Ramaphosa reconfigures the cabinet
On Monday evening, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa presented his new cabinet. In addition to the appointment of Paul Mashatile to replace David Mabuza, who resigned as Vice President last week, the appointment of 48-year-old civil engineer and former mayor of Pretoria, Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, to the newly created post of Minister of Electricity attracted particular public interest. This is Ramaphosa’s response to the ongoing energy crisis in the country and its social and economic impacts, as well as to nationwide protests. The president had already declared a national state of disaster in February in order to be able to react more flexibly and quickly to the power shortage (Press Review CW 7). The state of disaster now empowers the new Minister of Electricity to exempt critical infrastructure from planned power cuts, to speed up regulatory procedures for energy projects and to take measures for the faster and more efficient execution of maintenance work by the national electricity utility Eskom. The ministry’s primary goal is to significantly reduce the frequency and duration of power cuts and to push ahead with the National Energy Action Plan. Ramaphosa also announced the creation of another additional ministerial post responsible for government planning, monitoring and evaluation, appointing Maropene Ramokgopa as minister here. Furthermore, the president dismissed his previous tourism minister and replaced him with Patricia de Lille. In total, eleven cabinet posts were filled, bringing the total number of ministerial posts to 30. The long-awaited cabinet reshuffle announced over the weekend also had an impact on the currency market. On Monday morning, for example, the South African Rand sank to a new record low and was trading at just 18.1750 against the US Dollar, – 0.19% weaker than at its last rate. Finally, on Wednesday evening, the rating agency S&P Global also reacted and downgraded its outlook for South Africa from “positive” to “stable”. This was explained by bottlenecks in the infrastructure as well as the severe power crisis, which had a negative impact on almost all sectors of the economy. Especially in the last quarter of 2022, the South African economy had shrunk more than initially expected. As a result, the agency also revised its real GDP growth forecast for 2023 downwards from 1.5% to 1%. Meanwhile, South Africa’s credit rating remains at “BB-/B”, but at the same time S&P warned of a possible downgrade if the government’s ongoing reforms to address the power crisis do not progress as planned.
US Secretary of Defence reaffirms military partnership with Egypt
On Wednesday, US Secretary of Defence Llyod Austin met Egyptian President Abdal Fatteh al-Sisi and other high-ranking government representatives in Cairo. In the run-up to the meeting, the Pentagon chief already reaffirmed the close partnership between the US and Egypt, describing it in a tweet as an essential pillar of US engagement in the region. In the meeting, President al-Sisi also stressed Egypt’s intention to further strengthen cooperation with the US, especially in the area of military and security, according to his government spokesman Ahmed Fahmy. Cairo is considered both a loyal ally of the US and a stabilising force in the region, and has been one of the largest recipients of US aid since it became the first Arab nation to normalise its relations with Israel in 1979: annually, Egypt receives over one billion US Dollars in direct military aid. However, military aid is not viewed uncritically in the US Congress, particularly in regard to the deteriorating human rights situation in the North African state, and so Austin’s visit to Egypt is also seen as a balancing act between military cooperation and human rights standards. Human rights organisations accuse al-Sisi’s government of cracking down on the opposition and liberal critics and estimate the number of political prisoners at around 60,000. In January of this year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on al-Sisi to release “all political prisoners”, but at the same time highlighted the developments in the country. Despite increasing criticism in Congress calling for a cut in US funding, President Biden withheld only 130 million US Dollar in 2021. The US can only take limited steps against Egypt and other allies on human rights issues if it wants to avoid rival powers like China and Russia gaining influence, some current and former government officials defend the Biden administration’s policy. Currently, both the US and Egypt are engaged in bipartisan talks to resolve the ongoing political crises in Egypt’s neighbouring countries of Libya and Sudan.
In other news
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and First Lady Jill Biden hosted the annual International Women of Courage Awards (IWOC) at the White House. This year’s eleven winners include two Africans, the former President of the Constitutional Court of the Central African Republic, Prof. Danièle Darlan, who was honoured for her indispensable commitment to the constitution of her home country as well as the preservation of the independence of the judiciary, and the Ethiopian journalist Meaza Mohammed, who reports on gender-based violence and human rights violations in the current conflict and has already been arrested several times for her reporting. Each year, US missions around the world nominate a female candidate from their respective host country, from which senior US State Department officials select the finalists. Following the award ceremony, the award winners traditionally take part in a personal exchange within the framework of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in order to establish contacts with American colleagues and to be able to further expand their global networks.