Biya to stand again as Cameroon falls apart – Insiders’ Newsletter [free ed.]
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DR Congo: Bemba enters the race?
Newly free, Jean-Pierre Bemba now appears to be a candidate for the Congolese presidency.
Bemba saw his conviction by the International Criminal Court overturned less than two months ago. He had been sentenced to 18 years in prison for crimes against humanity and war crimes linked to atrocities committed by troops under his command in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003. In June, the Appeals Chamber determined that he could not be held responsible for those actions.
Now his rebel group-turned-political party, Movement for the Liberation of Congo, has nominated Bemba to be their presidential candidate in elections scheduled for December. Formerly the country’s vice president, there is some expectation that he could mount a challenge to President Joseph Kabila’s successor (or to Kabila, himself, if the term-limited leader decides to flout the constitution).
It’s unclear, however, if Bemba will be in a position to run. He must return to the DRC by 8 August to register his candidacy, but he’s currently stuck in Belgium waiting for the ICC to determine his sentencing for a separate witness tampering conviction.
It’s also unclear if he really wants to. The last time he challenged Kabila for the presidency, in 2006, he ended up fleeing to Belgium after his bodyguards clashed with government forces.
- Congo’s Jean-Pierre Bemba nominated as presidential candidate(Bloomberg)
- Congo opposition leader Bemba nominated for presidential election(Reuters)
- And for some background: Echoes of the past as Bemba guards fight government forces (IRIN)
Compiled by @_andrew_green
Ethiopia/Eritrea: high-speed normalisation of relations continues
The historic visit of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to Asmara was soon followed by equally historic visit of Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki to Addis Ababa, where he reopened the Eritrean embassy.
Champagne and selfies aboard first commercial flight in a generation between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Demand so great that Ethiopian Airlines scheduled a 2nd flight that took off just 15 mins later. @AFP pic.twitter.com/2KZRhECP6b
— AFP Africa (@AFPAfrica) July 18, 2018
Ethiopian Airlines has re-established regular flights between the two capitals and work to recondition the roads between Ethiopia and the Eritrean port of Assab have reportedly started. Assab is a curious choice, given its proximity to the already established gateway of Djibouti and its comparable inaccessibility from the Ethiopian highlands, but it is likely that the details of Ethiopian transit through Eritrea will be worked out on fly, given the speed of the transition.
In a sign that both leaders recognise the challenges posed by this transition, they vowed to take action against anyone who would attempt to block the peace deal from coming into effect. On a very encouraging note, the Ethiopian Deputy Chief of Staff of the military, Berhanu Jula, has confirmed that the army stands ready to withdraw its troops from border regions that were awarded to Eritrea in a 2000 arbitration that ended fighting between the two countries, but not the state of war.
- Bloomberg article on Afewerki’s visit to Addis Ababa
- The BBC has documented the interior of the Eritrean embassy, which has remained untouched for 20 years
- From Quartz, a warning that much remains to be done
Compiled by @PeterDoerrie
What everyone is talking about:
Biya to stand again, even as Cameroon falls apart
Even as evidence of new atrocities committed by his troops surfaced, Cameroon’s Paul Biya announced his plans to compete in the presidential election in October. In office since 1982, he is the second-longest serving executive on the continent, despite spending much of his time abroad and only holding cabinet meetings every three years.
The announcement comes amid mounting evidence of his regime’s increasingly brutal attacks on the country’s citizens. That includes the horrific killing of two women and two young children in the far north, which was captured on video and which Amnesty International confirmed was likely carried out by government forces.
When the video first appeared, the administration dismissed it as “fake news.”
This is the latest in the catalog of atrocities that rights groups have documented. It appears, in this instance, that soldiers killed the women and children because they suspected them of being linked to Boko Haram. The government has been accused of atrocities against suspected Boko Haram fighters and sympathisers in the past.
This is in addition to the ongoing violence in the country’s Anglophone region. That conflict stems from a divide between the country’s majority French-speaking regions, which dominate the government, and English-speaking sections in the west. In 2017, separatists declared the region its own country of Ambazonia. The government rejected that declaration.
The situation is now teetering on the brink of civil war. Anglophone separatists are suspected of attacking the minister of defence’s convoy last week. And with every separatist action, the government responds by further ratcheting up the violence.
Biya has not backed away from the actions of his soldiers either in the Anglophone region or in their efforts to combat Boko Haram, though he did call for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the video.
There’s no reason to think he won’t win the October vote. Previous elections have been marred by irregularities and accusations of fraud. And there’s no reason to think he will reign in his forces.
- Quartz has had consistently good coverage on the situation in Cameroon, including this and this.
- Amnesty’s full report on the video and the government’s response.
- The latest ACLED regional overview, which has details on the attack on the defense minister’s convoy.
- The US State department calls on Cameroon to investigate the allegations
Image Credit: United Nations Photo
Compiled by @_andrew_green
What we are talking about:
The Boko Haram insurgency is far from over
The Nigerian military and government has repeatedly labelled the various groups collectively known as Boko Haram as “defeated” or “on the run” and called the situation in the North-Eastern regions “post-conflict”. Unfortunately, this seems to be over optimistic, as a couple of recent attacks on army units demonstrate.
Insurgents first attacked a convoy of troops and militia fighters near the village of Boboshe, North-East of Maiduguri, likely after being tipped off. Casualty estimates range from ten dead, to several dozen dead and missing, as well as several vehicles lost to the insurgents.
A second, more devastating attack later befell an understrength battalion of the Nigerian army stationed at Jilli, on the border with Niger. The base manned by about 1,000 soldiers recently arrived from Lagos was completely overrun. Some reporting indicates that the soldiers had not yet received their heavy support weapons and tanks and had to fight off insurgents with anti-aircraft guns mounted on pickup-trucks with small arms. Hundreds of soldiers were initially unaccounted for, with several officers and more than 60 troops confirmed dead.
The Nigerian military first denied that either attack happened and then that they led to significant casualties, but it has a long history of underreporting its own losses and overestimating casualties inflicted on Boko Haram.
The two attacks, which were likely carried out by different factions, demonstrate that parts of Boko Haram retain significant offensive capabilities and organisational strength, as well as at least some local intelligence gathering capabilities. The attacks could also be seen as demonstration of power between warring factions of Boko Haram. In July, the faction led by Abubakar Shekau, who has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, reportedly split, with former spokesman Abu Musab al-Barnawi challenging Shekau for control. At the time, some analysts predicted that the split would increase attempts of the factions to recruit fighters and stage attacks.
While massive military commitment in the North-East has succeeded in pushing Boko Haram into rural areas, it has also incentivised Boko Haram to cross borders into Niger and Cameroon. Killings have receded from the peak in 2014, when up to 3,000 lives per month were lost, but levels of insecurity remain high, nonetheless.
Nigeria will have to continue to invest in army reform, as well as tackle the root causes of the insurgency: corruption, underdevelopment, state violence and lack of transparency.
- The International Center for Investigative Reporting has some so far unconfirmed details on the attack on the base at Jilli
- The AFP has an initial report on the attack at Boboshe
- BBC article on the split in the Islamic State aligned faction of Boko Haram
- Ahmad Salkida is a local journalist with a good track record on reporting on Boko Haram. His twitter feed is worth following.
Compiled by @PeterDoerrie
Democracy at work:
Up-to-date coverage, key details and developments in all Africa’s upcoming votes.
What else you should be reading
- Nigeria: President Buhari’s path to re-election has complicated, after some cadres of his party split away and joined a broad opposition coalition.
- South Sudan: The UN Security Council has finally enacted an arms embargo on the country, after yet another peace agreement fell apart
- Botswana: a profile of the country’s new spy chief.
- South Africa: The BBC has a disturbing, 40-minute documentary on the culture of violence and rape in one South African township.
- Somaliland/Puntland: Are the two regions with currently undetermined relationship to Somalia on the verge of a war over land?
- Fake News: Bots increasingly dominate online discourse in Africa.
- Structural Violence: You should read this blog post about “capacity building” and “local perspectives” as structural violence and this research paper about the underrepresentation of women from the global south in academic debate.