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African press review 20 March 2018

South Africa's tax chief has been suspended, just days before ratings agency Moody's announces its decision of the rainbow nation's severeign credit status. Zimbabwe's president says Chinese mining firms owe Harare a lot. Uganda's president becomes the latest African leader to defect from the planned signing of a continental free trade deal. And the east African economy is doing very nicely, thank you.


South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has suspended the country's top taxman with immediate effect. That's the top story in this morning's Johannesburg-based paper BusinessDay.

It's also top of the front page of the Mail & Guardian and tabloid the Sowetan.

According to the reports, Tom Moyane, the chairman of the South African Revenue Service, refused to step down after he was asked to resign by the president.

According to the presidency, Ramaphosa explained his decision on the basis of a deterioration in public confidence in the South African Revenue Service and the compromising of public finances due to the ongoing controversy at the tax agency under Moyane's leadership.

Ramaphosa said it was in the public interest to restore the credibility of the revenue service without delay.

The Finance Ministry is to name an acting commissioner.

Pressure has been building for Moyane to quit, says BusinessDay. Factors include a 48-billion-rand hole in revenue collection and Moyane's handling of conflict of interest allegations against senior members of his staff.

The international ratings agency Moody's will make an announcement later this week on a possible downgrade of South Africa's sovereign debt status.

A girl's best friend in trouble in Zimbabwe

President Emmerson Mnangagwa says diamond mining firms are the biggest corporate looters in Zimbabwe.

The president recently extended a three-month moratorium to allow firms to return money illegally exported from Zimbabwe. He warned that those who did not heed his call would face legal action.

Chinese retail and mining companies dominate the list of those suspected of expatriating funds.

The president says a company trading as African Associated Mines owes the Harare government 60 million euros. Four other mining interests are among the top industrial cheats listed.

The gospel-musician-cum-politician Elias Musakwa is listed as having allegedly transfered 900 million euros to Portugal. Musakwa previously worked for the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe as a divisional head.

Commentators in Zimbabwe have been surprised by the absence from the list of the names of any major politians or their associates.

Former president Robert Mugabe's wife‚ Grace‚ widely speculated to be the main target of Mnangagwa's call for funds to be returned‚ says she has nothing to hide.

Museveni to shun free trade treaty signing

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has unexpectedly cancelled his planned visit to Rwanda where leaders are due to sign an Africa-wide free trade deal, the Continental Free Trade Area Treaty.

This is reported in regional paper the East African and comes a day after Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari also opted out of the Kigali conference, saying he wanted further domestic consultation on the continental deal that would remove trade barriers.

It remains unclear why Museveni decided to cancel the trip.

Commentators say the move suggests deteriorating relations between Kigali and Kampala.

Rwanda accuses Uganda of illegally detaining its citizens and helping groups fighting the Kigali government, while Kampala accuses some Rwandans of espionage.

East Africa grows fastest, despite difficulties

The same regional paper proudly announces that east Africa recorded the continent’s best economic performance in 2017, with a GDP growth of 5.9 per cent   well above the continental average of 3.6 per cent.

This growth was achieved in a year that saw the region’s economic fortunes dip, as several companies keen to lower costs and post profits engaged in staff cuts.

The year also saw a slowdown of credit availability, reduced spending power, higher cost of living and non-performing loans, pushing firms to rethink their strategy and cut costs, with employees becoming the easy targets.

According to the 2018 African Development Bank East African Economic Outlook report, east Africa’s growth was driven by Rwanda, Ethiopia and Kenya. While average real GDP grew at an estimated 5.9 per cent, there were considerable variations between countries.

Growth is forecast to continue over the next two years, reaching 6.2 percent in 2019, with the main contributors being Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya, in that order.


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