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Two scenarios for Africa

The high road and the low road for African economies 

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Nigeria: A change in need of belief

Amidst a protracted government crisis, Nigerians hope their politicians may learn some of the lessons of Barack Obama’s presidential victory in the US

 

As Nigerians celebrated the victory of Barack Obama in the US presidential elections of 4 November, President Umaru Yar’Adua interpreted the event for his fellow politicians: “I believe for us here in Nigeria, we have lessons to draw from this historic event – and the prejudices arising from various differences in tribe, zone, and regions. We should examine ourselves in the light of this experience and conduct ourselves purely as Nigerians to serve Nigeria and serve humanity.”?

 

Warming to his theme, Yar’Adua fulminated against those Nigerians in power who make decisions according to where they come from or according to the ethnic group to which they belong: “That is the old world; this is the old era. Its coffin has been nailed throughout the world and we have entered a new era.”?

 

Rotating rivalries?

 

That should be music to the ears of Nigerians, whose politics has been dominated for three decades by damaging internecine party warfare and a complex system of ethnic balancing or ‘federal character’, which divides the country into zones and reserves the top jobs for representatives of different zones. Given the febrile political atmosphere in Abuja around the presidency with plots and counter-plots developing, it’s unsurprising that Yar’Adua wants a new era. The question is whether he will be able to shuffle off the country’s difficult political past.?

 

In theory, the top political jobs are rotated among the zones to ensure that every part of the country has a chance to provide a president or a vice-president. In a country with a population nudging 150m and with more than 300 ethno-linguistic groups, balancing and representing those disparate interests challenges even the most skilled Nigerian political fixers.?

 

In principle, many Nigerians supported this system as a way to heal the fissures after the civil war of the 1960s when the Igbo people and some local allies broke away from the federation to form their own oil-rich republic. For many outsiders, Nigeria made an exemplary recovery from that devastating war in which over a million died: the first post-war government loudly proclaimed: “No victor, no vanquished!”. The reality has been more difficult. The federal character of the system is cumbersome but has, many claim, kept the more extreme proponents of ethnic exclusivity in check. No one region can dominate political, economic and military organisations without having to recruit senior officials from other parts of the country.?

 

Spreading the wealth

 

?If a Nigerian establishes a bank or a big new company, the directors must be drawn from across the country. Similarly, the mid-ranking and top civil service posts are divided on a geographic basis. In the middle of Kenya’s post-election crisis and ethnic mayhem in early 2008, the Commonwealth Secretariat sent its special advisor, Professor Ade Adefuye from Nigeria, to help mediation: and some of Nigeria’s principles of federal character found their way into Kenya’s power-sharing agreement that resulted in its current grand coalition.?

 

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Proud as some Nigerians may be about such political exports, many are profoundly disturbed at the state of national politics. The obsession with regional and ethnic balancing, requiring each senior politican to deliver for his or her ethnic constituency, has held back civilian politics, because it most resembles a marketplace.?

 

Some see the country’s federal character as benefiting the politicians – especially those of the biggest ethnic groups of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba – more than the people. According to former President Olusegun Obasanjo: “The ordinary Nigerians are no problem. They are wonderful in hospitality, forbearance, tolerance and in the love of their fellow human beings. But the elite... it is when the elite want something and cannot get it that they remember that you are Igbo or he is Yoruba... or he is Hausa and you are Igbo.”?

 

President Yar’Adua’s administration promised change. After two terms of President Obasanjo’s rumbustious political style, replete with allegations of nepotism and vindictiveness, there were hopes that the quietly-spoken and thoughtful Yar’Adua would offer a more effective, if less flamboyant style of government.?

 

Obasanjo’s long shadow?

 

After 18 months of power, Yar’Adua has been unable to break away from the legacy of his predecessor. Although some of his aides speak vitriolically about Obasanjo and the business dealings of his relatives and associates, there is plenty of unfinished business from that era in the in-tray, such as the billions of dollars of contracts in the power sector awarded to such little effect under Obasanjo. Most of all there was the messy presidential election in 2007 which has been the subject of a high court action by the losing candidates – Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar. The legal dispute over the presidential election has been a dead weight on the Yar’Adua govermment, delaying decisions on project funding and a vital cabinet reshuffle.?

 

The political clans have been gathering and plotting in Abuja. Their schemes encompass the art of Nigerian high-table politics: to his face all the players pledge loyalty to Yar’Adua, but behind his back they brief the press on how the government is falling apart and how Yar’Adua’s health problems have rendered him incapable.?

 

Something has to break, say the presidential watchers in Abuja. The legal decision which will either confirm Yar’Adua in office beyond dispute or re-commend fresh election will be a turning point. If it confirms Yar’Adua, his aides say that he will accelerate the pace of government and prove the doubters wrong. If the courts rule against his election, then Nigeria is due for a protracted period of political uncertainty. And for an increasingly impatient country, that will mean even more tendentious politics in 2009.

 

Zimbabwe: The high price of stubbornness

 

The economy took a turn for the worse as the parties failed to agree the details of their power-sharing deal

 

The acceleration of Zimbabwe’s economic decline became more apparent than ever after President Robert Mugabe claimed victory in his stand-alone run-off election in June and central bank governor Gideon Gono lopped ten zeroes off the Zimbabwe dollar in August to put it momentarily at par with the South African rand.?

 

The freefall was not even halted by the mid-September power-sharing deal between the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). In fact, the failure to finalise the details of that agreement quickly brought the economy to a virtual standstill.?

 

By November, the zeroes on the Zimbabwe dollar were back with a vengeance. The currency was so worthless as to require Z$40bn for a single rand and Z$400bn per US dollar. The inflation rate spiralled beyond reckoning, some saying by hundreds of million percent and experts calculating in quintillions. The crisis in the countryside had begun to seep into the cities, punctuated by the stench of raw sewage clogged in storm drains as public utilities ceased to function. There have been no adequate water supplies in most urban areas since the authorities could no longer pay for chemicals for purification. In a Harare suburb, eight members from one household perished after a cholera outbreak in early November, and 22 others from neighbouring homesteads died soon after, triggering panic and uproar from residents. “We couldn’t hold our church service while people from the neighbourhood mourned,” said Tapera Mucheche, a member of the local Seventh-Day Adventist Church. “We had to mourn with others, but it was a case of moving from one house to the next the entire day.”?

 

Hospitals and clinics were closed by a lack of drugs and staff, resulting in deaths from easily treatable illnesses. Government, increasingly in a parallel reality, battled to play down the magnitude of the crisis. Health minister David Parirenyatwa said his ministry was ahead of the crisis. The government’s refusal to accept responsibility caused attitudes to harden. “I think ZANU-PF’s days are numbered,” said one elderly ZANU-PF activist who declined to be named. “They may try, but…I don’t think they still have a place in the hearts of even the faithfuls. We’re all dying.”?

 

The optimism that greeted the power-sharing deal evaporated when the parties became deadlocked over the allocation of ministries. The MDC blamed the continuing impasse on “the lack of sincerity and good faith”. Observers said ZANU-PF’s continued use of ‘hate language’ against the opposition – after Morgan Tsvangirai had officially been appointed the country’s prime minister-designate, he was still being likened to former Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi – destroyed any faith the MDC had that ZANU-PF was ready to change.?

 

New dilemmas?

 

Although ZANU-PF had split into two factions, one led by former army commander Solomon Mujuru and the other by rural housing minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, they shared a “common disdain for the opposition and will therefore not work together with the opposition”, according to a key Tsvangirai advisor, Godfrey Kanyenze.?

 

As The Africa Report went to press, the MDC’s position with regard to the allocation of ministries had changed. MDC spokesperson Tendai Biti said that key ministries should now be “paired” and shared between the MDC and ZANU-PF. In this scheme, the defence portfolio, which had initially been allocated to ZANU-PF, would be paired with the MDC’s coveted home affairs portfolio, which controls the police. He did not say if this might apply to other contested portfolios such as finance, foreign affairs and information.

 

?The attitude of South Africa’s new President Kgalema Motlanthe remained unclear, although his trade union allies wanted him to put more pressure on Mugabe, perhaps by advocating Botswanan President Ian Khama’s proposal of fresh presidential elections. South African former-President Thabo Mbeki was supposed to continue to mediate, albeit with reduced leverage and credibility.?

 

Economic implosion

 

?Though Zimbabwe’s greatest hope lay in a power-sharing government, fresh elections were being considered as a way forward that could give the winner a mandate to form a government. Yet there were doubts about their likely freedom and fairness, and the role of international observers. Elections had already proved divisive and failed to solve the sharp divisions or the economic collapse.?

 

In the absence of a breakthrough, the business sector became increasingly jittery. The Chamber of Mines warned of an economic implosion, saying companies were near closure after government’s non-payment for gold deliveries.?

 

Foreign currency for critical imports was becoming more scarce. As well as the problems in mining, the decline in the manufacturing sector, already operating at less than 30% capacity, was rapidly accelerating. Nevertheless, ZANU-PF seemed determined to embark on more control of the economy.?

 

Analysts such as Michelle Gavin, a fellow at the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, recently argued that the US and its allies (the United Kingdom and the EU) should immediately pledge a fund of $3-4.5bn over five years, as well as debt relief, to be available once the new government met certain reform criteria. Gavin argued that only through the provision of real incentives would political change be effected by those in power. In particular she singled out the “calculus of those who are in a position to trigger a transition…elites who are interested in their own long-term financial security”.?

 

Mining industry players said potential investment of $2bn was waiting for the economy to turn. John Robertson, an independent economic consultant, estimated the country would require $15bn to restore the manufacturing and agricultural sectors and rebuild dilapidated infrastructure.

 

?MDC policy coordinator Eddie Cross promised a review of legislation compelling foreign mines to cede a 51% shareholding to Zimbabweans. “That will be subject to immediate review. We plan to revise the policy for mining so as to make it more investor-friendly. It is a high priority for us to get all mining projects under way,” he said.?

 

Several Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed companies received loan pledges from South African banks and other South African firms – including supermarket chain Massmart, Blue Financial Services, mining company African Rainbow Minerals and retail outlet Famous Brands – all waiting to enter the Zimbabwe market. 

 
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