Ethiopia Celebrates Unity as Divisions Deepen

On 16th October 2017, Ethiopia celebrated its 10th annual National Flag Day. The celebration was created by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) with the purpose of promoting unity between Ethiopia’s different ethnic groups and the corresponding parties that make up the ruling coalition. This year’s celebration committee supervisor described National Flag Day as “an occasion to strengthen Ethiopian people’s diversity through unity”; a principle strongly associated with Ethiopia’s ‘Ethnic Federalism’. However, it seems that this model of government is under increasing strain and, with growing discontent in the country’s largest region, the EPRDF will have to do much more than celebrate National Flag Day to ensure unity.

In August 2017, the government lifted a 10-month state of emergency, which was heavily criticised by human rights groups for encouraging mass detentions and politically-motivated criminal charges. The government announced the state of emergency in response to a year of protests, which, although spread to various regions, originated in the Oromia region – home to the country’s largest ethnic group (Oromo). Although the Oromia region is represented in the EPRDF coalition by the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), many Oromo people felt that they had been omitted from the political process and Ethiopia’s economic development. There is a widely held perception that Tigrayan people, whose party – the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – holds a dominant position in the ruling coalition, have disproportionate political influence and have therefore benefitted more from the country’s development. While the state of emergency quelled the protests in Oromia, it appears that tensions are once again rising in the region and the EPRDF has done very little to live up to its promise of reform.

September saw a rise in clashes between Oromo and Somali people along the disputed border between the two regions. A significant number of both Oromo and Somali people were killed during the clashes and thousands more were displaced. The UN has estimated that 43,000 people have fled their homes in the region; however, regional government officials have claimed that the number is higher. The Prime Minister – Hailemariam Desalegn – responded by ordering the withdrawal of regional security forces, some of which were blamed for perpetuating the violence, and sent the National Army to restore order. Although clashes between the two ethnic groups are not new, the response of the regional governments was unfamiliar. The Somali People’s Democratic Party (SPDP), which also comes under the EPRDF umbrella, accused the OPDO of inciting ethnic violence and supporting a terrorist organisation, and the OPDO responded in kind. Moreover, many Oromo political activists alleged that the TPLF was behind the violence to keep Oromia weak and unstable. Although this seems highly unlikely, the perception, whether real or imagined, will cause ethnic tensions to rise and increase pressure on the EPRDF’s ethnic federalist model.

Additionally, October saw the re-emergence of anti-government protests in the Oromia region, with many protestors focusing on the alleged “Somali invasion of Oromia”. Large numbers have been reported at the demonstrations, such as on 12th October, where more than 15,000 people reportedly protested in Woliso. Although the majority of protests have been peaceful, it was reported that 6 people were killed in clashes with the security forces on 11th October. Many Oromo political activists have claimed that this violence was instigated by the TPLF, which further demonstrates the growing ethnic tension in Ethiopia. Significantly, following this new wave of protests, the Speaker of the House of People’s Representatives and one of the founders of the OPDO – Abadula Gemeda – resigned from his position. He reportedly stated that he resigned because “my people and party were disrespected”. He is one of the highest-ranking government officials to have resigned since the EPRDF assumed power in 1991 and his decision signals a significant breakdown in the relationship between the OPDO and its EPRDF partners, especially the TPLF.

The government appears to be unsure on how to react to the growing tensions in the Oromia region. It seems that it is reluctant to revert to a heavy-handed approach but also unwilling to adopt reforms which could subdue the protests. As ethnic tensions continue to rise and Oromia becomes a larger problem, the longevity of the EPRDF’s ‘Ethnic Federalism’ will be challenged. For the EPRDF, it is essential that Ethiopia maintains its economic growth and that it ensures that all of its regions, and particularly Oromia, feel the benefits of development.

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Togo: The End of a Dynasty?

On 19th August 2017, protests spread across Togo as people came out onto the streets calling for the end of the Gnassingbé family dynasty. The president – Faure Gnassingbé – has been in power since 2005, following the death of his father – Gnassingbé Eyadéma – who had seized power in a coup in 1967. Thousands took to the streets across the country chanting “50 years is too long!” and calling for Gnassingbé to stand down as president. Organisers have claimed that 800,000 people attended the demonstrations, which, given Togo’s population size, raises serious concerns about the longevity of the Gnassingbé regime. Although the protests were relatively peaceful, the security forces’ attempt to break up the demonstration in Lomé, lead to the deaths of at least two protesters and left dozens more injured. Given the violent suppression of protest movements previously adopted by both the current president and his father, it is unlikely that protests will remain peaceful if they continue.

In reaction to the August demonstrations, and smaller demonstrations in early September, the government announced a constitutional amendment, which would introduce a presidential term limit. Although this could be seen as a victory for the opposition, which played an important role in organising the August demonstrations, the term limit would not be applied retrospectively, which would enable Gnassingbé to serve as president until 2030. Consequently, the opposition boycotted a parliamentary vote on the amendment on 19th September. This meant that it failed to win parliamentary approval and will be put to the public in a referendum, which will similarly be boycotted by opposition parties. Although the date of the referendum has not yet been announced, opposition parties have made it clear that they plan to disrupt it through protests. As one opposition party official stated, “we’ll set the streets against their referendum”. This indicates that the government’s attempt to reconcile with the opposition has failed and it seems that there is very little room for negotiation. Opposition parties, emboldened by the protests in August, are insisting that Gnassingbé cannot compete in the 2020 election and will not accept anything less than this.

Togo’s opposition parties, which have long been divided and largely ineffective, have benefitted from the growing protest movement in the country, which appears to be coalescing around the figure of Tikpi Atchadam. Atchadam, the former leader of the Togolese Student Union, left the country after his party – Parti pour la Démocratie et le Renouveau – joined the presidential majority in 2005 and only returned to Togo in 2014. After returning, he formed the Parti National Panafricain (PNP) and has been a vocal critic of Gnassingbé. Atchadam is considered a charismatic orator, who has been able to draw widespread support from across the country. Significantly, unlike other opposition leaders, he originates from the north of the country, which has long been a Gnassingbé stronghold, and has a large support base in this region. Despite being accused by the government of having links with radical Islamists in Togo’s majority-Muslim north, Atchadam has joined forces with opposition groups in the majority-Christian south and appears to be a unifying figure, who could pose a serious challenge to Gnassingbé’s rule. Since August, Atchadam has apparently been in hiding but, as more protests are planned, it seems likely that he will re-emerge as the opposition seek to force Gnassingbé to stand down.

With further protests planned, and currently happening, the Gnassingbé dynasty is under threat. An emboldened opposition has made it clear that there is no longer any room for negotiation and that it will use public demonstrations to force the government to meet its demands. Unlike previously, the government must contend with an opposition leader who has been able to draw support from both the north and south, which raises the prospect of country-wide demonstrations. Consequently, social unrest will increase, especially around the referendum, and, if Gnassingbé tries to hold on to power, it is likely that protests will become increasingly violent.

Factionalism and Coalition: The two sides of Zimbabwean politics

On 21st May 2017, growing factionalism in the ruling ZANU-PF provoked violence at the party’s provincial headquarters in Zimbabwe’s second largest city – Bulawayo. Party youths disrupted a meeting at the headquarters accusing the provincial leadership of supporting the embattled Minister of Local Government Saviour Kasukuwere and riot police had to be called to restore order. Although such factionalism and violence is not new to politics in Zimbabwe, given the continuing questions surrounding Mugabe’s succession and the prospect of an opposition coalition, ZANU-PF’s supremacy could be under pressure as elections approach in July 2018.

A number of senior cabinet ministers have been accused of challenging Mugabe’s leadership in the past and, based on very little evidence, have been attacked by sections of ZANU-PF. The most recent to fall foul of this is Kasukuwere, who has been accused of setting up parallel structures in the party in order to unseat Mugabe. Significantly, Kasukuwere is viewed as a leading member of the G40 faction, which is opposed to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa succeeding Mugabe as President and reportedly support the First Lady – Grace Mugabe. This suggests that Mnangagwa and the so-called Lacoste faction are attempting to asset their authority in the party and block any challenge from the G40 faction. Although large sections of ZANU-PF have publicly called for Kasukuwere’s removal from not only his cabinet post but also the party, it appears that the second vice president – Phelekezela Mphoko – supports Kasukuwere. This is significant as Mphoko is the chairperson of the ZANU-PF appeals committee and therefore reviews disciplinary cases brought against party officials. This suggests that the factionalist infighting that surrounds Kasukuwere is likely to continue in the coming weeks. Moreover, such infighting is unlikely to pass even if Kasukuwere is removed from the party.

Although Mugabe has been confirmed as ZANU-PF’s presidential candidate for next year’s election, it seems that this has had little effect on the factionalist politics associated with his succession. Considering Mugabe’s age, his increasingly frequent international health trips and his deteriorating public persona, it is unsurprising that factions are trying to establish their position in the party. Presently, Mnangagwa seems the most likely to succeed Mugabe, given the opposition to the G40 faction from within ZANU-PF and his strong links to the security forces. Such links are extremely valuable and are likely to become more important in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. The Commander General of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces’ recent warning to the influential War Veterans Association, regarding criticism of Mugabe’s leadership, demonstrated the security forces’ willingness to intervene in politics, which will be an important factor in Mugabe’s succession. Grace Mugabe would need her husband’s support and influence if she was to assume the presidency and as it seems increasingly likely that Mugabe will die in office rather than stand down, this puts Mnangagwa in the pole position to succeed him.

Whilst ZANU-PF is once again preoccupied by factionalist infighting, it seems that Zimbabwe’s divided opposition are finally coming together to provide a united front against the ruling party. Zimbabwe’s main opposition party – Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – splintered in 2005 and 2014, leaving three smaller opposition parties: MDC-Tsvangirai (MDC-T); MDC-Ncube (MDC-N); and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Although the relationship between these parties’ leaderships has been strained at the best of times and hostile at the worst, they are putting aside their differences to form a coalition. The PDP’s leader – Tendai Biti – who once said that “we don’t share the same values with MDC-T” and stated that “Morgan Tsvangirai was a thief”, has now been welcomed back by the largest MDC faction (MDC-T) and its leader. Upon joining forces again with the MDC-T, Biti said that the opposition was “putting Zimbabweans first” and the MDC-N leader – Welshman Ncube – stated that “we owe it to future generations”.

Although the re-unification of the splintered MDC is undoubtedly important, significantly, this grouping has been joined by a new opposition party – National People’s Party (NPP) – which is headed by the former vice president and ZANU-PF stalwart Joice Mujuru. Mujuru was expelled from ZANU-PF in 2015 after being accused of trying to illegally remove Mugabe from power. On 19th April, the previous adversaries – Tsvangirai and Mujuru – signed a memorandum of understanding which outlined their commitment to field a joint candidate to challenge Mugabe in July 2018. On 20th May, Mujuru proclaimed that the “NPP and MDC are one and the same thing”. This is significant as Mujuru’s participation in the coalition could enable the opposition to attract support from outside of their urban centre strongholds. Unlike Tsvangirai, Mujuru was part of the liberation struggle and reportedly still has strong links with Zimbabwe’s security apparatus. This means that it will be harder for ZANU-PF to side-line her and it is possible that she may be able to draw support away from the ruling party.

The opposition coalition will try to tap into the burgeoning discontent in the country due to its dire economic situation. This discontent was illustrated by the popularity of anti-government protest movements in 2016 such as #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka. Although these groups are working outside of the party system, it is likely that their followers will support the coalition.

Nevertheless, the coalition is in its early stages and it is not clear if it will be able to stay together until the election next year. Although the leaders of each party are promoting unity, members of both the MDC-T and the NPP believe that their respective leaders should be the coalition’s presidential candidate. It seems likely that primaries will be held to decide this, which will indicate the durability of the coalition. Furthermore, even after this is decided, the coalition will have to turn its attention to policy formation, which again will highlight the differences between the parties. Thus, although this is a positive step for the opposition, compromise and co-operation will be key to maintaining this united front ahead of the election in July 2018.

As ZANU-PF is entering a new round of factionalist infighting associated with Mugabe’s succession, the opposition is positioning itself to pose its strongest electoral challenge since the contentious 2008 election. If the opposition coalition selects a leader, formulates joint policies and remains united, it could potentially draw widespread support from across Zimbabwe. Although this unity is yet to be tested and ZANU-PF’s resilience should not be underestimated, the continuing factionalism within the ruling party is only likely to strengthen the opposition’s resolve.

Zuma Weather’s the Storm

In the early hours on 31st March 2017, President Jacob Zuma initiated a controversial cabinet reshuffle, which included the removal of Pravin Gordhan and his deputy – Mcebisi Jonas – at the Ministry of Finance. There had been rumours about Gordhan’s removal since it was reported in May 2016 that the Hawks law enforcement unit was investigating him. It was speculated at the time that the Hawks were working under Zuma’s direction and that Gordhan had been targeted due to his position towards the influential Gupta business family. The Gupta family are seen as being too close to Zuma and have faced allegations of “state capture”. Gordhan has long been viewed as a critic of the Gupta family and, to many, his removal last week was due to this criticism. This assertion is supported by the fact that, his successor – Malusi Gigaba – has a close relationship with the Gupta family.

Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle has already had a significant effect on both politics and the economy in South Africa. Following the announcement of Gordhan’s removal, the value of the Rand fell by 13 percent and on 3rd April, the global ratings agency ‘Standard & Poor’s’ downgraded South Africa’s credit rating to junk status. The agency cited Gordhan’s dismissal as one of the main reasons for this downgrade. Moreover, it seems that ‘Moody’s’ rating agency is going to follow suit, after putting the country on a negative outlook due to “the abrupt change in leadership of key government institutions”. Although Zuma has tried to reassure investors by stating that “policy orientation remains the same”, given South Africa’s widening budget deficit and high unemployment rate, the economic prospects for the country seem quite bleak.

On the political side, Zuma has faced criticism for the cabinet reshuffle, including from within his own party. Secretary General of the ANC – Gwede Mantashe – and Deputy President – Cyril Ramaphosa – both criticised President Zuma’s decision, with Ramaphosa calling the sacking of Gordhan “totally unacceptable”. It has also increased tensions in the Tripartite Alliance between the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Both the leadership of the SACP and COSATU were critical of President Zuma, and COSATU’s Secretary General – Bheki Ntshalintshali – described Zuma’s leadership as “inattentive, negligent and disruptive” and said that he is no longer the “right person” to be president. Although this appeared to be putting pressure on Zuma to stand down, on 5th April the ANC’s National Working Committee backed Zuma and said that the party would not vote against him in a vote of no confidence.

Outside of the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance, Zuma has faced fierce criticism. The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have both called on Zuma to resign and for another no confidence vote in parliament. Although such votes have previously been blocked by the ANC’s commanding majority, the opposition are confident that they will be able to convince certain members of the ANC to vote against their party. Nevertheless, it is highly unlikely that they will be successful as party loyalty remains very important within the ANC. Additionally, civil society groups and opposition parties have called for a nationwide protest against Zuma on 7th April. These protests are expected to draw large amounts of people and could cause significant social unrest as the DA have claimed that they have received “numerous threats of violence” from “the ANC Youth League” in response to the planned protest.

Nonetheless, although Zuma has been heavily criticised for his cabinet reshuffle, which has brought divisions in the ANC to the fore and heightened South Africa’s economic problems, it seems that, as before, he has weathered the storm. But, at what cost? His continued presence at the top of the ANC is likely to increase internal tensions and divisions, which will be brought to the surface at the ANC Elective Conference in December 2017, where the party will be tasked with selecting his successor. Whoever succeeds Zuma will struggle to re-unite the party and his refusal to stand down is likely to reduce support for the ANC ahead of elections in 2019. The political instability caused by this is likely to increase economic uncertainty, causing further problems for the South African economy. Thus, although Zuma has managed to hold on to power for a little longer, the effect this will have is likely to be felt for years to come.

Instability and Insecurity: a DRC without Etienne Tshisekedi

On 1st February 2017, long-term opposition leader – Etienne Tshisekedi – passed away while receiving medical treatment in Belgium. Three-time former Prime Minister and founder of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), Tshisekedi was the leading opposition figure in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for the last 30 years. His death would have been highly significant for Congolese politics at any time during this period but, given the recent unrest and Tshisekedi’s vital role in negotiations between the government and the opposition, the timing of his passing may have extremely important repercussions for politics and security in the DRC.

Although, as an octogenarian, Tshisekedi had begun to take on a largely figurehead role in the opposition, he was a respected and unifying figure amongst the DRC’s different opposition groups. On 31st December 2016, Conférence Episcopale Nationale du Congo (CENCO) brokered a deal between the government and a nine-party opposition coalition – Rassemblement – on a peaceful political transition. The two parties agreed that President Joseph Kabila would not seek an unconstitutional third term but would remain in office until elections in December 2017, while sharing power with a transitional government consisting of opposition politicians. Rassemblement’s leader -Tshisekedi – was chosen to lead the transitional council, which would negotiate with the Kabila administration ahead of the formation of the transitional government, and would have been the opposition’s choice for Prime Minister (PM). However, his death created a power vacuum in the opposition and the negotiations with the Kabila administration have stalled.

There was no clear successor to Tshisekedi in Rassemblement so the majority of the coalition decided to change the organisation’s structure and create two positions: Political President; and Strategic President. In addition to this, three Vice President roles were created. This was a compromise in order to prevent competition between the UDPS and the G7 – a coalition centred around seven party leaders who were expelled from government after calling for Kabila to step down in 2016. Tshisekedi’s son, Felix Tshisekedi, was chosen as the group’s Political President and Pierre Lumbi, a former special advisor to President Kabila, was selected as the Strategic President. Although the majority of the coalition supported these appointments, including key figures such as Moise Katumbi, there was opposition from certain sections of Rassemblement, particularly regarding the appointment of Tshisekedi’s son.

Three of the nine parties that make up Rassemblement opposed the selection of Felix Tshisekedi and the Deputy Secretary General of UDPS – Bruno Tshibala – publicly criticised his appointment citing his lack of experience. In an interview with the BBC, he stated “where else in the World would someone be put in charge of such an important process…who has only been in the opposition for seven months?” Tshibala was subsequently dismissed from UDPS for voicing his opposition. Although Felix Tshisekedi was elected as an MP in 2011, he respected his father’s call for a parliamentary boycott and did not serve in this position, and has not held any other political office. It appears that he was primarily selected because of his family’s name, which seemingly contradicts with Rassemblement’s democratic principles and opposition to political family dynasties. Nevertheless, as Political President, Felix Tshisekedi has taken over from his father as leader of the transitional council and is likely to be Rassemblement’s choice for PM. It remains to be seen if Felix Tshisekedi can overcome this initial opposition within Rassemblement and effectively manage the coalition in its negotiations with the government.

Felix Tshisekedi has not begun negotiations with the Kabila administration due to an ongoing dispute over his father’s burial. The government agreed to provide Tshisekedi with a state funeral and build a mausoleum but his family and the opposition are not happy with the proposed burial site in Kinshasa, and the UDPS has insisted that the funeral will only take place once a transitional government has been formed. Thus, even after his death, Tshisekedi is at the heart of negotiations to resolve the political crisis in the DRC. Tshisekedi’s body is due to be repatriated on 11th March but it is still not clear when his funeral will take place.

The delay in negotiations caused by this could affect Rassemblement’s credibility amongst the people of the DRC. If negotiations continue to be stalled, Rassemblement may no longer be viewed as an effective mouthpiece for the popular discontent in the country. If this is the case, it is likely that protestors will return to the streets and civil unrest will increase. Moreover, given the apparent divisions in the opposition over Felix Tshisekedi’s appointment, it is likely that Kabila will try to take advantage of the situation to sow discontent and discredit the opposition. The Kabila administration has not signed the CENCO deal and there is no guarantee that it will. There are a number of unresolved issues between the government and the opposition, such as the selection of the PM, and the government has indicated that it will not be ready to hold elections in 2017 as previously agreed. In February 2017, the Budget Minister stated that it will be “difficult to gather” the necessary funds for an election this year and the Electoral Commission has maintained that a census should be conducted before elections take place.

Nonetheless, international pressure is mounting. On 16th February 2017, the UN, EU, African Union (AU) and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) issued a joint statement calling on the government and the opposition to re-enter negotiations. The statement said that the organisations are “increasingly concerned by the continuing impasse in dialogue among political stakeholders” and that it has the “potential to undermine the political goodwill” that led to the CENCO deal. Additionally, on 6th March 2017, the EU warned the government that it will face further sanctions if it blocks a deal with the opposition. This indicates that there is a growing concern amongst the international community of a breakdown in negotiations and an inevitable increase in civil unrest and political violence.

Furthermore, alongside this continuation of political instability, it appears that there has been a resurgence in rebel activity in eastern DRC. After attacks in January and February 2017, there are indications that the M23 militia group has returned to DRC territory. The UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) stated in February that it has “launched aerial surveillance against a probable presence of elements of the former M23”. Although it is not clear how significant a threat this group now poses, the recent attacks have reportedly led to large numbers of people fleeing the region and crossing the border into neighbouring countries. It has been reported that over 30 people a day are entering Uganda and 10 to 15 are entering Rwanda. If attacks in the region persist, which seems likely, the number of people fleeing will increase affecting not only the DRC but the wider Central African region.

The death of Etienne Tshisekedi has increased the likelihood of continued political instability and deterioration of security in the DRC. Divisions have emerged amongst the opposition and although Felix Tshisekedi may be able to maintain unity in the short term, his lack of experience could prove costly in negotiations with the Kabila administration and the formation of a transitional government. It is likely that Kabila will want to take advantage of these apparent divisions, which will therefore make negotiations increasingly difficult. Moreover, the stalling of negotiations is likely to affect Rassemblement’s credibility, which has the potential to lead to a loss of faith in negotiations amongst the wider population, increasing the likelihood of further protests and political violence. As Tshisekedi’s funeral is going to draw large crowds, there is potential that it could evolve into a mass protest, particularly if the police adopt a heavy-handed approach to the gathering. Although a date has not been set for the funeral, Tshisekedi’s body is due to arrive in Kinshasa on 11th March and from this date onwards, there is potential for such a protest to emerge.

As the country is faced with the resurgence of rebel activity in eastern DRC, continued political instability and unrest elsewhere, will hamper the government’s ability to deal with this problem and therefore lead to a deterioration of security in this region. Thus, despite international pressure, it seems that the DRC is heading towards further political instability and insecurity, which will send ripples across the wider Central African region.

ECOWAS Mediates as Jammeh Clings On

On 13th January, an ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) mediation mission led by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is expected in The Gambia’s capital – Banjul – in order to try and negotiate a peaceful democratic transition following last month’s disputed election. The surprise result, which saw the opposition coalition candidate, Adama Barrow, defeat the incumbent, President Yahya Jammeh, was followed by Jammeh conceding defeat live on television, which was possibly even more surprising than the vote itself. However, this initial sign of optimism for Gambian democracy was short-lived, as Jammeh quickly reversed his acceptance and lodged a complaint with the Supreme Court.

Consequently, the military has increased its presence in Gambia and particularly on the streets of Banjul. The armed forces took control of the Electoral Commission’s office and the Commission’s Chief, Alieu Momar Njai, has gone into hiding. Despite initial positive changes following the election result, the repressive tactics adopted by the government during the election campaign are once again dominating Gambia’s political environment. This is illustrated by the closure of four private radio stations since the start of the New Year.

Jammeh’s refusal to accept last month’s election result has attracted widespread criticism from the international community. The UN, AU and ECOWAS have condemned Jammeh’s actions and the UN Security Council called on Jammeh to “respect the choice of the sovereign people of The Gambia”. It is clear that such organisations fear that Jammeh’s refusal to accept the result could cause large scale political violence. This was demonstrated by the UN Security Council’s decision to urge all parties to exercise “maximum restraint, refrain from violence and remain calm”.

The ECOWAS mediation mission is seen as the most promising method of preventing such political violence. On the 8th January, Liberian President, and member of the mission, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, stated that the organisation is “committed to a peaceful mediation and a peaceful transfer of power”. When questioned on ECOWAS’ willingness to use force, she responded by stating “no, we want to keep the region peaceful”. However, only two days later, Nigerian Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, told Radio France Internationale (RFI) that “we’re not ruling anything out”, when questioned on military intervention, and it has been reported that Senegal is prepared to send troops to intervene if the situation deteriorates. Thus, although it is not clear if ECOWAS will ultimately intervene, it seems that it is willing to take a tough stance towards Jammeh.

This is significant as in The Gambia it is not clear how much support Jammeh will be able to muster if he refuses to step down. On 10th January, Jammeh’s Information Minister, Sheriff Bojang, resigned and fled to Senegal stating that through using a “veneer of constitutionalism”, Jammeh is attempting to “subvert the express will of the Gambian electorate”. This followed the less pronounced resignation of Gambia’s Foreign Minister, Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, in December 2016. Although pro-Government media in The Gambia made much of the Army Chief’s renewed “assurance of the unflinching loyalty and support of The Gambian Armed Forces” to Jammeh, questions have been raised about Lieutenant-General Ousman Badjie’s motivations and it is not clear if such support exists amongst the military more widely. Thus, it seems that pressure is mounting on Jammeh to step down as political tensions continue to rise.

The announcement on 10th January by Gambia’s Chief Justice, Emmanuel Fagbenle, that the Supreme Court cannot rule on Jammeh’s challenge to the electoral result until May has increased tension in the country further. This is due to the fact that Gambia’s Supreme Court relies on judges seconded from other countries, including Fagbenle, who is Nigerian. As a result, Jammeh’s legal challenge will not be dealt with until after the end of his term, increasing the likelihood that he will refuse to step down.

Jammeh’s mandate is set to end on 18th January and it seems unlikely that he will relinquish power peacefully. Although it is possible that Jammeh is merely trying to negotiate the transfer of power in order to prevent himself from being tried for human rights abuses under a new government, if he remains as president past 18th January, it is likely to cause widespread unrest. It appears that a lot rests on ECOWAS’ mediation mission to try to find a peaceful solution as tensions continue to rise.

Tensions Rising in The Gambia

Ballot Box

On 1st December 2016, The Gambia will go to the polls to select its president for the next 5 years against a backdrop of increasing political tension. The Gambian regime has long faced criticism from human rights groups for its treatment of opposition politicians and supporters, and restrictions on freedom of speech. However, since a failed coup attempt in December 2014 and opposition protests earlier this year, it appears that the regime has become increasingly repressive and it seems likely that the election, and its aftermath, could serve as an outlet for the rising tension in the country, potentially leading to political violence.

The incumbent – Yahya Jammeh – is looking to secure his fifth straight term as president after seizing power through a military coup in 1994. His two main opponents are Adama Barrow of the United Democratic Party (UDP), who is leading a coalition of seven opposition parties, and Mama Kandeh of The Gambia Democratic Congress, who was previously a member of the National Assembly for the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC). According to Kandeh, the GDC refused to join the opposition coalition because of a “lack of transparency and democracy in the selection of [the] coalition flag-bearer”. Nevertheless, despite this criticism, it appears that Barrow has the full support of the other parties in the coalition and is likely to be the main contender to Jammeh. Barrow recently stated that “we have set our differences aside because of [the] people’s interest, so that we can effect a peaceful change of government”.

Although such a coalition puts the opposition in a stronger position than in previous elections, Jammeh is still undoubtedly the favourite to win next month’s election. Jammeh and his party – the APRC – dominate Gambia’s political environment. In 2011, Jammeh won the presidential election with 71.54 percent of the vote and in 2012, the APRC won 43 out of 48 seats in the National Assembly. Although the leader of the UDP – Ousainou Darboe – described the 2011 election as “bogus, fraudulent and preposterous” and his party, along with a number of other opposition parties, boycotted the National Assembly elections in 2012, observer missions from the African Union (AU), Commonwealth and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) found the presidential election to be “credible”. However, these organisations noted that there were problems in the lead up to the campaign and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) refused to send election observers as it said that its investigations had found “an opposition and electorate cowed by repression and intimidation”.

This observation of Gambia’s political environment has been echoed by many human rights groups, especially ahead of this year’s election. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticised Jammeh’s regime for its increasingly repressive approach to opposition supporters and independent journalists. It appears that since the attempted coup in 2014, there has been an increase in arbitrary arrests and disappearances and it has been alleged that many of those who have been arrested have been tortured in custody. For example, the independent radio station Teranga FM was closed down on a number of occasions following the coup attempt and its managing director – Alhagie Ceesay – was detained and charged with sedition in July 2015. Many human rights groups and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention have called for his release.

Moreover, it seems that such repressive tactics were adopted more readily by the authorities during, and in the wake of, opposition protests in April 2016. On 16th April, the UDP organised a peaceful protest calling for electoral reform and freedom of the press. Due to Gambia’s tightly controlled political environment, illustrated by the enforcement of the Public Order Act to prevent opposition gatherings, such protests have been very rare occurrences. The authorities responded to the protest by reportedly firing live ammunition at the demonstrators and arresting over 50 of them, many of whom were allegedly tortured. Significantly, UDP youth leader – Ebrima Solo Sandeng – was among those arrested and subsequently died in police custody. The UDP reacted to this by organising another protest calling for an investigation into Sandeng’s death. Similarly, during the second protest, a large number of opposition activists were arrested including the UDP’s leader – Darboe –who was later sentenced to three years imprisonment.

As a result of this crackdown on opposition activities, the Jammeh regime has not only been criticised by human rights groups but also the US State Department and the UN. However, this international pressure does not seem to have affected Jammeh, who responded to calls for an investigation into Sandeng’s death by saying that it is “common” for people to die in detention and that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Amnesty International can “go to hell” for asking for an investigation.

In addition to this crackdown on opposition protestors, the lead up to this year’s election has seen the arrest of a number of independent journalists and opposition supporters. Following the arrests of three journalists in early November, Human Rights Watch stated that this “could have a chilling effect on the media’s ability to fairly cover the election”. Although it seems that journalists are being specifically targeted ahead of the election, it is important to note that Jammeh’s apparent disregard for the freedom of the press is not new. In 2011, he stated that “journalists are less than 1% of the population and if anybody expects me to allow less than 1% of the population to destroy 99% of the population, you are in the wrong place”. The most prominent journalist of the three arrested in November was the Director-General of Gambia’s State TV and radio broadcaster – Momodou Sabally. Although Sabally was viewed as a supporter of Jammeh, opposition activists have alleged that he was arrested because he broadcasted an opposition candidate’s nomination instead of news regarding an agricultural initiative led by the First Lady Zineb Jammeh.

Aside from this increasingly repressive political environment, the Jammeh regime has also adopted a more aggressive rhetoric with regards to the opposition. Many senior members of the regime have issued threats to opposition supporters who may want to protest against the election results, which are likely to be disputed. Although the military is meant to be independent, even the Chief of Defence Staff – Lt. Gen. Ousman Bargie – warned in October 2016 that there will be “no compromise” with anyone who seeks to destabilize the country around the election. This sentiment was echoed by the Interior Minister – Ousman Sonko – who stated that “demonstrations of any kind will not be compromised here. If anyone does it, that person would regret it”. Jammeh reportedly went a step further, stating that “this time around, no police will arrest and charge you. The army would be deployed to shoot and kill anyone in the streets demonstrating”.

Furthermore, with regards to Jammeh, it appears that he has chosen to target the Mandinka ethnic group in particular. Although the Mandinka is the largest ethnic group in The Gambia (42 percent of the population), he has reportedly stated that “this is not a Mandinka country” and that “there will be no Mandinka government in the Gambia”. Moreover, Jammeh accused the Mandinka of being behind the protests in April and reportedly said that “if you don’t behave well, I will deal with you” and even apparently said he would “kill you [the Mandinka] like ants”. Although ethnic violence has not been a problem in Gambia in the past, Freedom House noted that “ethnic harmony eroded” following the 1994 coup and such rhetoric opens the possibility of politicised ethnic violence surrounding this year’s election. The UN’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide – Adama Dieng – has condemned the statements made by Jammeh, which he has described as “vitriolic rhetoric”. He has stated that such comments are “irresponsible and extremely dangerous” and can “serve to incite violence against communities, based solely on their identity”.

It is highly likely that Jammeh will secure a fifth term as president of The Gambia on 1st December. However, given the repressive political environment in the country and question marks over the electoral process, it is also highly likely that the opposition will dispute the results. Although this has been rather muted in the past, the protests earlier this year indicated that the opposition are more willing to directly challenge Jammeh’s rule through public demonstrations. This has therefore increased the potential of opposition demonstrations in the aftermath of the election. If such demonstrations take place, it is likely that they will be focused in opposition strongholds in the West Coast Region and Kanifing Municipality, and in the capital – Banjul. However, in light of the response to protests earlier this year and the increasingly aggressive rhetoric of the regime, a heavy crackdown on any such protests should be expected, increasing the likelihood of political violence. Moreover, given Jammeh’s statements concerning the Mandinka, there is potential for political violence between the regime and opposition to morph into ethnic violence, where the Mandinka ethnic group is particularly targeted.