Four Issues to Monitor in African Politics

Four Issues to Monitor in African Politics

Making predictions is a risky business, which explains why the world’s major financial institutions are always careful to include caveats in their investment outlooks. While the stakes are not as high in this case, it is worth noting that nothing is certain in political analysis. With that said, political risk analysis exists to predict future political and economic changes – in that spirit, the following article seeks to illuminate four African issues that will likely metastasize in the next four months without making headlines in the international press.

1. UN Peacekeeping Force in Mali

The French military’s well-fought attempt at state building in Mali is drawing to a close, with a United Nations peacekeeping force taking control of operations in the country this week. While the French military is expected to leave behind a force of around 1,000 troops to execute counter-terrorist strikes against Islamist militants there, the UN is prepared for a long campaign of rebuilding. By the end of the year, the Mali mission will be staffed by 12,600 soldiers and will be the United Nations’ third largest peacekeeping operation. While UN officials have high hopes for the mission’s success, prospects for a positive outcome are moderate at best. The UN forces are poorly equipped, lacking both transportation and attack helicopters, and reportedly lacking sufficient intelligence personnel. Given these constraints, it is unlikely the forces will be ready for the presidential election scheduled for July 28th, not to mention the prospects of dealing with continued unrest in the country’s Islamist north.

2. Continued Civil Unrest in Libya

While any regular reader of the Economist will be well aware of the continued plight of post-Gaddafi Libya, in light of the Benghazi debacle and other perceived failings of U.S. policy in the country, the mainstream press has glossed over Libya’s failings. While journalists can afford to ignore Libya’s slow descent into renewed chaos, leaders in both the public and private sectors should pay special attention to the new government in Tripoli. Armed “militias” – little more than gangs – control much of the country outside Libya’s major cities, and they seem increasingly unwilling to surrender their private fiefdoms. At the same time, discord continues to plague the ruling Congress, which has approved laws preventing many qualified Libyans from serving in government due to their previous affiliations (however minor) with the Gaddafi regime. At the same time, anti-Gaddafi thugs have threatened many citizens accused of sympathizing with the old regime. Only time will tell if these issues spark renewed conflict, but prospects for renewed stability are far from rosy.

3. UN reinforcements to the Democratic Republic of Congo

Perhaps the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis, the cycle of violence in the DRC remains unbroken since the mid-1990s, despite UN peacekeeping efforts and worldwide attention. All of that may change, as the United Nations is preparing to deploy a robust new “peacekeeping” force that, for the first time, carries an offensive mandate. UN Security Council Resolution 2098 empowers the roughly 3,000-man brigade – composed of South African, Tanzanian, and Malawian troops – to carry out “targeted and robust offensives … with a view to neutralizing and disarming armed groups.” Unfortunately, the DRC is one of the world’s least-developed countries, which will tax the mobility of the new UN brigade and almost certainly limit its effectiveness. Furthermore, previous attempts to stabilize the DRC using military force have failed: South Africa’s most recent attempt resulted in the strategic withdrawal of those forces after fourteen soldiers were killed fighting Congolese rebels. And the rebels themselves are unlikely to give up arms voluntarily anytime soon; a leaked UN report written in June suggests that the militants continue to receive support from Rwandan military officers. Despite the UN’s apparent commitment to resolving the Congolese crisis, introducing new forces to the front lines could result in even more violence.

4. Uganda’s Role in East Africa

While the press has heralded Kenya as East Africa’s premier economic and political success story, Uganda is a regional power worth a closer look. So far this fiscal year, the government in Kampala has posted single digit inflation, signaling a marked improvement in monetary policy over the same period last year. Coming at the same time as this newfound economic success, Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s long-serving president, has renewed his efforts to establish Kampala as a regional powerbroker. He has allegedly supported rebels in the DRC and was notably absent from a meeting with other East African countries to discuss a new oil pipeline from South Sudan to the Indian Ocean. On the other hand, in a recent meeting with Uhuru Kenyatta during the Kenyan president’s official state visit to Uganda, Museveni restated his commitment to building an East African Federation for economic and political cooperation. While Museveni clearly hopes to cement his legacy as a political hero in Uganda, his behavior is trending closer and closer to that of the traditional ‘big man’ in African politics. It remains to be seen if he will follow through on his promises of cooperation, or if Uganda will continue to play a spoiler role in its neighbors’ efforts toward greater political and economic consolidation in East Africa.

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