A number of African countries have been mapped as possible trouble spots on which the African Union and the United Nations should keep a close watch this year, either due to elections or internal conflict.
Leading the pack is Nigeria, which will go to the polls in February, with President Muhammadu Buhari facing a challenge from former vice-president Atiku Abubakar in a country where elections are traditionally violent, even as the administration battles the Boko Haram militia.
The election has attracted 39 presidential candidates and President Buhari’s All Progressives Congress suffered massive defections to the opposition last year.
A recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) looking at Africa’s hotspots says that disputes between President Buhari and leaders of parliament’s two chambers — both of whom defected from the ruling party in July — delayed funding for the electoral commission and security agencies, hindering election preparations.
Attacks on minorities
“The opposition’s distrust of both the commission and security forces heightens risks of protests during and after the vote. Such protests have a troubled precedent: Demonstrations after the 2011 polls morphed into attacks on minorities across northern Nigeria in which more than 800 people died,” says the report.
The ICG further says that in the oil-rich Niger Delta, tensions between locals and the federal government could boil over, given simmering anger at the government’s failure to fulfil pledges to clean up oil pollution, build infrastructure and increase social investment over the past few years.
But the key issues in this election are corruption, the state of the economy, the increase in youth unemployment, lopsided political appointments and the ill-health of President Buhari, 75.
- DR Congo
Another likely hotspot is the Democratic Republic of Congo, where suspicion is building up over the elections held on December 30 and whose results are taking longer than usual to be released.
Opposition groups led by Martin Fayulu have already declared that they won the elections and any results to the contrary will not be accepted, while the government side says they do not expect to lose.
In the meantime, the various militia groups that have been opposed to President Joseph Kabila have warned that they are likely to resist should the government rig the results in favour of Emmanuel Ramazani Shady.
Comoros, an archipelago of three islands between Mozambique and Madagascar, is a powder keg after President Azali Assoumani forced a referendum that overturned an agreement on rotational presidency between the three islands.
President Assouman is planning to call early elections this year, which could help him remain in power beyond 2021, when he was supposed to exit.
He has forced some opposition leaders into exile. Comoros comprises the islands of Grande Comore, Mohéli and Anjouan.
In October, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, criticised the government’s suspension of the inter-Comorian dialogue, which began in September 2018 under the facilitation of the African Union High Representative Ramtane Lamamra.
Mr Mahamat said that AU Commission was concerned about the deterioration of the political environment in Comoros, and there are chances that the country will be an agenda item during the AU Summit later this month.
- South Sudan
South Sudan will be marking four months of the peace agreement on January 12, but with very little to show in terms of implementation.
This year, various articles of the agreement are supposed to be actualised, but then there are groups that are not party to the agreement who are holding significant territory.
he ICG report says that the September agreement satisfies — for now — the two antagonists’ interests and those of Presidents Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, the two regional leaders with the most sway in South Sudan. Most importantly, it has reduced violence.
But the deal is a work in progress and worrying, because it envisages elections in 2022, perpetuating the Kiir-Machar rivalry until then, paving the way for another showdown.
“Most alarming, security arrangements for Juba, the capital, remain contested, as do plans for unifying a national army,” it says.
Donors, wary of funding deals that have collapsed in the past, are now mostly sitting on the fence.
The United States, which used to spearhead Western diplomacy in South Sudan, has stepped back while others are waiting to see tangible steps by President Kiir and Dr Machar before offering financial assistance.
In Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir faces what could be a serious challenge to his 30-year rule.
Protesters have been taking to the streets in many towns and cities since December 19, protesting against high food prices and demanding that President al-Bashir step down.
Now, the opposition have formed a coalition to bring down the government of President al-Bashir and analysts are concerned that the government could escalate repression given that the president has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for atrocities in Darfur.
Some 22 opposition parties have withdrawn from the government of national unity and the ruling National Congress is accusing the opposition of trying to incite the military to overthrow the government.
In Somalia, the political impasse between Mogadishu and the leaders of the regional states continues despite Hirshabele having backed down and a leadership change in South West.
On January 2, the Somali state government declared the UN Secretary General’s special envoy Nicholas Haysom, persona non-grata, accusing him of interfering in the internal affairs of the country.
Mr Haysom had sent a letter to the internal security minister, questioning the legality of the arrest of Mukhtar Robow, a former Al Shabaab leader, and urging an inquiry into civilian casualties during protests over his arrest in Baidoa.
This raised questions over Somalia-UN relation given that the global body is the main funder of the African peacekeepers that keeps the government in Mogadishu.
At the same time, Al Shabaab remains a threat to the peace, security and stability of Somalia, as well as Kenya, which a recent UN reports warned it to be vigilant in 2019.
The UN Monitoring Group report cited the worrying presence of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant faction in Somalia.
The Monitoring Group says the conflict between Somaliland and Puntland, misappropriation of financial resources, and maritime piracy remain major hurdles.
Al Shabaab controls Middle Jubba, the only region that is still entirely in the hands of the militants.