macroafricaintel | Post-crisis transitions: Liberia and Sierra Leone

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

A number of African countries remain insecure. And no African country could be said to be totally secure. It is a matter of degree. A sudden change in circumstance has been known to spur protests that sometime get out of hand. These crises are sometimes occasioned by opportunists long searching for just the right moment to open old wounds, settle a score or achieve a political objective; with terrorism increasingly becoming the means of choice. (The current precarious security situation in Nigeria is a pertinent example.) Some crises or protests have been spurred by simpler things, however; like higher cost of living, in Tunisia and Sudan, for instance. A few years ago, it was the same reason that led to protests in Egypt and indeed Tunisia; which eventually toppled incumbent governments and replaced them with new ones. There was not so much of a revolution in Egypt, though. After electing an Islamist-oriented leadership, the Egyptian military stepped in. Now, the army chief who led the charge is president and up for “re-election”. Better progress was recorded in Tunisia. But judging from recent agitations, a more representative government has not been enough to assuage the angst of Tunisians about the hard times they face. Much earlier, countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, Mozambique, and Ivory Coast suffered bouts of war and unrest of varying length and degree. Now they are mostly stable countries with elected or acceptable governments.

Good progress
Liberia had its first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected president to another in January 2018. Sierra Leoneans go to the polls on 7 March to elect a new president, as incumbent leader Ernest Bai Koroma completes his maximum two terms in office. Angola has a new head of state, Joao Lourenco, after a four-decade rule by Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Mr Lourenco has proved to be his own man less than a year into his rule. He removed erstwhile powerful scions of the dos Santos family from influential positions at the state oil company and sovereign wealth fund. Initial fears that an assertive Lourenco would meet with resistance from entrenched beneficiaries of the dos Santos era have proved to be misplaced. The response to the ongoing reforms in Angola have been positive within and outside the country. In Ivory Coast, another transition looms as President Alassane Ouattara concludes his final term in office. Last time there was a transition, it ended in civil war; as former president, Laurent Ggagbo, refused to accept his election defeat. The costs of that civil war remain. Rebels loyal to Mr Ouattara that were inducted into the military have been incorrigibly mutinous, for instance.

Peacekeeping, justice and democracy
Clearly, some post-crisis transitions have been better than others. Two stand out, though: Sierra Leone and Liberia. There was a time when the stability that currently prevails in these two countries was thought unthinkable. So how and why did they succeed? Sustained international support, a diminished male population from past civil wars and health epidemics, and memories of the negative consequences of conflict are some of the reasons why. Interventions by the international community in Liberia and Sierra Leone endured due to circumstances; albeit unfortunately so. The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) lasted for six years; from 1999 to 2006. That for Liberia, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), is scheduled to withdraw by end-March this year; about fifteen years after it was established in September 2003. The UN missions were presaged by West African peacekeeping efforts. In 1990, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) established the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to restore peace in then war-ravaged Liberia. Seven years after, ECOMOG was similarly deployed to Sierra Leone to quell another civil war. These international efforts, which were not devoid of controversy, contributed a great deal to the relatively successful democratic dispensations in both countries thus far. Removing former Liberian president, Charles Taylor – a key antagonist in both wars – from the scene has certainly been beneficial; albeit more relevant for the Liberian case than that for Sierra Leone. A substantially reduced male population on the back of these murderous civil wars meant either democracy or autocracy prevailed depending on the post-conflict dynamics. When the key players in the civil wars were prosecuted, the reduced testosterone count allowed democracy to thrive. When the “victors” of these wars were left to their own devices, autocracy prevailed; like in Rwanda and Angola.

Salone decides
And in Liberia and Sierra Leone, just when the peace seemed to have endured irrevocably, disaster struck again. The ebola epidemic between December 2013 and January 2016 took more than eleven thousand lives; mostly in the two countries but also in Guinea and a few in Nigeria, Mali and Senegal. Despite these troubles, Liberia conducted a successful poll in late 2017 and made its first civilian-to-civilian transition in early 2018. Sierra Leone, which would be conducting its first post-Ebola presidential election in early March, may prove similarly successful; largely a 3-way race between Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), former UN under-secretary-general Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella of the National Grand Coalition and foreign minister Samura Kamara of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) party candidate. Despite the not too stellar record of outgoing President Koroma, Mr Kamara, who has the overt backing of the main foreign benefactor of the state (China), is still expected to win; albeit likely by a slim margin. Mr Yumkella is one to watch, though. (I wrote a piece on the Sierra Leone polls for the March 2018 edition of African Business magazine; available at newsstands.)

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/post-crisis-transitions-Liberia-Sierra-leone/

macroafricaintel | #NotTooYoungToRun: Lessons from Weah’s triumph

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

After ex-football star George Weah’s victory in the recent Liberian presidential run-off poll, similarly young aspirants in other African countries have become expectant that they might also be able to pull a similar feat. Trust Nigerians to lead the bandwagon. It is interesting that a man in his early fifties is considered young in the African sense, of course. But considering the many leaders in their seventies and eighties that Africans have had to endure thus far, Mr Weah is an exemplar. And a worthy one. But his accession bears many lessons. There is a consistency in the route to power for young non-establishment figures it seems. Curiously, it does not matter whether the country’s democracy is young or matured. Take France’s Emmanuel Macron; one of the increasingly youthful leaders beginning to take over the world stage. Unlike his other similarly youthful Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau, whose father was once prime minister and was already quite known as early as when he was still being held by the hand, Mr Macron had to found his own political party, secure votes and then win his place. Turns out if Mr Weah wanted to be president, he would have no choice but to form his own political party as well. But unlike Mr Macron, he was not so lucky. He did not win the first time, losing to outgoing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. After another failed attempt, this time as a vice-presidential candidate, he settled for the Senate to perhaps sulk or as they say, lick his wounds. He used the time well. Clearly the wiser, he chose the ex-wife of former warlord Charles Taylor as a running mate. The move paid off. Former warlords, now influential in the country – as is often the case after a prolonged civil war – rallied round him. It did help, though, that he had a boring and uncharismatic rival this time around for the post. Vice-president Joseph Boakai, with the appropriate epithet “Sleepy Joe” did not just sit by and allow Mr Weah a free pass, though. He made sure to give him some grief. Thankfully, he gracefully conceded defeat after the results showed an overwhelming Weah win.

We too
Is there an opportunity then for a Nigerian case, say? Unlike Liberia, or France for that matter, Nigeria is a more complex country. Ethinic and religious divisions are deeper and wider. And there is the added disadvantage that Nigeria is still largely an ageist society. Incidentally, there is likely not a better place where this is writ large than in how Nigerian political parties are run. In Nigeria, if a young person rises to a position of power, it either occurs by accident (An Act of God) or because the person is the child of a very important person. A meritocratic political system, whereby a young person ascends to an exalted position, is non-existent. Another avenue is via the House of Representatives, where younger politicians tend to gravitate towards. A speaker, if young, could leverage on his national exposure and recognition to aspire to higher office. Unfortunately or incidentally, this tends to be no more than vying for the position of state governor. That is not entirely a bad thing. As governors have become highly influential as a collective, they now determine who becomes president of the Republic. Penultimately, they chose one of their own. President Muhammadu Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, a former governor, may not be the ideal case, though. By a stroke of good fortune, Mr Jonathan was nominated for the vice-presidency at the age of 50; while an incumbent state governor. Three years later, he became president. The prospects of another so “young” becoming a Nigerian president are not so bright, however: it would be unnatural for his kind of luck to be abundant.

Raise your flag
Point is, it is difficult for a young person to succeed in Nigerian politics or that of other major African countries. Our culture, ways and history do not lend themselves to making it likely that a young person would join a political party, and on his own merits, secure a presidential nomination, and win. If it is going to ever happen, however, it seems it would have to be like Mr Weah’s.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/nottooyoungtorun-lessons-weahs-trimph/

macroafricaintel | Liberia: Weah’s long wait

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

George Weah, the famous ex-footballer, must wonder how many more “almost there” moments he would have to endure before clinching the Liberian presidency. Having won the most votes in the first round of the presidential election in October, it should ordinarily have been just a simple next step to proceed to the runoff. Not so quick; his opponents likely wondered with a mischievous smirk on their faces. First, the third place candidate, Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party, went to the Supreme Court alleging the 10 October vote was besmirched by irregularities and should be declared null and void; and a rerun ordered. Thankfully, the court ruled otherwise. And though the judges likely came to a decision based on law, they most definitely were mindful of American and European urgings about the dangers of delaying the election process in what is still a very fragile country. The Americans were more forceful. And in Liberia, the Americans have a special place. They asserted the October vote was as credible as can be. Whatever motivated the court to uphold the first round vote is not really important. It was the right and sensible thing to do.

Spoiler alert
Curiously, second place candidate in the October poll, vice president Joseph Boakai of the ruling Unity party, joined in Mr Brumskine petition. You would think as he was already qualified for the runoff vote, he would not bother with such distractions. Never mind that he took issues with his principal, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, accusing of her of bias and interference. One incident he harped on was a certain meeting Ms Sirleaf had with election magistrates prior to the vote. He was not being entirely troublesome. Ms Sirleaf never hid her aversion to him succeeding her. (In my column ahead of the first vote in October, I highlighted this; see link viz. https://www.businessdayonline.com/liberia-finally-george-weahs-time/). Most of Mr Boakai’s actions thus far suggest he does not see himself winning the runoff vote today (26 Dec). Because even after the Supreme Court ruled on 7 December that the runoff could go ahead subject to a “clean up” of the voter register, he went back to court asserting the clean-up condition had not been met. Thankfully, an ECOWAS team did the task; arriving on the same day the National Elections Commission (NEC) announced the runoff vote date for Boxing Day. In a nutshell, his suit was rightly dismissed. Known with the uncomplimentary epithet of “Sleepy Joe”, Mr Boakai has proved to be anything but sleepy.

Christmas gift
Many of the actors in the 15-year Liberian civil wars that ended in 2003 have managed to permeate decent society; some rich, in politics or have found religion. So it was not entirely surprising that Mr Weah would choose someone influential in those circles. Jewel Howard Taylor, ex-wife of former warlord Charles Taylor, was a smart choice. That is even as memories still run deep about the atrocities her ex-husband and his associates committed. Even so, the levers of power and influence in Liberia are still controlled by them. The choice is already bearing fruit. Former warlord Prince Johnson declared his support for Mr Weah ahead of the earlier scheduled but court-stayed 7 November runoff vote; one of the reasons it is believed Mr Boakai began to get really nervous.

Considering the first vote had as much as twenty presidential candidates, the probability that any one candidate would be able to secure the needed half was predictably low. With only two candidates on the ballot for the runoff, the choice before voters is binary. The more popular man, Mr Weah no doubt, could easily secure victory this time around. But there is a catch. The timing of the runoff is a little weird. It is taking place a day after Christmas; when celebrants would be resting off what tends to be very hectic nights before. So turnout might be low. Besides, during the festivities, people tend to go to the hinterland to celebrate with aged family members. If voters registered elsewhere, in the city, say, where most tend to live, it could be a little difficult for them to participate in the election. The NEC had little choice in the matter. In order to ensure that the victor would be sworn-in on schedule, on 22 January 2018, the runoff needed to be conducted and concluded before the end of the year. Liberians would likely show some understanding.

macroafricaintel | Liberia: Is it finally George Weah’s time?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

I have been quite surprised, former world star footballer, George Weah, is yet to become president twelve years after he first vied for the office in 2005. (He was the first African player to win both the FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or in 1995.) There are not many things that could make one easily popular in African countries than being a master of the round leather game. And if Like Mr Weah, you rubbed shoulders with the world’s best, god-like status is almost assured. Mr Weah’s elusive ambition is partly because despite Liberia’s history of poverty, misery and war, the upper echelons of its society is largely elitist: Mr Weah did not have formal education early in life. (He has since corrected this lapse, earning a graduate degree in public administration from an American university in 2013.) When Mr Weah first contested against departing Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and lost, his lack of education was touted as one of the reasons why (President Sirleaf is Harvard-educated). Mr Weah claims intimidation and vote-rigging were the actual reasons. Clearly, though, Ms Sirleaf was better prepared: she was already finance minister when Mr Weah was in his teens. Besides, she had the backing of the establishment: an uneducated Mr Weah had to start from scratch, forming his own political party, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), just to contest. Even so, he proved to be a strong competitor, securing a place in the second round and garnering 41 percent of the vote to Ms Sirleaf’s 59 percent. Thereafter, Mr Weah contested as a vice presidential candidate in the 2011 elections and lost again. Finally in 2014, he won a senatorial seat, beating Robert Sirleaf, the president’s son.

Last chance
With Ms Sirleaf finally departing the scene after 12 years of mixed performance, Mr Weah now has a fighting chance of becoming the president of Liberia in elections scheduled for 10 October. Considering there are 20 candidates on the ballot, an easily recognizable Mr Weah may be ideally placed to benefit from the overcrowding. And he could not be accused of inexperience this time around: he has an almost 4-year senatorial stint under his belt; and representing Liberia’s most populous county at that. There is also evidence of some political maturity on his part: his running mate is Jewel Howard Taylor, the influential ex-wife of jailed former warlord, Charles Taylor. Unsurprisingly, she is a controversial choice, with some arguing she could be a drag on the ticket. I disagree. In most post-conflict transitions, the protagonists in the preceding war or crisis tend to retain their influence. And even as Mr Taylor languishes in an English prison for war crimes, he is still able to exert considerable influence back home.

Cold shoulder
Most permutations put Mr Weah against incumbent vice president Joseph Boakai of the ruling Unity Party (UP) in a likely second round. Mr Boakai, who a friend just back from the country refers to as mild-mannered, has not enjoyed the support of his principal. Ms Sirleaf did not show up for any of his campaigns, for instance. At least his principal is not being hypocritical about it: there are not many cases of warmth between African presidents and their deputies. Considering Mr Boakai’s major selling point is that he is best placed to continue Ms Sirleaf’s legacy, her aloofness suggests she does not necessarily think so; a point voters are not likely to miss. Mr Weah has not been without troubles of his own; lately fending off accusations he has been in touch with Mr Taylor. He denies the allegations. I think he is lying. There is no way there could not have been some sort of communication between the two; probably by proxy, though. That is, even as he probably did not need to deny having contact with a man that one of his compatriots recently remarked would be accorded red carpet treatment were he to return to the country today. It may be no matter, really. More importantly, people just desire that the polls be peaceful. Besides, times are hard. Liberians simply want someone that would improve their fortunes.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/liberia-finally-george-weahs-time/

macroafricaintel | Can Africa win Trump over?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

In mid-May, at the Africa Finance Corporation’s 10th year anniversary infrastructure summit (“AFC Live 2017”) held in Abuja, I asked Jay Ireland, the president and chief executive of GE Africa – the subsidiary of the American industrial giant on the continent – about his thoughts on whether Donald Trump, the American president, would be good or bad for Africa. Specifically, I wanted to know if President Trump would be worth the trouble of winning over. As Mr Trump does not know much about Africa, if the little mention the continent got during his election campaign is anything to go by, engaging with him early on might spring pleasant surprises, some pundits argue. Despite such assurances, I remained a little sceptical. So the opportunity to ask Mr Ireland, who incidentally is also the chair of former President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa and co-chair of the US Africa Business Centre, which leads the American business community’s engagement activities on the continent, was huge. In a sign of the times and the peculiar style of the current American president, Mr Ireland demurred, humorously wondering if his answer might not become the “subject of a tweet.” More importantly, he said a strong case was being made to the Trump administration to continue ongoing initiatives. I was particulary interested in the “Power Africa” programme initiated during the Obama administration; especially since even during Mr Obama’s tenure, it was floundering, talk less that of Mr Trump. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), is not as vulnerable to a Trump rethink, albeit the administration could still exercise certain prerogatives over the choice of beneficiary countries and so on. My interpretation of Mr Ireland’s comments are as follows: Should Africa indeed not be a priority for Mr Trump, ongoing African initiatives may simply continue under the aegis of able and experienced technocrats at the American State department. And in the event Mr Trump suddenly develops a keen interest on African issues, proactive engagement with the administration like his and the business people he represents may be hugely differential. It has also been argued that African heads of state should do likewise.

Focus on first-order issues
In light of the recent exit from the Paris climate accord by Mr Trump, however, some are now beginning to think whether there is a need to even try. I would not be too quick to give up. True, with African countries already beginning to see the negative effects of climate change via droughts and so on, the recent American action is a setback. And of course, African countries initially had their own reservations about the accord. Not a few wondered why they should have to be environment-friendly at the expense of their development; especially as currently developed countries were not similarly cautious. But with research showing a nexus between climate change and increasing incidents of conflict in a number of African countries, there is a growing consensus about the need to be more caring of the Earth we live in. Still, to do this, African countries would require financial and technological support. To this end, the Paris agreement makes substantial provisions. With the American exit, however, also goes its financial commitments. It is also evidence that a Trump presidency would (at least for now) have second-order negative effects for Africa when the issues relate to broader international and multilateral arrangements that Mr Trump is averse to. So it is on the more specific African initiatives that African leaders should hope to influence him on.

Show respect
At the recent G7 summit in Italy, it was all too clear Mr Trump was not enjoying himself. He was particularly irritated by Emmanuel Macron’s (the French president) “macho-diplomacy”: Mr Macron’s overly firm and lingering handshake with Mr Trump at their very first meeting since the former’s inauguration was well-reported. As if determined to rattle the American president or put him to size, Mr Macron also made sure to refer to the incident afterwards as deliberate. That and another, where Mr Macron seem to be moving towards Mr Trump to shake hands, as the G7 leaders and invited guests did their traditional group-walk in front of the press, but at almost the last minute swerved to shake that of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, must have been a little unnerving for a man known for his fragile ego. Thus, it is very likely that unpleasant experience was at least a secondary motivation for his action on the Paris accord. In his speech announcing the decision, Mr Trump was almost certainly taking aim at Mr Macron when he said: “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” (The Washington Post did a very insightful article on the dynamics leading to Mr Trump’s decision.) At the G7 summit it turns out, one of few instances where Mr Trump seemed to be enjoying himself was when he ran into some of the African delegates: Yemi Osinbajo (Nigeria), Alpha Conde (Guinea), Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), Hailemariam Desalegn (Ethiopia) and Akinwumi Adesina (African Development Bank). With deft handling, Mr Trump could become an ally.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/can-africa-win-trump/

macroafricaintel | Africans can judge themselves

By Rafiq Raji, PhD 

Unfair system makes easy prey of Africans
At least three African countries have announced plans to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). South Africa and Burundi would almost certainly be out by October next year. Many are likely to follow. Their reason? The ICC unfairly targets Africans. Established in 2002 to prosecute genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the ICC could as well relocate to Africa instead of its current wintry abode in the Netherlands. All but one – relates to allegations of war crimes in the 2008 Georgian armed conflict – of the ten cases currently being investigated by the ICC are related to African states. For a United Nations (UN) body, it is almost ludicrous that two permanent members of the UN Security Council do not subscribe to the court. China never ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty which established the ICC. The United States decided not to ratify the treaty in 2002, after having signed it two years earlier. The case of America, that supposed bastion of democracy and justice, is particularly shameful. Even as it has not subjected itself to the jurisdiction of the court, America, or any of the other three members of the Security Council, can block any case from being referred to the ICC. The United States would almost certainly stop any attempt to prosecute Israeli officials for alleged war crimes in Palestine. And under the current geopolitical order, it is very unlikely that Russia would allow the prosecution of the Syrian Assad regime, under whose watch that country has been virtually decimated. Not that that couldn’t change if the Russian regime suddenly rearranged its priorities, like its ever-scheming leader, Vladimir Putin, is wont to do.

Justice for all
If the ICC is to become legitimate, all members of the UN must be subject to its jurisdiction. Else, no African country has any business being a party to it. The ICC’s African tilt thus far certainly feeds the derogatory notion that Africans could not be trusted to dispense justice for themselves. Worse still, western exceptionalists are able to point to Africans’ longstanding mistrust of their ‘big men.’ And there might be some merit to that supposition, when you look at how justice is perpetually subverted in a lot of African countries. Ironically, the judiciary is probably the most credible institution left standing in most of them. Relatively, that is. For even as it was well known that judicial officers were similarly engaged in a myriad of corrupt activities, they at least went about their indiscretions with some sense of shame. And most of the corrupt ones tried to avoid ostentation. Not all of them it turns out. Considering how they had been largely left alone, the seeming impunity made some of them careless: Nigerian judges currently have a credibility problem, after raids on the homes of some very senior ones amongst them revealed they may have been living above their means. About a year ago, Ghanaian judges were actually caught on video by an investigative journalist demanding for bribe and sex, leading to the dismissal of at least twenty judges and magistrates. Still, judicial corruption is not peculiar to African countries, albeit it is more rampant. The South African system is probably as robust as it can get though. Regardless, Africans have demonstrated they can rise up to the cause of justice when needed: in May 2016, with support from the African Union, former Chadian dictator, Hissene Habre, was successfully prosecuted in Senegal for crimes ranging from torture to slavery during his almost a decade rule.

Empower the African court
At the core of the flawed state of the ICC is equity and equality. Is it a coincidence that most cases at the ICC are on African countries? Surely it is not the only continent where such atrocities have been committed. I am still personally distraught watching how Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, a sitting African head of state, was made to go through the indignity of a trial on live international television. If that is not reminiscent of colonialism, I don’t know what is. Although the charges against him were eventually dropped, Mr Kenyatta has the unenviable record of being the first head of state to be so tried. I agree that victims of the violence during the elections that heralded his emergence deserve justice. But still, heads of states are treated with respect not because of who they are but because they embody the sovereignty of a people. Yes, most leave much to be desired. Even so, some pretensions matter: everyone deserves a certain level of dignity. I have heard arguments about the motive of the Zuma-led South African government in seeking to exit the ICC at this time. Critics of the South African move have suggested that given the country’s stature, it may have unwittingly provided cover for some not so well-regarded African leaders – ‘elected dictators’ – to now make similar moves. The Gambia proved the point all too quickly, announcing its withdrawal shortly after. No matter. There is an opportunity in the growing anti-ICC sentiment: the mandate of the AU’s African Court of Justice and Human Rights should be expanded.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper back-page column (Tuesdays); http://www.businessdayonline.com/category/analysis/columnist/rafiq-raji/

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