By Patrick Smith
Editor of Africa Confidential
This week we start in Lusaka where the dispute between the government and First Quantum Minerals is still simmering. And then to Mali, where French President Emmanuel Macron has been outlining a tougher military policy. In South Africa, President Jacob Zuma faces an ever-louder chorus of criticism over his links to the Gupta family and another key vote this week. Finally, in the new axis of nationalists Presidents Donald Trump and Abdel Fattah el Sisi hit it off at a meeting in Riyadh.
ZAMBIA: Mixed messages on copper confrontation with First Quantum
Both the government of President Edgar Lungu and the management of First Quantum Minerals have tamped down the rhetoric in their public confrontation over claims that the Canadian-listed mining company was liable for US$1.4 billion for having allegedly broken regulations governing company borrowing. The dispute went nuclear after government officials said that FQM directors could be arrested if they entered the country and be charged with fraud (AC Vol 58 No 10, Spat with FQM continues). FQM has denied any wrongdoing.
Since then President Lungu has sent out his Finance Minister, Felix Mutati, with a more conciliatory message: talks between government negotiators and the company would begin on 30 May and should be over within a week. There has been no further mention of arrest warrants.
All this comes as Zambia is also negotiating a balance of payments facility of at least $1.2 bn. from the International Monetary Fund. Last week World Bank Vice-President for Africa, Mahktar Diop, was in Lusaka and agreed new development financing of $600 million. Although the two Washington financial institutions have not commented publicly on the FQM affair, their officials and United States diplomats are known to be extremely concerned about the Lungu government's direction of travel. On 21 May, opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema's wife, Mutinta, launched an international appeal on behalf of her husband, who has been in prison for over five weeks for supposed treason. Officials say that some of Hichilema's foreign backers have also been lobbying on behalf of FQM.
AFRICA/FRANCE: President Macron draws Germany closer in anti-terror alliance
In a strong statement about his commitment to fighting terrorism, France's new President, Emmanuel Macron, flew to Mali on 19 May for talks with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and to meet the 1,600 French troops stationed there. Although one of the main impediments facing the United Nations and regional forces in Mali appears to be a failure of negotiations between the Bamako government and Tuareg nationalists, little of substance emerged about the discussions between the two presidents. Keïta's officials have been increasingly critical of French policy in the Sahel under Macron's predecessor François Hollande.
Macron made much of the need to speed up the tempo of the international military operation 'to secure the Sahel' – an area bigger than Europe. Greater collaboration with Germany in that anti-terror campaign would be critical, said Macron, which would be providing more advanced attack helicopters and armoured cars.
SOUTH AFRICA: What next after ANC rejects return of Zuma ally to run state power company?
After another daring round of appointments and subterranean moves against his opponents, President Jacob Zuma faces yet more tests this week with a key vote on his presidency at the National Executive Committee of the governing African National Congress. In past debates, Zuma has circled the wagons, drawn enough loyalists from his home province of kwaZulu-Natal and from the so-called premier league of provincial premiers to see off any serious threats.
Last month, an attempt to sanction Zuma for his sacking of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan at the ANC's National Working Committee ended in ignominy for some of his main foes as they publicly withdrew their criticism. Since then sentiment in the ANC has moved further against Zuma.
A key point of contention has been the state power utility Eskom's decision to reappoint Brian Molefe, a Zuma ally, as its chief executive. Molefe resigned from the post last year after a report by the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, suggested the close relations between Molefe and the Guptas had a hugely negative effect on Eskom's policy-making and finances.
Several senior ANC officials have called on Zuma to reverse Molefe's reappointment and the issue looks certain to be raised at the NEC. On 21 May, Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa made a strident call for the ANC to stop South Africa being turned into a mafia state. He also called for a judicial inquiry to investigate Madonsela's reports on the influence of private business interests on the Zuma presidency.
EGYPT/UNITED STATES: Mutual admiration society on the Trump-Sisi axis
On the first foreign tour of his presidency, Donald Trump lavished praise on Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el Sisi after a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Telling journalists that 'safety seems to be very strong in Egypt', Trump said that he has been having 'very important talks' with President el Sisi. He also admired El Sisi's shiny black shoes.
In turn El Sisi described Trump as a 'unique personality capable of doing the impossible'. Trump shot back, 'I agree.' Last November, El Sisi was the first foreign leader to congratulate Trump on his election victory. The two men shored up US-Egypt government relations, lubricated by $1.4 bn. a year in military aid and a common opposition to militant Islamist groups in the region. There is some speculation that Trump will support Egypt's role in neighbouring Libya, where El Sisi backs the hardline nationalist leader Khalifa Haftar. But no details emerged of any policy change.
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