Africa in the news: South Africa and Nigeria contend with xenophobic attacks, circulation of U.S. dollars in Zimbabwe declines, and CFTA Negotiating Forum kicks off

Xenophobic attacks in South Africa prompt Nigerian attack on South Africa’s mobile-phone carrier MTN in Abuja

Xenophobic attacks against foreign-owned (especially Nigerian) homes and businesses in South Africa have been intensifying in recent weeks. Last week, violence erupted during a protest in Pretoria, where local residents called for the deportation of foreign workers, accusing them of stealing jobs and dealing drugs. Earlier this week, about 100 people looted and wrecked Nigerian-owned businesses in Jeppestown. Voice of America reports that misinformation about immigration statistics, false attacks, and increased crime are creating a “climate of fear,” exacerbating the already tense environment. The situation in South Africa is having spillover effects: On Wednesday, in response to these growing attacks, Nigerians attacked the South African company MTN’s Abuja headquarters, looting offices and attacking customers.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki has strongly condemned the attacks against immigrants, saying, “Those who organize and participate in these attacks, which must stop, must know there is absolutely nothing revolutionary, progressive or patriotic, acceptable or of service to the people in what are in fact criminal activities.” President Jacob Zuma and the South African parliament have also called for an end to the attacks. However, Tuesday’s deportation of 97 Nigerians charged with civil and criminal offenses has worried many immigrants. In response to these events, the Nigerian National Assembly has decided to send a delegation to the South African government to work on a solution to the current violence.

Zimbabwe’s currency woes grow

This week, the circulation of U.S. dollars in Zimbabwe’s economy continued to decline. According to a report published by advisory firm MMC Capital, the November 2016 introduction of bond notes by Zimbabwe’s central bank has prompted the public to withhold substantial amounts of U.S. dollar currency while exclusively using the bond notes. The decline in circulating U.S. dollars could potentially lead to its disappearance from the Zimbabwean market, which would greatly restrict imports, according to MMC Capital. Another reason for the shortage of U.S. dollars on the market, according to Zimbabwe Independent, is that banks are holding them to facilitate foreign transactions. The bond notes were introduced late last year as an export incentive—on the premise that the notes would prompt local businesses to seek foreign currency through exports. Presently, there are $100 million dollars of bond notes in circulation. The notes were introduced to be used on par with the U.S. dollar, as they, according to Zimbabwean officials, have the same value. Still, a black market for the U.S. dollars has emerged.

In other news, last weekend, President Robert Mugabe’s supporters gathered to celebrate his 93rd birthday. In an hour-long speech, he praised President Donald Trump’s “America First” position, urging the world to “give him time” and stating similarly, “Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.” With Zimbabwe holding general elections next year, President Mugabe indicated in his speech that he would not be stepping down.

Continental Free Trade Area Negotiating Forum prepares for 2017 launch

The African Union (AU) Commission opened its fifth meeting of the Continental Free Trade Area Negotiating Forum (CFTA-NF) on February 27, 2017. The forum, which lasts until March 4, convenes CFTA negotiators—including senior trade officials from member states, trade experts from the regional economic communities (RECs), and other participants from the African Development Bank and U.N. agencies—who will attend capacity building workshops and then finalize draft modalities for negotiations on tariff liberalization and trade in services liberalization. The negotiators will use the finalized modalities in consultations with national governments as they solicit inputs, which will be used to fast track the CFTA negotiations. AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry H.E. Mrs. Fatima Haram Acyl provided introductory remarks for the forum, stating, “I am very confident that the end of 2017 will usher Africa into a new era where our traditional borders will become less important as a result of establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area.” Once in full force, the CFTA will encompass 54 countries representing over a billion people and combined GDP of $3.4 trillion.