Africa in the News: South Africa Votes, Talks at the World Economic Forum, Peace Negotiations in South Sudan, Passage of Electrify Africa Act

South Africa Votes, Freely and Fairly

On Wednesday, May 7, South Africans took to the ballot box for a historic vote—20 years since the end of apartheid.  By mid-day Thursday, 83 percent of the ballots were counted, and the ruling ANC party was projected to win the election with 63 percent of the vote. In a distant second place, the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, held 22 percent. The elections were carried out with no major objections or incidents, save concerns over images of dumped ballots in Pretoria, currently under investigation by local authorities. 

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon commended “the determination of South Africans to participate meaningfully in the democratic system the country has fought so hard to establish.” With the ANC looking set to win the election, the rand gained against the dollar, rising to its strongest level so far this year. The rand’s strength was further bolstered by data on trade expansion with China that surpassed initial estimates by 0.9 percent. An ANC victory will pave the way for President Jacob Zuma to usher in the pro-business reforms his party hopes will spur economic growth and create jobs to address the country’s high unemployment rate, which currently stands at 25 percent.

Talks on Inclusive Growth at the World Economic Forum

As the World Economic Forum on Africa got underway in Abuja, recent attacks perpetrated by Boko Haram threatened to overshadow the summit’s proceedings.

Despite heightened security concerns surrounding the meeting, it was well attended by African heads of state, international business leaders and political figures such as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who is participating in the meeting as a part of his tour of the continent. Mr. Li began his trip in Ethiopia, where on Sunday he signed more than a dozen agreements to expand trade ties. He also pledged that China will set aside $2 billion for an African Development Fund with a view to supporting the construction of a high-speed railway system across the continent.

At the opening of the forum on Wednesday, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan called Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 276 school girls last month a turning point in the fight against the group and “the beginning of the end for terror in Nigeria.” His statements came shortly after another deadly assault on Monday, in which 310 people were killed in the town of Gamboru Ngala near the border with Cameroon. The U.S.—alongside France, Britain and China—is preparing to send a group of military, law enforcement and security advisers to assist Nigerian officials in locating the missing school girls.

Peace Negotiations over South Sudan Conflict

In other news, talks between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar are poised to take place today in Addis Ababa. The talks come shortly after Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to Africa, during which he spoke with President Kiir in Juba to secure his commitment to the negotiations. On Thursday, a U.N. human rights report detailing crimes against humanity committed by both parties to the conflict was released. It called for the perpetrators of the widespread atrocities to be brought to justice.

The Electrify Africa Act Passes

The Electrify Africa Act (H.R. 2548), which passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee in February, passed the House Floor yesterday by a margin of 21 votes. This Act, in conjunction with the Obama Administration’s Power Africa Initiative, demonstrates U.S. commitment to supporting the continent as it strives to sustainably and inclusively meet its energy needs. As the bill moves on to the Senate, its proponents are calling for the addition of “clear goals for rural access and distributed renewable energy development.”