A lack of demand for intra-regional formal trade in West Africa may prove the most serious challenge for the single currency’s eventual launch and success. Unlike the Eurozone in the 1990s, West African economies are geared towards exporting to western or Asian markets, rather than its neighbours. Few West African countries are likely to meet all currency convergence criteria over the next year, while most CFA countries will be reluctant to replace their stable monetary regime with the messy managed float of the Nigerian naira.
Over the past year, the rapid encroachment of Sahel-based Islamist militant groups on the borders of West African coastal states has prompted widespread concern that previously unaffected locales are now under threat. Based on the geographic dispersal of regional militant actors and their current capabilities and intent, EXX Africa assesses the possible scenarios and likely locations for a terrorist attack in these coastal hubs.
Since 2015, a rapid expansion of Islamist militant activity in West Africa and the Sahel has corresponded with an unprecedented level of violence across the region. In particular, high-impact terrorist attacks in major urban centres in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire have become more frequent, pointing to both an increased capability and reach on the part of regional militant organisations. As the violence encroaches on the borders of West African coastal states, concerns abound that the terrorist threat may spill-over into these previously unaffected locales.
The Primary Threat Actors
Who they are and where they operate
With the exception of Nigeria, no militant groups have demonstrated a significant operational presence in West African coastal states. However, since 2015, the number and geographic distribution of Islamist militant groups operating in West Africa and the Sahel region have increased at a rapid pace, extending the risk to these regions.
The primary hub of militant activity in the Sahel stretches from north-eastern Mali and western Niger, to south-eastern Burkina Faso, encompassing the border areas between the three states. Groups operating here include the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), and an Islamist militant coalition, Jama’at Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM). JNIM includes several regional groups, including Ansar Dine, the Sahara-based branch of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Al Mourabitoun (See MALI: UNRELENTING SOUTHWARD EXPANSION OF ISLAMIST MILITANCY IN THE SAHEL).
Despite numerous international counter-terrorism efforts, militants in the Sahel have intensified their activities over the past five years. The number of militancy-related violent incidents across the region reached a peak in 2018, when 465 incidents were recorded, compared to 90 in 2016. In addition, French and UN military operations in Mali have pushed many militants beyond their established areas of operation in the north-east of the country, into previously unaffected areas. For instance, 2018 saw a surge of militant attacks connected to both JNIM and ISGS in south-eastern Burkina Faso, in close proximity to the country’s borders with Ghana, Benin, and Togo (See BURKINA FASO: COUNTERING THE SPREAD OF ISLAMIST MILITANCY).
A second regional hub of militant activity is in north-eastern Nigeria, and the border areas between Niger, Chad, Nigeria, and Cameroon. The primary groups operating in this region are Boko Haram and its offshoot, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). Boko Haram and ISWAP’s activities remain focused on north-eastern Nigeria and across its border, where they are conducting an insurgency against the Nigerian military. However, Boko Haram has previously threatened to enter into northern Benin through its porous north-eastern border with Nigeria although thus far there have been no incidents in Benin associated with the group (See SPECIAL REPORT: THE RETURN OF BOKO HARAM IN AND BEYOND NIGERIA?).
Militant groups operating in West Africa and the Sahel have varying degrees of capability. The majority of attacks orchestrated by these groups occur in outlying areas where they either conduct direct assaults on villages and pastoral camps during which they kill high numbers of civilians and loot as many goods as possible, or conduct raids or improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against army positions and patrols.
However, several groups have also demonstrated the capability to conduct complex coordinated assaults in regional urban hubs. For example, on 2 March 2018 JNIM conducted an attack in Ougoudougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, simultaneously targeting the Burkinabe national army headquarters, the French Embassy, and the French Institute, killing 30 people. Such attacks have included the use of suicide vests and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) (See BURKINA FASO: SIDELINED SECURITY SERVICES SEEK COLLABORATION WITH ARMED MILITANTS).
This increase in the geographic spread, as well as the volume and intensity of violence in the past two years, is in large part a product of greater cooperation and coordination between regional militant groups which has facilitated the formation of militant coalitions. In addition, the capability of militant groups to conduct operations across national borders has been bolstered through close connections to regional criminal activity, including the smuggling of arms and ammunition.
Attacks in West African urban centres remain driven in large part by resistance to foreign military intervention in Mali, especially ongoing French counter-terrorism operations. Islamist groups in the Sahel have also proclaimed their intent to carry out attacks on targets linked to those countries participating in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). This includes most states in the West Africa and the Sahel region, as well as a high number of Western countries. Correspondingly, the vast majority of militant attacks across the region have targeted international and local forces engaged in peacekeeping and counter-insurgency operations.
However, attacks in major urban centres have overwhelmingly targeted sites associated with the presence of high numbers of Western civilians, such as popular restaurants and hotels, as well as embassies. Areas where French nationals routinely congregate, including French government and military facilities, are especially likely to be targeted in such attacks. However, all Westerners are ostensibly under threat, as indicated by previous attacks on sites where large numbers of foreign nationals from a variety of Western states are present. While no attacks have yet taken place in West Africa against large malls or shopping complexes, these are also likely to constitute primary targets due to the typically high number of Western expats frequenting such locations.
Anatomy of a militant attack
Taking into account the historical modus operandi of militant groups in West Africa, as well as their current capabilities, the most likely form of attack in any of the large urban centres in West African coastal states is an assault by multiple gunmen on a prominent restaurant, hotel, foreign embassy, beach resort, or shopping complex.
Most previous attacks have involved groups of between two and ten attackers armed with assault rifles and wearing suicide vests. In some cases, assailants wore the official uniforms of state security forces, both delaying the reaction of victims in the target area, as well as complicating efforts by first responders to positively identify threats. As demonstrated in Burkina Faso in March 2018, such an attack may also consist of multiple groups of gunmen targeting disparate locations simultaneously.
In a number of major attacks in urban centres in Mali and Burkina Faso, militants have also employed IEDs/VBIEDs as precursors to an assault by multiple gunmen. In some instances, IEDs/VBIEDs employed against secondary targets have also been used to draw the attention of security forces and emergency services away from the primary site of an assault, increasing the overall lethality of an attack. However, with limited presence in the West African coastal states, militants are less likely to be able to manufacture or transport VBIEDs as easily as in the Sahel.
Top Ten West African Cities at Risk
|2||San Pedro||Cote d’Ivoire|
(1) Abidjan and (2) San Pedro (Côte d’Ivoire)
One previous terrorist attack has been recorded in Cote d’Ivoire: On 13 March 2016, three gunmen carried out an attack on a beach hotel in Grande-Bassam (30km east of Abidjan), killing 19 people (See AL-QAEDA ATTACKS COTE D’IVOIRE). AQIM and Al Mourabitoun jointly claimed responsibility for the attack. Côte d’Ivoire has since increased internal security measures in urban centres, including a greater police presence around vulnerable sites such as prominent hotels. Nonetheless, due to Côte d’Ivoire’s role as a close security partner of France and host to a French military base, militant groups retain a high intent to target the country. Indicative of this, on 8 November 2018, Iyad Ag Ghali, the leader of Ansar Dine, called for attacks against Côte d’Ivoire specifically. One month later, on 6 December 2018, security forces in Mali reportedly apprehended a militant cell which was planning to conduct an attack in Côte d’Ivoire, targeting New Year’s celebrations (See COTE D’IVOIRE: NEW YEAR’S EVE TERROR PLOT INDICATES RISING THREAT OF JIHADISM).
(3) Cotonou and (4) Porto Novo (Benin)
Benin shares over 2,000km with four countries, three of which (Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria) host the above militant groups. In particular, reports of cross-border militant activity in southern Burkina Faso have increased over the past two years, with local residents in northern Benin alleging that Islamist fighters have visited their communities periodically. In early 2019, several incidents indicated a possible escalation of militant activity in the border region. Notably, in May 2019, two French tourists were kidnapped in the Pendjari National Park in northern Benin. While no group claimed responsibility, the victims were rescued days later in a French military operation in northern Burkina Faso, suggesting that militants were involved (See BENIN: POLITICAL UPHEAVAL AND ISLAMIST MILITANCY WILL NOT DERAIL ECONOMIC SUCCESS). In addition, there is some evidence that terrorist cells are present in Benin; in May 2018, 42 people were arrested during counter-terrorism operations. Militant intent to target the coastal country is likely to stem from Benin’s contribution to the UN MINUSMA operation in Mali/Burkina Faso. Benin was also one of the countries specifically mentioned in Ag Ghali’s video last year.
(5) Lomé (Togo)
As with Benin, over the past year Togo has seen an increasing amount of militant activity on the country’s northern border with Burkina Faso. In April 2018, authorities reported that more than 20 militants had entered the country from Burkina Faso, bringing with them notable sums of cash. Thereafter, in response to the growing threat on their borders, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Ghana conducted a joint security operation in May 2018 in which over 200 people were arrested, many of which on terrorism charges. Additionally, in February 2019, five people, including a Spanish priest, were reportedly killed by Islamist militants during two separate attacks on the border between Togo and Burkina Faso. Togo is also a major contributor to the UN MINUSMA operation in Mali/Burkina Faso, driving intent to target the country. The security response to the threat by the government has focused on increasing military operations in the porous border area, which is likely to have a limited impact on mitigating the risk of an attack in Lomé.
(6) Dakar and (7) St. Louis (Senegal)
Senegal remains one of the foremost contributors to the UN MINUSMA operation in Mali/Burkina Faso, and as such constitutes a potential target for regional militant organisations. Senegal is also a military partner to France and hosts a French military presence at Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in Dakar. Direct intent to target the state is also evident, as Senegal was one of the countries mentioned in Ag Ghali’s video last year. Militant cells have been previously dismantled in both St. Louis and Dakar, both of which host high numbers of Western expatriates. Most recently, in July 2018 a Senegalese court sentenced 14 people to prison on charges of belonging to AQIM and Boko Haram. However, since 2016 Senegal has significantly bolstered security measures in major urban centres, including the provision of additional protection for international airports, prominent hotels, and popular tourist sites. While these measures have not been applied consistently, it is likely that they will constrain the ability of militants to carry out attacks in either city (See TERROR THREAT IN DAKAR, SENEGAL).
(8) Accra and (9) Sekondi-Takoradi (Ghana)
As with Benin and Togo, Ghana’s northern border is under threat from militants operating in southern Burkina Faso. Over the past year, Ghanaian security forces have implemented measures to address possible threats, including joint border security operations with neighbouring countries and renewed counter-terrorism training for the Ghanaian police. However, in May 2018, 13 people were arrested in Ghana on terrorism charges, suggesting that militant networks are already operating within the country. Both Accra and Sekondi-Takoradi host a high number of Western tourists and residents, providing a range of target opportunities for militant groups. Intent to target Ghana derives primarily from the country’s ongoing contribution to the UN MINUSMA operation in Mali/Burkina Faso. The country was also specifically named in Ag Ghali’s video last year (See GHANA: TERRORISM THREAT RESURFACES AS ISLAMIST MILITANCY GAINS A FOOTHOLD). The port of Tema has also faced numerous attack scares over the past year, although the viability of such reports has often been questionable and more likely derived from organised crime (See GHANA: SUSPECTED TERRORISM SCARE TO DRIVE DISRUPTION IN TEMA PORT AREA).
(10) Lagos (Nigeria)
While militant activity has focused on the north-east of the country, Boko Haram’s presence extends to Nigeria’s commercial capital. Since 2015, Nigerian security forces have reported multiple police raids targeting Boko Haram militants in the city. Most recently, in December 2018 a prominent Boko Haram leader reportedly responsible for planning several major bombings in the capital, Abuja, was arrested in Lagos. Nonetheless, only one militant attack has taken place in Lagos in the past five years, and it remains likely that Boko Haram will continue to focus the bulk of its efforts further inland and across the border into Niger and Chad. Attacks targeting Western foreign nationals are more likely to take place in Abuja, where multiple IED/VBIED attacks have taken place since 2011 (See NIGERIA: ISLAMIST MILITANTS PREPARE NEW OFFENSIVE TO CAPTURE TERRITORY IN NORTHEAST).
Transport logistics are a vital and promising sector for business in Africa. However, traversing land, sea, and air routes across the continent comes with a plethora of political and security risks. EXX Africa explores the key concerns in this regard, their manifestation, impact, and outlook.
Doing business in Africa is beset with a number of political and security risks. Recent research by Aon reveals that 70 percent of countries in sub Saharan African are currently at risk from strikes, riots, and other types of civil unrest while 25 percent are at risk from sabotage and terrorism. Although government assets are most frequently targeted during such events, these risks ultimately affect the viability and profitability of private entities and investments as well.
The latest Emerging Markets Logistics Index, which ranks 50 emerging economies across the world, places these concerns in the transport logistics sector. Agility Logistics produces this index. Rankings are pulled from data from institutions such as the IMF, the OECD, the World Bank, the UN, and the WEF, among others, and is supported by a survey of trade and logistics industry professionals. Findings from the 2018 Index reveal that many of the top supply chain risks in sub Saharan Africa relate to political and economic concerns, with industry professionals citing corruption (23 percent), government instability (18.3 percent), terrorism (9 percent), and piracy (4.1 percent) as major risks. In North Africa, terrorism (43.8 percent) and government instability (19.9 percent) together represent almost two thirds of the primary concerns.
A similar long-term study by Willis Towers Watson echoes these findings. Its 2016 Transportation Risk Index, compiled from data and insights derived from 350 interviews with executives in the sector, noted that the number one long-term (up to ten years) megatrend for logistics across the continent concerned geopolitical instability and regulatory uncertainty.
Such political and security risks tend to affect transport logistics across the continent in three ways: border closures or delays, the targeting of state assets, or the targeting of private assets. We explore each of these manifestations, identifying their major trends, impact and outlook below.
Border closures and delays
Government and geopolitical instability frequently result in the planned or unexpected closure of land, sea and air routes, affecting the movement of goods and services. Such closures most often arise as a result of a change in government – whether by democratic or undemocratic means – or as a result of bilateral tensions between neighbours.
Election periods pose one of the primary threats in this regard. Even votes deemed free and fair, and organised by democratically elected governments can cause disruption. During the General Elections in Nigeria in February 2019, for example, the government announced the closure of all borders and implemented various restrictions on vehicular movements for the voting weekend. A similar elections-related border closure took place in December 2018 when the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) closed its borders with its nine neighbours as it held its long-awaited polls.
Unexpected changes of power, such as via an insurrection, coup, revolution or rebellion, further results in risks to the logistics sector and induces high levels of uncertainty. During the successful removal of President Omar Al-Bashir in Sudan in April 2011, following weeks of anti-government protests, the transitional military council closed the country’s airspace for 24 hours as well as all border crossings until further notice.
Unsuccessful attempts at regime change can also result in panic, as witnessed in January 2019 when Gabon suddenly closed its border with Cameroon following an attempted coup against President Ali Bongo. All cross-border trade ground to a halt forcing local businesses to divert their goods to Equatorial Guinea.
Poor bilateral relations can further limit the flow of goods and services. While there are some known long-standing tensions between neighbours that have resulted in border closures, such as between Morocco and Algeria (ongoing for 25 years) and Ethiopia and Eritrea (borders have closed again despite a peace deal in July 2018), emergent socio-political developments can cause abrupt stoppages to cross-border commerce as well. In February 2019, Rwanda unilaterally decided to close its busiest border with Uganda over mutual allegations of threats to national security. The decision not only affected bilateral trade but impacted trade to Burundi, the DRC and Zambia as well. One month later, borders were again closed in Southern Africa, this time between South Africa and Mozambique following xenophobic attacks in Kwa-Zulu Natal province. During this incident, a crowd of around 200-300 Mozambicans barricaded the N4 and began targeting trucks with South African license plates.
Targeting of state assets
Beyond broader political threats and the closure of borders, the logistics sector is often impacted by security-related incidents in which non-state actors target key state infrastructure assets. Such incidents may emerge during acts of militancy, labour unrest or sabotage.
The strategic importance of a country’s infrastructure – particularly its ports – often renders these assets prime targets for militant attacks and activity. This has been demonstrated repeatedly in conflict zones over the past 12 months, with attacks reported against sea and air ports in Somaliland (Bosaso Port), Somalia (Mogadishu International Airport), Libya (Ras Lanuf and Es Sider Ports, and Mitiga International Airport), Niger (Diffa Airport), and Mali (Sevare Airport). Militants may even attempt to seize such assets for political leverage. In March 2019 in the Central African Republic, a local rebel group stationed at the border post with Cameroon blocked cargo to impede commercial traffic in an attempt to force the government to include them in the newly formed government.
The economic importance of logistical infrastructure further incentivises established worker unions to target such assets during labour disputes and negotiations. In this instance however, disruptive events are not limited to conflict zones but can be found across all countries, including the major economies. In a 2019 survey on supply chain risk management in South Africa, all 20 participants identified socio economic factors, such as labour unrest, as a key source of vulnerability. South Africa has also been impacted by frequent incidents of sabotage within the logistics sector, with arson and derailment attacks having recently been carried out against both its passenger and cargo rail services.
Targeting of private entities
Political and security risks may also affect private commercial entities and their assets directly as well. One of the primary security threats in this regard is posed by piracy. While this threat is location and sector specific, its impact is significant – particularly considering that 90 percent of African imports and exports are moved by sea. According to the 2018 Oceans Beyond Piracy report, in East Africa alone, the annual cost of maritime piracy was estimated at USD 1.4 billion in 2017 (down from USD 7 billion in 2010) while in West Africa it was estimated at USD 818 million (up from USD 719.6 million in 2015).
Most concerning, according to the latest statistics released by the International Maritime Bureau, the threat from piracy is increasing in West Africa. Since 2014, there have been approximately 250 actual and attempted attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, with a 70 percent increase in incidents being reported between 2017 and 2018 alone. This surge is expected to result in associated rises in the cost of maritime business, particularly with regard to insurance. In 2017, the total costs of additional premiums incurred by ships transiting the Gulf was calculated at USD 18.5 million. Moreover, it was estimated that 35 percent of all ships now take out Kidnap & Ransom insurance, totalling USD 20.7 million.
Companies operating in the transport logistics sector are also frequently targeted by corrupt individuals. The sector remains particularly vulnerable to corruption given its close engagement with customs officials who are often underpaid and look to increase their wages through opportunistic facilitation payments. Extensive red tape and delays further amplifies this risk: according to the African Development Bank, the average customs transaction across the continent could involve 30-40 different parties. In addition to increasing commercial operating costs and affecting intraregional and international trade, such corruption at ports of entry and exit frequently facilities a range of illicit activities as well, such as the smuggling of people and goods, and tax evasion.
Despite these challenges, there remain sound opportunities for transport logistics in Africa. Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, and Angola all featured within the Emerging Markets Top 50 Logistics Index last year.
Looking more closely at the data, Egypt and Ethiopia were identified as having made significant strides in the logistics sector. The improvement in business conditions in Egypt, including the reduction in business costs associated with crime, violence and terrorism, has been identified as one of the primary reasons for it jumping six places in the index last year – the most of any country. Similarly, Ethiopia’s goal to become a low-cost manufacturing and textiles hub along with the opening of Africa’s largest cargo terminal in Addis Ababa has attracted much attention. However, ongoing security concerns, especially the threats posed from ethnic conflicts and terrorism along border areas with Somalia and Kenya, were identified as setbacks.
In another promising development, South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and Kenya were identified within the pool of countries that have the most potential to grow as logistics markets within the next five years. However, sub Saharan Africa’s two largest economies – South Africa and Nigeria – each fell down the index, with Nigeria falling seven spots. Both countries were nevertheless identified as turning a corner, particularly with regard to corruption and political instability and uncertainty in 2019.
As demonstrated above, supply chain risks vary wildly from country to country across Africa. From isolated events that cause single points of impact (such as a militant attack), to ongoing events that generate a localised yet sustained impact (such as strikes), to all-encompassing events (such as a coup), companies in the transport logistics sector are advised to stay abreast of political and security dynamics to navigate and forecast their threat environment. In addition, transport logistics should consider using political risk insurance to insulate their operations against disruption.
SEE COUNTRY OUTLOOK: ALL COUNTRIES
The obstinate political opposition has forced President Talon to exclude them from parliament. As his power goes unchecked by a pliable judiciary, Talon is expected to implement his pro-investment and liberalising economic agenda. The prospect of further lucrative project finance deals and the need to keep a key counter-terrorism ally on-board may limit international criticism of President Talon’s more authoritarian tendencies, as is highlighted by a recent kidnapping of French nationals.
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.
Reports in the last few weeks have highlighted the persistent threat of piracy, armed robbery at sea and kidnap-for-ransom in the Gulf of Guinea. Within just the first quarter of 2019, 22 incidents were recorded across the Gulf while the region accounted for all worldwide crew kidnappings with 21 crewmembers kidnapped in five separate incidents. Although the prevalence of piracy may be higher – it is believed that about half of all attacks go unreported – incidents this year have already been recorded in Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Togo.
The threat of piracy has been steadily increasing in this region over the past half-decade. Since 2014, there have been approximately 250 actual and attempted attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre. However, between 2017 and 2018 alone, the number of attacks increased by more than 70 percent. Nigeria has been and remains the epicentre of this threat. In 2018, 48 incidents were reported in Nigerian waters and between October and December alone, 41 kidnappings were recorded off its coast. Thus far this year, 14 incidents have occurred in the country’s waters – making up over 60 percent of the total reported incidents in the region to date. While this is a slight improvement year-on-year compared to official data collected in 2018, the waters within the Gulf of Guinea, and specifically those off Nigeria, remain some of the most dangerous for vessels and crew. We explore the evolving nature of this threat and the outlook for the year ahead.
A persistent and evolving threat
The below map shows piracy and armed robbery incidents that have been reported to the International Maritime Bureau in 2019 to date. The markers show attempted attacks, boardings, incidents in which vessels were fired upon, hijackings, and suspicious vessels. If exact coordinates are not provided, estimated positions are shown based on information provided.
Emerging alongside the rise of commercial oil exploitation in the region, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has posed a persistent threat since the 1970’s. As global maritime trade expanded from this period onwards, ports became busier and vessels were forced to wait to berth, rendering them vulnerable to opportunist attackers. Small gangs in hollowed-out tree trunks masquerading as fishing vessels carried out these first attacks. Over time, however, these makeshift canoes were fitted with outboard motors to extend their speed and range, before gradually becoming more sophisticated to include the use of advanced technologies and weapons, including speedboats, radio frequency jammers, satellite navigation and a combination of small arms and light weapons.
By the 1990s, attacks shifted from Lagos Anchorage towards the Niger Delta where incidents became more politicised as a result of contestation over the exploitation of oil and the distribution of its rents among the local population. Crimes, such as oil bunkering and kidnapping for ransom, were attributed to groups such as the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), who would use criminal activities to raise revenues and further political ends by bringing attention to their cause. While an amnesty programme launched in 2009 contributed to an initial decline in incidents, an increase in reprisals were reported from 2016 onwards. Today, it is evident that political insurgents have been co-opted by highly organised, sophisticated criminal groups, with clear involvement by senior politicians and members of the security force. These groups also operate outside of Nigeria, in the waters of neighbouring countries, and the threat of piracy now extends from Senegal all the way along the coast to Angola.
From steel pipes to RPGs
As small maritime-focused gangs (such as the Seadogs, the Corsairs and the Vikings), organised criminal groups and political insurgents (such as the Niger Delta Avengers, Red Scorpions, and the Niger Delta Greenland) have melded, it has been difficult to pinpoint the number of groups operating in the region and their respective sizes. In 2012, it was estimated that there were around 1,250 ‘trained’ pirates, but this figure is in itself questionable given that groups employ young men and local fisherman via ‘unions’ on a job-by-job basis depending on the skills needed. There has been little verifiable evidence subsequently to demonstrate the exact number of pirates operating across the vast number of criminal gangs and militant groups, which are generally accepted to be amorphous.
Piracy in this part of the world is dynamic and comprises theft – varying from petty to sophisticated, where crimes are planned in advance and executed with greater skill -, oil bunkering, petro-piracy – often by means of ship-to-ship transfers or attacks on offshore platforms -, hijackings, and kidnap for ransom. Attacks also target an increasingly wide variety of ships, including: bulk carriers, container vessels, general cargo vessels, tankers, oil industry support vessels, and fishing vessels.
In the majority of cases, piracy takes the form of petty theft in port or from a vessel at anchor by perpetrators armed with knives or improvised weapons, such as pieces of steel piping. However, in more sophisticated incidents, attackers have boarded vessels well outside territorial waters, up to 100nm offshore, and are armed with assault rifles, machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), demonstrating the intent to use lethal violence as a tactic when carrying out an attack.
Attacks off Nigeria have become increasingly violent, with pirates making use of multiple attack boats and engaging in shootouts with naval escorts. Kidnappings have also steadily increased over the past two years in which crewmembers are abducted form ships well offshore before being brought back into Nigeria where they are held for ransom. On 29 October 2018, for example, Nigerian pirates in a speedboat hijacked a tanker 100nm off Point Noire, Republic of Congo, kidnapping eight of the 18 crewmembers.
Modus operandi differs by incident. In more opportunistic attacks, small gangs will target vessels identified to have a poor security profile, attacking under the cover of night to avoid detection. With armed robbery at sea, attackers often pose as fishermen to blend in with the many small craft, before identifying a target and launching a stealth attempt at night, where use of force is threatened if perpetrators encounter crew. In kidnappings for ransom, ‘high-value’ targets are identified beforehand. In the most sophisticated attacks, motherships may be used and intelligence gained from corrupt officials to support a hijacking and ship-to-ship transfers.
The involvement of government officials from various departments has not only provided perpetrators with valuable intelligence but, through bribes, has ensured that naval forces turn a blind eye at crucial moments. Moreover, rumours of high-level politicians directly receiving oil rents and oil companies assisting local groups in bunkering oil as a ‘cost of business’, demonstrate how licit and illicit economies in Nigeria have blended.
Shipping companies have taken a number of ‘hardening’ measures to mitigate their vulnerability to attack. These include carrying armed guards deployed by security forces, such as in Nigeria, employing best practice management strategies for evasive measures, and awaiting berth outside high-risk waters such that vessels can move swiftly to port when required. However, private military security companies are not permitted in Nigerian waters, ruling out a method that proved most successful in combatting Somali piracy. Nigeria instead allows shipping companies to hire security escort vessels carrying naval officers. This strategy is nevertheless reported to be prohibitively expensive and largely ineffective as a deterrent.
State-based and regional efforts have drawn limited success with some countries garnering better results than others. Togo, for example, has been the most enthusiastic in the region, and has managed to decrease incidents in its waters by increasing patrolling activities and being the most likely of states in the region to respond to distress calls. Nigeria, however, has a mixed record, with security forces being plagued by corruption, and the majority of its defence budget having been deployed to fight the many conflicts onshore. Nigeria also seldom responds to distress calls, having led to a trend in the late 2000s and early 2010s in which masters simply did not report attacks to local authorities.
At a regional level, the establishment of joint reporting centres and cooperation zones have been met with a positive response. However, these efforts, while extensive and proactive on paper, have been hampered by funding and capacity constraints as well as the Anglophone/Francophone divide in the region, alongside fears of amplifying Nigerian hegemony by allowing Abuja to take a leading role. As such, however useful these strategies may be, they are often not fully implemented, forcing the region to rely on support from external actors, including the EU and the US, who regularly conduct joint exercises and counter-piracy training drills.
In the Gulf of Guinea, the nature, frequency, impact and geographical dispersion of piracy fluctuates as a result of a number of factors, including: the oil price, the exchange rate, whether fuel subsidies are in effect, the efficacy of state-based counter-piracy measures, the evasive behaviour of vessels and local politics. However, while the patterns of piracy are always shifting, the risk is never fully absent.
The threat of attacks of all kinds – ranging from petty theft to kidnap for ransom – will therefore continue in the medium to long term for a number of reasons. Poverty levels remain high, meaning that young men looking for income opportunities are numerous, policing and law enforcement remains weak, and governments are frequently distracted by other security and political issues, such as Islamist extremism onshore and local elections.
Shipping companies operating in this region should exercise caution, and continue to follow the measures detailed in Best Management Practices 4 alongside the guidelines issued by the International Chamber of Shipping and its partners. Further, vessels can minimise their risk by, where possible, planning to limit the time spent at anchor or adrift, or doing so much further offshore. Vessel hardening can also prove effective in improving the vessel’s security integrity and preventing boarding. This can include the deployment of barbed wire fencing along the vessel perimeter, the utilisation of a ‘safe room’ for crew to retreat to, and the development of standard radio and emergency procedures in the event of an attack. All necessary insurances should also be in place to mitigate loss for those with commercial interests in shipping, or whose goods are bound from or destined to the region.
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
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