Items of Interest: May 17

The following items from May 17 may emerge to become significant factors impacting geomarket developments in Africa:

Angola: Eighty-eight armed forces senior officers and sixty-one National Police senior officers were discharged.

Significance: Though it is a regular occurrence for the Angolan president to discharge a political appointee, João Lourenço normally does so in batches of two’s or three’s. Effecting the retirement of almost one hundred and fifty senior defense and security officials (all of whom held general officer, flag officer, or police command appointment) is considerably beyond the norm and could be seen by the president’s intra-ruling party critics as a severe purge and yet another unwarranted attack on the regime that Lourenço inherited in 2017. However, the retirements conform to legislation passed in 2018 that reduces the number and limits the service duration of the officers corps, especially those held at the command level. Lastly, the installation of new defense and security appointees will likely reflect Lourenço administration measures intended to elevate good governance requirements, to include security sector reform that reduces the prevalence of security personnel embedded in state governance. 

Côte d’Ivoire: Nine were killed and eighty-four wounded during May 15-16 inter-ethnic clashes in Béoumi near the central city of Bouaké in the Gbêkê region.

Significance: The number of killed and wounded near Bouaké represent a material escalation in tensions between two of the country’s principal ethnic groups, each of whom are generally aligned to the country’s leading political parties: the Baoulé as the constituent base of the opposition Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire led by former President Henri Konan Bédié, and the Malinké as the principal base of President Alassane Ouattara of the ruling Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP). The Ivoirian government has sent a senior minister as well as defense and security officials to end the clashes between members of the Baoulé and Malinké communities in the Bouaké area. In the absence of political reconciliation between Ouattara’s RHDP and Bédié’s PDCI (the latter is in the early states of consolidating an opposition alliance to electorally displace the former), mediation efforts will only be temporary in nature due to pressing national political calculations being made to shape the outcome of the country’s presidential election due in October 2020. 

Niger: The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara claimed responsibility for the May 14 ambush that resulted in at least twenty-eight Nigerien soldiers killed. 

Significance: The magnitude of the casualty count made this incident anomalous. It remains the consideration that the ambush was laid in preparation to attack Nigerien armed forces who were acting in hot pursuit of the Islamist militants following the latter’s May 13 raid on the Koutoukalé maximum security prison (an operation likely intended to free high value comrades). The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, which until 2015 was known as the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), is led by Abu Walid al Sahrawi, a former leader of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Frustrations over directionality limits imposed on non-Algerians (to include al Sahrawi) by Algerian leaders of AQIM led to al Sahrawi’s separation in 2011, but otherwise the jihadist unit complements the Al Qaeda franchise. 

Zambia: President Edgar Lungu is visiting the Copperbelt province to liaise with copper mining, labor, and civil society representatives to obtain a people’s mandate to assert adversarial relations with foreign copper mining companies active in the country. 

Significance: Copper mining is the mainstay of the Zambian economy, and while the international price of copper is relatively high, new royalties, taxes and duties in Zambia have resulted in foreign miners to include Vedanta Resources, Barrick Gold, and Glencore warning of mining stoppages due to adverse fiscal conditions. Very high government debt levels and minimal sovereign reserves are compelling the Lungu administration to maximize revenues and minimize areas of revenue losses, however. The nature of Lungu’s Patriotic Front party is adversarial derived from a sense of Zambian nationalism, and perceived threats by foreign mining companies are not received very favorably. The fiscal regime the foreign mining companies hold as adverse has not become an adversarial domestic political challenge for Lungu. Threats by the Lungu administration to take over and operate shuttered mining operations are hollow, however, given the political memory the Patriotic Front holds of when the Zambian government under Kenneth Kaunda nationalized (after paying a fair market price) and ultimately unsuccessfully operated the copper mines.

Zimbabwe: The Freedom of Information Bill is to be gazetted imminently.

Significance: The Freedom of Information Bill will replace the controversial Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), one of two pieces of legislation seen as impeding the lifting of Western sanctions (notably those by the European Union and the United States). The other law, the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) is being repealed by the Maintenance of Peace and Order (MOPA) Bill, which has already been approved by the Emmerson Mnangagwa administration, has been reviewed by a parliamentary constitutional committee, and will receive public comment in June. The contents of the two new bills intend to provide greater checks on government intrusions and open greater democratic and human rights space in Zimbabwe. How the pending legislation is practiced will determine whether and how international sanctions are repealed, though, as Western governments will need to observe a sustained change in securocrat behavior on the part of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party that controls the Zimbabwean government. But on the whole the Mnangagwa administration is effecting meaningful democratic reforms within the intra-party political and economic constraints the Zimbabwean president faces.

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