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Jan
28

In the coming year ….by CAMERON DUODU

In the coming year … CAMERON DUODU on what is likely to happen in a number of African countries in 2011. (New African January 2011)

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I HATE WRITING ABOUT THINGS THAT have not yet happened. For just as the best-laid plans of men can be negated by events of which they had no foreknowledge, so can it be with the affairs of nations. In fact it is worse with nations, because so many factors affect their future that attempting to forecast their fates is almost akin to dreaming and talking about what one sees in the dream.

Indeed, I hold certain publications that have the gall to predict what may happen in a country in unmitigated contempt, the reason being that if one goes back a few years to look at what they had written in years past, their forecasts are found to be disastrously inaccurate.

I remember that around 1987-88 for instance, The Economist Intelligence Unit in London bluntly told its subscribers that there would be “a coup” in Nigeria against President Ibrahim Babangida. This seemed foolish to me, for Babangida had assumed power only two years before, and was still wrapped in the silken shrouds of a honeymoon period with the Nigeria populace, during which he was believed by many to be the best thing Nigeria ever had – – a soldier who was also democratic enough to throw open to the people for debate, the thorny question of whether Nigeria should seek an IMF loan or not. (At that time, Nigeria, alas now like a remote planet, debated economic policies with both perception and passion.)

Besides, any journalist with a true knowledge of African countries will tell you that soldiers do not normally go round alerting foreign journalists that they are about to carry out a coup before the soldiers actually strike.

Needless to say, Babangida stayed on in power until 1993 – six good years after his political life had been written off and thoroughly rubbished by the international ‘forecasters.’
So, I shall certainly do my best to give you a picture of what might happen on our continent in the days that lie ahead, (at the express request of the editor of this magazine, I must add — or prophecy by command, if you ask me) but please remember that I am only looking into very dark waters and trying to make sense of mere shadows in the water. Do you remember the days when photographs first came out as negatives and you never knew whether they were good or bad until they had been ‘printed’ as positives? It’s much the same type of exercise I am carrying out here.

The forecast

I shall start with Cote d’Ivoire. Despite their preoccupation with their own internal affairs, both Ghana and Nigeria will be forced to devote a lot of time and effort in 2011 to the problem in Cote d’Ivoire. Fighting had already broken out in Abidjan by mid-December 2010, and was expected to intensify.

ECOWAS had met in Abuja and suspended Cote d’Ivoire from membership, as had the African Union. The UN Security Council had also called on President Laurent Gbagbo to honour the voice of the Ivorian people, as expressed in the 28 November 2010 presidential run-off election. And the USA, taking a stronger line than usual, had warned Gbagbo that he had very little time in which to avoid strong sanctions being applied against him and his followers.

The problem arose when Cote d’Ivoire, which had fought a civil war in 2002-2004 that tore it apart, was ushered into renewed tension by Gbagbo’s actions after he had lost the election. He refused to yield power to the opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara who had clearly won it.

The UN, which had 9,000 troops in the country, pulled out all “non-essential staff”. The fear was that the UN force — as well as the French force that had been stationed in the country since the civil war– might be drawn into any extended fighting that broke out between Gbagbo’s forces and those of the “New Forces”, who support Ouattara. Foreign involvement would set a very bad precedent and would almost certainly be condemned by the AU and ECOWAS, even though they would wish that the fighting was stopped. Many ECOWAS members do, of course, have pockets of their own citizenry in Cote d’Ivoire, dating from the days when that country was the most prosperous in West Africa.

But how would ECOWAS like any fighting between the Gbagbo and Ouattara camps to be stopped? That remain the conundrum that ECOWAS will spend a lot of time trying to unravel in 2011.

LET’S MAKE NO BONES ABOUT IT — Gbagbo is indeed a throwback to an Africa of yesteryears, when a “big” and “strong” man got hold of power and held it tightly in his fists — unable to let go of it. Which is rather strange, because Gbagbo opposed with tooth and claw, a man who had a similar attitude to power — the late Felix Houphouet-Boigny, first president of Cote d’Ivoire (who died in 1993 after ruling for 40 years).

Gbagbo has, since Houphouet’s death, taken part in uncountable power-sharing schemes with his rivals. But each time, he has torn them up. His erstwhile prime minister, Guillaume Soro, is now the mainstay of Alassane Ouattara, the man Gbagbo could not beat at the 28 November 2010 election and yet won’t allow to be president. That election was the second round of a contest whose first round had produced figures that should have told Gbagbo he would not be re-elected: Gbagbo got 38% to Ouattara’s 32%, with former president Henri Konan Bedie taking 25%. It was obvious that whoever obtained Bedie’s support would be the winner of the second round. Ouattara secured Bedie’s blessing, and indeed won over 54% of the vote, to the 45% obtained by Gbagbo, in the runoff.

But just as the election results were being announced, Gbagbo produced his coup de grace. First, his gendarmes and civilian thugs prevented the Independent Election Commission (IEC) from announcing the results on national radio and television. In one instance, an election official was physically restrained as he tried to make an announcement, and the papers containing the results were wrested from his hands and torn to pieces – in the full view of foreign election observers and some television reporters, though not the Ivorian national TV and radio.

The IEC thus missed its deadline, but found a hotel room — without national TV or radio present– where it made its announcement. Farcical situation, this.

Gbagbo had booby-trapped the election result mechanism, by inserting a harmless-looking clause that provided that the IEC would hand over the results to the “Constitutional Council” (a majority of whose members were Gbagbo’s hand-picked “people”) and that the Council would declare the results. The chairman of the Constitional Council was Paul Yao Ndre, Gbagbo’s former Interior Minister and, according to the BBC “the two go back to the early days of his [Gbagbo’s] Ivorian Popular Front Party”.

No one had imagined that this was anything but a formality. Yet seizing on this purely legal nicety, the “Constitutional Council” used its “powert” to declare that Gbagbo had won. That the Electoral Commission’s figures had been certified by the United Nations observer team and witnessed by the European Union –the two organisations that had borne the brunt of the election expenses – counted for nothing with Gbagbo. So he was sworn in as president.

But Ouattara also had himself sworn in as president. Each man named a cabinet. In private, however, each primed his military supporters for action. And that is why once again, Cote d’Ivoire can hardly be regarded as one country with one government. This will, of course prevent Cote d’Ivoire from obtaining the investment needed in 2011 to bring its cocoa and coffee production, as well as its industries, back to the buoyant positions they enjoyed in the days when Houphouet-Boigny made the country so rich that he could spend $300 million on his mausoleum-cum-basilica at Yamoussoukrom.
But the biggest question is: when will the African Union begin to take the question of election stealing seriously? The AU should, in my opinion, spend 2011 thinking about setting up a permanent electoral body which can be sent to conduct elections in volatile countries, and enforce the verdict with military power if necessary. The UN should finance such a body: after all, it has 9,000 soldiers currently keeping “the peace” in Cote d’Ivoire. And yet the country is anything but peaceful, due to the horrendous political undercurrents created by the stolen election.

Ghana

2011 should be a very good year, for on 15 December 2010, the country produced its “first barrels” of crude oil in commercial quantities from its ‘Jubilee Field’, 40 miles offshore. In the words of the operating company, the UK’s Tullow Oil, the Jubilee Field “is a world-class oil field with estimated recoverable resources of up to one billion barrels”.

The first phase of production has a target of 370 million barrels. Full production will fetch Ghana 120,000 barrels per day (bpd), but in the immediate future, the field will be capable of producing up to 55,000 bpd. The important thing, though, is that the oil from the Jubilee Field is known in the trade as “light sweet crude” with “an API of 37 degrees”. It is of high quality and in great demand. Ghana will spend a lot of time in 2011 debating what the revenue from the oil should be spent on, and what steps should be taken to prevent the country from going the way of the other producers of oil in Africa, which haven’t exactly provided a good example of how to make oil improve the lives of their ordinary citizens..

Tullow Oil is optimistic, though. It says Phase One can be the catalyst for developing Ghanaian capacity in oil and gas exploration and production; attracting further foreign investment and [thereby] diversifying the economy; and also helping local businesses and suppliers to develop the in-country services that oil companies and the partners will require. More than 85% of Tullow Ghana’s employees are Ghanaian and the company’s target is to increase the number to 90% in the next four years.

2011 will see the intensification of these efforts, both on the part of the government and the oil companies. The government has studied the records of both the good and bad producers of oil in the world, and it is hoped Ghana will emulate the best practices in the industry, such as the example offered by Norway.

East Africa

In the coming year, the East African Community (ECA) will immerse itself in trying to streamline its financial operations in practice. The Community’s payment and settlement systems are top of the agenda. The total harmonisation of these systems will constitute the backbone of the ECA’s financial system. Without a harmonised financial system, the other organs of the ECA, such as the legislature and eventually, the proposed Community Government itself, will have no relevance.

The ECA is made up of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, and came into being through a Treaty that entered into force on 7 July 2000. The original “partner states” were Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Rwanda and Burundi were admitted later.

Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania must be congratulated on being able to resurrect a Community which they enjoyed before independence, but which was destroyed by the upsurge of nationalism and the rise of unnecessary suspicion and mistrust in the post-independence period.

Even more remarkable is the willingness — and ability — of the original “partner states” to accept the integration of Rwanda and Burundi, which are not only French-speaking, but which also carry a huge baggage of past internecine political rivalry. The English-speaking partners could easily have closed up shop, in the fear that their French-speaking neighbours would transmit their virus of periodic blood-letting, into the whole region.

The hope is that after streamlining the payment and settlement system, a common currency will emerge to ensure that payment obligations within the Community are processed and settled in a timely manner, and that potential systemic instability from failed settlements is minimised. Building a single regional payment and settlement system from various national payments systems requires extensive regulatory reform and harmonisation. It will also help establish a modernised regulatory structure and support full market integration.

The private sector has already taken the lead in integrating the local markets. The popularity of Safaricom’s “M-Pesa” scheme in Kenya and MTN’s “Mobile Money” in Rwanda and Uganda suggests that they have addressed unmet needs, especially of the “unbanked” people in the Community. But these systems pose regulatory challenges that have to be addressed if consumers are to continue to repose confidence in the systems, especially as they expand their activities.

Ironically, the contemporary ECA, which came into force over 30 years after its West African counterpart, ECOWAS. was founded, has a lot to teach ECOWAS, a body which is yet to implement many of the lofty ideas it has mapped out for itself on paper with regard to practical regional integration on the ground.

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