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Hotspots in Africa in 2019.

From a security point of view, in 2019 in Africa there will be several hotspots. We focus on four of them: Central African Republic, Libya, Algeria and Nigeria.  

One of the factors that changed the security framework in Africa in 2018 is the new role played by Russia in two of the most unstable countries of the continent, Libya and the Central African Republic. These two countries will still be hotspots in 2019, also because competing world powers fight through proxies to maintain or expand their influence there. Russia has been a significant player in Africa for many years. What changed in 2018 was basically the attention the international media gave to Moscow’s politics on the continent and a sort of stepping up of these politics. On a general level, Russia entered the African theatre to counter the influence of its geopolitical rivals, first USA and China, and to get new opportunities to acquire natural resources or to sell its goods. The Russian leadership also aims to secure its access to major trade routes, like the one passing through Suez Canal.

In Libya, Moscow is trying both to gain a privileged access to the oilfields and to create bases (especially naval) for its troops. In this game the Russians, together with their ally (the Egypt ruled by Abdel Fatah al-Sisi), chose to support General Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA). The LNA is one of the militias competing for the control of Libyan territory. Thanks to aid from Russia and Egypt (but also other partners like France) Haftar controls large swathes of Libya and is succeeding in putting the internationally recognized Government, led by Fayez al-Serraj, into the corner. But Moscow must cope with different challenges, including Haftar’s health and the plans of countries (like Italy) that support al-Serraj.
At the Paris meeting in May 2018, heavily sponsored by France, the different participants agreed on holding elections in December 2018. But this plan failed, due to several reasons. First, the opposition of several militias and their sponsors, inside and outside Libya. After the Palermo conference on Libya, held in November with the support of the Italian government, the idea of elections by the spring of 2019 emerged.

Russia and the Central African Republic sign an intergovernmental agreement on military cooperation.

Public opinion became aware of the presence of Russian officials and Private Military Contractors (PMC) in the Central African Republic in July 2018, when three Russian journalists were killed while they were investigating the presence of a Russian PMC firm (Wagner) there. In the Central African Republic, Russia succeeded in outmanoeuvring (at least temporarily) France, the former colonial power that used to hold sway on this African country rich in natural resources. Moscow is not only providing security to the president of the republic but is also trying to push the militias that are fighting for territory to reach some sort of ceasefire agreement. In its efforts, it is competing with the peace initiatives from Western countries (like France) and the international community. On 28th November 2018 Russia declared to have reached an agreement with Paris on some sort of cooperation for the stabilization of the Central Africa Republic. It is yet to ascertain if this cooperation will be productive and stable.

In February and March 2019 Nigerians will go to the polls. On 16th February they will vote for the next president of the republic (and his deputy) and will choose 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives. On 1st March they will choose 29 state governors and 991 members state assemblies of the federation. The presidential elections in Nigeria will be centred around the rivalry between the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari, and his main rival, Atiku Abubakar.  But the real problem is the political violence that is likely to occur at different levels. According to some Non-Governmental Organizations, in the 2011 elections about 800 people died due to episodes of political violence. In the run up to the 2015 elections, 50 people were killed. There is the risk that violence will return in 2019. And this in a country where major Jihadist groups (Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa) operate, autonomist movements are still active in the south (and some of them created their own armed groups), rivalries between herders and farmers cause more deaths than jihadists and tension between Sunnis and Shias is increasing.

Another troubled election will take place in Algeria in April 2019. Even if this country is more stable than those analysed, nevertheless its stability cannot be taken for granted. During his tenure in power Abdelaziz Bouteflika (since 1999) succeeded in limiting the influence of the military in Algerian politics, basically playing off different factions of the security apparatus against each other. In this way he guaranteed his stay in power. But this strategy damaged the democratization process of the country, since Bouteflika and his party, the FLN, came to control the state institutions at the expense of their rivals. The economic problems, unemployment and a  widespread sense of frustration have helped to separate the population from the institutions. Even if they are weaker than the past, different Jihadist groups, especially those linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, are still active in Algeria. The order Bouteflika created started to crumble in 2013, when a stroke seriously damaged his health. Formally he is still in control, but many observers (both inside and outside Algeria) express doubts as to his real ability to rule the country.

Andrea Carbonari

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