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Africa in focus

Africa in the news: Uganda votes, Buhari sacks head of budget office, and drought greatly increases poverty in South Africa

 

Ugandan voters head to the polls amid allegations of unfair elections

 

On Thursday, Ugandan voters began casting their ballots in this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. Incumbent President Yoweri Museveni is running for a controversial fifth term, having amended the constitution in 2005, abolishing the 2-term limit. Election day did not go smoothly. The main opposition presidential candidate, Kizza Besigye, was arrested briefly on Tuesday, late Thursday (both without charges), and again on Friday as he was about to hold a press conference, “to prevent him from announcing his own election results,” according to the BBC. The mayor of Kampala city, Erias Lukwago, was also arrested in his home Thursday.

Several polling stations—including some large ones in the capital—experienced major delays in receiving voting material. Many voters found that their ballots only had the parliamentary option and did not include the option to cast a vote for the president. In addition, after complaining to law officials about the disorganization of the elections, many voters were tear-gassed by police officers. Amid clashes with police, voting was cancelled in at least two polling stations. Police violence has been condemned by opposition candidates, who continue to question the free and fair nature of the elections.

In addition, amid national security concerns, mobile money services and social media platforms—such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp—had been temporarily blocked. Museveni explained that the shutdown was ordered because these social media platform are often used as pathways for “telling lies.” Advocacy groups like Amnesty International have condemned the move as blatant violation of Ugandans’ fundamental rights to freedom of expression and to seek and receive information. Despite this roadblock, #UgandaDecides was trending on Twitter.

Election results are expected on Saturday. For more information on the Ugandan elections and the top issues facing the next administration, refer to our Africa in Focus blog on the topic here.

In other election news, the Central African Republic held its presidential runoff elections earlier this week. Though votes are still being counted, some media report that former Prime Minister Faustin-Archange Touadera is leading other former Prime Minister Anicet-Georges Dologuele “comfortably.”

 

Nigeria continues to struggle as troubles with budget and naira continue

 

This week, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari sacked the head of the country’s budget office just six months into the director’s four-year term. Gusau was appointed in August 2015 for a term of four years but his term has recently overseen a period of controversy surrounding the 2016 budget. According to the statement, the director-general of Nigeria’s budget office, Yahaya Gusau, will be replaced by Tijjani Abdullahi, an experience banker when it comes to managing public finance and a fellow of the Certified National Accountants of Nigeria. Leadership reshuffling is not unusual for Buhari, however: According to media reports, he has sacked the heads of 24 government agencies since his election, often due to claims of corruption or mismanagement.

Buhari has faced some difficult challenges in recent weeks. This week, local civic groups raised concerns over the seriousness of his anti-graft agenda given the errors and provisions made in the budget. The economy is also struggling—the naira reached a low of 340 against the dollar on Monday.

On a positive note, to boost transparency, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)—a state-owned entity that has become notorious for inefficiency and mismanagement, published a 38-page report covering its 2015 activities. This was its first annual statement since 2005. NNPC said the effort to provide details of its financials began after Ibe Kachikwu was appointed the head to manage the country’s largest revenue stream. Unfortunately, the figures show a loss of 267 billion naira, or $1.34 billion, in 2015, stemming largely from dropping commodity prices.

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Drought pushes 50,000 South Africans into poverty

 

According to recent World Bank estimates, South Africa’s worst drought in over a century has pushed around tens of thousands of people below the poverty line. The World Bank’s lead economist for the region, Catriona Purfield, informed a parliamentary committee that the drought has pushed an estimated 50,000 below the national poverty line of 501 rand ($31.68)  a month. She also warned of potential risks of recession in the economy.

Aside from climate shocks and this massive growth in poverty, South Africa’s economy has been struggling because of the global emerging market slowdown. Earlier this month, the World Bank had reduced its forecast for real gross domestic product growth to 0.8 percent in 2016—the lowest rate of growth since 2009. Even the country’s weak currency has failed to boost exports. In his State of the Nation address last week, President Jacob Zuma acknowledged the economic challenges facing the country and elaborated on his nine-point plan for economic growth. Earlier this week, in his first media interview since the turbulence caused by replacing two finance ministers in December, President Zuma vowed to take urgent, “concrete action” to prevent South Africa’s debt from being downgraded to junk. Leading credit rating agencies—Standard & Poor’s and Fitch—have placed South Africa one notch above sub-investment grade. A downgrade would raise the cost of borrowing, trigger portfolio outflows from one of the world’s most traded emerging markets, and cause the knock-on downgrading of state entities and banks.

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