Africa in the news: South Africa considers new land policy, Djibouti retakes port, and Equatorial Guinea takes France to court

South Africa considers radical land redistribution policies and appoints new Cabinet

On Tuesday, February 27, the South African National Assembly voted to start the process of amending the country’s constitution to allow “land expropriation without compensation,” currently an illegal process.

New President Cyril Ramaphosa is supportive of this policy in general, but is aware of the tensions it creates and concerns it evokes. So far, he has emphasized that the process will not be “smash and grab,” assuring his citizens that “we will handle it with responsibility. We will handle it in a way that will not damage our economy, that is not going to damage agricultural production.” He has also hinted that South Africa will remain wary of the similar poorly planned policies of its neighbors. Zimbabwe’s experience with “expropriation without compensation” land reform in the early 2000s proved to be disastrous to the country.

The question of land rights is fraught in highly unequal South Africa, as most estates and “profitable” farms are owned by white people—the result of a 1913 law that deprived most black people of their right to property as well as the policy of apartheid. Though a few programs to address this challenge have been implemented, their impacts have remained somewhat minimal.

The changes are still in their early phases. South Africa has particular economic and practical obstacles to overcome, as well as political hurdles in enacting the policy. The Constitutional Review Committee will report back on proposed changes by August 30.

In another South Africa news, Ramaphosa reshuffled the South African Cabinet on Monday, largely purging the group of staunch supporters of former President Jacob Zuma. Former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan returns as minister of public enterprises, and another former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene has been reinstated. Notably, Ramaphosa’s intra-party rival, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has been appointed minister in the presidency of planning and monitoring, and Zuma-backer David Mabuza has been named deputy president. Nevertheless, according to senior political analyst at South Africa-based NKC Economics, “The reshuffle is the first stage of a big clean-out,” and “the largest single purge of an ineffective and significantly corrupt cabinet in post-democratic history.”

Djibouti terminates contract with DP World over operations of major port Doraleh container terminal

This week, the government of Djibouti unilaterally terminated the contract with the United Arab Emirates-owned DP World’s operations of the Doraleh Container Terminal. The contract termination ends a long-running dispute between the government and DP World, one of the world’s biggest port operators. In fact, in 2014,  Djibouti accused DP World of bribing the head of the port’s authority to win a 50-year concession, though just last year the London Court of International Arbitration ruled for DP World. The Doraleh Container Terminal, which will now be operated by the state-owned Doraleh Container Terminal Management Company, is central to the region’s economy, as 95 percent of Ethiopia’s imports come through Djibouti. In addition, its strategic location between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden on the Bab al-Mandeb strait places it along a major shipping lane from the region to Europe.

Explaining its takeover of the terminal, Djibouti has said that the contract was terminated due to “recent poor performance” and to protect “national sovereignty and economic independence.” DP World has called these actions illegal and is beginning arbitration proceedings at the London Court of International Arbitration. The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, has stated that the seizure is “regrettable” and that the impacts of the seizure will be far worse for Djibouti.  

International Court of Justice hears Equatorial Guinea’s case against France

On Monday, International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague, Netherlands, heard the challenge brought forth by Equatorial Guinea against the 2017 ruling by French courts that found Teodorin Obiang, Equatorial Guinea’s vice president, guilty of embezzlement, money laundering, corruption, and abuse of trust. Obiang, who was tried in absentia, received a three-year suspended jail sentence, a suspended $35-million fine, and confiscation of millions of dollars in assets including his $123-million mansion near the Champs-Élysées. However, according to The Guardian, “The suspended sentences mean that Obiang will only face jail or have to pay the fine if he is found to have re-offended in France.”

In its case to the ICJ, Equatorial Guinea argues that France breached the Vienna convention in the arrest and trial, as Obiang is covered by diplomatic immunity. Equatorial Guinea adds that French officials violated the diplomatic status of the seized mansion. France is countering the suit by challenging the ICJ’s jurisdiction in the case. Similarly, before the 2017 conviction, in 2016, Obiang tried to have the case against him dismissed by asking the ICJ to halt French from prosecuting him on the ground of diplomatic immunity. The ICJ dismissed the 2016 case, claiming that it does not have the jurisdiction to halt the French money-laundering case against him.

The ICJ trial further deteriorates the relationship between France and Equatorial Guinea; the latter recently accused “individuals from France” of financing and alleged coup against its government.