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.

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A Look Ahead to March 2018

A Three Horse Race in Sierra Leone

On 7th March 2018, Sierra Leone will go to the polls to vote for the country’s next president. The incumbent – Ernest Bai Koroma – of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) is standing down after serving two terms, in line with the country’s constitution. Although he will no longer serve as president, sources from within the APC have informed Africa Integrity that Koroma wants to continue to influence the new administration, if the APC are victorious. This is illustrated by both his role in the selection of the APC’s presidential candidate and his desire to continue as chairman of the party. Although the party’s candidate was meant to be chosen through a democratic process, Koroma unilaterally selected the Minister of Foreign Affairs – Samura Kamara – as the APC’s candidate. Thus, it seems that, if Kamara wins, he will maintain the status quo and it is likely that Koroma will continue to govern from behind the scenes.

Kamara will face 15 candidates from other parties in the election, but only two are likely to pose real competition. These are Julius Maada Bio from the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), who also ran in 2012, and Kandeh Yumkella from the newly formed National Grand Coalition (NGC). Outside of military rule, Sierra Leonean politics has been dominated by the APC and SLPP. However, since Yumkella left the SLPP in September 2017 and formed the NGC, there are indications that this is starting to change. He has shown himself to be a very popular candidate in urban Sierra Leone, particularly in Freetown, where he has been drawing large crowds of supporters. The APC are evidently concerned about the threat posed by Yumkella and have petitioned the Supreme Court to bar him from taking part in the election because of his previous dual citizenship. This attempt has already been dismissed by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and it is likely that the Supreme Court will follow suit. Although it is unlikely that Yumkella will be able to win the election outright, due to the established bases of the APC and SLPP, by turning the election into a three-horse race, it is highly likely that it will go to a run-off. In such a scenario, Yumkella will be an in a very influential position.

While there have been some instances of political violence during the campaign, these have tended to be isolated and there is not a significant threat of unrest. Importantly, the NEC is considered an independent organisation and the country’s recent elections have all been deemed credible. However, this is the first election since the departure of the UN Mission in 2014 and, given the APC’s attempt to prevent Yumkella from standing, if it goes to a run-off, political tensions will be very high, which could cause isolated instances of unrest and violence.

Time’s up for Zimbabweans on Mnangagwa’s Name and Shame List

In late November 2017, Zimbabwe’s new president – Emmerson Mnangagwa – declared an amnesty for individuals and companies involved in the misappropriation of public funds and the illegal externalisation of this money. He stated that “The government of Zimbabwe is gazetting a three-month moratorium within which those involved in the malpractice can bring back the funds and assets, with no questions being asked or charges preferred against them”. However, he said that “upon expiry of the three-month window, the government will proceed to effect arrest of all those who would not have complied with this directive and will ensure that they are prosecuted in terms of the country’s laws”. At a Zanu-PF Central Committee meeting in December 2017, Mnangagwa added that “I have a list of who took money out. So, in March when the period expires, those who would not have heeded my moratorium I will name and shame them”. Consequently, it appears that time is up for those on Mnangagwa’s “list”. Although such an anti-corruption initiative will have a positive effect, given Mnangagwa’s chequered past, it seems unlikely that this will be a comprehensive initiative. Rather, there is a strong possibility that Mnangagwa will use this opportunity to damage the reputations of potential adversaries, particularly within Zanu-PF, ahead of this year’s election.

Sissi Set for Another Victory in Egypt

On 26th March 2018, Egypt will hold its second presidential election since the 2013 coup, which removed the country’s first democratically elected president – Mohamed Morsi. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who secured over 95 percent of the vote in 2014, is the favourite to win the election and will face only one contender – Moussa Mostafa Moussa – the leader of the El-Ghad Party. Although a number of candidates intended to run against Sissi, Moussa was the only one to officially submit his candidacy. Many of the other candidates were forced to drop out of the race due to threats from the government, and some were even arrested. Consequently, the remaining opposition candidates declared a boycott of the election. Despite proclaiming that he “will not be a background actor”, most oppositionists do not consider Moussa a genuine candidate because of his support of Sissi. Rather, he is seen as merely standing in order to provide an air of legitimacy to the election.

The government has been heavily criticised for its treatment of opposition candidates by human rights groups. It has been accused of exploiting its counterterrorism laws to stifle opposition activities and conduct arbitrary arrests. Such arrests are continuing to take place as Egypt’s Prosecutor General has called for investigations into the parties boycotting the election. Interestingly, those prevented from running in the election included senior military figures, such as retired Lieutenant General Sami Hafez Anan, who was arrested after announcing his intention to stand, and Colonel Ahmed Konsowa, who was sentenced to six years of imprisonment for expressing political opinions as a serving officer. This restriction of Egypt’s democratic space, alongside the persecution of senior military figures, has the potential to cause problems for Sissi in the medium term, as groups are increasingly likely to reject the democratic process as a means of expressing political opinion.

While there is no doubt that Sissi will win this month’s election, the tactics adopted by the government and security services, although effective in impeding the opposition in the short-term, could create serious problems going forward. As the government struggles to reduce the growing terrorism threat emanating from the Sinai region, pressure on Sissi will increase during his second term, which could lead to unrest and political instability.

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.

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.

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.

Oiling Over the Cracks: The End of Peace in the Delta

In 2009, the International community watched as the Niger Delta took a break from the violence that had plagued the region for a decade. In the midst of plummeting oil prices and a state of emergency, former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had declared an amnesty and unconditional pardon on persons associated with militant activities in the Niger Delta. At the time, this programme was widely applauded for bringing peace to a region defined for so long by the masked militant armed with the ubiquitous Kalashnikov. Indeed, over the past seven years, Boko Haram replaced the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in national and international headlines and the oil-producing region was referred to only in regards to the recent plunge in global oil prices.

However, as predicted at the time by conflict analysts, this programme’s strategy of divide and conquer “sticks and carrots” has failed to secure a long-term peace. And when in March 2016, the Delta resumed its place in the international media as a region inflicted with instability, many were left unsurprised. For a programme that benefited just a small minority and one which failed to address the root cause of the conflict, the long-term outcome was never likely to be a positive one. And this recent resurgence in violence, headed by a new group – the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) – is symptomatic of a long-line of such failures by the federal government to implement an effective strategy to deal with the Niger Delta question. This is evident when you study this group’s rhetoric and how it has strayed unremarkably from that of the early peaceful movements of the Okigwe and Owerri divisions in the 1950s; to the later Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). Nor, despite the deliberate distancing by former leaders, has the NDA’s rationale drifted drastically from that of its predecessor, MEND.

The basic tenets remain the same: the government should expel international oil corporations operating in the Delta; there should be an immediate clean-up of the land; employment opportunities should be opened up to marginalized minorities; and environmental and economic development should be allowed to occur. All this should be coupled with economic remediation for the fallout of 50 years of living with the international oil industry. The oil industry’s presence in Nigeria was steeped in contention from early on and it is perhaps not surprising that enmity has underlined the inhabitants’ relationship with the government and oil corporations. Since oil was discovered in Oloibiri in 1956, the Nigerian government (as a majority shareholder in the oil industry) has accumulated over $1.6 trillion in revenue. Yet, whilst the “sweet” Delta crude that runs beneath the region’s labyrinth of waterways has lined the pockets of the elite in Abuja for decades, the people of the Delta remain some of the poorest in the world. It is the feeling of exclusion that this paradox has created that has provoked years of conflict and is a principal reason for the latest perturbation of peace.

Indeed, the notion of exclusion is an important one to get to grips with when trying to understand the complex situation in the Delta. Exclusion from employment; exclusion from education; exclusion from oil wealth; exclusion created necessarily through an entrenched system of neo-patrimonialism; exclusion from adequate resources to combat the environmental fallout of the extractive sector; and finally exclusion from the amnesty programme. All these elements have combined to create a melting pot of tension. And although the current groups in the Delta differ in superficialities – in essence they are all united by this concept.  As such, it is not the close of the amnesty progamme per se that is to blame for the current resurgence in violence. Rather it must be seen as just the latest element in a complex concoction of ingredients that have been simmering in the Delta over the past 50 years.  Indeed, when President Muhammadu Buhari announced the winding up of the scheme in 2016 – due to Nigeria’s bleak economic outlook – the region had already been suffering from smaller scale and largely unreported attacks on oil installations. For example, in April 2015, gunmen reportedly killed nine people and wounded two before setting fire to a major oil pipeline. The group that carried this out – “Urhobo Gbagbako” – does not align itself to either MEND or the NDA and does not seem to have launched an attack since. However, it provides an indication of underlying tensions that were beginning to boil over as early as April last year.

Additionally, many of the majority youths who have taken up arms were not even recipients of the Amnesty Programme. And, in fact, they were recipients of very little over the 7 years of relative peace. Development promised to the region by former President Goodluck Jonathan – an Ijaw himself – was never delivered and the citizens of much of the Delta would certainly not have been recipients of the oil proceeds. Unemployment remained the same and parts of the region continued to witness the disastrous environmental impact of the extractive sector. Thus, whilst the 2009 amnesty had temporarily stemmed the tide of resentment for one swathe of the populace – by 2016 another generation of discontented youths were assembling and it is these young men who now pose the greatest threat to stability. As such, whilst it is highly likely some disillusioned amnesty beneficiaries are entangled in this latest violence, disorder would have occurred with or without Buhari’s announcement to draw the programme to a close. Put simply, if, as many believe, former MEND Commander Government Ekpemupolo (Tompolo) is using his current predicament with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to fan the flames of disorder for his own ends, he would not have had to look very far to find sympathetic ears amongst the disillusioned and marginalized youths of the Delta.

Furthermore, it is a similar sense of exclusion that has prompted the re-emergence of pro-Biafran agitators, whose very presence and increasing association with the recent conflict in the Delta, has the potential to propel the current disorder into something quite devastating. The southeast region of Nigeria has struggled for decades to find its place in the nation state and its position remains as fragile now as it ever has been. The oil industry’s presence has complicated this over the years – but the calls for separation have not infiltrated oil related protests in the Delta since the 1960s. It is not clear the extent to which NDA and pro-Biafra agitators are interrelated and presently it appears that the association between the two causes is primarily originating from the NDA. The agitation of the NDA is not directly aligned with Nnamdi Kanu or the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) – a majority Igbo group fighting for secession. The NDA and Ijaws’ complaint have always been centered on resource control and “true” federalism, where it is believed that their farmlands have been divided into oil blocks among Nigerians at the exclusion of Ijaws.

However, the NDA’s call for the release of Kanu is telling and the pairing of these two groups against a common enemy and their mutual interests in re-working the federation make it a powerful matrimony. To rub salt in the wound, the recently reported killing of pro-Biafra protesters in Onitsha is not only alarming but is likely to have drawn these groups closer together. This was demonstrated by a pronouncement from the NDA, which stated, “the Federal Government should know that the more attacks on Biafra, the more aggressive we become. This is a war that involves all of us”.  Events surrounding the “Onitsha massacre” are still unfolding, yet historians and those alive to remember Nigeria’s bloody civil war first hand will no doubt be drawing some alarming parallels with a not too distant past. This is particularly the case given the increasingly controversial presence of the military in the region against the backdrop of recent allegations that Buhari is pursuing a “northern agenda” through retiring senior southern officers in the armed forces and a growing sentiment for secession in the southeast. It is hoped that enough people remember the cataclysmic effects of the Biafran War to prevent a similar scenario playing out.

The NDA mean business and with oil prices at an all-time low, so too will the Buhari administration. The Nigerian government’s next steps are critical. Some groups in the region are already pledging to lay down arms and enter into dialogue, whilst the NDA remains adamant that until their demands are met, no such discourse will occur. What is clear is that using military might to address the challenges is not a long-term solution and has the potential to antagonize an already dire situation. Heavy-handed brute force has historically underlined the relationship between state and citizens in the Delta and has only ever worked to alienate the latter. Indeed, it was the violent suppression of the early peaceful protests and the inability to forge sufficient lines of dialogue that lead many men to replace the protest placard with the Kalashnikov. Since the formulation of MOSOP in 1993 – the government persistently used force against protestors from the administration of Ibrahim Babangida to that of Sani Abacha, escalating but not abating in 1998 with the state execution of Ken Saro Wiwa.

When all means of peaceful protest and attempts at dialogue were exhausted, it is little wonder that in recent years militants took up arms. This fact helps to explain militancy in the Delta; behind many of the NDA agitators is a political subject who feels compelled to use an AK47 to restore their rights. The fact that the majority of these men are not simply violent criminals is indicated by militant groups’ strategies in the region and that, to date, and historically in the Delta, citizens tend not to have been deliberately harmed through militant activity. The sole aim is to disrupt oil supply not to harm the population – either international or domestic. For groups that are relying heavily on international support and favour for their cause, killing innocent citizens would not be conducive.

That said, the NDA, like MEND before them, have singlehandedly brought the country’s already trembling oil supply to its knees. To avoid further escalation, the government will need to move fast. However, development and allocation of revenue to the region is the only long-term solution and given the state of the country’s budget sheet, spending more money will be a bitter pill to swallow. Buhari may need to look to the international community for monetary support and will need to avoid another miscalculated amnesty solution to provide temporary relief to a problem in a region that could take years to heal.