The Gulf of Guinea has become the world’s largest piracy hotspot since the decline of Somali piracy in the early 2010s, with incidents increasing markedly in the last two years, continuing into early 2019. With the media reporting of new attacks in recent weeks, including kidnappings for ransom, we examine the piracy threat and its trends in the Gulf of Guinea.
The misreporting of economic data and indicators is becoming increasingly apparent across some African countries. EXX Africa assesses the political motivations involved in the manipulation of economic statistics and the likely repercussions for investors and nascent continental trade agreements.
On 20 February, Tanzania’s National Bureau of Statistics rebased the country’s economy in order to recalculate growth in gross domestic product (GDP) over the past few years. The rebasing practice is commonplace and many African countries have rebased their economies over the past few years. Most notably, Nigeria overtook South Africa as Africa’s largest economy after a rebasing calculation in 2014 that almost doubled its GDP to more than USD 500 billion. The rebasing of Ghana’s economy last year meant that economy expanded by 24.6 percent in 2018.
However, the timing of rebasing economies is often politically motivated. In Tanzania’s case, the GDP rebasing shows a 3.8 percent expansion of the economy in the year that President John Magufuli came to power, even though there are signs that the economy has slowed since he was elected. Magufuli will seek re-election in 2020 based on a campaign pledge to broaden Tanzania’s economic growth through state-led interventionist policies.
In Zimbabwe, the statistics agency rebased some of its economic statistics last October in an unexpected move that the government said increased the nominal size of its struggling economy by more than 40 percent in 2018, which seems highly unrealistic given the country’s ongoing economic crisis. In neighbouring Zambia, the finance minister is planning to rebase the country’s GDP in 2019, which should see a sudden spike in economic growth this year, even though the economy is mired in debt and heavily impacted by falling export values.
Misreporting of national statistics
It is obvious, that the rebasing of a country’s GDP can be manipulated in order to serve political means, particularly to boost an incumbent in an election year or to deny an economic slowdown. Moreover, there have been numerous recent instances in which governments have failed to properly disclose publicly-guaranteed loans or have manufactured economic statistics, such as inflation, public debt, and GDP numbers.
This leads to a broader argument that the misreporting of statistics is commonplace in many African countries. In 2014, the Centre for Global Development (CGD) argued in a report that the misrepresentation of national statistics does not occur merely by accident or due to a lack of analytical capacity – at least not always – but rather that systematic biases in administrative data systems stem from the incentives of data producers to overstate development progress.
The CGD report argued that there are significant inaccuracies in the data being published by national and international agencies. These inaccuracies appear to be due in part to perverse incentives created by connecting data to financial incentives without checks and balances, and to competing priorities and differential funding associated with donor support. These inaccuracies, perverse incentives, and lack of functional independence mean that public and private investment decisions based on poor data can be deeply flawed, with major implications for well-being and public expenditure efficiency.
COUNTRY CASE STUDIES
In this report, EXX Africa assesses a number of African countries where there are strong indications or past precedents of manipulation of economic and financial statistics. Our case studies vary from suspected manipulation of economic growth and inflation numbers to suit political ends, to a lack of disclosure of publicly guaranteed loans. These case studies do not provide a definitive list of countries that have misreported on indicators, but do illustrate a broader problem across African economies that is likely to have a major impact on foreign investors’ risk exposure and the future of hallmark African trade agreements.
TANZANIA – EXAGERATING GROWTH NUMBERS
Optimistic central bank forecasts show that Tanzania’s economy is picking up steam again. The rebasing of GDP also ‘magically’ increases the size of the country’s economy since current President Magufuli came to power. However, falling foreign direct investment, partial donor suspensions, and a tarnished investment reputation, as well as an unfolding scandal into massive public accounting discrepancies, paint a different picture.
Tanzania’s central bank projects that the country’s real GDP would grow by 7.2 percent in 2018 and 7.3 percent in 2019, supported by public investment, particularly the implementation of mega infrastructure projects. The economy has been growing at around 7 percent annually for the past decade, but slowed to 6.6 percent in 2017.
However, Tanzania has been struggling to secure financing to fund its Five-Year Development Plan. Local sources report that a lack of public spending and private sector concerns over policy uncertainty are actually curtailing growth, rather than boosting the economy. Investor confidence has collapsed, driven by the government’s disputes with investors. As a result, foreign investment has dropped by more than 30% since 2015 when President Magufuli was elected.
Moreover, subdued government revenue collection and delays in securing financing for projects have held back development spending and hurt economic growth. A sharp fall in lending to the private sector, prompted by high non-performing loans, point to a continued slowdown in growth. Additionally, the institutions of the Tanzanian state are weakening and increasingly exposing public revenue to embezzlement and corruption. Tanzania’s public finances are in poor shape and efforts to ensure effective financial oversight face mounting obstacles.
Our recent analysis and local intelligence contradicts the Tanzanian central bank’s forecast. Last year, the government imposed criminal sentences for organisations and individuals that contradicted Tanzania’s official statistics. We laid out the arguments contradicting Tanzania’s official forecasts in a recent briefing (See SPECIAL REPORT: IS TANZANIA MANIPULATING ITS ECONOMIC GROWTH FIGURES?).
ZAMBIA – LACK OF DEBT DISCLOSURE
The budget deficit and pace of debt-accumulation are more likely to be higher than previously forecast by the Zambian government. This follows a contentious revision of the 2017 fiscal deficit by the Zambian government to factor in capital expenditures that had not been properly recorded in the previous years’ financial statements. The IMF remains the foremost remedy for the ailing Zambian economy. Anchorage from the lender of last resort and the prospect of a restoration of macro-economic fundamentals should aid in narrowing the trust deficit, plugging the funding shortfall, and unlocking the desperately needed investment inflows.
The elevated debt has also placed interest payments under scrutiny, with concerns that they may tend towards 27 percent of revenue in 2019. Disconcertingly, with the local kwacha currency rapidly ceding to the USD and the outlook on the mainstay copper industry appearing highly speculative, there is the feeling that the worst is yet to come for the externally vulnerable market. Indeed, further bullishness from the US Federal Reserve Bank or tariffs on the commodity could see the Kwacha depreciate more, revenue streams dry-up, and foreign short-term payment requirements tread further into default territory as portended by recent ratings downgrades.
Beyond the arithmetic, the downgrades, and belated disclosure of the capital expenditure also call into question Zambia’s transparency amid ongoing suspicions that the country is withholding the disclosure of its true financial position. EXX Africa has taken a strong position on Zambia’s debt disclosure since early 2018, which conflicts with official government accounts.
Unofficial accounts say that total external and domestic debt stands at USD19 billion, accounting for over 90 percent of GDP. Since early 2018, Zambia has signed more than USD1 billion in new loans, indicating that total debt could now be nearing 100 percent of GDP. External debt could be as high as USD15.6 billion, while local debt seems almost incalculable given lack of clarity in lending by state-owned entities from local banks. The argument over debt calculations centres on whether undisbursed contracted loans (mostly Chinese project finance) should be counted (See ZAMBIA: AUTHORITARIANISM AND ECONOMIC NATIONALISM GAIN FURTHER GROUND).
SUDAN – DENYING AN ECONOMIC CRISIS
The Sudanese economy is showing further deterioration as anti-government protests continue. The Sudanese pound has fallen to a record low on the black market, selling for 70 Sudanese pounds for cash transactions in recent weeks, as the gap with the official rate of 47.5 pounds continued to widen. The price of the dollar for cheque transactions stood at 83 pounds. Due to the lack of liquidity in the banks, US dollar carries two prices on the black market. The purchase price through checks is usually higher than the cash price.
The sudden depreciation over the past few weeks has been triggered by cash shortages following a run on the banks, as depositors fear the protests are gaining momentum since the opposition’s stated intent to unite against the embattled government. The Sudanese central bank sharply devalued the currency in early October to 47.5 pounds from 29 pounds to the dollar, and established a new system under which a group of banks and money changers set a daily rate. However, the official rate has barely moved, while the black market rate continues to depreciate against major currencies.
The economic crisis is being denied by the government, which recently released figures claiming that inflation was actually slowing. On 10 February, the state statistics agency said that Sudan’s inflation dropped to 43.45 percent in January year-on-year, from 72.94 percent in December led by slowing prices of food, beverages, and transport. Such figures have been widely ridiculed by both Sudanese and international economists as state propaganda.
The underlying economic and financial weaknesses remain in place and indicators such as cash shortages and currency depreciation suggest rampant inflation. A more likely forecast for January inflation would be around 85 percent, suggesting that Sudanese authorities are manipulating the statistical reports.
The most recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report indicated that Sudan’s gross international reserves remained very low in 2017 at just USD 1.1 billion, equating to 1¾ months of import cover. Local sources report that reserves have fallen to a new low over the past three months and are fast depleting, posing sever risk of non-payment and default on loans. In EXX Africa’s most recent analysis, we considered that Sudan is firmly in debt distress and poses highest risk of debt unsustainability (See SUDAN: PROSPECT OF A ‘SUDANESE SPRING’ LOOMS AS OPPOSITION UNITES).
REPUBLIC OF CONGO – PLAYING HIDE AND SEEK WITH THE IMF
A prevailing economic crisis in the Republic of Congo – manifest in the country’s debt accounting for 110 percent of its GDP – is increasing concerns regarding the country’s short-to-medium trajectory and President Sassou Nguesso’s longevity in implementing the necessary reforms to escape the malaise.
President Sassou Nguesso says his government is negotiating “on a basis of trust” with the IMF on the country’s financial problems. However, in 2017 the IMF accused Congo of having hidden part of its debt from the organisation by claiming it was 77 percent of GDP. According to the IMF’s own calculation, the ratio is 117 percent. Last year, French media claimed that the Congolese government had skirted requirements of the IMF through a financial contrivance created by French oil giant Total.
The IMF insists that the Congolese government first needs to restructure its USD 9.14 billion in debt, which at 117 percent of GDP the Fund deems unsustainable. The permitted debt threshold in the regional Communauté Économique et Monétaire de l’Afrique Centrale (CEMAC) organisation is 70 percent. Congo is seeking to restructure its debt with commodities trading houses after borrowing USD 2 billion from merchants. However, the bulk of its external debt is owed to Chinese entities.
Without regaining access to international financial institutions and markets, Congo faces an imminent cash-flow crisis. As it is, the government has had to resort to loans from China and short-term advances from its central bank. Rescheduling Congo’s debt will be extremely difficult because of the opacity and complexity of many of its deals, such as loans-for-oil with China. France and the US seem unwilling to deliver a bail-out, which increases the probability of a regional currency devaluation. The IMF seems adamant to avoid such a regional currency devaluation.
Foreign, especially French, companies also resist a devaluation as the pegged exchange rate has assured low inflation and a French guarantee of fixed-rate convertibility to the euro. When France devalued the CFA franc by 50 percent in 1994, the result was high inflation and outbreaks of popular unrest. Therefore, all CEMAC members are opposed to resorting to devaluation. However, France will be unwilling to lend money directly to distressed and unreformed economies such as Republic of Congo. This means that a currency devaluation may become the only option left to mitigate the debt crisis, unless the IMF intervenes
MOZAMBIQUE – THE ‘HIDDEN’ LOANS SAGA CONTINUES
In early January, Mozambique’s attorney general indicted 18 nationals for their involvement in fraud involving USD 2 billion in loans to state-owned companies. The indictment includes ‘charges of abuse of power, abuse of trust, swindling and money laundering.’ The country’s Parliament and attorney general’s sudden action demonstrate growing panic inside the Mozambique government and renewed pressure to deal with the three-year old scandal that prompted the IMF and foreign donors to cut off credit support in 2016, thus triggering a currency collapse and a debt crisis from which the country is still trying to recover.
Former Mozambique finance minister Manuel Chang was among those indicted. Chang, who denies wrongdoing, has been detained in neighbouring South Africa since 29 December in a case brought by US prosecutors related to the fraudulent loans. Four days after Chang’s arrest, three former Credit Suisse bankers – Andrew Pearse, Surjan Singh, and Deletina Subeva – were detained in London. A fifth accused, Jean Boustani was arrested in the US. Boustani is alleged to have negotiated a round of bribe and kickback payments by his company shipbuilder Privinvest in order to ensure Mozambique government approval for projects to develop a coastal protection system for Mozambique’s 2,470 km coastline.
One of the projects was contracted by Mozambican state-owned company ProIndicus, which solicited USD 622 million in loans from Credit Suisse and Russian state-owned bank VTB Capital. Another project, to build a fleet of tuna fishing vessels, was housed under state-owned company Ematum, which gained USD 850 million in financing from Credit Suisse and VTB Capital. A third project involving Privinvest, nominally to build a shipyard, provide additional naval vessels, and upgrade two existing facilities to service Proindicus and Ematum vessels, fell under a third state-owned company, Mozambique Asset Management (MAM), which secured loans worth USD 500 million.
All loans were secured by Mozambique government guarantees and began to default on repayments around 2017. According to the US indictment, large bribes and fraudulent payments were made to the various accused bankers and Mozambique government officials. All accused have so far denied the allegations.
However, Mozambique’s Attorney-General has said she will seek to have those charged in the US and elsewhere face justice in Mozambique. Further arrests are expected as a number of names in the US indictment have not been disclosed. EXX Africa was one of the first risk advisories in early 2016 to flag substantial undisclosed debts, which was eventually confirmed by the Mozambique government, subsequently prompting the IMF and foreign donors to cut off support, triggering a currency collapse, and a default on sovereign debt.
Mozambique’s government is currently seeking to restructure the loans and in November struck an initial agreement with the bulk of its creditors to restructure a USD 726.5 million Eurobond. The agreement includes extending maturities and sharing future revenue from offshore gas projects. The agreement confirms EXX Africa’s longstanding forecast that creditors would not seek punitive measures against Mozambique, but would rather restructure debts while leveraging gas revenues as collateral. The agreement is the first in a set of steps that will be required to restore Mozambique’s relations with creditors and international financial institutions, especially the IMF.
We recently also assessed the threat of the Mozambique debts scandal spilling over into Angola, which we continue to monitor (See SPECIAL FEATURE: FALL-OUT OVER MOZAMBIQUE DEBT SCANDAL RISKS SPILL-OVER INTO ANGOLA).
Our analysis and economic forecasts show noticeable discrepancies between national official statistics and forecasts made by international agencies. The manipulation of economic data and the lack of full disclosure of publicly guaranteed loans will weigh on many African countries economic outlook this year and in the longer term.
In January, the IMF downgraded its 2019 sub-Saharan Africa growth projections from 3.8 percent to 3.5 percent. The World Bank is also rather subdued in its assessments, projecting that the sub-Saharan region will grow by no more than 3.4 percent this year. These projections are pushed downward by the muted economic recoveries in some of the continent’s largest economies, including Nigeria and South Africa. Meanwhile, the African Development Bank (AfDB) projects 4 percent growth across Africa, boosted by 4.4 percent growth in the North African region.
The highest growth levels will continue to be located in Anglophone East African countries, alongside the record growth tempo in Ethiopian. The fast developing Francophone West African countries, as well as Ghana, will provide a counter-balance on the other side of the continent, despite Nigeria’s more subdued growth rates. A post-election economic revamp could lift South Africa’s economy with beneficial effects for neighbouring states. In the meantime, the southern African region is expected to remain the continent’s worst performing economy.
A modest recovery in central Africa is unlikely to be sustained and is underpinned by IMF lending facilities to countries like Cameroon and Chad. The North African region is facing a decline as growth slows in Tunisia and remains stagnant in Algeria. Out of Africa’s five biggest economies, only Egypt will see growth rates of over 5 percent, again boosted by sizable loans from the IMF, World Bank and, Gulf states.
Debt sustainability will remain a key concern in Africa in 2019. The IMF warned last year that Africa’s debt-refinancing risks could be substantial over the next two years. The World Bank forecasts at least USD 5 billion in international debt redemptions in sub-Saharan economies this year and over USD 8 billion next year. These figures do not include domestic debt or substantial interest payments on both external and domestic debt.
Proper disclosure of debts and accurate and accountable reporting of economic and financial indicators will be crucial in determining African countries’ balance of payments and their longer term economic outlook. Investors will face higher risks in countries that are suspected of borrowing recklessly or manipulating economic indicators. Moreover, large trade deals, such as the nascent African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA), could be spoiled if all participating countries do not accurately and transparently disclose all their financial obligations and economic growth numbers.
SEE COUNTRY OUTLOOK: ALL COUNTRIES
Ahead of the expected ratification of the world’s largest free trade agreement, we assess the divergent economic trajectory on the African continent, as well as persistent concerns over debt sustainability and political risk in some countries.
Investor optimism in African mining is gradually recovering as indicated by companies’ growing exploration budgets. However, some of the continent’s most important mining countries are frustrating investments through arbitrary changes to taxation regimes and imposing politically motivated fines.
The annual Mining Indaba conference in Cape Town, South Africa, takes place this year with fresh optimism after a four year slump. As interest in base metals begins to rebound and clean technologies boost demand for niche battery ingredients, mining exploration budgets are again increasing.
A recent report by S&P Global Market Intelligence found that mining companies spent USD 8.4 billion last year to explore new metal deposits. This marks a 15 percent rise on exploration spending in 2016. The report also forecast that exploration spending, excluding iron ore, could increase again by 20 percent in the next year. Mining company restructuring, consolidation, and high-profile mergers & acquisitions have also renewed interest in the sector. This bodes well for mining, which dominates foreign exchange earnings, tax earnings, employment, and GDP in many African countries.
However, African mining remains exposed to various significant challenges that will determine the sector’s operating risk climate in 2019. In this compact report, EXX Africa identifies the top risks facing the mining sector in Africa this year and puts the spotlight on some of the countries where political and security risks remain a substantial obstacle to investment.
EXX AFRICA RISK MAP FOR TOP TEN AFRICAN MINING COUNTRIES
EXX Africa has developed a unique risk scoring system for 54 African countries to compare and contrast the business operating climates across the continent. The country risk numeration is a crucial aspect of our analysis and forecasting methodology.
The below Risk Map identifies the top ten African mining countries in terms of mineral value and their respective risk outlook.
KEY POLITICAL AND SECURITY RISKS IN 2019
EXX Africa has identified the top risks facing the African mining sector in 2019. Almost all of the continent’s mining countries are affected by some form of political risk, which is further explained in the table below. The risk of taxation changes and contract frustration are by far the most prominent threats facing African mining, as outlined in the below Country Risk Spotlight section.
COUNTRY RISK SPOTLIGHT
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
There will be great pressure from mining companies on newly inaugurated President Félix Tshisekedi to amend the changes to the mining code that were implemented by former president Joseph Kabila. Indeed, a suspected power-sharing agreement between Kabila and Tshisekedi may dilute some of the former administration’s controversial policies, such as recent revisions in the mining code. The new code has increased royalties on cobalt – for which the DRC accounts for as much as 60 percent of the global supply – from 2 percent to 10 percent. Another significant amendment is the imposition of a 50 percent tax on windfall profits – defined as income that is realised when commodity prices increase by more than 25 percent of the figure denoted in a mining project’s bankable feasibility study. The mining companies, which are united in the ‘G7’ lobby group, are likely to apply new pressure on the government to ensure a review of the mining code revisions. We assess that mining companies’ concerns will be treated on a ‘case-by-case basis’.
See Country Outlook: Democratic Republic of Congo
Zambia’s new tax regime is causing smelters to close and motivating mining companies to lay off workers and scrap investment plans. Worse is to come as a harmful new sales tax is due to take effect, while massive VAT rebate arrears are arbitrarily written off. The new tax code increases the country’s sliding scale for royalties of 4 to 6 percent by 1.5 percentage points, introduces a fourth tier rate at 10 percent when the copper price exceeds USD 7,500 per tonne, and makes royalties on minerals non-deductible for tax purposes. The response from the country’s mining sector has been highly critical. Mining companies complain that the higher mineral royalties will cease to be deductible from corporate income tax, thus hurting profitability. The impact of the new sales tax in April will be even more damaging for the mining sector. Industry group, the Chamber of Mines, has forecast that copper output will be flat this year and will start declining from 2020 as a result of the tax increases.
See Country Outlook: Zambia
President John Magufuli’s belligerent stance against foreign-owned firms operating in the country has been prominently manifested in the important mining sector. Most notably, Tanzania’s foremost gold mining entity, Acacia Mining, has been accused of evading tax over the past two decades. Consequently, Magufuli’s administration is seeking an estimated USD 190 billion in reparations from Acacia coffers, which have already been reduced following Tanzania’s imposition of an export ban of mineral concentrates – a key revenue generating activity for the mining firm. To put that figure into perspective, according to a report by Quartz, the amount represents approximately 40 times Acacia’s total revenue for 2016, nearly two centuries worth of revenue, and is roughly four times the size of Tanzania’s GDP for 2016. Precedent suggests that the legal measures may be an extension of the administration’s antagonism to foreign-owned firms, which is seemingly based on ideological leanings and a bid to extract the greatest possible financial concessions. Already, the erratic policy environment and growing authoritarianism have seen investors lose favour with Tanzania.
See Country Outlook: Tanzania
Low expenditure on exploration indicates a troubled South African outlook for its mining sector. Central to investor concerns is the ongoing amendment of the mining legislation. The latest 2018 Mining Charter, despite being an improvement on previous versions, still raises considerable fears in relation to the carried interest of communities and employees, as well the distribution of black economic empowerment in specific percentages. The Charter allows mining companies who complied with a 26 percent empowerment stipulation in the previous version to enjoy empowered status even if their empowerment partner has exited their investment in the company. Investors are also concerned by rising costs of mining, as employee costs are rising above inflation. Bulk commodities such as iron ore, coal, manganese, and chrome are performing fairly well. However, precious metals like platinum are struggling. Investors will look to President Cyril Ramaphosa and Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe to restore some optimism about the future of the South African mining industry at the Mining Indaba.
See Country Outlook: South Africa
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In this open access report, EXX Africa assesses the risk of internet shutdowns and online media restrictions in 2019, identifying the countries and operators most at risk of commercial disruption over the coming year.
So far in 2019, there have been internet shutdowns in at least five African countries, most prominently in Zimbabwe, as well as in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, Cameroon, and Sudan. The rate of internet shutdowns has steadily increased over the past few years. According to global digital rights group Access Now, there were 21 shutdowns across Africa last year, up from 13 in 2017. Togo, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, and Egypt were among the countries implementing connectivity restrictions over the past two years. Cameroon’s Anglophone regions spent 230 days without internet access between January 2017 and March 2018.
In this open access special report, EXX Africa assesses the circumstances of recent internet shutdowns and identifies the African countries where the risk of outages will be highest over the course of 2019. This report also assesses the commercial and economic impact of internet shutdowns and the technical processes involved in shutting down an entire country’s connectivity.
PRECEDENT AND LEGAL JUSTIFICATION
While the practice of shutting down the internet is nothing new in Africa, the frequency and duration of shutdowns is steadily increasing. During the 2011 Arab Spring, North African governments regularly orchestrated shutdowns of connectivity and social media. Between 2015 and 2016, most instances of internet shutdowns occurred in West and Central Africa, in countries such as Mali, Chad, Gabon, Republic of Congo, and DRC. Since 2017, the practice has become more common in East Africa and southern Africa.
Governments usually implement these shutdowns through order requests sent to Internet Service Providers (ISP) or telecommunications operators, some of which may be government-owned. Shutdowns are easier to achieve in countries with few ISPs, unlike South Africa which has more than a hundred internet providers. The legal basis of such order requests lies in the contracts that ISPs sign with the communication regulator in each country. Usually, the regulator will have the power to order ISPs to restrict access to the internet or block social media apps at the regulator’s request.
The implementation of such order requests may create a total internet blackout (as most recently in Zimbabwe), or a restriction of access to certain websites, specifically social media (as in Cameroon), or the throttling of bandwidth (as in Sudan). Sometimes, domain name servers can be manipulated to send traffic away from intended destinations and toward servers controlled by the government. African governments have depended on tested practices in China to censor the internet. China is heavily involved in Africa’s internet, with state-backed firms like Huawei and ZTE building internet backbones and other infrastructure for many African countries.
According to Access Now, the top three reasons given for internet shutdowns are public safety, stopping the spreading of illegal content, and national security. However, the legal justification for internet shutdowns is often vague or non-existent. Some governments have in the past denied issuing order requests to ISPs and have instead blamed technical problems, although ISPs are becoming more transparent in announcing government-ordered shutdowns. African governments increasingly link their orders to the necessity to protect the public order, particularly during election cycles or bouts of civil or military unrest.
While internet shutdowns may often violate domestic law, the international legal framework remains vague and relies on assurances protecting the right to freedom of expression or UN Guiding principles on Business and Human Rights. In 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council released a non-binding resolution condemning intentional disruption of internet access by governments. The resolution reaffirmed that ‘the same rights people have offline must also be protected online.’ However, the non-binding nature of the UN resolution, as well as entrenched internet censorship by countries such as China, has hampered attempts to implement broader prevention of internet shutdowns by governments.
In the absence of a clear framework governing the right to internet access, African governments will maintain their responsibility to protect the public order or to curb ‘fake news’. The below case studies are aimed at finding patterns on internet shutdowns in Africa and to assess the commercial impact of shutdowns.
‘TOTAL’ INTERNET SHUTDOWN IN ZIMBABWE
On 21 January, the High Court said Zimbabwe’s government exceeded its mandate in ordering an internet blackout during recent civilian protests and ordered mobile operators to immediately and unconditionally resume full services. Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile phone operator Econet Wireless subsequently restored all internet and social media services. The sporadic internet blackout was ordered by Security Minister Owen Ncube on 15 January following the start of often violent protests against high fuel prices (See ZIMBABWE: POLITICAL DIVISIONS TAKE HOSTAGE AN ALREADY DISTRESSED ECONOMY).
Many people were left without access to social media platforms and email amid accusations that the government wanted to prevent images of its heavy-handedness from being broadcast around the world. Zimbabwe’s millions-strong diaspora raised the attention of the world to the internet blackout through various social media campaigns that were picked up by traditional media and triggered criticism from foreign governments, such as the UK.
While some internet users sought out virtual private networks (VPN) to bypass the controls, Zimbabwe’s shutdown did cut off crucial access to electronic bank deposits. The cash-strapped government uses such transfers to pay public sector workers, such as teachers, who were already on strike. Moreover, electronic remittances from the large Zimbabwean diaspora were also affected, further exacerbating Zimbabwe’s economic and financial crisis.
Some estimates assess that the shutdown will cost the country USD 5.7 million per day in direct economic costs. However, the widespread international condemnation of the Zimbabwean internet shutdown and the judicial ruling that the service order to ISPs was illegal does mitigate further risk of internet restrictions in 2019.
See Country Outlook: Zimbabwe
SOCIAL MEDIA RESTRICTIONS IN DRC ELECTION CYCLE
The government of DRC President Joseph Kabila shut down internet and text messaging services ahead of and following disputed elections in December, claiming to preserve public order after ‘fictitious results’ were circulated on social media. The government warned of ‘chaos’ in case unofficial results were published on the internet or social media. Diplomats from the US, European Union, Canada, and Switzerland criticised the internet shutdown. The shutdown heightened fears of electoral fraud in presidential and legislative elections that were already marred by delays and violence (See DRC: TENSE PROTRACTED ELECTORAL CYCLE FINALLY COMES TO CONCLUSION).
Data leaked from the state’s electoral commission unambiguously contradicted the official results, triggering a dispute over the election results. The leaked data covers over 80 percent of the votes cast in the 30 December general election and closely matches voting data gathered independently by a parallel vote tabulation held by the Catholic bishops’ organisation, as well as three recent polls.
Internet provider Global and telecom operator Vodacom said that they had cut web access on government orders, although some NGOs claim that interruption to connectivity was being carried out at the discretion of commercial operators. Congolese authorities specifically targeted social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, and Skype in order to hamper communication among protesters, while allowing businesses and banks to operate as usual. Nevertheless, disruption to mobile communications was widespread. The economic cost of a shutdown in DRC is estimated at USD3 million per day. The DRC’s restrictions on internet connectivity were similar to those that occurred in recent elections in Mali and Equatorial Guinea, as well as those that followed an attempted military coup in Gabon in early January.
See Country Outlook: DRC
TANZANIA CRACKS DOWN ON ONLINE MEDIA
Some African countries have extended authoritarian practices to the online media sector by amending local legal frameworks. Tanzania’s government is a relevant case study since its implementation of the Electronic and Postal Communications Online Content Regulations Act in March 2018. The new law facilitates the government’s ongoing clamp-down on blogs, online content providers, and users alike with stringent regulatory requirements. These include a USD 924 licensing fee, the disclosure of ‘strategic’ information and the auditing of content by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), failing which transgressors may be subject to severe penalties.
After dealing with the online media sphere, the Tanzanian government has turned its attention to broadcast media, especially foreign-owned companies. Last year, the TCRA threatened to suspend the operating license for the Multichoice and Simbanet television companies. This action follows a string of contentious media-related regulatory measures, beginning with the Media Services Bill and Cybercrime Act. The Act criminalises ‘defamatory’ remarks and content that is deemed ‘seditious’ while authorising greater government oversight. This, in an apparent bid to regulate publicly accessible information so as to manage the narrative on a problematic political and economic agenda.
In targeting such entities with rigid operating requirements and colouring its persecution with nationalist rhetoric such as the ‘my country first initiative’, the government of President John Magufuli stands to gain both politically and economically. This, through increased revenue, royalties and penal payments as well as an appreciation in political stock in a country where economic nationalistic sentiments are still prevalent.
Various other African governments are implementing strict regulations on online media, which may set the tone for future crackdowns on internet connectivity and mobile telecommunications. Last year, Uganda’s government passed a new tax on social media, under which users must pay USD 0.05 a day to use popular platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp. Both Tanzania and Uganda’s restrictive cybercrime and media laws were inspired by similar measures imposed in China.
Other than Tanzania and Uganda, countries where such authoritarian practices are most likely to be implemented over 2019 include Zambia, Zimbabwe, Togo, Senegal, DRC, Guinea, Algeria, and Egypt.
See Country Outlook: Tanzania
RISK OUTLOOK FOR INTERNET SHUTDOWNS IN AFRICA IN 2019
In 2019, a number of countries are likely to impose full or partial internet shutdowns that will pose severe risk of contract frustration to operators, as well as broad economic disruption to investors. Some of these countries will hold highly contested elections this year and have already been identified in EXX Africa’s recent Africa Elections Special Report. More than half of Africa’s 54 countries will hold some form of election next year (See SPECIAL REPORT: TEN KEY AFRICAN ELECTIONS IN 2019).
Other countries, like Tanzania and Uganda, are implementing restrictive cybercrime and media laws to crack down on dissent and protests. EXX Africa has selected the ten countries where the probability of internet shutdowns or other forms of connectivity disruption is highest and where the risk of commercial disruption is most severe.
A 2016 study by the Brookings Institution revealed that shutdowns drained USD 2.4 billion from the global economy between 2015 and 2016. A 2017 report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), estimated that sub-Saharan Africa lost up to USD 237 million to internet shutdowns since 2015. Given the rise in internet shutdowns and other forms of connectivity restrictions since then, particularly in Asia and Africa, this number is likely to be far higher in 2019.
The estimated cost of daily economic disruption varies from country to country: Ethiopia’s daily cost is USD 3.5 million, while Cameroon’s shutdown in Anglophone regions results in daily economic losses of USD 1.67 million. Since the shutdowns have become increasingly sophisticated, with governments targeting specific regions or communities, the broader economic costs may be mitigated. In Ethiopia 36 days of national and regional internet shutdowns between 2015 and 2017 cost the country USD 123 million, while Cameroon’s 93-day shutdown in Anglophone regions in 2017 made USD 38 million in total economic losses.
However, the cost would be different for economies with more developed media and IT sectors – a total shutdown in Kenya could potentially cost USD 6.3 million a day (CIPESA). As indicated in our 2019 risk ratings above, the threat of internet shutdowns in large and developed economies such as Kenya or Senegal, is rising. Shutdowns are no longer restricted to small and less developed economies, like those of Chad, Burundi, or DRC.
Activist groups Internet Society and NetBlocks have created a data-driven online tool, The Cost of Shutdown Tool (COST), to better measure the economic cost of internet shutdowns. Greater awareness of shutdowns in Africa, driven by media, governments, business, and NGOs, is expected to facilitate improved assessments of the economic costs, as well as enhanced risk mitigation strategies (like VPNs) to avoid commercial disruption in future.
African markets that are opening up to structural reform and painful liberalisation will offer a more favourable investment climate over the coming year, while governments advocating state interventionism and currency manipulation will pose higher risk to foreign investors in 2019.
Every year, EXX Africa selects five countries as its favourite destinations for investment based on commercial interest among our clients and perceptible improvement in the country risk ratings. This selection is based on our local source intelligence, proprietary forecasting methodology, and quantitative risk scoring calculations. The selection showcases some of our key risk forecasts for the year ahead and flags potential new investment and trade opportunities.
Our forecasts take into account drivers of political, security, and economic risk, as well as other key trends that are likely to determine a country’s one-year risk trajectory. We do not base our forecasts on short-term impact incidents such as a failed coup in Gabon, riots in Zimbabwe, or a terrorist attack in Kenya. Rather, we assess the longer term socio-economic and political trends that drive such incidents in the first place.
We also identify those countries where we expect a significant deterioration in the business climate based on political, security, and economic risk drivers. Some countries picked in this year’s report match our selection last year, although there will be some inevitable surprises in the new line-up for EXX Africa winners and losers in 2019.
We wish you a prosperous New Year and trust you may continue to value our Africa risk intelligence.
2019 TOP FIVE INVESTMENT COUNTRIES
It may or may not be surprising that Africa’s largest economies, Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt, do not feature in our Top Five selection this year. These African economic giants were featured in previous years and all three countries have indeed made significant headway since the recessions of 2016. But hotly contested elections in South Africa and Nigeria have put policy-making on hold. Meanwhile Egypt is already reaping the benefits of relative political stability and steady economic recovery, despite re-emerging security threats. Cote d’Ivoire has also dropped out of our selection, as its economy faces new fiscal pressures and shifting political dynamics. Yet, Angola and Ghana remain firmly in our favourites’ list for this year, while we also take two bets on perhaps more ‘risky’ locations.
Last year, Ethiopia was in our bottom five selection while the country was in the midst of violent ethnic unrest, hard currency shortages, and dwindling economic momentum. This year, the East African nation has shot up the rankings to become our favourite investment destination for 2019. The new administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has made a symbolic break from perceived past repression, graft, and public mismanagement. The ongoing political transition marks a shift in influence dynamics within powerful state-controlled holding companies and industrial-military conglomerates that have dominated the Ethiopian economy for over 30 years.
However, the success of the Ethiopian political transition will depend on the new government’s ability to seek compromise between established business and security interests and mounting calls for broad political and economic reform. Ongoing hard currency shortages, high inflation, and below target exports will remain key concerns at a time of continued fiscal expansion and dwindling economic momentum. The government seeks private sector participation and foreign investment to stimulate the economy, opening up significant new opportunities. World Bank growth forecasts indicate stabilisation in the next two years just below the 10 percent mark, which keeps Ethiopia among the globe’s top performers. While the business environment remains challenging, the reform-orientated policy agenda suggests potential improvements are likely. The country is also likely to use its expanding goodwill to acquire condition-free multilateral funding to replace expiring Chinese credit lines.
As our favourite investment country of 2018, Angola remains in the Top Five selection this year. Angola’s economy will recover in 2019 on the prospect of rising oil production levels and IMF credit support. The IMF’s recent loan approval will add further legitimacy to the economic reformist trajectory that has been ongoing since President João Lourenço took office in September 2017. With greater observation of macroeconomic fundamentals and policy anchorage, market optimism on an already promising Angolan economy is likely to firm up. An Angolan real economy that is at the early stages of recovery will also benefit from the IMF’s presence via pro-market policies that help facilitate an environment conducive to investment and general expansion. There are immediate opportunities for the Angolan oil and gas sector such as the 2019 bid rounds for onshore and offshore blocks, as concrete steps to reverse the production downward trend.
Yet massive debts at state oil firm Sonangol and the banking sector’s political exposure remain key risks in the medium term. The country’s banks urgently require a round of consolidation to improve asset-quality and foreign-exchange risks. As public debt approaches 70% of gross domestic product, domestic credit is now crucial for state financing. While the new government’s highly popular anti-corruption and economic liberalisation platform is aimed at further diluting the former elite’s political and economic dominance, infrastructure projects will be at heightened risk of cancellation or review.
Ghana will be one of the fastest growing economies in Africa in 2019. The country seeks to replace its dwindling foreign aid receipts as it consolidates its status as a lower-middle income economy. The government will seek to replace these sources of financing by improving revenue collection and raising new debt. With the termination of the IMF programme, Ghana will be able to access debt markets more freely to fill this void. Most of the recent growth is driven by increased output from Ghana’s oil fields, rather than from a more diversified base. The objective is seeking economic diversification through broad-based industrialisation, specifically agro-processing and light manufacturing.
However, a major challenge for Ghana remains its high level of indebtedness. With the debt ratio at around 70% of GDP, the government’s prudence with debt management remains key to the country’s economic prospects. The energy sector, in particular, is heavily burdened by debt, yet long-term energy sustainability is needed to meet growing demand and to facilitate economic growth. Nonetheless, given the apparent recovery and ongoing political stability, investor sentiments are unlikely to change. The absence of key electoral cycles for at least another two years also suggests that fiscal imprudence is unlikely during this period. That said, failure to narrow the deficit and public wage bill discipline, in addition to possible debt accumulation by an expansion-oriented Ghana, could stoke investor anxiety.
Our little surprise for this year’s Top Five – Mauritania is set to emerge as a new economic player in the West African region. Mauritania’s economy is making a strong performance on the back of investments in the mining sector. Iron ore exports and fishing dominate export revenue and the economy is set to grow over the next few years on the back of investments in the mining sector and important gas discoveries. The development of natural gas projects also augurs longer-term sustained growth. Rising export revenues and tax collections are improving the fiscal outlook, despite lingering concerns over debt servicing in the longer term. The current account is strengthening and foreign exchange levels are comfortable as iron ore prices rise. Initial concerns over foreign exchange speculation and inflation have mostly subsided. The IMF predicts a real GDP growth at 8.0%, 8.4% and 7.2%, respectively for 2018 to 2020, along with sizable policy adjustment and favourable commodity price developments.
The looming economic bonanza may still be spoiled by political instability. The upcoming 2019 elections are unlikely to be free and fair, while a heavy-handed security deployment is expected against opposition and activist demonstrations. While the political momentum is shifting in favour of the Islamists and Haratin ethnic group, the military is expected to act to preserve the status quo. As such, underlying political risks may emerge to frustrate contracts signed in the booming extractive sectors.
Perhaps we are calling it too early, but Mozambique has made significant headway since its economic and financial collapse in 2016. President Filipe Nyusi will have to meet three key objectives before elections due at the end of the year in order to turn around the country’s fortunes. Firstly, he will need to implement a peace deal with the armed opposition RENAMO to avoid another outbreak of violence following the vote. Secondly, his government will need to improve its intelligence capability and security response to an intensifying Islamist insurgency in the gas-rich North. Even though militants are targeting rural and remote civilian and security targets in Cabo Delgado province, the prospect of disruption to the nascent natural gas sector is undermining development plans.
Eventual gas revenues will be crucial for the government’s third objective, i.e. ensuring a lasting resolution of the undisclosed debts scandal. Momentum on natural gas development is increasingly motivating debt restructuring and donor reengagement. Mozambique is seeking to extend maturities and share future revenue from offshore gas projects to provide some relief for the budget. A proposed deal with creditors is being motivated by a stronger desire by the Mozambican government to reengage with the IMF, because the state needs billions of dollars in loans to fund its own participation in the gas concessions. Meanwhile, the IMF is considering giving Mozambique a shadow programme, which would be a step towards securing financing from the Fund after the freeze in 2016.
AFRICA’S BIGGEST POTENTIAL LOSERS IN 2019
While we were arguably wrong to include Ethiopia in our Bottom Five country investment selection last year, the investment climate in DRC, Tanzania, and Zambia did significantly deteriorate as we predicted. Indeed, both Tanzania and Zambia retain their least favourable investment rating for 2019, with further deterioration in their political risk climate likely over the next year. Elsewhere, we are particularly concerned that ongoing economic and political crises in Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Gabon may be unsustainable, thus driving heightened risk of political instability, insecurity, and economic collapse. Other countries on our risk indicator watch list for this year include cash-strapped Central African economies and various southern African states that are less likely to benefit from a broader economic recovery elsewhere on the continent.
Since mid-December, violent protests have erupted in Sudanese cities in scenes of unrest that resemble the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’ regional uprisings. What started as an agitation against dire socio-economic conditions, which is attributed to maladministration on the part of President Omar al-Bashir and the governing National Congress Party (NCP), activists have since called for the resignation of the government and the election of a transitional authority. However, President al-Bashir remains steadfast in his pursuance of a fifth term in office at elections 2020 despite mounting resistance both from within the NCP and the opposition.
The lead-up to these elections comes at a time of economic and financial crisis. Depreciated oil prices, in addition to a downturn in production at major refineries, have seen government revenues garnered from its mainstay economic activity plummet. Equally, a decrease in oil production and revenues have left the state with a lack of foreign currency to import fuel and basic commodities, leaving few avenues of respite for a government that is facing an increasingly desperate and agitated population. However, Bashir continues to enjoy the endorsement of the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service which is the guarantor of executive power in Sudan. NISS support may provide a lifeline for al-Bashir through 2019, unless the military or NCP drastically shift their support away from the incumbent. In the meantime, investors will face heightened risks of political instability, widespread insecurity, and non-payment on contracts.
As a result of President John Magufuli’s self-styled ‘economic war’, investor confidence has collapsed driven by the government’s disputes with some of its largest investors. Some aggrieved investors have gone to arbitration to protect their interests under existing contracts. As a result, foreign investment has dropped by more than 30% since 2015 when President Magufuli was elected. Subdued government revenue collection and delays in securing financing for projects have held back development spending and hurt economic growth. Moreover, a sharp fall in lending to the private sector, prompted by high non-performing loans, point to a continued slowdown in growth. Infrastructure projects are likely to be delayed due to subdued government revenue collection and delays in securing financing.
Meanwhile, the president’s allies in the intelligence services are suppressing any form of political opposition to his government’s nationalist policies. President Magufuli has also stacked the key institutions governing the economy with ideologically-aligned loyalists, thus allowing him to stake out his own political turf, separate to the governing party’s interests. All risk indicators are set to deteriorate even further in 2019, as the impact of the new interventionist policies begins to bite. Already a lack of public spending and private sector concerns over policy uncertainty are curtailing growth. The economy will slow in 2019, although Tanzania will still remain one of the fastest growing economies in Africa over the next few years driven by long-term infrastructure commitments.
As President Edgar Lungu focusses on his power extension ambitions, investors are assured long-term policy continuity. However, his government’s authoritarian slide is being replicated in populist economic policy that is rooted in rigid economic nationalism and protectionism. Political in-fighting and legal battles have distracted the government from making the necessary decisions to stimulate the economy and take steps to resolve the critical debt crisis. The role of the IMF lies at the heart of a political power struggle within the PF party-led government. Many Treasury officials have recognised the urgent need for a lending deal with the IMF, yet their plans have been thwarted by presidential advisers who reject the austerity and unpopular subsidy cuts involved in an IMF deal.
Meanwhile, the concerns over Zambia’s debt remain prominent and are frustrating negotiations with the IMF, as well as other creditors including China. The government has maintained a debt-financed infrastructure expansion programme that seeks to run projects in politically important regions of the country. Many recent road, healthcare, and power projects have been politically motivated to ensure local support for Lungu’s power extension ambitions. Such overspending on infrastructure expansion and other politically motivated budgetary items have also triggered allegations of embezzlement and corruption. In the crucial mining sector, a new tax regime is causing smelters to close and motivating mining companies to lay off workers and scrap investment plans. Worse is to come as a harmful new sales tax is due to take effect, while massive VAT rebate arrears are arbitrarily written off.
A failed military coup at the start of the year is indicative of broad socio-economic and political frustration with Gabon’s leadership, which has been weakened by the suspected incapacitation of its strongman president. Even though the military intervention on 7 January failed for all its intent and purposes, there remains a heightened risk of military and civil unrest as long as there is no clarity on the condition of President Bongo and the government does not initiate constitutional provisions for the presidential succession. Opposition leaders in particular may seek to capitalise on the government’s perceived weakness by mobilising their supporters back to the streets. Given the unresolved coup motivations, the prospect of military unrest including mutinies and further coup attempts remains likely. However, the probability of a successful coup remains moderate.
Another factor that has put pressure on Gabon’s political stability is the country’s ongoing economic and financial crisis. Gabon’s economy slowed to 2.1% in 2016, from 3.9% in 2015, while public debt soared and the current account deficit swelled to more than 10% of GDP from a surplus just two years earlier. Growth has since rebounded to a forecasted 2 percent-plus in 2018, from near-zero growth as a result of suppressed oil prices in recent years. However, a sustainable economic recovery seems unlikely, despite assistance from the IMF. The lack of clarity over Bongo’s condition and the succession process have cast doubt over the commitment to reform criteria as set out by the IMF bailout programme.
After an initial period of optimism over Zimbabwe’s political transition over the past year, investors will again face a notable deterioration in risk indicators in 2019. The aftermath of disputed and tainted elections, Zimbabwe’s massive debt burden, and its severe foreign exchange and monetary crisis remain the major obstacles to unlocking substantive flows of private and foreign government finance. Deadly urban protests in January have unearthed the widening political divisions and systemic economic malaise, which the current administration lacks the political clout to resolve. Another military intervention to remove embattled President Emmerson Mnangagwa is increasingly likely this year.
Despite the confidence-inspiring appointment last year of new Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube, he seems out of his depth in the current cash shortage crisis and he lacks the political clout to implement real structural change to the distressed economy. In response to cash shortages, Ncube has pledged to introduce a new currency within 12 months. Such a move will offer little support for businesses struggling to import raw materials and equipment. While the previously forecast 2.4 percent growth rate by the IMF is not out of reach, it will be difficult to attain amid prevailing low-demand, low-investment and high-debt conditions. Debt is particularly concerning given its escalation to over 70 percent of GDP in 2018 and the difficulty associated with clawing back on the figure.
For further comment on these risk forecasts please contact Insight@exxafrica.com
Mounting concerns over Africa’s debt sustainability are frustrating key investment decisions and infrastructure financing. In this special report EXX Africa identifies the countries in best and worst position to attract further debt.
A booming economy and improved governance are creating fresh opportunities for project finance deals. While the economic and financial outlook is relatively strong, there are emerging concerns over political patronage and contract discrimination under the current administration.
The opposition has again blocked an attempt by the government to reform the constitution and improve governance, thus making a referendum more likely in the six-month outlook, although no significant economic disruption is expected from the process.
As foreign currency debt issuance reaches a new record so far this year, there are growing concerns over debt servicing sustainability, while several African economies are at serious risk of debt distress.
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