Saturday, 17th November 2018


Articles that reflect opinion

African leaders are set to gather this weekend for a special summit aimed at pushing through long-debated reforms to their pan-continental body.

The changes seek to streamline and empower the African Union - an ambitious call for an organisation often seen as toothless and donor-dependent, and analysts say time for forging a deal is short.

Egypt, which will assume the chairmanship of the AU early next year, has little interest in the reforms, they say.

The special summit is being held at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa this Saturday and Sunday at the insistence of Rwandan President Kagame, the pioneer of the reforms. 

Elissa Jobson, head of African advocacy for the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank, described the talks as a "last push" to enact as many changes before Kagame's one-year term as chairperson expires in January.

"The concern there is that Egypt is very unlikely to push the reforms forward, even if it doesn't try to reverse them," she said.

Donor funding

Long criticised for redundant bureaucracy and ineffectual decisions, the AU put Kagame in charge of reforming the body in 2016.

His proposals include weaning the AU off foreign donor funding and cutting down on the number of summits and commissions.

But more than two years and five AU summits later, analysts say key states still are not on board with the reforms.

Prospects for an agreement this week will depend on who shows up, they say.

"We'll have to see how many heads of state come, and that will determine the success of the summit, (which) will determine the success of the reforms in any way," said Liesl Louw-Vaudran, a consultant with the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

So far South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Comoros, Togo and Ghana have confirmed they will be sending their presidents.

Nigeria and Mozambique will be sending foreign ministers, while other AU members have yet to indicate who will attend.

Reform drive

Created in 2002 following the disbanding of the Organisation of African Unity, the AU comprises all 55 African countries, with a budget in 2016 of $417 million.

The AU has been credited with taking a stand against coups, sustaining a peacekeeping mission in Somalia and laying the groundwork for a continental free trade area.

But critics say the body has kept quiet over rights abuses and relied on the UN or nations outside Africa to sanction the continent's rogue governments.

Kagame's proposals include paring down the AU's priorities to a handful of key areas like security, politics and economic integration.

At the same time, the AU would transition to relying on African states to fund most of its budget rather than the foreign donors it currently depends on.

Some reforms have already been agreed: earlier this year, heads of state assented to reducing the number of AU summits to one per year from two.

Jobson said just under half of African countries have also agreed to implement a 0.2 percent import levy to fund the union, while the rest will find another way to pay up.

No decisions have been made yet on Kagame's other proposals, such as putting the commission's chairperson, currently former Chadian foreign minister Moussa Faki Mahamat, in charge of appointing his or her deputy and commissioners.

This is partially because many of the more powerful African countries have reservations about giving the AU the ability to make decisions for them, Louw-Vaudran said.

"They don't want to cede any sovereignty to the AU commission. They still see it as a kind of secretariat that carries out what the heads of state decide," she said.

It's personal

Jobson said Cairo's reservations about the reforms are personal.

Egypt spent about a year suspended from the AU after the 2013 coup that brought to power President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is to succeed Kagame as AU chairperson.

"There's a general sense that this decision was more driven by the commission than it was by member states. This is an additional incentive for Egypt to see the power of the commission reduced," Jobson said.

A diplomat who works with the AU said Egypt has publicly backed the reforms but likely would concentrate on different aspects than Kagame, such as security and post-conflict reconstruction.

"No one's particularly hopeful that the summit is going to resolve anything, but you might see a few decisions," the diplomat said.


On the campaign trail for re-election in February, Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari may have spoken too soon when he backed an initiative to hike his country's minimum wage by a whopping two thirds.

Buhari, who had been advised on the wage by a negotiating committee made up of union representatives, the government and the private sector, praised the "patriotic and professional" members.

The recommendation to hike the minimum wage to $82 from $49 was "realistic, fair and implementable" and would be studied by the executive "within the shortest possible time", before being returned to parliament for final approval, he said.

The unspoken agreement was that Nigeria's unions, which had threatened to paralyse Africa's largest economy of more than 180 million people with a massive, open-ended strike, would deliver their members' vote to Buhari in a presidential poll set for February 2019 in return for the pay hike. 

But the very next day the information minister poured cold water on the idea, claiming that the Nigerian government had in no way acceded to the $82 demand and said this "recommendation should first be studied".

Standing in the way of Buhari's strategy to win the popular vote with the wage promise are the 36 state governors who say they are already struggling to pay civil servants and public officials with the current wage.

David Umahi, governor of southeast Ebonyi state, warned this week that the $82 minimum wage for public servants couldn't work.

"Many states are experiencing various problems and cannot pay salaries," he told reporters after Buhari's remarks.

 'Sensible compromise' 

Even if it went through, a higher wage would still be modest given that a 25kg bag of rice costs nearly $27.

"It is very low considering the cost of living," Charlie Robertson, Renaissance Capital economist and Nigeria specialist, told AFP.

But attempting to do more would be unrealistic because Nigerian businesses already have high overheads, and many workers are unqualified, making a pay hike hard to justify, he said.

Nigeria's patchy power supply is another factor undermining the competitiveness of businesses, and therefore their margin for any wage increase.

"Nigeria's difficulty on the minimum wage is that because its electricity, literacy are less than most countries, its wages must be less too. Or it will attract no foreign investments," Robertson said. " $82 is a sensible compromise but still debatable."

Ivory Coast, for example, has a higher minimum wage than Nigeria but its good energy network still allows it to stay competitive with its West Africa neighbours.

In contrast, electricity is almost non-existent in most of Nigeria and the literacy level of the adult population is close to 60%, a number that falls to less than 50% in the predominantly Muslim north.

 Staggering inequality 

Nevertheless, it will be hard to explain to voters that Nigeria, Africa's largest oil exporter producing more than two million barrels per day can neither afford a modest minimum wage for its civil servants nor provide a decent level of education and infrastructure to attract investors.

Several months ago, a senator caused a scandal by revealing lawmakers' salaries: $39 148 a month with bonuses, making it one of the highest salaries of politicians in the world.

At $82, it would take 35 years for a Nigerian worker to earn what deputies make in a month, and 68 years at the current minimum wage level of $27.

Life expectancy in Nigeria is barely above 53.

There is hardly a better reflection of the staggering inequality in Nigerian society.

On the eve of a presidential election and after two years of painful recession beginning in 2016, voters are demanding accountability.

"Where are you going to find the money to pay the salaries?" asked Gbenga Omotoso, a columnist in the normally pro-government newspaper The Nation.

"Reduce these outrageous wages, force the rich to pay their taxes, pursue the corrupt and engage the economy in a real program of diversification."


African cities will gain a billion new residents by 2050. But local authorities across the continent don’t have the resources, powers or skills set to meet the growing demand for housing and services.

Africa’s rapid urbanisation is a huge opportunity for national governments.

It’s cheaper to provide all kinds of services to people living in urban areas, from paved roads to health care. Urban growth can turbocharge economic development, since people working in industry and services tend to be more economically productive than those working in agriculture. And urban Africans typically live longer and have higher incomes than their counterparts in the countryside.

Yet across the continent, municipal authorities are often weak and their ability to raise taxes are constrained. This is primarily because of widespread poverty, which means that the tax base is very small. But it’s often compounded by legislative constraints – for example, municipalities often don’t have sufficient authority to collect taxes – and administrative incapacity – where they don’t have the ability to collect taxes effectively. 

The net result is that municipal budgets in sub-Saharan Africa are tiny. This severely constrains the ability of municipal authorities to raise investment for much-needed infrastructure.

Our newly published paper points to the catalytic role that national governments can play in raising finance for towns and cities.

In broad terms, the finance for infrastructure required for urban services can be raised in five ways: transfers from the national government; the use of the municipality’s own revenues; debt finance raised by municipalities; financing provided by utilities and other service providers; and capturing a proportion of the increase in land prices that comes from infrastructure investment.

National governments have a key role to play in establishing enabling legislation and building the capacity of municipal authorities to use these financing options. This is evident from recent experiences in Kenya and South Africa.

Lessons from South Africa

In 2014, South Africa’s economic capital, Johannesburg, became the first city in the global south to issue a green bond. Successfully issuing a bond allows a city to borrow money much more cheaply than just taking out a commercial loan - and by issuing a green bond, Johannesburg also showcased its environmental commitment.

The country’s second largest city, Cape Town, followed three years later.

Both cities are rightly celebrated for this achievement. Issuing a bond requires sophisticated financial skills. The municipal authority must be able to identify bankable projects and package them in a way that attracts prospective investors.

Issuing a bond requires more than just financial know-how. Investors need to be convinced that the municipal authority has secured public support for their projects. That it’s able to build and manage projects, whether bus networks or recycling facilities. And that it has transparent, accountable systems that protect against corruption.

Johannesburg and Cape Town had to tick a lot of boxes before they could issue their green bonds. But they didn’t do it alone. The support from the national government played a critical role.

South Africa is the only country in the region that explicitly permits city governments to borrow money. Legislation clearly states that cities can use debt financing, including municipal bonds, to invest in infrastructure. This national legislation provided prospective investors with the confidence to purchase Johannesburg and Cape Town’s municipal bonds.

Other African cities such as Dakar in Senegal and Kampala in Uganda, have also tried to issue municipal bonds, but were stymied at the last minute. Without explicit regulatory and political support at the national level, municipalities cannot use this financing option.

Lessons from Kenya

In Kenya, the utilities take on borrowing rather than municipalities. Kenya’s water and sanitation utilities are owned by the county governments and have the legal right to borrow to fund new infrastructure.

But the legal right to borrow doesn’t mean much if nobody wants to lend.

The Kenyan government (with support from the World Bank) has worked with the utilities to help them access loans from commercial banks. Utilities are encouraged to borrow to support new water or sewer connections, public toilets and public water supply points.

If the utilities successfully implement the project, they receive an additional grant by the government that they do not have to repay. By offering a grant under these conditions, the national government is incentivising utilities to build their credit history so that they can borrow more cheaply in the future.

With support from the Netherlands and US, the Kenyan government is also helping utilities collectively issue a bond to pay for new infrastructure. This pooled approach means that a prospective lender face much less financial risk if any one utility or project fails. The lenders are therefore willing to lend money at lower interest rates.

The first pooled bond should be issued this year. It is expected to finance services to around 400,000 Kenyans.

Pooled funds have been used in Colombia, India, Mexico and the Philippines, but have rarely achieved scale in sub-Saharan Africa. Other countries looking to replicate Kenya’s success need to adopt comparably clear legal frameworks.

The need for national leadership

Many other towns and cities across sub-Saharan Africa face huge infrastructure deficits and rapid population growth. They can use the bond markets to raise a significant portion of the capital required to address the infrastructure development gaps.

But local governments will not be able to raise the necessary finance alone. As our paper shows, national governments across the region have a critical role to play in making sure the right laws are in place, and helping local government or utilities mobilise investment for sustainable urban infrastructure.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

The bloody crackdown on Shiite protesters this week in Nigeria has highlighted the oppression of a religious minority that experts say is driven by a Sunni Muslim elite backed by Saudi Arabia.

"Being a Shiite under this current Buhari administration is... being persecuted," said Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) spokesperson Ibrahim Musa to AFP.

"We have suffered more discrimination under this administration than with any other in the past," said Musa. "We are not allowed to worship our god according to our convictions."

On three separate occasions in less than a week, the Nigerian military and police shot live bullets on Shiites marching near and in the capital city of Abuja to celebrate a religious holiday and demand the release of their imprisoned leader. 

The death toll depends on the source: while the military says that six people died, the IMN says 49, a figure backed up by Amnesty International, which said on Wednesday that at least 45 people were killed in an "unconscionable use of deadly force by soldiers and police."

The US embassy in Nigeria said it was "concerned" about the deaths and called for a "thorough investigation of the events".

But to justify opening fire on the Shiite group, the Nigerian army on Friday posted a video of US President Donald Trump saying soldiers would shoot Central American migrants throwing stones.

"Not only did they use stones but they were carrying petrol bombs, machetes and knives, so yes, we consider them as being armed," said Nigeria's defence spokesperson John Agim.

 Riyadh and Tehran 

This violence has happened before. It reignited the tumult of December 2015 when an army crackdown in Zaria, IMN's stronghold in Nigeria's north, killed 300 supporters, according to rights groups.

Leader Ibrahim Zakzaky, who was arrested and imprisoned after the clashes, lost an eye and several family members in the violence.

Zakzaky has been challenging Abuja's authorities for years with his goal of establishing a Shiite Islamic regime in Nigeria, Africa's largest economy.

In late 2016, a court ruled that his continued detention without charge was illegal and ordered his release yet the decision was never executed.

Since then, Zakzaky has been charged with culpable homicide in connection with the Zaria clashes.

The IMN, which emerged as a student movement in the late 70's, is still close to Tehran today.

Inspired by the Islamic revolution in Iran, the sect is met with hostility in Nigeria, where the Sunni elite are allied with Saudi Arabia.

President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar, the leader of the opposition contesting the 2019 presidential polls, are Sunni and have both said nothing about the violence this week.

"There is this belief that Shiites are not proper Muslims," said Nigerian political analyst Chris Ngwodo.

"This fundamental disagreement over ideology could explain the ferocity used by the security forces against the protestors."

Radicalisation threat 

In Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north, the IMN is vastly outnumbered by the Salafist movement Izala, which was founded around the same time as the IMN.

Izala is close to both Riyadh and Abuja and its satellite television channel Manara often broadcasts anti-Shiite rhetoric.

Its members have also clashed with IMN supporters several times during Shiite processions.

Izala is funded by Saudi Arabia, which has enabled the construction of mosques and schools across the country.

"A number of people in the (federal) government are Izala members and have close ties to Saudi Arabia," said a source speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Some within the establishment are using the government resources for a religious battle, against what they consider as apostasy."

The worst case scenario would see the Shiites become radicalised in the face of oppression, an outcome that would replicate the trajectory of Boko Haram jihadists in the northeast who took up arms against the government in 2009.

"Zakzaky is a very charismatic leader, the movement was kept alive despite his detention and his supporters are ready to die for him," said Cheta Nwanze, research head at SBM Intelligence in Lagos.

"The repression can only contribute to radicalise them."

Zakzaky, who is weak following the attack according to his lawyer, is being held in a secret location and is due to appear in court on November 7.


In a remote southwestern pocket of the Central African Republic, doctor Patrick Karume and his small team are on the jungle frontline to quarantine a rare outbreak of monkeypox.

From a makeshift base in Zomea Kaka village, they trek 30km across muddy tracks to Bagandou, where a dozen children appear to have developed rashes characteristic of the virus which in rare cases can be fatal.

Monkeypox virus, first identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970, has symptoms similar to human smallpox, if less severe.

In May, the virus became a "public health threat", according to local CAR authorities. It was the latest outbreak detected in CAR since 2013, according to World Health Organisation advisor Augustin Diebert. 

Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) dispatched an emergency team to set up in Zomea Kaka after three cases of the virus were identified. Already they have quarantined nine people, most of them children.

"Monkeypox may be endemic to this area," Karume said, pulling off muddied boots after another trek out of their MSF base.

Before entering the "red zone" quarantine area cordoned off with a fence, everyone dons the required gear - rubber boots, disposable overalls, masks and goggles.

Nearby a few metres away, their patients sit on benches eating breakfast. Some show traces of the virus on their faces.

For some, crusts have discoloured parts of their skin. Peeling is a sign of healing.

"It's a self-limiting virus, we just treat the symptoms and administer antibiotics and prevent infections," Karume said.

"We used to think it was transmitted by monkeys, but it is more by rodents. Secondary transmission is through an infected person."

"If nothing is done it can lead to complications," he said, adding that one patient lost an eye because of an edema.

 Medical detective 

A graduate in epidemiology, the doctor does not just treat patients but attempts to trace their steps to see where they travelled and who they contacted to check on other possible cases.

It not only helps halt the spread, but allows him to understand this little-studied disease.

"This here is my champion, my miracle worker," Karume said, smiling under his mask in front of a young Bagandou boy who has developed no symptoms unlike the rest of his family.

"If he tests positive for monkeypox, it means he has some sort of immunity," he said. A blood sample is to be sent to the capital for testing.

Not far from the health centre, the team's joint coordinator prepares everything for the day's return expedition to Bagandou to take samples from a dozen suspected cases detected the day before.

The driver of the 4X4 vehicle steers onto what passes as a track winding through the vegetation.

When the team arrives in a village, some worried residents often think the MSF vehicles are there to respond to Ebola, the disease that ravaged parts of West Africa. Informing communities beforehand is key to allaying fears.

Arriving in Bagandou, adults welcome the MSF team. Only a few children move away, frightened by the memory of the sting of the last vaccination campaign conducted by the NGO in this area.

But back in the CAR capital Bangui, Bagandou's blood samples turn out to be negative. It seems the virus is not ready to reveal its secrets yet to Karume.


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