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Across Africa in April: Elections, books, trade and appointments

By The Africa Report
Posted on Wednesday, 14 April 2021 18:00

Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno welcomed at Sochi International Airport as he arrives to take part in the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit. Valery Sharifulin/TASS/Sipa USA Host Photo Agency

There are various things to watch out for in April on the continent.

To the ballot box, with few choices

Several presidents standing for reelection in April have gone to great lengths to weaken the opposition: Idriss Déby Itno, who has been president of Chad since 1990, is awaiting results that are likely to be in his favour, while fellow long-stayer Ismaïl Omar Guelleh of Djibouti has won a fifth term and newcomer Patrice Talon of Benin got a second term. None of them faced substantial challenges due to their efforts to limit political space and the room for dissenting voices.

The old guard first. Déby and Guelleh have both been in office since the last century. Neither of them has announced plans for retirement, and both hold on to strategic positions to bolster their standing with France and other international partners: Déby as a strongman in the unstable Sahel and Guelleh as host to several military bases at a crucial chokepoint for international trade. They use the power of incumbency to weaken potential rivals and quash any talk of succession in their respective ruling parties.

As for the newer guy, Benin’s Patrice Talon won nearly two-thirds of the 2016 presidential election vote by promising to shake up the country’s politics and to do so in a single term. He has been more successful on the first point than the second. Judging his electoral reforms unfair, many opposition leaders had vowed to boycott the vote.

Others are facing charges of terrorism or drug trafficking in the courts. Talon is campaigning on his economic record, but, like his April peers, has not announced what the plan will be when the countdown-to-retirement clock begins ticking again in a few years’ time.

Uganda and Kenya: Trade

Under the rules of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), Uganda can only export 11,000tn of sugar to Kenya.

The two countries have been engaged in a long series of trade disputes and an April meeting should deliver agreements on opening up trade for sugar, fruit juice and pharmaceuticals.


  • Sudanese-British writer Jamal Mahjoub returns to the world of jazz (after The Drift Latitudes, 2006) for his new novel, The Fugitives. A long disbanded Sudanese jazz group, The Kamanga Kings, has the chance of a lifetime to perform in Washington DC. What unfolds reveals much about Trump’s America, human nature and belonging.
  • After the success of Kumukanda, which won a Dylan Thomas Prize in 2018, Zambia-born poet Kayo Chingonyi’s second collection, A Blood Condition, offers historically rich, rhythmical reflections on life in the UK and his home country. If you can catch him reading live, don’t miss it.

Telecoms: Preparing for the Ethiopia bonanza

Ethiopia’s telecoms liberalisation is the biggest news in the sector for years. The country of 112 million people can currently use only the services of monopoly player Ethio Telecom, so it represents a huge growth opportunity.

The government announced in 2018 that it will be issuing two telecoms licences to new entrants and will also sell a 45% stake in Ethio Telecom to a major investor. However, since then the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Tigray have cast shadows over the processes and could delay them further.

The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will receive the bids for the two licences by 5 April. The continent’s biggest players – Safaricom, MTN, Etisalat and Orange – have all expressed an interest.

Safaricom has said that it expects a winning bid to cost at least $1bn. The administration is adopting a tough line and said in early March that it could reverse or modify its plans if the offers are not as high as the government’s targets. Many of the investors had hoped for a fully-fledged opening of the market, but in the rounds of information that the government gradually released, it said that the telecoms licences will not include mobile-money operations.

Other areas of uncertainty throughout the process have included questions around infrastructure. After telecom-tower-builders expressed an interest in bidding, the ministry in charge of the privatisation process also announced in March that, for the initial privatisation period, the new licence-holders should lease existing infrastructure rather than building their own.


  • Lindiwe Majele Sibanda: The Zimbabwean agriculture and food security expert is set to join the Nestlé board if the AGM on 15 April approves the move. The professor at the University of Pretoria would also bring experience from the Global Alliance for ClimateSmart Agriculture and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.
  • Ifedayo Orimoloye: The financial specialist will join the African Development Bank, which is worried about maintaining its AAA credit rating. The bank’s chief risk officer has worked in the risk departments of many major banks in the US and on the continent, including Wells Fargo, Citibank, Ecobank and Sterling Bank.

Nigeria: Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)

In January, Nigeria’s speaker of the house of representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said that that the Petroleum Industry Bill, which has been two decades and four presidents in the making, could finally see the light of day: ‘We intend to pass this bill by April. That is the commitment we have made. Some may call it a tall order, but we will do it.’

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