Africa in the news: Tillerson fired during Africa trip, attack in Ethiopia, new tax laws in DRC and Nigeria

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is fired while on trip to Africa

Early Tuesday morning, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson returned from his trip to Africa a day earlier than planned. He visited Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Chad, and Nigeria. According to BBC reports, Secretary Tillerson was informed of his firing on Friday, but President Donald Trump made the decision public a few hours after his return. In interviews with VOA, several Africa experts raised concerns about the optics of the firing and the validity of any commitments made during the trip. Former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell said, “What, after all, do the various assurances that presumably the secretary provided during his meetings—what does that mean when he gets fired?”

Secretary Tillerson discussed the political situation in Ethiopia and Kenya during the visit, noting that the answer to violence in Ethiopia “is greater freedom” and urged the country to lift the state of emergency “as quickly as possible.” In Kenya, the secretary applauded the recent meeting between President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga as a step to bring the country together but also criticized the shutdown of television stations earlier this year saying that “a free and independent media is essential to safeguarding democracy and giving all Kenyans confidence in their government.”

Terrorism and security issues were discussed in Chad and Nigeria with Secretary Tillerson pledging strong U.S. support in fighting militant groups in the region including Boko Haram. Chad, one of the countries on the U.S. visa-ban list last year, received encouragement in its effort to be dropped from the list. Tillerson highlighted that the government of Chad has taken “many important positive steps” and that these steps help “take action to begin to normalize” relations between the countries.

Attack by security forces in Ethiopia’s Moyale region displaces tens of thousands of people

On Saturday, March 10, government security forces acting on bad intelligence killed nine civilians and injured 12 others in Moyale, an Ethiopian town near the border with Kenya. Accounts from the town’s mayor and other local residents indicate that the attack began suddenly and without provocation as police targeted young people in a busy street full of shops and restaurants. According to official sources, the soldiers purportedly mistook civilians for members of a banned militant opposition group, the Oromo Liberation Front, which the government considers to be a terrorist organization. Five soldiers involved in the attack have been disarmed and are currently under investigation.

Meanwhile, the botched military operation and rumors of further violence have led to widespread displacement within and from the region. Nearly 40,000 people in the Moyale area have been uprooted since the attack with more than 8,000 people fleeing to neighboring Kenya, according to Xinhua. Moyale falls within the Oromia region, where anti-government protests and repressive government crackdowns have become common in recent years. In mid-February, the government declared a six-month state of emergency—the country’s second state of emergency since 2016—in an attempt to “protect the constitutional system.” Notably, the emergency gives authorities broad powers to restrict freedom of expression and assembly. Since the state of emergency was announced, anti-government protests have continued, and hundreds of people have been detained, Deutsche Welle reports.

DRC and Nigeria to implement new tax laws

This week, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) moved toward increasing taxes and royalties imposed on the mining industry. The law was passed by parliament in January and was signed by President Kabila last Friday. The new mining law applies to both domestic and international firms. According to Reuters, the new law includes a provision for “strategic substances” that would have royalty rates of 10 percent and the government has indicated that cobalt will be included in this category. The DRC currently produces 60 percent of the world’s cobalt. Under the old mining law, royalties in the DRC were lower than other countries in the region with copper and gold royalties at 2 and 3.5 percent compared to 6 percent in Zambia and Tanzania.  The move was strongly opposed by mining firms operating in the DRC, stating that their operations in the country would not be profitable anymore, and future investment will be deterred. The heads of mining companies Glencore, Randgold Resources, China Molybdenum, and Ivanhoe Mines traveled to Kinshasa last week to (unsuccessfully) lobby against the law. Meanwhile, the Congolese government has agreed to take the firms’ concerns into consideration and work with them on a case by case basis in order to execute the new code.

In other resource mobilization news, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari approved an amendment to the excise duty tax for alcoholic beverages and tobacco. The new duty will take effect on June 4. According to Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun, the increase in the tax will have the dual effect of increasing government’s fiscal revenues and reducing the negative health effects associated with tobacco and alcohol use. In addition to a 20 percent tax on tobacco, the government adds an extra fixed tax of one naira per cigarette.