Zambia’s finance minister is taking firm steps to stabilise the economy and to resume negotiations with the IMF on a credit facility. However, he will face political pressure to maintain spending levels and miss fiscal deficit targets, while a looming power sector collapse may further undermine the country’s already distressed economy.
The president makes a bold political gamble to force parliament to lift an interest rate cap which has starved private sector lending and is slowing economic growth. His government hopes to persuade the IMF to restore a standby credit facility to protect Kenya’s distressed credit ratings, yet other factors may thwart such a strategy.
The government seeks more revenue from the mining sector to provide a quick fix to a distressed economy caused by shrinking development assistance and depreciation of the local currency due to dwindling foreign reserves. Investors face heightened risk of arbitrary changes to the tax regime, contract renegotiation, and demands for repatriation of earnings.
While an alleged coup plot has been overblown by the government for political gain, the incident does put a spotlight on the deployment of politically affiliated militia groups ahead of next year’s elections. Businesses also face heightened risk of contract frustration, tax increases, and discrimination as the government seeks to raise funds for its political campaign.
On 23 September, Information Minister Kojo Oppong Nkrumah announced security forces had thwarted a coup against the government. Most Ghanaians reacted with scepticism to the suggested plot even though the government has seemingly overblown the importance of the incident for political reasons. While EXX Africa assesses that there is a low probability of an unconstitutional transfer of power in Ghana, there is a growing risk of political violence ahead of next year’s elections which has been thrown into the spotlight by this alleged incident.
As Ghana enters a new election cycle, businesses will be exposed to increased risk of commercial disruption due to unrest and rising crime rates, as well as higher political risks such contract frustration, corrupt practices, and changes to taxation. A Ghanaian election year also usually distracts the president and senior civil servants from public administration and economic management, thereby often raising the risk of payment delays to contractors. There is ample precedent for such perils based on previous election cycles.
The alleged coup plot
On 23 September, the Ministry of Information claimed that security forces had foiled a plot to overthrow the government and arrested three people believed to have been amassing makeshift bombs, weapons and computer equipment. The alleged plot was unravelled on 20 September after fifteen months of close surveillance of the activities of the coup plotters, according to the government.
The three alleged coup plotters arrested by security forces are Dr. Frederick Yao Mac-Palm, who owns the Citadel hospital in Accra and is a vocal political activist on social media; Ezor Kafui, a local weapons manufacturer; and Bright Allan Debrah Ofosu. On 25 September, the government made further arrests of some unnamed military officers in addition to the initial three main suspects. The ministry has also published a list of the weapons retrieved during the security operation, including 22 improvised explosive devices, six pistols, a long knife, three smoke grenades, seven mobile phones, and three laptops. The detained military officers are being questioned over their suspected role in procuring these weapons but did not play an active role in the coup plot.
Security experts in Ghana contacted by EXX Africa, including retired military officers, have dismissed the allegation of a coup as implausible given the profile and background of the suspects and the inferiority of weapons and ammunitions seized. The three main suspects have no military training or security-related background. Our sources say these individuals would not have had the capability and resources needed to overrun the first line of defence of Jubilee House (the official residence of the president).
The coup plotters are being defended in court by Victor Adawudu, a staunch member of the main opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC). The NDC has publicly dismissed the claimed coup plot as a ploy by the government to clamp down on opposition supporters and the party’s financial backers ahead of next year’s elections.
We agree that the foiled coup plot has been overblow by the government as part of its broader electioneering strategy to re-elect President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo next year. However, the incident does reflect growing concern over increasing risk of political violence around the elections.
Political violence outlook
Electioneering and political machinations are gathering pace in Ghana ahead of the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2020. Part of the broader strategy of the main opposition NDC party to win the election is to build a coalition against the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP). The NDC is seeking to maintain its momentum through the formation of the Coalition for National Sovereignty (CNS), which comprises nine political parties (including the NDC and the Convention People’s Party) and civil society organisations. The NDC has appointed former president John Mahama as its presidential candidate, which may be a tough sell given Mahama’s poor record of handling Ghana’s economy and his administration’s inability to fight corruption during its tenure.
The opposition CNS coalition is set to focus its campaign rising crime rates and more frequent violence in the country, as well as corruption in the energy sector, alleged abuse of state procurement, a looming banking sector crisis, and the NPP government’s unmet promises of ‘one-district, one-factory’ (building a factory in each district) and ‘one-constituency, one-ambulance’ (providing an ambulance for each constituency). However, the tone of the campaign is often belligerent and regularly ties into deep-seated local grievances in communities, raising the risk of violent unrest.
In January, a by-election in the Ayawaso West Wuogon constituency triggered violence that was orchestrated by both main political parties. The unrest left two people dead and 18 others hospitalised with gunshot wounds. The violence that marred the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election portends concern over the outcome of the coming elections, where both parties have resolved to win, seemingly at any cost as they deploy youth militia groups.
In the unrest at the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election, a state security operative publicly slapped NDC parliamentarian Samuel Nettey George. The report of the Commission of Inquiry set up by the government to investigate the Ayawaso West Wuogon electoral violence recommended the dismissal and prosecution of the security operative for assaulting the lawmaker. However, the government rejected the recommendation, which further reinforced the opposition’s perception of the politicisation of state security operatives. Nonetheless, the NPP government is genuinely worried that the NDC is training its militia groups to help win the elections, by applying intimidation tactics.
Our local sources are warning that both main parties are financing and training their affiliated vigilante-style militia groups to intimidate opponents in a bid to ensure electoral victory. This also relates to the background to the alleged coup plot. The arrest of Dr Mac-Palm and his co-conspirators, and the seizure of ammunitions and weapons was an attempt by the government to foil plans by the NDC party to train and arm its vigilante groups, including the notorious Hawks militia group. The opposition has meanwhile accused the government of using state security operatives to attack its supporters and leaders.
State assets for political campaigning
Another key concern in the elections lead-up relates to contract certainty as the government has begun a spree of contract cancellations and asset confiscations in order to fund its campaigning. Various local companies, banks, and their partners are at heightened risk of discrimination and confiscation over the coming year.
On 9 September, President Akufo-Addo inaugurated a nine-member board of the State Interest and Governance Authority (SIGA), which will replace the Divestiture Implementation Committee and the State Enterprises Commission. SIGA is poised to be one of the most important bodies in regulating all state-owned enterprises (SoEs), as well as joint-venture companies (JVCs) with state equity participation. The government holds equity interests in key sectors of the economy including banking, insurance and allied services, mining, engineering, energy, petroleum and gas, and agriculture. The government has identified the entities that fall under SIGA supervision. These entities included 40 SoEs, eight JVCs, eight mining companies, and five regulatory bodies.
The official purpose for the creation of SIGA is to improve the efficiency of SoEs by managing their level of borrowing, ensuring payment of dividends to the state promptly and promoting transparency and accountability. The government acknowledged that only four SoEs, five regulatory bodies, eight JVCs, and eight mining companies had ever submitted audited accounts. Moreover, only nine companies, comprising two SoEs and seven JVCs, paid dividends to the government in 2017, according to the government. In terms of financial loss, SoEs recorded losses of about GH¢1.3billion (USD 240 million) in 2016 and an USD 18 million revenue shortfall in the first half of 2019. These figures indicate the worrying level of institutional corruption at the heart of many SoEs, which have been used as a source of political patronage, as well as funding mechanisms for the governments to finance their political campaigns.
No sooner than SIGA was launched, the administration confiscated the Akwatia diamond mining concession and assets of the Great Consolidated Diamonds Ghana Limited (GCDGL) a subsidiary of Jospong Group of Companies (JGC). The GCDGL, previously state-owned, was taken over by JGC in August 2011. However, in April the government cancelled the agreement on the ground that JGC had failed to meet the terms of the contract. On 18 September, officials of SIGA supported by state security including the military shut down the mines and took over all its assets. The management of JGC is accusing the government of abuse of power.
Other JVCs and state firms privatised by the previous government are at risk of similar heavy-handedness by SIGA in its drive to raise money for the government. The opposition has accused the government of applying selective intervention tactics to target certain businesses for political gain. The opposition has also accused the government of favouritism in selecting banks to bail out during the cleaning-up exercise undertaken by the Bank of Ghana in August 2017. The revocation of the licences of UT and Capital banks that led to their takeover by Ghana Commercial Bank was claimed to be unfair. Other banks that lost their license were UniBank, Beige, Heritage, and GN Bank belonging to Papa Kwesi Nduom, the leader of the opposition Progressive People’s Party.
Whereas the National Investment Bank was also undercapitalised, the central bank allowed the state-owned bank to continue its operations. The four banks that received government bailouts through the Ghana Amalgamated Trust bond were Agricultural Development Bank, OminiBSIC, Universal Merchant Bank, and Prudential banks. All of these were tied to state interests and the NPP ruling party’s backers.
The opposition has also condemned the privatisation of the operations of the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) to a private company, the Power Distribution Services (PDS). PDS is expected to invest over USD 580 million in the country’s power sector within the next five years after receiving the assets and operations of ECG on 12 September. There are concerns that PDS does not have the capacity to make the expected investment in Ghana’s power sector. In the event that the opposition wins next year’s elections, the PDS contract would be at risk of being reviewed, if not cancelled.
Furthermore, the reduction of state equity participation in the Aker energy project from about 48 percent to 18 percent has been also condemned by NDC presidential candidate John Mahama, who claims that individuals associated with current Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta and his company Databank took part in the renegotiation of the Aker energy deal.
President Nana Akufo-Addo has presided over an economic recovery since coming to power in 2016 and Ghana will again be one of the fastest growing economies in Africa in 2019. He faces a possibly tough re-election contest against the main opposition party candidate, former president John Mahama, in December 2020. In the meantime, the government will seek to fulfil some of the bold and populist pledges it made in the 2026 electoral campaign, including the completion of hundreds of small-scale manufacturing projects across the country. To meet such pledges, the government will source new revenues through tax increases and contract reviews.
With election year fast approaching, businesses are likely to experience fresh tax hikes. In the 2019 Supplementary Budget, the telecoms sector will see an increase in the Communication Service Tax (CST) from 6 percent to 9 per cent effective from 1 October 2019. Telecoms firms have already announced plans to pass on the cost to their customers. The 2020 budget to be announced in November this year is also likely to see tax increase on tobacco and alcohol, as well as VAT.
Meanwhile, there is also heightened risk of corrupt practices affecting commercial interests ahead of the elections. The NPP government is facing mounting allegations of mispricing contracts, cronyism, and fraud, in an apparent continuation of the previous NDC government’s practices. According to some sources, Ghana’s government is losing some USD 2.8 billion per year in revenues due to overpriced contracts and commercial criminality.
In terms of the pre-election security outlook, fierce rivalry between the country’s two main political parties makes violent protests almost inevitable, especially in the lead-up to elections. Politically motivated unrest is likely over corruption allegations and poor socio-economic situations. Hotspots for protests and riots include over-crowded areas of Accra, such as Fadama, Nima, Maamobi, Ayawaso, the Agbogbloshie market and the violence-prone ‘Sodom & Gomorrah’ area close to the central business district.
There are further concerns over violence in areas where illegal mining is rife. During an election year, there is a tendency for a spike in the activity of illegal miners, locally known as galamsey. State security forces are often redeployed from providing security at mining areas to protecting political leaders in election campaigns across the country. The recent crackdown on galamsey including the arrest of 20 Chinese miners on 13 September was an indication that the government is seeking to appease public demand for actions against foreign galamsey.
Furthermore, the failure of the government to prosecute and jail Chinese illegal miners for fear of upsetting the Chinese government has led to civil groups questioning the government’s commitment to fight the scourge. Part of the government’s concern is not to jeopardise the prospect of securing USD 2 billion for the Sinohydro bauxite project.
SEE COUNTRY OUTLOOK: GHANA
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