AfricaSource Strategic Insight on the New Africa

On Monday, November 7, the 22nd Conference of Parties (COP22) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will convene in Marrakech. The meeting’s venue in the fabled Moroccan caravan town—long a cultural, religious, and trading hub between the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa—will focus attention on the irony that while among the regions of the world Africa may be the least responsible for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions which overwhelming body of scientific opinion holds responsible for global warming, the continent nonetheless stands to be the most severely impacted by the phenomenon.

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South Africa, commonly lauded as a beacon of democracy on the African continent, has finally caught the attention of the international community after its official decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The press and human rights organizations are abuzz with the news – decrying the country’s betrayal to "millions of victims of human rights violations" and warning of the anticipated domino effect that could ensue if other African countries follow suit. The Gambia’s decision to withdraw from the ICC confirms worst fears about the knock on effect of South Africa’s recent move. But South Africa’s withdrawal from the embattled ICC is not a surprise, nor is it the foremost threat to the country’s rule of law. The withdrawal is indicative of concerning domestic trends at play which have been quietly chipping away at nation’s democratic foundation, receiving very little international attention. The decision is just one of President Jacob Zuma’s many attempts to use his executive power to suppress dissent. It also serves as a useful distraction from the ongoing scandals that continue to plague his desperate attempt to cling to his position as the ANC’s president. 

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In a region that has too often been plagued by coups, civil wars, and general political strife, Senegal, one of Africa's oldest democracies, is somewhat of an outlier. This reputation for political stability is further enhanced by the considerable number of multinationals, international organizations, and NGOs that have selected Senegal as the regional centre for their West Africa operations.

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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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