Africa Integrity Foresight: Democracy Dawning in the DRC?

 

DRC flag

In the second paper of our ‘Foresight’ series, Michael Kearsey examines the outlook for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2018, in light of the political crisis in the country, which has now entered its third year, and upcoming elections in December. Questions continue to be asked about President Joseph Kabila’s future and it seems that many of these will be answered this year. There is a growing sense of urgency in the messages we have received from sources in-country and the wider region, which indicate that changes are afoot. Although political changes have always been associated with violence in the DRC, there is reason to believe that this time may be different, and we could be looking at the dawning of democracy in the DRC.  This paper sets out a case for optimism.

To request a copy of this paper, please contact us.

 

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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.

Is Kabila Finally Preparing to Step Down?

DRC flagSurrounded by accusations of wanting to alter the constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in order to remove presidential terms limits, President Joseph Kabila has refused to stand down since the end of his second term in December 2016. Although Kabila has had to contend with anti-government protests since then, it appears that regional, rather than domestic, pressure may be what finally convinces him to step down and allow a democratic transition to take place.  

Since the violent suppression of anti-government protests in January 2018, there have been signs that Kabila is inclining towards a more conciliatory position. On 26th January 2018, Kabila held his first press conference in five years and reiterated his commitment to holding elections by December this year. Although he refused to accept responsibility for the violence and took a swipe at the opposition, such a public proclamation is a rare occurrence and indicates that Kabila recognises that the electoral process cannot be delayed further. While Kabila did not address the ever-increasing calls for him to stand-down, his Minister of Communications – Lambert Mende – addressed this issue in an interview in early February. In the interview, Mende asserted that Kabila does not intend to stand in this year’s election or to choose a successor and rule by proxy. He said that “this is not a kingdom […], it is a democratic republic”. Although Mende’s comments have received significant attention in international media, it should be noted that he reportedly backtracked on them later, when speaking to Congolese media. Nevertheless, such confusion at least suggests that Kabila is unsure about running again.

Despite criticising the opposition during his press conference and insinuating that they will cause the DRC to descend into “chaos”, there are signs that Kabila is willing to re-open negotiations with opposition figures and adopt a more placatory stance. This is demonstrated by the proposed release of two prominent political prisoners – Jean Claude Muyambo and Eugène Diomi Ndongala. At the time of writing, both prisoners are expected to be released on 20th February 2018. There is an expectation that this could lead to the release of more political prisoners and maybe even the dropping of charges against Moïse Katumbi, the former governor of Katanga, who announced his presidential candidacy on 2nd January 2018. Although there is little indication of this happening in the short-term, Africa Integrity has been informed that Kabila has offered an olive branch to Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo – a figurehead of the protests in January, which were backed by the Catholic Church in the DRC. According to our sources, Monsengwo has been invited by Kabila to discuss ways to “revive” the December 31st Saint-Sylvestre Agreement between the government and opposition. This readiness to reengage with the opposition is a radical change in approach from Kabila, which could be an indication of his willingness to step aside.

The Catholic Church’s support for anti-government protests is undoubtedly significant, given that around 50 percent of the DRC’s population is Catholic. Moreover, Africa Integrity understands that other religious groups have been following the Catholic Church’s example. Nevertheless, according to our sources, it is Kabila’s loss of regional support that has had a greater effect on his apparent change in approach. It is understood that Kabila has had to reassess his position since the fall of two of his powerful regional allies: Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe; and Jacob Zuma in South Africa. In spite of international pressure, both of these individuals were unwavering in their support of Kabila since December 2016. For example, in June 2017, Zuma invited Kabila to South Africa and publicly pledged his support for the embattled president. We have been informed that since Mugabe and Zuma resigned, Kabila has started to feel increasingly “isolated” and has begun to re-evaluate his future.

Although Kabila can still count on the support of President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, Paul Kagame in Rwanda and Edgar Lungu in Zambia, Museveni and Kagame are facing increasing criticism for their alleged support of rebel groups in the DRC and Lungu is preoccupied by an opposition which aims to prevent him from standing in the next election in Zambia. Furthermore, Kabila’s close ties with Congo-Brazzaville and Angola seem to be weakening. The pressure put on these countries, especially Angola, by the influx of refugees from the DRC, has put strain on their governments’ relationships with Kabila. It has been reported that the ruling MPLA in Angola, which has previously provided much needed military support to Kabila, will no longer be willing to intervene directly in the country, particularly under its new president – João Lourenço. Similarly, given the current instability in Congo-Brazzaville, it is highly unlikely that President Denis Sassou Nguesso will be in a position to support his neighbour. Senior political sources in Congo-Brazzaville and Angola have confirmed that both Lourenço and Sassou Nguesso have recently informed Kabila that they will not intervene on his behalf and that they support elections going ahead this year.

Along with the fall of Mugabe and Zuma, this constitutes a loss of regional backing for Kabila, leaving him increasingly exposed. It appears that Kabila has begun to realise that, without regional support, elections cannot be delayed any further, and it will be extremely difficult for him to stand again. After his motorcade was involved in two accidents in February, suspicions of assassination plots are rife, and it seems that Kabila sees a more conciliatory approach towards the opposition as his best means of protection. While Kabila may still try to put his name forward for the election, there are strong indications that he has realised that a third term will not be possible and that he is finally preparing to stand down.

Southern African Dynasties: The Parties Strike Back

Southern African Dynasties

In recent years, political dynasties have received a lot of attention across the African continent as ageing presidents have been accused of trying to manoeuvre family members into the line of succession, to protect them and their interests after they step down. Until last year, it seemed that Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa could have been following this path; however, the leaders of these countries evidently underestimated the power of their parties.

Decline of Dos Santos

It had long been speculated that Angola’s former President Eduardo dos Santos planned to appoint one of his children, or possibly his nephew, as his successor. After assuming power in 1979, dos Santos inserted his family into Angola’s political and economic hierarchy, and to many, the dos Santos family transcended the ruling MPLA. Consequently, it was expected that a member of the dos Santos family would take over the presidency. However, in December 2016, it was announced that dos Santos’s “hand-picked” successor was former Minister of Defence Joao Lourenco, who, unlike dos Santos family members, had the support of the MPLA.

Given that he was a member of dos Santos’s inner circle, it was widely expected that Lourenco would protect the former First Family’s interests.  However, as Africa Integrity predicted in our July 2017 Newsletter, Lourenco has sought to assert his authority by side-lining members of the dos Santos family. Africa Integrity understands that dos Santos is seriously ill and no longer has the influence he once had over the party, which has seemingly taken the opportunity to reassert itself as the primary organ of power in Angola.

A Fall from Grace

In Zimbabwe, it was a working assumption that Robert Mugabe’s successor would be either Joice Mujuru or Emmerson Mnangagwa – both former Vice Presidents. However, in 2014, Mugabe’s wife – Grace Mugabe – entered Zimbabwean politics and rapidly ascended to ZANU-PF’s politburo. By the end of 2014, Mujuru was removed from her position and later expelled from the party following a factionalist campaign led by Grace Mugabe. After Mujuru was removed, ZANU-PF coalesced into two factions, one aligned with Grace Mugabe, which was dominated by younger party members, and one aligned with Mnangagwa. Although Mnangagwa had more support in the party, on 6th November 2017, Mugabe seemingly cleared the path to the presidency for his wife by sacking Mnangagwa, who subsequently fled the country.

This move appeared to signal the creation of a Mugabe dynasty in Zimbabwe, but it was short lived. On 14th November 2017, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) seized control of the country and initiated negotiations with Mugabe for his resignation. There was very little resistance to this from within ZANU-PF and the party’s favoured candidate – Mnangagwa – was sworn in as president on 24th November 2017. Given ZANU-PF’s close relationship with the ZDF, the military’s actions cannot be separated from the party’s wishes and, much like the MPLA, it appears that ZANU-PF reasserted its superior influence over that of the Mugabe family.

Not Another Zuma

In contrast to dos Santos and Mugabe, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma had not been in power as long, nor was his family as entrenched in the political and economic structures of the country. But he also wanted a family member to succeed him: in this case, his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Dlamini-Zuma was a prominent figure in the pro-Zuma faction of the ruling ANC. Her candidacy faced opposition from influential sections of the party, which were acutely aware of the damage caused by corruption allegations against Zuma. But the pro-Zuma faction was very influential in the provincial ANC, which would play a vital role in selecting the party’s new president at the ANC’s National Conference in December 2017. Accordingly, the leadership race between Dlamini-Zuma and Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa was too close to call. But, on 18th December 2017, Ramaphosa narrowly defeated Dlamini-Zuma. Again, this signalled a rejection by the liberation party of a future dominated by Zuma, his allies and his family.

The Power of the Liberation

Although the MPLA, ZANU-PF and ANC are all markedly different political parties, they share a common history of being liberation movements. And it is this shared history that may explain why each of the parties rejected the prospect of family dynasties. In all three countries, liberation credentials remain very important and in Angola and Zimbabwe, the presidents’ preferred successors lacked such credentials. In contrast, Lourenco fought in the Angolan War of Independence and Mnangagwa fought in the Zimbabwe War of Liberation. For many in the MPLA and ZANU-PF, the presidency should be held by individuals with such credentials in their own right.

Although the situation in South Africa was different, as both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma were anti-Apartheid activists, another important aspect of these liberation struggles is that the movement or party is paramount. In South Africa, Dlamini-Zuma’s victory risked splintering the ANC and potential electoral defeat. Similarly, in Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe’s leadership would have brought underlying factionalism in ZANU-PF to the surface and, without the support of the ZDF, electoral defeat would have been a very real prospect. While the MPLA was probably in a stronger electoral position, a family dynasty would have further damaged the country’s international reputation and, given Angola’s poor economic situation, this would have posed a threat to the MPLA’s leadership.

Although cults of personality developed around dos Santos and particularly Mugabe, it is important to recognise that their power derived ultimately from their political parties and the military. While the circumstances are different in South Africa, the ANC is still the dominant political force in the country and it can be difficult to differentiate between the party and state. After fighting protracted liberation struggles, the MPLA, ZANU-PF and ANC were not willing to risk their supremacy by allowing family dynasties to emerge. It seems that, amongst the Southern African liberation movements, no individual or family is bigger than the party.

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

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.

Ethiopia Celebrates Unity as Divisions Deepen

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

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

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

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

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