On 16 August 2021, opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema shocked the world by becoming the seventh president-elect of Zambia in a landslide victory over incumbent President Edgar Lungu. This is an exciting opportunity for change in Zambia and has raised hopes that it may usher in a wave of new leadership across Africa.
HH’s ride to victory
Hichilema – or ‘HH’, as he is widely known – rose from humble beginnings as a self-described ‘cattle-boy’ to become a self-made successful businessman with interests in finance, property, ranching, healthcare and tourism. HH secured a victory by publicising his business background as a guarantee that he had the skills, experience, and know-how to transform Zambia’s beleaguered economy. His campaign was also tech-savvy, appealing particularly to young voters on social media, using everyday language to demonstrate that he was one of them and not just part of the business elite.
HH’s success indicates that a strong economy and a genuine meritocracy are becoming key issues for many African voters – especially youth.
His resilience and persistence also proved an asset. HH bid for the presidency six times prior to his victory and experienced regular persecution, including a stint in prison. In this campaign, his core economic argument persuaded voters because they wanted a leader they could trust on the basis of experience and merit, not slogans, to transform the country’s trajectory.
Zambia – Africa’s second largest copper producer – saw its economy stagnate when copper prices collapsed around 2011 and languished for a decade. The pandemic did no favours to a weak economy, but the principal cause of distress was the previous government’s negligence to implement a stable business and regulatory environment. This was felt acutely in the mining sector, resulting in an inexcusable failure to capture the full potential of what many experts believe to be a new copper “supercycle”.
This failure is compounded by the country’s crippling debt crisis. Sovereign external debt is believed to be around 12 billion USD. In November 2020, Zambia became Africa’s first country during the pandemic to default on its international debts after failing to keep up with payments to bondholders. To add to their woes, inflation has dramatically increased and the Kwacha lost half its value during the last five years.
Lungu’s Patriotic Front came to power in 2011 on a campaign promise of “less taxes, more money in people’s pockets and more jobs”. This did not transpire – particularly for young people – and Lungu’s administration was fraught with allegations of corruption, as well as rumours around Chinese financing of his campaign. HH is a different kind of leader, whose strong platform and ability connect with younger voters led to an overwhelming victory in this month’s elections that speaks to Zambians’ desire for change.
The next countries to watch
Stories like those of Zambia’s economic woes are sadly not uncommon in Africa, and the disastrous economic and health effects of the pandemic have worsened already dire situations in many countries across the continent. There are however several opposition leaders that have clear similarities with HH and can take on his mantle of disrupting the status quo.
Liberia: Alexander B. Cummings
The experience, skill and background of Alexander B. Cummings – also known by his initials ABC – are very similar to that of HH. Coming from humble beginnings in Liberia, Cummings was educated in Monrovia before moving to study business in the US. After a stint in finance back in Liberia, he rose to become head of Coca-Cola Africa and the chief administrative officer of the multinational firm globally.
Cummings has since entered Liberian politics on a campaign promise of change from the administration of former footballer George Weah, which has left Liberia – a country with abundant natural resources and a hospitable climate for agriculture – one of the poorest countries in Africa. Weah is widely held responsible for allowing corruption to become endemic in Liberia, while rumours of Russian funding of his 2017 campaign persist.
Much like HH, Cummings has grown resilient from setbacks. Despite losing to Weah a disputed 2017 presidential election, Cummings is a top contender to compete with the incumbent ahead of the upcoming 2023 presidential election. Cummings’s policy platform, focusing on reviving the economy, improving education and empowering women, resolutely capitalises on his business success and draws on a wealth of local philanthropic activities. While it is still early in the race, voters in 2023 might view Cummings as the leader the country needs to revive Liberia from crisis and put it on the path to prosperity.
Democratic Republic of Congo: Martin Fayulu
Martin Fayulu also offers a strong economic argument to DRC voters based on his proven success as a former executive at ExxonMobil, where he worked from 1984 to 2003.
Fayulu faced serious setbacks as an opposition leader in the DRC when Felix Tshisekedi was declared the winner of the December 2018 election, despite election observers claiming that Fayulu had won the vote. Fayulu fought on a platform against corruption after incumbent president Joseph Kabila extended his rule and relied on his business experience to appeal to voters as an outsider. Resilient like HH, Fayulu has continued to remain active in politics since the election and could see a swell of support for his economic renewal platform.
HH’s victory is rightly viewed as an exciting opportunity for change in Zambia, and it may just be the beginning of a wave of change across Africa. A new generation of leaders are – whether Cummings, Fayulu, or others – bringing hope that better governance, accountability, and renewed economic growth post-pandemic will follow.
The Transitioning Democracy of Sudan
Sudan has been the focus of conflict for much of its six decades as an independent nation. Despite being an anomaly in a region crippled with totalitarian populism and escalating violence, the country hasn’t witnessed much economic or political stability in years. While the civic-military coalition, leading a democratic transition towards elections, has managed to subside the fragments of civil war, growing hostility in the peripheries has begun threatening the modest reforms made in the past two years. The recent coup attempt is a befitting example of the plans that are budding within the echelons of the Sudanese military to drag the country back into the closet. And while the attempt got thwarted, it is not a success to boast. But it is a warning that the transition would not be as smooth a ride as one might have hoped.
The problems today are only a reflection of Sudan’s issues in the past: especially which led to the revolution. The civil unrest began in Sudan back in December 2018. Sudan’s long-serving ruler, Omer al-Bashir, had turned Sudan into an international outcast during his 30-year rule of tyranny and economic isolation. Naturally, Sudan perished as an economic pariah: especially after the independence of South Sudan. With the loss of oil revenues and almost 95% of its exports, Sudan inched on the brink of collapse. In response, Bashir’s regime resorted to impose draconian austerity measures instead of reforming the economy and inviting investment. The cuts in domestic subsidies over fuel and food items led to steep price hikes: eventually sparking protests across the east and spreading like wildfire to the capital, Khartoum.
In April 2019, after months of persistent protests, the army ousted Bashir’s government; established a council of generals, also known as the ‘Transitional Military Council.’ The power-sharing agreement between the civilian and military forces established an interim government for a period of 39 months. Subsequently, the pro-democracy movement nominated Mr. Abdalla Hamdok as the Prime Minister: responsible for orchestrating the general elections at the end of the transitional period. The agreement coalesced the civilian and military powers to expunge rebellious factions from society and establish a stable economy for the successive government. However, the aspirations overlooked ground realities.
Sudan currently stands in the third year of the transitional arrangement that hailed as a victory. However, the regime is now most vulnerable when the defiance is stronger than ever. Despite achieving respite through peace agreements with the rebels in Sudan, the proliferation of arms and artillery never abated. In reality, the armed attacks have spiraled over the past two years after a brief hiatus achieved by the peace accords. The conflict stems from the share of resources between different societal fractions around Darfur, Kordofan, and the Blue Nile. According to UN estimates, the surging violence has displaced more than 410,000 people across Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. The expulsion is six times the rate of displacement recorded last year. According to the retreating UN peacekeeping mission, the authorities have all but failed to calm the rampant banditry and violence: partially manifested by the coup attempt that managed to breach the government’s order.
The regional instability is only half the story. Since the displacement of Bashir’s regime, Sudan has rarely witnessed stability, let alone surplus dividends to celebrate. Despite thawing relations with Israel and joining the IMF program, Sudan has felt little relief in return. The sharp price hikes and gripping unemployment which triggered the coup back in 2019 never receded: galloped instead. Currently, inflation runs rampant above 400%, while the Sudanese Pound has massively devalued under conditions dictated by the IMF. And despite bagging some success in negotiating International debt relief, the Hamdok regime has struggled to invite foreign investment and create jobs: majorly due to endemic conflicts that still run skin-deep in the fabric of the Sudanese society.
While the coup attempt failed, it is still not a sigh of relief for the fragile government. The deep-rooted analysis of the coup attempt reveals a stark reality: the military factions – at least some – are no longer sated in being equal-footed with a civilian regime. Moreover, the perpetrators tried to leverage the widening disquiet within the country by blocking roads and attempting to sabotage state-run media: hoping to gain public support. The population is indeed frustrated by the economic desperation; the failure of the coup attempt means that people have still not given up hope in a democratic government and a free-and-fair election. Nonetheless, it is not the first tranche of the army to rebel, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only way to salvage democracy is to stabilize Sudan’s economy and resolve inter-communal violence before leading the county towards elections. Otherwise, it is apparent that Bashir’s political apparatus is so deeply entrenched in Sudan’s ruling network that even if the transitional government survives multiple coups, an elected government would ultimately wither.
Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine
As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States has decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.
“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” an official said in a statement, and reported by British Broadcasting Corporation.
Obiang was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the US authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He denied the charges.
The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the US and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organisation for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said.
The UN is to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity is to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.
Teodorin Nguema has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa,
Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.
African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter
A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.
The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.
Earlier in August 2021, UN chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.
August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.
Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.
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