AfricaSource Strategic Insight on the New Africa

“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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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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