AfricaSource Strategic Insight on the New Africa

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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Ethiopia's declaration of a state of emergency (SOE) in the wake of widespread protests earlier this week suspends the few democratic rights that Ethiopian citizens enjoy and effectively empowers military decision-making above the civilian leadership of the country. As the ruling party has seesawed between peaceful and authoritarian gestures - first releasing dozens of important political opponents, and then establishing martial law - it has become clear that Ethiopia's political leadership is perilously divided and in the midst of its own internal crisis. Critics of the regime are describing the SOE as a military coup.

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After overseeing the release on February 13 and 14 of thousands of political challengers to the regime, Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn has resigned amid continuing protests that potentially threaten the survival of the government. (For detailed analysis of those events, read this: )

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Update: On February 15, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned following months of sustained protests and pressure from the country’s aggrieved and marginalized ethnic groups. The country’s ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), now faces a crisis of leadership as it determines Ethiopia’s next prime minister. This author predicted the imminent ouster of Hailemariam and offered speculation as to the next person to hold that post—including the momentous challenges any new prime minister will face. Above all, Ethiopia’s new leader faces an increasingly emboldened population who demands real political reforms—which will require a painful, and potentially fraught, distribution of economic resources and power away from the TPLF ruling elite.

The protest movement playing out in Ethiopia is one of the most consequential conflicts on the African continent – more than any other, it has the potential to upend US policy in the Horn of Africa. It could disrupt counterterrorism efforts in Somalia and reduce the number of peacekeeping troops in South Sudan. But alarmingly, it has barely registered in Washington policy discussions or in the American press.

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Since Jacob Zuma took office in May 2009, South Africa’s economy has been a story of low-to-no growth, flagrant corruption, and extreme inequality. Indeed, his erratic policies have twice spiraled the economy into recession (in 2009 and 2017), resulting in significant slashes to the country’s credit rating and an overall downgrade of the country’s brand. The recent victory of Cyril Ramaphosa at the African National Congress (ANC) conference in December injected a sense of hope into the political and economic environment.  In his proposed “new deal,” he outlined economic growth targets of 5 percent by 2023 and an initiative to create one million new jobs in an effort to reduce South Africa’s unemployment rate, which hovers stubbornly over a painfully high 26 percent. 

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Over Egypt’s vocal dissent, Ethiopia is forging ahead with final construction on its ambitious Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Nile River, the lifeblood of nearly 500 million Africans. As the region’s population is expected to double to a whopping one billion people over the next three decades, the dam will become more of a flashpoint in an already volatile region, and the rising political tension bodes poorly for East Africa’s future stability.

In November, after months of disagreement over the release of an environmental impact study, Egypt withdrew from technical negotiations on the GERD’s construction. Cairo worries that the project gives its upstream neighbor Ethiopia too much control over the Nile, which is Egypt’s primary freshwater resource. Meanwhile, an escalating diplomatic crisis between Egypt and Sudan, ostensibly over water issues but exacerbated by fallout from the Gulf crisis, has hardened the divisions between Egypt and an emerging Ethiopia-Sudan alliance.

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On Tuesday, January 23rd, Africa Center Senior Fellow Aubrey Hruby testified on US-Africa trade and investment before the US International Trade Commission hearing on US Trade and Investment with Sub-Saharan Africa: Recent Developments, #332-564.

Distinguished members of the committee, Ambassadors, and fellow witnesses:

I would like to begin by thanking you, not only for the opportunity to testify before you today, but also the attention that the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) has given to the topic of trade and investment with our partners across Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

My name is Aubrey Hruby. I’m a Senior Fellow with the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council and I’ve spent the better part of my career advising Fortune 500 companies to design and implement successful investment and market entry strategies for over twenty African markets. I will devote my testimony to the following themes: 1) an assessment of US trade with SSA; 2) Africa’s increasing diversity of trading partners; 3) the role of the WTO’s TFA in stimulating economic growth and development on the continent; and 4) recommendations for the future.

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Cameroon’s crisis, which pits a marginalized group of English-speakers against the Francophone majority, has taken a dangerous turn. The conflict has its roots in the colonial era, when British and French territories were awkwardly combined to form modern-day Cameroon. Anglophones have wanted autonomy for decades, but in the past year, they have mounted a full-throated secessionist campaign. In October, Anglophone protests marred the country’s 56th anniversary of unification, triggering a violent crackdown by the state. Protestors have since begun attacking the security forces, and their demands for the creation of an independent nation, which they call “Ambazonia,” have become increasingly violent.

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The primary political fault line running through Cameroon, a country in Central Africa, is not ethnic, but linguistic – the population is divided between its English and French speaking parts. In recent months, the linguistic cleavage has started to widen, with increasing demands for Anglophone autonomy and secession. This amplification of decades-old divides is in large-part due to the repressive strategies employed by the Francophone central government in response. A continuation of this dispute may heighten the growing violence and security concerns in the country and threaten the stability of a region already facing extensive intra-state conflict.

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The ongoing military intervention in Zimbabwe effectively marks the end of Robert Mugabe’s thirty-seven-year hold on power, according to J. Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.

“In whatever way the developments of the last twenty-four to forty-eight hours play out, it is quite clear that the near-absolute grip that he had on power for almost four decades, that era has come to an end,” said Pham. 

The military said it has put Mugabe, who has led the country since 1980, under house arrest.

“The military seems to be taking a very careful approach in not formally declaring this a coup, but it is quite clear that, at least for now, they are in charge,” said Pham.

J. Peter Pham spoke in an interview with the New Atlanticist’s Ashish Kumar Sen. 

To read the interview, please click here.