Britain Dances Around Relations with Africa

Africa Integrity finds it remarkable that five years elapsed between former prime minister David Cameron’s attendance at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013 and prime minister Theresa May’s official visit to Africa in August this year. The most recent previous prime ministerial trade mission was in 2011. Quite apart from a tendency to treat the entire continent as one country, it is also striking how limited both leaders have been in their continental ambitions. In 2011, Cameron had intended to spend five days on the continent, visiting South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda and the then-newly formed South Sudan.  In the event, he cut the visit to just two days and then slashed that paltry window of time by seven hours to return home for domestic political reasons.  He managed to make flying visits only to South Africa and Nigeria, both pretty obvious destinations that already enjoy reasonably cordial trade relations with Britain.

In August, Theresa May did slightly better, calling again on South Africa and Nigeria, and adding Kenya to her itinerary, where she showed off her dance moves and extolled a bright trading future between Britain and Africa.  If this is what she intends, her actions don’t match her rhetoric. A whirlwind tour of the three anglophone giants among the African economies is simply not good enough.  Where is the engagement with francophone economies, some of which (such as Rwanda and Gabon) have made symbolic overtures to the UK by bringing the English language to the centre of their political and commercial spheres? Why are Britain’s diplomats and politicians hesitant to engage meaningfully with the francophone bloc, which – with its currencies tied to the Euro – is increasingly keen to break free of the constraints put on it by the European Central Bank and reduce its dependency on the former colonial power?

Where is the engagement with Angola, an oil-economy to rival Nigeria that has recently embarked on an exciting new post-dos Santos era?  Why did Zimbabwe, historically so close to the UK and now struggling to free itself from the mire of the Mugabe-era, not merit a supportive visit?  And, as for South Sudan – which so badly needs friends in the west – and Somaliland – which wishes to establish itself as independent from Somalia – they might as well not exist.

Africa is a mighty continent, with a young, generally well-educated population that is as hungry for political change as it is for consumer goods. Whether or not Brexit is the right choice for Britain, it is looming large.  And, in Africa Integrity’s experience, many Africans embrace Brexit. They see opportunities for post-Brexit Britain to adopt a more inclusive global immigration policy.  And they are optimistic about the advantages that potentially freer trade with Britain – still held in such high regard and affection by many Africans – will bring.  The youth of Africa no longer see themselves as supplicants for aid but as potential partners to a more globally-orientated Britain after its departure from the EU.  The response from Britain’s political leaders to date has been woefully inadequate, if not insultingly dismissive, and will only weaken its relationship with the continent as other international players increase their engagement.

This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s October 2018 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.

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Taxing Questions

In 2018, there has been a growing trend of African government’s trying to tax, and in some instances restrict, the internet usage of their citizens. While governments see this as a way of strengthening their positions by raising much-needed funds, protecting state-owned telecom companies and reducing online criticism, it appears they have overlooked the long-term effects of such policies and their potential for provoking unrest.  

It has long been recognised that East Africa has led the way with respect to internet and mobile money innovations on the continent; as illustrated by the growth of platforms such as M-Pesa. It is therefore unsurprising that governments in East Africa have similarly been at the forefront of taxing and restricting internet usage and mobile money transactions. As user-bases have rapidly grown and opposition groups have increasingly used online forums, governments have simultaneously looked at the potential tax revenue provided by such users and the ability to which they can restrict opposition activities online. In the past year, the governments of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have imposed taxes on internet and mobile money usage. In Kenya and Uganda, the focus has been on mobile money payments and data usage, particularly in relation to social media, while in Tanzania the government imposed a so-called ‘blogger tax’, which required online bloggers to purchase a license that costs the equivalent of the country’s average annual income.

Although it can be argued that taxes on internet and mobile money usage help to broaden the narrow tax base that exists in most African countries, such taxes tend to be regressive. While Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni considers mobile money and social media platforms as “luxury items”, he overlooks their broad user-bases and the increasingly important role they play in Uganda’s economy and society. In Kenya in particular, where over 93 percent of the population have mobile money accounts, taxes on mobile money transactions are likely to affect disproportionately the poorer in society, who do not have bank accounts and have become reliant on such platforms.

The imposition of taxes on internet usage and mobile money is not limited to East Africa and it seems that governments across the continent are increasingly examining the viability of such taxes. Since August 2018, the governments of Benin, Zambia and Zimbabwe have announced similar taxes on internet usage and mobile money. In Zimbabwe, this has had a had a damaging effect on the economy, where mobile money was one of the very few economic successes of recent years.

In Benin, the tax was so unpopular that the #TaxePasMesMo [Don’t Tax My Megabytes] protest movement managed to force the government to overturn its decision within less than a month. Similar protests have been seen elsewhere, not least Uganda, where Museveni was forced to halve the levy on mobile money following protests. It is likely that such protests will continue and intensify as people increasingly feel the everyday cost of such taxes.

Much has been written about the role of the internet in protest movements and, at least in the African context, commentators have tended to exaggerate its influence. That said, although it has not been particularly effective at strengthening the organisation of opposition groups, the restriction of access to internet and mobile money platforms is likely to become an important catalyst for protests and social unrest across the continent. The direct implications of such taxes can be easily exploited by opposition groups and, due to broad user-bases, it is possible that protest movements that coalesce around such issues could cut across traditional political divisions. Accordingly, African governments should think twice before following Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania’s examples.

This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s October 2018 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.

Bridging Nations

On 21st March 2018, 44 African heads of state signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which seeks to remove tariffs on 90 percent of continental trade. For many years, experts have recognised that increasing intra-African trade is key to economic development; however, this has been hindered, not only by tariffs, but also by Africa’s infrastructure deficit. Nevertheless, there are recent encouraging signs of improvement, particularly in the south and east, which should complement AfCFTA.

Infrastructure Deficit

In March 2018, the Export-Import Bank of India claimed in a study that inadequate transport infrastructure adds 30 to 40 percent to the cost of goods traded among African countries. In May 2017, the African Development Bank (AfDB) claimed in a report that, although intra-African trade has increased, transport and communication infrastructure is less developed between countries on the continent than it is between Africa and the rest of the world. Given this situation, it is unsurprising that intra-African trade continues to struggle.

However, there are signs of change. In Southern and Eastern Africa there are many transport infrastructure projects in development, seeking to build economic (as well as literal) bridges between nations and open the interior to international trade.

Port Expansion

International trade in Southern and Eastern Africa has been through a small number of ports, many of them in need of development. In the past year, improvements have started to be made. In July 2017, the World Bank approved a $345 million loan for the expansion of the Port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and in October 2017, it was announced that the Japanese government would provide a loan worth close to $350 million for the second phase of expansion at the Port of Mombasa in Kenya. Even Africa’s largest and most developed port – the Port of Durban in South Africa – commenced an upgrade and expansion project in 2017.

There has also been a growing number of rehabilitation projects at undeveloped ports along the eastern seaboard. Nacala in northern Mozambique, the mega-port at Bagamoyo in Tanzania and Berbera in Somaliland are three examples of such projects. These projects are vital to landlocked countries, which are often over-reliant on a specific transport route for exports. For example, nearly 95 percent of Ethiopia’s foreign trade is through the Port of Djibouti; a dependency that should be alleviated by rehabilitation of the Port of Berbera.

Opening the Interior

It is recognised that developments on the coast must be matched by infrastructure projects inland. The development of the Port of Nacala is part of a wider Nacala Corridor project, which includes a railway line to link north western Mozambique and Malawi to the coast. There are plans for this line to be extended into Zambia. Similarly, the expansion of the Port of Mombasa was preceded by the development of a new railway between Mombasa and Nairobi. This railway is part of an ambitious East African Railway Network, which will link Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. The second phase is currently under construction and the line should reach Uganda’s border by 2021.

Rail and Road Regeneration

In recent years, there has been investment in railway infrastructure across Southern and Eastern Africa which not only links the interior to ports but also facilitates intra-African trade. Projects in the region include: Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway between Ethiopia and Djibouti; Tazara Railway between Zambia and Tanzania; Lobito-Luau Railway between Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); and Trans-Kalahari Railway between Namibia and Botswana. While such projects have progressed at different paces, governments in the region have at least acknowledged the importance of modernising railway infrastructure: an important step to increasing intra-African trade.

There has also been increased investment in road infrastructure. The LAPSSET Corridor project in Kenya seeks to strengthen transport links between Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan. Although this project’s progress has been sluggish, new highways have greatly reduced travel time between Nairobi and the Ethiopian border, suggesting strong potential for the rest of the project. Another example of reducing travel time through improved road infrastructure is the Kazungula Bridge, which is set to be completed by March 2019. The road and rail bridge will link Zambia and Botswana and create a one-stop border post between the two countries. It is estimated that this will reduce the time crossing the border from 30 hours to 6 hours. This will greatly improve transport along the North-South Corridor from the Port of Durban to the Copperbelt in the DRC and Zambia. Zimbabwe also joined the Kazungula Bridge project in March 2018. Although there are concerns that it could divert business away from Zimbabwe, the country’s road network will be linked to the project and it may encourage the government to upgrade its current road infrastructure to remain competitive.

Foundation for the Future

While many of the transport infrastructure projects in Southern and Eastern Africa have been slow-moving and have suffered from bureaucratic inefficiency, and in some instances corruption, improvements are evidently being made. This will not only open the interior to a growing number of international ports, but also increase intra-African trade. While established sectors such as mining will be the primary beneficiaries in the short-term, it should also contribute to the development of a range of sectors in the medium to long-term. Such development will be aided by the AfCFTA, which, although still to be ratified by each country’s government and lacking the support of important economies like Nigeria, will further reduce barriers to intra-African trade. The combination of the AfCFTA and improvements to transport infrastructure in Southern and Eastern Africa is providing a strong foundation for local economies.  This will doubtless present a range of investment opportunities in the coming years.

This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s April 2018 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.

A Look Ahead to May 2018

Referendum on Burundi’s Future

In March 2018, it was announced that a referendum on changes to Burundi’s constitution would take place on 17th May 2018. The proposed changes include the extension of presidential terms from five to seven years and the implementation of a two-term limit. However, importantly, this term limit will not account for any previous terms, enabling the current president – Pierre Nkurunziza – to serve until 2034.

Since Nkurunziza decided to run for a controversial third-term in 2015, which seemingly contradicted the terms of the Arusha Accords – a peace agreement that helped to end Burundi’s civil war – Burundi has experienced a prolonged and violent political crisis. During this crisis, it is estimated that over 400,000 civilians have fled the country and over 1200 people have been killed. The security forces and the ruling party’s youth league – Imbonerakure – have coordinated a violent crackdown on opposition groups and the media. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has opened an investigation into Nkurunziza as a result of this, which demonstrates its severity. And, with the constitutional referendum fast approaching, it appears that the regime has intensified its repressive strategy to ensure the continuation of Nkurunziza’s presidency.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been highly critical of the regime and has warned that intimidation is being used in order to pass the constitutional changes. There has been an increase in arbitrary arrests of members of the opposition Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), who have also been the targets of violent attacks from the Imbonerakure. The government has suspended the online comments section of the IWACU newspaper for a three-month period and the National Assembly has passed a law allowing the security forces to conduct night raids without warrants. Moreover, senior figures in the regime have issued explicit threats to those who oppose the government. For example, in January 2018, the First Vice President – Gaston Sindimwo – reportedly stated that “political opponents who campaign for the no vote must be arrested because, for us, this is rebellious against the orders of the head of state”.

Under such conditions, the result of the referendum is almost predetermined. That said, as government repression increases ahead of the vote, there is potential for violent unrest, particularly in the capital – Bujumbura.     

Africa’s Economists Assemble in Korea

The 53rd Annual Meeting of the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) Board of Governors will take place in South Korea between 21st and 25th May 2018. The meeting will attract heads of state, finance ministers, central bank governors and other public and private stakeholders from across the continent. The theme of the meeting will be ‘Accelerating Africa’s Industrialisation’ and it seems that the aim is to learn from the successes of their host.

The decision to hold the meeting in South Korea reflects the increase in its investment in Africa. This has been particularly pronounced in East Africa, where, following the fifth Korea-Africa Economic Co-operation Conference in October 2016, South Korea pledged $155 million in concessional loans for development projects in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia. In addition to such development finance, South Korean companies have increased their presence on the continent. This is especially noticeable in Rwanda, where the state-owned telecommunications company – KT Corporation – has played an important role in developing Rwanda’s communications infrastructure. The company reportedly plans to use Rwanda “as a regional hub” as it seeks to expand its “Pan-Africa business”.

It appears that both the AfDB and the South Korean government see next month’s meeting as an opportunity to further develop such partnerships between Korean companies and African governments. Deputy Prime Minister Kim Dong-yeon has described the meeting as the most important event on South Korea’s calendar, other than the Winter Olympics in 2017, and AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina has stated that the event will be “short on talk and high on transactions and project pipelines”. If this is the case, it should be beneficial for Africa. South Korean investment could help to further reduce the continent’s infrastructure deficit and next month’s meeting may act as a catalyst for this.

Extracting Consensus Proving Difficult in South Africa

Since June 2017, when the former Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane unveiled a third, and apparently final, version of South Africa’s Mining Charter, the sector has been enveloped by uncertainty. The Chamber of Mines, which represents 90 percent of South African mining companies, applied for an urgent court interdict to prevent the new charter from being implemented and Zwane responded by suspending the charter until the case was settled. The primary point of contention between the two sides was the degree of black ownership in the sector.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s ascension to the presidency in February 2018, was treated as an opportunity to bring all of the stakeholders back to the negotiation table in order to try to resolve this impasse. Ramaphosa side-lined Zwane, before replacing him with the ANC’s National Chairperson – Gwede Mantashe – and the Chamber of Mines agreed to suspend its court case.

In early April 2018, it seemed that progress was being made and that Mantashe, who has a long history in the sector, was a good choice as minister of mineral resources. Although the Chamber of Mines claimed a victory on 4th April, when the high court ruled in favour of the “once empowered, always empowered” principle, Mantashe appeared to be understanding and there was no indication that he would seek to appeal this decision. He was critical of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) partners who sold their shares to make quick profits and said that each company would be assessed on a case by case basis. And on 10th April, he announced that 80 percent of the negotiations had been completed and reaffirmed his aim to finalise the third version of the charter by the end of May 2018. However, on 24th April, Mantashe declared that the Department of Mineral Resources would appeal the court’s decision. He said that the ruling could have “dire implications” for “economic transformation” in South Africa.

Accordingly, it is highly unlikely that the new charter will be finalised by the end of May. It is important that Mantashe continues to seek consensus through negotiations and not repeat the mistake of his predecessor by prematurely gazetting the new charter. The decision to appeal the ruling undoubtedly reflects the views of other stakeholders and it is going to take time to find common ground between the government, Chamber of Mines, unions and mining communities. The negotiations next month will provide a strong indicator of whether Mantashe will be able to resolve this matter and end the prolonged uncertainty that is hindering the sector. He certainly has the skills to do so, but divisions will be difficult to overcome.

A Look Ahead to April 2018

Gambia’s Road to Democracy

On 12th April, the Gambia will hold its first municipal election since the fall of Yahya Jammeh, who lost the presidential election in late 2016. This represents another step towards strengthening democracy in the small nation after a successful parliamentary election in April 2017. As the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) – Alieu Momarr Njai – stated last year, the municipal elections are a “key pillar in promoting and building grass roots democracy” in the Gambia. While EU observers identified shortcomings in the electoral legal framework following last year’s parliamentary election, it recognised that these were “offset” by broad trust in the IEC and genuine political competition. They concluded that “goodwill on behalf of the people and institutions of the Gambia provided for the restoration of key democratic rights”. Undoubtedly, democratic reforms are still needed, as too much power continues to lie with the president; however, it is expected that the Ministry of Justice’s constitutional review should bring about such reforms. Although more needs to be done to engage the electorate, as there was only a 42 percent turnout last year, next month’s election is set to be another free, fair and peaceful election in this fledgling democracy.

Politically speaking, next month’s election is extremely important for the former ruling party – Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) – which lost 43 of its 48 seats in the 58-member National Assembly. Given the APRC’s association with Jammeh, it is likely that it will experience similar losses in the municipal elections, which could spell the end of its role in Gambian politics. While Adama Barrow won the presidential election as a representative of an opposition coalition, after this coalition separated, it was his party – the United Democratic Party (UDP) – which dominated last year’s election, securing 31 seats in the National Assembly. Although progress has been slow, the UDP is expected to perform well again, in light of the praise bestowed on Barrow by the IMF for stabilising and strengthening the economy. However, the long-term maintenance of such support will be largely dependent on the UDP’s ability to reduce unemployment in the Gambia, particularly amongst the country’s youth.

Counter-terrorism Conference Converges in Algeria   

Late last year, the African Union (AU) announced that Algeria would be the coordinator of its counter-terrorism strategy and, on 9th April, the country will host a conference on counter-terrorism in Africa. The conference is expected to be attended by high-level political and security officials from across the continent and it is seen as an opportunity for different countries to exchange ideas about counter-terrorism strategies. Such a conference opens the possibility of broadening co-operation between different countries, which is vital in the fight against terrorism on the continent. The majority of terrorist organisations active in Africa have a regional, rather than national, focus and have launched attacks across the continent’s porous borders. Consequently, regional co-operation will be important for any counter-terrorism strategies. Furthermore, the conference will specifically address cross-border terrorist-financing and ways in which different countries’ security apparatuses can restrict funding sources.

In March 2017, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation reported that terrorist attacks had grown by 1000 percent in Africa since 2006 and, considering the attacks in Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Somalia earlier this month, there is little sign of this slowing. Countries have begun to recognise the importance of regional co-operation, which was shown by the meeting of the heads of intelligence agencies from 13 East African countries in Kampala on 19th March; however, much more is needed. While the G5 Sahel Taskforce exists in northwest Africa, Algeria has been criticised for not supporting its operations, supposedly because it considers it a tool of France. Algeria has also been criticised by Morocco for its lack of co-operation in counter-terrorism initiatives in North Africa. The country was chosen by the AU because of its “pioneering experience” of dealing with terrorism and hopefully next month’s conference will demonstrate its desire to share this experience and represent the beginning of a greater level of continental co-operation on security matters.

Elections in the Ashes of Gabon’s Democracy

In the aftermath of the disputed 2016 presidential election, Gabon’s National Assembly was set on fire by opposition demonstrators. Images of this event became a symbol of the heated dispute between the government and opposition, which is continuing to engulf Gabonese politics. While the building has been repaired, for many in the opposition, little has been done to address what it represents. Despite only narrowly defeating Jean Ping by less than two percentage points, President Ali Bongo Ondimba has increased presidential powers over the last two years and failed to make any headway in negotiations with the opposition. In January 2018, changes were made to the constitution, which, not only removed presidential term-limits and provided Ali Bongo with immunity from prosecution, but also enabled the president to determine the policy of the nation without government or parliamentary consultation. Consequently, political power in Gabon is now firmly concentrated around Ali Bongo.

Since the presidential election, Gabon’s National Assembly election has been postponed twice because of the failure of reconciliation talks between the government and opposition and is now scheduled to take place before the end of April. The ruling Gabonese Democratic Party dominate the National Assembly holding 115 of the 121 seats; a majority used by Ali Bongo to increase presidential powers. Given its performance in the presidential election, there were strong indications that the opposition Coalition for the New Republic (CNR) would be able to end this dominance. However, in light of the weakening of the National Assembly’s role in Gabonese politics, it appears that the coalition is fragmenting. Nine of the twelve parties in the coalition have called for a boycott of the election, while other senior CNR figures met with the Minister of the Interior in early March to discuss preparation for them. Significantly, the coalition’s presidential flag-bearer has remained silent on this matter. Accordingly, it appears that the Gabonese Democratic Party’s dominance is not under significant threat.

Despite the election being less than a month away, there has been little preparation for it. The Gabonese Elections Centre, which is meant to manage the election, has not yet been established and, given that its chairperson is meant to be selected by the government and opposition, it is increasingly unlikely that it will be ready to run the election. There are growing calls for the election to be postponed again amid concerns that it could descend into violence. Although this will do little to address the underlying political tension in the country and only enable it to continue to build, if the election goes ahead, it is likely to cause widespread social unrest as elements of the opposition come out in protest.

A Look Ahead to February 2018

Guinea’s Long-Awaited Local Elections

After years of delays, President Alpha Conde finally signed a decree on 4th December 2017, agreeing to the election commission’s proposed date for local elections – 4th February 2018. The elections have been expected since 2005 but the government has consistently delayed them and has been criticised by opposition parties for doing so. In 2016, the government, opposition parties and civil society groups engaged in a national political dialogue to resolve the issue; however, President Alpha Conde ignored the agreed date for elections in 2017. According to opposition parties, the government has postponed elections because, under the current system, central government has the power to appoint local government officials. Opposition leaders have alleged that the government has exploited this in order to increase its influence and perpetuate electoral fraud.

Consequently, next month’s local elections are highly significant for Guinea’s political environment. Given their importance, it is likely that political tensions will be very high and, if there are allegations of electoral fraud, there is the potential for widespread protests and social unrest. In 2017, Guinea was beset by political protests in Conakry, riots in Bauxite producing regions and strikes across the country. President Alpha Conde has been accused of responding to these matters in a dictatorial manner and has even interfered with the media’s coverage of such events. Against this strained political atmosphere, the local elections, if mis-managed, could be the catalyst for further unrest.

Zuma’s Last State of the Nation Address

On 8th February 2018, Jacob Zuma is expected to make his final State of the Nation Address as the president of South Africa. Although there has been much speculation about whether he would still be president by this date, it seems that the ruling ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has decided not to force Zuma to stand down before the re-opening of parliament. As the ANC’s Secretary-General Ace Magashule stated, “he will deliver the State of the Nation Address as he is still the president”.  Since the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the ANC in December 2017, he has stamped his authority on the party and emphasised the need to tackle corruption. Given the myriad of corruption allegations associated with Zuma, many expected the ANC to recall Zuma in order to strengthen Ramaphosa’s and the party’s image ahead of next year’s general election.

While there are strong indications that Zuma will be recalled before the end of his term, Ramaphosa has to be cautious as Zuma remains an influential and popular figure within sections of the ANC. The dual power structure created by the separate ANC and State presidential elections has the potential to stall Ramaphosa’s reformist strategy and increase factionalism in the party, which is trying to restore unity after the divisive National Conference in December 2017. Ramaphosa has noted that he does not want to “humiliate President Zuma” and, for the sake of the ANC’s unity, it is important that he is not seen as doing so. But, for its performance in next year’s election, the sooner Zuma is removed, the better. In the meantime, it appears that Zuma will be making his final State of Nation Address on 8th February, which, much like previous years, will almost definitely be disrupted by South Africa’s opposition parties, especially the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who will relish the opportunity to lambast Zuma in parliament one last time.

Djibouti Goes to the Polls

Legislative elections are set to take place in Djibouti on 23rd February 2018 and it looks likely that the Union pour la Majorité Présidentielle (UMP) will consolidate its position as the country’s ruling party. Ahead of the last National Assembly election in 2013, six opposition parties combined to create the Union pour le Salut National (USN) coalition, which, despite allegations of vote-rigging, managed to secure 21 seats in the 65-seat assembly that was previously fully controlled by the UMP. While there was much hope amongst opposition activists that this signalled a shift in Djibouti’s political landscape, since then, the USN has splintered and become increasingly ineffective. President Ismaïl Guelleh comfortably won Djibouti’s presidential election in 2016 after three parties in the USN coalition boycotted the election and the remaining parties failed to unite behind a single candidate. And, in 2017, the USN did not contest Regional and Communal elections.

There are already reports that at least one party in the USN coalition will boycott the upcoming election and it looks like the UMP will increase its control over the National Assembly. The election will almost certainly be tainted by allegations of intimidation and vote-rigging from the opposition, but, given the strategic importance of Djibouti, it is unlikely that the government will face significant international pressure. Although there is potential for such allegations to cause violent political protests, like those seen in 2013, given the divided nature of the opposition, such protests are unlikely to be widespread or pose any genuine threat to the government.

Gulf Politics Intensifies Regional Tensions

As different countries seek to exert influence in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, political divisions of the Middle Eastern Gulf are being played out along the coastline of North East Africa exacerbating regional tensions.

Djibouti No Longer Alone

Since the end of the Cold War, Djibouti has presented itself as an island of stability in a volatile region and has become a favoured destination for overseas military bases. The USA, France, Italy and even Japan have set up bases in the country. Additionally, Germany and Spain have troops stationed at France’s base. In 2017, these countries were joined by Saudi Arabia and China. While China has maintained that its base is primarily for supporting its peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, Saudi Arabia’s base is closely linked to its competition with Iran and its involvement in the current conflict in Yemen. Although Saudi Arabia and Djibouti have long been close allies, the establishment of a military base in the country has drawn the Horn of Africa closer to the conflict in Yemen and the wider power struggle in the Middle Eastern Gulf.

Moreover, it seems that Djibouti is no longer alone in providing leases for military bases in the region. In 2017, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) established a joint military base at the port of Assab in Eritrea, which has been used by the Saudi-led coalition in the conflict in Yemen. Subsequently, Eritrea has become an ally of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in their diplomatic dispute with Qatar. It appears that this base is part of the UAE’s wider strategy of commercial and military expansion in the Horn of Africa. The country already has a military facility in Somalia and it is set to complete a military base in the self-declared state of Somaliland in June 2018. This base is situated near the port of Berbera, where a UAE-based company – DP World Ltd – secured a 30-year concession to manage and develop the facility in September 2016. Similarly, another UAE-based company – P&O Ports Limited – secured a 30-year concession to develop and manage the port of Basaso in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in north eastern Somalia in April 2017. Given what happened in Somaliland, there are suspicions that another UAE military facility could be established in Puntland.

Nevertheless, investment in these ports should be beneficial to the local economy and could open up new trade corridors for landlocked countries such as Ethiopia, which are overly dependent on access to the Port of Djibouti. This has been anticipated by the government of Somaliland, which plans to construct a road from Berbera to the Ethiopian border and are reportedly in negotiations with the Ethiopian government over further investment in the port. Given Ethiopia’s position as the fastest growing economy in the region, this increased access to trade routes is likely to have a beneficial effect on local economies.

While Saudi Arabia and the UAE have established a foothold in the Horn of Africa, it appears that their rivals have gained ground further north. On 26th December 2017, it was announced that Turkey secured exclusive rights to the port island of Suakin from Sudan for the next 99 years. Turkey reportedly plans to restore the historically significant island, which, since the construction of the Port of Sudan in 1922, has been largely abandoned. Although Turkey have stated that the rehabilitation of Suakin is commercial in nature, the decision has raised concerns in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who suspect that Suakin may serve a military purpose. This is unsurprising, given that Turkey has maintained relations with Iran and is a close ally of the embattled Qatar. Furthermore, only days after this announcement, Turkish, Qatari and Sudanese army chiefs met in Khartoum. While the details of this meeting are unknown, it increased the level of distrust in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where it has been alleged that Qatar funded the Suakin deal.

The Horn Engulfed

Consequently, there is a danger that the Horn of Africa will be increasingly drawn into the ongoing conflicts in the Middle Eastern Gulf, both diplomatically and militarily. Since the beginning of their dispute with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been applying pressure on countries in the region to either cut ties or downgrade diplomatic relations with Qatar. Thus far, Egypt, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somaliland have sided with the Saudi-UAE coalition, while Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan have remained somewhat neutral. However, each of these countries continue to face diplomatic pressure from both sides of the dispute.

This was especially evident during the presidential election in Somalia in February 2017, which was hampered by corruption allegations that were closely tied to the Middle Eastern Gulf dispute. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey were all accused of funding presidential candidates in Somalia to secure influence in the country. The winning candidate and now president – Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Farmajo’ Mohamed – reportedly received funding from Qatar. When this is combined with reports that Turkey has overtaken Somalia’s traditional aid donors and constructed its largest overseas military base in the country, it appears that Qatar and its allies now have the upper hand in Somalia.

Aside from the diplomatic dispute with Qatar, there is also a possibility that countries in the Horn of Africa could be drawn into the conflict in Yemen. On 24th December 2017, Houthi rebels released a video online in which a commander threatened Somaliland against continuing its lease agreement with the UAE. They reportedly stated that “if Somaliland does not heed the warning then we will fire ballistic missiles to Somaliland”. Although Houthi rebels have not yet attacked either Djibouti or Eritrea, despite their assistance to the Saudi-led coalition, given the proximity of the Horn of Africa to the conflict, this is a threat that could be acted upon, if the rebels altered their tactics.

Regional Battle Lines Drawn 

Nevertheless, the greatest concern for North East Africa is the effect this will have on regional tensions. In Somalia, the UAE’s decision to negotiate directly with the governments of Somaliland and Puntland could prove to be highly contentious. Despite its self-declared independence, neither Somaliland nor Puntland are recognised as independent countries and, consequently, there are questions regarding the legality of the UAE’s negotiations, which have already been raised by the government of Somalia. Given Somalia’s current security situation, it is unlikely that such questions will be addressed in the short-term; however, the continued vying for influence by Qatar, Turkey and the UAE in Somalia and Somaliland is only likely to deepen divisions and cause further problems for state building initiatives in the region.

Alongside Somalia, the vying for influence by Qatar and the Saudi-UAE coalition has put pressure on the relations between Eritrea and Djibouti. Although both Eritrea and Djibouti sided with the Saudi-UAE coalition, like most of the countries in the region, they have a disputed border. Qatar had been playing a key role in mediation between the two countries since 2010 and had peacekeepers stationed in the disputed regions – Dumeira Mountain and Dumeira Island. However, in response to Eritrea’s and Djibouti’s support for the Saudi-UAE coalition, Qatar withdrew its peacekeepers in June 2017, reigniting border tensions.

Beyond the Horn of Africa, the politics of the Middle Eastern Gulf has helped renew hostility between Egypt and Sudan. Turkey’s control of Suakin and the meeting between Sudanese, Qatari and Turkish military chiefs has raised serious misgivings in Egypt. While, as of the time of writing, the Egyptian government has stayed quiet about the matter, the pro-government press has condemned Sudan. It appears that, given the deterioration in relations between the two countries over the past year, Sudan’s Suakin policy is considered an offensive action focused on the disputed Hala’ib Triangle. Accordingly, it is likely that border tensions will increase, especially if Sudan develops closer military relations with Turkey.

This retrogression in the relations between Egypt and Sudan has wide-reaching implications for North East Africa. Currently, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia are trying to break a deadlock in negotiations regarding the Grand Renaissance Ethiopian Dam (GERD). Talks broke down in November 2017 and, at the time of writing, there is little indication that they will restart soon. This was illustrated by reports on 2nd January 2018, that Egypt wanted Sudan excluded from the talks, which were quickly denied by the Egyptian government. This is troubling as already 62 percent of GERD has been constructed and it is set to be completed by the end of this year. It appears that Sudan is now likely to side with Ethiopia in negotiations, which would isolate Egypt. This will widen divisions between Egypt and Sudan, as well as Egypt and Ethiopia.

Although such divisions existed prior to the influence of politics in the Middle Eastern Gulf, this factor has definitely heightened tensions in the region. Due to Egypt’s support for the Saudi-UAE coalition, and possibly Turkey’s Suakin concession, on 4th January 2018, Egyptian troops arrived at the UAE military base in Eritrea and have since been stationed there. Seeing this as a direct provocation, Sudan closed its border with Eritrea on 6th January. It appears that battle lines are being drawn between Egypt and Sudan, and, given the GERD negotiations and its history of conflict with Eritrea, its highly likely that the recent troop movements will further aggravate tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt.

Broader Implications

The investment in North East Africa by Turkey and countries of the Middle Eastern Gulf is undoubtedly going to have a positive effect on local economies and create further investment opportunities. In order to secure the Suakin concession, Turkey has reportedly agreed to invest $650 million in Sudan, which will include funding for the construction of a new airport and investment in a range of sectors, including electricity production – a burgeoning sector in the region. While DP World Ltd and P&O Ports Limited are respectively investing $442 million and $136 million in Somaliland and Puntland. Given the economically underdeveloped nature of the region, such investment will be highly beneficial and will create further opportunities, which is reflected by the increase in the price of land in Berbera. Furthermore, the development of new ports in the Horn of Africa will be advantageous for Ethiopia, which will be able to reduce its dependence on Djibouti and develop new trade routes. Given that, according to the World Bank, Ethiopia was the World’s fastest growing economy in 2017, the development of such trade routes should create further investment opportunities in the region. Additionally, even the construction of military bases along the coast should increase investment in local infrastructure, which is currently inadequate, and therefore create a better investment environment.

That being said, the influence of the politics of the Middle Eastern Gulf is currently, and will continue to, have a negative impact on regional divisions. The exacerbation of underlying tensions in an already volatile region has the potential to cause unrest and conflict, which will exhibit itself in varying degrees depending on the countries involved. Despite significant interference in Somalia and its disputed neighbouring regions, considering the current security situation in the country, it is unlikely that this will have a pronounced impact in the short-term. Nevertheless, it will hamper long-term state building initiatives. With regards to Eritrea and Djibouti, Qatar’s withdrawal has definitely increased the prospect of border clashes; however, given the strategic importance of the two countries to the Saudi-UAE coalition, there is a distinct possibility that the UAE will try to assume Qatar’s mediation role.

The most significant concern for the region is the escalation in tensions between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Emboldened by the apparent backing of Turkey and Qatar, Sudan may try to seize control of the Hala’ib Triangle, which will not be easily relinquished by Egypt. If this were to happen, given that Egypt currently has troops stationed in Eritrea, clashes on this border and in the Hala’ib Triangle should be expected. Moreover, this escalation in tensions will put additional strain on the already fraught GERD negotiations. Taking into consideration that Egypt relies on the Nile River for 95 percent of its water supply and it has been estimated that GERD could reduce the flow of water to Egypt by 25 percent, a failure to reach an agreement could be disastrous and it is unlikely that Egypt would accept this outcome. However, in light of the deterioration of Sudan’s and Egypt’s relationship and the stationing of Egyptian troops in Eritrea, an agreement seems increasingly unlikely. If Ethiopia and Sudan fail to reach an agreement with Egypt, conflict between the countries is not beyond the realm of possibility.