AfricaSource Strategic Insight on the New Africa

In the past year, both national holidays commemorating Cameroon’s foundations—October 2017’s independence anniversary and May 2018’s National Day salute to the unitary state system—were marred by violence between the Francophone government and Anglophone secessionists. The secessionists, who formally declared independence for the “Republic of Ambazonia” in October, have struggled to establish a sovereign state comprising the bilingual country’s primarily English-speaking Northwest and Southwest Regions. Now, they are resorting to any means necessary—including violence—to achieve their goals.

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Democratic Republic of the Congo opposition leaders Moïse Katumbi and Felix Tshisekedi are on a US and European tour to lobby for further sanctions against the regime of President Joseph Kabila and for continued Western pressure towards free and fair elections, scheduled for December. They have formed an alliance which, they hope, can unite the opposition against the regime. But their strategy remains hampered by the apparent superficiality of their coalition and the likelihood that any election under the current regime will be flawed.

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Burundians will go to the polls on Thursday, May 17 to vote in a constitutional referendum set to allow Pierre Nkurunziza, president since the end of the country’s civil war in 2005, an opportunity to stay in power until 2034. 

The vote takes place amid a fragile domestic situation, and it is likely to deepen Burundi’s existing climate of fear, raise the likelihood of mass atrocities, and further accelerate regional democratic backsliding.

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The recent statement from the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) that American forces had carried out an airstrike destroying an al-Shabaab truck bomb near Jana Cadalle in southern Somalia on April 11 was the third time this month that the US military is reported to have hit the terrorist group in the East African country. While AFRICOM stressed that the action—and the eight other airstrikes that it has acknowledged since the beginning of this year alone—was taken “in coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia” (FGS), the truth is that this heightened operational tempo in response to the ongoing threat from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab as well as a smaller ISIS-affiliated group only underscores the ongoing weakness of the internationally-recognized Somali regime.

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Last month, the leaders of forty-four African nations signed a framework agreement to form a continental free-trade zone that will encompass a billion people and up to $3 trillion of cumulative GDP. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) would be the largest free trade agreement since the founding of the World Trade Organization over twenty years ago, and seeks to create “a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments.” The agreement is an important stepping stone towards a continental customs union, pan-continental socioeconomic integration, and a more economically self-sufficient Africa.

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The April 2 anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in 2011 passed largely unremarked amid the cascade of momentous news coming recently from Ethiopia, including several years of unrest, the sudden release of thousands of detainees in mid-February, the resignation of the prime minister one day later, the declaration of a state of emergency the day after that, as well as the ensuing intense deliberations within the governing Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, culminating in the election of a new coalition chairman and his swearing-in this week as prime minister, the first such constitutional handover in the millennial history of the Ethiopian state. Yet it would not be an exaggeration to say that, as the GERD approaches completion, its strategic geopolitical and socioeconomic impact on Ethiopia and, indeed, the entire Northeast Africa region may prove greater than of any of the developments that have lately filled the news.

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Following Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s sudden resignation on Thursday, Ethiopian authorities announced a six-month country-wide state of emergency (SOE), effective yesterday. This order, the country’s second in two years, imposes draconian restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, while granting extended powers to the country’s already powerful security services.

This decision is counterproductive to the government’s stated goals of political reform and inclusive governance. It undercuts Ethiopia’s security by emboldening those who believe that violence is the only way to achieve fundamental political reform in Ethiopia, but it also negates the national and international goodwill generated by the country’s unprecedented recent release of hundreds of high-profile political prisoners.

A rapid pivot is the best hope for the ruling coalition Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to preserve prospects for long-term peace in Ethiopia.  

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Ethiopia's declaration of a state of emergency (SOE) in the wake of widespread protests earlier this week suspends the few democratic rights that Ethiopian citizens enjoy and effectively empowers military decision-making above the civilian leadership of the country. As the ruling party has seesawed between peaceful and authoritarian gestures - first releasing dozens of important political opponents, and then establishing martial law - it has become clear that Ethiopia's political leadership is perilously divided and in the midst of its own internal crisis. Critics of the regime are describing the SOE as a military coup.

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After overseeing the release on February 13 and 14 of thousands of political challengers to the regime, Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn has resigned amid continuing protests that potentially threaten the survival of the government. (For detailed analysis of those events, read this: https://buff.ly/2GeB15y )

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Update: On February 15, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned following months of sustained protests and pressure from the country’s aggrieved and marginalized ethnic groups. The country’s ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), now faces a crisis of leadership as it determines Ethiopia’s next prime minister. This author predicted the imminent ouster of Hailemariam and offered speculation as to the next person to hold that post—including the momentous challenges any new prime minister will face. Above all, Ethiopia’s new leader faces an increasingly emboldened population who demands real political reforms—which will require a painful, and potentially fraught, distribution of economic resources and power away from the TPLF ruling elite.

The protest movement playing out in Ethiopia is one of the most consequential conflicts on the African continent – more than any other, it has the potential to upend US policy in the Horn of Africa. It could disrupt counterterrorism efforts in Somalia and reduce the number of peacekeeping troops in South Sudan. But alarmingly, it has barely registered in Washington policy discussions or in the American press.

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