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.

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Taxing Questions

In 2018, there has been a growing trend of African government’s trying to tax, and in some instances restrict, the internet usage of their citizens. While governments see this as a way of strengthening their positions by raising much-needed funds, protecting state-owned telecom companies and reducing online criticism, it appears they have overlooked the long-term effects of such policies and their potential for provoking unrest.  

It has long been recognised that East Africa has led the way with respect to internet and mobile money innovations on the continent; as illustrated by the growth of platforms such as M-Pesa. It is therefore unsurprising that governments in East Africa have similarly been at the forefront of taxing and restricting internet usage and mobile money transactions. As user-bases have rapidly grown and opposition groups have increasingly used online forums, governments have simultaneously looked at the potential tax revenue provided by such users and the ability to which they can restrict opposition activities online. In the past year, the governments of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have imposed taxes on internet and mobile money usage. In Kenya and Uganda, the focus has been on mobile money payments and data usage, particularly in relation to social media, while in Tanzania the government imposed a so-called ‘blogger tax’, which required online bloggers to purchase a license that costs the equivalent of the country’s average annual income.

Although it can be argued that taxes on internet and mobile money usage help to broaden the narrow tax base that exists in most African countries, such taxes tend to be regressive. While Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni considers mobile money and social media platforms as “luxury items”, he overlooks their broad user-bases and the increasingly important role they play in Uganda’s economy and society. In Kenya in particular, where over 93 percent of the population have mobile money accounts, taxes on mobile money transactions are likely to affect disproportionately the poorer in society, who do not have bank accounts and have become reliant on such platforms.

The imposition of taxes on internet usage and mobile money is not limited to East Africa and it seems that governments across the continent are increasingly examining the viability of such taxes. Since August 2018, the governments of Benin, Zambia and Zimbabwe have announced similar taxes on internet usage and mobile money. In Zimbabwe, this has had a had a damaging effect on the economy, where mobile money was one of the very few economic successes of recent years.

In Benin, the tax was so unpopular that the #TaxePasMesMo [Don’t Tax My Megabytes] protest movement managed to force the government to overturn its decision within less than a month. Similar protests have been seen elsewhere, not least Uganda, where Museveni was forced to halve the levy on mobile money following protests. It is likely that such protests will continue and intensify as people increasingly feel the everyday cost of such taxes.

Much has been written about the role of the internet in protest movements and, at least in the African context, commentators have tended to exaggerate its influence. That said, although it has not been particularly effective at strengthening the organisation of opposition groups, the restriction of access to internet and mobile money platforms is likely to become an important catalyst for protests and social unrest across the continent. The direct implications of such taxes can be easily exploited by opposition groups and, due to broad user-bases, it is possible that protest movements that coalesce around such issues could cut across traditional political divisions. Accordingly, African governments should think twice before following Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania’s examples.

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

Is Kabila Finally Preparing to Step Down?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Uganda Election 2016

MC3_8518 - Uganda- KampalaAfrica Integrity have complied a report on Uganda’s upcoming election and its likely aftermath.

This year’s election seems to be the closest fought contest in recent history and political tensions are running high. Moreover, it appears that both the government and the opposition expect, and are seemingly preparing for, widespread instability following the election.

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

Francophone Africa Revisited

Artist's Map of Africa

On 17th March 2015 we published an article entitled “Troubles en Afrique Francophonie” which discussed increasing anti-government protests across Francophone Africa, not seen in either Anglophone or Lusophone regions. We assessed that in our globalised world it appears that language still has an important influence on the contagion effect of political protest. The countries we identified as experiencing unrest over the past year were Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Niger and Togo. Since then: unrest has intensified in Burundi leading to an attempted coup on 13th May 2015; Gabon has been beset by a series of protests and strikes; and violent clashes have erupted between opposition supporters and the security forces in Guinea’s capital Conakry.

In stark contrast, unrest and political protests have been muted in Anglophone and Lusophone Africa. Despite deteriorating economic conditions in Ghana, allegations of mass killings by the security forces in Angola, and the continuation of the rule of two of Africa’s longest serving ‘Strongmen’ in Uganda and Zimbabwe, these countries have largely avoided anti-government protests like those seen in Francophone Africa. Although South Africa experienced unrest caused by xenophobic, or ‘afrophobic’, riots in April 2015, these were not protests aimed at the government and therefore less dangerous to the ruling ANC.

The unrest seen in Francophone Africa over the past year is particularly anti-government in nature. Protestors have called for greater democracy, criticising long term rulers and those who they believe are exploiting their positions of power in order to prolong their rule. The protests appear to be well co-ordinated by highly active civil society groups and opposition parties which possess clear aims. This is therefore much more of a threat to ruling parties and presidents.

It is not clear why this unrest has been a particular feature of Francophone Africa but it seems that different movements have taken inspiration from each other. It is possible that this has spread through the reporting of events on social or conventional media, which has been expedited by a shared language. However, it is also possible that it has been caused by increased co-operation between different civil society groups. There was an indication that this could be the case in March 2015, when 40 pro-democracy activists were arrested in the DRC, including members of Senegalese and Burkinabe civil society groups. Thus, it could be that civil society groups in Francophone Africa are beginning to operate transnationally; sharing ideas, experiences and acting as inspirations for movements in other countries.

Nonetheless, whatever the reason behind the increasing unrest it appears that Francophone Africa’s autocratic leaders are going to face continued protests in 2015.

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.