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The Ethiopian Powder Keg Is a Regional Threat

Samantha Maloof

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When governmental forces killed at least 9 civilians in last week’s security operation in Ethiopia’s Oromia region to enforce the country’s state of emergency, popular outrage at the government reached new levels. Even if the killings were later labelled an “accident” due to wrong intelligence, and although apologies were sent to the families, these actions did little to calm the storm already brewing in the country. While the Horn of Africa has seen continual strife for years, the events that have been unfolding in Ethiopia risk spreading instability far beyond the country’s borders. The world should pay attention.

Tensions in Addis Ababa have been running high ever since a state of emergency was imposed on February 16th after the surprise resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. The government stated the state of emergency  was intended to protect the constitution and safeguard stability, but the main opposition party, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), fiercely rejected the decree as null and void after evidence of vote rigging in the procedures emerged.

The OFC, and indeed Ethiopia’s wider population, has good cause to be suspicious of the governments’ motives. After all, Addis Ababa has harnessed measures like this for nefarious reasons before. A state of emergency was declared for the first time in 25 years in the country in 2016, when anti-government protests rocked the Oromia region. Protesters of the Oromo ethnic group demanded greater autonomy and an end to the economic marginalization perpetrated by the ruling Tigrayan ethnic group. In response, former PM Desalegn eventually imposed emergency laws because “the situation posed a threat against the people of the country.” In reality, however, both emergency periods were used as a ploy to crack down hard on dissent.

International observers now fear widespread human rights abuses under the guise of ’protecting stability’, as the emergency measures severely curtail freedom of speech and assembly rights. They bar the distribution of writings that could incite violence – though what constitutes “inciting” tends to be arbitrarily defined by the authorities. And with its sweeping new powers, the military is authorized to suppress any form of opposition.

No wonder, then, that the recent killings are not regarded as the accidents the authorities want to make them seem. While peaceful protests in Oromia and the capital continue, where shops have shut down and public transport has stopped, Ethiopia’s population is more divided than ever. Next to the ethnic divisions paralyzing national politics, Ethiopia’s economy has ground to a halt, further widening inequalities between ethnic groups.

This is all bad news. Not only is Ethiopia the Horn of Africa’s economic engine, but its US-allied military plays a significant role in regional peacekeeping and the fight against terrorism. Should Addis Ababa spiral further into chaos, the glue that has been keeping a war-torn region together would melt away and instability would rapidly spread to Ethiopia’s neighbors, especially South Sudan and Djibouti.

Mired in civil war since 2013 following its split from Sudan, South Sudan is heavily reliant on Ethiopia’s peacekeeping forces and its diplomatic heft. Addis Ababa is the main contributor to the various UN security forces in the country and has played a key role in guaranteeing the August 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan.

The chaos that would ensue in South Sudan if refugees and possibly even armed groups from Ethiopia were to be added to this volatile mix is hard to imagine. Besides the nearly daily massacres, South Sudan is already unable to feed its population, the majority of it internally displaced people. As of March 2018, more than 5.3 million people are in dire need for food assistance while 204,000 are seeking refuge in UN camps. With ceasefires routinely ignored, stability is unlikely to take hold any time soon.

Another country whose fate hangs in the balance is pocket-sized Djibouti. Much like South Sudan, the port nation is vitally dependent on foreign resources to sustain its economy and its people. Ethiopia provides most of Djibouti’s electricity, fruits and fresh water and is responsible for keeping the country’s ports busy. Since Ethiopia is a landlocked country 100 million strong, Djibouti’s ports are an essential part of its trade. As such, any conflict in Ethiopia threatens the supply lines that have thus far saved its diminutive neighbor from collapse.

Despite its semblance of stability, Djibouti’s iron-fisted ruler Ismail Omar Guelleh, has become increasingly volatile. In power since 1999, Guelleh has stepped up its suppression of human rights and dissent, while doing precious little to raise the fortunes of the country’s impoverished population. While shining new buildings dot the landscape in the country’s capital, most locals live in squalid suburbs lacking access to clean water or economic opportunities. Observers worry that an external shock to the country could reignite long-silenced protests in one of Africa’s poorest countries.

Much of Djibouti’s woes are its own doings. Other than Ethiopia, Guelleh has found an ally in China, which is playing a major part in keeping the Djiboutian economic engine going. While Beijing has poured $14.4 billion into its foothold since 2015, Guelleh has been eager to show his gratitude. In February, the government seized  the Doraleh Container Terminal, previously run by Dubai’s DP World, in an apparent favor to China. Such preferential treatment isn’t doing Guelleh any favors with the local population, already unhappy about the Chinese presence.

Though Djibouti seems unlikely to revolt as long as China is watching over it, even Beijing won’t be able to hold back the tide if Ethiopia collapses and the ensuing instability inevitably adds fire to notoriously fragile South Sudan.

Given the magnitude of the stakes, Ethiopia’s emergency laws have therefore become a pan-African problem. They are not just a threat to Addis Ababa, but to the entire region, which relies heavily on the country for trade and aid. Unless Ethiopia’s government changes its ways, abolishes the state of emergency and allows for free and fair elections to be organized, Addis Ababa might well be the spark that lights the fuse on the Horn of Africa.

Samantha is a freshly minted graduate in International Relations based in Cairo, currently working as a research assistant in a small think tank looking at development and inequality in Africa

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Does the Regime change in Algeria and Sudan signals the advent of “Arab Spring 2.0”?

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With the ouster of Abdelaziz Bouteflika as the president of Algeria and removal of Omar al-Bashir, as the president of Sudan – some scholars are arguing that the world is about to witness a new phase of change or the “Arab Spring 2.0” that might impact the political stability in the whole Middle East region. On April 2, 2019, months-long public protests forced the exit of president Bouteflika, and on April 11, 2019, Sudan’s president al-Bashir was ousted from power by the military. The fall of longstanding regimes in Algeria and Sudan has generated anxiety among the other authoritarian regimes in the region – fearing how the protests and sudden regime change in two important member countries of “Arab League” would impact the wider Arab-world or the Middle East region.

The original “Arab Spring” was a series of mass level anti-government protests and uprising that first started in Tunisia in December 2010. Later on, the uprising in Tunisia ignited protests against the authoritarian regimes in many Arab countries. Effective use social media platforms and large-scale participation of the youth – with men and women playing equal part was one of the the salient features of original “Arab Spring”. Similarly, in Algeria and in Sudan – youth – both men and women have effectively used social media in spreading the message and motivating people to come out for participating in the protests. Particularly, women have played a pivotal role in bringing the people to the streets. The key role of women protestors in the ouster of Bouteflika and al-Bashir is a massively exciting and stimulating moment which could open a window of opportunity for women to play more active role in the domestic politics of Arab countries. Moreover, youth’s persistent demand for the change of entire political leadership in Algeria and in Sudan might trigger a chain reaction in the neighbouring Arab countries to unleash the “Arab Spring 2.0”. However, this factor could also push the authoritarian regimes of the region; Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Iran – to take more strict or punitive measures against any kind of political protests to ensure that no more leaders would be forced to leave the office.

The original or first “Arab Spring” was met with a heavy-handed response and a massive crackdown against the protests was started in many Arab countries which resulted in the arrests and prisons of large numbers of protestors. After almost a decade, the tendency to suppress the opposition through oppressive means is still a key tool of various authoritarian regimes in the Arab/Middle East countries – whether it is Saudi Arabia showing an intent to reform but contradicting its claims by killing the journalists like Jamal Khashoggi and by arresting women rights activists like Samar Badawi, or Egypt which continues to arrest journalists and civil society activists like Esraa Abdelfattahh or Ibrahim Al-Husseini or Iran which is crushing the opposing voices and protests with the methods of repression.

Nearly a decade after the first “Arab Spring”, a whole new generation is coming of age in the Arab/Middle East countries. With the memories of protests and uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria are still fresh in their minds a key question is facing them; will the mass civil society uprising that toppled the oppressive and authoritarian regimes of Bouteflika and al-Bashir inspire this new generation in the Arab/Middle East countries to stage similar popular uprisings against the authoritarian rulers in their own countries? Looking at the chaos and instability in Libya, Syria and Yemen that followed by the Arab Spring, the majority answer to this question might be negative.

Although the people of Algeria and Sudan deserve huge appreciation but the events and happenings in both countries indicate that the regime change has only resulted in the change of faces and there has been no headway made to bring the real democracy. In Algeria, Abdelkadar Bensalah a longtime ally of Bouteflika and the Senate speaker has been brought in to oversee an interim government for 90 days, and in Sudan – Vice President Lieutenant General Awad ibn Auf seized the power with a promise to hold the elections after two years. On Saturday 13 April, bending to public pressure Gen. ibn Auf reversed his decision to head the Sudan military council and named Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan as his successor but the military stated that it will stay in power for two years.

Governments and people in the Arab-world have learned the lessons from the first “Arab Spring” and they are looking at the recent developments through the lens of firstuprising to shape their policy and response. Accordingly, it is more likely that the developments in Algeria and Sudan may not spark a similar kind of chain reaction which was triggered bythe popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya. A key reason whythe developments in Algeria and Sudan might have less impact in the Middle East region is that the majority of international community which supported the first “Arab Spring” in a misperceived sense of “democratic triumphalism”, is now much more cautious in its response towards the current uprisings. A careful response of international community shows that they have also learned the lessons from the events of Syria, Libya, Yemen and Egypt. Moreover, international community encouraged the uprisings in Egypt and Libya because both countries were important centers of power in the Middle East and North Africa. Historically, Egypt has remained a traditional centre of power in the Middle East and Libya being a leading Arab country and an important member of African Union has remained a regional power in North Africa. Although, the people have forced the regime change in both countries but these changes are controlled or “pacted transitions” which are brokered by the real power holders of both countries therefore the chances for a second phase of Arab uprising are very low.

From an external perspective, key international actors are carefully observing and monitoring the changes and developments caused by the fall of Bouteflika and al-Bashir regimes. France and Italy are concerned that the exit of Bouteflika might generate instability in the whole region of North Africa. A key reason for their anxiety is the fear that a prolonged political instability in Algeria might bring a rise in the “cross-Mediterranean” migration to Europe. The ouster of al-Bashir could engender some instability in “Horn of Africa”. This is true in the sense that Sudan is part of region which is equally important for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and also for Iran and Israel.

Russia is also keeping a close eye on what is happening Algeria and Sudan as it might have some short-term geopolitical consequences for Moscow which is very keen to develop military and political ties with both countries. In 2006, Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Algeria. During Putin’s visit Russia signed major arms deal with Algeria. In July 2018, Russian ambassador to Algeria revealed that Algeria purchases almost 50 per cent of Russia’s total arms sales to Africa. On March 19, 2019, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed Russia’s concerns over the mass protests in Algeria, declaring the situation as an attempt to undermine the political stability of Algeria. Similarly, on 16 March, 2019, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia and Special Presidential Envoy for the Middle East and Africa, Mikhail Bogdanov during his visit to Sudan stressed Russia’s confidence in Al-Bashir’s leadership and stated that Russia has strong desire to strengthen its economic, political and military ties with Sudan.

Although the longstanding regimes have been removed from Algeria and Sudan but the situation both countries is still critical and precarious. The protestors are still out in the streets of Algiers and Khartoum fearing that the people in the new administrations are longtime allies of both Bouteflika and al-Bashir. The interim administration in both countries insist that they do not wish to stay in power for long time and the future of the countries will be decided by the people. But at the same, the military leaders of both countries have warned the people that they will not allow anyone to undermine the national security. This shows that the real power is still in the hands of the influential military leadership of both countries and they still holds the key to broke any agreement that will decide the future political setup in Algeria and Sudan.

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Libya: Will the U.N. Appeal for a halt to the March on Tripoli be heard?

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With the administrative-political situation in Libya badly stalemated and a meeting for negotiations to be held 14-16 April unlikely to make progress, on Thursday 4 April 2019, General Khalifa Hafter, one of the key players in the drama decided to start a “March on Tripoli” and to take overall power by force.

Most of the significant buildings in Libyan cities were built by Italians during the Fascist  period when Libya was an Italian colony.  Thus, General Hafter has patterned himself on Mussolini’s 1922 “March on Rome”.  In 1922, the diplomats of most States looked away when Mussolini marched or the diplomats  took it as a domestic affair.

liby01In 2019, the “March on Tripoli” has drawn more international attention and concern.  The U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with Hafter a few hours before the March began.  Guterres was in Libya  to facilitate the 14-16 April meeting on which his Special Representative Ghassan Salomé  has been working for some time in the hope of drawing a road map for long-delayed elections.  On Friday 5 April, the U.N. Security Council held a closed-door emergency meeting.  The Security Council called for a halt to the March on Tripoli and the deescalation of the growing armed conflict.

The Security Council recognized the real possibilities of broader armed conflict and its consequences on the civilian population.  In the recent past the Libyan armed factions have violated the laws of war and have a sad record of abuses against civilians.

We will now have to see if Khalifa Hafter is more open to international appeals than was Benito Mussolini.   My impression is that the goal of holding overall power is stronger than the respect of international law. However, even a successful “March on Tripoli” will not create the conditions for an administration of a culturally and geographically-diverse country. New and appropriate constitutional structures must be developed.

There cannot be a return to the earlier Italian colonial structures, nor to the forms of government at independence developed by King Idris al Sanussi which depended largely on his role as a religious leader using religious orders, nor the complicated pattern of “direct democracy” developed by Muammar  al Qadhafi. The Association of World Citizens has proposed the possibility of  con-federal structures.

The post 2011 Libyan society faces large and complex issues.  Resolving the institutional, economic and political issues is urgent and cannot be settled by elections alone. There are three distinct regions which must have some degree of autonomy: Tripolitania and Cyrenaica both bordering the Mediterranean and Fezzan in the southern Sahara. Within each of the three regions there are differing and often rival tribal societies which are in practice more kinship lines than organized tribes. [1] There are differing economic interests and there are differing ideologies ranging from “Arab Socialism” to the Islamist ideology of the Islamic State which has spread from its Syrian-Iraqi base.

The situation is critical, and the next few days may be crucial for the future of the country.

 [1] See J. Davis. Libyan Politics, Tribes and Revolution (London: I.B. Tauris, 1987)

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Russia and Angola: Stuck Between Diplomatic Rhetoric and Business Reality

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks at the Kremlin with President of Angola leader João Lourenço on strengthening cooperation in trade, the economy and culture, as well as current international and regional matters.

“Angola is a reliable and old partner. We need to consider what we need to do, without delay, to stimulate our trade and economic ties. There are interesting fields of activity, such as the diamond industry, fisheries and space exploration. There are also cultural spheres, such as education and the training of personnel,” Putin told the Angolan President at the meeting.

On his part, the Angolan leader João Lourenço added: “We have come to Russia on an official visit to strengthen our ties and cooperation and, if possible, to promote interaction between our countries. Russia is doing splendidly in the spheres of mineral resources, education, healthcare and defence. But we would like to know about Russia’s potential in other fields so we can promote cooperation in these areas of the Angolan economy.”

He informed further that his opening speech at the Angola-Russia Forum in Moscow was designed to attract the interest of Russian business people to investing in the Angolan economy, and finally added “many countries are doing this, and we are confident that Russia can help with economic diversification.”

Putin and Lourenço signed a joint communique after their consultations. The number of bilateral documents signed included the intergovernmental agreements on the peaceful exploration and use of space, and on fishery and aquaculture, as well as documents on cooperation in diamond mining and processing.

Consultations continue on draft agreements on cooperation in the peaceful use of outer space and nuclear energy, commercial shipping, mutual protection of classified information, simplified access to Angola’s ports for Russian warships, as well as agreements involving Russia’s Justice Ministry, Ministry of Industry and Trade and Communications Ministry, according to the Kremlin Press Service.

Before their final departure from the Kremlin, João Lourenço presented Vladimir Putin with a high Angolan award – the Order of Agostinho Neto, the first President of Angola – as a sign of gratitude for the years of support for the Republic of Angola.

Agostinho Neto Order is the highest distinction of the Angolan State with a single degree, granted to nationals and foreigners, in particular Heads of State and Government, political leaders and other heavyweight individuals.

Earlier at the Angolan-Russian Forum, the Angolan leader said that political and diplomatic relations with Russia were “excellent and privileged” but asked for more Russian private investment.

In his objective assessment about economic engagement by foreign players, only few Russian companies are comparatively operating in the Angolan market and limited solely to the exploration and production of diamonds, to the financial system and to the construction of hydroelectric dams.

“Angola wants to change that scenario through public-private partnerships or by creating Angolan-Russian companies with a focus on the manufacturing industry, agro-industry, fishing, energy, tourism, geology and mining, among other sectors,” he added.

Lourenço, however, recalled the long-lasting tradition of “friendship and solidarity” between the two countries, which have remained firm and strong despite the great changes the world has seen in the last decades. Angola counts with Russia’s solidarity and support at a time when it must guarantee economic cooperation and sustainable development, the president said.

Russia-Angolan interaction in the Kremlin has attracted attention of a former Russian diplomat. “Angola is a priority area of Russia’s cooperation in Africa. To begin with, that was the case since the time when Angola fought for its independence. Secondly, this is due to Angola’s huge economic potential,” explained Sergei Nenashev, who served as Russia’s Ambassador to Angola from 2007-2012.

“Now the country lives off oil, gas and, partially, diamonds. On the other hand, Angola has vast resources. Today, Russia and Angola maintain ties in all areas of interstate relations, including culture, education, personnel training, military-technical, financial and economic cooperation.” the former Ambassador told the Kommersant daily newspaper.

Russians like historical references. As expected, the local Russian media were awashed with articles highlighting Russia’s historical contributions to the independence of Angola, the development and strengthening of friendly relations with the country during the Soviet era. That Russia has promoted political dialogue, including the exchange of visits at the high levels, as well as trade and economic cooperation and cultural relations between the two countries.

Media reports offered a number of examples of many areas of cooperation. But Russian companies, at least over the past ten years, have made little results or impact on development of the country. Alrosa is involved in diamond mining in Angola’s largest Catoka deposit. Global Resources is involved in geological prospecting. Rosneft has won a tender for working in Angola. Russia and Angolan companies are cooperating on high technology.

Itar-Tass reported that Russian truck-maker Kamaz may organize assembly of trucks in Angola and Russian Railways may participate in upgrading the rail infrastructure in this country. Russian Railways (RZD) in restoring and upgrading the railroad infrastructure are among looking-forward cooperation projects.

But, Professors Vladimir Shubin and Alexandra Archangelskaya from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for African Studies, have argued that “both Russia and Angola still need to be more strategic in aligning their interests, and more proactive in carving out efficient bilateral instruments and mechanisms in order to promote economic exchanges and reap the benefits of a fully-fledged partnership.”

Cooperation between Angola and Russia date back to 1976, when the two countries signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation. But official figures are still staggering, trade between the two countries stood at US$500 million in 2016, 15 times higher than that of 2012 (US$25 million).

Angola has diamonds, oil, gold, copper and a rich wildlife, forest and fossil fuels. Since independence, oil and diamonds have been the most important economic resource. It’s a member of the Southern African Development Community, an inter-governmental organization that has made its goal to further socio-economic cooperation and integration as well as political and security cooperation among 16 Southern African States.

The Republic of Angola is a country in south-central Africa, the seventh largest by territorial size and bordered by Namibia to the south, Democratic Republic of Congo to the north and Zambia to the east, and on the west the South Atlantic Ocean.

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