Connect with us


The Alarming Decline of Democracy in East Africa



Following months of political drama, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta will be sworn in for his second term in office tomorrow, November 28. Citing procedural failures, the Kenyan Supreme Court nullified results from the first round of presidential elections in August, a decision hailed as a sign of Kenya’s growing democratic maturity. The narrative changed, however, when opposition leader Raila Odinga boycotted the subsequent election by announcing the withdrawal of his candidacy. Kenyatta won the second-round election with 98 percent of the vote amid low turnout and threats to the judiciary and civil societyKenya now stands at a precarious juncture, with the possibility of a deep political rift further fragmenting the country.

What makes Kenya’s backsliding particularly worrisome is that it’s part of a disturbing regional trend. Democratic progress across Africa has been mixed—Central Africa has always struggled, but in East and West Africa, there have been important gains in recent years. Although West Africa appears to be consolidating those gains, East Africa is in the midst of a democratic decline that is reversible in its early stages but threatens to gather momentum.

Political and media space in parts of East Africa is closing as presidents and prime ministers flaunt their security credentials. Several leaders, such as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, are altering their constitutions in order to prolong already lengthy terms in office. No country in East Africa is rated “free” in U.S. non-governmental organization (NGO) Freedom House’s most recent rankings, and only two are deemed “partly free.” Many are in fact electoral authoritarian regimes that superficially adhere to democratic rules of the game but in reality employ authoritarian tactics. There is little precedent for change through the ballot box: outside of Somalia, no leader in East Africa has ever left office by losing an election.


The democratic decline is gripping a region of genuine strategic importance. East Africa can be an engine of continental economic growth, has made important gains in regional economic integration, and is rich in natural resources, including substantial oil and gas reserves. Extremist groups affiliated with both al Qaeda and the Islamic State (or ISIS) are active in Somalia and occasionally cross into neighboring countries. The United States’ largest military presence in Africa is in Djibouti, with China and several other countries operating military bases nearby. Tiny, authoritarian Eritrea is the top African source of active asylum seekers in Libya. The region borders the Red Sea, a key part of maritime trade routes between Europe and Asia.

The region’s retreat from democracy threatens all these interests. Its strongman leaders may offer short-term stability, but their authoritarian practices and resistance to building democratic institutions weaken the underpinnings of the state and make the inevitable leadership transitions more likely to be volatile. As seen in Somalia, failed governance and weak state structures create conditions in which extremists thrive. Inconsistent rule of law and tolerance for corruption make for a less desirable destination for foreign investment.

The democratic decline is most pronounced in Uganda and Tanzania.

Uganda’s 2016 elections were deeply flawed, with Museveni’s government repeatedly arresting his main political rival, Kizza Besigye, detaining him for weeks at a time, and eventually charging him with treason. Social media was shut down ahead of the elections, and more than a dozen journalists were arrested in 2016. That year, Museveni signed into law a bill to regulate NGOs, giving the government wide latitude to shut them down and restrict their ability to employ foreigners. In April, prominent academic and activist Stella Nyanzi was arrested for insulting Museveni on Facebook.

In office for 31 years, Museveni is an increasingly autocratic ruler, with power concentrated in a small circle around him. But he now faces a dilemma: Uganda’s constitution places an age limit on presidential candidates, which he will exceed in the next election. So Ugandan parliamentarians, with Museveni’s clear support, are working to revise the constitution to remove the age limit, with each parliamentarian paid $8,000 to “consult” with their constituencies on the change.

Tanzania has fallen even further. Elections in 2015 brought little-known John Magufuli to power. He immediately embarked on a popular anti-corruption campaign but has also shown a strong authoritarian streak, enthusiastically supporting efforts by the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) Party—the longest-ruling political party in sub-Saharan Africa—to close political space. In one particularly egregious act of electoral malfeasance, the Zanzibar electoral commission simply canceled an election on the semi-autonomous archipelago that CCM was poised to lose and ran it again. This prompted the opposition candidate to boycott and led the United States’ Millennium Challenge Corporation to suspend a $472 million development compact that was on the verge of being signed.

Magufuli’s government is also restricting freedom of the press—including through repressive new cybercrimes legislationcracking down on political parties, and limiting freedom of assembly. “CCM has overseen a raft of laws and regulations that go unusually far in shrinking political space and constricting the opposition,” according to the academic Dan Paget. “Increasingly, the new CCM administration presents not only the promise of development, but also the threat of dictatorship.”

Democratic backsliding is also evident elsewhere. In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza was willing to throw the country into chaos to gain a third term in office; violence triggered by the announcement that he would run again has forced more than 400,000 people to flee across borders. In neighboring Rwanda, President Kagame, who wields unquestioned authority and has been in office since 2000, recently oversaw a constitutional amendment that will allow him to remain in power until 2034.

South Sudan, ravaged by civil war, is led by a president, Salva Kiir, who has never been elected to that office. (He was elected to lead the semi-autonomous Southern Sudan prior to independence, but a vote scheduled for 2015 was abandoned because of the war.) Journalists and civil society leaders operating in the country face harrowing risks, as they do in neighboring Sudan, ruled by Omar al-Bashir since 1989. Authoritarian Eritrea doesn’t bother with the pretense of elections and competes with Ethiopia for the distinction of jailing the most journalists in sub-Saharan Africa.

Considered together, these cases show an anti-democratic momentum building among regional leaders, with strong spillover and modeling effects at work. Unlike in West Africa, there is no peer pressure among leaders to conform to democratic norms. Repressive tactics are mimicked across borders, such as the efforts to pass legislation restricting NGO activities. East Africa’s regional organizations, including the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the East African Community, show minimal interest in promoting democracy, again in contrast to their more active West African counterpart, the Economic Community of West African States.


What can be done to reverse the trend? The political impasse in Kenya and effort to change the constitution in Uganda are bellwethers that can halt the democratic slide or accelerate it, depending on their outcomes. Kenyan and Ugandan democratic activists won’t be able to confront these challenges alone. Given the regional organizations’ impotence, the African Union should become directly involved and depart from its practice of “subsidiarity,” or letting the regional organizations take the lead. East Africa’s democratic decline is a concern for the entire continent—politically, economically, and for security—and calls for a continental response.

Encouragingly, citizens are broadly supportive of democratic governance: Afrobarometer polling finds that among the continent’s regions, demand for democracy is highest in East Africa. Domestic civil society organizations should seek ways to highlight this demand and harness popular sentiment that opposes strongman rule. They will need external support, including robust and flexible funding and the political cover that outsiders can provide.

The United States needs to balance multiple strands of engagement with East Africa without excessively privileging counterterrorism, recognizing that repression and failed governance are among the direct causes of extremism. During the Barack Obama administration, some regional strongmen enjoyed too much leniency from Washington on democracy and human rights. In the case of Museveni, U.S. engagement was often externally focused—particularly on maintaining Uganda’s participation in counterterrorism efforts in Somalia—leading him to conclude that there would be little scrutiny of his domestic actions. That message is magnified under the Donald Trump administration, given its reluctance to defend democratic norms as evidenced by the absence of relevant senior officials, such as an assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor.

The United States has policy options if its leaders recognize that American interests are threatened by East Africa’s democratic decline. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is right to argue that “authorities who ignore the rule of law and change their constitutions for personal gain are all obstacles to the development of prosperous, free societies.” When those constitutional changes are pushed through to benefit the incumbent, the United States should respond by automatically reviewing all foreign assistance and reconsidering programs that may be advantageous to the executive. Washington should also adopt a region-wide, rather than country-by-country, strategy to promote democracy and good governance given the spillover effects at work. Finally, the United States should increase support to the African Union’s Department of Political Affairs, the arm of the organization charged with advancing democratic governance but which is often lacking in staff and resources. The onus is on Africa to reverse the democratic decline, which threatens not just individual freedoms but stability and prosperity as well, but the United States can certainly help.


DP World says Djibouti incident could hurt Africa investment



DUBAI (Reuters) – Port operator DP World said on Thursday that Djibouti’s decision to seize control of a terminal project could hurt African efforts to attract investment.

The Dubai state-owned port operator is facing twin political challenges in Africa.

Djibouti abruptly ended its contract to run the Doraleh Container Terminal last month and Somalia’s parliament voted this week to ban the company.

DP World has called the Djibouti move illegal and said it had begun proceedings before the London Court of International Arbitration, which last year cleared the company of all charges of misconduct over the concession.

“Africa needs infrastructure investments and if countries can change their law [to take assets then this] is going to basically make it more difficult to attract investment,” Chairman Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem told a news conference in Dubai.
DP World reported 14.9 percent rise in 2017 profit to $1.18 billion profit and said that it would invest $1.4 billion across its global portfolio including in Berbera in Somaliland. [L8N1QX0F2]

It is developing a port in Berbera in partnership with the governments of Somaliland and Ethiopia. It is also developing a greenfield free trade zone in the breakaway region.

Bin Sulayem said he was not concerned by the vote in Somalia’s parliament to ban DP World from the country, which the parliament said nullified their Somaliland contract.

It is unclear how Somalia’s federal government could enforce the ban given Somaliland’s semi-autonomous status.

Europe, the Middle East and Africa accounted for about 42 percent of the cargo DP World handled in 2017.

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; editing by Jason Neely

Continue Reading


African arms imports down



DEFENCE WEB — Over the last decade, African arms imports dropped by 22 per cent, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), but Algeria, Morocco and Nigeria continued to order large quantities of weapons and equipment.

In its Trends in International Arms Transfers 2017 fact sheet released this week, SIPRI said that African arms sales dropped 22% between 2008-12 and 2013-17. Much of the hardware that was supplied went to Algeria (52% of African arms imports), Morocco (12%) and Nigeria (5.1%).

“Major arms play an important role in the military operations by sub-Saharan African states, although, due to lack of resources, procurement typically involves small numbers of mainly relatively low-end weapons,” SIPRI said.

States in sub-Saharan Africa received 32% of total African imports in 2013–17. The top five arms importers in sub-Saharan Africa were Nigeria, Sudan, Angola, Cameroon and Ethiopia. Together, they accounted for 56% of arms imports to the subregion. Nigeria’s arms imports grew by 42 % between 2008–12 and 2013–17, SIPRI noted.

Russian arms exports to Africa fell by 32% compared with 2008–12, but despite the decrease, Russia accounted for 39% of total imports to the region. Algeria received 78% of Russia’s arms transfers to Africa in 2013–17.

China’s arms exports to Africa rose by 55% between 2008–12 and 2013–17, and its share of total African arms imports increased from 8.4% to 17%. “A total of 22 sub-Saharan African countries procured major arms from China in 2013–17, and China accounted for 27% of sub-Saharan African arms imports in that period (compared with 16% in 2008–12). In North Africa, China became an important supplier to Algeria in 2013–17, with deliveries including three frigates and artillery,” SIPRI reported.

The United States accounted for 11% of arms exports to Africa in 2013–17 – the transfers were mainly small batches of weapons and included eight helicopters for Kenya and five for Uganda, which were supplied as US military aid. In 2013–17 Kenya—which is fighting al-Shabab on its own territory and in Somalia— acquired 13 transport helicopters, 2 second-hand combat helicopters, 65 light armoured vehicles and a small number of self-propelled howitzers.

SIPRI lists Egypt’s acquisitions as falling under the Middle East – if these are included in the continent’s statistics they push up Africa’s imports significantly as arms imports by Egypt grew by 215% between 2008–12 and 2013–17.

SIPRI noted that the US has been Egypt’s main arms supplier since the late 1970s, and accounted for 45% of Egypt’s arms imports in 2008–12. “However, between 2013 and 2015 the US halted deliveries of certain arms, in particular combat aircraft, to Egypt. In 2014 Egypt signed major arms deals with France, and deliveries started in 2015. As a result, France accounted for 37 % of Egypt’s arms imports in 2013–17 and overtook the USA to become the main arms supplier to Egypt for that period. This was despite the fact that the USA ended its restrictions in 2015 and increased its overall arms supplies to Egypt by 84% between 2008–12 and 2013–17.”

Globally, SIPRI in its latest report said that the volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2013–17 was 10% higher than in 2008–12, a continuation of the upward trend that began in the early 2000s.

The five largest exporters in 2013–17 were the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China. The United States in 2013-17 had a 34% share of the global market, followed by Russia (22%), France (6.7%), Germany (5.8%) and China (5.7%).

The USA supplied major arms to 98 states in 2013–17. Exports to states in the Middle East accounted for 49 per cent of total US arms exports in that period. “Based on deals signed during the Obama administration, US arms deliveries in 2013–17 reached their highest level since the late 1990s,” said Dr Aude Fleurant, Director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “These deals and further major contracts signed in 2017 will ensure that the USA remains the largest arms exporter in the coming years.”

The five largest importers were India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and China. Most states in the Middle East were directly involved in violent conflict in 2013–17 and consequently arms imports by states in the region increased by 103% between 2008–12 and 2013–17, and accounted for 32% of global arms imports in 2013–17.

“Widespread violent conflict in the Middle East and concerns about human rights have led to political debate in Western Europe and North America about restricting arms sales,” said Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “Yet the USA and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region and supplied over 98% of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia.”

SIPRI said the flow of arms to the Middle East and Asia and Oceania increased between 2008–12 and 2013–17, while there was a decrease in the flow to the Americas, Africa and Europe.

Continue Reading


Tillerson Reaffirms US Commitment to Africa



ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has re-affirmed the U.S. commitment to Africa, two months after President Donald Trump’s reported derogatory comments about the continent.

“I think the United States commitment to Africa is quite clear in terms of the importance we place on the relationship,” said Tillerson at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “The president himself wrote a personal letter to the chairperson, reaffirming the importance of this relationship.”

Trump in January reportedly used an expletive to describe Haiti and some African countries. At the time, officials from the AU and several African nations said they were outraged by the reported comments.

On Thursday, Tillerson met with AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat, who spoke of renewed ties.

“This incident is of the past,” Mahamat said during a joint news conference with the secretary in the Ethiopian capital. “With the visit of Secretary of State Tillerson, the evidence of the relations between Africa and the United States is personified through his visit.”

Tillerson said promoting peace and security, development and trade, and good governance, are three pillars of Washington’s approach to Africa.

His visit to Addis Ababa came after Ethiopia officials decided to impose a state of emergency. But protests in the restive Oromia region have continued.

The top U.S. diplomat said after Thursday’s meeting with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu the answer to political turmoil in Ethiopia is greater freedom. He said he hoped to see “the country move on past the state of emergency as quickly as possible.”

Tillerson added, “We firmly believe that democratic reform, economic growth, and lasting stability are best addressed through an inclusive political process, rather than through the imposition of restrictions.”

He noted the U.S. appreciated the statements on South Sudan made at the AU summit in January, where the African body raised the possibility of sanctions for the violation of cease-fires in the conflict-stricken nation.

Continental free trade

Meanwhile, the AU plans to sign a Continental Free Trade Agreement later this month aimed at economically integrating the continent, which has a population of 1.2 billion people and a combined estimated GDP of $3.5 trillion.

Tillerson said Washington supports “the African Union’s economic regional integration efforts to lower intra-trade barriers on the continent, boost more intra-regional trade, which we know has been a central goal of the negotiations around the constant Continental Free Trade Agreement, which we are quite supportive of.”

Fighting corruption

Leaders of the African Union, which represents 55 countries, also outlined an official theme of anti-corruption for the year of 2018 during its annual summit in January.

“We think these are all positive developments. So the continent is moving in one direction and we’re just hoping the current administration is taking noteand is also engaging this continent in a direction in which it’s trying to move,” said Brahima Coulibaly, Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative senior fellow.

Proposed cuts in aid

But the Trump administration is under criticism for a proposed 2018 budget cut on efforts to combat HIV and AIDS.

While Tillerson has announced nearly $533 million in new humanitarian assistance for food insecurity in some African nations, the Trump administration has not proposed a signature initiative to aid Africans.

“It is unusual for a secretary of state to make a trip like this and to have no deliverables, to have no initiative that they’re ready to announce,” said Witney Schneidman, the Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative nonresident fellow.

After more than a year since entering the White House, Trump still has not nominated a chief U.S. diplomat for Africa, and embassies in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Africa and in five other African countries remain without ambassadors.

China in Africa

Speaking Tuesday before leaving for Africa, Tillerson said the United States is “eager” to lower barriers to trade and investment on the continent, whose largest trading partner by far is China.

He pointed up that the U.S. approach of “incentivizing good governance” contrasts sharply with China’s, “which encourages dependency, using opaque contracts, predatory loan practices and corrupt deals that mire nations in debt and undercut their sovereignty.”

Tillerson’s one-week, five-nation trip is focusing on counterterrorism, promoting peace, good governance and trade and investment. He is scheduled to meet with top officials in Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria — all of them U.S. allies in the war against terrorism and jihadist groups such as Boko Haram, al-Shabab and Islamic State.

Without partnerships to build infrastructure and achieve more economic development, Tillerson warned there will be “new ways for terrorists to exploit the next generation.”

The secretary of state also said U.S. and African leaders “must work to find long-term diplomatic solutions” to regional conflicts “that cause so much human suffering.”

Continue Reading