Diplomatic relations between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Israel continue to grow stronger. In a letter to President Félix Tshisekedi sent on the sixtieth anniversary of gaining independence from Belgium, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited his Congolese counterpart on a formal state visit.
“Israel had established diplomatic relations with the DRC soon after its declaration of independence in 1960, and we are greatly pleased by the friendship and warm cooperation shared during this period,” the letter reads. It concludes with a call for Tshisekedi to visit Jerusalem “as soon as conditions permit it,” a controversial action given that Israel maintains Jerusalem as the state capital despite East Jerusalem being in Palestinian territory and its annexation unrecognized by a vast majority of sovereign states.
The Congolese president has been pushing for greater diplomatic ties with Israel
In March, while attending a conference of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Tshisekedi announced he would be appointing an ambassador to Israel after a twenty-year gap. The Congolese president has been pushing for greater diplomatic ties with Israel, motivated in part by his evangelical faith and desire to bring in Israeli investment and expertise to help modernize the country. This has created rifts in the Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC), the party of his predecessor Joseph Kabila and a linchpin of Tshisekedi’s ruling coalition.
Taiwan’s effort to establish diplomatic relations with Somaliland in the Horn of Africa has been roundly slammed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Chinese embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia, declared it would violate the PRC’s One China principle, which holds that Beijing is the sole legitimate representative for Chinese foreign affairs.
Muse Bihi Abdi, president of Somaliland, and Tsai Ing-Wen, president of Taiwan, both announced on July 1 their mutual desire to open representative offices in each other’s capitals.
Somaliland unilaterally declared independence from Somalia in 1991 following the collapse of the dictatorial regime of General Mohamed Siad Barre, but the international community does not recognize it as a sovereign state. Formal recognition by Taiwan would help legitimize its claim of independence.
Despite enjoying some level of autonomy from the PRC, Taiwan is not formally recognized as a sovereign state by any African nation save for Eswatini, which would explain why its appeal to Somaliland would be a major step in distancing itself further from the PRC.
Given how indebted many African states are to the PRC both literally and figuratively for the latter’s heavy investment in grand infrastructure projects, it is doubtful they would risk this relationship by aligning itself more closely with Taiwan.
Egypt’s El Nasr Automotive Manufacturing Company and China’s Dongfeng Motors have signed a deal for electric car production in Egypt. An agreement was signed on June 18, stipulating that El Nasr will produce 25,000 electric vehicles annually.
Not only is this a boon for Chinese car manufacturing, which according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers saw a 42 percent decline in the first quarter of 2020, but it also revives Nasr after the company shuttered its production plant in 2009.
This marks yet another expansion of China’s growing footprint in Egypt. Economic and political relations between the two nations go back to 1956, when Egypt formally recognized the communist government of the People’s Republic of China, making it the first Arab and African nation to do so. Since the 2011 Arab Spring, which saw the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s succeeding presidents Mohammed Morsi and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have made foreign relations with China a top priority.
For China, Egypt’s strategic location and its ownership of the Suez Canal make it an important ally as it expands its Belt and Road Initiative.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has initiated a program to convince highly educated expatriates to return and put their skills to use in service of the country. This charm offensive aimed at the diaspora makes sense as an effort to bring in not only immediate financial gain but also knowledge and expertise as the country finds itself in a precarious economic situation.
The energy industry is the backbone of the Algerian economy. As a result of falling oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on petroleum and gas exports, the country’ foreign exchange reserves have plummeted to record lows. The president’s charm offensive toward the diaspora makes sense as an effort to bring in not only immediate financial gain but also knowledge and expertise.
To facilitate this program, Tebboune has been pushing hard for constitutional reform. Among several other changes, it would eliminate a provision that in order to hold public office or another high functionary position, a candidate must hold exclusive Algerian citizenship. Given that most Algerians living abroad have dual citizenship, this provision denies expatriates a chance of entering into civic life.
A Major Hurdle for the President’s Plan
The Hirak movement in Algeria poses a challenge to Tebboune’s diaspora outreach. The popular movement has been mobilizing Algerians against the regime since February 2019, holding peaceful mass protests across the country every Friday—save for a brief suspension due to COVID-19—to demand, among others, the dissolution of both chambers of parliament and a fundamentally new constitution.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta of Mali met with Imam Mahmoud Dicko, one of the main leaders of the mass protest movement against his administration, on Saturday, July 4. The meeting comes after weeks of demonstrations involving tens of thousands of Malians in the capital Bamako and other large cities such as Sikasso and Mopti.
These demonstrations quickly crystalized into the Mouvement du 5 Juin – Rassemblement des Forces Patriotiques (M5–RFP). Named after the date of the first protest action, it has come to include virtually all of Mali’s political opposition.
The meeting with Imam Dicko comes shortly after M5–RFP said it would no longer insist on Keïta’s resignation on condition he acceded to a set of new demands, including the dissolution of parliament, the formation of a transitional government, and the appointment of a new prime minister.
After the meeting between Keïta and Dicko on Saturday, M5–RFP published a statement saying Keïta had refused to accede to the latest demands, so it was reaffirming its intention to get him to resign.
Who Is Imam Dicko?
Mahmoud Dicko, who is the head of High Islamic Council in Mali, has been a prominent force in Malian politics since democratization began in 1991. He has conservative views, but is opposed to violent jihad.
He is said to have played a key role in President Keïta’s decision to engage in dialogue with jihadists active in the country’s north, whose attacks have been responsible for killing hundreds of Malian soldiers and civilians despite the presence of French troops under Operation Barkhane and a UN peacekeeping force under MINUSMA.
Earlier this week, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced the launch of the US$2.8 billion Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) Gas Pipeline project, which he promised would significantly improve power generation for domestic use and gas-based industries. In addition, the pipeline is anticipated to bring both greater infrastructure investment and employment to towns along the pipeline’s route, benefitting the provinces of Kano, Kaduna, Niger, Abuja, and Kogi State.
Nigeria has begun work on the first 200 kilometers of the 614-kilometer-long AKK pipeline route, which forms part of the planned 1,300-kilometer-long Trans-Nigeria Gas Pipeline, a project largely financed by China Export & Credit Insurance Corporation and several Chinese banks.
Nigeria formally joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative in February 2019
Buhari’s promise of economic prosperity arising from this project underscores Nigeria’s slumping energy industry and regular power outages despite being Africa’s largest oil producer. The COVID-19 pandemic in particular took a heavy toll on the industry: at the conclusion of the first half of the 2020 fiscal year, oil and gas companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange reported a loss of about US$457.8 million.
China’s strong presence on this project reflects its broader infrastructure diplomacy in Africa, enacted through its Belt and Road Initiative, which Nigeria formally joined in February 2019.
The Malian protest movement against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta has said it would no longer insist on his resignation. To explain this new position, the Mouvement du 5 Juin – Rassemblement des Forces Patriotiques (M5–RFP), the protest movement headed by Mali’s chief opposition leaders and tens of thousands of Malians displeased with Keïta’s presidency, said it wanted to show it was open to dialogue. As recently as last week, the movement had seemed adamant about Keita vacating the office due to the country’s deteriorating security situation, the COVID-19 pandemic, a slumping economy, and a mass teacher strike earlier in the year.
The M5–RFP has drawn up a draft proposal for a way out of the crisis
This latest development in Mali’s political crisis comes after numerous meetings between ruling party members and the M5–RFP, alongside mediation efforts by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations, the African Union, and the heads of state of neighboring countries.
The M5–RFP has drawn up a draft proposal for a way out of the crisis with eleven demands. If President Keïta accepted this proposal, he would keep his seat but his powers would be reduced. The demands include the dissolution of the national assembly and the establishment of a transitional legislative body, with a prime minister appointed by the M5–RFP.
The death of Hachalu Hundessa, an Oromo protest singer who was shot in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on June 29, has sparked unrest around the country. The security forces have cracked down on protestors, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries, and drastically elevating ethnic tensions that have been brewing ever since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed introduced plans to move Ethiopia away from an ethnic power-sharing government and toward a true multiparty democracy.
Hundessa’s music functioned as the soundtrack to the Oromo Revolution, a political movement demanding equal rights and better representation for the Oromo people, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. Abiy himself is an Oromo on his father’s side, but has nonetheless faced criticism from Hundessa and other Oromo activists, notably for ongoing suppression of protests, arbitrary detention of journalists, and deliberate Internet shutdowns.
This latest bout of unrest is seriously straining the prime minister and his ruling Prosperity Party’s ability to manage a slowly unraveling political crisis.
Abiymust also deal with a growing regional struggle over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
Legislative elections, originally planned for August 2020, were anticipated to be a major referendum on Ahmed’s reform efforts, but they have been indefinitely postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some opposition parties accepted the postponement, but the move was heavily criticized by others, including the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which still intends to hold elections in the Tigray region despite the federal government’s postponement.
On top of these domestic challenges, Abiy must also deal with a growing regional struggle over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Egypt and Sudan fear that a hasty filling of the dam will negatively disrupt the Nile River flow in their territories and jeopardize their water security.
Juba, South Sudan— Developments in both Sudans suggest that peace prospects are starting to bear fruit in a region that has known decades of war. In February 2020, signatories to the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan formed a new government, called the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity, thus breathing life into the implementation of the ailing agreement, signed in 2018.
The agreement had faced a number of uncertainties and weathered two extensions, the first by six months and the second by one hundred days. The fact that the situation has remained stable has raised hopes among South Sudanese that the dividends of peace can now be enjoyed.
Yet competition for economic resources and control at both local and national levels persists, an obstacle on the road to sustainable peace.
David Shearer, special representative of the United Nations secretary-general in South Sudan, briefed the UN Security Council on this and other issues on June 23. His presentation is part of concerted efforts by the international community and the wider region to ensure that this time the peace will last. The various entities involved are the UN, the African Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Norway (which were all instrumental in facilitating the formation of the transitional government); countries bordering on South Sudan, notably the Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia; and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a trade bloc of eight countries from the Horn of Africa, the Great Lakes region, and the Nile Valley.
The breakthrough political compromise that regional mediators put in motion has provided the opening for President Salva Kiir, former rebel leader turned First Vice President Riek Machar, and other key political leaders to join the three-year transitional government.
Although these positive developments were painstakingly slow, the chance that the peace agreement could hold only became firm when a parallel fast-paced process was taking shape: the Sudanese peace talks initiated by President Kiir.
Developments in the Sudan
Following the Sudanese Revolution of December 2018 that led to the ousting of long-serving president Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, there has been positive steps in Khartoum. It has provided a window of opportunity to address the root causes of the Sudanese crisis; to finally bring sustainable peace to the long-suffering people on the margins in Darfur, South Kordofan, Nuba Mountains, and Eastern Sudan; and to build a state based on freedom, justice, and shared prosperity.
The success of the popular uprising against the regime created a leadership vacuum and power wrangling between protest groups and the Transitional Military Council (TMC), which immediately took over from Bashir, albeit leading to a transitional power-sharing deal between civilians and the military brokered by the AU and Ethiopia. However, this agreement left out other key players, such as the armed rebel movements in Darfur and the Two Areas (South Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile).
South Sudanese president Salva Kiir exploited this opening during the swearing in of the transitional government in Khartoum to declare his willingness—with the support of Sudan’s neighbors and Gulf states—to mediate between the new rulers and the rebel groups, capitalizing on his in-depth knowledge of the Sudanese crisis and its actors. It should be recalled both governments in the past have often accused each other of hosting and supporting hostile forces that seek to overthrow their respective governments. At the closing session of the general conference of the ruling National Congress Party in Khartoum in 2017, Bashir openly called for the two states to be reunited.
For his part, President Kiir had long repeated that the armed conflict in the Sudan was directly affecting stability in his country, as the clashes were mainly located in the border region. Also, he said, the continuation of fighting in the Sudan provoked Khartoum to back South Sudanese armed groups after accusing Juba of supporting the Sudanese rebels.
With the rapprochement started by Khartoum leading to the signing of South Sudan’s own peace agreement in September 2018, the time was ripe for Juba to play a leading role. In the past, Bashir had always resisted Kiir’s advances to facilitate peace talks with the Sudanese armed groups. After Kiir’s involvement in the IGAD-mediated peace talks to end the three-year armed conflict in the South, however, Bashir accepted his involvement.
Sudanese Peace Talks
In early September 2019, Kiir hosted talks in Juba between rebel movements, military members of the Sovereign Council, and Sudanese prime minister Abdalla Hamdok. Rebel movements involved in the Juba meetings included four Darfuri armed groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army led by Minni Minawi (SLM-MM), the Sudan Liberation Movement–Transitional Council, and the Alliance of Sudan Liberation Forces; the Blue Nile/South Kordofan rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu (SPLM-N al-Hilu); and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), an alliance of Sudanese rebel groups created in 2011 in opposition to Bashir’s government.
The negotiations were divided along five tracks, in which each track addresses the grievances of a region, namely, Central Sudan, Eastern Sudan, the Two Areas, the North, and Darfur.
A first round of negotiations took place in Juba in mid-September. In the second round in October 2019, agreements were signed on the Two Areas track between the government and the SPLM-N al-Hilu, and on the Darfur track between the government and the SRF. The third round started in mid-December on the Eastern Sudan track, the Two Areas track with the SPLM-N Agar (the faction led by Malik Agar), and the Darfur track.
“The president of South Sudan has an experience similar to the Sudanese situation, and he is one of the first fighters who resisted injustice,” a leader of the SRF said in an interview with this analyst. He declined to be named, as he was not the spokesperson for the delegation in Juba.
The delegate also stressed that Kiir is well placed to mediate the Sudanese process. The authorities in Khartoum are also keen to reach a peaceful settlement of conflicts as per their country’s constitutional declaration, which sought to achieve peace in all of the Sudan within six months of its signing.
The vice president of the Sovereign Council of the Sudan, Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (known as Hemedti), has helped to facilitate the formation of the new government of South Sudan, accompanying South Sudanese opposition leader Machar and guaranteeing his security on multiple visits to Juba in preparation for the government formation.
In parallel, Hemedti has continued Juba-based peace talks with Sudanese armed groups, including the Sudanese Revolutionary Front and SPLM-N al-Hilu, as cited in a UN panel of experts report on South Sudan released on April 28, 2020.
According to multiple sources involved in both mediations, the connection between the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement in South Sudan and peace talks in relation to the Sudan has become inextricable. For instance, Hemedti has tried to capitalize on his patronage relationship with Machar to ask for Juba’s support in softening the position of Abdelaziz al-Hilu, leader of the armed group SPLM-N al-Hilu, who is hosted in South Sudan. Machar’s party told the panel that Machar’s last-minute entry into the government had been “forced upon him” by the Sudan, Uganda, and the international community, and that Machar was “now a prisoner in Juba.” This intertwined relationship has carried the risk that the implementation of the agreement hinges on the Sudan making progress in its peace talks.
Progress has been made, including the signing of the declaration of principles (a political agreement that includes a renewed ceasefire) and the delivery of humanitarian assistance by government agencies to areas under conflict. A framework agreement has also been drawn up for the smoldering Darfur conflict, covering issues such as power sharing, wealth sharing, transitional justice, and a commitment to continue the negotiations.
The SRF and Sovereign Council representatives agreed on the creation of a special court for Darfur to conduct investigations and trials for war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out during the war by the Bashir presidency and by rebel warlords. They did not discuss the issue of whether or not to transfer Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court.
Furthermore, Hemedti signed political and security agreements, constituting a framework agreement, on behalf of the Sovereign Council and Ahmed El Omda Badi on behalf of SPLM-N Agar. The agreements give legislative autonomy to South Kordofan and Blue Nile, propose solutions for the sharing of land and other resources, and aim to unify all militias and government soldiers into a single unified Sudanese military.
A “final” peace agreement for the North track—including issues of studies for new dams, compensation for people displaced by existing dams, road construction, and burial of electronic and nuclear waste—was signed by Shamseldin Kabashi of the Sovereign Council and Dahab Ibrahim of the Kush Movement.
Also, on March 25, the death of Sudanese defense minister Gamal al-Din Omar of a heart attack in Juba further delayed the process to allow for mourning. In a press statement, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who heads the Sovereign Council, said he mourned the death of Omar, “who died while struggling for the stability of the Sudan,” a reference to peace talks with rebels.
Delays, But Also Progress
Following this development, Tut Gatluak, chair of the mediation, stated that the Sudan, South Sudan, and other African countries are committed “to end all forms of war” in Africa by the end of 2020, referencing the African Union’s theme of Silencing the Guns.
Notwithstanding, delays have also plunged the ten-month process into uncertainty, with extension of negotiations month after month with no time limit. Some observers say the process has lost momentum.
The spread of COVID-19 to the two countries has also slowed the peace process, as social distancing measures have meant that delegates could not easily meet. Thanks to the European Union missions in both Juba and Khartoum, talks resumed via video teleconferencing.
The Sudan Liberation Movement of Minni Minnawi, however, has refused to take part in video conference meetings, saying the security arrangements require the involvement of military experts and physical negotiations.
Talks between the government and SPLM-N al-Hilu were suspended for several months, as the armed group wanted to put the right to self-determination and the relationship between state and religion on the agenda, a request the government wouldn’t consider. Sudanese government spokesman Mohamed Hassan Eltaishi announced an invitation by the mediators to resume dialogue via video conferencing with the SPLM-N delegation on June 22.
For now, negotiations to achieve a comprehensive peace continues in Juba with a pattern of extensions of deadlines for the signing of a final agreement. It is undeniable, however, that the fate of the two countries is intertwined.
Lasting peace in South Sudan is most likely to reflect positively in the Sudan, especially in the Two Areas, traditional strongholds of the SPLM-N, a movement with very close connections to SPLM, the ruling party in South Sudan. Once comrades in the armed struggle against the oppressive Islamist government in Khartoum, they were separated on July 9, 2011, when the south seceded to become an independent state.
Failure to achieve peace in the Sudan, on the other hand, is likely to be detrimental to South Sudan’s long-term stability, as the Sudan is a known haven for South Sudanese dissidents. But the Sudan has also been pushing for compromises thus far made by South Sudanese parties, which has spurred progress in the peace process. Any disinterest by Khartoum could lead to loss of momentum in Juba’s own implementation of agreements, possibly sparking a new wave of violence.
Patrick Anyama Godi is the editor of True African Magazine, a South Sudanese lifestyle, fashion, and business magazine
Ethiopia wants to start filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in the Blue Nile in July, when the rainy season starts, but it has not yet reached a final agreement with Egypt and Sudan downriver. Egypt fears it would reduce its water supply, and Sudan warned on Wednesday that the filling of the GERD without an agreement between the three countries would pose a risk to its own dams. Sudan is especially concerned about Roseires Dam near the Ethiopian border, which plays an important role in supplying the country with water and hydroelectric power.
The latest round of negotiations also failed to produce a compromise
Consultations have been ongoing between the three countries, with input from the World Bank and the United States. Most issues have been resolved, but the remaining bones of contention are the fill rate of the 74 billion cubic meter reservoir and the long-term operation of the dam.
The latest round of negotiations, by videoconference, also failed to produce a compromise. On June 19, Egypt requested the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to intervene to resolve the dispute with Ethiopia, after which Sudan sent a letter to the UNSC expressing its concern over the filling of the dam without a signed agreement. The UNSC will discuss the issue on Monday, June 29.
And the African Union’s Executive Council will hold an emergency video meeting on Friday, June 26, to discuss the dispute in response to a call from South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, the current chairman of the African Union.