welcome to Foreign police‘s Africa Brief.
This week’s edition is the last of the year. Below, we take a look at the conflicts that will shape Africa over the coming year and other things we will monitor, from the governance crisis in Somalia to the stalled transition in Sudan. See you in 2022.
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Conflicts in the Horn of Africa take center stage
Ethiopia’s federal government said last Thursday that its forces would not advance further in the northern Tigray region. The move came days after Tigrayan rebels announced a retreat and the recent takeover by federal troops of strategic towns north of the capital, Addis Ababa. Aid organizations hope the latest announcement will lead to an eventual ceasefire, although no official peace talks have started.
No one could have predicted the many twists and turns of the more than one year old war in Ethiopia. Since taking office in 2018, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who received the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, has risen from international hero status for ending his country’s 20-year conflict with the ‘Eritrea leading the frontline troops in the battle against the Tigrayan rebels.
The conflict in the region began on November 4, 2020, when Abiy ordered a military response against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF) after attacking military bases of the Federal Army’s North Command.
The outbreak of war follows months of growing tensions between the federal government and the TPLF, which previously dominated the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, as the head of a repressive authoritarian government from 1991 until the ‘Abiy’s rise in 2018 following widespread anti-government protests. Abiy’s steps to make peace with long-time enemy Eritrea and bring ethnic diversity into the upper ranks of the Tigray-dominated federal army were seen as provocations by the TPLF.
Abiy promised a swift offensive and initially appeared to have quashed the rebellion in early 2021, but Tigrayan forces then recaptured their regional capital, Mekele, over the summer and made further strides. Last month, the TPLF threatened to march on Addis Ababa, before retreating as federal troops retook key cities.
The United Nations has accused all parties of committing atrocities during the war. More than a million people have been displaced from Tigray since the conflict began, and some 5.2 million of Tigray’s 6 million people suffer from hunger, according to the US Agency for International Development.
On December 24, Ethiopia was withdrawn from the United States’ free trade agreement under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. US officials threatened in November to revoke preferential trade status for “gross violations” of human rights. Guinea and Mali were also expelled due to coups d’état in those countries.
The Biden administration is increasingly concerned that Turkey, China and the United Arab Emirates are helping to arm Ethiopia’s federal troops with drones. The possibility of additional sanctions or interventions can only exacerbate the conflict, analysts warn. As Bronwyn Bruton and Ann Fitz-Gerald argued in Foreign police this week: “US policy in the Horn of Africa is in tatters. … The United States has been losing ground in Africa to China, Russia, Turkey and the Gulf States for some time. But now, there isn’t a single nation in the geostrategically vital Horn region that reliably lies in the Washington corner. “
Ethiopian leaders have shown little appetite for Western mediation, having resisted various international calls to end the fighting. Attempts by the African Union to negotiate a ceasefire have also yielded few tangible results.
What happens in Ethiopia in 2022 will likely reverberate throughout the Horn of Africa, making it a key region to watch.
What we’re looking at in 2022
The governance crisis in Somalia. Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (better known by the nickname Farmaajo) on Monday suspended the powers of Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble. The president accused the prime minister of corruption in an ongoing investigation. “The prime minister’s duty and powers remain suspended pending the conclusion of ongoing investigations,” the Somali presidential office said in a statement.
Roble said the move amounted to a open shot. The two have been locked in a power struggle for months and accused each other on Sunday of delaying the ongoing indirect parliamentary elections which began on November 1 and were due to end on December 24.
Only 24 of the 275 representatives were said to have been elected on Saturday. The U.S. Embassy in Somalia urged leaders to “take immediate action to defuse tensions”. In April, fighting erupted in the capital Mogadishu, after Farmaajo controversially approved an extension of his term, which should have ended in February, a move he defended in the pages of Foreign police in May.
Somalia’s crisis is multi-faceted, including widespread food insecurity, drought and escalating violence from the extremist group al-Shabab, affiliated with al-Qaeda. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of Somalia is experiencing severe drought, the United Nations has warned, which will likely lead to further conflict.
South Sudan’s decade of war. Two years after seceding from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan sank into turmoil amid clashes between President Salva Kiir and his vice-president, Riek Machar. A civil war ensued that killed some 400,000 people, and although the war officially ended in 2020, violence continued between warring government factions and competing local groups.
Nicholas Haysom, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for South Sudan, has warned that emerging insecurity is a “serious concern”. In July, a four-month supply for 41,000 people was looted or destroyed in violence between armed youths in Tonj, in the north-west of the country. Some 8.3 million people need humanitarian aid, UN says As the 2023 elections in South Sudan approach, security experts fear tensions could rise.
Sudan’s stalled transition. Sudanese protesters continued to demand an end to the military’s role in the country’s transition to democracy. The Sudanese Central Medical Committee, a union allied with the protest movement, said 178 people were injured by security forces on Saturday on the 10th day of pro-democracy protests against the October 25 coup led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
The Sudanese army reinstated ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok on November 21, nearly a month after his house arrest. Hamdok said the deal he signed with the military allowed him to form a new technocratic transitional government, but protesters are now demanding his resignation over an agreement that guarantees the legitimacy of the military, blocking civilian politicians from the Sudanese cabinet.
The country will enter 2022 in apparent bankruptcy. Authorities are said to have withdrawn more than $ 1.2 billion in hard currency reserves to cover goods imported during the coup, leaving its cash flow empty. Sudan got a $ 2.5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund in June, but the loan, along with $ 700 million in direct aid from the U.S. government, has been frozen due to the coup.
Sudan has spent 52 of its 65 years of independence under military control; some analysts suggest that any transition to a fully democratic system would be extremely difficult to achieve.
Counter the ADF in Uganda. Uganda on Thursday indicted 15 people with terrorism offenses linked to bombings in the country’s capital, Kampala and elsewhere in October and November, which left at least nine dead. ISIS, which is allied with the local rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), claimed responsibility for the November attacks.
Originally a Ugandan group, the ADF settled in the dense forests of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo for more than three decades, after fleeing Ugandan army offensives. He pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2019, although some experts dispute this connection. However, the increased violence of the ADF and the evolution of propaganda correspond to higher levels of external funding and relations with the Islamic State, according to other researchers.
Ugandan forces entered the Congo this month as part of a joint military offensive against the ADF. But Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, is himself accused of targeting opposition figures and of violating human rights. Uganda is also the largest refugee host country in Africa, with an estimated 1.56 million refugees from neighboring South Sudan, Congo and Somalia.
Nineteen months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ugandan schools are still closed, the longest shutdown in the world. It is feared that a third of these students will never return to class. Ugandan security forces’ murderous crackdowns, an irresponsible authoritarian government, and declining economic prospects for young people without formal education are likely to help rebel groups such as the ADF recruit new members.
Famine in camps for internally displaced people in Nigeria. Some women living in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in Nigeria said they preferred to live as abductees in cities ruled by Boko Haram because they had access to food, HumAngle reports. Aminata, a former Boko Haram captive who was once forcibly married to a terrorist after her kidnapping, said her livelihood was better with the insurgent group. Many people living in the Dalori IDP camp, located on the outskirts of Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria, said HumAngle that they had gone for months without meal vouchers from the government or non-governmental organizations.
Can Barrow deliver to Gambia? Now that Gambian President Adama Barrow has secured a second term, he is under increasing pressure to deliver effective public services, writes Sait Matty Jaw in African arguments. Overall, the December elections were the most credible in The Gambia’s recent political history. Many Gambians are hopeful that Barrow’s second term will be different from his first and that he implements promised institutional and legal reforms to fight corruption.