Learning the Lessons of Protests 

While the removal of long-term dictatorial leaders is undoubtedly a cause for celebration, it seems that protestors and opposition groups in Algeria and Sudan have learned lessons from the the removal of such leaders by the militaries and ruling parties of countries elsewhere on the continent. Unlike in Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe’s successor and one-time close ally – military darling Emmerson Mnangagwa – received almost a hero’s welcome from oppositionists, demonstrators in both Algeria and Sudan have maintained pressure on their interim leaders after changes in leadership. 

Protestors in both countries have rejected a simple military takeover and have remained on the streets, calling for genuine democratic reforms prior to any electoral process. It appears that demonstrators in these two countries have learned from mistakes elsewhere and this is especially evident in Sudan, where the phrase “either victory or Egypt” has become a popular slogan. This statement is a reference to the failure of the Arab Spring to bring about genuine long-term reforms in Egypt, where recent constitutional changes have enabled former military general turned President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to extend his presidency until 2030.

It is too early to tell whether the protestors and opposition groups in Algeria and Sudan will be successful, as both the Transitional Military Council (TMC) in Sudan and Algeria’s interim government are determined to protect the status-quo. Although the TMC recently agreed to form a joint-governing body with opposition groups, there is good reason to suspect that this will be used to manipulate demonstrators.

Either way, it appears that African opposition groups have learned from experiences elsewhere on the continent and, therefore, militaries and ruling parties will now be less able to quell demonstrations through simply removing a figurehead. The longevity of such pro-democracy protests is likely to increase across the continent and, if they do not lead to meaningful reforms, widespread and lasting unrest should be expected.

This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s May 2019 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.

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Is Africa’s Strong-man Era Reaching its End-game?

In early April, after months of protests in Algeria and Sudan, the long-term presidents of both countries were forced out of power within less than ten days of each other. A mixture of public protests and pressure from the military brought an end to the ageing leaders’ terms in office. Following a similar conclusion to Robert Mugabe’s reign in Zimbabwe in late 2017, there is reason to believe that Africa’s elderly strongmen are fast-approaching their end-games.  

Although Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned, it was the military that essentially ousted him, much like his counter-part in Sudan, Omar al-Bashir. It was no coincidence that Bouteflika submitted his resignation only hours after the head of the Algerian Army reiterated his call for the president to be removed. While Bouteflika, Bashir and Mugabe came to power through different paths – an election, a coup and a war of independence – all three leaders previously served in the military and relied on it to keep them in power. And, ultimately, either directly or indirectly, it was the military that brought an end to their presidencies.

Aside from the military’s role in Bouteflika’s, Bashir’s and Mugabe’s rise and fall, the three former presidents also all belonged to an older generation of leaders. Bouteflika resigned at the age of 81 with questions being raised about his mental and physical capacities following a stroke in 2013.  Mugabe was removed at the age of 93 following similar questions about his mental capacity and the growing influence of his wife. Of all three leaders, Bashir was the most youthful at 75; however, his physical health was a matter of speculation.

Significantly, the ages of all three leaders contrasted with their countries’ youthful populations. Despite their being 75 or over, a large percentage of the populations of Algeria, Sudan and Zimbabwe are estimated to be under the age of 25. Algeria has the oldest populace with only 45 percent under the age of 25, while in Sudan 61 percent are under that age and, in Zimbabwe, the proportion is estimated to be 59 percent. Although Bouteflika’s, Bashir’s and Mugabe’s ages were not considered a problem when they came to power, after serving for 20, 30 and 37 years respectively, they became increasingly out of touch with their citizens.

While there are various reasons why each of these leaders came under pressure prior to losing power, it appears that their respective militaries could see a growing gulf between the elderly long-term leaders and their increasingly restive and youthful populations.  They acted accordingly to protect their interests. The military has long been considered an essential pillar of Africa’s strongmen and, although it was once seen as an instrument under the control of such leaders, this no longer seems always to be the case. The militaries of such regimes appear to be increasingly willing to intervene to protect their interests, at the expense of the figureheads they helped to put in place.

This growing trend could have repercussions across the continent, triggering soft coups in countries such as Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Uganda. Much like the former presidents of Algeria, Sudan and Zimbabwe, Presidents Paul Biya, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and Yoweri Museveni are significantly older than their populations. The youngest of the three, Museveni, is 74 years old, while an estimated 69 percent of the population of Uganda is under the age of 25. Biya, Obiang and Museveni have served for 37, 40 and 33 years, respectively, and, although Biya was not previously in the military, all three leaders have relied on the military establishment to keep them in power. Accordingly, as pressure begins to mount on these ageing leaders, it is possible that their respective militaries will take inspiration from elsewhere and act to protect their interests, at the expense of Africa’s remaining strongmen.

This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s May 2019 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.

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.

Elections in 2016

There are a number of important elections across Africa scheduled for 2016 and over the next year, Africa Integrity Insights will examine a selection of these. As an introduction to the upcoming publications we have compiled a list of countries where elections are set to take place in 2016, including the scheduled date (when available) and the type of election.

  • Benin: Presidential (28th February)
  • Burkina Faso: Municipal (31st January)
  • Cape Verde: Parliamentary and Presidential (February & August)
  • Central African Republic: Parliamentary and Presidential Run-off (31st January)
  • Chad: Presidential (April)
  • Côte d’Ivoire: Parliamentary (December)
  • Comoros: Presidential (21st February)
  • Congo-Brazzaville: Presidential (20th March)
  • Democratic Republic of Congo: Legislative and Presidential (27th November)
  • Djibouti: Presidential (April)
  • Equatorial Guinea: Presidential (November)
  • Gabon: Parliamentary and Presidential (December)
  • Gambia: Presidential (1st December)
  • Ghana: Parliamentary and Presidential (7th November)
  • Niger: Parliamentary & Presidential and Local (21st February & 9th May)
  • Rwanda: Local Government (8th, 22nd & 27th February and 22nd March)
  • Sao Tome and Principe: Presidential (July)
  • Senegal: Constitutional Referendum (May)
  • South Africa: Municipal (May-August)
  • Sudan: Darfur Referendum (11th April)
  • Tanzania: Zanzibar Re-run (20th March)
  • Tunisia: Municipal and Regional (30th October)
  • Uganda: General (18th February)
  • Zambia: Legislative and Presidential (11th August)

Conflict in South Sudan: A Tale of Two Leaks

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On 8th November 2014 the leader of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, signed a new peace agreement with the leader of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) and former Vice President of South Sudan, Riek Machar. The resolution was reached during a summit in Addis Ababa convened by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Despite the breaking down of similar agreements on a number of occasions over the past year, there appeared to be a greater level of optimism amongst commentators due to IGAD’s warning that they will directly intervene if the war continued. This is a scenario which both the SPLM and the SPLM-IO have publicly stated they want to avoid, and is one of the few issues the groups are in agreement over. However, optimism was short lived as the ceasefire was broken on 10th November in Upper Nile State. The SPLM and SPLM-IO both refused to take responsibility for the resumption of hostilities and blamed the other party.

Thus far, peace negotiations are predominantly reported as resting upon an agreement between Kiir and Machar. However, this over simplifies the conflict. On 11th November Machar was reported as describing the peace negotiations as “a hard sell”, stating that for his allies “the choices are hard: it’s either continuation of war, or making compromises, so they will decide”. This indicates that Machar does not have complete authority over the rebel groups fighting under the SPLM-IO banner. An International Crisis Group report on the conflict from April 2014 supports this by noting that the SPLM-IO has a weak chain of command, and that local communities tend to engage in conflict on their own terms. This therefore brings into question what impact an agreement with Machar would actually have on the ground.

This problem is not only limited to the SPLM-IO. The same International Crisis Group report noted through its process of mass recruitment the SPLM has provided weapons to local communities to fight the rebels. This creates a problem of how much command the SPLM’s army has over its expanding number of recruits. Moreover, in Unity State the SPLM have been predominantly represented by the partially integrated South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA). This group was only amnestied by the SPLM in April 2013 after openly opposing the SPLM government since independence. Thus Kiir and the SPLM also have the problem of how much authority they command over their fighters. Additionally, as the conflict continues it is likely to increasingly take on an ethnic nature, which will make it harder to control and reduce the likelihood of a united national government emerging.

Furthermore, the conflict cannot be removed from the wider regional context. Despite an air of optimism surrounding IGAD’s involvement in negotiations and possible direct intervention, this organisation is far from unified and its involvement has the potential to exasperate the situation.

Sudan, a member of IGAD, has been accused by the SPLM of supporting the SPLM-IO. For example on 13th November an SPLM army spokesman said that an air attack on a village in Upper Nile State was carried out by a Sudanese Antonov aircraft.  Although the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, has previously voiced his support of Kiir’s government, an alleged leaked document containing minutes from an apparent Sudanese Joint Military and Security Committee Meeting in August 2014 indicated the opposite. In these minutes Sudan’s senior military and security officials are allegedly recorded discussing the growing threat of South Sudan, and proposing the provision of weapons to Machar. The director of the National Intelligence and Security Service is quoted in the document as saying “We must use the many cards we have against the South in order to give them an unforgettable lesson”. It must be noted that Sudan’s government, military and security services have stated that this document is a fabrication and at the time of writing there is no definitive evidence to support the authenticity of this document.

Nevertheless, there are obvious tensions between the SPLM and the government of Sudan. In the Blue Nile, Kordofan and Darfur regions of Sudan, the Sudanese government is fighting against the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), which includes the SPLM-North. The government of Sudan has accused the SPLM of supporting its northern partner which means these two conflicts are inherently intertwined. South Sudan’s peace negotiations are therefore linked to Sudan’s negotiations with the SRF, as Sudan is likely to want a weak SPLM which cannot provide support to its northern partner as long as it faces conflict with the SRF. As a Sudanese official said during an interview with Crisis Group International in March 2014, “we’ve been very neutral so far, but there is no guarantee it will last. If the government of South Sudan supports the SRF, we might have to intervene directly”.  In addition to this, the SPLM and Sudan face a number of unresolved issues including oil pipeline charges and the status of border regions. These unresolved issues are of such importance that the UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated in May 2014 that the disputed Abyei region has the potential to cause war between the two countries. Moreover, the SPLM-IO has been reported as stating that if it was able to secure oil fields it would be open to negotiating with Sudan over sharing oil revenues. This therefore provides another motivation for the Sudanese government to support the SPLM-IO.

On the other side of IGAD there is Uganda. Uganda’s army, the UPDF, have been instrumental in supporting the SPLM, especially in the early stages of the conflict where they arguably prevented the SPLM-IO from taking Juba. Uganda has a number of interests in South Sudan and over the past year Museveni’s government has cultivated close ties with Kiir’s regime. Thus, a victory for the SPLM-IO is highly likely to damage Uganda’s position in South Sudan. On 5th November the South Sudan News Agency leaked a report which allegedly contained the UPDF’s war strategy. According to the report, the UPDF view the SPLM-IO as “a threat to our general security” and state that “they must either surrender or face being wiped out completely”. In the report the UPDF are also shown to perceive the IGAD peace talks as “useless” and not to be relied upon. Again this document has not been verified but it is clear that Uganda firmly supports a military victory for the SPLM.

Moreover, there is a large degree of animosity between Uganda and Sudan due to Uganda’s historical support of the SPLM and Sudan’s of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). There are also suspicions from both sides that this support continues, and in the case of Uganda has extended to include the SDF. Each country is therefore highly unlikely to want the other to have substantial influence in their mutual neighbour, South Sudan. Thus, these tensions would exist within any form of direct intervention undertaken by IGAD.

The conflict in South Sudan is too often oversimplified to merely negotiations between Kiir and Machar. Although these individuals play a vital role in the potential of a lasting peace settlement being realised, there are a number of players, both internal and external, who have a large degree of influence and must not be overlooked. All of these players must be committed to peace and play a role in the negotiations if there is going to be a chance of a definitive end to hostilities.