Africa, Trump, Infrastructure

The Trump policy towards Africa will not be clear for several months at least, if we are to judge by the time it has taken past administrations to put their teams in place and articulate their objectives. While it is apparent that the president-elect has had very little contact with the continent, the same was true for Presidents Clinton and Bush. Similarly, President Obama—who later emerged as a champion of African-U.S. private sector investment—did not develop a strategy for the continent until the end of his first term.

So, what might lay ahead for Africa?

One of the most interesting initiatives to appear in the transition is the formation of Trump’s President’s Strategic and Policy Forum. The purpose of this group is to provide the president with private sector expertise on creating jobs and accelerating economic growth.

The group is made up of 16 CEOs and, notably, many lead companies that are active in Africa. They include: Blackstone, General Motors, Wal-Mart, Boeing, IBM, Ernst & Young, and GE. The forum’s first meeting is planned for February at the White House.

Clearly, the focus of the forum will be on the private sector’s role in rebuilding America’s infrastructure, which Trump announced as a priority on election night. This goal has great relevance and potential for Africa. For instance, one proposal would be to create an economic subcommittee of the forum to look at infrastructure opportunities for American companies in Africa that would utilize American-made components. Enhancing the U.S. role in addressing Africa’s infrastructure deficit with American machinery and other products would increase U.S. exports to the region. In 2015, the export of U.S. goods to Africa was valued at $18 billion, which supports an estimated 121,000 jobs in the U.S., according to the Commerce Department.

To facilitate its work, an African subcommittee of the forum could coordinate its work with the President’s Advisory Committee on Doing Business in Africa (PAC-DBIA), which reports to the president through the Secretary of Commerce. Over the course of three meetings, the PAC-DBIA has made a number of recommendations related to enhancing the role of the Unites States in developing Africa’s infrastructure. These recommendations include creating a U.S.-Africa Infrastructure Center and prioritizing U.S. companies and products in building out Africa’s transportation, energy, and health infrastructure.

The last three presidents have left positive legacies related to Africa. This includes President Clinton’s signing into law of the African Growth and Opportunity Act; President Bush’s support for the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief and the Millennium Challenge Corporation; and Power Africa, the Young African Leaders Initiative, and the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit of the Obama administration. A strategy that incentivizes American companies in such a way that it increases U.S. exports and jobs to reduce Africa’s infrastructure deficit would contribute to a legacy in Africa for President-elect Trump on par with his predecessors, if not more so.

To make this happen, African leaders should engage the Trump administration actively and with an open mind. They should also endeavor to point out ways in which a substantial infrastructure program could benefit Americans as much it would those on the African continent.

This article first appeared in the Brookings Institution’s Foresight Africa 2017 report. 

Ghana’s New President: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Nana Akufo-Addo, the 72-year-old leader of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), was elected Ghana’s president on December 9 by a margin of 1 million votes, affirming the country’s status as a leading democracy on the continent. The peaceful election supports the remarks of former assistant secretary of state for African affairs and election observer, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, that the country is “a gold standard for democracy in Africa.”

The results reflect wide frustration in Ghanaian society with low growth, high unemployment, and a government that seemingly had lost touch with the average Ghanaian. This frustration was expressed in the creation of the Occupy Ghana Movement and Red Friday, which had support from various segments of society, including previously apolitical professionals.

Akufo-Addo—who lost close races for the presidency in 2008 and 2012 (by only 300,000 votes in the latter)—brings experience to the job as the son of a former president, a human rights lawyer, former attorney general, and former foreign minister. This experience and his focus on job creation played large roles in his defeat of President John Mahama of the National Democratic Congress—with 53.9 percent to 44.4 percent of the votes, an apparent landslide. With 171 of 275 seats in parliament, the NPP has been given a clear mandate. This is the largest number of seats that any party has had in Ghana’s parliament since 1992.

In addition, while the incumbent party has twice been defeated at the polls by the opposition, this is the first time that a sitting Ghanaian president has been turned out of office after only one term.

1-District-1-Factory

The president-elect’s campaign was based on a commitment to create jobs and to move Ghana to the forefront of industrialization efforts in West Africa. Specifically, the Ghanaian leader promised to establish at least one factory in each of the 216 districts across the country (“1-District-1-Factory”). The Akufo-Addo team has reportedly identified 300 projects that they are ready to move forward on. However, it is not clear how these projects will be financed.

Another priority is to develop the country’s significant bauxite resources as well as an integrated aluminum industry to take advantage of the bauxite, again creating the opportunity for more jobs.

During the course of his campaign, Akufo-Addo pledged on a number of occasions that the private sector would regain its “pride of place” in Ghana’s economy and that “killer” taxes would be slashed. He also promised to develop a “dual system” that would enable artisans and wage workers to go to school to upgrade their skills while continuing to work.

Greater transparency

On the “toxic issue” of corruption, the president-elect has pledged to ask parliament to pass legislation to establish a special prosecutor within six months of taking office. He has also said that he will crack down on politicians who are flouting the public procurement act—violations of which have been quite high in recent years.

In fact, Mahama’s tenure as president was marred by persistent corruption scandals, reports of inflated costs of various projects and tenders being awarded to those close to government officials. In fact, an Accra think tank, the Danquah Institute, published a report in November contending that Ghana has lost $1.93 billion to sole-sourced contracts since 2010.

As for the country’s oil resources, which yield about 110,000 barrels per day, Akufo-Addo said that he would transform Ghana’s Western Region, where the oil is produced, into an international oil hub and build a “first-class” port facility.

The challenge ahead

The president-elect will face a steep challenge in revitalizing Ghana’s economy. Rolling power blackouts are common and, according to the World Bank, there is discontent with living standards, rising taxes, fuel prices, and utilities. The government is facing particular challenges with land use, infrastructure, and the provision of services, especially as it relates to housing, sanitation, transportation, and employment opportunities for the youth. The African Development Bank notes that over half of Ghana’s population lives in urban areas.

Ghana’s growth dropped to 3.9 percent in 2015, the lowest rate in two decades, from a peak of 14 percent in 2011, reflecting the global decline in commodity prices. Ghana is the world’s second-largest producer of cocoa after Ivory Coast and, after South Africa, the continent’s second-largest gold producer. However, inflation is at its lowest rate since March 2015, and the cedi has been relatively stable, although nominal interest rates are high.

2016 has not been a particularly good year for democracy in Africa. However, with last week’s outcome in Ghana, South Africa’s municipal elections in August, and Nigeria’s historic presidential election last year, the importance of democracy to the continent cannot be underestimated.

This article originally appeared on The Brookings Institution’s “Africa in Focus” blog.

Donald Trump and Africa

For Africa, at stake in this election of Donald Trump is the strong bipartisan consensus in Congress that has been the cornerstone of U.S. policy toward the continent for the last three administrations.

This consensus, supported by Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, was predicated on the notion that Africa has opportunities worth U.S. attention and investment. In the past two decades, Congress not only passed the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), but also enacted transformative initiatives such as the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), created the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and, more recently, passed the Power Africa Act, the Food Security Act, and AGOA’s extension.

Will a Trump administration seek to weaken or overturn these and other legislative initiatives? Hopefully not. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that Africa will be a priority for President Trump in the way it has been for his three immediate predecessors. In fact, there is every reason to expect that, under a Trump administration, the U.S. will be less engaged in Africa, especially where it concerns the expenditure of taxpayer resources on economic development initiatives.

AGOA

AGOA could easily be the first casualty under Trump. While its benefits have been uneven, the legislation has served as a key framework for U.S.-African relations. It has led to trade and investment being at the forefront of U.S. policy in the region. AGOA has encouraged African women in trade and led to the creation of the African Trade Hubs (rebranded as Trade and Investment Hubs under Obama) to help African companies access AGOA. More recently, the Obama administration has been working to develop a new trade architecture based on reciprocity that would ultimately replace AGOA’s unilateral preference regime.

Over the last decade, however, the European Union has aggressively implemented Economic Partnership Agreements across the continent that require African governments to grant European goods, services, and companies preferential access. American products increasingly are at a significant tariff disadvantage in Africa. With the outcome of the November 8 election, Trump is more likely to see AGOA as a “bad” trade deal than an innovative economic development program based on stimulating light manufacturing and trade. Hopefully the Trump administration will make a careful assessment of AGOA and the African trade environment before acting.

Partnership or paranoia

In the post-Cold War era, the U.S. has worked with some success to transform its relationship with African governments from that of donor-recipient to one based on mutual benefit. While still a work in progress, there have been strides forward.

All U.S. assistance is now based on grants instead of loans. African governments have an increasingly significant voice in determining the programs in which the U.S. government will invest. Perhaps the best example is the MCC, which coordinates the entirety of its investments with host country teams. The Young African Leaders Initiative, which has brought 2,000 of the continent’s best and brightest to the U.S. for leadership training and meetings with President Obama and senior officials, and maintains an online network of 300,000 young professionals, is the most compelling example of the new type of partnership that the U.S. is forging.

It is difficult to see this effort being sustained by a President Trump, although it would be in U.S. interests to do so. In fact, most Africans are wondering if the Trump administration will impose a ban on Muslims, will expel the large numbers of African immigrants in the country, and whether the U.S. will continue to be the beacon of hope, friendship, and opportunity that it has traditionally been to many on the continent.

The security challenge

The U.S. has also played a critical role in responding to Africa’s key security challenges. Over the last year it has increased its cooperation with the Nigerian and other regional governments in an effort to defeat Boko Haram, and progress is being made. U.S. support for peacekeeping efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and South Sudan has been central to promoting stability in conflict areas and regional counter-terrorism efforts. Whether a Trump administration will continue to support these programs is an open question.

In Nigeria, where I arrived yesterday, the response to Trump’s election was summed up in several comments. President Muhammadu Buhari congratulated the president-elect and said that he looked forward to working with him. The president of Nigeria’s senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, issued a similar statement and added that Trump’s experience in the private sector could help Nigeria restructure and diversify its own economy.

At the same time, Trump’s electoral victory was also welcomed by the Indigenous People of Biafra, which advocates a separate republic from Nigeria, and the Niger Delta Avengers, a militant group in the Niger Delta opposed to the government.

Nigeria’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Oladapo Fafowora expressed the concerns of many when he told the Vanguard: “There is nothing in [Trump’s] background to suggest that he has any durable interest in Africa. I think it is a lesson for Nigerians: people should stay home and make contributions in developing our economy.”

This article originally appeared on The Brookings Institution’s “Africa in Focus” blog.

 

South Africa to Cooperate on Competition Law with Russia and Kenya

Earlier this month, South Africa reached agreements with Russia and Kenya to cooperate on enforcing competition law. At the Annual Competition Law, Economics and Policy Conference in Cape Town, South Africa’s Competition Commission signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with its Kenyan and Russian equivalents, the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) and the Federal Antimonopoly Service of the Russian Federation (FAS). The non-binding MOUs are designed to exchange technical assistance and promote cooperation on a range of competition policy issues, including enforcement and merger review.

These MOUs are part of a trend towards increased cooperation in competition law enforcement in Africa. The number of countries or regional blocs on the continent with competition laws jumped to 32 in 2015, from just 13 in 2000. In the past few years, African countries have entered more frequently into agreements with one another, usually aimed at cross-border enforcement, information sharing and mitigating regulatory conflict across jurisdictions. South Africa has been a particularly active collaborator: Since 2015, its Competition Commission has signed agreements with Brazil, India, China, and the European Commission’s Director-General Competition—and now, Russia and Kenya.

These collaborative agreements are an important step towards ensuring that African countries can more efficiently combat anti-competitive practices. Ultimately, better enforcement is crucial for achieving a range of social policy and development goals in Africa. A 2015 study has shown that anti-competitive behavior increases prices by an average of 31-49% globally. Decreasing prices for consumers can have significant effects on welfare, especially in developing countries. For instance, as estimated recently by the World Bank, a 10% reduction in the price of food staples would lift approximately 500,000 people out of poverty in Kenya, South Africa and Zambia alone. Especially as South Africa has in the past seen high food prices as a result of the so-called “bread, flour and maize meal cartels,” such numbers suggests that more muscular competition law enforcement has the potential to improve the quality of life of Africans.

South Africa-Kenya MOU

South Africa’s MOU with Kenya provides for collaboration in two main areas: (1) information sharing and technical assistance and (2) enforcement.

The information-sharing provisions of the MOU include a pledge to exchange “market research conducted in identified sectors,” as well as a promise to assist one another in developing enhanced competition policies and regulations. The MOU also provides for the two countries to exchange experts as necessary and to establish skills development programs.

On enforcement, the parties pledged to increase coordination. Specifically, the agreement provided that Kenya and South Africa will cooperate to review cross-border mergers. With respect to investigations, the two countries agreed to coordinate where possible when investigating or prosecuting the same cartelistic behavior.

Though South Africa and Kenya do not share a border, they are significant trade partners, and a number of large South African firms operate in Kenya. Accordingly, each is well positioned to gain from cooperating with the other. Moreover, the two countries already have a history of collaborating on legal matters, notably on criminal investigations: Investigators from South Africa, among other countries, are assisting Kenya in its efforts to combat money-laundering cartels.

South Africa-Russia Agreement

Much like the MOU with Kenya, South Africa’s MOU with Russia focuses primarily on encouraging information sharing and collaboration around enforcement and investigations. However, the South Africa-Russia MOU includes a few unique provisions. Rather than simply say there will be exchanges of market research, the MOU states that “the Parties will jointly identify socially sensitive markets of common interest as priorities for their cooperation.” Though the MOU itself does not specify which sectors are priorities, the FAS’s deputy chief indicated that there will be a particular focus on the pharmaceutical and automotive industries.

Challenges remain

The increase in collaborative agreements—such as South Africa’s MOUs with Kenya and Russia—are a key step towards more competitive regional and international markets. Certain challenges remain, however. Neither MOU addresses some of the structural impediments to coordinated competition policy. Two challenges are worth paying particular attention to: (1) conflicting standards for merger review and (2) the problems created by multiple agencies having concurrent jurisdiction.

First, jurisdictions have different standards for when mergers should be reviewed by competition authorities. In South Africa, the Competition Commission must be notified of mergers where the value of the proposed deal is above R560 million (approximately $40 million), and where the target firm has at least R80 million (approximately $5.7 million) in asset value. Russia has an even higher threshold: the FAS must consent to any merger where the value of the proposed merger exceeds 7 billion RUB (approximately $112 million).  In Kenya, by contrast, all mergers must be noticed to the CAK. This may create friction in implementing the MOUs between South Africa, Kenya, and Russia.

Second, the MOUs may be undermined by the fact that the competition authorities in each of the three countries do not exercise exclusive jurisdiction over competition policy and enforcement. Many sectors have their own regulators that have enforcement capacity. At their best, the competition authorities can complement these efforts by providing advice and assistance where necessary. In order to ensure the kind of international coordination that these MOUs propose, governments should focus on enhancing coordination between their sector regulators and competition authorities so as to avoid promoting forum shopping and jurisdictional conflict.

UK Rules Prompt Businesses to Report on Slavery in their Supply Chains

According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, an estimated 45.8 million men, women and children around the world are ensnared in some form of modern slavery, which includes slavery, servitude, forced labor and human trafficking. Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly vulnerable to this scourge: Estimates of modern slavery in Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for approximately 14 percent of the world’s total enslaved population in 2016, with the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Mauritania having the highest rates of modern slavery in the region.

Increasingly, businesses are called upon to demonstrate efforts to tackle slavery in their supply chains. Last year, the UK government introduced a legal requirement for certain large businesses to make annual statements on actions taken to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their businesses and suppliers, known as the Modern Slavery Act. In late September, the publication deadline for the first companies caught by the rules expired. In forcing transparency, the requirement is intended to incentivize large businesses with the resources and market influence to address current practice and take steps to reduce their global footprint in labor exploitation. The requirement mirrors the requirement introduced in 2012 under California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act.

Businesses, wherever incorporated—which includes US companies—are caught by the requirement if they (i) supply goods or services; (ii) carry on a business, or part of a business, in the UK; and (iii) have an annual turnover above £36 million (approximately $44 million). All businesses meeting these requirements must publish a “slavery and human trafficking statement” each year describing steps taken (if any) during the previous year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not occurring in the business, including its supply chain. The statement must be approved by the board of the relevant entity, signed by a director or partner, and published on the company’s website. If more than one company in the group is caught by the requirement, subsidiaries may use their parent’s statement as long as the statement covers the steps each company has taken in the relevant year.

A UK registry of statements shows that over 750 companies—the majority of which are headquartered in either the UK or the US—have now published statements. While the legal requirements themselves do not obligate businesses to produce extensive statements or reports, current market practice strongly suggests that businesses across a variety of industries—including manufacturing, energy, technology, pharmaceutical, utilities, food and drug, consumer products, and professional services—are doing more than is strictly necessary to comply with the regulations.

Unsurprisingly, few (if any) statements indicate that no steps have been taken, though such a statement would satisfy the requirements. Common initiatives include updating procurement policies and procedures to include verifying suppliers’ compliance programs, establishing internal training platforms, carrying out on-site audits of high-risk suppliers and conducting internal audits and risk assessments of the organization’s supply chains to determine which countries, industry sectors or business partnerships are at risk of harboring modern slavery practices. Companies with supply chains operating out of Sub-Saharan Africa might, for example, wish to consider the 2016 Global Slavery Index’s finding that human trafficking and forced labor are of particular concern throughout the region, especially within industries such as farming and fishing, retail sales, manual labor and factory work.

Legal sanctions for non-compliance are limited to a possible injunction to compel publication of a statement. There are no fines, unless non-compliance is in contempt of a court order to publish. Currently, the main compliance driver is, of course, reputational. The central repository of statements facilitates the comparison of approaches and levels of commitment by businesses and it is expected that consumers, investors, regulators and non-governmental organizations will apply pressure to those businesses that have failed to sufficiently engage with the reporting obligations.

The UK government hopes that these reporting requirements will, year-on-year, encourage pro-active monitoring of supply chains by businesses, help foster transparency in labor standards and ensure that organizations all over the world are held to account for modern slavery within their supply chains, whether operating in Africa or elsewhere.

The US-Africa Business Forum: Investing in Solar Energy

Next week, the Second U.S.-Africa Business Forum will be taking place on the occasion of the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly. The Forum will focus in particular on several sectors that are important to African economies and offer trade and investment opportunities on the continent, including infrastructure and energy. This piece explores the theme of  energy as an increasingly attractive opportunity for investment in the continent.

Solar energy is a very good and important investment in sub-Saharan Africa.

The energy is cheap, clean and relatively easy to install. It is also very beneficial to consumers. As Andy Herscowitz, the coordinator for Power Africa notes, individuals do not have to rely on an electricity grid that can be unreliable, and once they own their own systems, they are self-reliant for power.

For example, Mobisol, a German solar housing company active in Tanzania and a partner of the Power Africa initiative, provides solar panels that enable customers to power welding and pipe cutting equipment, water pumps, and egg incubators as well as fans to make cook stoves more effective. Solar-powered appliances can be “super efficient,” and utilize a fraction of the power of traditional appliances.

Moreover, an increasing amount of public money is being invested in solar energy, which mitigates risk for private investors, makes long-term capital available at competitive prices, and provides access to government expertise and other benefits that come from working with international financial institutions.

In June, for example, the World Bank through its initiative, Scaling Solar, conducted an auction in Zambia to enable the government to procure solar energy quickly and at very competitive prices. The winning bidders, Neoen/First Solar and Enel, will enjoy some of the lowest prices for solar anywhere in the world at 6.02 cents per kilowatt hour and 7.84 cents per kilowatt hour, respectively. This compares very favorably with oil-based power, which can be three to four times as expensive per kilowatt hour.

First Solar, the biggest U.S. panel producer, and France’s Neoen will jointly build a 45-megawatt power plant and Enel, an Italian sustainable energy producer, will provide power from a 28-megawatt facility. The two companies are expected to be generating electricity within a year. Enel will invest approximately $40 million in the construction of the new plant, and has signed a 25-year-long power purchase agreement for the sale of all the energy generated by the plant to the state-owned utility ZESCO.

Senegal and Madagascar are also participating in the Scaling Solar program, which may eventually spur development of 850 megawatts of solar capacity in the three countries. This could amount to investments of nearly $1 billion.

Scaling Solar was developed to help introduce solar technology to the Zambia, using competitive auctions and the endorsement of the World Bank. That helps to overcome the concerns of international banks about political risk and makes these emerging markets more appealing to developers and investors. It also includes standardized contracts, eliminating the often lengthy process of negotiating power-purchase deals one at a time. Scaling Solar is an initiative of the World Bank Group, Power Africa, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and the Infrastructure Development Collaboration Partnership Fund (DevCo).

As part of its “High 5” initiative, the African Development Bank earlier this year also launched a multi-billion dollar New Deal on Energy for Africa, which aims to establish 75 million new off-grid connections. Since USAID’s Power Africa was launched in 2013, the program’s off-grid partners have added more than 2.5 million new electrical connections.

Thanks in part to these initiatives, solar energy in Africa is an increasingly attractive investment.

This article originally appeared on The Brookings Institution’s “Africa in Focus” blog.

SpaceX Rocket Explosion Deals a Blow to Expanding Internet Connectivity in SSA

The explosion of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket yesterday was bad news for SpaceX, certainly, but the loss of the rocket’s payload is particularly troubling in light of the need to further expand internet access within Sub-Saharan Africa. That payload was the Amos-6 communications satellite, which Facebook, as part of its Internet.org initiative, intended to use to provide broadband internet coverage for large zones of East, West and Southern Africa, in partnership with French satellite operator Eutelsat. Amos-6 was scheduled to launch into geostationary orbit on Saturday.

The Internet.org initiative aims to provide internet access to the majority of the world’s population that is not connected to the internet—about four billion by some estimates, though the numbers differ depending on how one defines the terms “connected”or “access.” By some measures, the proportion of the population with regular internet access is estimated at an average of 19 percent for Sub-Saharan Africa—even though the region has one of the world’s highest mobile penetration rates—compared to 87 percent in North America. Complete or partial lack of connectivity occurs in large part due to problems of affordability or, to a lesser degree, lack of physical access. An estimated 300 million Africans live over 50 km away from the closest fiber or cable broadband connection, and some 400 million Africans lack any kind of internet access, period. Moreover, for many Sub-Saharan Africans, a related problem is also one of access to and cost of electricity: the cost of charging internet-enabled devices can be orders of magnitude higher than for people living in, say, North America or Europe. For instance, it costs an average of about $0.25 per year for a user to charge an iPhone once a day in the United States, whereas it would cost $0.25 for a rural Kenyan each time their phone is charged—not to mention the time spent going to and waiting at a local charge shop for the batteries to charge.

Facebook is one of several tech companies that have been addressing both the affordability and the physical remoteness constraints of providing internet access to less-connected regions in Sub-Saharan Africa. With respect to the latter constraint, Facebook has been developing new methods to deliver internet access, of which the Amos-6 satellite was a part. Internet provision via satellite solves traditional problems to land-based infrastructure, as satellite broadband technology can overcome certain geographical barriers like mountains, deserts, or dense forests, for instance.

In a Facebook post written from Kenya, Mark Zuckerberg noted that, while the explosion is “deeply disappointing,” Facebook is developing alternative methods of expanding internet connectivity in lower-income regions. These methods include OpenCellular, a small device that can set up a local wireless network in areas that lack traditional cellular infrastructure, and Aquila, the solar-powered light aircraft that would use laser technology to beam internet service down to remote areas. The Aquila aircraft are conceptualized as working in tandem with satellite technology to help provide wide-ranging internet coverage from the sky.

The problems of internet connectivity in Sub-Saharan Africa and other lower-income regions remains as urgent as ever. The internet is a major driver of growth and economic transformation, and enhancing further access in Sub-Saharan Africa through technological innovation would help unlock an unprecedented degree of entrepreneurship in the region.

DRC: Slowly Lurching Toward a Constitutional Crisis?

On September 20, barring any breakthroughs in the political dialogue between President Kabila and opposition groups, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will enter a state of constitutional crisis. This could threaten some of the democratic gains that have been made in the country in recent years.

The political trouble in the DRC has been unfolding in slow motion, with observers cautioning against the perils of the slippage in the electoral timetable, or “glissement,” for well over a year. (See our CovAfrica post from last October on the electoral slippage.) Since then, the glissement has only gotten worse, and the comprehensive electoral calendar that the Electoral Commission (CENI) published in early 2015—scheduling presidential and National Assembly elections for November 27 and the inauguration of the new president on December 19—has entirely crumbled. Little has actually been done in the necessary work of registering new voters, and the head of CENI, Corneille Nangaa, announced two weeks ago that updating the national electoral roll would actually take at least a year to complete and that elections should be delayed until July 2017, if not later. In turn, President Kabila has stated that he intends to stay in office until an election takes place. This means that President Kabila would remain in power until then, well beyond the constitutional limit. Opposition leaders have assailed the delays in updating the electoral roll, claiming that this is just a subterfuge to keep President Kabila in power beyond the end of his second five-year mandate on December 19.

The problem is—at least on the surface—one of constitutional interpretation. The Congolese opposition points to Article 73 of the DRC’s constitution, which states that CENI must schedule the election 90 days before the end of the incumbent president’s term. This would mean that, to comply with the constitution, CENI must declare the beginning of the official electoral period no later than September 20. However, President Kabila and his supporters point to Article 70, which provides that the President, at the end of his five-year term, shall remain in office until a successor effectively assumes his functions. In May, the Constitutional Court ruled that President Kabila could legally remain in office until his successor is inaugurated—which President Kabila’s supporters have characterized as a mere “prolongation,” not a whole other “term.”

The halting effort over the last nine months to start a “political dialogue” between President Kabila and opposition groups finally resulted last week in the preliminary meeting (link in French) of a preparatory committee in Kinshasa, which is ongoing and aims to reach consensus on the normative and logistical elements of the actual dialogue itself. The most pressing issues to determine in a future political dialogue would be, first, how to arrange for a free, fair, and transparent electoral process that follows the Constitutionally-required timetable, and second, what should be done if a solution is not reached by December 20. A number of opposition leaders, most notably Moïse Katumbi and Étienne Tshisekedi, boycotted the meeting of the preparatory committee and supported a nation-wide strike on August 23.

International actors have taken a range of actions aimed to forestall a crisis and encourage free, fair, and timely elections. Most visibly, the African Union-appointed negotiator, Edem Kojo, has worked hard to jumpstart a political dialogue. MONUSCO, the United Nations peacekeeping and stabilization mission in the DRC, has also played a part. Aside from providing logistical support to CENI, MONUSCO has deployed strategically during large-scale, peaceful opposition rallies, and its presence has been credited for the absence of violence by the Congolese police during such events.

Moreover, the U.S. has started imposing targeted sanctions (see our previous CovAfrica post on U.S. sanctions policy). In June, the Treasury Department placed the Kinshasa Police Commissioner, Célestin Kanyama, on the list of persons sanctioned by the U.S. government, for human rights violations. This is very much a signal to Congolese government officials that they, too, could become the target of sanctions if they impede the electoral process in the DRC or use (further) violence against the opposition. It is likely that the U.S.—and potentially the EU or individual European countries, too—would impose sanctions on additional Congolese individuals if the situation degenerates further.

In addition to the “stick” as a policy tool, there is also the “carrot.” Part of the role of U.S. diplomats in the DRC has been to help President Kabila envision what a “hero’s departure” would look like. President Kabila is in a unique position to help the DRC execute an unprecedented political transition and set a model of “alternance” for many other Sub-Saharan African countries: if he steps down now, the President could continue to be an influential figure in the country and region. Urging President Kabila and his supporters to conceptualize how a political transition could actually benefit them, and contrasting this option with the international condemnation that would result from trying to cling to power, is an important—if behind-the-scenes—aspect of U.S. policy.

However, the probability of a successful alternance and the avoidance of a constitutional crisis diminishes with each passing day. It remains to be seen whether, first, the ongoing preparatory committee meeting will lead to a full-fledged political dialogue, and then whether a sufficient number of opposition leaders will participate in this dialogue to make it legitimate in the eyes of the Congolese. Finally, even if these two necessary conditions are met, there is no guarantee that the political dialogue would lead to successful compromise between the different parties, who distrust one another. The only way to avoid such a crisis—and the attendant uncertainty and unrest this might cause—would be to succeed on all three of these conditions. Still, recent positive signs, such as President Kabila’s decision to free certain imprisoned opposition members, as well as the ongoing meeting of the preparatory committee, provide hope that a constitutional crisis may yet be avoided.

Japan and Africa: Turning a New Page

Is Africa becoming a strategic priority for Japan?

The Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI), held in Nairobi, Kenya on August 27 and 28, suggests that Japan is looking at Africa differently than in the past. For one, the five previous TICADs have been held in Japan; this is the first to be convened on the continent. Moreover, in January 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Côte d’Ivoire in a trip that was largely designed to increase Japan’s visibility in Africa.

According to various reports, Mr. Abe sees Africa as a source of minerals and energy as well as a market for Japanese manufactured goods. Japan is also conscious that it is playing catch-up to its rival China on the continent. Indeed, China’s trade with Africa is worth $220 billion, which is about ten times larger than Japan’s volume of trade. In fact, China accounts for 14 percent of Africa’s exports, whereas Japan accounts for only 1 percent.

Against this backdrop, Japan increased its commitment during TICAD VI to $30 billion in investments within the next two years, including $10 billion in infrastructure projects, part of which will be implemented through the African Development Bank. Nearly 70 agreements were signed and 75 Japanese business leaders accompanied Mr. Abe to the conference in Nairobi. According to Prime Minister Abe, the goal of TICAD VI was to boost trade and aid to Africa.

In many respects, Japan’s relationship with Africa, stretching back to the first TICAD in 1993, has been predicated on development assistance. In fact, Japan is the fifth largest donor to Africa after the U.S., France, the UK and Germany.

Since becoming prime minister, Shinzo Abe has tried to involve Japan’s private sector more actively in Africa, an effort that has been sustained through TICAD VI. Among the companies that signed agreements in Nairobi were Mitsubishi Hitachi Systems LTD, a global leader in thermal power and environmental technologies, IHI Corporation, a comprehensive engineering company, and the LIXIL Group, which is involved in the housing and building industry.

Nippon Signal Company, which focuses on railway signaling and traffic signaling systems, also initialed an MOU, as did JFE Engineering Corporation, which is involved in energy, environment, urban infrastructure and industrial machinery. A Japan-Kenya Investment Agreement, which addresses issues such as national treatment, most-favored-nation treatment and procedures for dispute settlements, was also signed and Abe committed to begin consultations on an investment agreement with Côte d’Ivoire.

Japan is also investing in capacity development. Under the “Abe Initiative,” the number of future executives from Africa who have studied in Japan will soon reach a thousand. The prime minister pledged to expand this program to worksite leaders, including foremen and plant managers.

While aid programs remain an important part of Japan’s engagement, Prime Minister Abe characterized Africa as a “quality” continent, and one that is “resilient” and “stable,” in an effort to shine a more positive light on the continent to encourage Japanese investors. He sought to position TICAD VI as a follow-on to the Sustainable Development Goals that were agreed on last year at the United Nations, the COP 21 climate conference held in Paris, and the G7 Summit that Japan hosted in May. The Japanese prime minister also committed to working to ensure that an African nation has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council by 2023, “at the very latest.”

TICAD VI appears to have introduced a new energy in Japan’s engagement in Africa. How Prime Minister Abe and Japanese companies sustain this engagement will be followed closely by a range of stakeholders in Africa and elsewhere.

A Summary of Congressional Hearings on U.S. Sanctions in Sub-Saharan Africa

This past June, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy held a hearing to discuss U.S. sanctions in Sub-Saharan Africa. The United States, the European Union, and the United Nations impose far more sanctions on Sub-Saharan African targets than on any other region, and these sanction regimes have been changing over the last two decades from broader, country-level sanctions to more targeted sanctions on individuals, like asset freezes or travel bans. This hearing provided a timely opportunity to review the evolving role of sanctions in U.S. foreign policy in Africa, their effectiveness, and key areas for improvement and innovation. A range of witnesses from civil society and academia, most of whom worked previously in public service, shared varied perspectives. While, on the whole, the witnesses believed that the results of sanctions in Sub-Saharan Africa have been mixed, they shared a view that clear, well-designed, targeted sanctions, if aggressively implemented as part of a larger strategy, could significantly influence the behavior of targeted entities. We summarize the main take-aways below.

Sanctions as a tool

The strongest point of consensus among the witnesses is that sanctions are—or at least should be—a tool, and not a policy in and of themselves. In other words, sanctions should be just one of many pressure tactics applied to a target as part of a coherent and well-articulated larger strategy. Sanctions should not be implemented just to “make us feel we are doing something” or as substitutes for other actions, but rather as complements to other tools like aggressive diplomacy, peacekeeping, mediation, and support to civil society.

Brad Brooks-Rubin, policy director of the Enough Project, noted that where sanctions have failed in the region, they failed not because sanctions don’t work in Sub-Saharan Africa, but rather because they were applied only in a limited way. As successful examples of sanctions, Dr. Princeton Lyman, Senior Adviser to the United States Institute of Peace, pointed to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d’Ivoire, where restrictions in the trade of certain commodities helped weaken rebel forces. In his view, sanctions alone would not have worked in these countries if other actions such as international peacekeepers had not also been deployed.

Encourage multilateral approaches

The witnesses also agreed that U.S. sanctions should not be applied in isolation. Sue Eckert, Senior Fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, testified to the growing importance of regional entities in exerting political pressure to sway targets’ behavior. When it comes to U.N. sanctions, which the U.S. has a strong role in shaping, regional sanctions from the African Union or ECOWAS actually preceded those sanctions in approximately 75% of the cases. Overall, regional African organizations are involved in about 95% of the U.N.’s sanctions on African targets. Their involvement reduces targets’ ability to evade sanctions and enhances the norm-setting and stigmatizing function of sanctions.

However, it isn’t always easy to get multilateral support on such a politically fraught issue as sanctions, as countries face different cost-benefit analyses in considering whether to impose sanctions. For instance, South Africa has not gone along with sanctions on Zimbabwe, because as a neighboring country, South Africa is concerned with the risks of economic or political collapse in Zimbabwe on its own economy and stability, and sanctions could play a role in causing or accelerating collapse. Or, in the case of the political crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the U.S. has recently applied new sanctions to one individual and may be poised to impose more, but the African Union remains divided about how to approach the electoral slippage—a particularly complex issue given the DRC’s many neighbors with competing interests in the country. Dr. Lyman urged that effective DRC sanctions would need to have the support of the African Union and the U.N.

Short of obtaining multilateral support, the U.S. has in some cases even started applying “secondary” sanctions, which imposes sanctions on countries for doing business with those targets the U.S. has sanctioned. A few of the witnesses encouraged this practice, noting that it tends to be “highly effective.”

Set realistic and specific targets: regime change should not be the goal

The speakers agreed that effective sanctions require clear and realistic objectives, and that the effectiveness of sanctions should not be measured by regime change. Dr. Lyman, in particular, cautioned against attempts to use sanctions as a means of achieving deep political transformations, and pointed out that a strong sanctions regime cannot substitute for other essential elements of a democracy, like a well-organized democratic movement. Generally, the more effective sanctions are those aimed at specific objectives, such as a cease-fire, and those that do not threaten the political survival of political elites.

Several of the witnesses encouraged innovation in sanctions policy through the use of nimble, step-wise sanctions: instead of all-or-nothing sanctions that may well be ignored by the targets because they require giving up too much power at once, Dr. Lyman encouraged the adoption of “carefully layered sanctions that can be removed as steps toward transformation.” In other words, specific, smaller actions could be explicitly linked to the lifting of particular sanctions, to urge targets to modify their behavior progressively. Similarly, Dr. Todd Moss, the Chief Operating Officer for the Center for Global Development, urged policymakers to adopt a more creative use of sanctions that would “selectively encourage positive behavior.” In the words of Mr. Brad-Rubin, “[w]hen we fail to explain how the sanctions work and show that they can evolve and be nimble over time, rather than become permanent forms of punishment, we give the likes of Bashir and Mugabe easy wins.”

Clear messaging

Finally, the witnesses cautioned that sanctions can create tricky dynamics. Sanctions lose their potency over time, as targets learn to live with or get around them. However, regimes may try to spin any lifting of sanctions as a political coup for them, so removing sanctions when such action would otherwise be desirable can play into certain targets’ propaganda and prove counterproductive for the U.S. In fact, the very imposition of sanctions can be gamed by the targets, who may point to the sanctions to portray themselves—and the entire country—as victims of U.S. aggression, and shift the blame for institutional failures from their own governments to U.S. policy. Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe frequently makes such claims, for instance. Accordingly, U.S. policymakers need to be mindful of the unintended dynamics of imposing sanctions, and should develop a clear and context-appropriate game plan for the imposition and lifting of each set of sanctions.

The witnesses discussed other unintended consequences of sanctions such as “over-compliance” by private sector actors. Companies may misunderstand the scope of the sanctions and the risks they entail, such that they avoid doing business in an entire country even when only a few individuals in that country are targeted by sanctions. Such over-compliance can result in significant economic and human costs for regular citizens.

To manage the risks of unintended consequences, the witnesses stressed the importance of careful messaging and communication. There should be clear communication—aimed at different audiences, including the targets themselves, businesses, and the greater public—of how the sanctions work, what kind of activities they will not penalize, under what circumstances sanctions will be removed, and what their connection is to underlying policy goals.

This post was written with research assistance from Summer Associate Cristina Alvarez, a student at Columbia Law School. She is not yet admitted to practice law but is supervised by principals of the firm.

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