macroafricaintel | Blue economy: Nigeria could learn from Seychelles

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Some years ago, at an investor event in London, a prominent Africa-focused portfolio manager wondered if anyone knew where he could get research on Seychelles. The firm I used to work for at the time had perhaps the most comprehensive African macroeconomic research coverage, including such countries as Sierra Leone, The Gambia and so on; which I incidentally covered at the time, but no, we did not cover Seychelles. The reason was not farfetched. It is a small country, even by African standards. When you think of Seychelles, the thought that immediately comes to mind are its beaches and other tourist attractions. Turns out, its economy is also well-run. Of course, I had since moved on to other things. But just recently, a contact wondered if my budding research firm, Macroafricaintel, had any report on the country. I wondered what spurred the sudden interest. She graciously explained her curiosity was aroused by such innovative solutions coming from the country like the proposed US$15 million blue bond, the proceeds from which would be used to fund the development of sustainable fisheries. Just so you know how impressive it is, it earned the 2017 Ocean Innovation Challenge award at The Economist World Ocean Summit earlier in the year. In 2016, Seychelles also struck a “debt-for-adaptation” deal with the Paris Club in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), an American non-profit environmental organisation. In exchange for promising to protect at least 30 percent of the country’s waters by 2020, authorities got debt relief to the tune of US$21.6 million. Authorities would thus now be able to disburse about US$280 thousand per year from the interest savings to train fishermen, do research and so on. Unsurprisingly, other African countries with similar endowments like Mauritius, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, and the Comoro Islands are now looking to develop similar initiatives, according to The Economist, a British newspaper. But if they hope to succeed, they must first start with a blue economy roadmap like Seychelles did. What is a blue economy, though? Seychelles’ finance, trade and the blue economy minister, Jean-Paul Adam, defines it “as all those economic activities that directly or indirectly take place in the ocean, use outputs from the ocean, and put goods and services into ocean activities.” With tourism and fisheries accounting for 11 percent of its workforce and 33 percent of its GDP, the Seycehellois government clearly has good reason to take its blue economy seriously.

Collaborate to secure waters
For a very long time, fishing boats from Europe and elsewhere have prowled the continent’s waters with impunity, pillaging them for fish and everything else in between. Oceana, an American non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting and restoring the world’s oceans, released a report in September that put illegal fishing costs to West African countries at about US$2.3 billion per annum. It reports 19 vessels from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece illegally spent about 31,000 hours on Gambian waters between April 2012 and August 2015. Perhaps in response, The Gambia has decided to do something about it, announcing ongoing negotiations with at least three private firms to police its waters and stem the pillaging of their marine life. Greater collaboration between African countries, especially West African ones, would help a great deal, though. And surely for an industry with an estimated output of US$1 trillion per year, it should not be too difficult for African governments to be enthused about doing so. There are already some initiatives in this regard. The African Charter on Maritime Security, Safety and Development in Africa (“Lome Charter”), adopted at the African Union (AU) extraordinary summit on maritime security and safety and development in Africa in October 2016, builds on earlier collaboration mechanisms like the 2009 Djibouti Code of Conduct, 2013 Yaounde Code of Conduct and 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy adopted in 2014. The Lome Charter is a huge step as it formalizes what is referred to as a “blue economy”, defining it as “sustainable economic development of oceans using such technics as regional development to integrate the use of seas and oceans, coasts, lakes, rivers, and underground water for economic purposes, including, but without being limited to fisheries, mining, energy, aquaculture and maritime transport, while protecting the sea to improve social wellbeing”.

Make blue economy part of diversification agenda
One is not aware of a robust government policy on fishing in Nigeria. The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, the most recent 4-year strategic plan of the government, espouses the need to diversify the economy but does not elaborately consider how the blue economy would be tapped in this regard. It mentions fisheries as part of its agricultural policy, though, but does not spell out specific initiatives. Maritime policy in Nigeria is more focused on shipping and security via two principal agencies: the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). Their utility is seen primarily through the lens of the revenue they generate for the government through these activiities. Deep-seated corruption at the agencies means the government has been perennially short-changed, though. Even so, they could be doing so much more. And like the Seychellois example shows, an ambitious blue economy agenda need not weigh significantly on the government’s finances: it could be self-funding if creativity is applied. In the Nigerian case, however, any potential gains would require some initial investment by the government to resuscitate the country’s polluted coasts and waters, especially in the Niger Delta region. Nigeria’s blue economy could offer so much more than oil.

Also published in my Premium Times Nigeria column. See link viz.

macroafricaintel | Jammeh must go

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

It cannot be gainsaid how crucial it is to ensure Yahya Jammeh, Gambia’s outgoing president, relinquishes power, peacefully or by force, on 19 January, the day President-elect Adama Barrow is scheduled to be inaugurated. President Jammeh has thus far rebuffed entreaties by West African leaders for him to step down when his tenure expires. Mr Jammeh insists his petition at the Supreme Court, which next meets in May, about irregularities in the collation of election results, the outcome of which he had earlier accepted, must be heard and decided beforehand. His belligerence and the consequent impasse represent a most significant threat to the consolidation of democracy in the West African region. Worse still, it threatens the country’s tourism industry, the mainstay of the about $800 million economy. Disapora remittances – about 20 percent of GDP – may also suffer, as international financial institutions probably take precautionary measures. Should he call the bluff of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has promised military action in the event, the year may prove unstable for one of Africa’s smallest countries. ECOWAS has little choice but to act if Mr Jammeh refuses to respect the will of his people. Otherwise, its ability to prevent a recurrence somewhere else in the region would be greatly damaged. Its troops must prepare and not take anything for granted, however. Because even though Mr Jammeh’s ‘forces’ may number about a thousand and some more, when the mercenaries he has recruited are counted, recent military history – the American Iraqi war debacle for instance – suggests success is now less dependent on superior hardware or manpower. A knowledge of the terrain and a highly motivated side fighting for its survival can be tremendously lethal. And lest we forget, Liberia and Sierra Leone were similarly small countries; but see how long and complicated ECOWAS peace-keeping efforts in those countries took.

Swear-in Barrow no matter what
Mr Barrow fled Gambia on Friday (13 January), in the company of West African leaders, under the cover of a visit to Mali to attend the France-Africa Summit. He was moved to Senegal afterwards, to ensure his safety till inauguration day. Hitherto, I worried Mr Jammeh might try to abduct or kill Mr Barrow before his inauguration – there were even rumours of his death at some point, probably a test of the waters by his detractors. Thankfully, ECOWAS leaders acted proactively and ‘absconded’ with him on time. They must also now ensure he is sworn-in on the due date – nothing is more important than that at this time. And it should be on Gambian soil, with a contingent of ECOWAS forces protecting him till he is able to assume full control. That is the only way to effectively de-legitimize Mr Jammeh. That is, if he chooses to be unreasonable. Of course, it helps a great deal that the African Union (AU) would cease to recognize him as the country’s president from then. The AU would get the opportunity to demonstrate just that when it meets later this month. It is also heartening that about 800 Nigerian troops have been reportedly put on alert for deployment to The Gambia. A Senegalese military contingent is also being readied for the task.

Evil that men do
There is still a chance Mr Jammeh would accept the soft landing package being offered him. He is probably still taking a wait-and-see approach. It is believed Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, the ECOWAS chief mediator, offered him asylum at their meeting in Banjul last week. The embattled Gambian strongman probably wondered if he would not suffer the same fate as that of former Liberian dictator, Charles Taylor, who though assured of safe refuge by Nigerian authorities, was eventually handed over to international judicial authorities for prosecution. Mr Taylor rightly now languishes in the chilly winter of a British prison for the heinous crimes he committed. It is probable Mr Jammeh has concluded the safest place for him to stay is in his country, likely his birthplace, Kanilai – believed to be his preferred capital and where his infamous farm is located. In the event of military action, he is likely to retreat there. ECOWAS military forces would be wise to keep him there, but not attack him or his mercenaries or any of the members of the Gambian armed forces who choose to stick with him, likely those from his Jola tribe. In any case, there are reports of desertions by his supposedly loyal men. It is also likely Mr Jammeh may build a human shield with innocent Gambians around any potential hideout. He has already ordered the closure of the border with Senegal, to stem an increasing exodus, as citizens flee what they imagine would be some period of instability. Regardless, I dearly hope at some point Mr Jammeh pays greatly for his misdeeds. His punishment has probably begun already. Because sometimes when an evil man’s time to meet his waterloo is due, even the gentlest entreaties would be rebuffed by him. But I certainly do not wish that this would be at the expense of innocent Gambian lives.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

macroafricaintel | For Africa in 2017, watch the politics

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Just a few weeks before the new year, events are already shaping up towards what may be a politically tense 2017. Never mind that an already impatient American president-elect Donald Trump would be quick to make his presence felt everywhere, after his inauguration on 20 January. With presidential elections due in at least five African countries – Angola, Kenya, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and hopefully the Democratic Republic of Congo – during the year, 2017 promises to be interesting on the African continent certainly.

Jubilee beware
As if similarly impatient, the Kenyan parliament had a violent session in the penultimate week to the end of 2016, as lawmakers from the ruling Jubilee Party passed amendments to the electoral law that didn’t quite sit well with their counterparts from the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD). Why are they fighting again? For elections on 8 August, Jubilee wants a manual back-up to the electronic electoral system it earlier agreed to via negotiations with CORD, after protracted protests by the latter. The ruling party now fears its supporters, in areas – about 1,300 polling stations – that may not be covered by the 3G mobile phone network needed for the system to run effectively by election time, could be disenfranchised. CORD, which wants the registration, identification, and verification of voters and transmission of results to be fully electronic, disagrees. By amending the electoral law to accommodate a manual back-up, and successfully passing them in the absence of CORD lawmakers who boycotted the vote, Jubilee has reneged on the deal. CORD is not amused. Its leader, Raila Odinga has called for non-violent mass action in early January. Considering how hopeful one had become, as Mr Odinga and Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, came together, as statesmen should, to resolve their differences over commissioners of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) not too long ago, this is a concerning turn of events. The clergy, which brokered the earlier deal, is urging President Kenyatta not to sign the amendments into law. I wonder about that though: it is very unlikely the lawmakers would make such a brazen move without the blessing of Mr Kenyatta. In any case, details emerged over the weekend that suggest he likely sanctioned the move.

Extra time for a crisis
Violence also erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo this past week, as Joseph Kabila, the country’s president remains in office despite his term expiring on 19 December. A score died, after authorities opened fire on anti-Kabila protesters. His continued stay in office comes with the imprimatur of the country’s constitutional court though, which ruled in May that President Kabila could stay on if elections were not held in November; a likely possibility due to budgetary constraints, the government then argued. In October, the same court approved a request by the electoral commission to postpone the elections to April 2018. The opposition would have none of it, hence the protests on 20 December and consequent violence. There is hope now though, as opposition members have agreed a transition deal in principle with Mr Kabila. He will stay one more year, during which polls are to be held to elect his successor. Despite supposed complications, expectations are high that a final deal would be struck before the end of the year. Regardless, one is typically wary when dictators get extra time. That is, even as Mr Kabila is expected to appoint a prime minister from the ranks of the opposition, if all goes according to plan. Also bear in mind, the Gambian impasse remains, as Yahya Jammeh, the country’s president, refuses to accept the results of recent elections. (See earlier columns for views.) Widely known for his belligerence, President Jammeh may want to test the will of the international community. Thankfully, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has firmed up its threat: Senegal would lead a military operation to forcefully oust Mr Jammeh should he choose to push the limits. Thus, January could prove to be particularly tense in the African political space indeed.

Weary heads
In South Africa, the race to replace Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president, has begun in earnest. The focus in 2017 would be the December (or earlier) leadership contest in the ruling African National Congress (ANC), an almost sure step towards clinching the country’s presidency. The top contenders, Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s deputy president, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the outgoing African Union (AU) Commission chair, are already targeting their speeches at party faithfuls. Considering how divided the ANC has become under the rather underwhelming and controversial stewardship of President Zuma, the winner would have a huge task on his hands. And in Nigeria, one would be greatly surprised if the Muhammadu Buhari government is allowed any breathing space in the coming year. Already, key contenders for the presidency in elections due in 2019 have started making comments targeted at regions disgruntled with the incumbent. President Buhari is unpopular in the south for being unabashedly sectional and exclusionary. For instance, one of the potential candidates, Atiku Abubakar, a former vice-president, has been harping on the need to negotiate the federal structure of Nigeria. It is probably all just strategy: one is sceptical that Mr Abubakar would be any more inclusive than Mr Buhari. More interesting is talk of a mega party soon to be launched by disgruntled elements in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the factionalized but still leading opposition party. The alleged leaders within the ruling party are still operating in the shadows though, playing both sides, as taking on Mr Buhari too early may be ‘dangerous for their political health.’ Mr Buhari’s potential headaches may be born closer to home. There are one or two members of his inner circle who do not want him to run in 2019. They may choose to covertly sabotage his government to ensure he sees the wisdom of their counsel. Not without support of his own, never mind an almost fanatical followership within the security services, which he has made sure to fill with people loyal to him first, Mr Buhari may bring the full force of state power to bear on his opponents regardless. And therein lies the risk.

Statesmen needed
Incidentally, much of these concerns could well be assuaged if the principal actors choose to show leadership. Mr Jammeh could simply leave office when his term expires on 18 January. So far, he has not shown any indication he intends to do so. Mr Kenyatta could do more to rein in his party’s hawks. The most recent skirmish likely had his acquiescence nonetheless. And Mr Kabila could simply hand over to a caretaker government, like the opposition wants. This is wishful thinking, however. The likely scenario is that Mr Kenyatta and his Jubilee party would do everything in their power to win upcoming elections, Mr Jammeh would test the wills of ECOWAS and AU by refusing to leave office in January, and Mr Kabila may engineer a crisis to justify his continued stay. Still, it is too early to tell how any of these events would play out. But it would be wise for stakeholders on the continent to brace up for what could be a volatile political environment. It could also be that all these are much ado about nothing. And that would be just as well.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper back-page column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

macroafricaintel | Negotiating Jammeh out

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Yahya Jammeh, hopefully Gambia’s outgoing president, surprisingly conceded defeat after losing elections held on 1 December. Shortly thereafter, the oft-erratic leader changed his mind. The president-elect, Adama Barrow, has threatened to declare himself president should his inauguration not take place as planned on 18 January. There have been varied accounts about the events that led to President Jammeh conceding defeat the way he did. Prominent amongst them is that the Gambian Army virtually threatened him if he did otherwise. It is believed his decision to hold on came after getting the Army onside. These involved mass promotions for soldiers of Jola ethnicity, his tribe, and procurement of foreign mercenaries to guard him and so on. Calls for his prosecution got him spooked certainly. But surely, this could not have come as a surprise to him. The explanation that makes sense to me is that he sought to buy time, whilst he engaged in ‘consultations’. It is widely known Mr Jammeh relies a great deal on fortune-tellers. But I think a part of him also saw the loss as an opportunity: every dictator after a while wonders how it will all end. It is probable Mr Jammeh reckoned his magnanimity would earn him the forgiveness of Gambians. Alas, wisdom was in short supply among leading opposition figures.

Only credible threat of force will do
Were Mr Jammeh to succeed in holding on to power, the damage to democratic progress on the African continent would be tremendous. Stopping him would require a credible threat of military intervention, however. But judging from the communique issued by the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) heads of state at its most recent summit this past weekend (17 December), military action against Mr Jammeh, should he refuse to handover power in January, was not discussed in concrete terms. Promising to take all ‘necessary actions’ to ensure Mr Barrow’s inauguration without a clear red line was not entirely reassuring. Without a credible threat of force, Mr Jammeh may get away with his latest mischief I’m afraid. Furthermore, the mediator assigned to ensure he doesn’t, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, has troubles of his own. Busy with at least two major armed insurgencies, Mr Buhari would be loath to send his troops abroad. But without a doubt, his leadership would be crucial to resolving the impasse.

Power-sharing should not be an option
Mr Jammeh has indicated he would not be averse to a power-sharing arrangement with Mr Barrow. Trouble is, allowing Mr Jammeh to stay beyond 18 January would only buy him time. There are precedents. The 2007 Kenyan presidential elections were similarly contentious. Raila Odinga, the leading opposition candidate, refused to accept the official results, which declared Mwai Kibaki, then Kenya’s president, as winner with about 46 percent of the vote. Violence broke out consequently. Eventually, both parties agreed a power-sharing deal, under the skilled facilitation of Kofi Annan, the former United Nations top scribe. It is noteworthy that although Mr Odinga successfully served his term as prime minister under the deal, the presidency has since eluded him. Similar troubles were associated with the 2008 Zimbabwean presidential elections. In the first round, Robert Mugabe, the incumbent, came second with 43 percent of the vote. Morgan Tsvangirai, the leading opposition candidate, came first, with 48 percent of the vote. Even so, Mr Tsvangirai thought his tally was undercounted, claiming he secured at least half of the vote and thus didn’t see a need for a runoff. But because officially, both leading candidates did not secure the minimum half, a second round of voting was called. Although eventually agreeing to participate, Mr Tsvangirai would soon pull out just before the polls, citing safety concerns for his supporters, after several of them went missing, were killed or injured from wanton attacks by Mr Mugabe’s supporters. In the violent aftermath of Mr Mugabe being officially declared winner of the runoff polls, tremendous international pressure was brought to bear on the ‘victor’ to agree a power-sharing arrangement with Mr Tsvangirai. Again, just like in the Kenyan example, Mr Tsvangirai became prime minister and his aspirations for the presidency have since remained just that: Mr Mugabe is set to run for yet another term in office come 2018. Note how in both the Kenyan and Zimbabwean cases, the incumbent cheated and prevailed.

Persuade the military
Mr Jammeh is in a relatively stronger position than either Mr Kibaki or Mr Mugabe were when they sought to subvert the will of their peoples. First, there has not been a violent aftermath. Second, Mr Barrow does not have real power: his safety and electoral mandate are almost entirely subject to Mr Jammeh’s discretion. But there is one major difference: Mr Kibaki and Mr Mugabe were ‘officially’ declared winners of their controversial elections. In Mr Jammeh’s case, not only was he officially declared to have lost, he conceded defeat publicly. If he had any sense of shame, he would have left it at that. But Mr Jammeh is no statesman. Thus, short of a foreign military intervention, by ECOWAS, say, Mr Jammeh could successfully dig in his heels. A much more effective tact might be to persuade the Gambian military to nudge him out. Incidentally, they likely also fear for their fate when he is gone, hence why they back him. For now. Even so, they may yet save everyone the trouble.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper back-page column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

macroafricaintel | That Gambian election. And will SA get another reprieve?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Gambians go to the polls to elect a president on 1 December, another sham probably. Yahya Jammeh, the country’s longstanding leader, would sleep quite well on election night certainly. That is, even as the opposition presents a united front this time around. And then there is the much-awaited South African rating decision by SPGlobalRatings on 2 December. After the other two major rating agencies held their fire last week, it is not all too certain how the more hawkish rater would move.

Jammeh to swagger on
President Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Re-Orientation and Construction (APRC) party has won the majority of votes in all elections since the first held under his supervision in 1996, two years after he rose to power in a military coup. On 30 October, at least seven Gambian opposition parties announced they would be presenting a single presidential candidate. Adama Barrow, the annointed opposition flagbearer is no match for Mr Jammeh, however, who goes into this latest polls after 22 years at the helm. It is all but certain he will win re-election. Rivals have either fled the country or been sufficiently stifled. Others are in jail. Were Ousainou Darboe of the main opposition party, the United Democratic Party (UDP) to be contesting, the election might actually make some pretensions to being competitive. Mr Darboe has complained severally in the past about the unfair electoral system in The Gambia. When Mr Darboe first ran in 1996, he won 36 percent of the vote, second to Mr Jammeh’s 56 percent. Mr Darboe did not do as well in subsequent attempts, even as he led varied coalitions and alliances at each turn. In July, he was sent to jail with eighteen others, after Gambian authorities deemed unlawful, protests he led calling for electoral reforms and Mr Jammeh to step down. At least, he got a trial. Critics of the Jammeh administration have been known to just disappear. Never mind that a recent military coup that took place in his absence failed. Such is his tight grip on the reins. Still, some unity on the opposition’s part is laudable. It matters little for the polls’ largely determined outcome surely. But it portends what is possible.

Tough talk, feeble action
Last week, Fitch, a credit rating agency, kept its one-notch above sub-investment grade rating for South Africa unchanged, but cut the outlook to negative. Moody’s, another major rating agency, also kept its two-notch above junk rating unchanged. The authorities’ success has much to do with the goodwill finance minister Pravin Gordhan enjoys with market participants, business leaders and indeed the rating agencies themselves. It is doubtful that but for his doggedness and stellar reputation the country’s rating would not now be in junk territory. Still, there are fears the inevitable is simply being delayed. The toxic political environment is likely to remain for as long as Jacob Zuma, the country’s president, continues in office. This is because the opposition – and increasingly, members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party – is determined to continue to irritate him. And his myriad baggage gives them ample ammunition. Still, even the slightest credit must be given to President Zuma: it is his adminstration after all. In fact, the South African experience might become a classic case of how to manage rating agencies. When there are concerted efforts by business leaders and a rating assessment is seen as perhaps the only way to rein in an otherwise errant government, some consideration on their part is possible. That has to be the explanation. For South Africa has breached almost all the rules in the book and yet managed to keep its investment-grade status. Still, even as Moody’s and Fitch talked tough but acted feebly in the end, it is not a sure thing that SPGlobalRatings would do the same. And the latter certainly did not have any qualms throwing the state power utility, Eskom, further down into junk territory last week.

Besides, growth is tepid and may be so for a while. True, authorities are making efforts to spur it. But the structural reforms needed have been challenging to bring about. And at almost each turn, every little progress is almost soon diminished by some pushback from entrenched stakeholders. Already, the recently announced miniumum wage, which is meant to reduce incessant labour actions, has been criticized by a major labour union. And all too frequent political bickering between the major political parties and within the ruling one make for an unpleasant cocktail. Corruption is also rife. And populism may win the day, as the struggling ultra-leftist opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), potentially takes on a more militant approach. In any case, there is probably widespread frustration amongst the political elite. Many are astonished Mr Zuma has managed to survive this long in office, amid numerous allegations of corruption and public misdemeanour. While the South African judiciary has represented itself well, it has become all too writ large how vulnerable other political institutions are, or could be, at the hands of a deft political operator like Mr Zuma. Except for the judiciary, they have all become weaker under him certainly. It is now not unreasonable to think that they would probably be even more so the longer he stays in office. That Mr Gordhan is probably one of the few wedges against that eventuality, for the treasury at least, speaks to how the sands may shift all too quickly once he is out of the way. And considering how vulnerable his position remains, it may be a little bit optimistic to think Mr Gordhan would succeed in fending off his avaricious colleagues for much longer.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper back-page column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

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);

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#TheGambia -Local media reporting Chief Justice Ali Chowhan has been dismissed

Justice Chowhan was sworn in as Chief Justice of The Gambia on 6 March 2014. 

On 6 May 2015, the Supreme Court of The Gambia acquitted and released erstwhile Commander of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Sarjo Fofana on treason charges.

See links to reports by local media

#TheGambia – Central bank increases policy rate by 100bps to 23% in May 2015 MPC

By Rafiq Raji, Ph.D.

Real GDP growth for 2014 revised up to 1.6%; a contraction of 1.4% was previously estimated. Latest revision comes on the back of authorities’ estimation of a lower than expected contraction of 8.4% in the agriculture sector (previously -22.7%). The hard-hit services sector (65% of GDP) – due to effects of Ebola fears on tourism sector – apparently expanded by 6.9% in 2014 (8.1% in 2013), according to authorities.

Fiscal deterioration continues – Q1 2015 domestic debt rose 38.7% y/y, indicative of continuing fiscal deterioration. In spite of this, the government yield curve (maturities no more than a year) shifted downwards, with the interbank rate falling to 12.7% in March 2015 from 15.2% a year earlier. Net borrowing in Q1 2015 amounted to c. GMD 0.5bn (8.8% of GDP, based on pro-rata 2014 data). With data such as these, authorities plan for a 1.3% of GDP fiscal deficit in 2015 (12.6% of GDP fiscal deficit in 2014) is clearly at risk.

Inflation rises above target, prompting 100bps rate hike to 23 % – Inflation remains on an upward trajectory with the rate rising to 6.7% y/y (above the CBG target of 5.0%) in March 2015, largely due to food inflation. Much more noteworthy is how core inflation (excludes energy and food prices) accelerated faster, rising 7.1% in the same month. In light of the recent downward revision of the exchange rate by fiat[1], the balance of payments (BOP) data is not of much use. Noteworthy though, gross FX reserves stood at USD 95.8mn (3.4 months of imports) as at end-March 2015, a decline from its 2014 level of USD 112mn (4 months of imports). This was as the volume of FX transactions increased 13.7% y/y to USD 1.41bn for the same period. Dalasi depreciation (e.g. USD: GMD depreciated by 21.9% in the period) probably explains the converse trend.


See link to MPC statement