The European Business Council for Africa

 

Ethiopia’s electoral commission has announced that its scheduled August general election will be postponed, due to the effects of the Coronavirus crisis. The vote was due to test the reform agenda of prime minister Abiy Ahmed, in power since April 2018.

He has overseen rapid change in Africa’s second most-populous country, including unprecedented opening of the political sphere and ambitious plans to liberalize its state-led economy.

Free and fair polls would mark an unlikely, and rapid transition to democratic governance after decades of authoritarianism. They would also boost Ethiopia’s growth story, which has been criticized for relying on autocratic politics for impressive GDP figures - averaging 9.5% annually from 2009 - 2019.

The delay could be good news in this regard.

While Ahmed’s reforms have won him global recognition - including a Nobel peace prize - his fast and furious approach has also stirred simmering ethnic and political divisions.

Up to 2m people have been internally displaced since 2018, amid calls for more autonomy from some regional ethnic groups, while Ahmed has survived at least one assassination attempt.

This has raised doubts about the government’s ability to maintain law and order, and concerns that a free and fair election in 2020 is simply too much, too soon, for Ethiopia.

The delay - which has been backed by key opposition groups - offers much-needed time for authorities to prepare.

They must use it well.

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You can read EBCAM's President letter on Coronavirus and the need to consider more seriously Africa here.

ON OUR RADAR
Three conflict trends as seen by Crisis Group analysts

UN Secretary-General António Guterres' call this week for warring parties across the globe to implement a ceasefire as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread appears to have touched a chord. Armed groups from Sudan to the Philippines have said they will observe the ceasefire, and Yemen's warring parties have expressed support. However, in other conflicts the plea has gone unheeded and COVID-19 will create enormous stress on weak states that could lead to new crises and instability.

➤ Afghanistan: President Ghani took an important step toward intra-Afghan talks by nominating 21 government representatives to negotiate with the Taliban. Crisis Group expert Andrew Watkins says this list seems to enjoy broad consensus among Afghan political figures, which earlier lists had lacked. The timing of the release – less than a day after U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo visited Kabul, harshly criticised both Ghani and Abdullah for failing to come together and prepare for peace talks, and threatened to cut one billion dollars in aid – underscores the influence the U.S. has over Kabul and the priority the U.S. attaches to moving peace efforts forward.

➤ Libya: Fighting around Tripoli between Haftar-led forces and those aligned with the Tripoli-based government intensified as international calls for a humanitarian truce to allow Libyan authorities to enact measures to contain COVID-19 went unheeded. Crisis Group expert Claudia Gazzini says this week's escalation did not substantially change the balance of power on the ground. With UN peacemaking efforts stalled, all signs seem to indicate that the battle for Tripoli will continue.

➤ Venezuela: The U.S. on Thursday indicted Nicolás Maduro and senior members of his government on charges related to drug trafficking. Crisis Group expert Phil Gunson says the move signals the Trump administration's intent to ratchet up pressure to force Maduro from power, despite recent calls from the EU and UN Secretary-General Guterres for sanctions relief. Aiming for the government's collapse amid the COVID-19 pandemic undermines moves to promote detente between the government and the Guaidó-led opposition with a view to constructing a joint response to the emergency, and thereby threatens even greater loss of life.

ON OUR RADAR
Four conflict trends as seen by Crisis Group analysts   


 Afghanistan: The U.S. and the Taliban took a concrete step toward a political settlement on Saturday. Crisis Group expert Andrew Watkins says difficult as it was to get this deal done, this was the easy part. Intra-Afghan negotiations will now have to tackle a range of issues concerning a future division of power. This week’s resumption of Taliban attacks, U.S. airstrikes, hardening rhetoric and a disagreement on a potential prisoner release demonstrate the still-tenuous state of the peace process, and the need to quickly prepare for and initiate intra-Afghan negotiations.

➤ Guinea-Bissau: Two rival camps claimed the presidency as they dispute the outcome of December’s run-off election. Former prime minister Sissoco Embaló took the oath of office shortly before the National Assembly swore in speaker Cipriano Cassamá. Crisis Group expert Rinaldo Depagne says the military's reported occupation of key institutions to support Embaló’s claim signals that the election intended to end years of turmoil has failed. Regional community ECOWAS, which has been the key to unlocking past political standoffs, should increase pressure for a solution that establishes the election result and allows the appointment of a president and prime minister on that basis.

➤ Iran: The International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) reported that Iran has significantly boosted its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, accumulating enough for a single nuclear weapon if enriched to weapons-grade. The government is also blocking access to three locations where the IAEA has concerns about possible undeclared nuclear material and activities. Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez says that Iran’s obstruction could lead the IAEA to refer the matter to the UN Security Council, increasing diplomatic friction and the risk of a renewed nuclear crisis. 

➤ Syria: Presidents Erdoğan and Putin agreed a cessation of hostilities in Idlib after weeks of deadly clashes between regime and Turkish forces that have worsened the humanitarian crisis. Crisis Group expert Dareen Khalifa says that while the deal has calmed the situation, it has failed to address Russian-Turkish divergence over key elements, in particular regarding the agreement’s duration and the future of the main rebel groups, including Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), operating in Idlib.

ON OUR RADAR
Three conflict trends as seen by Crisis Group analysts   


➤ Afghanistan: President Ashraf Ghani was declared winner of contested presidential elections after a five-month delay and accusations of election-rigging. His chief rival Abdullah Abdullah and supporters now claim that they will form a parallel government. Crisis Group expert Andrew Watkins says the result has increased the potential for civil unrest. However, maximalist rhetoric has been a facet of domestic politics for years and even after rare instances of violence in the past, Afghan politicians have managed to de-escalate tensions.

➤ Libya: EU foreign ministers agreed to revamp the EU’s naval mission in the Mediterranean by redeploying naval assets to monitor the UN’s arms embargo. Crisis Group expert Giuseppe Famà says a renewed naval presence off Libya’s coast could increase the EU’s ability to name and shame violators and deter some arms transfer to the warring parties. But it remains to be seen how the embargo can be monitored elsewhere in Libya and whether, in the event that migrant flows surge, member states will succumb to domestic pressure by swiftly withdrawing naval assets. 

➤ South Sudan: President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar agreed to form the long-awaited unity government after major concessions from both parties. Crisis Group expert Alan Boswell says Kiir reverted the country to ten states, firing 32 governors and reversing much territorial gerrymandering, and Machar accepted to return to Juba without his own security forces. Much work remains on many fronts but the deal offers a real chance to end the long civil war.

ON OUR RADAR
Three conflict trends as seen by Crisis Group analysts   


➤ Afghanistan: President Ashraf Ghani was declared winner of contested presidential elections after a five-month delay and accusations of election-rigging. His chief rival Abdullah Abdullah and supporters now claim that they will form a parallel government. Crisis Group expert Andrew Watkins says the result has increased the potential for civil unrest. However, maximalist rhetoric has been a facet of domestic politics for years and even after rare instances of violence in the past, Afghan politicians have managed to de-escalate tensions.

➤ Libya: EU foreign ministers agreed to revamp the EU’s naval mission in the Mediterranean by redeploying naval assets to monitor the UN’s arms embargo. Crisis Group expert Giuseppe Famà says a renewed naval presence off Libya’s coast could increase the EU’s ability to name and shame violators and deter some arms transfer to the warring parties. But it remains to be seen how the embargo can be monitored elsewhere in Libya and whether, in the event that migrant flows surge, member states will succumb to domestic pressure by swiftly withdrawing naval assets. 

➤ South Sudan: President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar agreed to form the long-awaited unity government after major concessions from both parties. Crisis Group expert Alan Boswell says Kiir reverted the country to ten states, firing 32 governors and reversing much territorial gerrymandering, and Machar accepted to return to Juba without his own security forces. Much work remains on many fronts but the deal offers a real chance to end the long civil war.

ON OUR RADAR
Four conflict trends as seen by Crisis Group analysts   


➤ Algeria’s nationwide protest movement is approaching its one-year anniversary. Crisis Group expert Michaël Béchir Ayari says demonstrators have filled the streets for fifty consecutive weeks but many are beginning to weigh other peaceful means to express their discontent, including legislative elections. The new government of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune faces a profound legitimacy crisis. Protesters, who are demanding wholesale constitutional reforms, may not be appeased by its recent good-will gestures, such as freeing imprisoned anti-government activists. 

➤ El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele entered the Legislative Assembly with armed police officers and soldiers after lawmakers refused to convene to approve a loan for his security plan aimed at combating violent crime. Crisis Group expert Tiziano Breda says Bukele’s show of strength has backfired. While the president enjoys domestic popularity, thanks in part to dramatically reducing murder rates, the gambit has damaged his image worldwide and fuelled fears of an authoritarian turn. 

➤ President Duterte of the Philippines gave formal notice to terminate the 1998 bilateral Visiting Forces Agreement that permits U.S. forces to conduct humanitarian missions and military training. Crisis Group expert Georgi Engelbrecht says that while strained relations with Washington have been no secret since Duterte entered office in 2016, this decision marks a significant blow. The agreement could be renegotiated later but its termination might hinder progress in law enforcement and counter-terrorism efforts, particularly in conflict-affected areas of Muslim Mindanao. 

➤ Sudan’s transitional government indicated its support for former president Omar al-Bashir to be tried by the International Criminal Court and advanced its bid for removal from the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list by agreeing compensation for the victims of the 2000 USS Cole bombing in Yemen. While Sudan must still provide compensation for victims of al-Qaeda embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi to rescind its designation, Crisis Group expert Jonas Horner says these steps bring Khartoum closer to shedding its pariah status under Bashir and courting Western donors to help revitalise its ailing economy.

ON OUR RADAR
Four conflict trends as seen by Crisis Group analysts   


➤ Central African Republic: This week marked the first anniversary of the peace agreement between the government and fourteen armed groups aimed at ending six years of war. Crisis Group expert Richard Moncrieff says the deal has been only partially successful as smaller armed groups have broadly adhered to its terms while violence in the country’s north and centre has risen in recent months. The deal is likely to come under greater pressure ahead of elections in December 2020.  

➤ South Africa: President Cyril Ramaphosa assumes the rotational African Union (AU) chair this weekend when leaders meet for the annual AU summit. Crisis Group expert Elissa Jobson says South Africa has punched below its weight abroad for more than a decade, but simultaneously taking the helm at the AU and holding a seat on the UN Security Council should provide Pretoria with a rare opportunity to focus attention on deadly conflicts that are important not only to its national interests but also to the AU and UN agendas. 

➤ South Sudan: Deadlock persists in talks between President Kiir and main rebel leader Riek Machar over outstanding issues like the number and border of states. Crisis Group expert Alan Boswell warns that there is a growing risk that they fail to form a unity government by the 22 February deadline. The deadline has already been extended twice and the peace process could collapse if regional heads of state, which are due to meet in an extraordinary summit on Saturday, fail to broker a path forward. 

➤ Syria: The Russian-backed government assault on Idlib made incremental military gains while the civilian toll continues to rise. If the government opts for an all-out offensive, it could trigger the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the Syrian war. Crisis Group expert Dareen Khalifa warns that it would also escalate tensions between Russia and Turkey, risk further confrontations between Turkish and Syrian forces, push more Syrians toward, and possibly across, the Turkish border, and scatter jihadist fighters across the region.
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Chinese imports from Nigeria increased by more than 70% ―Envoy

Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Zhou Pinjiang, has said that Chinese imports from Nigeria last year increased by more than 70%.

The Envoy made this known during events to mark the Chinese New Year also known as Spring Festival, held on Saturday in Abuja.

“China-Nigeria relations have been very productive and we face new opportunities to grow relations. There is the Forum of China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) framework.

“China and Nigeria cooperation is highly complementary and working together; we take advantage of each other’s strengths and explore cooperation potentials across board, culture, agriculture and industrialization.

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Watch List 2020

Crisis Group’s early-warning Watch List identifies up to ten countries and regions at risk of conflict or escalation of violence. In these situations, early action, driven or supported by the EU and its member states, could generate stronger prospects for peace. The Watch List 2020 includes a President’s Note and detailed conflict analyses on Bolivia, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region, Ethiopia, the U.S.-Iranian impasse, ISIS returnees, Libya, Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Ukraine.

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