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Map of Countries with elections in 2024

A landmark year for Africa and the democracies

by José Segura Clavell

2024 has begun intensely and looks extremely busy for the neighboring continent: up to 18 countries will hold general elections at a time of global polarization where democracies are strained by the rise of populism and the growing influence in Africa of countries like Russia, China, and Türkiye. It is not every year that the African continent has an electoral calendar as relevant and extremely busy as the one we are starting in 2024: specifically, 18 general elections are expected to be held this year in Africa. Comoros, Mali, Senegal, South Africa, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Mozambique, Botswana, Chad, Tunisia, Mauritius, Namibia, Ghana, Algeria, Republic of Guinea, South Sudan, and Guinea Bissau have already passed, will or should go through this important stage in the next twelve months. And I maintain that it is a transcendental year because the test of democracy for all these countries is taking place in a context of enormous global polarization, in a world that seems to increasingly reward populist options. In the background of our observation of all these electoral processes and aware that, in many countries, certain deficiencies in democratic culture can be detected, there is a fundamental debate underway among Africans themselves, but which challenges us directly. Aren’t we in the West trying to impose a model of democracy that, as we can see, has not been useful in so many African countries? A complex debate, undoubtedly, but as a democrat, it does not allow for many nuances in my view, beyond the fact that what matters is that the people can participate in their government and express themselves, and that they can do so in freedom, without coercion, threats, or conditions. However, all these processes must also be seen from a geopolitical point of view. Europe, which has always insisted the most on democratic demands, is losing steam in Africa. The European Union, and the voids it leaves behind have been filled by countries such as China, Russia, or Türkiye, which do not hesitate to violate democratic procedures or respect for human rights. Because Russian influence in certain areas of Africa has not only been military: its interference in fields such as disinformation has weakened the democratic approaches that we, Europeans, have always defended and inspired. And China, which would almost deserve another article, will be discussed another day, since its dominance is economic, tied by the granting of credits. It is also evident that among African youth a clear critical analysis of colonialism, and how their countries have been related to European countries until today, is growing. In West Africa, the one around us, this clearly leads us to France, which is highly questioned throughout the Sahel, but which in a certain way affects the image of all the countries that we could include in what we call “the West”, whether we have a colonizing history or not. And that should also call us to reflect on how badly we have done and how selfish we Europeans have been with the African continent, giving priority to our commercial and geopolitical interests. Not so long ago, and forgive the harshness of the term, is where we went to hunt black people later sell them, in a spurious trade of human beings. Some of these electoral processes will take place in territories of great relevance for our country, such as the neighboring Senegal, that current sender of a large part of the people who come to us on board of small boats and “cayucas”. I write these lines on a morning (Friday, January 26th) in which, despite a horrible windstorm and very rough seas, the arrival of cayucos to the Canary Islands has not stopped, six of them in the last few hours, with more than 300 people, one of them to the island of El Hierro with two corpses on board. The drama does not stop, and it is even more difficult for me to digest it amidst information from Fitur in which we celebrate the wonderful prospects for the arrival of more and more tourists. There is barely a month to go before a key electoral process for Senegal, this friendly country, until a few years ago considered a beacon for democracies throughout West Africa. Journalist José Naranjo, who lives in Dakar, wrote the other day in El Pais that these are the most open elections in recent Senegalese history. Many of the Senegalese migrants who arrived in the Canary Islands during this record-breaking 2023 pointed to the political climate in the country and its impact on local economies as one of the causes for risking their lives at sea, so it is clear the importance of how the election results unfold, and how the electoral results are accepted. This is followed by the Sahel countries. The ‘non-democratic’ situation in countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger or Chad is extremely complex, reflecting the tense geopolitical moment they are experiencing, marked by the rise of terrorism – the pressure exerted by Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, with an increasingly well-founded fear of their expansion towards the West African coastal countries, like Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo or Benin –, the European withdrawal from the region and the subsequent rapprochement with Russia of the countries currently governed by military juntas. In the Sahel, three countries are due to hold general elections in 2024 to return to the democratic path. They are Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad. In Mali and Burkina Faso, the situation is almost the same: after two coups d’etat in each case, the resulting military junta expelled from the country the European military missions that were assisting them in the fight against terrorism and moved closer to Russia. Amid sanctions by the international community and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the countries not only postpone the elections (in the case of Mali), but also argue that, given the delicate moment of the fight against jihadist forces, organizing election is not a priority. The last of our Sahelian neighbors is Mauritania, a country with close economic and even sentimental ties to the Canary Islands archipelago. Mauritania is a Sahelian country that differs from its neighbors in that it is not governed by a military junta, but by a democratically elected president. The current ruler, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, came to power in 2019 after elections that were deemed free and transparent by international observers. Ghazouani has pushed for a gradual political opening, releasing political prisoners, allowing the return of exiles, and favoring dialogue with the opposition. However, the country continues to face challenges such as the threat of jihadist terrorism, poverty, slavery, and ethnic discrimination. Its presidential elections are scheduled for June 22. Very soon we will see our Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, visiting the country. Another country facing a key election this year (expected in October) is South Africa. The ruling African National Congress (ANC), the party that succeeded with Mandela in defeating segregationism, faces its biggest challenge since the end of apartheid, as polls suggest it could lose its absolute majority in Parliament for the first time. Some corruption scandals, the economy (inflation, unemployment, or electricity blackouts) and the great inequalities experienced by South African society seem to have questioned the traditionally, calm majority, of the party now led by President Cyril Ramaphosa. Let us not forget that, together with Nigeria, South Africa is the economic engine of the African continent and that, at the global and geopolitical level, it is already a leading player. Its decisive gesture of suing Israel for genocide against the Palestinians at the International Court of Justice has put it in the limelight, positioning it as the voice of the global south at a time when that global south is making a decisive place for itself on our geopolitical map. All this is to explain that we are facing a series of elections in key countries in our neighborhood, with complicated histories and complex contexts that we must keep an eye on. Because this year there are not only elections in the United States. Next door, in Africa, everything that happens also concerns us. Article written by José Segura Clavell, General Director of Casa África, and published on January 26th, 2024 in and on January 27th, 2024 in Kiosco Insular and Canarias7.

Western Sahara Wall in Morocco, Western Sahara. March 22, 2008: Demonstration for the independence of the Sahara Occidental in front of the Moroccan wall

48 years after, there is no time for peace in the Western Sahara

by María López Belloso

In a world marked by growing tensions and conflicts in places such as Gaza, Ukraine, and Yemen, the 48th anniversary of the proclamation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic on February 27 invites us to reflect on the importance of peace in a context where escalating violence threatens to overshadow any possibility of international harmony. Paradoxically, the Western Sahara conflict does not seem to be one of the conflicts of greatest concern to the international community. Thus, the 2022 annual report of the International Crisis Group did not include the Saharawi conflict among the 10 to be considered in 2023, although it did not foresee the Gaza crisis either. In the current global landscape, peace is at a crossroads, challenged by conflicts that seem to be emerging in different parts of the world. From the live-streamed genocide in Gaza to the conflicts in Ukraine and Yemen, it is clear that the escalation of violence, is on the rise. But this is only the visible side of the coin. According to the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, there are currently more than a hundred-armed conflicts in the world, including 7 in Europe and 45 in North Africa and the Middle East. Meanwhile, recently the more than 350 high-level participants from over 70 countries who took part in the Munich Security Conference have demonstrated the incoherence of foreign policy by showing double standards in the application of personalized international law in the conflicts in Ukraine and Palestine. An appeal for peace and dialogue Although the motto of this conference, which began in 1963, is “Peace through dialogue”, peace and dialogue have disappeared from the equation, eclipsed by an exchange of accusations and requests for armament support. Only the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Layen, reflected on the democratic costs of the current global situation, asking whether “democracy will survive in the world and whether we can defend our values”. In this context, the anniversary of the proclamation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic takes on a special relevance, reminding us of the urgent need to prioritize peace over discord. Throughout the decades, the Saharawi people have maintained a firm commitment to peace, even amidst provocations and breaches of agreements by Morocco. Their longing for a peaceful future has been eloquently manifested in their participation in conflict resolution efforts and in their constant willingness to negotiate peace. Despite the adversities, the Sahrawis have shown an admirable resistance, reaffirming their commitment to regional stability in a context in which no one seems to remember that it is now 48 years since the start of the conflict at Europe’s doorstep, with over 250,000 people struggling to survive in the refugee camps in Tindouf, increasingly forgotten by donors and international society. Even though the Sahrawi people have references such as Aminetu Haidar, internationally awarded for her peaceful resistance and struggle for human rights, reminding us that peace, despite the provocations and challenges, remains a fundamental objective for the Sahrawi people, the international community bets on whitewashing Morocco by granting it the presidency of the Human Rights Council. The complex international relations The recent trip of the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, to Morocco has raised questions about his commitment to international law. Ignoring Morocco’s occupation and exploitation of the Sahrawi territory not only contravenes fundamental principles, but also highlights the complexity of international relations in an increasingly interconnected world. In this critical context, there is a need for spaces for reflection that can shed some light on this bleak panorama. The University of Deusto will soon host the conference “Western Sahara: Exploring New Perspectives from International Law and International Relations” to analyze the complexities of the situation in Western Sahara, explore new perspectives and seek solutions from the field of international law and international relations. It will be a space for constructive dialogue, with the hope of finding paths towards peace and justice in a region marked by controversy. To paraphrase Hannah Arendt, “in dark times” it is imperative to remember that peace and international cooperation are fundamental to building a sustainable and fair future. The situation in Western Sahara provided us with an opportunity to reflect on how we can move towards a world where respect for international law and peaceful conflict resolution are the norm, not the exception.

Defense & Security
A miracle glass on the Yemen of the world map

The impact of Operation Prosperity Guardian in the Red Sea on the Yemen crisis

by Sergey Serebrov

The U.S.-British coalition’s military intervention in Yemen has become the most dangerous expansion of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (PIC), taking a heavy toll on the security in the Middle East and creating a parallel hotbed of military standoff in the Red Sea. There is no consensus in the region’s countries on the root cause of the current escalation, with some governments blaming the terrorist sortie of the Qassam Brigades militants from Hamas’ Al-Aqsa Flood (known as Toofan in Arabic) on October 7, 2023, while others—the abnormal situation of the decades-long occupation and blockade of Palestine by Israel, mentioned by UN Secretary General A. Guterres in October 2023. Yet they are all united in extremely negative assessments of the humanitarian consequences of the Iron Swords operation by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip. The final document of the LAS and OIC summit in Riyadh on November 11, 2023, attended by 57 heads of state, had the most pacifist tone possible, but it clearly condemned Israel’s war crimes campaign and demanded “an immediate ceasefire along with the opening of humanitarian corridors.” While rejecting the adoption of collective non-military measures of pressure on Israel proposed by the so-called Axis of Resistance and a number of other states, a caveat was made that they could be applied individually: “The resolution calls on the members of the OIC and LAS to use diplomatic, political and legal forms of pressure as well as deterrent measures to stop the colonial occupation administration’s crimes against humanity.” Russian scholars V.V. Naumkin and V.A. Kuznetsov attribute the strategy of the Israeli government and the militarist policies of the U.S. and UK as the main reason for aggravation of the PIC: “Rejecting the draft settlement by founding an independent Palestinian state (within the borders as of June 4, 1967 with the capital in Eastern Jerusalem), prescribed by resolutions of the UNSC, which would exist side by side with Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is driving the problem into a dead end. And pumping American and British weapons into Israel only prolongs the bloodshed. Continued attempts to resolve the Gaza conflict by force are disastrous for the future co-existence of the two peoples.” Discussions at the UN showed that this conclusion is shared by most countries in the region, i.e. the fuse for spontaneous outbursts of resistance to the existing order remains unextinguished. Yemen is one such hotbed. Deep political divisions, an unfinished nine-year war with the Arab Coalition (AC) and a massive humanitarian disaster affecting 80 per cent of the population did not prevent the country’s inhabitants from voicing their attitude to the Gaza tragedy. Political activism and anti-Israeli sentiments rose everywhere. The epicenter was 14 of the country’s 22 most populous provinces, controlled by the authorities of Sana’a, where an alliance between the Houthi movement Ansarullah and the core of the country’s former ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), formed a coalition regime in 2016 that recognized Yemen’s current constitution. These provinces are home to more than two-thirds of the country’s population (about 23 million people) as well as the largest cities, such as Sana’a, Ibb and the main Red Sea port of Hodeidah. The internationally unrecognized regime in Sana’a, targeted in March 2015 by a massive AC military operation at the request of the legitimate Yemeni authorities to neutralize it, has suddenly become one of the main centers of the region’s current political dynamics. The Ansarullah leadership’s public support of the Palestinian resistance has become a powerful springboard for strengthening of its status and authority both within Yemen and at the regional level, consolidating the ideological foundations of the Houthi movement as a new national symbol and political platform for the country. Castigating the U.S. and the UK for aiding Israel with its war in Gaza as “complicit in crimes against humanity,” the movement’s leader sayyid Abdul Malik al-Houthi placed an explicit emphasis on the importance of involving the peoples and governments of all Arab and Islamic states in the Palestinian struggle, while underscoring the vanguard role of Yemen. The Ansarullah leader condemned the Arab states that continued to pursue the course of normalizing their relations with Israel, calling on them to abide by the moral principles of Islam, which do not allow tolerance for the “usurper who clearly violates the rights of the Palestinian people.” He described Hamas’ Toofan operation as “a game-changer due to inflicting tangible losses on the Zionist enemy,” and Yemenis’ support for it as their “religious and moral duty.” Sana’a announced joining the Palestinian war on Israel and its readiness to send “hundreds of thousands of soldiers” at the right moment. The authorities organized the collection and transfer of money to Gazans, and they switched to active military support of the Palestinians in mid-October 2023 by launching missiles and drones towards the Israeli port of Eilat in an attempt to divert Israeli forces and hamper the port’s operations. On November 19, 2023, they arrested the ship Galaxy Leader, owned by an Israeli businessman, enforcing a ban they had imposed in mid-November on the navigation of Israeli ships and cargo through Yemeni territorial waters. Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vladimir Nebenzya said in early January 2024: “It is impossible to deny what is happening in the Red Sea is a direct projection of the violence in Gaza, where Israel’s bloody operation has been going on for three months,” while the U.S. “has turned the UN Security Council into a hostage by vetoing resolutions on an immediate ceasefire.” Since October 2023, the leader of Ansarullah has personally called on the people to participate in regular mass solidarity actions almost weekly, as part of a campaign he called “The Battle of Allah’s Promised Victory” and the Holy Jihad. To coordinate the mass demonstrations, which often involved more than 2 million people, and to provide ideological guidance, the authorities in Sana’a established the “Support for Al-Aqsa” committee, which turned those protests into weekly grand-scale political actions. The slogans of these marches, especially after the launch of Military Operation ‘Prosperity Guardian’ against Yemen on January 12, 2024, took on an increasingly militant tone: “You are not alone... we stand together with Gaza!”, “From the faithful people of Yemen—help, help Toofan,” “the Flood of al-Aqsa has already come—it will defeat the insolent countries,” “Al-Aqsa Flood, come and wash away the barriers and walls!” The Houthi ideology is based on the concept of the “Quranic path” proclaimed by the founder of this movement, sayyid Hussein B. al-Husi (1959-2004). The key tenet is that the consciousness of each Muslim believer and the Islamic community as a whole needs to be reformed and entrenched upon the rails of spirituality and morality as dictated by the holy book, which will make “ummah”, the entire Muslim community, exemplary and advanced. This progress towards the ideal should be led by a spiritual leader, personifying the selfless service to the faith and having genetic affiliation to the descendants of the Prophet’s house—the sada (hence the singular—sayyid). Among his main functions, as the doctrine has it, is to take care of the community’s readiness to defend the moral values of Islam against its worst enemies. Sayyid Hussein listed their names in his cliché (Arabic: sarkha), which he first uttered in a lecture to a youth audience in January 2002: “Allah is great! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse to the Jews! Victory to Islam!” This clarion call has become a distinctive marker of the Houthi and the Ansarullah movement, and posters with this text have been a permanent feature of meetings, marches, and wall decorations in public institutions and schools since 2016. After the Prosperity Guardian coalition’s bombings commenced, a new term of the “evil trinity” (ash-shir al-thulathi)—Israel, the U.S. and the UK—appeared in the Houthi narrative. In the expert community, the autonomy and authenticity of the Houthi ideology and socio-political movement with deep Yemeni roots are generally not in doubt. The Houthi were not and are not “agents” or “proxies” of Iran, despite their growing cooperation in recent years. In the Houthi movement, as was correctly noted by the well-known orientalist B. Haykel, the influence of not only Shiite but also Sunni currents of modern political Islam, as well as secular ideologies, including “nationalism and anti-colonialism” [1], is quite conspicuous. The Houthi movement also purports to protect Yemen’s sovereignty, rebuild its economy on the basis of its own resources and modern technology, improve its education system and restore its historical glory as the heart of the entire Islamic world and one of the main hubs of Islamic civilization. Helen Lackner, the British researcher of Yemen, said: “The charge of acting as Tehran’s proxy serves as an insult to an organization that has its own motivations and ideological position.” After 2016, Ansarullah shares equal seats with the General People’s Congress (GPC) on the Supreme Political Council (SPC) representing in a binary coalition government the central executive authorities in a full-fledged state-type republican system that encompasses provincial and local levels. The regime is based on the old bureaucracy created by President Abdallah A. Saleh, remaining loyal to the coalition authorities in Sana’a after Saleh’s death in December 2017 and retaining the same structure and core, with Ansarullah members added as managers and employees. The SPC is spearheaded by one of the movement’s leaders, Mahdi Mashat, while the government of national salvation is headed by GPC member Abdul Aziz bin Habtoor, a former rector of the University of Aden. The shibboleths of external propaganda characterizing the Houthi as “militias,” “jamaat,” “rebels,” “insurgents,” or “tribes” do not correspond to the socio-political nature of the movement, nor do they agree with the contemporary Yemeni realities. Beside the executive branch, the Houthi are represented in parliament, the judiciary and all security agencies, including the army and intelligence. Together with the GPC, they define the regime’s foreign policy as well as cooperation with the countries of the so-called Axis of Resistance that includes Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This comes precisely as a result of the Decisive Storm, a foreign military operation launched nine years ago. According to formal criteria, the Ansarullah organization since 2015, in the situation of a protracted crisis related to the division of the Yemeni nation and the foreign AC intervention, having retained the signs of a socio-political movement, functionally made a leap into the category of transitional actors moving from quasi-state to the state type body. It should also be noted that under the extreme conditions of war and blockade, the coalition regime in Sana’a achieved consolidation, which was not the case (for objective reasons) in the camp of the internationally recognized Government of Yemen (GoY or IRG), which received major military and financial support from the Arab Coalition. Organizationally, since the very beginning, the IRG has been in a state of chronic systemic disintegration that sparked direct armed clashes between its factions. Mass popular demonstrations in support of Palestine in the IRG-controlled part of the country, which covers about 75% of its territory, were sporadic and less crowded. Rashad Mohammed Al-Alimi, Chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), attended the November summit in Riyadh, where he expressed his condemnation of Israel’s military operation in Gaza and Yemenis’ solidarity with the Palestinian people. However, he distanced himself from the hostile stance to IRG policy of the unrecognized regime in Sana’a, especially on the military blockade of Israeli shipping and navigation. “The terrorist attacks by the Houthi in the Red Sea are harming the freedom of global trade and the peoples of the region, doubling above all the suffering of the Yemeni people, whose survival is 90% dependent on imports,” he said. Opinions were divided among the leaders of other factions within the IRG, but most of them supported the establishment of the American-British Coalition (ABC) and the listing of the Houthi as global terrorists by the U.S. on January 17, 2024, which signaled a possible setback of the Yemeni conflict. The most likely scenario for the conflict, which promises to be protracted and extremely unsavory to the ABC, is for the Anglo-Saxon partnership to exploit the complex military and political environment for a further instrumentalization of existing rivalries. The above analysis of the Sana’a policy shows that the ABC command could not expect Sana’a to lift the maritime sanctions against Israel through military blackmail, as this would mean a backdown on the entire ideology of the regime, defined by the mentioned Houthi concept of the “Quranic path.” The lifting of the ban on Israeli shipping was promised by the Sana’a authorities only after the Israeli ceasefire in Gaza and the opening of humanitarian corridors, which was officially voiced at all levels even before the launch of the ABC military operation in Yemen. Official spokesman of Ansarullah, Muhammad Abdulsalam, warned the ABC command about this intention immediately after U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced the ABC establishment in December 2023: “the ABC mission is to provide a cover for Israel and to proceed with illegal militarization of the Red Sea that will not stop Yemen which will continue to provide legitimate support to the people of Gaza.” U.S. claims that Operation Prosperity Guardian is designed to “undermine and degrade the ability of the Houthi to endanger seamen and threaten global trade on one of the world’s most important waterways” are questionable as well, as the AC’s attempt to accomplish a similar task militarily for nine years is known to have been unsuccessful, ending with a transition to a de-escalation phase in April 2022. Since March 2015, U.S. and UK officers have been represented on the AC command staff, contributing to the Decisive Storm operation by using the same methods, the same weapons and the same intelligence sources as the ABC currently relies on. One of the major military outcomes of the AC’s “old” campaign was the emergence of a localized industrial base at the Sana’a disposal to build and maintain the kind of modern-day arsenal that made the transition to a political settlement of the crisis the most expedient choice for all sides. Finally, the proposition of the ABC command that the operation in the Red Sea was designed to protect the safety of commercial shipping through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which accounts for about 14% of the world’s commercial cargo turnover, also proved to be completely untenable in the first month and a half. Already at the stage of the Anglo-Saxon coalition formation, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, suggested: “They have assembled a so-called ‘international coalition’ (which quite characteristically consists mainly of American ships), which is supposed to ‘ensure security’, although in reality the legitimacy of its actions raises the most serious questions in terms of international law. We should not have any illusions about the true goals of the authors of the resolution. This is not about ensuring the safety of navigation in the Red Sea at all, but an attempt to legitimize (post factum) the actions of the aforementioned ‘coalition’ and have Security Council’s endorsement for an unlimited time.” Operation Prosperity Guardian per se was the main cause behind the escalation of tensions and a threat to the navigation of all other carriers. It is no coincidence that neither the littoral states of this subregion nor the leading foreign states that use this route have yielded to the pressure or expressed any willingness to join the coalition. Egypt, 10% of whose budget depends on Forex earnings from Suez, saw the ABC action as “a dangerous acceleration of events in the southern Red Sea and Yemen ... with potential risks of a wider conflict in the region due to Israel’s ongoing attacks in the Gaza Strip.” His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar’s Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, said even before the ABC attacks in Yemen, the “from Qatar’s political perspectives, no military action leads to a resolution. We are closely watching developments in the Red Sea, but our greatest fear is the consequences of being drawn into an endless loop of region-wide tensions. We hope for an early end to what is happening to the civilian ships via diplomatic means. That will be the best way possible.” Essentially, all countries in the subregion agreed that the best way out of the military conflict in the Red Sea would be to fulfill the Sana’a demands to the Israeli authorities, i.e. putting an end to a devastating war in Gaza. Of all the countries in this subregion, only Bahrain, home to U.S. and British naval bases, joined the ABC. Objective data on the ship traffic through the Suez Canal shows that the drop was only about 2% in the first thirty days after the seizure of the Israeli ship by the Yemeni military. A deeper dive began only after the U.S. announcement of the ABC on December 18, 2023, reaching a record 50% by the end of February 2024, after the strikes on Yemen commenced, when the Sana’a authorities added to their sanctions list the U.S. and UK military and their merchant ships, which became the main targets of their attacks starting in mid-January 2024. A summary of the first month of Operation Prosperity Guardian was over 400 air and missile strikes by ABC forces on Yemeni territory and more than 25 retaliatory attacks by the Sana’a authorities against ABC and Israeli naval targets with the sinking of the British merchant ship Rubymar carrying ammonia fertilizers in February 2024. Nor has it been possible to stop the Houthi from launching missiles toward Israel. Besides the military risks to shipping, the ABC operation also threatened the ecology of the Red Sea waters, which is an important traditional source of income for fishermen in the coastal states. The true strategy of the ABC in Yemen can only be judged by the further course and results of the campaign, which promises to have far-reaching consequences for the entire region. Its most likely development will be an attempt to torpedo de-escalation, which has defined the downward dynamic of the “old” military crisis in Yemen involving the AC since April 2022. There are several reasons for this conclusion. First, the decisive move by KSA and Sana’a to remove the regional component of the Yemeni crisis has been highly successful in bringing it out of the stalemate it hit after the failure of the Kuwait round of UN-sponsored talks in 2016. The de-escalation process was accompanied by exchange visits of official delegations from Riyadh and Sana’a in April and September 2023 and their preparation of a compromise settlement formula that would satisfy both sides. The Houthi surrender as the only scenario for ending the war became a thing of the past, and the consolidation of the Ansarullah political alliance with the GPC core within the ruling regime in Sana’a finally appeared to get a sort of recognition. This shift removed the main motive for the AC to continue the war and meant a reorientation of the regional leader, Saudi Arabia, to deep readjustment of the entire system of subregional relations and to zero out its involvement in external military conflicts. To finalize the process, all that remained was to sign a ready-made roadmap and start preparing a national dialogue in the Yemeni format with the participation of Ansarullah under the auspices of the UN. Second, de-escalation was largely achieved due to the normalization of KSA-Iran diplomatic relations in March 2023, mediated by China. For the U.S. and the UK, this change meant, among other things, undermining their fundamental long-term geopolitical construct, which had been used for decades to structure the system and dynamics of regional relations across the Middle East. It was based on the exploitation of Sunni-Shiite and Iranian-Saudi contradictions, into which anti-American and anti-Israeli manifestations were also implanted as a sign of “Shiite” (aka “Iranian”) influence in the countries of this region. The conflict in Yemen has long ago proved its complete unsuitability for analyzing the Yemeni realities. The sociocultural ground in this country has ruled out the transformation of Yemeni contradictions into sectarian ones, as the relations between both dominant autochthonous religious communities of Yemen—Shafi’i (Sunni) and Zaydi (Shia)—have remained traditionally tolerant and friendly. The religious framing employed has been much more influential in sharpening their dichotomies with the proselytizing radical version of the Salafi ideology of the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood* operating within the Islah Party. The attribution of the “Iranian agent” label to the Houthi has generally remained very superficial to Yemeni political discourse proper and has not become a fully effective tool for manipulating this rivalry. Third, the very fact that Riyadh entered direct negotiations with Sana’a, mediated by Oman, signaled the increasing role of sovereignty in the system of subregional politics and the process of its transition to a more friendly architecture of relations, less dependent on the military presence of extra-regional superpowers in the Gulf and the Red Sea. Back in the summer of 2019, the UAE unilaterally announced the end of its military involvement in the AC operation in Yemen. The KSA’s new strategy toward Yemen has been heading in the same direction. Various attempts by the U.S. special ambassador to Yemen, T. Linderking, to slow down and derail this process were not quite successful. The U.S. emissary either inspired the KSA with mistrust of Iran’s intentions after the restoration of KSA-Iran diplomatic relations, or warned the Arabian countries that the U.S. would not leave Yemen out of its control anyway, saying, in particular, that the final stage of “an inclusive Yemeni-Yemeni political process [should] take place under U.S. auspices” instead of the UN format recognized by all parties. The UN mission in Yemen, which played an important and very positive role in the success of the “Oman track,” may also have been a source of discontent for the Anglo-Saxon partnership. A roadmap to end the KSA's military involvement in Yemen within three years was prepared by late 2023, which Hans Grundberg, the current head of the mission, publicly announced on December 23. This marked a de facto major step toward the final international legitimization of Ansarullah as a full-fledged participant in the political process. The struggle to keep the roadmap for a Yemeni settlement afloat, albeit in a postponed mode due to the ABC military intervention, is of fundamental importance for the future status and security systems of Arabia and the Red Sea. This is evidenced, in particular, by the KSA’s choice to consolidate the agreements reached with Sana’a after the Western coalition began bombing Yemen. At a meeting with T. Linderking in February 2024, KSA Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to “provide assistance to Yemen in facilitating a dialogue between the parties to reach a political solution under the auspices of the UN.” In addition to the KSA’s own experience of waging war in Yemen, there is a solid scientific basis for this choice: following a comprehensive analysis of the genesis and state of the Ansarullah organization, the authors of The Houthi Movement in Yemen, a fundamental monograph recently published by the KSA, conclude that “regardless of the final result, it seems that the Houthis will remain a key player in Yemen’s cultural, social, economic and political scenes for the foreseeable future [2].” Over the years of war, the leading Yemeni centers of political influence (CPIs) within the IRG and both active participants in the AC—the KSA and the UAE—brought about an amalgam of interests, which, in the context of a military intervention by the powerful ABC, risk being manipulated by the neocolonial project of the Anglo-Saxon partnership. By playing up intra-Yemeni contradictions and staging the pulling of certain Yemeni CPIs to their side, the two leading players of the ABC may try to turn them into an instrument of their policy both in the crisis zone and in the entire subregion. Unfortunately, they have serious and objective prerequisites for this attempt at sowing discord. The success of the “Omani track” within the Riyadh-Sana’a bilateral format in achieving sustainable de-escalation in the conflict zone was achieved almost without the participation of all the other CPIs in the IRG. This narrower format created a ground for their dissatisfaction and natural concerns about the current situation. The Emirati actors on the IRG’s Emirati flank, represented by General Aidarus al-Zubaidi’s Southern Transitional Council (STC) and General Tareq M. Saleh’s Political Council of the National Resistance Forces, were particularly wary, directly criticizing certain provisions of the roadmap that, in their view, provided excessive economic advantages to the hostile authorities in Sana’a—for example, their right to a share of the proceeds from the export of Yemeni oil to pay off debts on the salaries of civil servants. The ABC’s operation against Sana’a provoked something of a revenge attempt on the part of these CPIs within the IRG. President Rashad al-Alimi and the leaders of the Emirati flank of the PLC were quick to express their willingness to cooperate with the ABC, although each of the three CPIs had very different perspectives and goals in mind, both for themselves and for the future of the country. All the old political science constructs introduced to launch and accompany AC’s military campaign began to rapidly return to the Yemeni narrative: the diminutive labeling of the Sana’a authorities as “Houthi,” “militia,” or “rebels”; the reanimation of the Iranian expansion bugaboo through the Ansarullah movement, ostensibly willing to bring the Red Sea under Iran’s heel, etc. At the same time, the political reasons for the rivalry between the CPIs of the Saudi and Emirati flanks in the IRG camp have not disappeared. The probable supply of arms by the ABC to one of the flanks in the AC camp, or even to one of the CPIs on either flank, will inevitably lead to imbalances in the fragile configuration of forces, not only along the IRG-Sana’a Alliance (SA) axis, but also within the IRG camp. The risk of these CPIs clashing with each other is sometimes not lower, and in some scenarios even higher, than with the SA. Suffice it to mention the fact that the official policy of the leading faction on the Emirati flank, the Southern Transitional Council or STC, to withdraw the South within the 1990 borders of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), enshrined in the National Charter of Honor of the South that adopted in May 2023, is emphatically denied by most of the other Yemeni CPIs within the same IRG, as well as by both SA members. The ABC’s military involvement in the internal Yemeni tangle is difficult to coordinate and predict. It carries the risk of completely transforming the situation and ricocheting into the camp of the IRG itself as well as the AC partners backing it. This is exactly the scenario that the Qatari leader warned about, speaking of the endless loop of conflicts into which Arabia is being drawn by the aggression in Yemen recently unleashed by the ABC. *** In conclusion, we should emphasize the importance of historical and socio-cultural factors, underpinning the notion of identities that play a primary role in conflicts both in Yemen and in the region in a broader sense. Especially because these are particularly visible and instrumental in the current escalatory ladder. Amar Bendjama, Algeria’s representative to the UN, described what is happening in the Red Sea as a direct projection of the violence in Gaza, reminding that “the primary responsibility for maritime security rests with coastal States — best positioned to ensure the safety of crucial waterways — and underscor[ing] that any collective effort lacking the active involvement of such States is likely to fall short of achieving the desired results.” He also noted that “the Red Sea is more than just a trade route — it is steeped in civilizations and communities with legitimate aspirations and hopes.” * This organization is declared terrorist and banned in Russia. 1. The Houthi Movement in Yemen Ideology, Ambition and Security in the Arab Gulf / Ed. Abdullah Hamidaddin, I.B. TAURIS, King Feisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies Series, KFCRIS, 2022. P. 21. 2. Ibid. P. 3.

Defense & Security
Abuja, Nigeria, capital of Nigeria, anchored on the political map.

The Case Against Military Rule

by Ebenezer Obadare

Nigeria needs a change of direction, not a change of government. With Nigeria plunged into a full-blown crisis due to a worsening economic climate, a cross-section of Nigerians, desperate for a quick turnaround and certain that the Bola Tinubu administration has lost the plot, have started clamoring for a coup d’état. So loud has been the agitation, especially on social media, that Chief of Defense Staff Christopher Musa came out last week to warn those behind it that “the law will come after them,” and that “the armed forces of Nigeria are here to protect democracy.” It is an interesting paradox that the same generation of Nigerians who have consistently put their bodies on the line in defense of democracy are the ones now apparently demanding military intervention. The paradox is resolved as soon as it is realized that though seemingly divergent, both the hunger for democracy and the incipient yearning for khaki rule are united by the same impulse. That impulse is, not to put too fine a point on it, a government that delivers and is the thread that runs through the ongoing ferment in Nigeria and the spectacle in Western and Central Africa where, defying expectation, throngs of young people took to the streets to welcome assorted coupists. Nor is the impulse unique to young people in Africa. If, across Western democracies, the electorate appears to be souring on liberal democracy (“just half of Europeans aged 16-26 believe democracy is the best form of government”), populist appetite for strongman rule has noticeably increased in places like Hungary, the Philippines, El Salvador and, whisper it, among a key segment of the American electorate. While it is true that the Nigerian situation has some local wrinkles—for instance, there is no gainsaying that lingering resentment at the outcome of last year’s presidential election is an important subtext to the current discontent—this does not make it any less illuminating as an illustration of growing popular disenchantment with liberal democracy. Instructively, too, the concern on the streets has reverberated among the political elite, resulting in a trenchant, if misguided, insistence on a return to “African democracy.” Nigerians have good reason to be irate, having seen scant return on their emotional and physical investment in democracy since the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999. Indeed, one reason the clamor for military rule has grown is precisely because an increasing number of people see no improvement in their material situation, and therefore little justification in defending a regime that, from their standpoint, has only favored a narrow band of elites. For the average Nigerian, the only difference between civilian and military rulers is in their accoutrements. While this diagnosis is beyond dispute, it cannot be emphasized enough that military rule is the wrong prescription, and in the Nigerian case would mark a tragic regression after twenty-five years of civilian rule. The reasons are not far-fetched. In the first place, since the security aspect of the current crisis owes largely to the failure of the armed forces to contain the Boko Haram insurgency and rampant banditry, handing over the reins of political power to an institution that could not even discharge its constitutional duty of protecting the territorial integrity of the country would be tantamount to rewarding failure. If the Nigerian military cannot do even that for which it was trained, how can it be expected to accomplish that for which it lacks the expertise, never mind the temperament? Furthermore, no matter the underlying frustration, the clamor for military intervention ultimately boils down to a refusal to face the arduous task of institution building. Nigeria faces a clear challenge: ensure that budding democratic institutions put down roots, and where such institutions are absent, inaugurate new ones. That this is nonnegotiable can be gleaned from the history of the advanced economies, and military intervention at this crucial moment will only interrupt a social process that the country must have to pass through. The desire for military intervention also calls to mind the fantasy of “developmental dictatorship,” specifically the idea that what will ultimately right the ship in Nigeria and other African countries in a similar position is the intervention of a beneficent dictator who, knocking a few heads together and dispensing with all the inconveniences of the rule of law in the process, puts the country on the path to development and promptly steps aside. In Nigeria, this fantasy—the utopia of “a shirtless (Jerry) Rawlings driving a bulldozer,” as a Nigerian commentator puts it—has always existed cheek-by-jowl with agitation for popular rule, accruing popularity during moments of economic and political stress. It is often forgotten that this Faustian bargain often leaves societies with a lot of dictatorship and very little development. Lastly, the fact that the majority of the people currently championing the return of the military were either too young or had not been born during the last military era in the country points to an all-important generational dimension. The chasm between members of this generation and Nigerians for whom the terror of military rule is eternally fresh is one of the drivers of political division and misunderstanding in the country. For every member of the younger generation legitimately chafing at the lack of progress under successive civilian administrations, there is a member of the older generation, particularly Nigerians in their fifties and sixties, who cannot forget that the first thing military rule will abolish, together with all the other political freedoms that young people have come to take for granted, is the right to protest about how one is governed. While elected representatives may be petitioned or pelted as the case may be, unelected soldiers cannot, since martial law is the exact antithesis of the rule of law. There is no denying that, on the whole, liberal democracy has failed Nigerians, making their sense of grievance understandable. That said, Nigerians cannot afford to cut their nose to spite their face. While the problems besetting the country cannot be solved by a single administration, a democratic government in which people argue, write at the top of their voices, debate, and sometimes throw the odd punch, offers the best prospect. If that system can work elsewhere, there is no reason why it should not work in Nigeria. Of the many desiderata for democratic flourishing, the most vital, and, as it happens the one that is glaringly absent in Nigeria, is a democratic temperament. If the experience of the advanced democracies teaches us anything, it is that this temperament is acquired ever so slowly and starts to burgeon only after a period of patient and deliberate cultivation. Taking the long view, Nigerian intellectuals should step in to educate Nigerians—especially members of the younger generation—about the evils of military rule.

Defense & Security
Map of the Red Sea

Red Sea politics: why Turkey is helping Somalia defend its waters

by Federico Donelli

Somalia and Turkey recently announced that they would expand the terms of a defence agreement first signed on 8 February 2024 to include the maritime sector. This came as tensions rose between Somalia and landlocked Ethiopia. Ethiopia is seeking access to the Red Sea through Somaliland, a breakaway state of Somalia. Federico Donelli, an international relations professor whose research covers Red Sea security and politics, puts this defence agreement into context. What’s the scope of the relationship between Turkey and Somalia? Turkey’s entry into Somalia in 2011 started out as a humanitarian partnership but soon turned into a strategic one. Its support since has been economic and infrastructural and has increasingly included the military. The Turkish government saw Somalia’s failed statehood and the lack of other major international stakeholders as an opportunity to increase its popularity across Africa. Turkey aimed to: - gain international visibility - test its ability to intervene in conflict and post-conflict scenarios - increase market diversification into east Africa - cultivate its image as a benevolent Muslim middle power by promoting Islamic solidarity. Several Turkish faith-based associations and NGOs already active in Africa became directly involved in development and relief projects. Major national brands, such as Turkish Airlines, promoted campaigns to raise funds for Somalia. Within a few years, Turkey’s involvement in Somalia was portrayed by the government and perceived by the Turkish public as a domestic issue. Turkey’s early efforts to bring Somalia back to the table of the international community were successful. With the reopening of Mogadishu’s port and airport in 2014, both managed by Turkish companies, the economic situation in Somalia improved compared to the previous decade. Turkish political elites began to present their involvement in Somalia as a success story. This is despite some remaining critical problems, including failing to root out the terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab. Turkey took responsibility for training the Somali National Army in partnership with other stakeholders, including the European Union and the United States. It opened a military base in Mogadishu in 2017. The base trains one of the army’s elite units, the Gorgor Brigades, and serves as a Turkish military outpost in the region. Al-Shabaab’s persistence has convinced Turkey that it needs to provide more active military support for Somalia’s development. Ankara also wants to protect its economic and political investments in Somalia. Finally, behind the Turkish deal with Somalia is the politics around the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato). Over the past 12 months, Turkey has moved closer to the United States. It’s positioned itself as an effective ally in Africa to counteract the negative effects of France’s withdrawal – such as the increasing influence of Russia. Turkey’s commitment to Somalia follows its efforts in Libya. In both cases, Turkey has proven willing to take on the security burden that other Nato members, particularly Italy, have refused to meet. Turkey’s engagement in Somalia is, therefore, part of a broader foreign policy strategy to gain more autonomy in global politics. Increased relevance within Nato would help achieve this. What’s the context of the maritime defence pact between Turkey and Somalia? Turkey and Somalia began working on an agreement between November 2023 and January 2024. Turkey agreed to train and equip Somalia’s naval force and help patrol the country’s 3,333km coastline. Turkey’s defence sector has had increasing influence in Ankara’s foreign policy decisions. Turkey sees itself as an exporter of defence industry products, and as a partner in training special forces and police. African countries are among the main targets for the Turkish defence sector. Somalia, therefore, provides an opportunity to spread more Turkish production and items. In 2022, Turkey became, along with the United States, the main backer of a new offensive against Al-Shabaab. It provided logistical support to the Gorgor forces and air cover to the national army. This cooperation has led to the 10-year defence agreement, including maritime security, signed in February 2024. Turkey and Somalia have been working on the accord for some time, but recent regional events have undoubtedly affected the announcement’s timing. An Ethiopia-Somaliland memorandum of understanding in January 2024 is one such event. Turkey has good relations with Somaliland, but considers the territorial integrity of Somalia to be essential for its stability. At the same time, the Horn of Africa’s political dynamics are shifting. Mounting tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia have led to new coalitions involving regional and extra-regional players. It’s important not to oversimplify, but two factions are emerging. On one side are Ethiopia, Somaliland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). On the other are Somalia, Egypt, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia. At first, Turkey sought to mediate between the factions to defuse tensions. But its agreement with Somalia reduces Turkey’s room for manoeuvre. Although the relationship with Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed appears to be unaffected, there could be negative repercussions, especially for the many Turkish economic interests in Ethiopia. What is the UAE factor? When it comes to the Horn of Africa, the UAE plays a pivotal role. Turkey and Somalia each have a relationship with the Emirates. From 2014 to 2020, Turkey engaged in bitter rivalry with the Emirates in the wider Red Sea area. This was driven by the two countries’ different visions for the region’s future. Relations improved from 2020. During the 2020-2022 war in Tigray, both Turkey and the UAE supported the Ethiopian government. But recent developments in the Horn of Africa, such as the UAE-backed Ethiopia-Somaliland deal, threaten to create new friction between Turkey and the Emirates. Turkey doesn’t have the political will or material capacity to sustain this. In the past three years, the UAE has supported the Turkish economy with direct investment, changing the balance of the relationship. The situation is similar for Somalia. From a commercial and security perspective, the Emirates is important in Somalia. The UAE manages two key Somali ports – Berbera and Bosaso. It’s also moving to take over Kismayo. And the Emirates has been one of Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s principal backers. It would be risky for the Somali president to break ties with Abu Dhabi. What happens next? There is still much uncertainty about how the Ethiopia-Somaliland memorandum of understanding and the Turkey-Somalia defence cooperation agreements will be put into practice. What’s clear is that both the UAE and Turkey are becoming more active and influential in the region. And that African dynamics within and between states are closely intertwined with regional and global trends.

Map of the Middle East and North Africa.

Ten Things to Watch in the Middle East and North Africa in 2024

by Prof. Dr. Eckart Woertz , Olena Osypenkova

Less than two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Gaza War has re-ignited the Israel–Palestine conflict and disrupted regional politics. Developments in Syria and Yemen are in flux, Egypt finds a new role as mediator, and new spaces are opening up for international actors like China. We present a list of ten things to watch in the region as we move into 2024. Local conflicts: Authoritarian resilience will likely manifest itself in a series of sham elections. The Yemen War might linger on amid negotiations, while Israel has no plan on how to run Gaza after an end to hostilities. Regional developments: The Arab League has brought Syria back in from the cold. Israel’s normalisation of relations with Arab countries is on hold for the foreseeable future. Egypt is regaining some of its former regional lustre by acting as a mediator, whether in Gaza or in Sudan. International dynamics: Western democratic countries struggle to maintain influence compared to China and even Russia. A Trump victory in the US elections would change American foreign policy, make solving the Iranian nuclear file impossible, and could lead to adverse reactions from what is now a nuclear-threshold state. Israel would be given free rein in the Occupied Territories; the Gulf states would be forced to choose sides. Economic issues: The region remains an energy powerhouse difficult to ignore. OPEC+ arrangements will hold, and Gulf sovereign wealth funds might reconsider their asset allocation if G7 countries decided to seize – not just freeze – Russian foreign assets. Policy Implications Europe needs to confront China and Russia in the region, prepare for a possible Trump victory, and rein in the Israeli far right. Energy transitions may offer opportunities for regional collaboration. Sanctions against Russia and Iran need to be clearly communicated to other oil exporters unless they are spooked by financial weaponisation and refrain from investment in European capital markets. Who Will Run Gaza? Egypt administered the Gaza Strip between 1948 and 1967, but never thought about claiming it as its own territory. The Gaza Strip has remained a hot potato ever since. In contrast to the West Bank, where Israel expands illegal settlements and has annexation plans, it has no such ambition in Gaza. In 2005 Israeli forces even withdrew, only controlling external access points. Who will run Gaza after the arms fall silent? Israel does not seem to have a concrete plan, except for “destroying Hamas” – which has run the Gaza Strip for nearly two decades – and disconcerting mind games about ethnic cleansing by pushing large population segments out of Gaza. Whatever is meant by “destroying Hamas,” it is a task whose fulfilment is unlikely; one cannot militarily destroy an ideology with deep roots in an insurgent movement and the broader population. The Israeli government has also ruled out that the ailing and corrupt Palestinian Authority could ride back into Gaza with the help of Israeli bayonets, a plan that the US administration has peddled. (Leaving aside the question whether the PA would either want or could even do that given its extreme weakness; its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is 88 years old). Israel does not want to rule Gaza, but will have to if no other solution is found. It is still considered the occupying force by the UN and wants to have the freedom to intervene in the future to thwart any emerging security threat like the Hamas terror attack of 7 October. The UN or Arab countries such as Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia are unlikely to step in. They would only potentially assist in the administration of Gaza if Israel was ready to provide a credible political solution to the Palestinian question, but the populist Benjamin Netanyahu government with its right-wing extremists such as Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir is unlikely to even contemplate such an idea. Running Gaza will be a daunting task. There is an escalating humanitarian crisis, and up to three-quarters of all houses are damaged or destroyed. Donors such as the Gulf countries and the EU will not be enthusiastic to provide reconstruction funds yet again if renewed hostilities and destruction are a distinct possibility. Will the War in Yemen End? In September 2023, direct negotiations in Riyadh between senior representatives of Iran-aligned Ansar Allah (also known as the Houthis) and high-ranking Saudi officials, including the Saudi minister of defence, raised hopes about a pending end to the protracted war in Yemen, which has caused one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises and an estimated 377,000 deaths since its onset in 2015. On the verge of Christmas, then, UN Special Envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg announced that Ansar Allah and the Saudi-backed internationally recognised government had committed “to a set of measures to implement a nationwide ceasefire,” proclaiming that he “will now engage with the parties to establish a roadmap under UN auspices [towards lasting peace]” (OSESGY 2023). While these are significant developments that bear the potential to end the stalemate in one of the deadliest regional conflicts, one should exercise caution when assessing the prospects for peace in Yemen any time soon. Bent on terminating its direct involvement in the war, Riyadh failed to exact meaningful concessions from Ansar Allah. Instead, it demanded major ones from its Yemeni allies in the Presidential Council – who, given their dependence on Saudi Arabia, grudgingly acquiesced. With the Council representing a mixed bag of rival groups, however, upcoming negotiations will be challenging. Even if its members come to terms with Ansar Allah under Saudi pressure, the odds are high that intra-Yemeni fighting will be resumed thereafter – even if on a more modest scale. Another obstacle to peace is Ansar Allah’s growing involvement in the Gaza War. Since mid-October 2023, the group has been launching missiles towards southern Israel. In mid-November, it also began to attack shipping lanes in the Red Sea. These attacks not only threaten to derail the upcoming intra-Yemeni negotiations (Lackner 2023) but also, and crucially, boost the risk of Yemenis being drawn into another major conflict. Authoritarian Elections in the MENA: What For and Who Cares? Around the world, 76 countries will hold elections in 2024 – a number of them situated in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region (The Economist 2023). Despite the prevalence of authoritarian tendencies and the failure of democratic transitions in many countries of the region, respective leaders seem to remain committed to practicing one key element of democratic systems at least: holding elections. Iranians will head to the ballot box in March 2024, for the country’s legislative elections. Concentration of political power within the hands of a small elite and the oppression of opponents have intensified over the past few decades in Iran. This has led to a widespread loss of confidence there in electoral processes, demonstrated in low voter turnouts in recent years. Meanwhile, Algeria is due to hold the country’s second presidential election since Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down in 2019 after 20 years in office. Hirak, the Algerian civil protest movement pivotal to the ousting of Bouteflika, has largely rejected the current president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, as he is perceived to be a continuation of the previous political apparatus. As the opposition has called for boycotting previous elections in 2019 and 2021, we can expect low voter’s turnout in the upcoming elections again. In Tunisia, December 2023 marked the country’s first local elections under the new constitution, with a reported boycott rate of 90 per cent (El Atti 2023). Ennahda, the country’s main opposition group, has strongly questioned President Kais Saeid’s legitimacy since he suspended parliament in 2021 and called for boycotting the elections. Even in Libya there have been hopes that parliamentary and presidential elections, previously postponed for years on end, might be finally held in 2024.    While voter-turnout rates are expected to be low in Iran, Algeria, and Tunisia, underscoring their contested legitimacy, the opposite can be expected for Turkey. The local elections set for March will serve as a litmus test for the political fate of this polarised country. Following President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s re-election in May 2023, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) aims to reclaim major metropolitan municipalities, currently held by the opposition. Istanbul’s mayoral election holds particular importance, both economically and symbolically, as the office of mayor marked the starting point of Erdoğan’s political career. If incumbent opposition mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu is re-elected, he may have a chance of winning the next presidential elections in 2028. Conversely, a victory for AKP candidate Murat Kurum could demoralise the fragmented opposition further and consolidate the authoritarian regime long-term (Turkey recap 2024). Why are the MENA’s authoritarian governments, despite their electoral engineering often determining the results ahead of time, so determined to hold elections? Authoritarian regimes across the region have adopted a narrative that seeks to justify various aspects of their conduct, such as violent crackdowns, oppression, and corruption. Democratic institutions like national elections are a useful element in legitimising such a narrative, portraying political leaders as democratically elected and their actions as in accordance with the will of the people. Elections are a useful tool to draw clear boundaries to political participation. Incumbent leaders tend to put processes in place that push opponent groups out of the race. Such processes may take place in the form of vetting or the criminalisation of opposing political views. This allows authoritarians to maintain the concentration of power in the hands of the ruling elite by limiting the participation of other interest groups. Elections are a means for consensus-building within the established system of rule. Military and paramilitary interest groups are integral players in elections held in the MENA region. Concentration of power in the hands of authoritarian ruling elites is achieved through collaboration between the military apparatus and civilian elements of the political elite. As such, elections are also a useful tool to help renew the consensus achieved between senior military and civilian leaders. Egypt: From Mediator to Regional Power Broker? In the past year, Egypt has played a major role in conflict mediation and provided humanitarian lifelines in Sudan, Libya, and Gaza. Acute risks to regional stability from these three wars fuel existing security threats through volatility, insurgencies, and arms trafficking the longer they go on. Managing these closely intertwined conflict environments puts Egypt on track to become a major power broker in the MENA region and the Sahel at a time when its battered economy weighs heavily on its foreign influence. Libya and Sudan were major junctions in trans-Saharan arms trafficking long before the ongoing civil war in Sudan started in April 2023. Militias operating near the Libyan border with Chad transport military equipment, personnel, and fuel throughout the region, while weapons smuggled from Yemen and Eritrea via the Red Sea supply insurgents operating on the Sinai Peninsula and in the Levant. Murky battlegrounds also facilitate Russia’s advances into Africa, as both Sudan and Libya buttress revenue streams for Moscow and the Wagner Group. The US and UK’s recent airstrikes on Houthi targets to secure Red Sea shipping lanes marks a new escalation in the Israel–Hamas war with far-reaching implications. Through 2023, Egypt engaged in multiple summits to broker humanitarian ceasefires via the UN, African Union, Arab League, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and the US–Saudi-led Jeddah process in Sudan (Skinner 2023). It hosted several conferences in Cairo to facilitate a new roadmap between Libya’s rival administrations, and dialogue among Sudan’s highly fractured civil society. Though it initially suspended its mediation in the Israel–Hamas conflict after the latter’s second-in-command, Saleh al-Arouri, was assassinated in Lebanon, Egypt resumed its involvement only days later. While countries rally around assisting in ceasefire and hostage negotiations between Israel and Hamas, or conflict management in Libya and Sudan, diplomatic rifts have strengthened in the Middle East. Egypt has so far benefitted from both trends in different ways. In the Israel–Hamas war, its indispensability opens the door for the expansion of political and economic collaboration – as, for example, through planned cash deposits from the Gulf, or US cooperation despite the recent straining of American–Egyptian relations. The fronts are more pronounced in Libya and Sudan, most notably with the UAE’s meddling in both countries through sponsoring and supplying militias with weapons, leaving Egypt as a more consistent mediator. For better or worse, Egypt’s proximity to three wars simultaneously is as much a security liability as it is a diplomatic opportunity to assert itself. Whether it can ascend from its role as mediator to a power broker, however, remains as open as these conflicts themselves do. Will Syria’s Regional Re-Integration Continue? During its annual summit on 19 May 2023, Syria under President Bashar al-Assad was re-admitted into the Arab League as a full, regular member. This was a major diplomatic and symbolic achievement for the dictatorial government in Damascus after being ousted for almost 12 years because of its massive, almost indiscriminate, repression of its own population in the incipient phase of the Syrian civil war in fall 2011 – a process that worsened in the years to follow, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths and over 13 million displaced Syrians. The next regular Arab League summit, to be held in Bahrain in April or May 2024, will be a litmus test for whether Syrian regional re-integration will continue and what it might look like in concrete terms. So far, Arab countries’ normalisation of relations with Syria since the 2023 Arab League summit has been without any substance, essentially yielding zero benefit for the regional governments who were previously opposed to the Assad regime. There has been no economic investment from the Gulf countries, and trade with Jordan or Egypt has remained minimal. In the short-term, at least, there has been no “normalisation dividend” to speak of. In addition, the diplomatic normalisation with Assad has not led to any improvement in border security or to a decline in drug smuggling, especially of Captagon and hashish, into Jordan and towards the Gulf countries. Rather, 2023 was a record year for documented drug-smuggling activities as well as increased use thereof by Arab youth in Syria and its neighbouring countries. What is worse, the Assad government has instrumentalised the massive escalation of violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories since 7 October 2023 in two ways: Rhetorically, Assad and other Syrian officials have continuously denounced the Israeli aggression against Palestinian civilians while declaring that they have not been involved in any of the activities of the so-called resistance axis, thereby trying to improve their tarnished image in the region and beyond. Militarily, Assad’s armed forces have led a massive campaign against the Islamist opposition-controlled Idlib region, specifically targeting civilians. In the three months since October 2023, 200 people, mostly children and women, have been killed and over 120,000 internally displaced – happening out of sight and out of mind vis-à-vis Arab and international audiences alike (Haid 2024). Will Iran Go Nuclear after a Trump Victory? During his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump criticised the Barrack Obama administration’s conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July of the previous year. Once in office, in May 2018, the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the agreement. The current Joe Biden administration has since unsuccessfully tried to revive the deal; Iran, claiming it is no longer bound by the JCPOA’s provisions either, has since resumed its uranium enrichment. It is now within breakout capacity (Millington 2022). During the current presidential primaries, Trump, who will be Biden’s most likely opponent in the 2024 elections, has again called for a tougher stance on Iran. The higher (nuclear) stakes and Trump’s record of a “maximum pressure” policy towards Iran have raised fears of a potential military conflict should he win a second term in office in fall 2024. While such scenarios are not impossible, their likelihood is overstated in political commentaries. The US’s sanction and embargo policies against Iran have been a constant of the two countries’ relations since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. When a 2003 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency found that Iran was in violation of its safeguards agreement, the issue escalated further. Subsequent US administrations have initiated several new rounds of international sanctions against Teheran – with the stated goal of preventing an Iranian nuclear bomb and a potential arms race in the Middle East. This international pressure eventually brought a new moderate Iranian government to the negotiation table in 2013, resulting in the “nuclear deal” reached between the P5+1 and Iran in Vienna in 2015. However, neither the JCPOA nor its discontinuation have altered the fundamental parameters of the four decades and counting of US–Iranian antagonism. It only temporarily shifted the focus from military posturing towards diplomatic avenues. Even Obama, who championed a new approach “based on mutual interests and mutual respect,” continuously stressed that military options remained on the table. The Trump administration, on the other hand, shied away from limited strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities, let alone an open military conflict with Tehran, despite its “maximum pressure” approach culminating in the targeted killing of Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020. With these fluctuating tactics, the chances of escalation remain real – whether triggered by an emboldened second Trump administration ordering a pre-emptive strike, an Israeli spoiler play, or Teheran’s conclusion that going nuclear while still under political cover from Russia is the best way to counter an unpredictable US president. In a more favourable scenario, there might be continuity on the American side despite rhetorical grandstanding. Iran could also decide that flaunting its nuclear-threshold status may give it as much leverage as actually crossing the threshold – with considerably less risk. Will the Abraham Accords Survive the Gaza War? The Abraham Accords, signed in 2020 between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, and later Morocco and Sudan, led to diplomatic normalisation and envisaged cultivating deeper economic, cultural, and technological ties between the respective countries. After the peace agreements reached with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, four other Arab countries now entertain diplomatic relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia was rumoured to be set to join their ranks before the Hamas attack on October 7 scuppered that. However, Israel’s ongoing hostilities in Gaza and the unprecedented humanitarian crisis there have sparked concerns about the durability of these accords and the broader trajectory of Israel’s normalisation process in the region. Arab governments that signed normalisation agreements with Israel are facing growing scrutiny and calls for accountability at home, exemplified by citizen-driven initiatives like protests, marches, and online activism. Up to 85 per cent of the population in Gaza have been displaced, and South Africa has launched procedures against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague over accusations of genocide. The vast majority of MENA populaces vocally support the Palestinian cause. Their governments are afraid that pro-Palestinian protests could turn against them in a re-iteration of the Arab Spring and threaten regime survival. This mounting pressure from below has led governments, such as those in Bahrain and Jordan, to recall their ambassadors from Israel, while US-brokered talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia have been suspended. The Abraham Accords came with considerable incentives: The US took Sudan off its list of terrorism-sponsoring states, removed sanctions on it, and also recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory. The UAE and Israel have a common interest in high-tech and defence investments, as well as in countering Iran’s regional posturing. The latter was also a major factor in the negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. But the premise of the accords – namely, that sustainable normalisation could be achieved while ignoring the Palestinian question – has proven the populist right-wing Netanyahu government to be misguided. The enduring criticism of the US for its perceived lack of impartiality in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict could tarnish its role as a mediator, potentially affecting its ability to encourage other Arab nations to establish ties with Israel. By signing the Abraham Accords, elites’ political and economic interests took precedence over the concerns and aspirations of their broader publics. Popular discontent remains a powerful social force, compelling governments to re-assess and reconsider these commitments – as seen in the recall of ambassadors, and underscoring the limitations of elite agreements. China In, Europe Out? China–Middle East relations will continue to deepen on two fronts in 2024. Geoeconomically, China’s influence in the region has grown in recent years in various sectors due to its Belt and Road Initiative, while the EU’s – and US’s – regional presence has been in relative decline. According to Chinese customs data, the volume of trade between itself and the Middle East nearly doubled between 2017 and 2022, from USD 262.5 billion to USD 507.2 billion. By 2023, China was the leading import and/or export partner for most countries of the region. For example, it replaced the EU as the Gulf Cooperation Council’s top trading partner in 2020. Key sectors in China–MENA relations include traditional energy, renewable energy, infrastructure, technology and communications (including Huawei’s 5G), fintech, and manufacturing. Geopolitically, two points are worth noting. First, China will continue its policy of non-interventionism. The expensive regional military order is dominated and financed by the US. From the perspective of own national interests, there is no reason why China should change this equation. In 2024 the US will continue to spend more geopolitical resources regionally (thanks to the Gaza War), with China being the biggest economic beneficiary. Second, regarding the “geo” in geopolitics, the region is undergoing a slow pivot away from “the West” and self-identifying with other geographic imaginaries such as “Asia” and the “Global South.” In bilateral and multilateral exchange formats with each other or with Chinese, Indian, and other Global South partners, regional officials are increasingly dropping the term “Middle East” in favour of “West Asia.” They are slowly shedding the Western-centric concept of “the Middle East” (and “Near East”), reconceptualising the region’s geographic identity in a post–Western order world (Forough 2022). Another sign of this trend in recent years is countries of the region actively seeking membership in Asian-led institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and BRICS+. Moreover, the Western powers’ unapologetic support for how Israel has pursued its war in Gaza is going to speed up the regional distancing from the West. MENA countries have been supportive of South Africa’s case at the ICJ, while China has called for an immediate ceasefire and full Palestinian statehood within the framework of a two-state solution. Will OPEC+ Hold? The Saudi-led OPEC and Russia have not been natural allies historically. During the Arab Cold War from the 1950s to 1970s, they saw each other on opposing sides of the ideological divide, with the Soviet Union supporting revolutionary regimes in the Middle East that were hostile to the Gulf monarchies. The Saudi decision in 1985 to stop cutting production and open its oil spigots to regain market share led to collapsing prices. The fiscal impact of this decision on the USSR played no minor part in its eventual demise a few years later. All the more surprising was this odd couple joining forces in 2016. Russia became a member of OPEC+, which agreed to cut oil production. Before a glut caused prices to decline from 2014 onwards, Saudi Arabia had tried to instigate a price war against the newly emerging producers of unconventional tight oil in the US and lost. Yet, the new-found unity between the two oil heavyweights lasted only so long. In early 2020, Saudi Arabia and Russia engaged in a brief price war with each other, before agreeing on renewed OPEC+ production cuts in April of the same year. The US welcomed this step at the time. US producers were facing bankruptcy as the COVID-19 pandemic obliterated oil demand, pushing wholesale prices at the oil-trading hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, into negative territory at one point.    In October 2022, OPEC+ countries cut oil production by two million barrels per day – their first production cut since 2020. This time, the Western powers were outraged that the Gulf countries would collaborate with Russia in the middle of the latter’s war of aggression against Ukraine. However, the Gulf countries have their own national interests. They see opportunities in exploring new partnerships in an increasingly multipolar world. They need to safeguard their fiscal stability and fund development projects for the post-oil age. By the mid-2030s, global oil demand could level off – as, indeed, Saudi Aramco warned in its 2019 IPO prospectus. How will OPEC+ fare when OPEC meets next, in June 2024? All cartels are inherently unstable. Free riders try to benefit from higher prices without maintaining quota discipline and cutting production, like Iraq did during the Arab oil boycott of the 1970s. And then there are the newcomers, encouraged by artificially high prices. If the reduction in oil production in OPEC+ countries continues, the partially lost volumes may be compensated for by increased production in non-OPEC ones such as the US, Canada, Guyana, and Brazil. Traditional producers from the Middle East would lose market share like they did in the early 1980s. Energy transitions will likely impact on oil demand in the medium- to long term as well. If history is a guide, OPEC+ will then falter – albeit in June 2024 it might still be successful in keeping its cartel together for now. How Would Gulf Sovereign Wealth Funds React If the West Seized Russian Assets? Western countries have taken the unprecedented step of freezing USD 300 billion in Russian assets in the wake of the latter’s ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine. Now the G7 wants to discuss at its next meeting in February 2024 going a step further, namely by seizing those assets and using them to pay for restoration work in Ukraine (Tamma and Politi 2023). This is ringing an alarm bell with sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) in the Gulf countries and China, given they hold significant assets in Western capital markets and jurisdictions. The investment authorities of Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, and Qatar belong to the largest SWFs worldwide. More recently, Saudi Arabia has developed its Public Investment Fund into and internationally active investor, rendering it completely different from the passive investor and sleepy holder of domestic assets that it was only a few years back (Roll 2019).    The very term “SWF” was only coined in 2005 at the time of the second oil boom. Gulf SWF assets have since swelled. During the financial crisis of 2007/8, they often acted as white knights for Western banks and companies facing financial turmoil. Heavy investment was thus made in companies such as Deutsche Bank, Barclays, and Volkswagen. The US, with the help of other Western countries, has increasingly weaponised the global financial infrastructure such as the SWIFT payment system (Farrell and Newman 2019). The Gulf countries have not been targeted by Western sanctions like Iran and Russia have, but they have faced such threats in the past. During the Arab oil boycott of the 1970s, the US even threatened to inflict a unilateral food embargo on the import-dependent Gulf countries (Woertz 2013). Against this backdrop, the threatened seizure of Russian assets will likely prompt them to diversify assets away from Western markets. They have already increased the share of emerging markets in their portfolios. The year 2023 also saw increased gold purchases by sovereign entities. So-called petrodollar recycling was a crucial aspect of international financial stability during the oil booms of the 1970s and early years of the new century, but this continuing to happen cannot be taken for granted in the future. This GIGA Focus deviates from the series’ typical format. It is the joint product of several GIGA Institute for Middle East Studies staff members. Eckart Woertz contributed the section on the administration of Gaza after the war, Jens Heibach authored the part on the Yemen War, Mira Demirdirek and Sara Bazoobandi wrote the one on regional elections. Hager Ali addressed Egypt’s growing importance as a mediator, André Bank looked at Syria’s regional re-integration. Nils Lukacs examined the possible implications of a Trump victory on US policy in the MENA. Deema Abu Alkheir authored the section on the future of Israel’s normalisation process with some countries of the region. Mohamadbagher Forough analysed the growing importance of China regionally as Europe struggles to maintain its influence there. The parts on OPEC+ and Gulf SWFs were written by Eckart Woertz and Olena Osypenkova, who also jointly edited this GIGA Focus.

A memorandum of understanding between Ethiopia Somaliland

Ethiopia’s deal with Somaliland upends regional dynamics, risking strife across the Horn of Africa

by Alemayehu Fentaw Weldemariam

The Horn of Africa ushered in the new year with news of a deal that would ensure that diplomatic relations in the region got off to a bumpy start in 2024. Ethiopia, it was announced on Jan. 1, had signed a memorandum of understanding with the breakaway region of Somaliland, opening the door to an agreement to exchange a stake in flagship carrier Ethiopian Airlines for access to the Gulf of Aden. Such transactions of economic reciprocity are generally routine, as scholars of international relations and law like myself are aware. But this deal has another element. It intertwined sea access with Ethiopia’s formal recognition of Somaliland – and this has sparked quite a diplomatic stir. Ethiopia’s neighbor Somalia has demanded that the agreement be immediately retracted. In Somaliland itself, the deal has been greeted by protest and the defense minister’s resignation. Prior to the memorandum of understanding with Somaliland, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had signaled his intention to gain Red Sea access for his landlocked country – a bid observers warned could have a destabilizing effect in the region. Ethiopia is reeling from an intense and bloody two-year war within its own borders, coupled with ongoing strife among different ethnic groups. As a result of the violence, Ethiopia is currently experiencing massive internal displacement and famine. Geopolitical tensions created by the pact with Somaliland could serve to exacerbate Ethiopia’s problems – and that of the region. But despite the risk, both sides know they have much to gain. Somaliland’s quest for recognition Since declaring independence from Somalia in 1991, Somaliland has operated as a fully functional de facto state, boasting its own defined territory, population and government. However, it still lacks the international recognition that would allow Somaliland full participation in the global community, such as membership in the United Nations. A formal nod would also unlock access to protections under international law and economic opportunities. The agreement with Ethiopia would be a step toward providing that critical missing link. Recognition of a new state under international law requires established nations to acknowledge the sovereignty and legitimacy of the territory. This can be achieved through either expressed or implicit means. Expressed recognition takes the form of an official unequivocal declaration. In contrast, implicit recognition can emerge through bilateral treaties, alliances or diplomatic exchanges – essentially signaling acceptance of a country without making an official declaration of recognition. Implicit recognition often provides a strategic advantage, safeguarding a country’s interest without triggering regional discord. Mastering the art of crafting treaties with implicit acknowledgments can be crucial to avoid overcommitting a country diplomatically. Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was expected by the international community to navigate this diplomatic tightrope, balancing a degree of acknowledgment of Somaliland with restraint. Doing so might avoid rupturing relations with Somalia and imperiling regional security dynamics. An ambiguous deal The specific details of the memorandum of understanding remain unpublished. So far, any insights gleaned stem mainly from a joint press conference held by Ethiopia’s and Somaliland’s two leaders in Addis Ababa and subsequent press releases. Nuanced distinctions in each party’s priorities have emerged: Somaliland places emphasis on explicit recognition; Ethiopia directs its focus toward regional integration. And some larger discrepancies in messaging pop out when you look closer. Both sides point to economic and security benefits. But Ethiopia’s Jan. 3 statement suggests only an “in-depth assessment” of the request for state recognition. This seems at odds with Somaliland’s claim of guaranteed recognition in exchange for sea access. But because the actual text of the agreement isn’t publicly available, its implications remain shrouded in secrecy – further adding to the unease in the region over the deal. Rising regional tensions In the days since the memorandum of understanding was inked, tensions have deepened between Somalia and both Ethiopia and Somaliland. Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud issued a stern warning against the agreement and threatened to defend Somalia through all available means. He urged Somali civilians to stand united against potential incursions and cautioned Ethiopia against escalating the situation into armed conflict. Mohamud has also been seeking support from allies. Already in 2024, he has traveled to Eritrea for security talks aimed at strengthening bilateral ties and addressing regional and international concerns. He also received an invitation from Egypt in an apparent show of support. Ethiopia’s precarious situation In a further sign of growing tensions, Ethiopia’s army chief of staff has engaged in talks with his Somaliland counterpart to discuss military cooperation. Considering Ethiopia’s delicate situation with domestic secessionist forces, critics have been quick to note that Ethiopia may not be best placed to entertain the idea of recognizing Somaliland. Not only would it risk conflict with Somalia, doing so could also lead to the renewal of a breakaway push within Ethiopia itself. Somaliland is situated to the south and east of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State. The region is governed by the Somali branch of the Ethiopian Prosperity Party, whose legitimacy has long been contested by the Ogaden National Liberation Front, ONLF, a group demanding autonomy for Somalis in Ethiopia. Until a peace agreement in October 2018, the ONLF had been engaged in a decades-long secessionist war with the Ethiopian government. More recently, in 2020, a push for independence in the Tigray region of Ethiopia resulted in a two-year armed conflict that displaced millions of people and forced hundreds of thousands into famine. Meanwhile, the Amhara – an indigenous ethnic group in Ethiopia – have been resisting the federal government’s attempt to disarm their militia and regional special forces. And the state of Oromia also saw calls for independence before an Oromo prime minister, Abiy, was elected by parliament in 2018. A renewed push for autonomy from Ethiopia’s Somali community could serve to reignite any number of these simmering internal conflicts and Somali irredentism. Uneasy international response Global attention to growing tensions in the Horn of Africa has been mounting: The U.S. has expressed serious concern, and the African Union has urged Ethiopia and Somalia to de-escalate the tensions in the name of regional peace. Similar statements have come from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development — an African trade bloc — the European Union and the Arab League. Widespread protests Djibouti, which neighbors Somaliland to the northwest, has called for dialogue and a diplomatic solution. But such calls – from both international and regional players – have done little to calm tensions. In the days since the deal was announced, tens of thousands Somalis have protested in the streets of Mogadishu, calling the move an aggression against the nation’s sovereignty. And while residents of both Somaliland and Ethiopia have largely supported the memorandum – hopeful in turn that it would lead to international recognition and economic uplift – not everyone is behind the deal. In Somaliland, Defense Minister Abdiqani Mohamud Ateye resigned on Jan. 8, stating that the handing over of access to the coast to Ethiopia represented a threat to Somaliland’s sovereignty. It would seem that the memorandum of understanding has served to reopen old wounds across the region.

Africa Union'd weakness & problem

The African Union’s fight for relevance in 2024

by Martin Ewi

The AU must guard against mirroring the weaknesses of its predecessor – the Organisation of African Unity. The African Union (AU) isn’t living up to expectations – and member states are partly to blame, according to AU Commission (AUC) Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat. He says they’re using their sovereignty to avoid relegating powers to the commission. As the sum of all individual African countries, the AU’s strength depends on the power member states give it to implement their decisions. The AU’s weaknesses are evident in its failure to deal with recent crises, including conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, northern Mozambique’s insurgency and coups in Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. How can the continental body become more relevant as Africa enters a new year? Can it help citizens experience more stability, or will 2024 be another year of conflict? And how can member states help bring peace to the continent? This isn’t the first time Faki has chided member states for the AUC’s failure. At the 2022 Conference on Terrorism and Unconstitutional Changes of Government in Malabo, he blamed the continent’s deteriorating security on insufficient African solidarity and member states’ failure to honour their AU commitments. For African countries, pan-Africanism or regional integration has often meant choosing between creating a powerful continental body or safeguarding sovereignty – with the latter usually winning. As instability and underdevelopment persist, questions have arisen about whether the AU displays the systemic weaknesses of its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). One of the OAU’s biggest problems was that the general secretariat was reduced to clerical functions One of the OAU’s biggest problems was that the general secretariat, tasked with day-to-day activities, was reduced to clerical functions. It should have implemented the organisation’s decisions, but lacked the required institutional powers and human, financial and material resources – essentially because member states refused to grant it autonomy to function. A current example is countries’ procrastination on adopting recommendations dealing with autonomous funding sources, which would reduce the AUC’s reliance on states’ contributions and donations from development partners. The OAU general secretariat relied entirely on states (and external powers) for funding, recruitment and other basic functions. Many states didn’t pay their annual contributions, rendering the organisation increasingly impotent. The secretariat could organise meetings and produce reports but struggled to implement major decisions on advancing continental integration. The AU, launched in 2002, was meant to correct OAU weaknesses and achieve a more robust, proactive and efficient organisation with its secretariat, the AUC, as the fulcrum of continental integration. But problems that plagued the OAU secretariat seem to be resurfacing with the AU. African heads of state have apparently abandoned the idea of a powerful AUC, and adopted attitudes that precipitated the OAU’s fall. Member states appoint the chairperson, deputy and commissioners, and influence directors’ appointments, leaving the AUC chairperson powerless and unable to hold incompetent senior managers accountable. In rejecting a powerful AUC, African leaders are adopting attitudes that precipitated the OAU’s fall Recent reforms have tightened the AUC budget and collapsed or merged some departments – similar to the OAU’s structure. For instance, the peace and security, and political affairs departments have merged, reverting to the OAU era. They were separated under the AU to intensify action on armed conflicts and emerging security challenges – regarded as the greatest threats to Africa’s development. Merging the two may lead to some issues being overlooked. The current commissioner of the department has made election monitoring a prime focus. But as separate entities, political affairs could prioritise election monitoring while the peace and security department focused on conflict prevention, management, and resolution. Keeping staff to a bare minimum has also weakened the AUC. The commission has 1 720 staff to service 55 countries. In comparison, the European Union Commission serves 27 countries with 32 000 permanent employees, excluding consultants and short-term staff. Some analysts argue that the quality of staff matters more than the quantity – but the AUC lacks both. Sixty-one percent of the AUC’s staff are on short-term contracts because recruiting permanent staff hasn’t been possible. The commission has just 1 000 permanent staff. This has led to low morale and a drastic decline in productivity. Member states complain that they cannot finance a ‘huge’ AUC – even though they contribute less than 40% of the AU budget, leaving development partners to cover the bulk of the costs. In its current state, neither the AU nor its member states can achieve Agenda 2063 Endless transformation and reform projects since 2003 have left the AUC more confused, less productive and fragile. The result is a commission reduced to a mere secretariat, similar to the OAU. Yet the AUC is expected to drive Africa’s ambitious Agenda 2063 goals and service 55 countries of about 1.4 billion people. With no overarching continental mechanism to check and complement countries’ activities, states can act as they please, even when such actions threaten their sovereignty, other member states, or even the AU itself. This has weakened governments and fomented fragmentation. It has undercut state accountability and enabled coups and chronic and institutionalised corruption. The phrase ‘Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose’ has characterised Africa’s efforts to forge continental integration over the past 60 years. Regionalism has been a delicate balance between states that put their sovereignty first versus those seeing integration as a way to safeguard and protect independence. As a result, continental decision making has lacked consistency, vision and patronage – to the detriment of creating functional institutions. Regional economic communities and mechanisms exhibit similar weaknesses to the AUC. No norms guide how African states should conduct their foreign policies or relations. For example, what principles are followed for hosting foreign military bases, especially where they threaten the sovereignty of other states?  A good first step would be to resolve AU funding issues and empower the AUC chairperson to be solely accountable for the commission’s work. The AUC should also have autonomy to recruit operational staff and senior managers, except the chairperson and deputy. In its current state, neither the AU nor its member states can achieve Agenda 2063. Unless these issues are urgently addressed, the AU – like the OAU – risks becoming irrelevant.

Energy & Economics
President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins giving speech at World Food Form

Keynote address the Closing Ceremony of the World Food Forum

by Michael D. Higgins

Director-General, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Dear Friends, Young and Old, This week, as we have gathered here at the World Food Forum in the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in Rome to discuss the necessary transformation of our agri-food systems, we must not only be conscious of targets missed or imperfectly achieved, but of the need for courage, and to generate new capacity to move to new models of better connection between economy, social protection, social justice and ecology. We are confronted with a climate and biodiversity emergency that cannot be handled by the tools that produced it or by the architecture of how we made decisions before. We are called upon to, once and for all, tackle with alternatives and sustained effort and innovation, the vicious circle of global poverty and inequality, global hunger, debt and climate change, our interacting crises. That is the context in which sustainable food systems must be achieved. I ask you all gathered today to respond in the most meaningful way within your capacity, within your generation, in a way that includes all generations, to the challenge set out by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in his recent statements: This is how the Secretary-General put it: “The Sustainable Development Goals aren’t just a list of goals. They carry the hopes, dreams, rights and expectations of people everywhere. In our world of plenty, hunger is a shocking stain on humanity and an epic human rights violation. It is an indictment of every one of us that millions of people are starving in this day and age.” It can be put right but we must change and there is work involved in upskilling in such a way that we can not only identify and critique assumptions of failing models but be able to put the alternative models in place. We have had so many broken promises. Only 15 percent of some 140 specific targets to achieve the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals are on track to be achieved. Many targets are going in the wrong direction at the present rate, and not a single one is expected to be achieved in the next seven years. However, we have some reasons to be hopeful. When I look around this room today, I see so many engaged and committed people, including young people who have the enthusiasm, energy and creativity needed to tackle the serious structural causes of food insecurity and global hunger. But it is important to acknowledge that young people are not alone in seeking authenticity of words delivered into actions that have an ethical outcome. There are those who have spent their lives seeking a fairer world, one in which hunger would be eliminated – as it can be. We must recognise their efforts. We must work together to harness this collective energy and creativity into strong movements that will deliver, finally, a food-secure world for all. This will require, I suggest, moving to a new culture of sharing information, experiences, insights. As the cuts have taken effect, we must take the opportunity of developing a view, post-silo culture, of sharing insights, and I see FAO as uniquely positioned for this. As Glenn Denning, Peter Timmer and other food experts have stated, achieving food security is not an easy task given how food hunger is “deeply entwined with the organisation of economic activities and their regulation through public policies”, given, too, how governments and markets must work together, how the private, public and third sectors must work together. All of our efforts must have the character of inclusivity. Each of us as global citizens has a responsibility to respond. To ignore it would be a dereliction of our duty of care to our shared planet and its life-forms including our fellow humans and future generations. The Secretary-General’s pleas in relation to the consequences of climate change are given a further terrible reality in the increased and spreading threat of hunger, a food insecurity which is directly affected by the impact of climate change. For example, figures published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations show that 26.2 percent of Africa’s population experienced severe food insecurity in 2021, with 9.8 percent of the total global population suffering from undernourishment the same year. It is time for us all, as leaders and global citizens, to take stock of how words are leading to actions, to increase the urgency of our response to what is a grave existential threat and to achieve change. It is clear, as the Secretary-General’s powerful statement shows, that we need to begin the work of reform in our international institutional architecture, such as UN reform at the highest level, including the Security Council and the Bretton Woods institutions, if we are to achieve what the Secretary-General has suggested is the challenge to “turn a year of burning heat into a year of burning ambition”. Let us commit then to sharing purposes, projects, resources, seeking a new culture for sustenance solutions. Those of us who have spent much of our lives advocating UN reform believe that its best prospects are in the growing acknowledgement of the importance of the vulnerabilities and frustrated capacity of the largest and growing populations of the world being represented, not only nominally but effectively, through a reform that includes reform of the Bretton-Woods Institutions. As Secretary-General Guterres has said on a number of occasions, it is time to reform what are 1945 institutions, including the Security Council and Bretton Woods, in order to align with the “realities of today’s world”. We have to acknowledge too that the development models of the 1950s and 1960s were part of the assumptions that brought us to the crises through which we are living. New models are needed and the good news is that a new epistemology, our way of looking at the world, of sufficiency and sustainability, is emerging. We are seeing good work already occurring. Good development scholarship is available to us. I reference, for example Pádraig Carmody’s recent book, Development Theory and Practice in a Changing World. Such work builds important bridges from the intellectual work that is so badly needed and is welcome at the centre of our discourse on all aspects of interacting crises, including global hunger, and the need to link economy, ecology and a global ethics. What we must launch now is a globalisation from below. Replacing the globalisation from above that has given us a burning planet and threatened democracy itself, with a globalisation from below of the fullest participation, we can establish and indeed extend democracy, offering accountability and transparency of our work together. Writers such as Pádraig Carmody are not alone in suggesting that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals provides the opportunity for moving past the worst contradictions of failed models and dangerous undeclared assumptions. The demise of hegemonic development theory and practice may be a result of several factors, such as the rise of ultra-nationalism around the world, the increasing importance of securitisation where the most powerful insulate their lives from the actions of the excluded, and the existential threat posed by the climate crisis. Such research adds to the growing body of development literature that argues for a pro-active, structural-focused, tailored approach to development. The Hand-in-Hand Initiative of the FAO, details of which were discussed at this week’s parallel session, is a most welcome initiative, one that aims to raise incomes, improve the nutritional status and well-being of poor and vulnerable populations, and strengthen resilience to climate change. It heralds a belated recognition too of the insufficiency of a reactive emergency response to famine and hunger crises. It suggests a move towards one that tackles the underlying structural causes of hunger. Young people will need patience and to dig sufficiently deep to achieve these necessary changes. They are right in seeking to be partners, so much more than being allowed as attendees. Hand-in-Hand recognises the importance of tailor-made interventions to food security, using the best available evidence in the form of spatial data, validated on the ground through local diagnostics and policy processes, to target the most food insecure, the most hungry, the poorest. It recognises that context-specific employment and labour market policies are part of the sustainability challenge. I believe that evidence from below is crucial to achieving globalisation from below and that it can be achieved by a reintroduction of new re-casted anthropology guided by, among others, the new African scholars now available, whose work is empirical and peer-tested, can be invaluable in giving transparency on projects and investments – a strategy for fact-gathering for empowerment of rural people so like the 1955 fact-gathering with rural people of the FAO – first published in 1955 and used by me in 1969! Young people must be about upskilling to be able to critique all of the assumptions guiding the policies on to their lives. A key objective for us now must be to strengthen institutional capacity on the ground, not only at the strategic level, but also fundamentally, so that the public, farmers, and other stakeholders’ institutions are enabled to participate in territories-based agri-food systems. Such a move is fundamental to a successful food security strategy. Our institutional architecture and the multilateral bodies within it, must be made fit for purpose if we are to tackle effectively and meaningfully our contemporary food insecurity crisis which is worsening according to the 2023 Global Report on Food Crises, with 258 million people across 58 countries suffering acute food insecurity. Perhaps most crucially, we must acknowledge, as United Nations Programmes such as the Hand-in-Hand Initiative does, the critical importance of partnership and collaboration in addressing global hunger. We must do everything we can to ensure cross-sectoral co-ordination, foster coherent development actions, under a common, shared vision. We must end all wasteful competitive silo behaviours, create a culture of openness and co-operation. The FAO is well positioned to lead on this with its new invigorated partnerships with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Co-operation in the development and implementation of new models will be key to the achieving of any targets that seek to be sustainable and inclusive. For example, I suggest it will achieve best results if funders, such as the African Development Bank, are enabled and funded to work closely with research institutes, both at the national and international level, but particularly take account of field studies conducted over time at local level in the new anthropology so as to ensure that findings from the latest research feed into the design and implementation of any financial supports and investments. By providing a platform, a shared interactive transparent space for national authorities and producers, national and global businesses, multilateral development banks and donors to discuss and advance ways and means to finance the supported national food programmes, initiatives such as Hand-in-Hand are proving to be an effective flagship programme of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Co-operation must work both ways. For example, the parts of the so-called ‘developed’ world suffering from problems of high levels of obesity and food wastage must learn from the deep knowledge and wisdom existing in the most populated continents, as well as the science, which points to a new ecological revolution, one in which agroecology – the bringing of ecological principles to develop new management approaches in agroecosystems – can play a fundamental role, especially for the poorest of our global citizens. We have seen the destructive impact of colonial models of agronomy promoting an over-reliance on a small number of commodity crops, herders incentivised to become less mobile and store less grain in order to maximise commodity crop production, and increasing imports in conditions of near monopoly of seeds, pesticides and fertilisers. This had the deadly effect of opening up farmers not only to the full force of extended droughts, the ravages of variable climate conditions, and a reliance on non-indigenous inputs, but also to global spaces where they have insufficient influence. We must retreat from these dysfunctional food systems model, with their related dependencies, with urgency and embrace models of sufficiency and effective local markets and see the value of making our way too that includes agro-ecological models that promote food security and development opportunities for the poorest people on our fragile planet. Adaptation and responding to the already changing climate is crucial for all of us, and especially in the most food-insecure nations. We must restore degraded ecosystems, introduce drought-resistant crops, ensure accessible digital services for smallholder farms, while creating new, sustainable green jobs for young people so that we may forge a smart, sustainable, climate-resilient development path for the continent. This week we have to acknowledge the many challenges we face including, inter alia, the energy, climate and biodiversity crises, war and conflict which exacerbate food insecurity, ensuring enabling policy environments, and reaching the long-term goal of sustainable food system transformation. Any agri-food initiative, be it for Africa, the Middle-East, Central or South America, or other food-insecure regions, must place inclusivity at its core. Specifically, more vulnerable, smallholder farmers must be targeted for inclusion as programme beneficiaries, not just large-scale, industrial level farmers and ever-expanding commercial plantations. Research has shown that irresponsible agri-business deals are sometimes falsely legitimated by the promotion of alleged achievement of Sustainable Development Goal Number 2 at any cost, without care as to consequence, ignoring the reality that smallholders need enabling policies to enhance their role in food production; that food insecurity is linked to rights, processes, and unequal access to land resources; and that dispossession disproportionately affects women farmers. On this latter issue of gender, achieving zero hunger requires gender-inclusive land and labour policies. Actions must prioritise the inclusion of women and girls who are more food insecure than men in every region of the world. Women must have a right to land recognised and enshrined. The gender gap in food security has grown exponentially in recent years, and will only deteriorate further in the absence of targeted intervention. Women are obviously the most impacted victims of the food crisis, thus they must be a part of the solution. Women produce up to 80 percent of foodstuffs. Empowering women farmers can thus serve as a transformative tool for food security. However, female farmers have, research tell us, limited access to physical inputs, such as seeds and fertiliser, to markets, to storage facilities and this must be addressed. Climate change, and our response to it, addressing global hunger and global poverty, exposing and breaking dependency is a core theme of my Presidency. It is the most pressing existential crisis that our vulnerable planet and its global citizens face. Throughout the world, young people and the youth sector have been at the vanguard of efforts to tackle climate change. Young people have demonstrated, time and again, how well-informed and acutely aware they are of the threat that climate change poses, as well as its uneven and unequal impacts. May I suggest to all of you that, as young innovators and future leaders in your respective fields, you will be at your best, achieve the greatest fulfilment for yourself and others, when you locate your contribution within a commitment to be concerned and contributing global citizens. Take time to ask how is my energy in the tasks of hand and brain being delivered and for whose benefit. May I suggest, too, that you will be remembered and appreciated all the more if you work to ensure that the results of science, technology are shared and that all human endeavours are allowed to flow across borders for the human benefit of all and with a commitment to ecological responsibility and inclusivity. Offer your efforts where they can have the best effect for all. Locate yourselves in the heart of the populated world, as Nobel Laureate William Campbell did with his research on river blindness. Changing our food systems is, however, let us not forget, an intergenerational challenge that requires an inter-generational approach. We must now empower youth to be in the driver’s seat to build a new, better, transparent model of food security in a variety of different settings. Let us endeavour, together, in our diverse world, to seek to build a co-operative, caring and non-exploitative global civilisation free from hunger, a shared planet, a global family at peace with nature and neighbours, resilient to the climate change that is already occurring, one based on foundations of respect for each nation’s own institutions, traditions, experiences and wisdoms, founded on a recognition of the transcendent solidarity that might bind us together as humans, and reveal a recognition of the responsibility we share for our vulnerable planet and the fundamental dignity of all those who dwell on it. Thank you. Beir beannacht.

Defense & Security
An informal memorial for the Wagner leader Yevgeny V. Prigozhin in Moscow

Russia in Africa: Prigozhin’s death exposes Putin’s real motives on the continent

by Joseph T. Siegle

The apparent assassination of Yevgeny Prigozhin in the crash of his private jet between Moscow and St. Petersburg represents an inflection point in Russian-African relations. Prigozhin, as leader of the notorious Wagner Group, had been the point man for Russia in Africa since Wagner first began operations on the continent in 2017. More than a single entity, the Wagner Group is an amalgamation of shell companies deploying paramilitary forces, disinformation and political interference in Ukraine, Syria and Africa. Its leaders have been sanctioned by 30 countries for the group’s destabilising activities.  Prigozhin was believed to be living on borrowed time after he led a short-lived insurrection – part of a power struggle with the Russian military leadership – in June. While he quickly backed down, the action embarrassed Russian president Vladimir Putin and triggered chatter that Putin’s perceived weakness would embolden other challengers to his authority. Prigozhin advanced Russian influence in Africa by propping up politically isolated and unpopular authoritarian leaders. As a result of Wagner’s support, these leaders were beholden to Russian interests. Wagner’s backing took a variety of irregular forms, like paramilitary forces, disinformation campaigns, election interference, intimidation of political opponents, and arms for resources deals. Prigozhin referred to this interlocking set of influence operations as “The Orchestra”, which he conducted. Wagner deployed forces to Libya, the entral African Republic, Mali and Sudan. It has also been interfering in domestic politics and information narratives in some two dozen African countries. I research the role of governance in advancing security and development as well as the influence of external actors in Africa, including Russia. Democratic transitions and institutions of democratic accountability are among my interests. The breadth of Russian political interference in Africa points to Russia’s strategic objectives for the continent. It aims to secure a foothold in North Africa and the Red Sea, undermine western influence, normalise authoritarianism and displace the UN-based international system. None of these objectives are about making Africa more prosperous or stable. Rather, the continent is primarily a theatre to advance Russia’s geostrategic interests. Attempting to maintain the lucrative and influential operations of the Wagner Group in Africa after Prigozhin’s death will make it hard for Russia to deny that it uses irregular and illegal actions to extend its influence. Maintaining Wagner without Prigozhin The Wagner model has seen Russian influence expand rapidly in Africa. That’s despite Russia investing very little on the continent. Most of Wagner’s costs have been covered through cash and mineral concessions provided by host regimes. By some accounts revenues from mining operations in the Central African Republic and Sudan generate billions. It is no surprise that Russia would want to keep the Wagner enterprise going. Tellingly, on the day of Prigozhin’s plane crash, deputy defence minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was in Libya to reassure warlord Khalifa Haftar of Russia’s ongoing support. Yevkurov later visited the military juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso to deliver the same message. The question will be whether the Russian military has the capacity. Russia needs soldiers in Ukraine. So, it may not have experienced fighters to spare in Africa. It is also an open question whether Wagner troops will agree to sign contracts with the Russian defence ministry, given the way their leader was dispatched. The Russian government would also need to recreate the multidimensional dealings that made Wagner’s operations effective in shoring up client regimes. For years, Russia has promoted hybrid warfare – the fusion of conventional and subversive tools. Synchronising this across multiple African contexts will require greater dexterity than the Russian security bureaucracy is likely capable of, however. Finally, Russia has benefited from the plausible deniability that Wagner has provided while doing Putin’s bidding. In every context in which Wagner forces have been deployed, they have been credibly accused of human rights abuses including rape, torture and extrajudicial killings. In Mali, Wagner is linked to more than 320 incidents of human rights abuses and hundreds of civilian deaths. Wagner has also been accused of driving away local communities where it has secured mining concessions, effectively annexing African territory. By directly taking over the mantle of Wagner operations in Africa, the Russian government can no longer claim ignorance or impotence to do anything about these unlawful and destabilising actions. Russia has largely escaped serious reputational costs for Wagner’s thuggish activities in Africa. But this will change when it owns the repressive tactics Wagner has deployed. Reassessments in Africa What of Wagner’s African clients? Leaders of these regimes have come to power through extraconstitutional means. They restrict opposition voices and media. They are isolated internationally. Simply put, they cannot survive without Moscow’s support. So, we should not expect a change in receptivity from the military juntas in Mali, Sudan, Burkina Faso, the co-opted leadership in the Central African Republic, or the Libyan warlord, Haftar. What will be telling is the reaction from other governments on the continent. Some will continue to see value in flirting with Russia as a way of hedging against international criticism. Russia’s reach in Africa may be exceeding its grasp, however. There is a growing awakening on the continent of how little Russia actually brings to Africa in terms of investment, trade, jobs creation or security. Its deployment of mercenaries, disinformation, political interference and arms for resources deals mean it actually amplifies instability on the continent. The symbolism of this was vividly brought home in the days before the Russia-Africa Summit at the end of July. Russia pulled out of the Black Sea grain deal that had enabled 33 million tonnes of grain to get from Ukraine to Africa and other parts of the world. The deal had eased supply chain restrictions caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Not only did Russia scuttle the deal: it bombed the Ukrainian ports that were exporting the grain, wasting 180,000 tonnes in the process. The contempt Putin showed for African interests by this action was hard to ignore. This disregard, coupled with recognition that Russia offers relatively little to Africa, contributed to only 17 African heads of state attending the St. Petersburg summit. By comparison 43 African heads of state attended the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in 2019. The way that Prigozhin was eliminated must also give African leaders pause. Putin speaks often of his desire to create a new international order. Russia’s lawlessness at home and abroad is bringing into sharp focus what his world order would look like. And that’s not a vision many African leaders share.