Africa Brief

From Algeria to Zimbabwe and countries in between, a weekly roundup of essential news and analysis from Africa. Delivered Wednesday.

Nigeria’s All-Male Gerontocracy Won’t Go Away

Africa’s largest democracy systematically excludes women and young people from politics in a country where the median age is 18.

Gbadamosi-Nosmot-foreign-policy-columnist10
Gbadamosi-Nosmot-foreign-policy-columnist10
Nosmot Gbadamosi
By , a multimedia journalist and the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief.
Supporters of Nigeria’s ruling party All Progressive Congress and its presidential nominee, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, jubilate after the party announced him as the winner of its presidential primary at Eagle Square in Abuja, Nigeria, on June 8.
Supporters of Nigeria’s ruling party All Progressive Congress and its presidential nominee, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, jubilate after the party announced him as the winner of its presidential primary at Eagle Square in Abuja, Nigeria, on June 8.
Supporters of Nigeria’s ruling party All Progressive Congress and its presidential nominee, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, jubilate after the party announced him as the winner of its presidential primary at Eagle Square in Abuja, Nigeria, on June 8. KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.

The highlights this week: Rwanda hosts Commonwealth summit amid ongoing tensions with its neighbor, Gabon enters a carbon offset deal, and South Africa considers Russian oil purchases.

If you would like to receive Africa Brief in your inbox every Wednesday, please sign up here.

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.

The highlights this week: Rwanda hosts Commonwealth summit amid ongoing tensions with its neighbor, Gabon enters a carbon offset deal, and South Africa considers Russian oil purchases.

If you would like to receive Africa Brief in your inbox every Wednesday, please sign up here.


No Country for Women

Nigeria, Africa’s largest democracy, holds presidential elections in February next year. Under a June deadline, the country’s biggest parties have nominated their candidates to succeed outgoing Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who has served his maximum term limit in office. The choice presented to Nigerians will—as usual—be among old, wealthy men.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a 70-year-old former governor of Lagos State, will represent the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). He will face 75-year-old former Vice President Atiku Abubakar from the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and 60-year-old Peter Obi, a former governor of Anambra State running for the Labour Party. 

Analysts have criticized the lack of representation of young people within Nigerian politics in a country where the median age is 18. But even rarer at the ballot box are the names of female candidates, despite making up 47 percent of registered voters in the country’s last election. The number of women lawmakers in the country has declined. Nigeria ranks 184 out of over 190 countries globally on women’s political representation, according to data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Women occupy just 3.6 percent of Nigeria’s parliamentary seats—one of the lowest numbers on the continent. Nigeria’s constitution was drafted in October 1975 through the appointment of an all-male, 50-member committee. That year also represented the first time northern Nigerian women were allowed to run and vote in the 1979 elections under Olusegun Obasanjo’s government; women in the south had been able to vote since the 1950s.

Can women win? Men continue to dominate Nigerian politics at all levels. During the party primaries, only one woman emerged as a governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in Adamawa State. This is not through lack of interest. In the runup to the primaries, seven women indicated interest in contesting for presidential office.

From 2007 until the last elections in 2019, there has been a steady increase in women standing for elections, all with lackluster results. Nigeria has never elected a woman president or state governor.

In the 2019 elections, of the 1,872 female candidates that contested for State Houses of Assembly, only 44 female legislators were elected. There are incidents where women have won primary elections but a different name is then substituted to the Independent National Electoral Commission because some parties believe women cannot win general elections.

“Very few women have the funds to fight through the courts. Election litigation is expensive,” Cynthia Mbamalu, director of programs at Yiaga Africa—a pro-democracy nonprofit group based in the capital, Abuja—told Foreign Policy.

It’s quite a contrast to Kenya, where Raila Odinga, the front-runner and former prime minister, chose Martha Karua, a former justice and constitutional affairs minister, as his running mate for the upcoming election. Odinga’s decision makes Karua the first woman in Kenya to run on a major political party’s presidential ticket. In her acceptance speech, Karua said her selection was “a moment for the women of Kenya” and a change that “generations of women have fought for.”

Too poor to run. The kind of money that Nigeria’s politics require can be a barrier for many women. Vote buying is a problem. In the recently concluded Ekiti governorship election, party agents reportedly offered people up to 10,000 naira (about $24) each in payment for votes.

An APC nomination form costs 100 million naira (about $240,000) for presidential aspirants. An opposition PDP presidential nomination is cheaper by comparison—at 40 million naira. Women, on the other hand, pay no costs for the APC and PDP forms. But neither party has ever nominated a woman since the return of democracy in 1999.

“Free tickets are like the devil’s gift,” Mbamalu said. “It’s just one of those things parties use to sound gender friendly.” This is because members do not respect competitors who have not paid full nomination form fees.

Many women politicians have also experienced sexual harassment that has not been made public. “As a politician, the moment you go and report I was sexually violated or harassed, because of the negative image, you become stigmatized and it affects your political ambition,” Mbamalu explained.

Legislating change. Countries with the highest numbers of women in ministerial positions—such as South Africa, Rwanda, Namibia, and Mozambique—have some form of political party quotas guaranteeing representation for women. But Nigeria’s Senate in March voted to reject changes to allocate special seats for women to increase their political representation. Following widespread protests by women, Nigeria’s lower legislative chamber voted for an amendment that would create additional rather than reserved seats for women. It would still need to pass the Senate.

It remains a point of contention for women politicians. “We make up almost 50 percent of the voting population, we constitute over 70 percent of the voters who queue up in the rain, under the sun to support the candidates. Yet when they win, we are soon forgotten. Enough is enough,” Nigeria’s women’s affairs minister, Pauline Tallen, said at a news briefing in May.


The Week Ahead

Wednesday, June 22: The United Nations Security Council meets to discuss its mission in the Central African Republic, called MINUSCA.

The U.S. House of Representatives holds a committee hearing on the Biden administration’s policy objectives in the Middle East and North Africa.

Wednesday, June 22, to Sunday, June 26: The Commonwealth Heads of Government summit, which started on Monday, takes place in Kigali, Rwanda. 

Wednesday, June 22, to Sunday, June 26: The Global Biodiversity Framework meeting, which started on Tuesday, takes place in Nairobi.

Monday, June 27, to Friday, July 1: The African Union Annual Small and Medium Enterprises Forum takes place.


What We’re Watching

Workers are seen applying signage at the Kigali Convention Centre, the venue hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit, in Kigali, Rwanda, on June 21.
Workers are seen applying signage at the Kigali Convention Centre, the venue hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit, in Kigali, Rwanda, on June 21.

Workers are seen applying signage at the Kigali Convention Centre, the venue hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit, in Kigali, Rwanda, on June 21.SIMON MAINA/AFP via Getty Images

Rwanda Commonwealth summit. Leaders from the Commonwealth of Nations met in Kigali, Rwanda, on Monday. (The Commonwealth is a group of countries that were once governed by Britain but others, such as Rwanda, have since opted to join.)

Tensions between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as a controversial refugee pact with Britain threatened to divert attention from the summit. In the latest escalation, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi on Friday accused Rwanda of seeking to occupy Congo to profit from its mineral wealth.

“The security situation in the east of the country continues to deteriorate, and fundamentally because Rwanda seeks to occupy our land, rich in gold, coltan and cobalt, for their own exploitation and profit,” Tshisekedi said.

Kinshasa closed its borders with Rwanda over the weekend after a Congolese soldier was shot to death after he reportedly injured two Rwandan police officers while inside Rwandan territory. Kinshasa accuses Kigali of supporting attacks by the ethnic Tutsi M23 rebel group. Rwanda denies the allegations, but the conflict has turned xenophobic, with reported attacks on Tutsis living in Congo.

The conflict isn’t new. In 2013, when the M23 captured major cities in eastern Congo, a United Nations report concluded that the rebels had received significant support from Rwanda. Although Congo has welcomed the possible deployment of a peacekeeping force by the East African Community, it says Rwandan troops cannot be included. Security analysts now fear a war. More worryingly, according to a new report by a United Nations’ independent group of experts, M23 rebels are planning to take over the trading hub of Goma on the Congo-Rwanda border.

Gabon carbon offsets. French energy firm TotalEnergies said it had bought a 49 percent stake in the Gabonese logging company, Compagnie des Bois du Gabon (CBG)—which manages 600,000 hectares of forest—as a way to offset its carbon emissions.

“Forestry is a key economic sector for the country, and we will help develop its carbon sequestration capacity,” Nicolas Terraz, president of oil exploration and production at TotalEnergies, said in a statement on Wednesday.

But conservationists have criticized such deals. As Mongabay reports, “this is a new way of placing the problem elsewhere and endangering the lives of countless communities in Africa and Latin America.” (TotalEnergies has been producing oil in Gabon for more than 90 years.)

Instead of cutting their own carbon emissions, wealthy nations or fossil fuel companies can invest in projects that compensate for their emissions, for example, by claiming that they are preventing deforestation—a trend Gambian politician Muhammed Magassy criticized last year in FP.

Zimbabwe conviction. A court in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, convicted Zimbabwean journalist Jeffrey Moyo, who was accused of helping two foreign journalists from the New York Times get press accreditations for a reporting trip in the country.

Zimbabwean officials accused Moyo of paying a bribe to obtain forged accreditation cards and breaking immigration laws. The official who issued the cards was acquitted of any crime. Instead, Moyo was ordered to pay a fine of 200,000 Zimbabwean dollars (around $500) and awarded a two-year suspended prison term.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced then-Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in a 2017 coup, has continued a crackdown on media. Two weeks ago, police raided the home of ZimLive editor Mduduzi Mathuthu. He was charged with insulting and undermining the authority of the president in a tweet about Mnangagwa’s fiscal policies.


This Week in Tech

South Africa’s Russian oil purchase. South African energy minister Gwede Mantashe said the country will consider buying Russian crude oil to help curb surging fuel prices. At a privately held meeting on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the African Union that “Africa is actually taken hostage” over Russia’s actions, which he said was to blame for skyrocketing food and fuel prices across Africa. The European Union has agreed to an embargo on Russian oil, but it only goes into effect at the end of the year. Much of the rest of world continues to purchase Russian oil, including China and India.

Opposition parties have criticized the proposal as “ridiculous” because the country would face challenges in refining those purchases.

“South Africa’s refining capacity is at an all-time low at the moment, with the majority of our refineries shut down, so we have no way of refining oil purchased from Russia,” said opposition Democratic Alliance lawmaker Kevin Mileham. South Africa imports its crude oil primarily from OPEC countries, including Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. But Nigeria has seen declining oil outputs due to insecurity and a lack of infrastructure investment by its government. Last week, Angola overtook Nigeria as Africa’s largest oil producer, according to the latest OPEC report.


Chart of the Week

Nigeria’s political system is an old boys’ club unlike any other—even though women make up almost 50 percent of the electorate. Lawmakers have continued to reject proposals brought by female politicians legislating mandatory seats for women. It ranks toward the bottom when it comes to women’s political representation in Africa.


What We’re Reading

Racist videos in China. Authorities in Zambia have arrested a Chinese national wanted by Malawian officials after a BBC Africa Eye investigation uncovered an industry devoted to paying African children half a dollar to unknowingly perform in racist videos. Malawi resident Lu Ke taught children to say “I am a black monster” in Mandarin without knowing what they were being told to repeat in disturbing videos that he sold online. On Chinese websites, the videos sell up to $70 each. The Chinese Embassy in Malawi has condemned the videos.

Sex Lives on stage. In the New York Times, journalist Abdi Latif Dahir interviews Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, author of The Sex Lives of African Women, a novel that has sparked debate across the continent and a theater adaptation in Kenya. Sekyiamah, who is Ghanaian, is among new African female writers who are examining how women’s sexuality intersects with politics in Africa.

Nosmot Gbadamosi is a multimedia journalist and the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief. She has reported on human rights, the environment, and sustainable development from across the African continent. Twitter: @nosmotg

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