By Patrick Smith
Editor of Africa Confidential
It was a harsh May Day for South Africa's beleaguered President Jacob Zuma, who was chased off the podium by an angry crowd in the Free State. From the UN in New York, there are signs of movement in the deadlocked Western Sahara dispute. In Zambia, President Edgar Lungu faces a raft of political and economic problems. The still ailing President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja hopes to push his budget through the National Assembly this week. Finally, the formal end of the search for Uganda's veteran warlord Joseph Kony raises major questions about responsibility for the more than 100,000 killed in this brutal conflict.
SOUTH AFRICA: President Zuma chased from May Day rally as no-confidence vote looms
Another humiliation has hit President Jacob Zuma at a May Day rally just days before he is due to face a motion of no-confidence in parliament. After an angry crowd booed and heckled Zuma at a Congress of South African Trades Unions (Cosatu) rally in Bloemfontein, he and his entourage were rushed from the stage before he could speak. Zuma's key allies – parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete and deputy Secretary General of the African National Congress, Jesse Duarte, were also booed off May Day podiums in Durban and Limpopo.
It was especially humiliating that Zuma should suffer this blow in Bloemfontein, capital of the Free State, which is meant to be one of his strongest areas of support outside KwaZulu-Natal. As a sign of Zuma's falling popularity, the debacle in Bloemfontein is far more significant than the mass public rallies against him in the major cities last month.
Zuma's latest setback follows the South African Communist Party's and Cosatu's call for his immediate resignation. As Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is ramping up his campaign for the ANC Presidency, another party veteran, Matthews Phosa, has announced his candidacy for the post. We also hear that support is building for a bid for the presidency by Lindiwe Sisulu, daughter of the late, much-revered, Walter Sisulu, a long-time friend of Nelson Mandela.
Meanwhile, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma's ex-wife and his preferred candidate to succeed him, has disappeared from public view. Zuma's granting of a state security detail and government vehicles to her – apparently on security grounds – has been criticised as an abuse of state resources.
WESTERN SAHARA/MOROCCO: Fresh talks over the conflict are likely after UN extends mission there
Hopes for a fresh round of negotiations between the Polisario Front and Morocco are looking up after the UN Security Council passed a resolution on 28 April extending the UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara for another year. The cleverly-crafted resolution refers both to Polisario's proposal, a referendum on the status of the territory, and Rabat's, which is to grant it political autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.
The new Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, last month called for the two sides to reopen talks. There has been no serious movement on the crisis since 1991, but Morocco's withdrawal of forces from a buffer zone and Polisario's matching pullback of fighters last week is a positive sign. A statement from Algeria's Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra backing the UN resolution also augurs well. Algeria has been the principal backer of Polisario. The issue has caused a cold war between Algiers and Rabat for three decades.
ZAMBIA: Opposition leader's detention continues as the IMF is due in Lusaka for difficult talks
Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), remains in custody and is expected to appear in court again on Thursday (4 May) while prosecutors work on the charge of treason against him. Hichilema was arrested on 11 April after his motorcade clashed with President Edgar Lungu's en route to a Lozi traditional ceremony three days before.
Lungu claims he wants to let ‘the law take its course' although he is widely believed to have inspired the prosecution. The controversy complicates the already difficult negotiations between the government and the International Monetary Fund over a US$1.6 billion loan.
Finance Minister Felix Mutati says the government needs the funds to bolster foreign reserves which have shrunk following an expensive election campaign last year, ballooning budget deficits and undulating prices for the country's copper and cobalt exports. The economy is growing at its lowest rate since 1998.
NIGERIA: National Assembly to debate record $23 billion budget after government liberalises forex rules
The 2017 budget – which plans record spending of N23 trillion (US$23 billion) – could be approved this week by the National Assembly after a tortuous review which was almost derailed when police raided the home of Senator Danjuma Goje, chairman of the Appropriations Committee last week. Goje is subject of a corruption investigation, which he says has been orchestrated by his enemies. The budget includes plans to borrow $7 billion from China's Eximbank, the African Development Bank and the World Bank over the next year.
Relations between the Senate and the presidency oscillate between very difficult and utterly poisonous. The Senate has rejected several government nominations in recent months, the most important being its candidate to chair the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu. The presidency won't back down, so Magu is likely to remain acting chairman of the EFCC for the remainder of Buhari's presidency. The fact that Magu has been investigating several top politicians, including Senate President Bukola Saraki, has not endeared him to powerful members of the National Assembly.
Ahead of the budget debate, the government has announced a new foreign exchange regime. It is another partial liberalisation of exchange controls through a complex system of new rules. Known as the Investors' and Exporters' FX window, it should allow traders more access to foreign exchange at competitive prices through the official market. Central bank governor Godwin Emefiele thinks the new system will bring enough dollars in to the system without forcing a full-scale devaluation, and all its inflationary consequences.
It should work like this: each morning, authorised foreign exchange dealers are to submit bids through a system backed by the central bank known as the Nigerian Autonomous Foreign Exchange Rate Fixing (Nafex). Then, at midday, the trading exchange rate would be announced for the day. That would be the benchmark for all future trading contracts agreed that day.
For now, the formal exchange rate would stay at US$1=N315, and the central bank would release foreign exchange at that highly preferential rate for specific transactions. The lack of transparency from the central bank over who gets access to foreign exchange at that rate suggests to some analysts that it could be open to major abuse.
UGANDA: The US abandons the hunt for warlord Joseph Kony in face of President Museveni's indifference
This month, the mission to capture veteran warlord Joseph Kony is effectively being called off. The United States is to speed up the withdrawal of the 250 Special Forces troops and Air Force personnel it had deployed to hunt for Kony, after reportedly spending US$780 million on the mission, according to security experts AC Vol 58 No 9, Concealing disappointment). Uganda has long given up any serious effort to find and arrest Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army.
Set up as a rebel force in the late 1980s in northern Uganda, the LRA has murdered over 100,000 civilians and abducted tens of thousands of people. At first, President Yoweri Museveni prosecuted the war against Kony and the LRA vigorously, and he became one of the strongest advocates for the International Criminal Court, whose help he wanted in capturing Kony.
Ugandan oppositionists dismissed all this as posturing and lambasted Museveni for using the war on Kony to gain credibility in the West. They argued that Museveni's forces were subjugating northern Ugandans, including holding hundreds of thousands of civilians in appalling conditions in camps 'for their own protection', and had no interest in pursuing the LRA.
By the early 1990s, Kony became a regional threat after the government of Sudan gave him arms, money and training to create mayhem in southern Sudan and the region. It was then that an unwieldy coalition of local and international non-government organisations joined with regional and western militaries to pursue Kony. Neither Kony, nor his backers in Khartoum and elsewhere, have been brought to account let alone faced any sanction for their murderous campaign.
The sole LRA fighter to be put on trial at the ICC in the Hague is Dominic Ongwen, a lieutenant of Kony's and former child soldier. This abandoning of the hunt for Kony, together with the lack of any restitution for the victims of the long war in northern Uganda, means its bitter aftermath will haunt the country for years to come.
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