AfricaSource|Strategic Insight on the New Africa

The Secretary of State is required by law to provide the Congress with an annual “full and complete report” on terrorism. The Country Reports on Terrorism covering 2015 was released last week and makes for some interesting reading, its conclusions eliciting reactions ranging from alarm to bemusement to, quite simply, befuddlement. An example of the latter is the country entry on page 301 of the document, which reads in part:

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Earlier this month, Kenya drew international condemnation by announcing the closure of Dadaab refugee complex and the repatriation of its 330,000 mostly Somali residents by November of this year. It’s not the first time Kenya has threatened to close the camp, but the political leadership is likely emboldened by the European Union’s plans to limit its own intake of refugees through a controversial deal with Turkey. While the Kenyan government has cited the protracted economic burden and alleged security risk that the complex presents, closing Dadaab will be far more complicated and costly than Kenya expects.

In contrast, Kenya’s neighbor Uganda is quietly pursuing a radical, assimilationist approach to its refugee challenge and it appears to be working well. Around 510,000 refugees—mostly from South Sudan, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—currently live in Uganda, making the country the third-largest refugee host in Africa after Ethiopia and Kenya. But, unlike the continent’s other host countries that confine refugees to expansive camps, Uganda provides registered newcomers with small plots of land in rural refugee villages. With help from the international community, Uganda gives refugees are access to the same social services as local Ugandans and encourages them to find jobs. They’re also allowed to move relatively freely and permanently leave the village if they feel they can support themselves elsewhere.

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It is written in the Book of Proverbs that “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” In other words, a true friend will tell another unpleasant truths, conveying things the other may not want to hear, but doing so for the sake of the other’s own good, which is valued more than even the friendship itself. However, this wisdom is predicated on the assumption that what is communicated is itself objectively true and not based on bias, much less animus. The furor that has erupted in Morocco over its entry in the US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015, published in April, raises the question of whether the document falls into the latter, rather than the former, category.

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On May 6, the Kenyan government announced that it would cease hosting the estimated 600,000 refugees that currently call Kenya home. Days later, the government scaled back its initial threat, focusing instead on northeastern Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, the world’s largest and home to 350,000 Somali refugees and their progeny. Despite providing little evidence, the Kenyan government maintains that Dadaab's existence threatens Kenya’s national security. The United Nations, United States, and international aid organizations have strenuously objected to the announcement, and warn that it may be illegal. But properly closing Dadaab may prove far more complicated and costly than the Kenyan government expects.

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Barack Obama’s historic election as President of the United States in 2008 was the first time an American of African descent had ever held the United States’ highest position. Because of the President’s Kenyan roots, many Africans were particularly excited for what they hoped would be the start of a new era in relations between the United States and Africa.

Despite a promising speech in Ghana in 2009, President Obama’s limited engagement with the continent during his first term in office left many disappointed. But, as Obama nears the end of his second term, he leaves behind a number of important legacies in the realm of US-Africa policy. Among his accomplishments, Obama’s administration launched the ambitious Power Africa plan to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa, renewed the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and held the first-ever US-Africa Leaders Summit. While not a comprehensive list, these achievements have one commonality: they use “commercial diplomacy” to deepen the economic relationship between the United States and African countries, and send a clear signal to American investors that the continent is open for business.

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African economies currently face a double threat. First, commodity prices are at their lowest in decades, which has already caused a 16 percent drop in sub-Saharan Africa’s terms of trade (the ratio of export prices to import prices). Second, responding to its own slowing growth, China has scaled back its investment on the continent. As a result, African economies increasingly face budget shortfalls, weakening currencies, and constrained economic growth.

Particularly hard hit are those African economies, such as Nigeria, that are dependent on exporting commodities and importing—in the words of President Muhammadu Buhari—“everything including toothpicks.” Despite the pressure that Nigeria’s foreign earnings shortage has put on its currency, the naira, Buhari has obstinately refused to devalue it, ignoring calls from the International Monetary Fund (and many international observers) to do so. The bleak financial outlook has driven some Nigerian consumers to try to kick-start the economy through less orthodox measures, including a movement to encourage the consumption of locally produced goods. This movement, led by Nigerian Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, has spawned a popular Twitter hashtag #BuyNaijaToGrowTheNaira, as well as a catchy theme song.

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On Friday, April 15, South Sudanese raiders crossed the border into Ethiopia to attack thirteen villages in the country’s Gambella region. Violence and carnage ensued, and the assailants escaped with 108 women and children and nearly 2,000 stolen cattle, according to Ethiopian government estimates. On Monday, the government announced that the death toll rose to 208 civilians and sixty attackers; the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that more than 21,000 people fled their homes in the raid’s aftermath.

Gambella, one of Ethiopia’s nine official regions that is approximately the size of Belgium, is located in the western part of the country, jutting into South Sudanese territory. It has 400,000 estimated residents, and is home to some of the country’s most fertile land—significant chunks of which have been leased to international companies in lucrative, but controversial, land deals.  

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In popular imagination of Africa, the continent is more famous for its savannahs than its skyscrapers. Sub-Saharan Africa’s total urbanized population is just 37 percent, compared to nearly 75 percent of European Union citizens who live in cities.

Africa’s rural population has always been larger than its urban population. But that is changing, and in 2030, the number of urban and rural Africans will be roughly the same: nearly 1.6 billion people altogether. By 2050, nearly two-thirds of all Africans will live in cities. By the same year, nearly a quarter of the world’s workforce will be African—and these workers will be overwhelmingly young.

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As the global downturn in commodity prices and the decreasing demand and investment from China begin to stymie Africa’s historical drivers of economic growth, one of the continent’s largest potential assets—its workforce—is taking off. Africa’s high fertility rates are leading to a demographic shift that will have profound consequences for the region’s long-term economic outlook.

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While a number of African rulers—most notably Joseph Kabila of the rather ironically named Democratic Republic of the Congo whose ham-fisted attempts to prolong his presidency threaten to reignite the continent’s most bloody conflict—have been trying to extend their tenures by all possible means, fair or foul, voters in Senegal were asked in a March 20 referendum to not only reaffirm the two-term limit on the presidency, but also cut the length of terms themselves down to five years from the current seven years. Altogether, the fifteen constitutional amendments approved by nearly two-thirds of the citizens who took part in the plebiscite consolidate the already significant progress made by the West African country in terms of democratic governance and make it something of a model for the region.

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