GIGA Focus Africa
Number 1 | 2018 | ISSN: 1862-3603
The G20 Africa Partnership Conference and the AU–EU Summit, as well as the headlines related to African migrants in North Africa, put the African continent into the spotlight last year. Popular protests challenged various autocratic rulers, and the former liberation movements of Southern Africa faced their own struggles. These ambiguities in the continent’s political, economic, and social development will remain apparent in events that we deem critical for the region in 2018.
The reform of the African Union (AU) will be piecemeal rather than profound. Many AU member states will resist AU chairman Paul Kagame’s push for policy implementation and the strengthening of the AU Commission.
The year 2018 is unlikely to be a good one for democracy in Africa. The scheduled elections are unlikely to provide more democratic space. They will take place in fragile contexts, including Mali and South Sudan, or in hybrid and authoritarian settings. Authoritarian tendencies will continue to be evident in further attempts to abolish presidential term limits in several countries.
South Africa and Nigeria will be preparing for national elections in 2019. In Nigeria, the run-up to the elections might incite violent conflict and create political stasis, while South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, needs to fight corruption and revive the economy. The Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) will remain conflict hotspots. Radical Islamist groups remain particularly active in Mali, Somalia, and Nigeria. The weakening of these groups may increase their recourse to terrorist tactics.
The future relationship between Europe and Africa will be shaped by the post-Cotonou agreement. A bumpy start to formal negotiations is likely to lie ahead because of the Europeans’ emphasis on the political sphere and the lack of an “African position.” Key matters for many African governments are trade relationships, recent initiatives such as the Compact with Africa, and migration policies.
Our selective account of “ten things to watch in Africa” is on balance sceptical about the continent’s political prospects in 2018. This is despite ongoing socio-economic progress in many parts of Africa. Not all the dim prospects have to materialise if action is taken by African rulers and populations, as well as by Africa’s partners – particularly the EU. Among the more daring options for European policymakers would be a renegotiation of the European–African trade deals and legal migration pathways under a post-Cotonou agreement.
This GIGA Focus deviates from the Focus series’ typical format. It is the joint product of several IAA staff. Christian von Soest contributed the segment on the African Union; Julia Grauvogel and Charlotte Heyl the section on democracy; Simone Schotte, Jason Sumich, and Christian von Soest the section on South Africa; Nkwachukwu Orji the segment on Nigeria; Nadine Ansorg the passage on the DRC; Tim Glawion the section on the crisis in the CAR; Matthias Basedau the segment on religious conflicts; Simone Schotte and Jann Lay the section on the post-Cotonou negotiations; Tabea Lakemann and Jann Lay the analysis of the Compact and the Marshall Plan; and Nicole Hirt the assessment of European migration policies.
The year 2018 will be a decisive one for the further development of the AU. The organisation’s new chairman, Rwandan president Paul Kagame (elected for one year), is pursuing an ambitious agenda focused on strengthening both the organisation and continental integration more broadly. In his report “The Imperative to Strengthen Our Union,” which he presented in January 2017, Kagame came to the drastic conclusion that “the unfortunate truth is Africa today is ill-prepared to adequately respond to current events” and that the “chronic failure to see through African Union decisions has resulted in a crisis of implementation” (Kagame 2017: 2, 4). The key problems he identified were the AU’s overdependence on donor funding – external funds finance 97 per cent of the AU’s programmes – and a failure to set priorities. “As a result, we have a dysfunctional organisation in which member states see limited value, global partners find little credibility, and our citizens have no trust” (Kagame 2017: 5).
Based on this assessment, Kagame reaffirmed his institutional reform plan at the 30th AU Summit in Addis Ababa in January 2018. Essentially, these reforms would give the AU Commission a stronger role vis-à-vis the member states and would streamline decision-making and the organisational structure – for instance, by fully integrating the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) into the AU Commission and making it the AU development agency, as well as by increasing pressure on member states that do not implement decisions made at the AU level.
Continental integration in Africa has, like that in other world regions, always been driven by individual political leaders such as South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo and – for better or worse – Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, who disproportionally financed the AU’s initiatives. However, the muted reactions to Kagame’s plans reveal the deep divisions among the member states regarding the AU’s future path. For instance, member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have complained openly about the legality of the reform process and the 0.2 per cent levy to be placed on imports to fund the organisation (ISS Africa 2018). The conflict boils down to the fundamental question of whether the AU should continue to be an organisation driven by and dependent on its member states or whether it should be a commission-steered body with a strong supranational character. Given the strong disagreements about the way forward, it is likely that, despite President Kagame’s characteristically forceful efforts, his comprehensive plans will go nowhere in 2018. Piecemeal changes and a continued muddling through represent the most likely scenario. Only if continental regulations clearly serve the majority of member states’ interests – such as the strong continental provisions against coups d’états – can we expect decisive action.
A key aspect to watch is therefore the organisation’s peace and security reform, one of the areas where the AU has been most active. The AU is seeking to strengthen funding for its peace activities in order to realise its ambitious goal of “silencing the guns” across the continent by 2020. In 2015, the AU Assembly decided to take financial responsibility for 25 per cent of the cost of peace activities on the African continent by 2020 (excluding the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM). The key instrument for collecting and distributing these funds is the AU Peace Fund. However, initial efforts have seen limited success. According to Donald Kaberuka, high representative for the fund, as of May 2017 only 14 AU member states had made contributions to the fund, accounting for 12 per cent of the USD 65 million target for 2017 (United Nations 2017). It is therefore highly doubtful that the AU payment targets will be met in the near future.
The majority of the Africans surveyed by Afrobarometer prefer democracy to any other kind of government (Mattes and Bratton 2016: 5). Given the high level of popular demand, it is worth asking whether Africans will get what they want in 2018. The upcoming polls will take place in tough settings that preclude showcase democratic elections. Election organisation in Mali and South Sudan will face serious security threats, while Sierra Leone is still suffering from the after-effects of the Ebola epidemic. In Cameroon and the DRC, citizens will cast their vote in full-fledged authoritarian regimes, which are seeking legitimation through the ballot box. If Zimbabwe’s new president Emmerson Mnangagwa successfully manages the ZANU-PF’s ability to manipulate elections and the opposition cannot find an adequate replacement for its icon Morgan Tsvangirai, the elections in Zimbabwe will be marked by the continuation of authoritarianism. In Madagascar, the prospect of a second election after the country’s return to constitutional order will generate political intrigue and instability if incumbent Hery Rajaonarimampianina strives to disqualify his main contenders: former president Marc Ravalomanana and former coup leader Andry Rajoelina. This year’s elections are thus unlikely to bring about democratic change.
At the same time, the limbo regarding presidential term limits continues. Zambia’s Edgar Lungu is seeking a Constitutional Court ruling that would allow him to vie for a third term in 2021. He has already threatened judges not to obstruct his third-term bid, and further pressure on the judiciary is to be expected. Togo’s incumbent Faure Gnassingbé has opted for a more subtle approach: a presidential term limit without a retroactive clause, which would allow him to stay in power until 2030, is expected to be approved by popular referendum despite increasing protest from the opposition. These developments constitute another setback with respect to term limits in Africa.
In the past, civil society has successfully mobilised against the removal of term limits and other threats to democracy. However, civil society organisations are facing increasing restrictions. These include burdensome registration and reporting obligations; the prohibition of foreign funding; and outright assaults on the freedom of opinion and assembly in countries ranging from Burundi to Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. It seems improbable that this trend will be reversed in 2018, when elections in hybrid or outright authoritarian settings will provide an ideal breeding ground for restrictions on regime-critical actors. Hence, 2018 will be yet another year in which Africans’ demands for democracy will be disappointed.
Although South Africa has retained its post-apartheid position as regional hegemon, it is in the midst of a long period of political and economic crisis that is unlikely to end soon. Over the past two decades, the official unemployment rate has hovered around 25 per cent, hitting a 14-year high of 27.7 per cent in 2017. Youth unemployment (15–24 years) has seen only a modest decline from 54.2 per cent in the third quarter of 2016 to still a staggering 52.2 per cent in 2017 (Stats SA 2017). A highly politicised and sensitive matter to watch in South Africa in 2018 is the future of land reform. The topic is of immense symbolic significance due to apartheid policies of race-based land dispossession, and the ANC’s recent push to amend the constitution to allow the state to confiscate land without compensation – if written into law – would come with significant economic risk.
The large number of, often violent, protests demonstrates the deep rifts within South African society, as well as the frustration with the slow pace of economic transformation and the lack of government action. However, the country’s pressing socio-economic problems have received far less attention than the lengthy political drama surrounding attempts by the new ANC leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, to force state president Jacob Zuma to resign, which Zuma finally did on 14 February 2018. Ramaphosa, the new president, has been portrayed in the media as a reformer and is popular with the business community and the ANC’s pro-market faction; however, he will likely be greeted with hostility by the left and the ANC’s governing alliance partners: the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). While the ANC is almost certain to win the next election in 2019, the former liberation movement must secure more than 50 per cent of the votes to continue to dominate the political scene. Much will depend on the new president’s actions. Widespread infighting and allegations of pervasive state capture have dealt a serious blow to the ANC’s popularity. Ramaphosa made fighting corruption and economic reform the centrepiece of his intra-ANC election campaign. His ministerial appointments and his first moves in office have been applauded by important sections of the media and the general public alike. Yet he only narrowly won against his main rival, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. How much of his agenda Ramaphosa will be able to implement through effective socio-economic policies also depends on the extent to which he is able to tame intra-party factionalism and strife.
Nigeria’s sociopolitical and economic trajectory in 2018 will be defined by the political tension and instability that will inevitably accompany the run-up to the 2019 general elections. Elections in Nigeria are usually characterised by intense struggles among political actors from various societal groups, and sometimes entire communities are dragged into the struggle since elections are seen as the only real opportunity to effect socio-economic and political change. The party primaries will commence in August 2018, followed by the political campaigns in November 2018. Given the increased liberalisation of Nigeria’s media landscape, political campaigns are now more often laced with hate and inflammatory speech. During the 2011 and 2015 general elections, social media was largely misused as a vehicle for spreading false information and inciting violence. This will also likely be the case ahead of the 2019 elections.
Communities that feel alienated by the current Buhari administration may take extreme measures to either reject the government or grab its attention. The militant groups in the Niger Delta will disrupt the ongoing ceasefire arranged between the insurgents and the government in mid-2016. Similarly, the separatist movement in the south-east, which was suppressed by military action in mid-2017, may resurface. The Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) had threatened to stop an off-cycle governorship election in Anambra State in November 2017, but a show of force by the Nigerian military forced them to retreat. It is likely that the group will regroup and attempt to prevent people from participating in the “Nigerian” elections. In north-central Nigeria, clashes between Fulani herdsmen and local farmers, which clearly stem from a resource conflict, may escalate into political confrontation between supporters of President Buhari and those who oppose him for doing little or nothing to protect the local farmers. The tensions in various parts of Nigeria may also distract the government from its fight against the Boko Haram insurgents in the north-west, giving the latter more space to regroup and continue their attacks.
The pre-election tensions and instability will have profound effects on the Nigerian economy. Experts predict that the economy will record more than 2 per cent growth in 2018, consolidating the recovery that began in 2017. But this growth will be offset by a decline in foreign investment as a result of heightened insecurity and uncertainty regarding government policies. As political tensions increase in advance of the 2019 general elections, attacks on oil and gas facilities in the Niger Delta, the disruption of commercial activities in the south-east, and the destruction of farmlands in the northern regions could all threaten the country’s slow economic recovery. As a pre-election year, 2018 will be a defining one for Nigeria. How the country’s political actors resolve their differences during this time will be vital in determining the prospects for peace and development.
The DRC continues to be troubled in 2018. As in 2017, the prospect of general elections is casting a shadow over the country. These elections were originally scheduled for 27 November 2016, but have been repeatedly delayed by the government. Currently, 23 December 2018 has been set as the new date, although it remains doubtful that the process will go ahead as anticipated. According to the country’s constitution, the current president, Joseph Kabila, reached the end of his second and final term in office on 20 December 2016. Yet the government continues to find reasons to delay the elections, such as the absence of a voter register and other organisational obstacles. The government has not implemented the mediated 2016 agreement between it and the opposition parties, and the influential Catholic Church withdrew from its role as mediator in March 2017. At the same time, Kabila and his extended family are benefiting tremendously from their access to the DRC’s valuable resources. Since Kabila came to power in 2001, the Kabila family has managed to create a system that controls the vast majority of the country’s resource-producing and resource-processing companies. Thus, the prospect of losing control over these industries might be the real reason for the delay in holding elections.
The opposition holds a similar opinion, and it is supported by the majority of the population. People have taken to the streets to call for elections and Kabila’s resignation. But the political landscape is highly fractionalised – there are 278 political parties registered in the country – and political elites are divided over the question of Kabila’s succession. This division was further aggravated by the death of long-time opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi on 1 February 2017. His son Felix succeeded him as the leader of one of the biggest opposition parties, the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD), but this only led to the Rassemblement’s further disintegration.
In addition, violence continues in other parts of the country, such as Tanganyika, North Kivu, and Kasai provinces. In Kasai, a violent armed conflict broke out between the Kamuina Nsapu militia and government forces in 2016. The conflict was fuelled by the lack of acceptance and subsequent killing of the hereditary chief of the Bajila Kasanga chieftaincy (HIIK forthcoming). The violence further escalated in 2017, and while the conflict is currently contained to parts of the Kasai and Kasai Central provinces, a renewed escalation is not unlikely. Given the fact that government forces only control parts of the DRC, and themselves often carry out violence against civilians (Baaz and Stern 2010), we can expect continued armed conflict in different parts of the country.
In the coming months, it can be expected that the government will try to further delay the elections, and that there will be more violent demonstrations by the opposition and the population. In addition, the conflicts in the DRC will further obstruct the state- and institution-building efforts that are so urgently needed in the country. International and bilateral donors can only continue to pressure the government to carry out democratic reforms, although the past has shown that access to resources in the DRC is often more important to international actors than the will of the people.
In the CAR, there is a risk that the conflict will take a turn for the worse. While a massive international peacekeeping intervention and relatively free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections in 2016 briefly reduced violent conflict, violence has recently been on the rise again (de Vries & Glawion 2015). Three key factors should be monitored over the coming year to find avenues for halting the ongoing escalation: First, armed groups are consolidating and gaining new members as they become engulfed in territorial and economic struggles. Attacks by one armed group for territorial or economic gain are often punished in a xenophobic fashion, with retaliation targeting the wider social group from which the initial actor allegedly originated. Put bluntly, auto-defence groups have pursued Muslims in their living quarters following attacks by ex-Séléka forces (who are deemed the “Muslim” rebels), and self-acclaimed Fulani protection groups have attacked whole villages after cattle have been stolen. The economic and social dimensions are increasingly creating a dangerous mix, which is ready to explode.
Second, the international peacekeeping mission is increasingly retreating to its bases to avoid becoming involved in everyday security matters and to prevent its own troops from committing sexual abuse. However, it has thereby become not only inefficient in combatting increasing armed group violence, but also increasingly opaque (Lombard 2016). This opaqueness allows rumours regarding its “true” intentions to flourish amongst an aggrieved populace that increasingly sees the peacekeepers as a party to rather than an arbiter of fighting. Demonstrations and even attacks against peacekeepers have risen steeply over the last year. Only a decisive turn towards the deep embeddedness of troops using a clear communication strategy can change this trajectory.
Finally, the democratically elected government has broken with its self-established principle of barring politico-military entrepreneurs from entering political office. Last September, President Touadéra reshuffled both the cabinet and the prefectural appointees and included many armed group representatives and military officials. Whether the co-optation of armed groups and the militarisation of the very weak state in the country’s troubled peripheries will appease tensions remains to be seen. Similar moves on the part of former governments failed to calm rising violence (Käihkö and Utas 2014).
To counter these escalatory trends, international policymakers need to reduce incentives for violent action, such as allegedly lucrative disarmament packages or government portfolios for rebels. People on the ground most urgently desire credible security and justice provision. Security in the short run must be provided via the deeper involvement of intervening troops, with slow reactions or inaction during attacks on civilians considered a reason to disqualify contingents. Justice should be provided by ensuring the deployment of civil state institutions to the peripheries and the strengthening of non-state justice mechanisms in these areas. Until recently the CAR was seen as a promising case, ready to end its conflict; however, opportunities for conflict resolution were not utilised. This means that in 2018 many changes will need to take place simply to avoid an escalation of violence.
For decades, sub-Saharan Islam and other religious traditions have been relatively politically tolerant and peaceful. However, recent decades have seen a dramatic rise in armed conflicts with religious overtones in sub-Saharan Africa. Many if not most have involved extremist forms of Islam. While war-torn Sudan has long been ruled by Islamists, there are currently three other hotspots of violent Islamist rebellion in sub-Saharan Africa. None are confined to the countries they emerged from, but have instead spilled over to neighbouring countries. They are also at least partially connected through Islamist ideology and international networks headed by Al-Qaida and the Islamic State.
The most long-standing Islamist conflict has been in Somalia. The Al-Shabaab group still controls large parts of the country, and AU peacekeepers have been struggling to defeat them. Unintended side effects of the AU engagement have included terrorist attacks in peacekeeper-sending countries such as Uganda and Kenya. Another Islamist hotspot is the Sahel, with Mali as its epicentre. Since the French-led intervention in early 2013, Islamist rebels have lost control over territory, but attacks have occurred on a regular basis. Neighbouring countries such as Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Niger are at risk as well. And while Boko Haram has been on the retreat within Nigeria in recent years, the conflict with the group has spilled over into Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. Terrorist attacks against civilians have recently intensified.
The growing weakness of all these groups in the three hotspots is little reason to rest easy. These groups’ loss of ground in conventional military terms has increased the risk of terrorist attacks – which are easier for the Islamists to stage and signal that they are not yet defeated. Rampant corruption among elites and their failure to provide public goods makes parts of the population vulnerable to radicalisation through divisive ideology. Islamist attacks on Christians in religiously diverse countries – and retaliation for these attacks – are creating a growing risk of interreligious tensions. Almost all countries on the west and east coasts of Africa as well as in north-central sub-Saharan Africa have mixed Christian and Muslim populations and could therefore lapse into violence.
The relationship between the EU and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) Group of States will reach a crossroads in 2020, when the Cotonou Agreement, established in 2000, expires. While the future of ACP–EU relations has already sparked heated debates for a number of years, official negotiations on the “post-Cotonou” partnership are due to start before September 2018. This year will set the tone for the negotiations and provide hints as to whether a substantive agreement that reconfigures the Africa–Europe relationship can be reached by 2020.
To make this happen, a strong “African position” is needed; this, however, is not visible. A role for the AU in the process might be helpful but is complicated by the potentially divergent views of the different regional economic communities (RECs) and the fact that the AU also represents the non-ACP North African countries. It is our perception that the African debates regarding EU–Africa relations are dominated by the economic issues, in particular the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), which are the trade deals between the EU and Africa. Further, migration ranks high in public and policy debates, as does, to a lesser extent, development cooperation – for example, the German “Marshall Plan.” Clearly, the role of China in Africa also has repercussions for how Africans and African leaders see relationships with Europe.
On the European side, the European Commission published its recommendation for a renewed Partnership Agreement in December 2017. It advocates an umbrella document – which defines common values, principles, essential elements, and interests and could be extended to non-ACP countries – with three regional pillars that build on existing strategies and define priorities for each region. For Africa, key focus areas would include peace and stability, democracy and good governance, economic and human development, migration, and climate change. The Commission does not appear to envision a major role for the AU in a post-Cotonou agreement.
This constellation, with little positioning on the African side and the vision of a comprehensive agreement that covers many areas on the European side, makes for dire expectations for the start of the negotiations. Neither the Cotonou Agreement nor the Joint Africa–EU Strategy (JAES) signed in 2007 succeeded in substantially strengthening political cooperation. The prospect of renegotiating the EPAs in the post-Cotonou context would probably increase African interest in the negotiations, particularly on the part of the RECs. However, Brussels has shown very little interest in opening up that avenue, despite some signals from Chancellor Merkel that the EPAs may not be set in stone.
The G20 Africa Partnership Conference in June 2017 in Berlin marked the launch of the “Compact with Africa” (CWA) initiative, which aims to increase private and infrastructure investment in Africa. Further, the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development’s “Marshall Plan with Africa” received a great deal of attention in Africa – probably more because of the unfortunate name than the content. Technicalities aside, the key issue for both initiatives in 2018 will be to maintain the momentum of 2017 and translate words into action. Despite difficult circumstances, there are some signs of progress.
The Argentine presidency of the G20 has not prioritised Africa – even though it promised to follow up on the G20–Africa partnership. The CWA initiative has now been taken up by 10 African countries, up from the initial five. These countries are working with the African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to draft investment compacts. Once these compacts are made public we will have initial evidence as to whether the concerted effort of the G20 and the multilateral development banks can actually attract enough interest to mobilise more private and infrastructure investment. This will depend critically on whether the compact initiative is able to align investor interests with the investment needs of African countries: on the one hand, long-term commitment is required for many infrastructure projects; on the other, it may prove difficult to find investors for relatively small and high-risk projects.
Putting the “Marshall Plan with Africa” into practice is part of the recently negotiated CDU/CSU and SPD coalition agreement, but concrete steps can be expected only once the new German government has been formed. The G20 and Germany, in particular, have raised expectations regarding engagement with Africa. In 2018, they will have to prove that they can meet these higher expectations.
Migration issues are a key concern for both African and European decision-makers, and EU migration policies have strong repercussions for the African continent. However, the EU member states remain split in their approaches towards flight and migration: while the Visegrad Group comprising Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic bluntly refuses to accept significant numbers of refugees, the recent German coalition talks were characterised by discussions about upper limits for refugees and the right to family reunification. The EU Commission has recognised that migration will remain an issue for the years to come and has presented an optimistic roadmap that promises “a comprehensive agreement by June 2018 on how to pursue a sustainable migration policy.” The approach rests on three pillars: (1) supporting the most exposed EU member states, (2) strengthening the protection of Europe’s external borders, and (3) cooperation with partner countries to fight the root causes of flight and to enhance border management. Regarding Africa, the Commission plans to reinforce its strategic partnership with the AU and the implementation of projects under the EU external investment plan. It also plans to curb migration by fostering sustainable development, enhancing peace and security, and supporting good governance. These measures reflect traditional forms of European commitment in Africa, with two exceptions: improving migration management and – potentially a landmark decision – disrupting the business models of human traffickers by opening up safe and legal pathways for those in need of protection. At present, the reality on the ground looks different:
The number of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe by sea via Africa had decreased from 360,000 in 2016 to 160,000 in 2017, but according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), January 2018 saw 246 lives lost in the Mediterranean. Reports about slave markets in Libya shocked the international public and many policymakers and resulted in an EU action plan that includes the voluntary repatriation of some 30,000 vulnerable African migrants and the provision of assistance to 20,000 migrants in Libyan detention centres through IOM and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). However, at the same time the EU is trying to improve border management by training Libyan coastguards, which are infamous for their warlord-like behaviour (Tory-Murphy 2017), and it continues to cooperate with dictators such as Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir, whose militias are hunting down refugees in the name of better migration management (Chandler 2018). It remains questionable whether the EU roadmap will lead to the promised agreement between its deeply divided member states. Those who want to completely block the entry of African (and other) migrants have been shaping the debate in a way that leaves only limited hope that the EU will in fact establish legal pathways for refugees in need of protection and a system of granting work visas for temporary labour migrants. It is also unlikely that the EU will put pressure on autocratic leaders in Africa, whose policies have increased flight and outmigration.
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