Much of the political news on the African continent in recent weeks has been dominated by events in Ethiopia where Hailemariam Dasegn stepped down as prime minister after imposing another state of emergency in response to frequent protests in the Oromo Region. Abiy Ahmed was elected the leader of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Democratic Front (EPRDF) and subsequently as Ethiopia’s new prime minister.
However, aside from Ethiopia, several other significant events are continuing to play out:
Ian Khama stepped down as Botswana’s president on 31 March and his replacement Mokgweetsi Mosisi was sworn in as the country’s new president on 1 April. This in line with the practice of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) in which the president steps down a year before the national elections in order to give his successor time to become established in the presidency before contesting the election. This is aimed at maintaining stability in the country and within the BDP, preventing the formation of two centres of power as the BDP elects its leadership between 18 months and two years before the national elections are held.
At least eight people were killed in a militant attack on the French embassy in Ouagadougou on 2 March. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the al-Qaeda affiliated, Islamist extremist group Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM). In the ongoing investigation into the attack, eight people have been arrested including two soldiers who were believed to have offered inside help. This attack is indicative of the continued terrorist threat in the country.
Renamo candidate Paulo Vhanhle won the Nampula by-election which was held on 11 March. This will be the first time in several years that Renamo will control a major Mozambican municipality, giving the opposition party a major confidence boost ahead of the upcoming nationwide municipal elections. The result is a major concern for the country’s third largest party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), which previously governed Nampula but whose candidate failed to even reach the run-off election.
Sierra Leone held its general election on 7 March; however, no presidential candidate won the required majority of the vote and, as such, a presidential run-off election was held on 31 March. The run-off election was contested by the top two presidential candidates from the first round, these were the leader of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), Julius Maada Bio, and Samura Kamara the leader of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC). On 4 March, Bio was declared the winner of the 31 March run-off election and was rapidly sworn into office. However, Kamara has stated that he intends to dispute the result claiming electoral fraud. The APC is expected to approach the country’s court to have the results nullified. Accordingly, political tensions remain high in the country, but no significant acts of violence have occurred.
Islamist militant group al-Shabaab launched a major attack on an African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) base outside the town of Bulamarer, Shebelle region, on 1 April. The attack was orchestrated to coincide with two car bombs and involved dozens of al-Shabaab militants. Four Ugandan peacekeepers and at least 22 al-Shabaab militants were killed in the fight. Al-Shabaab has increased its rate of attacks in Somalia in recent months and has the capacity to operate across the country. The AMISOM attack suggests al-Shabaab leaders are clearly increasingly confident if they are willing to attack a military base directly.
Controversial former president Jacob Zuma was arraigned on charges of corruption, money laundering, and fraud on 6 April. The charges relate to allegedly illicit payments he received during his time as deputy president in exchange for helping French arms manufacturer, Thales, win access to the 1999 arms deal. Dozens of supporters appeared outside the high court in Durban, KwaZulu Natal (KZN) province, claiming that the charges were politically motivated. Despite being recalled from the presidency earlier in the year, Zuma still commands significant support in KZN. However, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has declined to formally support him, illustrating his weakened political position. The case has been adjourned until June.
Six senior leaders of Tanzania’s largest opposition party, Chadema, were arrested on 27 March on charges of sedition and inciting violence. These charges relate to a Chadema demonstration in February which was violently dispersed by Tanzanian security forces. The leaders, including party chairperson Freeman Mbowe, were released on bail on 3 April. These arrests appear to confirm fears that Tanzania is showing increasingly authoritarian tendencies under President John Magufuli, who seems to want to repress opposition parties.
These are just some of the key ongoing developments in the region all of which have the potential to escalate into significant political and security concerns for the individual countries and beyond.