Market Atlas Review: Obama’s Visit, Zimbabwe in Crisis, and more ...
Every fortnight in partnership with Market Atlas, Ventures Africa brings you data, insight, and analysis on changing market conditions across the continent.
Kenya: Obama’s visit to Kenya shows signs that the US is taking a more pragmatic view on Africa
US President Obama made his first state visit to Kenya on July 24 to attend the Global Entrepreneurship week and of course have diplomatic talks with his Kenyan counterpart, President Uhuru Kenyatta. Obama focused his public remarks on the expected themes of governance and economic collaboration. Obama offered to support Kenya in improving transparency and accountability, and strengthening Kenya’s institutions to fight corruption.
President Obama also offered up support to Kenya for tackling security issues. He announced the signing of an action plan to help improve law enforcement and border security, and strengthen the judiciary. Obama also showed solidarity with Kenya’s position on the civil war in South Sudan and the electoral crisis in Burundi.
Obama’s visit to Kenya showed a cordial and friendly relationship with President Kenyatta, a remarkable shift from Obama’s previous stance on not visiting Kenya while Kenyatta was under indictment from the International Criminal Court (ICC). This about face seems to show the US is taking a more pragmatic view on Africa in order not to miss the boat on its economic growth. Obama followed up the Kenya visit with a stop in Ethiopia, a country with a poor human rights record.
It’s looking more and more like US trade and investment interests in Africa are taking prominence over a pervious insistence for human rights and governance reforms as a prerequisite for engagement.
Zimbabwe: A string of Supreme Court rulings threaten further weaken an already fragile country
On July 27 the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe ruled that employers in the country are not required to pay workers allowances for housing, education and other fringe benefits, a common practice in the country. This ruling comes on the heels of another by the same court on July 17 that allows employers to disregard labor laws and dismiss workers without lay-off benefits by giving just 3 months’ notice. Under Zimbabwe’s Labor Act, every employee has the right not to be unfairly dismissed, and employers have to follow a detailed process to show legal grounds for dismissal.
On the immediate heels of the ruling a number of large employers dismissed hundreds of employees. This action pushed the unemployment rate in the country to well over 80%. Zimbabwe’s Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) warned that workers would take to the street if President Zimbabwe did not evoke his emergency presidential powers and prevent job losses after the rulings. These rulings coincide with a crackdown on street vendors by the Harare municipal police that erupted in violence two weeks ago. The traders had been protesting for several weeks against their forced removal from their regular business locations.
Zimbabwe is a country on the precipice both politically and economically. Decisions seem to be made solely on the basis of how they benefit entrenched powers, and the lack of accountability and care for the populace is fast approaching a breaking point. The Zimbabwean government continues to test the limits of its people with decisions that put further pressure on it failing economy. The consequences of these decisions are at best negative and potentially grave.
Cameroun: Two suicide attacks by Boko Haram in Cameroun show the weakened terrorist group is still a factor
The northern Cameroonian city of Maroua was hit by twin suicide attacks on the 22nd of July. Two teenage girls attacked a market and a residential community half a mile apart. The presidency announced that 13 people died and 32 were wounded in both attacks. The Maroua blasts occurred 10 days after Cameroon suffered its first suicide bombing, in Fotokol on July 12, which killed 11.
Cameroun along with Chad were instrumental in commencing the first concerted offensive to repel the Boko Haram insurgency that has taken thousands of lives in Nigeria and forced over 1.5 million people from their homes.
The attacks are clearly reprisals against soft targets in Cameroun for their military support of Nigeria’s efforts to squash the group. It shows that, though weak, Boko Haram will continue to be a menace until they are completely defeated. Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s President, was on a state visit to Cameroun this week to discuss the activation of Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF). The Task Force is a coalition of African countries working together to eradicate the scourge that is Boko Haram. Earlier in the year the United States pledged $5 billion to support the fight against Boko Haram, much of these funds will be used by the MJTF to support their operations.
The long awaited activation of the MJTF is a positive sign that Nigeria and the countries impacted by the terrorist group are finally ready to put together a fully coordinated effort to defeat Boko Haram. The porous borders between Nigeria and its neighboring countries to the North and East have allowed Boko Haram to move personnel, weaponry, and other resources around unabated in the region. Boko Haram will only be permanently defeated once the region is fully secure, and secure region will require coordination between all impacted countries well beyond a victory over Boko Haram.
Ethiopia: A ruling party victory in the National elections were a forgone conclusion but winning 100% of the Parliamentary seats shows the extent of the farce that is Ethiopian democracy
The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and its allies have won every single seat in the House of People’s Representatives. The official announcement was made by elections officials on June 22 following the vote that took place on May 24.
The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) said that the outcome was “free, fair and credible”. Terms which no reasonable individual would associate with conduct of the elections. Ethiopia is effectively a police state run by the EPRDF. Opposition figures and members of civil society were routinely intimidated and arrested leading up to the vote. Human rights groups routinely rank the EPRDF one of the most repressive regimes in Africa.
To make matters worse President Obama twice described the election a democratic during his state visit to Ethiopia on Monday July 27. His statement seem to confirm our assertion that the US is now willing to look the other way on governance in preference for its economic and business interests.
Rwanda: Vote in parliament makes third term-bid for President Kagame almost a certainty
Rwanda’s Parliament voted for a referendum to allow President Paul Kagame to run for president for a third time in 2017. The Rwandan houses of Parliament met on July 14 to approve an amendment to the country’s constitution which currently limits individuals to two terms as President. This vote was an interim step prior to a formal vote to amend the constitution that will be the final step in the process.
The process to amend the constitution has been legal and widely supported by Rwandan citizens unlike the popular resistance put up against President Pierre Nkurunziza of neighboring Burundi. The vote in parliament came after a petitions signed by 2 million Rwandans in support of President Kagame’s bid to stay in office were submitted.
President Kagame has been an exemplary leader on a continent with very few good examples to point to. We commend the legal approach taken to amend the constitution and think Rwanda would likely continue to do well with Kagame at the helm. On the other hand we are disappointed that another African leader seeks to remain in power rather than hand over to a competent successor. Kagame has often been criticized for his exclusionary leadership style, and he has continuously tightened restrictions on civil society and the media.
We view this political development in Rwanda with caution and concern. One only look at President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. He was once hailed as a liberator and hero who fought for Democracy and its ideals. We see how one man’s zeal to hold on to power turned out for Zimbabwe