AfricaSource Strategic Insight on the New Africa

Amid strong pressure from the Trump Administration, the United Nations (UN) voted at the end of June to cut over $600 million from its peacekeeping budget. The majority of these cuts are set to come from key operations in Sub-Saharan Africa, including the UN’s mission in the Central African Republic (CAR), known by its French acronym MINUSCA, which was originally authorized in April 2014.

While CAR’s military, the Forces Armées Centrafricains, or FACA, is retrained by a European Union (EU) force known as EUTM RCA, MINUSCA acts as CAR’s primary guarantor of security in a country overrun by competing rebel groups.  Unfortunately, these cuts could not come at a worse time. Faced with increasing religious violence, the mission has come under critical strain in recent months according to UN Special Representative Parfait Onanga-Anyanga. 

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Protected by some 36,000 troops especially deployed to counter attacks by jihadist terrorists and other militants that had disrupted voting at 644 polling places (out of 23,041) during the first round just two weeks ago, millions of Malians went to the polls Sunday to vote in the presidential runoff between the incumbent head of state, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, commonly known by his initials “IBK,” and Soumaïla Cissé, a former finance minister.

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It has been twenty years since that morning of August 7, 1998, when suicide bombers detonated, almost simultaneously, trucks laden with explosives outside the United States embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The attacks, the first claimed by al-Qaeda against US targets, left 224 people dead, including a dozen Americans, and around 5,000 wounded. While the bombings took place eight years to the day after US troops arrived in Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait—Osama bin Laden took offense at the presence of American forces in the land of the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina—they also opened in Africa what would become a major front in what only came to be recognized in the years after 9/11 as the “long war” against jihadist militancy.

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While the July 30, 2018, general election in Zimbabwe—the first in almost four decades where longtime ruler Robert Mugabe won’t be on the ballot—has been attracting a great deal more attention, the presidential election in Mali one day earlier matters just as much and, arguably, is even more important to the security and geopolitical interests of the United States and its European allies.

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“Shikata,” or “remain seated” in Swahili, claim the posters on Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s effigy in the streets of Lubumbashi. But while everyone’s attention is focused on the regime’s contortions to stay in power, despite constitutional impediments to doing so and deep domestic discontent, the 2015 break-up of Congo’s existing provinces has upended politics below the surface with far-reaching consequences for the current regime and potentially destabilizing effects for whomever inherits the state come the end of this year (assuming that elections that have been repeatedly postponed actually take place on schedule this coming December 23).

One of the reasons for the increase from eleven to twenty-six provinces was to break up Katanga and deprive its governor, key Kabila opponent Moïse Katumbi, of his provincial base. Beyond such political expediency, however, this policy’s main effect has been to create ethnically homogeneous provinces. As Alma Bezares Calderon, Lisa Jené, and I write in a recent report for the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium, up to eleven of Congo’s provinces are made up primarily of a single ethnic group. This is an increase from three provinces with a single ethnic group prior to this policy.

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Ethiopians and Eritreans alike are celebrating the breakneck speed of a rapprochement between Addis Ababa and Asmara, two longtime enemies. Closer ties between the two, while not necessarily a done deal, could usher in a new era of peace and prosperity for the Horn of Africa, resuming a thriving trade relationship and granting landlocked Ethiopia access to a new port. Unfortunately, nearby Djibouti—which has successfully exploited its prime territory on the Red Sea to offer both port access and military bases to foreign countries—stands to lose. At the least, this tectonic shift will reduce the revenues available to President Ismail Omar Guelleh, in power since 1999, and undermine his ironclad grip on the country. At worst, Djibouti could prove a spoiler, which would threaten prospects for regional peace as well as longstanding US strategic interests in the Horn of Africa.

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In October 2017, a little-known Islamist insurgency by the name of “Ahlu Sunna wa-Jama” or “Swahili Sunnah,” attacked the town of Mocimboa da Praia in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province. The attack began a campaign of terror that has paralyzed Mozambique’s northern coast and threatened $30 billion in offshore natural gas projects, a key lifeline for Mozambique’s future development. As casualties rise and civilian displacement continues, the government’s heavy security response has not effectively countered the Islamist group, which has already been compared to the early stages of the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria. However, it should be cautioned that information on the group is difficult to find and separating fact from speculation is harder still. The below timeline, compiled from open sources, seeks to catalogue and differentiate confirmed and unconfirmed reports on the Islamist group’s emergence, ideology, and development in northern Mozambique.

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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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