following the death of John Magufuli.

The swearing-in ceremony will take place at 10am Friday at State House in Dar es Salaam, government spokesperson said.

History

Ms Suluhu will make history by becoming the first female president in Tanzania.

Under the constitution, Suluhu, 61, will serve the remainder of Magufuli's second five-year term, which does not expire until 2025.

The oath ceremony will be followed by a high level meeting of her party’s central committee on Saturday. Analysts say, during the meeting, new vice president will be picked.

A former office clerk and development worker, Suluhu began her political career in 2000 in her native Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous archipelago, before being elected to the national assembly on mainland Tanzania and assigned a senior ministry.

A ruling party stalwart, she rose through the ranks until being picked by Magufuli as his running mate in his first presidential election campaign in 2015.

The Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) comfortably won and Suluhu made history when sworn-in as the country's first-ever female vice president.

The pair were re-elected last October in a disputed poll the opposition and independent observers said was marred by irregularities.

She would sometimes represent Magufuli on trips abroad but many outside Tanzania had not heard of Suluhu until she appeared on national television wearing a black headscarf to announce that Magufuli had died at 61 following a short illness.

In a slow and softly spoken address -- a stark contrast to the thundering rhetoric favoured by her predecessor -- Hassan solemnly declared 14 days of mourning.

Hold your breath

Analysts say Suluhu will face early pressure from powerful Magufuli allies within the party, who dominate intelligence and other critical aspects of government, and would try and steer her decisions and agenda.

"For those who were kind of expecting a breakaway from the Magufuli way of things I would say hold your breath at the moment," said Thabit Jacob, a researcher at the Roskilde University in Denmark and expert on Tanzania.

"I think she will struggle to build her own base... We shouldn't expect major changes."

Her loyalty to Magufuli, nicknamed the "Bulldozer" for his no-nonsense attitude, was called into doubt in 2016.

Her office was forced to issue a statement denying she had resigned as rumours of a rift grew more persistent, and Suluhu hinted at the controversy in a public speech last year.

"When you started working as president, many of us did not understand what you actually wanted. We did not know your direction. But today we all know your ambitions about Tanzania's development," she said in front of Magufuli.

Getting things done

Suluhu was born on January 27, 1960 in Zanzibar, a former slaving hub and trading outpost in the Indian Ocean.

Then still a Muslim sultanate, Zanzibar did not merge formally with mainland Tanzania for another four years.

Her father was a school teacher and mother a housewife. Suluhu graduated from high school but has said publicly that her finishing results were poor, and she took a clerkship in a government office at 17.

By 1988, after undertaking further study, Hassan had risen the ranks to become a development officer in the Zanzibari government.

She was employed as a project manager for the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) and later in the 1990s was made executive director of an umbrella body governing non-governmental organisations in Zanzibar.

In 2000, she was nominated by the CCM to a special seat in Zanzibar’s House of Representatives. She then served as a local government minister -- first for youth employment, women and children and then for tourism and trade investment.

In 2010, she was elected to the National Assembly on mainland Tanzania. Then president Jakaya Kikwete appointed her as the Minister of State for Union Affairs.

She holds university qualifications from Tanzania, Britain and United States. The mother of four has spoken publicly to encourage Tanzanian women and girls to pursue their dreams.

"I may look polite, and do not shout when speaking, but the most important thing is that everyone understands what I say and things get done as I say," Suluhu said in a speech last year.

Suluhu would be the only other current serving female head of state in Africa alongside Ethiopia's President Sahle-Work Zewde, whose role is mainly ceremonial.

Source: Nation Media Additional report by AFP

Tanzania's President John Magufuli has died aged 61, the country's vice-president has announced.

He died on Wednesday from heart complications at a hospital in Dar es Salaam, Samia Suluhu Hassan said in an address on state television.

Magufuli had not been seen in public for more than two weeks, and rumours have been circulating about his health.

Opposition politicians said last week that he had contracted Covid-19, but this has not been confirmed.

Magufuli was one of Africa's most prominent coronavirus sceptics, and called for prayers and herbal-infused steam therapy to counter the virus.

"It is with deep regret that I inform you that today... we lost our brave leader, the president of the Republic of Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli," Vice-President Hassan said in the announcement.

She said there would be 14 days of national mourning and flags would fly at half mast.

According to Tanzania's constitution, Ms Hassan will be sworn in as the new president and should serve the remainder of Magufuli's five-year team which he began last year.

Magufuli was last seen in public on 27 February, but Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa insisted last week that the president was "healthy and working hard".

He blamed the rumours of the president's ill-health on "hateful" Tanzanians living abroad.

But opposition leader Tundu Lissu told the BBC that his sources had told him Magufuli was being treated in hospital for coronavirus in Kenya.

Magufuli declared Tanzania "Covid-19 free" last June. He mocked the efficacy of masks, expressed doubts about testing, and teased neighbouring countries which imposed health measures to curb the virus.

Tanzania has not published details of its coronavirus cases since May, and the government has refused to purchase vaccines.

On Monday, police said they had arrested four people on suspicion of spreading rumours on social media that the president was ill.

"To spread rumours that he's sick smacks of hate," Mr Majaliwa said at the time.

 

BBC

As Bitcoin hits all-time price highs, regulation must now become a major priority for financial watchdogs, affirms the CEO of one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory organisations.

The call-to-action from Nigel Green, chief executive and founder of deVere Group, comes as the price of Bitcoin hit a new record high, surging past $61,000 on the deVere Crypto exchange on Sunday for the first time.

Mr Green says: “Whether crypto cynics like it or not, there’s no getting away from the fact that Bitcoin is becoming an increasingly important part of the global financial system.

“Bitcoins in circulation are now worth $1 trillion, with prices having rallied 890% over the last year. Most major financial institutions, including investment giants and payment companies, are now backing the world’s largest cryptocurrency, and there’s ongoing soaring interest from retail investors.”

He continues: “The move towards digital currencies is going to increase - and at pace - over the next few years. This is why financial regulators must now make regulation of the crypto sector a major priority.

“With a growing dominance, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies must be held to the same standards as the rest of the financial system with a robust, workable international framework.

“This will help reduce any potential disruption to global financial stability, protect investors, tackle illicit activity and deliver an economic boost to countries that adopt and adhere to it.”

Previously, the deVere boss, who is a long time, high-profile cryptocurrency advocate, has said that one of the best ways to address the regulatory issues is via the exchanges.

“Nearly all foreign exchange transactions go through banks or currency houses and this is what needs to happen with cryptocurrencies. When flows run through regulated exchanges, it will be much easier to tackle potential wrongdoing, such as money laundering, and make sure tax is paid,” he has noted.

“For this to happen, banks will need to open accounts for exchanges, which is why they must be regulated.”

The deVere CEO concludes: “We’re at an important point for Bitcoin, which is now worth more than many countries’ GDP.

“Financial watchdogs need to bring this asset class into the regulatory tent sooner rather than later via the exchanges.”

Nigeria has not increased gasoline pump prices, its fuel regulator said on Friday, after sparking confusion at fuel stations and a public backlash by apparently flagging a big rise was on the cards.

"There is no price increase. The current (gasoline) price is being maintained while consultations are being concluded," the Petroleum Products Pricing Agency (PPPRA) said in a statement.

On Thursday, the regulator posted an online notice listing the "guiding price" for "ex-depot", or wholesale, gasoline at 206.42 naira per litre - well above the previous pump prices of around 167 naira.

After local media reported the post, some consumers flocked to fuel stations, prompting a sharp rise in prices at some, and others to stop selling amid the confusion.

In Lagos, at least two stations were charging 248 naira per litre, compared with 167 naira on Thursday.

Nigeria is struggling to balance a promise to eliminate costly fuel subsidies with public anger over more expensive fuel.

Oil prices have risen about 25% since the beginning of February, but state oil company NNPC vowed prices would not increase in March, meaning that it could be losing millions daily on gasoline imports.

Following the public backlash - and statements from NNPC, the petroleum minister and a presidential spokesman that higher prices were not approved - PPPRA removed its post about the guidance for ex-depot prices.

NNPC is currently the only gasoline importer due to the state-controlled ex-depot price that is keeping levels artificially low. It has said it is consulting with unions to agree a formula that allows gasoline prices to float, but still protects consumers.

In mid February, fuel marketers estimated gasoline was costing NNPC some 1.2 billion naira ($3.2 million) per day, a huge risk to government finances. Eliminating subsidies was among conditions for a $1.5 billion World Bank budget support loan.

 

Reuters

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