• Americas
    What’s at Stake for Biden at the 2022 Summit of the Americas
    With the United States hosting the regional meeting for the first time since 1994, all eyes are on how President Biden will navigate growing divisions over democracy, migration, and other issues.
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
    The EAC’s Challenges in Eastern Congo
    As the DRC becomes the newest member of the East African Community,  the regional organization confronts multiple challenges in its effort to tackle insecurity in eastern Congo.
  • Burkina Faso
    Coup in Burkina Faso Bodes Ill for Stability in West Africa
    Putschists in West Africa should not interpret initial popular support for coups as an indication that citizens no longer desire responsive, accountable governance.
  • Eswatini
    Crisis in eSwatini Raises Uncomfortable Questions for SADC
    The protests in eSwatini, one of the world’s last absolute monarchies, call renewed attention to the gulf between Southern Africa’s professed principles and the region’s realities.
  • Benin
    Benin's Democracy Continues its Downward Spiral
    Benin has been something of a poster child for African democracy following its move away from Marxism–Leninism after the collapse of the Soviet Union. No longer. On paper, Benin is a constitutional democracy conducted according to the rule of law. But since Patrice Talon was elected in 2016, the president has systematically squeezed the substance out of the democratic and constitutional forms, leaving only a shell. Over time, Talon has intimidated or banned the opposition, politicized the security services and the judiciary, and limited the media. Freedom House has charted the downward spiral: between 2019 and 2020 it lost its status as a “free” country. The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, a part of the African Union (AU), also publicly criticized the trajectory. Talon's response was to withdraw Benin from the court's jurisdiction. The April 11 presidential elections are a major signpost of the transition to an authoritarian—if weak—state.  Talon banned opposition candidates, the supporters of whom boycotted the election. Turnout was perhaps 26 percent of those eligible to vote. African reaction to the elections is disappointing but not surprising. Election observers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the AU praised the elections as being "calm" and "orderly." Election observers from African organization tend to be loath to criticize elections in African countries. The U.S embassy's official statement after the elections was conventional if hardly hard-hitting. It called on those aggrieved to pursue their claims in the courts not the streets, urged the government to “consult with all stakeholders” on the way forward, and expressed concern about the low turnout. (Benin has been a political ally in the struggle against jihadism in West Africa.) Over time, authoritarian rule is like to promote instability in Benin—as it has elsewhere in Africa. For now, however, Talon appears to have gotten off scot-free. He is not a tyrant in the style of Uganda's Idi Amin or even of Chad's Déby, thereby muting Western criticism. Indeed, he appears to be an example of a new style of African "Big Man" who comes to power without need for a military coup. No longer do military units seize the central bank, the presidential palace, the radio station, and install one of their own as president. Instead, duly elected heads of state gradually erode democratic and constitutional norms. John Magufuli in Tanzania was another example of this approach, and he, too, appeared to be successful until he literally dropped dead. This publication is part of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy.
  • Mozambique
    SADC Punts on Mozambique—For the Time Being
    On April 8, the leaders of Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, and Zimbabwe met with Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi to consider next steps with respect to the crisis in Cabo Delgado. They decided to send a team of experts to the battle zone to make recommendations. The leaders also agreed to meet again in three weeks’ time. The meeting fell under the purview of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a sixteen-member regional bloc. SADC is not moving quickly on this crisis, and, in the past, it has failed to address major regional crises, especially in Zimbabwe. It remains to be seen whether that pattern will be repeated with respect to Mozambique.
  • Mozambique
    Foreign Involvement Growing in Mozambique Counterinsurgency
    Jihadi attacks in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province are accelerating, with heavy fighting breaking out around the town of Palma. In response, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa sent South African troops to evacuate South African nationals. The French oil and gas company Total has evacuated its employees from its Afungi gas facility and suspended construction on a $20 billion project. The Maputo government has, for much of the insurgency, routinely declined international help. But with the jihadi group Ansar al Sunna (ASWJ) increasing in strength, international assistance is now being accepted with greater regularity. Thus far, the Biden administration has sent a special forces detachment to provide counterinsurgency training to Mozambican forces. Portugal and the European Union are offering assistance as well. Maputo has requested military assistance from South Africa, but Ramaphosa declined on the basis that the insurgency is too big for a bilateral response. Meanwhile, the contract with South African private military contractor Dyck Advisory Group will not be renewed. The relevant multilateral security pact in the region is the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which will meet on Thursday to discuss the situation in northern Mozambique but apparently lacks the necessary funding to provide significant assistance. Further potential outside financial assistance from the European Union, South Africa, or the United States should not be ruled out, though it is unclear at present what the method of providing such assistance would be. SADC has not been particularly successful at conflict resolution and donors may well seek a different vehicle for providing their assistance.
  • Territorial Disputes
    Diplomatic Dithering Over Western Sahara Bodes Ill for Other African Disputes
    Francesca Eremeeva is a research associate for the Council on Foreign Relations’ Middle East Program. Nolan Quinn is a research associate for the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa Program. On December 10, 2020, then-President Donald Trump tweeted that because “Morocco recognized the United States in 1777,” the United States should return the favor by recognizing “[Moroccan] sovereignty over the Western Sahara.” This rather explicit quid pro quo, which allowed the Trump administration to secure the final addition to its Abraham Accords, was slammed as a “rash move disguised as diplomacy” by James A. Baker III, who served as both U.S. secretary of state and UN special envoy for Western Sahara. Criticism of the Trump administration’s decision has centered on its norm-breaking abandonment of the UN peace process. Another way to look at the decision, however, is to see it as the natural consequence of a dispute which has lacked effective and impartial mediators, creating a vacuum in which transactional diplomacy trumps multilateral peace efforts. The conflict over Western Sahara dates back to efforts to decolonize the African continent. When Spain relinquished control over the “Spanish Sahara” in 1975, it agreed to transfer administrative responsibilities to Morocco and Mauritania. A three-way war erupted soon after involving the two African states and the Polisario Front, an Algerian-backed politico-military organization representing the interests of the indigenous Sahrawi population. While Mauritanian involvement in the war proved short-lived, fighting between Moroccan forces and Polisario guerillas continued until a UN-backed ceasefire was signed in 1991. The ceasefire left the political status of Western Sahara up to a referendum to be administered by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Initially scheduled for January 1992, the referendum has yet to take place, leaving Western Sahara under de facto Moroccan occupation. MINURSO’s task of organizing a referendum was difficult from its inception. The essential first step—identifying eligible voters—quickly became a fierce political dispute. While MINURSO proposed technical solutions to the impasse, it left unaddressed the underlying political problem: both sides were committed to achieving victory in a “winner-takes-all” referendum. Well placed to fulfill that mediating role should have been the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and its successor, the African Union (AU). However, faced with Moroccan intransigence, a growing number of OAU member states—twenty-three by June 1980—decided to recognize bilaterally the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), established by Sahrawi nationalists in 1976 to defend their sovereignty claims over Western Sahara, and sought its admission to the OAU. Morocco warned against admitting SADR on the grounds that it did not constitute an “independent sovereign African State” as specified in article IV of the continental body’s founding charter [PDF]. SADR was nonetheless admitted in 1982, to which Morocco responded by withdrawing its membership from the OAU. The OAU’s anti-colonial roots made it understandably predisposed to support Sahrawi nationalism. But the decision to admit SADR as a full member effectively put the OAU ahead of the UN stance [PDF] that, while the peoples of Western Sahara were entitled to self-determination [PDF] and independence, SADR did not—and still does not—constitute a state. The legally contentious and politically explosive decision engendered a Moroccan perception that the OAU and, later, the AU, were not neutral enough to take part in negotiations. Subsequent flip-flopping by the AU further reduced the continental body’s ability to mediate the Western Sahara dispute. After a thirty-three-year absence, Morocco was re-admitted to the AU in 2017, and in 2018 the AU formally limited its role in peace efforts concerning Western Sahara, choosing instead to support the UN process—both diplomatic wins for Morocco. Failures by the OAU and AU have been amplified by the UN Security Council’s unwillingness to apply pressure to break the ongoing diplomatic impasse. Baker, who came closest to achieving a resolution over Western Sahara in 2004 as special envoy, resigned the same year due to intra-Security Council divisions. A pattern of rhetorical condemnation over Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara, coupled with delays to the referendum without political retribution, has led to a stagnant peace process. Outside actors have, in turn, prioritized their bilateral relations with Morocco—or, less frequently, with the Polisario Front—over supporting a viable peace plan. The United States, until Trump’s volte-face, maintained an ambiguous policy of “positive neutrality,” supporting Morocco militarily while maintaining a neutral position on Western Sahara’s political status. Prioritizing bilateral relations is ultimately what made Western Sahara’s “final status” a dispensable concern which President Trump could wield as a bargaining chip. After all, America’s partnership with Morocco was never conditioned on the peace process. Trump’s norm-breaking over Western Sahara was driven, in part, by the same factors that motivated his support for Israeli claims over the Golan Heights and Jerusalem: securing votes from a relatively small group of U.S. voters for whom supporting Israel is among the more important issues on the ballot. That the interests of such a faraway group, almost entirely unrelated to Western Sahara, could bear influence on the territory’s political status serves to underline the danger of detached diplomacy. The AU, which remains an unwilling and ineffective mediator in the region, should view it as a warning call. Other latent disputes on the continent that require action are, for the most part, ignored. The AU has done little to bring Somalia and the breakaway republic of Somaliland together for talks, allegedly because it does not want to encourage other independence movements on the continent. Yet allowing Israel and Gulf states to vie unchecked for influence is hardly a better outcome. The AU’s marginal role in discussions on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam allowed the dispute to fester; a first round of AU-brokered negotiations last year showed promise but later failed, prompting calls for outside involvement. The looming threat from climate change—already causing conflict in West Africa and likely to intensify border disputes—means the AU needs to build stronger frameworks for numerous and varied disputes. The establishment in 2016 of the AU Mediation Support Unit is encouraging, as is the recognition of the crucially important role of regional economic communities, some of which have proven themselves effective mediators. But without a more forward posture in encouraging talks in conflict situations, new institutional arrangements will make little difference in building the AU’s credibility as a mediator.
  • Public Health Threats and Pandemics
    COVID-19 Death Rate Rising in Africa
    The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) has announced that the COVID-19 case fatality rate in Africa is now 2.5 percent, higher than the worldwide level of 2.2 percent. (According to Johns Hopkins University, in the United States the rate is 1.7 percent; in New Zealand, 1.1 percent.) In twenty-one countries on the continent the case fatality rate is 3 percent or higher. Africa CDC announced that there were 207,000 new cases the week of January 18, of which 100,000 were in South Africa. African statistics with respect to COVID should be treated with caution. Most African countries have poorly developed public health infrastructures and testing for COVID is not as widespread as in other parts of the world. South Africa in general has the continent's best official statistics, and it has implemented a vigorous COVID testing regime. Hence, it is not surprising that the South African percentage of reported African COVID-19 cases is high—though a new variant of the disease driving explosive growth in South African case numbers also explains some of the country's disproportionate affliction. Overall, African mortality statistics are probably better than those measuring specific diseases but vary considerably from one country to another. For example, a much higher percentage of deaths are officially recorded in South African than in Nigeria. Africa has a heavy disease burden, food insecurity is widespread, and medical infrastructure is often poor. Up to now, it had been thought the COVID case fatality rate in Africa was less than in other parts of the world. Explanations included that its population is more youthful [PDF] and could have acquired some immunity because of exposure to other diseases. Even with those caveats in mind, the clear takeaway from the recent announcement is that the case fatality rate from COVID-19 in Africa is going up.