Zuma Weather’s the Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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Instability and Insecurity: a DRC without Etienne Tshisekedi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ECOWAS Mediates as Jammeh Clings On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tensions Rising in The Gambia

Ballot Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Africa: Local Elections, National Impact

Africa Integrity have complied a report on the upcoming municipal elections in South Africa:

On 5th July 2016, President Jacob Zuma stated, “I hear people complaining when we say the ANC will rule fully until Jesus comes back, but we have been blessed”. The ANC entered 2016 in perhaps its weakest position since the party assumed power in 1994. Beleaguered by a faltering economy, corruption allegations and infighting, the party is vulnerable to a serious electoral challenge from a re-invigorated opposition. The municipal elections on 3rd August will not only be the greatest electoral test for the ANC but also an indication of South Africa’s political future and the party’s commitment to democracy.

To a request a copy of this report please contact us.

Kony’s Comeback: The Resurgence of the LRA

Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) previously drew substantial attention from Western media, particularly following the Kony2012 social media campaign, which sought to shine a light on atrocities carried out by the group. However, in the last couple of years interest in the LRA has waned as other, predominantly Jihadist, militant organisations have taken centre stage in reporting on Africa. This shift in attention away from Kony and the LRA was a reflection of the declining number of attacks perpetrated by the group and its diminishing presence in Central Africa. It was widely perceived that the LRA had largely withdrawn from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), and was primarily based in Kafia Kingi – a Sudanese-controlled enclave located in South Sudan. This enclave was viewed as a safe haven for the LRA as African Union troops pursuing the group were not allowed to enter this region.

However, it appears that there has been resurgence in the LRA’s activities since the start of 2016. A recent UN report outlined that the LRA was responsible for 42 incidents, 6 civilian deaths and 252 abductions in the first quarter of this year in comparison to 52 incidents, 5 civilian deaths and 113 abductions in the whole of 2015. In response to this, the UN envoy for Central Africa – Abdoulaye Bathily – stated that the “LRA appears now to be deviating from what had been for a certain period of time a low profile posture”.  This trend seems to have continued in the second quarter of 2016 with the LRA Crisis Tracker reporting that a further 165 abductions have taken place. Earlier this month it was reported that nearly 100 people were abducted by the group in the Bas-Uele province in northeast DRC and a further 29 were abducted from two villages in CAR. These attacks and others in CAR are highly significant as it was considered that the group had been pushed out of the country 10 years ago. It is not clear what has caused this recent upsurge in activity but one possibility is that Kafia Kingi is no longer a safe haven for the LRA, so it has re-orientated its strategy.

Moreover, it seems highly likely that the instability caused by this resurgence will continue and intensify, particularly in light of Uganda’s decision on 13th June to withdraw its troops from the African Union force tasked with combatting the LRA. Ugandan military spokesman – Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Ankunda – stated that “the rebels have been significantly degraded” and no longer pose a threat to Uganda. Unless the African Union is able to find another country to contribute almost 2500 troops to replace the Ugandan soldiers, who are set to withdraw before the end of the year, the likelihood of LRA attacks intensifying is high.

Given the current situations in the DRC, CAR and Congo-Brazzaville, it seems highly likely that the wider Central African region will experience increased instability over the next year and the LRA will resurface as a driver of such instability. In the DRC, people have already come out in protest over LRA attacks in Bas-Uele province. On 9th June, 4000 people reportedly protested in the city of Bili and congregated outside a hotel where senior military figures were staying. This is also underpinned by suggestions of a controversial referendum to extend Joseph Kabila’s term as president and the sentencing in absentia of his main rival – Moise Katumbi – to three years in prison, which are likely to cause unrest across the country. Similarly, in Congo-Brazzaville there are signs of increasing instability in the north of the country over Denis Sassou Nguesso’s extension of his term as president. While in CAR, there have been recent outbreaks of violence in the capital Bangui and on 19th June the Seleka rebel militia reportedly took six police officers hostage. Thus, with tension already high in the region, the resurgence of the LRA is only likely to increase instability further.

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.