2024 comes with dangers, opportunities in Greater East Africa

Monday January 08 2024

People rally in support of Sudan's army in Wad Madani, Sudan amid the ongoing war against the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces on December 17, 2023. PHOTO | AFP

By The EastAfrican

This new year is fraught with dangers but also opportunities in the Greater East African region. The region has been dealing with protracted crises, terrorism, difficult transitions and elections, but also a cocktail of interconnected hot button issues: High cost of living, a financing crisis, a growth crisis and a climate crisis.

More recently, global competition has crept up on the region via middle powers, in particular Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey, and Qatar, eager to secure ports, food, security, energy and minerals at any cost.

In a world where international law means nothing, the powerful’s push to impose their realities could even redesign our borders and plunge the continent into a major upheaval. All these crises, however, also present an opportunity to find pragmatic ways forward and to continue to push for the African agenda of peace and security, governance, regional integration, voice and effective representation.

So, what does 2024 have in store for us?


Rwanda and South Sudan are expected to go to the polls in July and December respectively. Although the elections in Rwanda are expected to run smoothly, the consensus among analysts is that it would be a miracle if South Sudan is able to hold elections in December. The country has yet to decide on the type and format of elections, how many elections will be held, voter registration, on the inclusion of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the establishment of bodies that would address elections related disputes.


Read: Rwanda sets date for 2024 elections

The risk of an attempted military coup is not a wild dream. In 2023 there were at least two tentative bids to topple President Salva Kiir, who has been ruling the country since its independence on July 9, 2011.

Read: S.Sudan risks delayed 2024 polls due to ‘stuck’ deal

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, although President Felix Tshisekedi was declared the winner of the December 20, 2023 elections, an electoral falling-out is likely to dominate the first quarter of 2024, with the opposition pushing for new polls.


Terrorism will continue to be a major threat despite the diverted attention due to other crises. In the DRC, the Allied Democratic Forces and another 200 armed groups will continue to wreak havoc in the eastern provinces, while in Somalia, the African Union Transition Mission (Atmis) is expected to close shop in December, but there are fears that we might witness an Afghanistan scenario if there is no plan to replace the international force that has been in the country since 2007.

Al-Shabaab continues to build up its forces and will likely attempt to expand into Ethiopia and Kenya while the Somalia National Army (SNA) continues to struggle to become a professional army.

Read: EAC now tasked to fix Somalia’s security

In Sudan, although the focus has been on the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), very little attention has been given to the Islamist “shadow brigades” fighting alongside SAF. One such brigade, which has caught the attention of security services in the region, is al-Bara bin Malik jihadist battalion.

Its leader Muhammad al-Fadl, who was recently killed, had pledged allegiance to ISIS. There are fears that even if SAF and RSF secure a ceasefire, there are no guarantees that al-Bara bin Malij jihadist battalion will stop fighting and might even expand its footprint in the country and create new alliances with jihadist groups in the region.

Read: Why mediators have struggled with Sudan war

Protracted crises

In 2024, DRC President Tshisekedi, buoyed by his recent controversial electoral victory, is likely to engage in dialogue with opposition forces, but also with M23. He might also face growing noise from secessionist movements, especially in Katanga and the Kivu provinces, if no solution is found to their problems.

The new Alliance Fleuve Congo (AFC) composed of Swahilophones from the east, does not exclude such possibility, and will be a thorn in the side for the president.

In Ethiopia, uncertainty is the word for 2024. The country continues to grapple with crises in Tigray, Amhara, Oromia and Somali region. It is also on the brink of another war with Eritrea over the Pretoria agreement and the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s brutal approach to Ethiopia’s need to secure access to the sea. The recent MoU with Somaliland has already created a crisis with Somalia.

Read: In row with Addis, Somalia is backed by traditional allies

Ethiopia is also facing an unprecedent economic crisis and religious tensions.

In Sudan, the parties will likely secure a tenuous ceasefire and a political transition, but the country will likely continue to face humanitarian challenges and conflicts in Darfur and other parts of the country. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the Sudanese Popular Front for Liberation led by El Amin Dawood and Sudan Liberation Movement led by Minni Minawi have set up training camps in Eritrea.

If true, this would be another sign of the regionalisation of the conflict. The issue of the disputed oil-rich region of Abyei between Sudan and South Sudan might also resurface, as both states, short of revenues, might attempt, through proxies, to control the state and ignore previous agreements.

Regional tensions

Regional tensions are also likely to continue between Ethiopia and Eritrea, with the risk of an open conflict following the declarations of PM Abiy that there were “historical and legal mistakes” that deprived Ethiopia of access to the sea. There are also reports that Eritrea has been training the Amhara militias known as the Fano.

The DRC and Rwanda might begin addressing their issues while Burundi and Rwanda might find a solution to the issue of the 2015 coup plotters who are in Rwanda and who Burundi wants extradited. Both countries have indicated a willingness to resolve the matter, though hardliners in Burundi continue to hold President Evariste Ndayishimiye hostage and to make unreasonable demands.

Growing role of the Gulf States

The Gulf States will continue to play a major role not only in the Horn of Africa, as they compete for influence through proxies to secure the Red Sea. The competition between Saudi Arabia and the UAE over the Red Sea will see alliances shift, but most importantly peace processes will have to go through Riyad and Abu Dhabi. Western diplomats no longer hide that if you want peace in the Horn, one must camp in Abu Dhabi or Riyad, not in Africa. The influence of the Gulf States will not only be limited to the Horn.

Read: US lawmakers blame Abu Dhabi over Sudan war

In the Great Lakes region, Gulf States are interested in minerals but also food and will support countries willing those sell them these important commodities and often in exchange for drones and hard cash.

Although the list is not exhaustive, the multiple challenges facing the Greater East African region presents us with an opportunity for more regional cooperation, wisdom and innovative approaches especially at a time when our multilateral organisations such as Igad, EAC, the African Union and the United Nations appear helpless.

There is an old saying, “There is nothing wrong with being assertive and to puff your chest. But just make sure your boots are tied first.”

None of our countries can afford conflicts, especially with our moribund economies. In 2024, the region must focus on restoring real diplomacy to avert more wars. This doesn’t mean ritualistic meetings or phone calls. It means hard work of back-channel diplomacy, finding pragmatic ways forward.

The choreography

A former European diplomat who knows the region well said, “There is a lot of performance but not a lot of substance, and if we wait for the choreography of international bureaucracy people will die.” He argued that we need to restore the Contact Group — US, Saudi Arabia, China, EU and the UAE — because these are currently the key players, and Africa needs to ask who they need help from.

Africa needs to make it clear to the people who are part of the problem that they can find a problem on their lapse. That is the political discussion that needs to occur.

All these challenges are also linked to the crisis of the state in the region. Beyond leadership issues, many countries have not completed the process of nation building, which rallies people around a common political project or state building which is the process of putting in place institutions that delivers basic services to their people.

They must also determine whether they want a centralised state, federalism or separation or a model of deliberation and consensus that ultimately will produce lasting peace and prosperity that the people of the region so yearn for.