South Africa’s President Hangs On
Despite a scandal and damning report, Cyril Ramaphosa has managed to stay in charge of his party and the country.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The highlights this week: A brawl in Senegal’s parliament, a power-sharing deal in Sudan, and a thwarted coup in Burkina Faso.
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Scandal-Plagued Ramaphosa Clings to ANC Control
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa could be the first African leader to be impeached after an inquiry found evidence of possible “serious misconduct” relating to a baffling “Farmgate” scandal involving a heist, a Sudanese businessman, and a sofa stuffed with cash.
Ramaphosa’s future now hangs in the balance following a scathing report by an independent panel released last Wednesday, which concluded that he may have broken anti-corruption laws over the 2020 theft of $580,000 stored in a sofa at his Phala Phala game farm.
The three-member panel, appointed by the speaker of South Africa’s National Assembly, recommended that Ramaphosa be investigated for possible impeachment and found “substantial doubt about the legitimacy of the source of the currency that was stolen,” prompting talks of resignation. Ramaphosa admitted that the theft took place but said it was payment from selling buffalo to a Sudanese citizen, Mustafa Mohamed Ibrahim Hazim, in late 2019.
But the panel has questioned why the sold buffalo remain on his ranch more than two years after being sold. Ramaphosa never reported the theft to police, and it only came to light in June, when former spy chief Arthur Fraser—a loyalist of former South African President Jacob Zuma—filed a complaint with police, accusing Ramaphosa of money laundering and graft by privately authorizing for suspects in the burglary to be detained and bribed into silence through the help of Namibian President Hage Geingob.
Ramaphosa has refuted those allegations. “I did not ‘hunt’ for the perpetrators of the theft, as alleged, nor did I give any instructions for this to take place,” he wrote in a submission to the panel’s report. His Namibian counterpart has denied any involvement.
Meanwhile, the South African Reserve Bank is yet to report the findings of its own investigation into whether the money was properly reported as foreign currency. Colleagues in Ramaphosa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party held an emergency meeting on Monday and agreed to vote against the panel’s Section 89 recommendations. As a result, Ramaphosa’s opponents would be unable to secure a majority. (Section 89 law allows for a president to be removed from office if he or she has committed a serious violation of the constitution.) South Africa’s Parliament postponed its debate of the report until Dec. 13.
Ramaphosa had been widely expected to win a second term in office after receiving the most votes from a list of candidates to front the ANC ahead of the party’s conference scheduled to begin Dec. 16. Only weeks ago, he had been welcomed in London on a state visit filled with royal pomp as the first world leader hosted by King Charles III since he ascended the throne.
When elected unopposed in 2018, after the social fractures from state looting under Zuma, Ramaphosa had vowed to weed out corruption from the ANC’s ranks within an administration that would “not tolerate the plunder of public resources.” Zuma and his associates’ ability to use state institutions to successfully avoid imprisonment over corruption has not helped the ANC; nobody from Zuma’s inner circle has yet gone to jail despite a raft of investigations.
“The damage here is not just to Ramaphosa and his personal campaign. Increasingly people are saying the ANC is incapable of dealing with corruption,” said Dale McKinley, an independent analyst. “This is a longer-term deterioration of legitimacy and trust in the ANC.”
South Africans are skeptical that a competent replacement can be found and fear that those embroiled in Zuma’s state capture from the ANC’s heartlands would seize the opportunity to continue to raid state coffers. Without Ramaphosa, a “group of criminals” would return to power, and South Africa would “become a banana republic,” James Motlatsi, a close ally of the president, warned last week.
“There is quite a substantial constituency not only within the ANC but within the country whose opinion would say, ‘Well, yes, he did these things, he shouldn’t have done them, but he is the best one around,’” McKinley said.
A resolution to remove him as president needs a two-thirds majority from members of Parliament. If Ramaphosa goes, some South Africans fear that chaos might engulf Africa’s most industrialized nation. Markets have responded swiftly with a sharp fall in the South African rand. Without Ramaphosa or a credible replacement, political pundits widely assume that the ANC would lose its majority in elections slated for 2024.
One poll suggests that if he leaves, voter support would drop to below 40 percent. But even with him, analysts such as McKinley predict that votes for the ANC could go below 50 percent, which would fall in line with results from local government elections last year. This could lead to the country being led by a coalition government for the first time in the post-apartheid era.
Whatever the outcome, allegations against Ramaphosa will now taint his political future. “There is a sense that, irrespective of who is in charge, the ANC is not interested in acting against its own,” McKinley said.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Dec. 7: The United Nations Security Council discusses the U.N. mission in Sudan (UNITAMS).
Mauritius releases data on inflation.
Thursday, Dec. 8: The Security Council and the U.N. Central Africa office discuss strategies to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Friday, Dec. 9: The Security Council holds a meeting on sanctions against the Democratic Republic of the Congo, currently extended until Aug. 1, 2023.
Friday, Dec. 9, to Sunday, Dec. 11: This year’s African Economic Conference is held in Port Louis, Mauritius.
Tuesday, Dec. 13: The Security Council discusses the U.N. mission and sanctions regime in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Tuesday, Dec. 13, to Thursday, Dec. 15: The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit is held in Washington.
What We’re Watching
Bumpy road in Ethiopia’s cease-fire. In Shire, a city in northwestern Ethiopia that was captured from Tigrayan forces in October, Eritrean troops and regional forces from the Amhara region of Ethiopia are reportedly looting property and carrying out mass detentions of civilians accused of aiding Tigrayan forces, two aid workers there told The Associated Press. The World Food Program said last week that some areas in Tigray remain off limits, with no date set for restoring internet and electricity in those areas.
Many observers have warned that Eritrean troops, who have been fighting alongside Ethiopia’s federal army, could undermine a peace deal struck last month between the Ethiopian government and rebel Tigrayan forces. There are several flash points that remain uncovered by the peace deal. The U.S.-based Amhara Association of America has reported the continued killings of Amhara residents in the Oromia region, where they are a minority ethnic group.
Atrocities committed during the two-year civil war are still being uncovered. The Ethiopian army allegedly killed more than 80 Tigrayan prisoners of war at a prison camp near Mirab Abaya in the country’s southern region, according to a Washington Post report. Similar killings occurred in prisons in Toga in Oromia as well as in Wondotika and Didessa, witnesses told the Post.
Senegal’s parliamentary brawl. A brawl that broke out in Senegal’s parliament on Thursday was broadcast live across the country during proceedings of what should have been a budget presentation. Senegalese legislator Massata Samb slapped his female colleague Amy Ndiaye Gniby on the floor of the parliament, after he alleged that she had been “discourteous” in criticizing a religious leader.
Gniby, who is pregnant, is a member of the ruling Benno Bokk Yakaar coalition and retaliated by throwing a chair at her assailant, before another male MP Mamadou Niang tackled her. State prosecutors have launched criminal proceedings against the two male MPs, who have reportedly gone into hiding.
There have been growing tensions between ruling and opposition politicians since legislative elections in July, in which the ruling party gained only two more seats than the opposition—losing out on a comfortable majority in part due to concerns that President Macky Sall may run for a controversial third term in 2024.
The public spat also raised questions about how seriously violence against women is treated in the country. Senegalese MP Abba Mbaye told a local TV channel favorable to the opposition that opposition lawmakers would not support any resumption of parliamentary work “until this lady has apologized.”
Burkina Faso attempted coup? Burkina Faso’s military leader, Capt. Ibrahim Traoré, said his government foiled a coup attempt by some elements of the army wanting to grab power. Traoré took power in September from Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who had seized power in a January coup against the elected government of President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré.
Hundreds of poorly equipped Burkinabe soldiers have died in a war against armed extremists. Nearly 2 million people have fled their homes, and more than a third of the country is controlled by rebels. The increased number of coups in the country, many observers note, is in part due to the military’s and the public’s anger over the failure to halt insurgent attacks.
Sudanese power share. Sudan’s army and civilian leaders agreed to a two-year, civilian-led transitional deal on Monday, the timeline of which has not yet been made public. A power-sharing arrangement between the military and the largely civilian-led Forces of Freedom and Change coalition came to an end on Oct. 25, 2021, when the military overthrew then-Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, following the 2019 military-led ousting of President Omar al-Bashir. Pro-democracy activists continue to protest against arrangements that would keep factions of Sudan’s army in government.
This Week in Sports
Senegal’s dashed hopes. Morocco’s national team, known as the Atlas Lions, is the only African team left in the FIFA World Cup. Morocco reached the quarterfinals for the first time ever after they upset Spain in a 0-0 thriller that ended with a penalty shootout in which Morocco’s goalkeeper prevented Spain from scoring at all.
Senegal, Africa’s highest-ranked side, suffered a 3-0 defeat to England. “We have worked for years to be the best in Africa, but we were facing one of the top five teams in the world, and we saw the difference,” Senegalese coach Aliou Cisse said following his team’s defeat. He noted that while African soccer is improving there are technical and refereeing lessons to learn.
“We’ve made mistakes in the past. You can’t just do it overnight. In all countries in Africa, there is a real sports policy in place. We have to keep that up if we want to win these tournaments,” Cisse added.
There have been some memorable moments from African teams in this World Cup, namely Vincent Aboubakar’s historic goal against Brazil, earning Cameroon its first win, 1-0, and making it the first African team to beat Brazil.
Chart of the Week
South Africa’s jobless rate is one of the highest in Africa, in part caused by pandemic-induced shutdowns and persistent electricity outages that choke economic growth. Since records began in 2008, far more women have been unemployed than men. The biggest explosion of violent protests since the apartheid era erupted last July in KwaZulu-Natal over former President Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment.
Much of the unrest that spread across the country centered on broader grievances about allegations of corruption by public officials while young Black South Africans faced scant job prospects.
FP’s Most Read This Week
• Sanctions on Russia Are Working. Here’s Why. by Agathe Demarais
• Why Switzerland vs. Serbia Is Really All About Kosovo by Aleks Eror
• China Has India Trapped on Their Disputed Border by Sushant Singh
What We’re Reading
Anti-LGBTQ extortion. Since the introduction of a draft anti-LGBTQ bill in Ghana’s Parliament, there has been a spike in violence and extortion against LGBTQ communities, according to a report by the U.S.-based rights group Outright International. Ohotuowo Ogbeche, a researcher who worked on the report, writes in African Arguments that extortionists are targeting apps such as Grindr in search of potential victims. “It is certainly the case that victims struggle to get justice as they fear reporting violations due to law enforcement’s institutionalised homophobia and transphobia,” Ogbeche writes.
Morocco’s other Atlas lions. The assumption has always been that African lions are anywhere other than the continent’s northern regions. In New Lines Magazine, Farah Abdessamad writes on Morocco’s Atlas Lion Project, an initiative dating back to the 1970s that aims to preserve and eventually reintroduce the North African Barbary lion, a distinct group of big cats that were declared extinct from around the mid-1900s.
A few dozen survived in captivity owned by Morocco’s sultan before being moved to Rabat Zoo, following the country’s independence from France in 1956. Just 100 of these cats remain globally. Morocco’s national soccer team takes its name from the species and is a symbol of the country’s political pride. “Can we emulate the lion’s courage and bravery to save it from complete extinction?” Abdessamad asked. Against Spain, they did.
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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