Conflicts and Political Troubles

Although slow progress towards more stable and democratic regimes continued in many countries, in others the situation generally worsened in 2008 compared to 2007, mainly due to further intensification of long-term conflicts, a resurgence of troubles in countries which had gained stability in the recent past, or new waves of episodic instability in relatively stable countries due to the rising costs of living.

Several post-conflict countries have been successful in their struggle to couple macroeconomic normalisation with the promotion of social stability. Angola and Mozambique are good examples of this, with the former holding democratic elections for the first time since the end of the civil conflict, and only the second time since independence. Although insecurity remains a concern, especially in urban areas, stability has improved in Liberia and Sierra Leone, after a decade of particularly destructive conflicts. After 6 years of civil unrest, the situation in Côte d’Ivoire continued to stabilise.

Although successful in bringing hostilities to an end and leading to the formation of a national union government, the signing of the Ouagadougou agreement in March 2007 has not yet resulted in elections as originally foreseen. Despite this, violence on the part of both sides of the conflict has decreased dramatically, while the relaxation of the social climate allowed the state to regain control of security in the northern region and resume the delivery of basic services.

The Great Lakes region seems to be laying the bases for an improvement in the near future. The conflict in Uganda has lost impetus with the elaboration of a peace agreement in April 2008 (although not yet signed by the rebels), and, after a dramatic intensification of the conflict in DRC, the year closed with the arrest of the chief of one of the rebel groups which had been fuelling violence in the North-Kivu region, thanks to the fruitful co-operation between the governments of Joseph Kabila in DRC and Paul Kagame in Rwanda.

Despite these welcome improvements, there are signs of increasing political tension that cannot be ignored. The year had started on a positive note in DRC, with the organisation of a Peace Conference in Goma in early January. However, violent clashes between the army and several rebel groups poisoned the situation in the north-east part, continuing to fuel instability in the entire region for most of the year.

In Chad, the conflict opposing President Deby and the rebellion burst into open warfare when the latter attacked the capital city, N’djamena. With the support of France, the government regained control, although episodic clashes between the army and the rebels continued throughout the year, worsened by ethnic and religious feuding. Neighbouring Sudan and the Horn of Africa remained restless. The Darfur war continues to kill civilians, while the humanitarian situation risk becoming catastrophic after president Bachir ordered international humanitarian non-governmental organisations out of the country in early 2009 in reaction to an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court bringing charges against him of crimes against humanity.

In stateless Somalia the situation remains critical, and the civil war is in its eighteenth year. The signature of a peace deal in June 2008 between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) did not stop the fighting, and the lack of an effective state threatens the security of the entire region. Besides the on-going battles among rival groups, in 2008 several attacks by pirates on foreign commercial ships spread insecurity along the coast, and weapons which are smuggled into Somalia are also trafficked into other countries in the region. In Central and East Africa, Burundi and the Central African Republic have had trouble in overcoming the effects of past civil conflicts with dramatic episode of violence threatening peace agreements.

An upsurge in the violent activities of a number of rebellion movements can also be observed. Since mid 2007, the Touareg rebellion has acquired new strength in Niger and Mali, intensifying killings and kidnapping of soldiers and foreigners. While the government of Niger has not recognised the existence of a rebellion and refuses to deal with the Touareg, Mali signed a peace agreement with them in April 2008; however, the situation has not yet completely returned to normal.

In Nigeria the conflict in the Delta Niger region continued in 2008. Since 2005, it is estimated that Nigeria lost some 20 per cent of its oil production due to these incidents. Despite the creation of a ministry in 2008 to deal with these issues, pacification still seems elusive.

In Kenya, following the contested election of December 2007, some 1 300 people were killed and more than 350 000 were displaced.

In 2008, there were a number of coups d’état. The Mauritania military junta was officially sanctioned by the African Union, which urged it to return to constitutional order after the army overthrew the first ever democratically elected president in August 2008, Mohamed Abdallahi. In December, and after months of social unrest, the army took power in Guinea, taking advantage of the death of the former president, Lasana Conté.

The series of coups continued at the beginning of 2009, with the killing of the President Joao Bernardo Vieira of Guinea Bissau by the army, after two failed attempts during 2008. The country had been particularly restless in recent years, due to the increasing presence of Latin American drug dealers using West African coasts as a channel to smuggle drugs in Europe.

In early 2009, a harsh political struggle broke out between President Marc Ravalomanana and the mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina resulting in violent demonstrations and a number of deaths when the army fired on protesters. After an intervention of the army in support of Rajoelina, President Ravalomanana stepped down, in what was condemned by the African Union and several African leaders as an “unconstitutional transfer of power”.

Hunger riots began at the end of 2007 and intensified during 2008, triggered by unprecedented increases in food and fuel prices which reduced the real income of households already struggling with harsh living conditions. Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Mozambique and Senegal are only a few of the countries which experienced strikes, demonstration and riots.

In Cameroon, protests against high prices were coupled with discontent over president Biya’s intention to modify the constitution in order to be allowed to run for a third mandate in the presidential elections to be held later in 2011. In South Africa, violent riots with xenophobic connotations in May 2008  caused the death of 62 foreigners and the displacement of several thousand people.

The situation remains tense in some countries and new tensions could explode in the coming months due to the worsening of economic conditions due to the global crisis affecting employment in the mining sector as well as in services, such as construction. Although several governments managed the situation in 2008 by implementing support measures and containing social discontent, the situation is likely to be more challenging in 2009, in a context of reduced public resources.