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Guinea Bissau’s new prime minister resigns after 11 days1 minute read

ECOWAS on Wednesday gave Guinea-Bissau’s “illegal government” a 48-hour ultimatum to resign or face sanctions

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Guinea Bissau's new prime minister resigns after 11 days

Guinea-Bissau’s new prime minister resigned on Friday following international pressure over President Jose Mario Vaz’s controversial sacking of the earlier government just weeks before elections.

The European Union, the African Union and the ECOWAS West African regional bloc have criticised Vaz’s move that triggered a political standoff ahead of planned presidential elections in November.

Vaz tried to end months of confrontation between him and the government by firing prime minister Aristides Gomes and his whole cabinet in October, but Gomes refused to step down.

Faustino Imbali, named premier 11 days ago, handed over his resignation letter at the presidential palace, state secretary and Imbali spokesperson Francelino Cunha told AFP.

“We are waiting for the response of the president,” Cunha said.

ECOWAS on Wednesday gave Guinea-Bissau’s  “illegal government” a 48-hour ultimatum to resign or face sanctions.

The UN Security Council had also called on the authorities to respect the November 24 election date and rejected Vaz’s appointment of a new government.

Vaz, 61, has governed since 2014 in Guinea Bissau, a state struggling with poverty, corruption and drug trafficking. 

Home to fewer than 2 million people, it has seen a series of coups since independence from Portugal in 1974, as well as an 11-year civil war.

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North Africa Politics

Mubarak given state funeral, Egypt declares 3-day national mourning

Mubarak’s sons Alaa and Gamal, joined by soldiers, walked next to their father’s coffin at a huge mosque built by the army in a Cairo suburb where the funeral took place.

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Guards carry the coffin of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as they arrive at Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi Mosque, during his funeral east of Cairo, Egypt February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Egypt on Wednesday held a military funeral in Cairo to bury its former president and strongman ruler, Hosni Mubarak, who ruled for 30 years until he was ousted in a 2011 popular uprising against corruption as part of the Arab Spring.

Egypt’s presidency and armed forces mourned the former air force officer as a hero for his role in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. The presidency also declared three days of national mourning.

Mubarak’s sons Alaa and Gamal, joined by soldiers, walked next to their father’s coffin at a huge mosque built by the army in a Cairo suburb where the funeral took place, a Reuters report said.

Mubarak died on Tuesday in intensive care weeks after undergoing surgery, leaving Egyptians divided over his legacy presiding over an era of stagnation and repression, which some nevertheless recall as more stable than the chaos that followed.

He was swept out of power as an early victim of the “Arab Spring” revolutions that swept the region in 2011. He spent many of the subsequent years in jail and military hospitals before being freed in 2017.

Egypt’s top military officials were expected to attend the funeral. Mubarak’s coffin was to be airlifted from the Field Marshall Tantawi mosque to the family burial grounds, state television reported.

Dozens of Mubarak supporters, some from his home village Kafr al-Meselha in the Nile Delta, gathered outside the mosque, where the military funeral will take place.

“I am happy that his pride was restored” after his removal, “and for the state’s appreciation for him after his death,” said Zeenat Touhami, a 35-year old woman from Cairo. “This is the history of 30 years, the farewell of 30 years”.

Mohamed Zaree, a human rights activist, said the present era of autocracy and economic hardship was worse than Mubarak’s.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who came to power after leading the overthrow of Mubarak’s Islamist successor, Mohamed Mursi, has overseen a broad crackdown on dissent, which rights groups say is the most severe in recent memory.

“Mubarak’s era was painful (but) this era is much more difficult and painful in terms of freedoms and economic conditions,” Zaree said.

Many of the activists who helped organize mass protests which ousted Mubarak are now behind bars or live in exile abroad. Sisi’s supporters say a crackdown was needed to stabilize the country after the turmoil that followed 2011.

Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to murder 239 demonstrators during the 18-day revolt in 2011, but was freed in 2017 after being cleared of those charges.

He was also convicted in 2015 along with his two sons of diverting public funds to upgrade family properties. They were sentenced to three years in jail.

Egyptian state and private newspapers ran front page pictures of Mubarak, while state TV showed excerpts of previous speeches.

This was a stark contrast to the treatment of his successor, Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, who lasted only a year in office before the army toppled him. Mursi died last year after collapsing in court while on trial on espionage charges. Egyptian media, which are tightly controlled, paid little attention to his death.

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Politics

South Africa scales back public spending in budget presentation to parliament

All eyes will thus be on Finance Minister Tito Mboweni as he is expected to scale back public spending and find ways to raise revenue.

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South African Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni./AFP

South Africa’s finance minister, Tito Mboweni is expected to walk a tightrope during the annual budget presentation to parliament on Wednesday, as the economy teeters on the edge of a fiscal cliff.

The continent’s most industrialised economy has in recent years lurched from one economic woe to the next.

Weak growth, deteriorating public finances including a swollen budget deficit, crippling power cuts and soaring unemployment still cloud the outlook, an AFP report said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has alluded to the crises, warning during a state of the nation address last week that government debt was “heading towards unsustainable levels”.

The “economy has not grown at any meaningful rate for over a decade”, said Ramaphosa, adding that desperately needed growth was being hampered by persistent power outages imposed by state-owned electricity firm Eskom.

Unemployment is creeping towards 30 percent, the highest level in more than a decade.

All eyes will thus be on Finance Minister Tito Mboweni as he is expected to scale back public spending and find ways to raise revenue.

Faced with a national debt equivalent to around 60 percent of gross domestic product and a budget deficit of around 5.9 percent of GDP, Mboweni has little room to manoeuvre.

“The government continues to find itself unable to flex the political muscle required to implement the sweeping reforms it has been promising,” noted Eurasia Group Africa director Darias Jonker.

Old Mutual Investment Group’s chief economist Johann Els emphasised that the treasury had been “unable to rein in the budget deficits” over the past few years. 

“It is really now or never,” he cautioned.

– ‘Slow growth, credit downgrades’ -Mboweni’s budget will also be under the scrutiny of international ratings agency Moody’s, the only major assessor that still considers South African debt to be investment grade.

Fitch and S&P downgraded its credit rating to junk status in 2017.

“We are on the verge of a Moody’s rating downgrade, and if we don’t stabilise the deficit and get spending under control, they will downgrade us,” Els said.

Losing its last investment grade rating could spark an exodus from South Africa’s bond markets and pile pressure on the rand.

The country’s lacklustre economic performance is largely a result of domestic issues.

Repeated bailouts to state-owned entities over the past decade — most notably to Eskom and flag-carrier South African Airways — have drained state coffers.

“The government desperately needs to move away from consumption expenditure and to infrastructure investment,” said Azar Jammine, chief economist at Econometrix, an independent consultancy firm.

In the past five years, South Africa has posted it weakest growth rates — never exceeding 1.3 percent and in certain years falling below one percent.

Treasury officials expect the economy to have expanded by around 0.5 percent in 2019.

The World Bank recently warned that South Africa was on a precipice, and cut its economic growth forecast to below one percent in 2020 as well due to electricity supply concerns.

“This paucity of growth also means there is no question of raising new revenue through new taxes,” said Geordin Hill-Lewis, the opposition Democratic Alliance’s shadow finance minister.

The minister must “present a credible plan to stabilise national debt, contain the budget deficit and prevent a fiscal crisis,” Hill-Lewis concluded.

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East Africa Politics News

Ethiopia frees 63 critics, opposition prisoners jailed over alleged coup

“The Ethiopian government hopes to widen the political and democratic space in the country with the freeing” of these individuals,” a government spokesman said.

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in an undated photo./AFP

Ethiopia is set to release 63 high-profile critics and prisoners from jail, including opposition activists held over an alleged coup and other high-ranking dissidents that had previously been incarcerated.

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said on Tuesday that investigations had been dropped against 63 individuals and they would be released from custody later this week “for the national good”.

“The Ethiopian government hopes to widen the political and democratic space in the country with the freeing” of these individuals, spokesman, Zinabu Tunu was quoted in an AFP report.

Among those to be released are cadres of the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), an ethno-nationalist opposition group blamed for attacks last year that the government described as a regional coup attempt.

Hundreds were arrested in the aftermath of the June violence in Ethiopia’s north that left five high-ranking officials dead and heaped pressure on a government struggling to cope with ethnic tensions.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who had been praised for loosening control in long-authoritarian Ethiopia, and was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was accused at the time of using the violence as a pretext to jail critics.

NAMA chairperson Belete Molla said their officials should never have been incarcerated in the first place, and welcomed the announcement of their release.

“We consider their imprisonment a politically-motivated act intended to weaken Amhara nationalism,” he told AFP.

Among others scheduled for release are activists from the Sidama ethnic group, which voted in November to form their own regional state after a long campaign for more autonomy.

Biniam Tewolde, a former deputy director of Ethiopia’s cyber intelligence agency INSA, who was jailed in 2018 for corruption, is also among those to be pardoned, his lawyer Haileselassie Gebremedhin told AFP.

Critics have accused Abiy of authoritarian tendencies, including locking up opponents, even as he embarked on sweeping reforms to foster a more open political and media environment.

Ethiopia is scheduled to hold elections in August and Abiy hopes to secure a mandate to pursue an ambitious agenda of political and economic reform.

But opposition parties and civil society organisations have questioned whether the elections will be peaceful and credible. 

Ethnic violence has persisted since Abiy was appointed in 2018 following several years of anti-government protests. 

Nearly 30 people were injured Sunday in an explosion at a pro-Abiy rally in Ambo, roughly 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of the capital, Addis Ababa.

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