Many of the East African states have witnessed significant political developments during the month of August. It is a positive story for most of them as they demonstrate political stability and economic growth in a region of utter chaos and terrorist violence. South Africa, however, is losing its shine and there may be a political upheaval toward the end of the year as Jacob Zuma’s term as president of the ruling African National Congress is ending in December.
Opposition leader released in Zambia
There is a sigh of relief in Zambia as international pressure on President Edgar Lungu averted a potential political crisis. After narrowly winning the last year’s election, which was alleged to have been rigged in favor of the ruling Patriotic Party, Mr. Lungu launched a crackdown on the opposition. The leader of the opposition, Hakainde Hichilema, along with other critics were arrested on charges of treason for trying to overthrow the government, which would have attracted death sentence if proven. The US and other countries warned that Mr. Lungu’s actions threatened the country’s stability. Patricia Scotland, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, of which Zambia is a member, rushed to Lusaka and met the two leaders. Later, it was announced that a deal was struck between the two and Mr. Hichilema was released from prison on August 16 after a four-month detention. In a statement released, the two leaders agreed “to give dialogue, peace and harmony a chance” and to draw a road map to strengthen governance and rule of law ahead of 2021 elections.1
The country’s economic trajectory has also shown a modest improvement, prompting S&P Global Ratings to revise its outlook on the country from negative to stable. The IMF team, after a visit to Zambia in July, commented “The near-term outlook for the economy has improve in recent months, citing a bumper harvest and increased hydroelectricity generation.” It projected a real GDP to grow 4 % this year compared to 3.4 % in 2016.2
Kenyatta re-elected as President
An uneasy peace prevailed in Kenya following re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta for a second term on August 8. His long term rival and opposition leader Raila Odinga, who lost the election by polling 44.7 per cent of the vote, disputed the results claiming mass fraud and hacking. Election observers from the US, European Union and the African Union, however, declared that the elections were free and fair. Politics in Kenya continued to be dictated largely by tribal affiliations. Mr. Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe, along with its allies, has an electoral advantage while Odinga’s Luo tribe feel disadvantaged and neglected. There were serious apprehensions of violence breaking out similar to that of 2007 disputed election which resulted in the death of over 1000 people. However, the situation is different now with a new middle class emerging, cutting across tribal equations, who have high stakes in political and economic stability of the country.
Notwithstanding the opposition criticism, Mr. Kenyatta’s government provided much needed stability to the East Africa’s biggest economy. Political analysts forecast Kenyatta’s party gaining majority in both the National Assembly and Senate, which will facilitate the administration to push its legislative agenda faster. With Kenyan Shilling holding steady and the country’s dollar-denominated Eurobond doing well, investors have high expectations of the administration maintaining focus on infrastructure development and promotion of regional integration. The economy is much healthier than other countries in the region recording an average growth rate of 5.3% over the past five years, making it the leading investment hub on the continent. However, this has pushed the government debt up to 55% of gross domestic product. IMF has called for curbs on further spending and turn focus to debt repayments.3
Zuma survives yet another `no-confidence’ motion
President Jacob Zuma of South Africa survived on August 8 another parliamentary motion of `no confidence’. It was the eighth time he had faced a no-confidence vote. Although the opposition failed to unseat him, his own party has sent a very clear message of `unhappiness’ over his functioning. At least 26 members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) appear to have voted in favor of the motion. As Zuma’s tenure as the ANC president is coming to an end in four months, there could be political jostling which may not augur well for the unity of the country.4
Sudan is soon to be `out of woods’
The road map for Sudan’s growth trajectory looks promising with expectations of lifting of some of the US sanctions soon. The country has been under the US sanctions for 20 years now and its leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide for atrocities committed in Darfur. Former US President Barak Obama announced easing of sanctions in January, just before stepping down from office, in recognition of the country’s growing support in fighting terrorism and its shifting loyalties from Iran to the Gulf countries. However, formal lifting of any sanctions is kept in abeyance until further proof of compliance of international demands. Ahead of the October 12 deadline for a decision by Trump administration to ease some of the sanctions, senior officials of the two countries are meeting to review the progress made by Khartoum on these demands.5
Kagame’s unsurprising third-term
Rwanda’s controversial president Paul Kagame has won a landslide victory securing a third term in office. There were no surprises in the August 4 election, which was one-sided and secured him 99% of the vote. The election was preceded by a constitutional amendment to remove a two-term limit for presidents. Although, he has been accused of running an authoritarian, one-party state, Mr. Kagame has won international acclaim for bringing stability and economic development to the country after having suffered worst genocide in 1994. The country has recorded some of the fastest economic growth rates in Africa and the government has ambitious investment programmes.6