All eyes are on Zimbabwe this month as the African nation enters the home stretch of its high-profile, if predictable, election season. Indeed, perhaps the only ‘unpredictable’ facet of the Zimbabwean polls is when, exactly, voters are slated to cast their ballots. Despite repeated promises from President Robert Mugabe and his allies to have the contest take place in June 2013, Zimbabwe’s media outlets are now variously reporting that the election will take place anywhere between July and November of this year.
The uncertainty of the actual date aside, for most observers it would appear that the poll should result in, at the very least, the nominal win of the eighty-nine-year-old familiar face of Mugabe and his polarising Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). This is because for all the supposedly positive intentions of the recently passed constitution, ZANU-PF still has the upper hand and its members seem unwilling to concede to even the slightest loosening of their grasp on power.
One adage that often comes to mind when discussing the relationship between Angola and Brazil arises from the legendary words of an old friar by the name of Gonçalo João. According to historical tradition, in 1646 João, a Jesuit missionary, announced quite simply that “there is no Brazil without Angola”. Sadly, however, João was not referencing the “special relationship” in the vein of the purported economic, security and cultural ties described between that of the British and the Americans. João’s words were largely alluding to the horrific trade of human beings, taken from local villages in what is now modern day Angola, and shipped to the South American nation during the Portuguese Empire’s ascension to the Atlantic Slave Trade at the end of the 15th century. To be sure, the abhorrent sale of slaves from Angola became so prolific that at one point, the country was exporting human beings at a rate of “10,000” per year, the vast majority of whom eventually made their way to Portugal’s Brazilian colonies.
Thankfully, in the centuries since, the world and its norms have changed. Slavery is, of course, illegal in both Lucophone nations. Neither Brazil, nor Angola is a colony of Portugal. Indeed, given the influx of Portuguese migrants to both nations, some have even joked that the opposite may be true. Despite such significant developments over the years, the general meaning of João’s statement has not withered away. In fact, by most accounts ties between Angola and Brazil appear to be stronger than ever. Today, both countries have been glowingly labelled by financial wizards as “emerging economies”, with Angola and Brazil each enjoying sustained growth amid a global downturn. Both nations have also struck major security and infrastructure deals, with Brazilian companies in particular investing billions of dollars into developing the Angolan mining sector, among other industries. The two nations are even planning to establish the “South Atlantic Cable System” (as shown above), which, if implemented would speed up data transfers by bypassing Europe altogether.
Meanwhile, in what some might describe as another bit of economic “revenge”, both countries have been buying up shares in languishing Portuguese companies, with Angola infamously purchasing the formerly government-run Banco Português de Negócios for a measly 30 million Euros (US$39 million). It is these and other financial and political manoeuvres that have led their respective leaders to remark on their nations’ “brotherly” relationship. But, as with every ‘brotherly’ relationship, there comes sibling rivalry.
Although most leaders from the international community remain transfixed on the situation developing in Mali, on the other side of the continent, a more optimistic picture is emerging from the East African state of Kenya. Upwards of 14 million people are expected to head to the polls today, 04 March 2013, to cast their ballots for six different positions, including the highly coveted role of president. It is this contest, which will see eight different candidates vie for control of country’s highest office, which some analysts have described as a ‘make or break’ moment for Kenya. Some naysayers are concerned that the country may see all out battles in the vein of the bloodshed which filled the streets following the last election in 2007. However, aside from localised violence in the country’s restive east, at present, the only large-scale “battle” is that of the political kind, complete with last-minute mud-slinging and the usual scathing accusations from contesting parties.
Other than the violence in the east, the elections process has thus far proceeded without large-scale security setbacks, and voters have preferred to convey a more jubilant tone, as thousands of people were spotted singing, dancing, and generally celebrating their historic moment. Such optimism was perhaps best summed up in the simple, yet meaningful, political cartoon released by Kenya’s most influential newspaper, The Daily Nation, on 04 March 2013, which showed a man casting a ballot for only one candidate: “peace”. These joyful scenes notwithstanding, international investors are still advised to remain particularly cautious with regard to the aftermath of the Kenyan election, which could not only be marred in bouts of tribal violence, but may also see a severe reversal of fortune for Western businesses.
HOW WILL BUSINESS BE AFFECTED BY IMMINENT IMF LOAN AND ANTICIPATED TAX RISES WHICH CREATE NEW UNCERTAINTY AHEAD OF APRIL 2013 ELECTIONS?
On 11 January 2013, Egypt claimed it will instigate a drastic policy of turning off half of Cairo’s street lights to save electricity. This followed a week in which heavy rainfall and freezing temperatures severely impacted the north and central areas of the country causing power outages, a Cairo metro failure, traffic chaos on the capital’s streets, and also forced many flights to be rescheduled or cancelled at Cairo International Airport (CAI). Ports in Alexandria, and in Suez were also largely prevented from operating for four days with some still affected to date.
In other events Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, during a two-day visit to Cairo this week, announced that Qatar would give Egypt’s faltering economy a further financial lifeline through a further US$2 billion credit line and an additional US$500 million ‘gift’ to help control the currency crisis, which has drained foreign reserves to a critical level. Twitter and Facebook users were clearly unimpressed by the Qatari aid and asked sarcastically, “Why didn’t Qatar help us remove the water, rather than letting President Morsi brag about the loan?”
Ghana survived another painfully close, and highly contentious, election last week, but that does not mean the political fighting is over. Rumblings from the Nana Akufo-Addo’s losing opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) suggest that the two-time presidential candidate is not willing to concede just yet. Results released from the election on 07 December 2012, show that incumbent President John Mahama secured 50.7% of the vote, whilst Akufo-Addo took home 47.7% share of the ballots. But because Mahama barely edged the 50% voter threshold, he will not have to endure a run-off election challenge, that is unless Akufo-Addo’s team can stop him. At this stage it appears unlikely that the NPP will be able to successfully contest the election outcome, suggesting that Mahama will ultimately be responsible for the country’s lagging gas infrastructure policies.
The unveiling of India’s ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy this summer, along with Washington’s ‘New Silk Road’ and Chinese engagement in the region, suggests that Central Asia may be moving towards greater integration into the global economy. As ISAF prepares to leave Afghanistan in 2014, are there grounds for hope that the notoriously contested region will see co-operative and economically fruitful relations between the regional heavyweights?
As ever, the success of these great powers’ policy is inextricably linked to Afghanistan. If the US can identify an exit strategy that guarantees the integrity of the country, at least in the short-term, then a fertile environment for large infrastructure projects may take hold. Unless such stability in Afghanistan is achieved then any progress towards integrating the fragile Central Asian states into the global economy will be precluded. A prolonged internecine war in Afghanistan would destroy the viability of these projects, as well as change the terms of the game into those of a fiercely competitive nature. Only Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, which have existing, though limited, access to energy markets abroad, would be insulated.