A Look Back on 2018

Africa Unites 

On 21st March 2018, 44 of the African Union’s 55 member states signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which seeks to remove tariffs on 90 percent of continental trade. This was a significant step forward in increasing intra-African trade, which lags behind other regions, and could act as an important foundation for the diversification of African economies. Currently, as a percentage of total African exports, intra-African trade accounts for less than 20 percent, whilst in Europe and Asia such trade accounts for over 50 percent. The African Union has projected that implementation of the agreement could increase intra-African trade by more than 52 percent and it has put specific emphasis on diversifying away from extractive industries. This should provide a growing number of investment opportunities for both African and foreign investors. The agreement also has the potential to trigger investment in much needed cross-border infrastructure, opening up land-locked countries in the continent’s interior. Although the AfCFTA is in its early days and, at the time of writing, still requires ratification by at least four more country governments to come into force, it is symbolic of Africa’s economic growth and has the potential to act as a strong foundation for local economies.

US Disengagement

While it is not possible to point to a single event that showed US disengagement with Africa, the Trump administration’s approach to the continent throughout 2018 revealed Africa’s peripheral position in US foreign policy. From allegedly using derogatory language to describe African countries, to sacking his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, during his trip to the continent, President Donald Trump showed his disdain towards Africa. As any discussions during Tillerson’s trip to Africa were effectively undone by his sacking, the Trump administration’s primary diplomatic engagement with the continent in 2018 was through Melania Trump’s visit on behalf of USAID. The fact that this trip is mostly remembered for the First Lady’s decision to wear a colonial-era pith helmet on a safari in Kenya, not only revealed the lack of diplomatic weight attached to it, but also a disregard for Africa’s history on the part of the current administration. Although this approach has not caused a rift between the US and Africa, it would have certainly reinforced the continent’s close alignment with China and reoriented countries towards other outside powers, diplomatically, economically and militarily. Turkey, Russia and the UAE are just a few examples of the countries which have recently increased their engagement with Africa and are likely to take advantage of the US disengagement with the continent.

 

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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.

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.

Dispatches From Africa

Ethiopia: Development or Democracy?

AU Ethiopia

Emma Hooper writes from Addis Ababa:

The African Union (AU) Headquarters sit to the east of Addis Ababa, a handsome array of buildings that symbolise a new era for the Continent, one of stabilisation and unity. Yet its foundations lie on a dark past, a past many visitors may not be aware of, for it has quite literally been buried beneath 24 floors of concrete.

The site is that of the former Addis Ababa Kerchele prison and its torture centre, ‘Alem Bekagn’, built in the 1930s during Italy’s brief occupation of Ethiopia. As such, the AU buildings now lay at the epicentre of where Rodolfo Graziani conducted mass executions, slaughtering a whole generation of young Ethiopians. Just 50 years later, the same site witnessed some of the worst atrocities of Mengistu Haile Mariam’s reign of terror – a full account of which can be found in a dark corner of the Red Terror museum in central Addis Ababa. The bulldozing of the prison’s walls in 2011 has metaphorically wiped out a section of the country’s past, a commonplace tendency of post-colonial elites attempting to suppress the memory of state sponsored violence. Moreover, such a tendency may be particularly unfortunate in Ethiopia, where state violence is not a thing of the past – most recently explicated in the killing of 75 protesters on 19 December 2015. Indeed, the country’s civil society remains under a government stranglehold and the opposition is increasingly and brutally marginalised.

Although the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) regime has not committed the mass atrocities carried out by the Derg, it is certainly one underlined by repressive legislation and widespread abuses. This is all too apparent when broaching the topic of politics in the capital, where attempts to discuss the current regime are regarded suspiciously and questions are left largely un-answered. I sensed that in many cases this was fear for, rather than support of, the incumbent regime. However, outside of Addis Ababa people are not so reluctant to discuss politics –  a group of students I spoke to even seemed sure there would be an uprising. With the current government having held power through a succession of dubious elections and an increasingly marginalised opposition, there appears to be a growing sense in the provinces amongst the younger generation that “something must be done”. Yet, with one of the strongest armies in sub-Saharan Africa, any such uprising is likely to be matched with superior force and quickly quelled.

Despite salient abuses by the Ethiopian state, investment and aid are still free flowing. Addis Ababa is a city under construction, the most recent feat being the completion of the wholly Chinese funded light rail system that runs from the city centre out to the industrial heartland. This is an impressive project which signals the direction in which the country is heading and is part of the government’s 25-year development “master plan” to extend the capital. However, this development model has already resulted in forced evictions, land grabs and the marginalisation of the Oromia region, the inhabitants of which were involved in the most recent violent protests. With the Prime Minister, Hailermariam Desalegn, promising further reprisals for protesters – a clear message has been sent to all; that industrialisation will occur in Ethiopia and at the expense of its citizens.  Unfortunately, any escalation in such abuses is unlikely to waiver continued external investment, especially with regard to Cino-Ethiopian relations. Nor are continued human rights abuses likely to prompt any serious ramifications in Ethiopia’s relations with the AU or its regional neighbours, which means that the country is likely to continue continue on its current trajectory.

Furthermore, with a strong army and an anti-terrorist strategy that could provide a useful model to it’s regional neighbours, Ethiopia is proving an increasingly popular tourist destination. And indeed, Addis Ababa is bustling with tourists – whether visiting Lucy at the National Museum of Ethiopia or enjoying the country’s jazz scene – there is a real sense that the city is alive. Additionally, donor aid has continued to flood into the country whose propensity to famine was first brought to the world’s attention in the 1980s when Bob Geldolf embarked on a mission to “save” Africa. Today, aid has continued to flood into the country with international donors seemingly preferring development to democracy.  As such, with ever-increasing tourism, investment and donor aid, Ethiopia is likely to witness continued economic development and political stability – created through oppressive totalitarianism – at human cost.

It seems that if the new AU building were viewed as a memorial of the past, rather than an erasure of it, it would allow visitors to question past atrocities in light of the present. Indeed, since the abolition of Cecil Rhode’s statue in a South African University, the topic of “reckoning with the past” has become a particularly pertinent one. It may be tenuous to suggest that in building the AU on the grounds of a former prison, it is a sign that the Pan-African institution is simultaneously refusing to acknowledge Ethiopia’s present as well as its past. So too would it be to suggest that had the prison stayed intact, the AU Elections Observer Mission may not have refused to mention the widespread human rights abuses that surrounded Ethiopia’s elections in June 2015. However, the ripping down of past symbols that could act as a stark mirror and reminder to the present seems to me to be an unfortunate one.