Africa’s Hotspots in 2018.
In 2018 several African states will have to face a series of challenges at the security level. In some cases, their governments will have to manage different threats simultaneously. Some of these threats have been present for different years. And these issues will be influenced by social and economic issues.
In 2018 Libya’s crisis will put pressure on its neighbors, on Egypt in particular. Cairo authorities will have to deal with the extremist groups active in Libya which cross the border and with those that have an internal origin, like the Egyptian branch of the Islamic State. On the other side, the meddling of some external players (like Egypt or France) in Libya’s internal affairs (to support one of the armed militias vying for power) will also fuel Libyan chaos.
Also Algeria and Tunisia will have to cope with the consequences of what happens in Libya, but likely they will be more influenced by their own dynamics. This is true especially for Algeria, which will have to solve the problems of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s health and capability to rule. Malian authorities do not control some areas in the North of their country. In these zones jihadists groups (linked to Al Qaeda) and ethnic or tribal militias fight (but in some cases cooperate) for the possession of the territory. With the help of foreign troops Bamako is trying to retake those zones, but at least in the short term instability will go on.
Fire at the center
The central part of Africa will be an area of great turmoil where the fragility of some states will have consequences on their neighbors. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is still in turmoil. Different militias (in some cases coming from neighboring states) still fight Congolese security forces, commit abuses on the population and pillage the natural resources of the country. But the real crisis is political.
President Joseph Kabila and his opponents are playing a risky chess game with the intervention of external players (UN, USA, China, etc.), who support one of the two fronts. The ultimate goal is rule over one of the giants of the continent. The next presidential elections are scheduled in December 2018. Since they have been delayed different times, it is not sure that they will be held. In any case, political tension will increase together with unrest in the main cities. In Central African Republic different armed groups still fight in different areas, the ongoing peace process notwithstanding. The institutions are not capable of guaranteeing minimal public services, the most important being security. The different militias exploit and worsen the ethnical fractures that the civil war created and some of them could even try to create an autonomous state. The components of the society who are working for an appeasement face enormous challenges.
The Republic of Congo, close to both of the aforementioned states, will have to cope with the effects of their instability and manage the low-level insurgency in the Pool region lead by militia leader Frédéric Bintsamou (known as Pasteur Ntumi) and its Ninjas. Even if it is split into two competing factions, the jihadist group Boko Haram is still capable of organizing terrorist attacks in the Northern states of Nigeria, in Northern Cameroon and in other countries of the Lake Chad basin.
Boko Haram apparently succeeded in surviving the offensive by Nigerian and international security forces. In other areas of Nigeria, the risk of terrorist attacks by groups operating in the Niger Delta and the issue of autonomist movements have yet to be managed successfully by the Abuja government.
In Cameroon the terrorist attacks are not the only security problem. There is also the increasing tension (and in some cases violence) in the Western regions. The English-speaking minority is protesting the perceived discriminations by the authorities. Some sectors of this community declared the independence of the so-called Republic of Ambazonia on 1 October 2017. In the background there is the issue of the political future of President Paul Biya.
Horn of instability
Also in the Horn of Africa there are areas of crisis. Despite some improvements, Somalia is still not a fully functional state. Al Shabaab, a Somali Jihadist group with links to Al Qaeda, has some influence on different swaths of Somalian territory. Apparently, one of its factions split and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
And there is the issue of Somaliland, a territory that is trying to become independent while Puntland, another territory that wanted to be independent, chose to remain an autonomous entity within Somalia. In Ethiopia tensions among different ethnic groups (especially the Oromos and Somalis) and between them and the regime (led by the Tigray people) are increasing, the repression from security forces notwithstanding. In the background, there are also the dispute with Egypt about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile River and the threat from Al Shabaab. Addis Ababa will also have to deal with Eritrea, a regime with its own problems. The risk of a full-scale conflict between the two states is low, but skirmishes on the border are possible. In Kenya the contested 2017 presidential election will continue to produce its effects on the security situation.
The NASA (National Super Alliance) opposition coalition, led by Raila Odinga, at this moment does not recognize Uhuru Kenyatta as the winner of the presidential election and, therefore, as the legitimate chief of state. It seems that NASA will keep on with its campaign of toppling the government through street protests (mimicking the ‘Arab Spring’). These dynamics are increasingly worsening the ethnic relations since Kenyatta is Kikuyu while Odinga is Luo. Al Shabaab is a threat also for Kenya. Both South Sudan and Sudan will have to resolve their internal conflicts and, at the same time, their border dispute. In Sudan the Darfur conflict has apparently lost traction in 2017, but it is not completely ended. Khartoum has to take into consideration what happens in Central African Republic, since some Sudanese armed groups have their rear bases there.
Fear at the top
Another element of instability is the aftermath of the ‘eviction’ of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. In November 2017, after 37 years in power, Mugabe was basically chased out by the armed forces and his former vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa became the temporary chief of state. The 93 year-old Mugabe was toppled by the very same men that helped him to stay on the top. What was in reality a coup orchestrated by the military could push the people of other African states to try to change their governments from the street.
According to press reports, some presidents who have been in power for several years and tried to secure their political future by changing their constitutions are getting worried. Their security apparatuses, which let them rule for all these years, could decide to please the increasingly hostile public opinion and overthrow their leaders. Among them there are Cameroon’s Paul Biya, Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso, Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang, but also the scions of political dynasties, like Gabon’s Ali Bongo and Togo’s Faure Gnassingbé are considered to be at risk. What happened in Zimbabwe could encourage opposition parties and civil activists throughout Africa.