By Leon Louw founder and editor of WhyAfrica
24 August 2021 – Although challenges remain in the wake of the latest Covid-19 waves, political action in Southern Africa is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Against the background of volatility in the markets and political instability after Covid-19, leaders of Angola, South Africa and Mozambique have slowly been chipping away at growth impediments and corruption over the past four years or so. Political action in Southern Africa is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Reform started in September 2017 when João Lourenço took over as president from José Eduardo dos Santos in Angola. Dos Santos ruled Angola uninterrupted from 1975, when the country gained independence from Portugal.
Although Covid-19 interrupted Lourenço’s privatisation drive, the new president has taken a stand against corruption and nepotism. Lourenço first move was to dismantle the Dos Santos empire. The ex-president’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos, once the richest woman in Africa, was target number one, before authorities turned their attention to his son, José Filomeno dos Santos. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZtxdyF0vNI
Isabel’s father made her head of the country’s state-owned oil firm Sonangol in June 2016, but Lourenço removed her from that position in November 2017. An Angolan court claimed she accumulated riches through embezzlement and money laundering, and to recover the loot, the government froze her assets.
José, accused of fraud after USD500-million was transferred from the national bank of Angola to an account in the UK, was sent to prison for five years in August 2020.
South Africa’s painfully slow clean-up
In South Africa, ex-president Jacob Zuma suffered a similar fate amidst sweeping (although painfully slow) reforms by President Cyril Ramaphosa. Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison for defying a court order to testify before the Zondo Commission, a judicial commission set up by Zuma himself to investigate allegations of corruption during his time as the country’s president from 2009 to 2018.
Ramaphosa has been under fire from various quarters, and, it must be said, has been let down by corrupt government officials and members of the ANC. However, his “new dawn” has remained on track and foreign investors have shown renewed interest in South Africa, despite the recent violent insurrection sparked by Zuma’s arrest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uyi5FXajl3o
The security situation seems to be under control, but there are still fears that a repeat of the July mayhem would cause further instability. However, with the army patrolling the streets in numbers, and the police collaborating with private sector security forces, community protection units and taxi associations, it is highly unlikely that events will spiral out of control as it did last month.
South Africa’s mining sector remains a bastion in an otherwise lacklustre economy. With a bright future predicted for the platinum group metals (which are mined on large scale in South Africa), most platinum mines have embarked on expansion projects and are expected to continue producing exceptional results in the next five years.
New hope in Mozambique
Optimism about Mozambique, long punted to be the next best rags to riches story in the region, waned after Total Energies put their USD20- billion liquefied natural gas project on ice after attacks and violence by what is thought to be Islamist militants in the region. This, according to the United Nations has caused a humanitarian crisis. https://news.un.org/en/tags/mozambique/video/0
However, the good news is that a combined military operation by the Southern African Development Community, which included 1000 troops from Rwanda, has made significant gains in the Cabo Delgado province of northern Mozambique. The Rwandan soldiers made a big impact, and reports from the region suggest that the jihadists are retreating, reviving hopes that the gas project will resume sooner rather than later. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zF_zfx-ycjk
More encouraging though, is that the prosecuting authorities in Mozambique has gone after ex-president Armando Guebuza’s son and his cronies and brought them to trial over the USD2-billion “tuna bond” scandal. Ndami Guebuza, and 18 others face charges of blackmail, embezzlement, and money laundering.
The “tune bonds” affair took place in 2014 and is regarded as Mozambique’s biggest corruption scandal ever. It led donors, including the International Monetary Fund, to cut funding for the country, which resulted in a near collapse of the economy.
The Mozambique economy recovered but is still limping. Hopes are high, nevertheless, that Total Energies’ gas project, agricultural developments, tourism, and several exiting mining developments, will drag Mozambique out of the current economic quagmire.
The South African region has a mountain to climb. But developments over the last four years show clear intent to start cleaning up. The new brooms are sweeping clean, albeit at a snail’s pace.
Leon Louw is the founder and editor of WhyAfrica. He specialises in natural resources and African affairs.
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