Are conflicts in Africa an indicator of an ailing continent?

Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni earlier this month met a delegation of Ambassadors representing the Permanent Five members of the United Nations Security Council in Uganda. At the meeting, Mr Museveni briefed the envoys about his government’s move to send troops into the neighbouring DR Congo, stating unequivocally that the region and the continent’s issues needed to be handled at the regional level before allowing foreign interference.

Museveni has continually stated that Africa’s bid for stability is being hampered by foreign countries getting involved in local politics of African states. In a statement released following a coup d’etat in Guinea in September, Uganda’s bush war hero and commander in chief of the armed forces questions the motives of coup plotters stating that they act in total contravention of African Union guidelines as well as in breach of the purpose for which Africa’s founding fathers struggled to free the continent from foreign rule. “It is this African Union that has outlawed coups; who, then, are you to make a coup against the decision of the AU? Mr Museveni asks in his statement, adding: “Whose interest are you serving? He offers a solution stating that disgruntled groups should instead take over government through an election, convincing the people that their opinions are superior to those of the sitting government’s.”

Crisis on the continent

At the time of the coup in Guinea, Mali was yet to recover from months of unrest that followed a forced takeover of the Government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta who was forced to resign in August 2020, after soldiers arrested him at gunpoint in a coup that plunged the West African country into uncertainty.

The junta leaders, the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), were condemned across the continent for their actions which were feared would further destabilise the country and the wider region, where al-Qaeda and Islamic-State-linked groups continue to expand their reach, causing deep humanitarian crises. The 75-year-old Keïta had struggled to stem jihadist and inter-communal violence that has left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands internally displaced in northern and central parts of the country.

Closer to home is an even more volatile situation. The second most populous country in African, Ethiopia has for the last 17 months experienced a civil war pitting the government forces against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and armed groups from neighboring Eritrea. The landlocked country borders six countries, three of which are already experiencing conflict – South Sudan, Somalia and Sudan which recently saw a military takeover. It is feared that the continued crisis in the region could suck in other neighbours.

It is not what it appears to be

Meanwhile, the government and the people of the country have lashed out at western governments for allegedly blowing the matter out of proportion. Ethiopians in November staged protests expressing discontent and in a way, telling the world, especially the media in the West to stay away from their affairs. Thousands of Ethiopians took to the streets in support of government forces that are fighting off Tigrarian rebel advances on key areas in the country. The Ethiopians vowed to defend the capital from advancing Tigrayrebels

There was widespread public support against the TPLF and allied groups.  Key diplomatic establishments in Addis Ababa ordered evacuation of their staff, with the US embassy announcing that it had ordered the departure of non-emergency staff. Saudi Arabia, Norway, Sweden and Denmark had days earlier urged their citizens to leave. 

Ethiopians at the Sudany Rally held signs blasting Western media for broadcasting ‘fake news’ overstating rebel gains.  Other signs urged the US, one of the harshest international critics of the war, to ‘stop sucking our blood’. Addis Ababa Mayor Adanech Abebe said in a speech that Ethiopia’s foes were trying to ‘terrorise our population’. ‘They say Addis Ababa is surrounded, but Addis Ababa is only surrounded by its incredible people, by its vigilant, heroic children,’ she said. She was particularly critical of the US Government, which last week announced plans to boot Ethiopia out of a vital trade pact because of rights abuses related to the war. 

Genesis of the Ethiopian crisis

Explaining the genesis of the current crisis in Ethiopia, theconversation.com, an academic and research news website states; “There is a long history to the fighting, but the spark to the current phase was an attack on federal troops based in Mekelle, by the TPLF, on Nov. 4, 2020. At least 1,000 troops were kidnapped and an undefined number were killed by TPLF insurgents. This sparked a retaliatory strike by government forces and a declaration of a state of emergency by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

For almost three decades, the TPLF controlled the government and military. During this period it gained enormous control over the country’s economy and land as well as over billions of dollars in aid received each year. The TPLF ruled in such a way that it redefined Ethiopia largely by ethnicity, with Tigrayans reaping most of the power.

Opposition to the TPLF-dominated government contributed in April 2018 to Abiy Ahmed’s election. As Prime Minister, Abiy began limiting the economic dominance of the TPLF and instituting more centralized federal policies.

The Abiy administration promised a new level of transparency, freed thousands of prisoners and brokered peace with neighboring Eritrea – leading to his winning the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

But even before then, political resentment was brewing. An assassination attempt on Abiy in June 2018 was followed by a deepening power struggle between the TPLF and the new administration.”

African Union weighs in

The African Union has repeatedly called for roundtable talks as opposed to armed conflict. The AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Bankole Adeoye, while speaking to the East African newspaper states that the challenges on the continent call for political cohabitation. He cites the Sudan crisis and says; “We know that the Sudan situation is precarious for security and political governance. But we are calling for dialogue. We call for all stakeholders to sit at the table because we know that any military intervention will not solve the challenges on our continent. The challenges need multi-dimension responses.”

He calls the current situation in Africa a two-edged situation. “In the past seven months, we have had cases of changes in government that are not palatable. At the same time, we also had cases of nine countries that have held elections on schedule and successfully despite Covid-19, which shows that these nine countries have shown commitment to democracy. In three of the nine cases, the opposition has won the elections in Zambia, Sao Tome and Cape Verde. We know that on one side democracy is getting better, while at the same time there are cases where Covid-19 is being used to restrict freedom. When you look at the two sides, the unconstitutional changes of government that we have had in Guinea and the second coup in Mali. While there has been a consolidation of democracy in some countries, we still have problems in a number of countries,” he told the East African in November.

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