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Kenyan President William Ruto

Kenyan president will receive White House praise over troops-to-Haiti move − but lack of action across Americas should prompt regional soul-searching

by Jorge Heine

Kenyan President William Ruto will attend a rare U.S. state reception for an African leader on May 23, 2024 – but much of the chat will be about a third country: Haiti. Kenyan troops are preparing to deploy to the Caribbean nation as part of a U.N.-backed mission aimed at bringing stability to a country ravaged by gang violence. The White House event is in part a recognition by Washington of Kenya’s decision to step up to a task that the Biden administration – and much of the West – would rather outsource. Indeed, Haiti has seemingly become a crisis that most international bodies and foreign governments would rather not touch. The U.S., like other major governments in the Americas, has repeatedly ruled out putting its own troops on the ground in Haiti. As someone who has written a book, “Fixing Haiti,” on the last concerted outside intervention – the United Nations’ stabilizing mission known as MINUSTAH – I fear the lack of action by countries in the Americas could increase the risk of Haiti transitioning from a fragile state to a failed one. MINUSTAH was the first U.N. mission formed by a majority of Latin American troops, with Chile and Brazil taking the lead. The outsourcing of that role now to Kenya has sparked concerns from human rights groups. It should also lead to soul-searching questions in capitals from Washington to Brasília, as well as at United Nations headquarters in New York. At the mercy of gangs Haiti’s descent into chaos began almost three years ago with the murder of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. Lawlessness in the nation has seen gangs take control of an estimated 80% of the capital Port-au-Prince and thousands killed in the spiraling violence. Today, the country is not only the poorest in the Americas but is also among the most destitute in the world. About 87.6% of the population is estimated to be living in poverty, with 30% in extreme poverty. Life expectancy is just 63 years, compared with 76 in the United States and 72 in Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole. Recipe for disaster International intervention in Haiti has been long overdue. Yet, until now, the attitude of the international community has, from my perspective, been largely to look away. From a humanitarian perspective and in terms of regional security, to allow a country in the Americas to drift into the condition of a failed state controlled by a fluid network of criminal gangs is a recipe for disaster. Yet governments and international organizations in the region are unwilling to step up to confront the crisis directly despite pleas from Haiti and the U.N. The Organization of American States, which in the past played an important role in Haiti and for which I served as an observer to the country’s 1990 presidential elections, and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States have been criticized over their slow response to the Haitian crisis. The Caribbean Community, or CARICOM, has made a significant effort, holding a number of meetings on the Haitian crisis; several member states, such as the Bahamas, Barbados and Jamaica, have committed to sending police forces to Haiti, albeit in small numbers. The United States, in turn, having left Afghanistan in 2021 after a tumultuous 20-year occupation, appears reluctant to send troops anywhere. Rather, Washington would prefer that others take up the role of peacekeeper this time. In response to the offer from Kenya, the State Department said it “commends” the African nation for “responding to Haiti’s call.” Part of this reluctance in the Americas could also be related to the perception – in my view, a misperception – of how past interventions have played out. The United Nations mission from 2004 initially managed to stabilize Haiti after another rocky period. In fact, the country made significant strides before it was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2010. There were bad missteps, for sure, after 2010. A cholera outbreak brought to Haiti by infected troops from Nepal resulted in more than 800,000 infections and 10,000 deaths. Sexual misconduct by some of the U.N.’s blue helmets further tarnished the mission. But the notion that MINUSTAH was a failure is, in my view, quite wrong. And the end of the mission in 2017 certainly didn’t see improved conditions in Haiti. Indeed, after the mission ended, criminal gangs had the run of the country once again and proceeded accordingly. Yet the perceived failure of the U.N. mission has become the basis of a view held by some Haiti watchers that international interventions are not only unsuccessful or misconceived but also counterproductive. Such a view forms the backbone of the notion of Haiti as an “aid state” – as opposed to a “failed state.” In this view, international interventions and the inflow of foreign funds have created a condition of dependency in which the country gets used to having foreigners make key decisions. This, the argument goes, fosters a cycle of corruption and mismanagement. There is no doubt that some previous interventions left much to be desired, and that any new initiative would have to be conducted in close cooperation with Haitian civil society to avoid such pitfalls. But I believe the notion that Haiti, in its current state, would be able to lift itself up without the help of the international community is wishful thinking. The nation has moved too far down the direction of gang control, and what remains of the Haitian state lacks the capacity to change that trajectory. A duty to intervene? Moreover, there is an argument to be made that the international community bears responsibility for the Haitian tragedy and is duty bound to try to fix it. To use one example from the relatively recent past: Haiti, until the early 1980s, was self-sufficient in the production of rice – a key staple there. Yet, pressured by the United States in the 1990s, the country lowered its agricultural tariffs to the bare minimum and, in so doing, destroyed local rice production. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton later apologized for the policy, but its legacy still lasts. Haiti today has to import most of the rice it consumes, largely from the United States. And there isn’t enough of it to go around for all Haitians – the U.N. estimates that nearly half of Haiti’s population of 11.5 million is food insecure. Indeed, from its very beginning as an independent nation in 1804, Haiti has suffered the consequences of its unique place in history: It was simply too much for white colonial powers to see Haiti thrive as the first Black republic resulting from a successful slave rebellion. France retaliated over the loss of what was once considered the world’s wealthiest colony by exacting reparations for a century and a half. Payments from Haiti flowed until 1947 – to the tune of US$21 billion in today’s dollars. The United States took 60 years to recognize Haiti and invaded and occupied the nation from 1915 to 1934. Any thoughts of atoning for past actions, however, seem far from the minds of those looking on as the chaos in Haiti spirals. Rather, many appear to have the kind of mindset expressed in 1994 by current U.S. President Joe Biden when, as a senator discussing the rationale for various interventions, he noted: “If Haiti just quietly sunk into the Caribbean, or rose 300 feet, it wouldn’t matter a whole lot for our interests.”

People walk towards a banner promoting the European elections in front of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, 10 April 2024.

European elections: much migration, little Africa

by José Segura Clavell

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском In a few days, an election campaign for the European elections will begin, and you can bet that migration will dominate the debates. Unfortunately, we won't hear any proposals to improve the situation in Africa. There is very little time left until the European elections. Voting will take place next Sunday, June 9, and in just one week, on Friday, May 24th, the election campaign will begin. Towns and cities across Spain and the EU countries will be filled with posters containing messages to attract citizens' votes. And during these campaign days, across Europe, there will be a lot, a great deal, of talk about immigration. It's no coincidence that two days before the start of the campaign across Europe, fifteen countries, led by Denmark, published a joint document calling on the European Union, that vague 'Brussels' so often used as a subject in European information, to explore the measure of creating centers outside the community territory to which migrants rescued at sea can be taken. Denmark, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Romania, and Finland, through a joint letter agreed upon by their interior ministers, call on the European Commission to implement “innovative formulas” to curb the arrival of migrants in Europe. They seek more agreements like those signed with Tunisia, for example, and the establishment of such centers in third countries, inspired by the agreement reached by the Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, to take migrants rescued at sea to a non-EU country like Albania in exchange for money, even violating the globally accepted precepts since the early '80s, as outlined in the Montego Bay Convention regarding the rescue of lives at sea, the definition of international waters, and disregarding the humanitarian concept of ‘shipwrecked.’ The United Kingdom, already outside the European Union after the Brexit, began to pave the way by announcing an agreement with Rwanda, which, although initially challenged by British judges, is on its way to become a law. That the European Union, as a consequence of socially misguided policies, has created the ideal environment for the growth of the far right (fueled further by the indiscriminate use of disinformation) is neither new nor surprising. In fact, the recently approved European Pact on Migration and Asylum, which received final approval just two days ago, is clear evidence of this. Faced with the upcoming elections and the highly predictable rise of the far right, they facilitated an agreement that many countries (most of them signatories of the document calling for innovative ways to externalize borders) considered weak: what they really want is to achieve a ‘Fortress Europe’, an isolated continent where entry is not possible, even though they are aware that our economic system will require many, many thousands of migrants in sectors such as agriculture, for example. That's why I have mentioned several times in these articles that this issue, migration, will be one of the main topics, if not the most important, dominating the debates and arguments of candidates eager to secure the well-paid seats in Brussels and Strasbourg, the two locations of the European Parliament. What is also becoming increasingly evident to me is that the more we talk about migration, the less we talk about Africa. It might sound like a contradiction, but it's true. Within the narrative framework about the African continent that the far right has managed to impose around migration, migration is a nebulous threat, with hundreds of thousands of 'military-aged young men' desperate to reach our land and do whatever it takes to survive at the expense of our well-being, our health, and our privileges. I trust you have understood my irony and the anger it causes me to see that beyond these simplistic and stereotyped statements, there is no real conversation about Africa, about Africans, and about the need for us to radically change our policies to stop turning our backs on them and focusing everything on the threat of boats and rafts. In this campaign, there will be no talk about conflicts like the one in Sudan, cruelly fueled by the spurious interests of global geopolitics, nor will there be much discussion about insecurity in the Sahel, exacerbated after the departure of European missions (even if they were little or not at all effective). There will be no talk about climate change in Africa, its brutal impact it is having, and the famines it generates. Africa will not be discussed in terms of economic potential, the necessary development of its electrical infrastructure, its privileged position to develop renewable energies, or generate green hydrogen. There will be no talk of African technological development, startups, or the significant advances they are making through mobile phone payments, an area in which they are pioneers. For long time, by Europeans, Africa has been seen as the separate continent, as a region distant from the rest of the world and simply described as a passive victim of the slave trade that has not been compensated for the human and natural exploitations it has suffered. Future Members of the European Parliament must be aware that African citizens are tired of European paternalism and have become aware of their power and capacity as peoples. Africa is the second-largest continent in the world, also the second most populous, with spectacular population growth. However, it is indeed the poorest region on the planet, with a GDP that barely represents 3% of the global total. Sadly, despite our geographical proximity, Europe has been diminishing the intensity of its ties with Africa, resulting in increased political connections with other powers such as Russia, China, Turkey, or with the United Arab Emirates or Qatar’s petrodollars. In the new Cold War between the European Union and Russia, African countries have become valuable pieces from a political-military perspective. From past European paternalism, we have moved to new situations in which China has become the primary investor in the African continent, displacing Europe, and the United States. As we mentioned in previous articles, China has done this by exchanging infrastructure for raw materials, but also leaving behind a financial debt that creates absolute dependence, a trap for many African countries. Ladies and gentlemen, future Members of the European Parliament: Europe cannot afford to become a secondary actor in an Africa that has decided to seek new partners to support its legitimate aspiration to play a greater role in world politics, as evidenced by its demand for presence in the G-20 and the United Nations Security Council. If Europe continues to cease being a priority partner for the African continent, the problem will affect Europeans more than Africans. The Africa-Europe relationship requires a new strategy that entails a more equitable balance of benefits and responsibilities, with a shared and long-term vision. We need to strengthen the European Union-African Union relations, and I doubt that this improvement can be achieved by implementing cruel "imaginative measures" that involve subcontracting migrant prisons in third countries, no matter how secure they claim to be. Who can build trust that way? In the Canary Islands, don't forget, we have a lot at stake. Geographically, our islands are African; it's our neighborhood and, in a way, our close family. And family needs to be treated and cared for properly. Article published in Kiosco Insular,, and Canarias 7 on May 17th and 18th, 2024.

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.

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.

The leaders of four BRICS countries, Lula, Xi Jinping, Cyril Ramaphosa with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

BRICS and the West: Don’t Believe the Cold War Hype

by Cedric H. de Coning

While it is prudent to be cautious, it may also be wise to explore cooperation in those areas where there are shared interests rather than assume that the BRICS and the West are strategic rivals on all fronts.This analysis was first published in the Global Observatory, 30 August 2023.When Jim O’Neill coined the BRIC acronym in 2001, the point he was trying to convey was that the global economic system needed to incorporate the world’s largest emerging economies. His advice fell on deaf ears and in 2009, Brazil, China, India and Russia decided to take matters into their own hands and formed the BRIC grouping. South Africa joined the group in 2010 to form the BRICS. This July, the group held its 15th summit in South Africa, where they decided to add six new members: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. More are likely to join in the future, including countries like Indonesia and Nigeria. What these countries have in common is a frustration, if not a grievance, about being side-lined to the periphery of the world economy. Together, the BRICS represent approximately 40% of the world’s population. The combined size of their economies are approaching approximately 30% of the world’s GDP, which puts them roughly on par with combined size of the economies of the G7 countries, depending on whether size is measured in GDP or PPP.  More importantly, in the next few decades, the combined size of the BRICS economies will surpass that of the G7. Despite this growing parity, all the members of the BRICS, with the exception of Russia, self-identifies as being part of the Global South, i.e., they feel excluded from a global system dominated by the Global North. Their stated aim is to work towards a future system of global governance where they will have equal political and economic say in global institutions, and where no one state will dominate others. In pursuit of this aim, BRICS countries have established their own development bank, set up their own contingency reserve arrangement, are developing their own payment system, and have started to trade with each other in their own currencies. The BRICS want to free their economies from the dollar-based international financial system. They feel exposed to United States interest rates that can have a negative effect on their economies, for no domestic reasons. The dollar-based financial system also provides the US with significant advantages in the global economy, which the BRICS see as unfair. They also feel a dollar-based financial system gives the US hegemonic influence in global affairs, through for example, exerting US jurisdiction on all dollar-based trade or investments that flow through US banks or financial institutions. While the BRICS countries have these clear shared macro-economic interests, many of the members also have competing interests in other domains. China and India are geopolitical rivals in South Asia. Egypt and Ethiopia are at loggerheads over the Nile. Brazil, India, South Africa and the newly-added Argentina are democracies, while other countries in the group are governed by a diverse set of autocratic regimes, which could set up an irreconcilable clash of values on some issues. Many of the members of the BRICS also have close ties to the United States and Europe, including Egypt, India, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a televised statement to the nation on the eve of hosting the BRICS summit in South Africa, explained that South Africa remains non-aligned, and he announced that in 2023 the country will also host a major United States-Africa trade meeting and an EU-South Africa summit. South Africa will also host the G20 in 2025, the first in Africa. For many countries, membership of the BRICS does thus not necessarily imply aligning themselves with one global alliance versus another, but rather cooperation in a group around a series of shared interests. Where does this place the BRICS on the Russian war in Ukraine? The BRICS summit in Johannesburg steered clear of taking a position on the war, other than welcoming mediation aimed at resolving it through dialogue and diplomacy. Some BRICS members like Iran are clearly supporting Russia, while most others have stopped short of either supporting or condemning Russia. For many such as Egypt, the war has adversely affected their economy. Two of the BRICS members, Egypt and South Africa, are part of an African initiative to seek a mediated end to the conflict, which is perhaps the first African initiative to mediate an international conflict. Overall, however, the BRICS have their eyes on the medium- to long-term transformation of the global macro-economic and financial system, and countries like China are probably frustrated that the Russian war in Ukraine has drawn attention away from this larger objective. Are the BRICS and the West headed for a new cold war? The shift in the center of gravity of the global economy to the East is an unstoppable fact driven by demographics and economic factors like the cost of production. At the same time, Europe and the United States will remain major economic players. In tandem with these changes in the global economy, it is clear that the global political order will become more multipolar, with China, Europe, India, and the United States representing some of the major centers of influence. In an August 27 article, Jim O’Neil argues that the influence of the BRICS will be determined by their effectiveness, not their size. An expanding BRICS will most likely succeed in helping its members to break free from a dollar-based international financial system, but that will take several decades of incremental change before it reaches a tipping point. Whether that is a good or bad thing depends on the degree to which your economy is tied to the United States. Many of the BRICS countries, including China, Egypt, India, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa all have economies whose prosperity are closely tied to the Unites States. They will thus have an interest in a slow, stable freeing up of the international financial system, and this should give everyone that is prudent time to adapt. The same logic also applies to changes in global governance architecture. Apart from Russia, all the other BRICS countries have an interest in making sure that changes in the global order are managed at a slow steady pace that does not generate instability. All the BRICS countries, apart from Russia, are also strong supporters of multilateralism, with the United Nations at its center. Many Western countries and BRICS members may thus have more shared interests than the doomsday headlines suggest. While it is prudent to be cautious, it may also be wise to explore cooperation in those areas where there are shared interests rather than assume that the BRICS and the West are strategic rivals on all fronts.

BRICS 2023 South Africa summit emblem

Ethiopia wants to join the BRICS group of nations: an expert unpacks the pros and cons

by Padraig Carmody

A few years ago, the BRICS grouping – Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa – had lost salience because three of its members were in severe economic difficulty. Brazil, Russia and South Africa are primarily natural resource exporters and were badly affected by the global commodity price bust of 2014. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has now given BRICS a new geopolitical salience as the members and their respective allies respond to events. In the emerging world order there is also now increased demand to join BRICS, in part as a countervailing power to “the west”. Argentina, Saudi Arabia and lately, Ethiopia, have expressed strong interest in becoming members. I have researched the political economy of globalisation in Africa over the last 30 years. I have specifically examined the scramble for Africa by the US and China, South Africa’s involvement in BRICS, the nature of BRICS engagement with Africa and market and resource access by BRICS in southern Africa. It would be a major coup for Ethiopia if it were able to join the grouping as it would raise its global profile, allow it to interact and coordinate more closely with some of the major world powers and move the discourse beyond the recent civil war there, potentially enabling it to attract more investment. Opportunities Ethiopia has cited its key role in founding the African Union and other institutions, along with its national interest as grounds for seeking BRICS membership. In my opinion, there are five key reasons why Ethiopia would want to join the grouping. Deteriorating relations with western powers: Ethiopia has historically depended on substantial western support through aid and security cooperation. But its relations with the west have soured as a result of the civil war, in which human rights violations were reported. Joining BRICS would make the country more geostrategically important, perhaps encouraging western powers to downplay human rights concerns, as they have in the past in the interests of “realpolitik”. Alternative growth frontier: Ethiopia remains one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, at over 5% a year. It has developed strong economic ties with China in recent decades. Similarly, Indian companies have been acquiring land in Ethiopia. China and India are now Africa’s two largest single trading partners (not counting the European Union as a single entity). Joining BRICS would signal openness and lead to greater cooperation through platforms like the business council and forum. It could also add impetus to the “resurgent Ethiopia” narrative, an image the authorities are keen to promote to attract investments. Negotiations over finance: The Ethiopian government is negotiating a financial package with the International Monetary Fund. Joining BRICS might give it greater leverage. Western powers, which largely control the IMF, might be more wary of alienating Ethiopia in BRICS and driving it further “into the arms” of China. The creation of a new BRICS currency, to challenge US dollar hegemony, is on the agenda and its existing Contingency Reserve Arrangement already partly competes with the IMF. Non-interference policy: BRICS powers rhetorically largely subscribe to non-interference in the sovereign affairs of other states, with the qualification that President Lula de Silva of Brazil talked about “non-indifference” to human rights when he was previously in power and Russia has violated the principle through invasions and election interference, amongst others. Ethiopia may be interested in the political cover that joining BRICS would provide. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has received political cover from China, and some would argue from South Africa. The Ethiopian government may be keen to avoid human rights governance conditions attached to new loans, aid or debt relief from the west. A prime minister seeking new friends: BRICS membership would help restore the tarnished image of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is a Nobel peace prize recipient. Ahmed was heavily criticised as a war-monger during the civil war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Joining the BRICS club would show that his government is still politically acceptable to some major world powers. The risks There would of course be risks in Ethiopia joining the BRICS. Western powers might perceive it as drifting into the alternative geopolitical bloc or alignment, which could reduce aid and investment from them. But this could also have advantages for Ethiopia’s relations with the west by making the country more geo-strategically important. Based on past experience, Ethiopia would be an unlikely addition to the grouping. The last and only country to be admitted after the group’s founding was South Africa in 2010. Other countries have applied and have not been admitted. BRICS now operates in what is sometimes described as a BRICS-plus format with countries such as Egypt already members of its development bank and all African leaders invited to the up-coming BRICS’ summit in South Africa. Ethiopia’s economy, estimated at around US$126.78 billion in 2022, is less than half the size of South Africa’s US$405.87 billion. South Africa is by far the smallest economy in the BRICS. But in some ways Ethiopia might be seen as a more representative African country in BRICS than South Africa. Ethiopia hosts the African Union headquarters and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Its capital, Addis Ababa, is sometimes described as the continent’s diplomatic capital. The outcome of Ethiopia’s application will likely be known after the next summit in August.