AfricaSource|Strategic Insight on the New Africa

While South Sudan’s First Vice President Taban Deng Gai carries out a public relations offensive in New York and Washington this week, all indications suggest that the country is teetering dangerously close to collapsing back into civil war.

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In a nationally-televised speech on August 20, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI characterized Africa as the “top priority” of his country’s foreign policy, emphasizing that “this multi-dimensional relationship puts Morocco in the center of Africa” and “Africa holds a special place in the heart of Moroccans.” Coming just a month after the historic decision by the kingdom to seek to assume its place in the African Union after having quit the old Organization of African Unity over the latter’s controversial admission of Western Sahara separatists three decades ago, the monarch’s remarks reaffirmed a strategic orientation with significant implications not only for Morocco and other countries of the African continent, but also their global partners, including the United States.

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“If we cannot cause the politician to change, then we must inspire the citizen to be bold,” said Pastor Evan Mawarire, founder of Zimbabwe’s #ThisFlag movement, at the Atlantic Council on Wednesday, August 17.

Mawarire gave his remarks draped in a Zimbabwean flag, the symbol of the movement. “We are rising up to say that our government has failed us. We’re not afraid anymore to raise our voices, because it is the truth. [...] the Zimbabwean citizens are the missing voice that has not been present in the timeline of building Zimbabwe.”

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Recent reports that United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping in South Sudan failed to protect both civilians and foreign workers from rape, beatings, and robbery during a recent spate of violence in July are the most recent in a long string of peacekeeping scandals in Africa. In some cases, blue helmets have simply failed to protect civilians from abusers. In others, peacekeepers have actively abused the civilians they were tasked to protect. It’s clear that the UN peacekeeping system needs systematic reform. Reform requires re-engagement from Western countries that have backed away from UN peacekeeping.

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On August 3, South Africans go to the polls to vote in the country’s fifth local government elections since the end of apartheid. Although municipal elections seldom draw much international attention, this year the stakes are particularly high in South Africa. Since it championed the struggle to liberate the country from apartheid under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, the African National Congress (ANC) has dominated South African politics and easily maintained a loyal voter base. But more than twenty years since the end of apartheid, all is not well in “the rainbow nation.” President Jacob Zuma has been plagued by scandal - with over 700 charges pending against him (the charges were recently reinstated by a high court after a failed appeal attempt), the president has been embroiled in corruption charges after he spent public money on costly upgrades to his private luxury estate. Rising economic woes, poor service delivery and rampant inequality have spurred numerous protests across the country. Many of these demonstrations have turned violent, and the South African Human Rights Commission has registered its concern about the increase in politically related killings ahead of the elections. The ANC is now poised to lose some of its urban strongholds – a development that would signal the end of the party’s exclusive grip on power, and could usher in the beginning of some precarious coalition politics in advance of what would undoubtedly be a highly contested national election in 2019.

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On May 31, Simone Gbagbo, former First Lady of Côte d’Ivoire, went on trial in Abidjan before the country’s highest criminal court for crimes against humanity. She faces charges for offenses committed during the 2010-2011 post-election crisis, when incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara. What ensued was a military campaign by pro-Ouattara forces that ousted President Gbagbo from power in April 2011, but not before the death of 3,000 civilians and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more. Later that year, citing its own inability to handle the case, the state extradited Laurent Gbagbo to the International Criminal Court (ICC), where he is currently on trial for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the conflict.

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This week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the first sitting Israeli head of government to travel to Africa since Yitzhak Rabin went to see Morocco’s King Hassan II in 1993. Netanyahu made stops in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Ethiopia; while in Uganda, he also met with leaders from South Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia. Although much of the media coverage of the trip has focused on the ceremony at Entebbe, where Netanyahu unveiled a modest monument commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the daring rescue by Israeli commandos of hijacked airline passengers—a raid commanded by the prime minister’s older brother Yonatan, who lost his life during the mission—the real story is the significant return of Israel in recent years to a continent that had been virtually closed to it for a long time.

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Amid the global political and economic turmoil in the wake of last week’s narrow decision by British voters in favor of taking their country out of the European Union, there has been no shortage of alarm about the potential toll of “Brexit” on Africa in terms of diminished trade, investment, and assistance. While there will undoubtedly be a significant negative impact in the short-to-medium term, over the long run, the news may not be all bad from the African perspective.

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On June 20, violent protests broke out in Tshwane, the metropolitan municipality encompassing South Africa’s executive capital, Pretoria. The death toll associated with the chaos that ensued cost five people their lives. While violent protests are not an unusual occurrence in the embattled democracy, last week’s events are particularly significant. With just six weeks to go before the municipal elections on August 3, the ruling party – the African National Congress (ANC) – is feeling the pressure like never before. For the first time since the liberation movement came to power, there is a very real chance that the party may lose political control of some of South Africa’s biggest cities (to the ANC’s chagrin, opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) already has control over Cape Town, the country’s second most populous urban area and its legislative capital). With increasing economic fragility in light of political uncertainty, South Africa’s rising tide of social discontent threatens to create the perfect political storm for the ANC ahead of the local elections. Liberation credentials have long delivered a solid voter base for the party, but poor job growth and stark economic inequality have caused once loyal supporters to reconsider whether the ANC is capable of delivering on its promises.

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According to Eritrean officials, in the early hours of Sunday, June 12, Ethiopian forces launched an unprovoked assault over the Eritrean border at the town of Tsorana. Heavy fighting lasted throughout the day and continued after dark, when the Eritrean forces managed to launch a counter-offensive that ended the assault.

Near midnight on June 12, Eritrea’s information minister released a press statement accusing Ethiopia of the attack, and stating that “the purpose and ramifications of this attack are unclear.” Privately, officials expressed concern that the skirmish could presage a return to full-scale war.

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