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Engineering News: Elon Musk promises a return to social…

Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema is famous for his expert use of social media platforms. His opponents taunted him as President only on social media – until the quiet crowds of his young social media-active followers lined up to give him a landslide victory last year.

Inspired, Zimbabwe’s new opposition party, the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), and its leader, Nelson Chamisa, are highly active on social media to encourage voter registration and voting – and to hold government to account for violence against its activists. It appears to be having results: Chamisa’s party won 19 of 28 seats in by-elections held in March, while the ruling Zanu-PF took only nine of the contested seats. The CCC’s bright yellow brand is well suited to social media and its visual algorithmic distribution.

Elsewhere, a citizen activist who tweeted about Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s ‘supersized’ son used social media to alert the world that he was being abducted by the military. The tweet may have saved his life but did not prevent his extensive torture.

Hichilema, now in office, continues his expert use of social media to highlight policy and discuss his goals and objectives. His most recent tweets celebrating World Press Freedom Day on May 3 highlight the collision course that traditional, social and new media are on:

• “We have a free operating environment for the Press. If there’s any nagging things that you see, let us know and we compare notes. The Ministry of Information is here and even State House is there. Let’s resolve issues collaboratively.”

• “Let’s work as a team to improve the working environment for the Fourth Estate. Thuggery like storming of radio stations should be a thing of the past @hichilema”

• “There are only Zambian military bases in #Zambia. Let’s not be debating falsehoods #PressFreedom.”

Great goals – to restore press freedoms that the thugs associated with former President Edgar Lungu’s regime routinely violated – but beyond creating a free legal and operating environment for a professional media, government has no role. The press, if truly free, must have access to power and be free to criticise it, but never as part of a government- inspired team. The third tweet shows where the President’s office and the Information Ministry have a role – to quash ‘fake news’ immediately.

Grappling with aspects of press freedom and freedom of expression brings to the fore another extraordinary event: the news that South African-born, Pretoria-raised billionaire Elon Musk spent $4- billion to buy Twitter, the social media platform favoured by Presidents, journalists and citizen activists alike. Twitter’s new owner claims to be in favour of free speech and has promised to make its algorithm public, make users identify themselves and rid the platform of non-human bots, as well as take the platform private – away from the scrutiny or interference of the markets and indeed most of the world’s media regulators.

However, media analysts fear that Musk objects to Twitter’s self-regulation, fact-checking and sanctioning of users – most famously ex-US President Donald Trump, preferring the ‘Wild West’ approach where anything goes in terms of freedom of speech and expression, no matter how offensive, lawbreaking or fake. The second aspect of Musk’s acquisition is the commercial one: Tesla’s stock makes him the richest man in the world but, as a new media baron, he is diversifying for the time the ubiquity of high-end electric vehicles hits his Tesla stock price. What that means for Twitter is that eyeballs on advertising will be just as important as they are now – meaning that a distorting algorithm fostering controversy and division and having angry people shouting into the Twittersphere will remain essential to the business model.

The prospect of another US-based billionaire – unaccountable to any of Africa’s elected governments or its people – having enormous unregulated sway over the political, social and economic lives of millions of people across Africa is a cause for concern and action. US-based platforms have shown themselves to be singularly deaf to African concerns about content that contributes to violence, proselytising terrorism, vaccine scepticism and other fake news. As elsewhere in the world, the end-to-end encryption of WhatsApp and the Meta (formerly Facebook) owned platform has ensured that this medium has become the main distribution channel for reams of fake information about Covid-19. Another South African, Simon Allison, launched The Continent – a new pan-African newspaper – uniquely distributed on WhatsApp and its rival, Signal, to counter WhatsApp as an unregulatable distributor of all-too-frequently fake news and false and harmful information by using it to distribute a quality newspaper – free.

What action is feasible? Africa’s leaders, journalists and citizen activists are at odds about what to do. The press needs social media to sell subscriptions but resent social media using their content and stealing their advertising revenues. Activists use it to raise the profile of single issues. Politicians recognise social media’s power is greater than the mainstream media ever was and now want to control it. Control usually means shutting down the Internet, causing millions of dollars of damage to the embryonic e-commerce sector. President Muhammadu Buhari banned Twitter from Nigeria altogether in 2020, after it had deleted one of his tweets for violating the platform’s policy on abusive behaviour.

The huge risk associated with social media is the algorithm that has the power to amplify any media message to millions of people all over the world – to capture an audience the size of the population of Kenya – in minutes. Unregulated and open to abuse – including by high-paying individuals, corporates, politicians or hostile governments – it risks curbing its value as a tool to strengthen democracy. Unchecked and programmed to amplify division and hatred, it can become dangerous very quickly, as recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa demonstrate. The anti-foreigner messages of the social media-led campaign, Operation Dudula, have escalated in recent times, leading to a rise in attacks in informal settlements: Elvis Nyathi, a 43-year-old gardener, was killed in Diepsloot, on the edge of Johannesburg, by a mob going door-to-door, apparently inspired by anti-immigrant social media ‘influencer’ Nhulanlha Lux Mohlauhi, who is often pictured in military fatigues. 

ENGINEERING NEWS: Nigeria’s oligarchs face pressure as Presidential candidates…

As international businesses scurry to close off any links to Russia’s sanctioned political and oligarch class, some of Nigeria’s politicians and would-be politicians may start to feel a little uncomfortable. Nigeria’s domestic politics is often very much as brutal as Russia’s, with a history of political assassination, poisoning of opponents and orchestrated political violence but also of godfathers managing the distribution of power, position and access to wealth.

Long before Russia’s post-Soviet oligarchs discovered London, the City of London was a favoured place for Nigeria’s oil-fuelled oligarchs to house their families, school their children and launder money technically belonging to the Nigerian State through London’s army of professional services, lawyers, trust companies and bankers. While Vladimir Putin is believed to have stashed $100-billion of Russian taxpayers’ oil money abroad through his loyal oligarchs, a Nigerian task force found that $100-billion of Nigerian taxpayers’ money had been siphoned off from Nigeria’s oil and gas industry since the end of military rule in 1999. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has again focused regulators’ scrutiny on The City, its activities and favourite clients.

That scrutiny – or the fear of it – may be having a cautionary impact on Nigeria’s race for the Presidency in 2023. On April 11, current Vice President Yemi Osinbajo – well known as the ruling All Progressives Congress’s (APC’s) godfather and kingmaker Bola Tinubu’s man – announced his candidacy. Although the Vice Presidency has traditionally been a staging post for a Presidential campaign, Osinbajo is not thought to have “the killer instinct” for Nigeria’s politics, let alone run against a seasoned political godfather like Tinubu.

Former Lagos State governor Tinubu announced his intention to run for President in late January. However, he is already facing substantial domestic – and possibly international – obstacles to his candidacy. During his time as governor, Tinubu built a substantial electoral war chest. Then President Olusegun Obasanjo cut off Lagos state – a hotbed of opposition to the federal government – from federal funds. Undeterred, Tinubu set about reforming state tax collection so he could run the state. A tax collection contract was awarded to improbably named Alpha Beta Consulting LLP (ABC). ABC’s founder and accountant, Oladapo Apara, filed a lawsuit in June 2021 in which he accused Tinubu of concealing his control of the limited liability partnership. Apara alleges that Tinubu instructed him to transfer 70% of ABC’s shares to two individuals of Tinubu’s choosing, as a precondition to granting ABC the contract. During ABC’s tenure, tax collection rose from $24.01- million in 2002 to $720.59-million in 2021 – from which ABC LLP nets a tidy 10% commission. That Tinubu’s wealth stems from tax collection is one of those ‘well known facts’ that have swirled around Nigeria’s rumour mill ever since.

Improved tax revenues not only provide Lagos state with funds to greatly improve its infrastructure, but this reported war chest allowed Tinubu to bankroll a new opposition in 2014, now the ruling APC party. Tinubu backed President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2015 Presidential campaign – ironically on an anti-corruption ticket.

But in a changed global environment, especially one where US President Joseph Biden has targeted ‘kleptocracies’ – that is, states based on State capture – as a threat to US national security, and the US and the European Union increasingly use sanctions against corrupt politicians, Tinubu may be facing pressure from outside Nigeria. Despite London being home to Nigerian oligarchs’ money, any Nigerian Presidential candidate needs to be seen in Washington. Both ABC LLP and Tinubu were last seen scrambling for a court resolution and settlement of Apara’s claims.

Tinubu’s reaction to Osinbajo’s announcement of his plan to run in 2023 was to declare that Osinbajo was “not my son”. While Osinbajo may not have a killer instinct, he does have a reputation as a competent technocrat with a profound understanding of Nigeria’s multilayered and myriad problems. Nevertheless, some speculate that Osinbajo may end up as a front President for another Tinubu-backed Presidency. If Tinubu cannot have the Presidency, he will try to make sure he can control it. Others speculate that Osinbajo’s candidacy is a stalking horse, designed to open the ruling APC floor to more candidates as the party primaries season gets underway between now and June.

As Nigeria’s 23-year-old democratic Constitution takes hold, the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates’ pool is now drawn from sitting governors of various competencies and experience. This is in marked contrast to the past, where a group of former generals determined the direction of party and country. According to one commentator, the generals’ views are irrelevant now. The inept Buhari – a former general and former military coup leader – is likely to be the last of that era. The political class is looking to back candidates who have achieved in government and in their states. Nigeria’s top performers include ambitious Kaduna governor Nasir El Rufai, who cofounded the APC after running a successful privatisation programme under Obasanjo. Although Borno State has faced sustained attack by Islamist groups, its governor, Babagana Umara Zulum, is tipped as a potential Vice President for his work with United Nations organisations to support relief efforts. Another, Anambra State governor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, oversaw the restructuring of Nigeria’s banking sector in 2006 and liberalised the exchange rate after decades of currency controls under military rule.

Perhaps the strangest candidate is Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor Godwin Emefiele, who reversed Soludo’s liberalisation and reintroduced all the exchange controls (and abuses) that characterised military rule. Though he reportedly has the support of Lagos’ clique of megawealthy businesspeople, a local newspaper described Emefiele’s candidacy as “disturbing”, before listing a string of his failures, including “monetary policy contortions” and the slow slide in value of the naira. Lagos’ infamous rumour mill has it that he, too, has built up a significant war chest and may look to replace Tinubu – at least as kingmaker.

ENGINEERING NEWS: Africa and the Russia-Ukraine conflict

25th March 2022: “If the conflict continues for any length of time, the continent will once again have to pick sides – punting either for liberal democracy or becoming one of the client States of an authoritarian or military-backed dictatorship.”

ARC’s Tara O’Connor reviews the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Africa’s geopolitical and economic future, and its effects on the international order. Read the full article here

ENGINEERING NEWS: New Omicron variant takes volatility and uncertainty…

10 December 2021: “The end of the year is traditionally when we muse about the year gone by as we look to the one ahead. This is difficult at the best of times, but the Covid-19 pandemic has taken volatility and uncertainty to new levels”

ARC’s Tara O’Connor reviews another year of the Covid-19 pandemic, a raft of international travel bans and how business and government can work together to build greater regional and pan-African resilience. Read the full article here.

ENGINEERING NEWS: Angola – taking on the oligarch-kleptocrats

19 November 2021: “As Angola, under the leadership of only its second President in about four decades, takes on the oligarch-kleptocrats and implements meaningful reforms, investors start to notice, but is it too late to woo voters?”

ARC’s Tara O’Connor examines President João Lourenço‘s political, economic and anticorruption reform programme. Read the full article here.

ENGINEERING NEWS: From Françafrique to France-Africa

22 October 2021: “France’s special relationship with Frenching-speaking nations, known as Françafrique, is undergoing a fundamental transformation would not have been obvious at the 28th Afrique-France Summit, in Montpellier. But, behind the scenes, the relationship is changing under President Emmanuel Macron – and with the encouragement of a modern crop of leaders and an increasingly globally connected and voting youth”

ARC’s Tara O’Connor examines the changing relationship between France and Françafrique. Read the full article here.

UK anti-corruption sanctions and Africa

United Kingdom (UK) foreign secretary Dominic Raab on 26 April announced the imposition of sanctions against 22 individuals, including four from South Africa and one from Sudan, in the first wave of the UK government’s new Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions Regulations regime. The new regime gives UK authorities power to impose visa bans and asset freezes on corrupt foreign officials and their related entities without going through the local authorities and courts, and means London– based global banks holding accounts held by sanctioned individuals can be sanctioned. 

What remains unclear is what assets these individuals have under the UK jurisdiction and how stringently UK regulatory and enforcement bodies act upon the formidable new measures. That said, Raab’s announcement indicates that the UK, which has long been a favoured destination for corrupt African leaders and their business acolytes, is taking a strong stance against impunity. 

Read the full update here

Get in touch for a full analysis.

Engineering news: It’s time to dare to plan anew…

16 April 2021: “A year ago, in the face of the first Covid-19 death in Egypt, I wrote that the time for governments to act was immediately and that the time for corporates to plan for a pandemic was yesterday. The arrival on the continent of millions of doses of vaccines marks a significant change in the continent’s political and economic outlook”…

ARC’s Tara O’Connor examines the impact of a year of Covid-19 in Africa. She believes this is the time for companies to look forward with optimism and plan for the post-Covid world. Read the full article here.

ARC news bulletin

18 March 2021: President John Magufuli has died. After his 19-day absence, Tanzania‘s vice president Samia Suluhu Hassan (2015-present) has assumed control but has yet to be sworn in. 

A 14-day period of mourning has been announced and will disrupt business decisions. Opposition party members have made calls for the vice president to be sworn in immediately.

Download the full news bulletin from ARC’s Tanzania Briefing here.

ARC Briefing is Africa Risk Consulting‘s information service providing country-focused updates from across Africa.

The ARC Insider, Episode 20: Food for Thought –…

For the last episode of the year, Tara and Karen give a whistle-stop tour of current news stories from across Africa. This week’s guest is a dynamic man from the world of food. A former East African Coca-Cola executive voted among the top 100 business leaders in Africa by Forbes Afrique, Peter Njonjo is the founder of Twiga Foods, the Kenya business-to-business food distribution platform which is disrupting the way small store holders in cities like Nairobi access produce from farms, bypassing the middleman and using the latest digital technology to force prices down.

Event: Africa’s anti-corruption drive, 2020 and beyond…

Corruption undermines democratic institutions, slows economic development and contributes to governmental instability. It is no coincidence that the most corrupt countries in the world are also on the Fragile States Index. Many of these countries are in Africa. ARC continues to work with businesses operating in Africa to mitigate the risks posed by corruption and bribery. In 2021, we will be hosting a series of anti-bribery and corruption training events, we look forward to sharing more details on this with you soon. Please get in touch now if you are interested in participating.   

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) designates 9 December as International Anti-Corruption Day. It is a day for governments, businesses, civil society and the whole of society to renew our commitment to working together to end the devastating impact of corruption on people’s lives around the world. ARC was pleased to mark this important day by hosting an anti-corruption virtual event. 

The main themes addressed included trends in corporate corruption, exploring the continent’s biggest corruption breakthroughs in 2020 and uncovering what lies ahead in 2021.

Tara was joined in this virtual conversation by Kenya’s former anti- corruption tsar John Githongo and Lord Peter Hain – one of South Africa’s “most potent weapons” in the country’s fight against corruption.

Email us now to receive the full recording.

Engineering news 2020: Read ARC’s monthly contributions to one…

ARC’s Tara O’Connor examines and provides insightful analysis on all major economic and socio-political developments in Africa over the last 12 months in her monthly column for one of the continent’s leading online news platform – Engineering News. Click here to read all articles from 2020 online now. 

The ARC Insider, Episode 19: “Getting stuff done” in…

Karen Allen and Tara O’Connor spoke with Maya Famodu, an award-winning entrepreneur venture capitalist. Maya’s talent-spotting led to an early investment in Paystack, now the subject of a $200m buyout by US giant Stripe– the biggest start-up acquisition to date to come out of Nigeria and one which belies the country’s bankruptcy at federal level. Listen to the full episode here & subscribe to The ARC Insider here.

Of death, debt and democracy

By Tara O’Connor for Engineering News, published on 11th December 2020.

As the first year of the plague closes out, a second year threatens a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Africa has seen fewer infections and deaths, but the virus has had other lasting consequences.

The effect on political stability has been acute in several countries, and acute and destabilising in Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria. It is a political truth in Nigeria that, when the oil price falls below $40/lb, its trickle-down economics fail and people’s distress is manifest in unrest. Unsurprising then that a video showing a member of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) executing a suspect prompted protests nationwide. What was surprising was the actions of a purportedly civilian government – which was to deploy the military to a peaceful protest. The army opened fire with no warning, killing 56 protesters, in scenes reminiscent of the worst days of military rule, which ended in 1999. Read the full article here.