Why West Africa’s response to Gambia’s elections is vital

By Eric Mwiine Mugaju. Eric has just completed MSc Social Policy at LSE. He writes regularly for The Observer (Uganda) on politics, law and development issues in East Africa.


Incumbent Yahya Jammeh announced on Friday that he rejects the results of Gambia’s recent election



President Yahya Jammeh’s rejection of the election results will test the region’s response to democratic challenges. Although a small player in the region, Banjul is the home of the African Union commission; so it’s response to Jammeh’s claims of foul play will act as a barometer for tolerance of leaders in the region who are unwilling to concede defeat.

Last night I was writing an article about how West African states lead by example, compared to their Eastern relatives, in the transition of power following elections. Senegal, Nigeria and now Ghana, all have shining track records for peaceful transitions of power.

Mid-paragraph I was interrupted by the buzz of a Whatsapp message from a friend in Gambia who, for the past week, has been taunting me and offering to teach our East African leaders a lesson in democracy. By comparison to West Africa (notorious for coup d’états in the decades following independence,  seems to have fairly well nailed the electoral process) East Africa’s recent political history has been marred with messy and frequently violent attempts to transfer power: Burundi, Uganda DRC and Kenya have all experienced significant violence and intimidation around their elections in recent years.

Despite West Africa’s relatively better track record, I was one of the many who were pleasantly surprised to learn of Jammeh’s decision to concede power. Until, that is, I read this message on my phone screen: “I drove home from work and the streets were deserted after the announcement that The President is rejecting the elections”. It seems that the contest is not yet over.

The uneasy atmosphere that my friend spoke of in Banjul shows that even Gambians are unsure of what to expect in response this news. At this stage it seems unlikely that the major blocs- the Economic Coalition of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU)- will respond favorably, with the AU already labeling Jammeh’s rejection null and void.

The reaction of these institutions will be key in determining whether Jammeh is to continue leading the country without facing sanctions and peacekeeping forces (both the AU and ECOWAS have military resources at their disposal) and he would need to gain the backing of at least these two institutions.

Based on past actions, we can expect resistance to Jammeh’s move from ECOWAS. Throughout the Sierra Leone conflict, for example, it represented one of the few peacekeeping forces to continuously maintain a presence in the country- it is not an organisation that shies away from either involving itself with its members internal affairs or from taking direct action to correct them.

The AU is likely to take a more hands-off approach however even this traditionally lenient bloc has been more forthcoming in flexing its muscles against the will of leaders seeking to outstay their welcome. Last year the AU intervened in Burundi despite the fact the Nkuruziza technically had the right to remain in power. The Union’s threat to send in peacekeepers sent a warning message to the Burundian president and likely curbed post-election violence.

In addition to this, the African Commission is based in Gambia’s capital, Banjul, so how the institution reacts to Jammeh’s actions will carry added symbolism. Further, the AU would be faced with logistical difficulties if the country were to experience unrest.

So what led to the vote which would have toppled Jammeh’s 22-year reign? Simply put failure to recognise that the dynamics of this election would be different. Typically, there are two main contenders in Gambia’s elections: the incumbent’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) and the United Democratic Party (UDP). APRC typically draw support from the country’s second-majority Fula and Jola ethnic groups, and have enjoyed many years of comfortable majority in elections. The UDP courts smaller ethnic groups and despite not having won outright, normally secure a significant minority of the vote.

However, this year several factors have coincided to lead to Jammeh’s defeat. Early on in the race, it became evident that Jammeh had lost a significant proportion of the Christian vote and even moderate Muslim supporters due to his decision to officially rename the country “The Islamic Republic of Gambia” in 2015.

Gambia is a Muslim-majority country with a significant Christian minority who comprise around 8% of the riverside nation’s population. However, despite the conservative outlook of its leader, Gambian society traditionally upholds a relatively liberal brand of Islam and many Christians and Gambian Muslims expressed discomfort at this move to recognise a state religion. Additionally, Jammeh’s moves to legalise other aspects of religious dogma (the obligation for women to cover their hair in public, for example) lost him support.

Together with this, in the months before the election race, former MP and party ally, Mama Kandeh defected from the party and ran in opposition to Jammeh. In doing so, he split the two-horse race and stole a significant portion of Jammeh’s supporters. The defector, in fact, won 17% of the vote, enough to have swung the outcome in Jammeh’s favour if he had still been with the party. Given the strong correlation between ethnic and political affiliation, Mama Kandeh’s split from the APRC diminished the voting power of the group by dividing their support between two candidates.

All this considered it seems more likely that Jammeh’s U-Turn could have more to do with feeling the sting of failing to act in the face of a preventable loss than “serious abnormalities”. Either way, this marks a departure from the status quo and we should watch West Africa’s leadership and see how it will react to the news: you can rest assured that would-be Jammeh’s in West Africa and beyond will be listening with intent.

PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organisation. All views expressed are the author’s own.

Is the ICC losing legitimacy in Africa?

by Eric Mugaju. Eric has just completed MSc Social Policy at LSE. He writes regularly for The Observer (Uganda) on Ugandan politics, law and development issues in East Africa. 


Sudanese President Omar al Bashir’s ICC case file is pictured on a desk.


Many African countries have been threatening to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) over accusations that the court is disproportionately targeting Africans. Recently, these threats have been realised by a growing number of African states. In the last month, the ICC has suffered three possible withdrawals: Burundi, South Africa and now the tiny West African state of Gambia has followed suit in issuing withdraw notice. Could this spell the beginning of the end for the ICC?

The court’s 1st case was referred in 2003 by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni concerning the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and their activities in the north of the country. In 2005, the court issued arrest warrants for the notorious Joseph Kony (founder of the LRA) and his top commanders. A full decade later, Kony’s second in command Dominic Ongwen surrendered to American soldiers and was then handed to the court on 21st January 2015, despite the fact that he could arguably have been tried in Uganda’s courts. Kony still remains at large.

So, the 1st case has delivered little in terms of justice to the people of Northern Uganda and has even failed to capture its principle target. It has even been argued by some that the President’s referral of Kony was little more than a cynical move meant to curry favour with the court and protect Ugandan top generals from being investigated themselves for war crimes committed in Northern Uganda throughout its civil war.

Furthermore, Kony’s indictment angered Northern Ugandan elders who at the time were in the process of negotiating a peace treaty using traditional justice methods, which unsurprisingly collapsed upon Kony’s insistence that the ICC charges be dropped, or at the very least, that leading Ugandan Army Generals be indicted by the court as well.

The countries withdrawing have cited similar problems with the system, while also questioning why no cases have been brought against the perpetrators of war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Amid this ripple of discontent, veteran African statesman Kofi Annan has intervened and sought to defend the court against accusations that it is anti-African by pointing out that Slobodan Milosevic, former Yugoslavian President, was tried at The Hague.

While Annan’s observations are right, Milosevic was tried in a special tribunal before the ICC was created. Koffi Annan is right in pointing out that the court has not done enough to protect witnesses, however, structural problems have beleaguered it since its inception.

In its short life, the ICC has been party to a number of controversies and irregularities. The USA is not a party to the Rome Statute in keeping with its consistent failures to ratify human rights conventions. However, it used its position as a member of the UN Security Council to push for the referral of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir to the court.

Rwanda indignantly refused to sign the Rome Statute after witnessing the painfully slow progression of the UN-sponsored International Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, and opted for the Gacaca courts, based on traditional justice. Its scepticism to international solutions was perhaps well-founded: the Arusha tribunal subsequently closed, having only managed to try a handful of génocidaires, leaving the majority still unaccounted for.  

Given the perception of incompetence and disproportionate targeting of Africans associated with the court, it is not surprising that Libya’s UN-backed government has refused to hand Abdullah Senussi and others to the court.

Likewise, the ICC has been made a mockery of in Kenya, where its short-sighted impunity clauses were exposed by the collapse of the case against President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto. The impunity clauses basically mean that even leaders still in office can be tried for crimes against humanity. While in principle this sounds like a good idea, one might ask why the ICC considers its accused any different to the sitting Prime Minister of the UK (who cannot be tried for any crime while in office by the UK). When one considers problems relating to witness protection and evidence collection (let alone stability in the country), the idea seems even more untenable. In fact, this particular issue was directly cited by South Africa in its withdrawal, noting the ICC’s inconsistency with its own constitution (Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act 2001).

Another issue is the complexity of legal systems in many African societies, where ‘Western’, ‘International’ and ‘Customary’ forms of justice coexist. The Rwandan tribunal exemplified tensions between state-backed justice and traditional forms of justice. Many of the accused who were tried served their sentences in foreign prisons, and are now unwilling to return to Rwanda in fear of the reception they will receive from their countrymen.

What’s more, reparations for victims remain problematic, due to incongruence with justice outcomes in different justice systems. In many African societies there is no difference between ‘criminal’ and ‘civil’ offences. For example, if a member of one family was to murder a member of their neighbour’s family then in most Western societies, the murderer will have committed a crime against the state that may carry a prison sentance. In most customary legal systems, there are no prisons. In such a system, the murderer’s family might be expected to publically apologise any pay reparations to the victim’s family. This public acknowledgement of wrongdoing is one thing that is credited for the ability of communities to reconcile after large-scale trauma is uncovered at truth-telling commissions, as seen in South African and Rwanda. In this respect, international law is physically and emotionally removed from the victims of war-crimes.

I have heard an anecdote about the trial of of Charles Taylor at The Hague which explains this perfectly. People were gathering to listen to his trail the radio eager to witness the bringing-to-justice of the man who had helped to orchestrate extreme suffering during the civil war. After 10 minutes, an old woman complained: I don’t understand the language. I don’t understand what’s happening. What kind of justice is this?

Courts like the ICC do not usually acknowledge this problem. While its true that traditional systems also have faults, there is a reason why South Africa and Rwanda both chose hybrid systems to tackle the widespread trauma experienced by their citizens during apartheid and the genocide, respectively.

The other issue to consider is whether Gambia, South Africa and Burundi are withdrawing because of genuine concerns over the ICCs practices, or whether the moves are well timed anti-imperial PR stunts. Kenya’s Kenyatta and Ruto successfully pulled this off during the presidential election leading up the trial that never was, frequently branding the court a neo-colonial interference in Kenyan affairs. Uganda’s Museveni, who referred the first case, has teamed up with former enemy Omar al-Bashir to criticize the court and brand its representatives “a bunch of useless people” causing EU representatives walking out of his inauguration following a heavily disputed election. The spectacle of the diplomats sulking out of the inaugural reception served as a minor victory to the President, who appeared to feel that the institution had no right to question Ugandan electoral practices.

Gambia’s own election is coming up soon. With the opposition leader now in jail, the move to withdraw from the court should be viewed with a hint of suspicion that the timing could be an attempt to boosting domestic support. Again, Gambian political hopefuls play up the anti-imperial stance, with Information Minister Sheriff Bojang branding the ICC the “International Caucasian Court, for the persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans”. However, out of all the withdrawing states, Gambia arguably has the most credibility in its rejection of the ICC given its track record of criticizing international organizations and withdrawal from the Commonwealth.

In South Africa, the ANCs declining popularity and on-going land distribution problems could arguably benefit from something to remind the electorate of its struggle for independence, calling into question the country’s motivation for withdrawal. .

Regardless of motivation the ICC is now facing serious problems. None of these countries notified the UN of their intention to leave the ICC, as is technically required, but also slightly irrelevant: 3 UN Security countries (Russia China and USA) are not party to the ICC anyway. With Namibia, Kenya and Uganda also threatening to withdraw soon, the end of the ICC in Africa may be within sight.

It is still too early to know whether other countries will withdraw, yet what is clear is that the court has lost its legitimacy on the continent. Even the African Union is urging members not to cooperate and is looking elsewhere for solutions: the conviction of Hissène Habré in an AU-backed court in Senegalese court speaks volumes.

PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organisation. All views expressed are the author’s own.

The problem with outsourcing Europe’s migrant crisis


by Catherine Tilke. Catherine edits the PS21 website and can be reached at editor@projects21.org.

The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID)- the government body responsible for the Britain’s  overseas aid budget  and major backer of development organisations including VSO and Tearfund- recently announced its plan to back a proposal to fund the creation of an industrial centre in Ethiopia which aims to create 100 000 jobs, some of will go to asylum seekers, in order to create incentives for people to stay in Ethiopia and stem the flow of migrants watering Europe’s ‘crisis’. 

Ethiopia currently hosts the highest number of refugees on the African continent, due to a combination of its unfortunate and unstable neighbours, its open-door asylum policy and it being an ideal stopover point for people migrating northwards to Europe from Eastern and Central Africa.

In Ethiopia, the majority of refugees are supposedly confined to camps and have no legal right to work in the country. At present, there are 23 such camps scattered across the country, the vast majority of which are situated in Ethiopia’s most deprived rural provinces. According to key proponents of the industrial centre- which was proposed by the Eastern African giant’s ruling party the EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) and is supported by major financial institutions including the World Bank and European Investment Bank- by granting employment rights to a number of refugees, opportunity will improve, adversity will decrease and asylum seekers will remain in Ethiopia until it is safe for them to return home. 

However, there are a number of obstacles to the plan’s objective which don’t appear to be accounted for. The project is designed to create 100, 000 new job vacancies through the building of the industrial hub, some of which will presumably be filled  by asylum seekers, given that the EPRDF has agreed to also grant employment rights to 30 000 Somali, Eritrean & South Sudanese refugees in the country.

While on the surface this appears to be a sensible step in the right direction, the project fails to acknowledge that Ethiopia is dealing with its own unemployment problems (conservative figures for unemployment rates in town and cities among the working-age population were around 17% last year). 100 000 new jobs are needed if the country is to continue its promising economic growth.

While still outstripping many Sub-Saharan neighbours- whose collective growth rate is forecast to slip to the lowest level in two decades this year, according to World Bank forecast- Ethiopia’s booming economy of recent years has seen something of a cooling-off. This is mirrored in unemployment figures, which despite having improved as a whole over the last 20 years, have been creeping over the last few years up in certain social groups, namely amongst women and under-25’s.

As such, the success of the plan comes down to ensuring that 1/3 of these jobs actually go to asylum seekers, and also how EPRDF manage to pull off the project as a piece of PR to avoid local perceptions viewing the plan as favouring refugees over Ethiopians- particularly in the most deprived areas of the country, where the majority of refugees are living at present.

On the global institutions’ part (i.e. the World Bank, DFID, and European Investment Bank), the issue is that while this kind of foresight is preferable to collectively burying heads in the sand over the so-called migration crisis, this particular brand of future-proofing doesn’t actually do very much to help the root cause of the problem and arguably just outsources it to somebody else.

This isn’t entirely surprising. So far, many of the policies that major world institutions have managed to agree on involve re-settlement of refugee populations to “emerging” countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe. This is not an entirely bad idea, but without taking more decisive responsibility in the UK & Western Europe, it looks a lot like passing the buck. 

In addition to this, although the project is marketed as a philanthropic developmental scheme, it is undeniably beneficial to the donor states who are able to use their collective financial clout to both shrug off responsibility for settling more migrants on home turf and simultaneously stipulate quotas of manufactured goods to be imported to the EU (if we are to assume that the Ethiopian plan will follow the Jordanian model of a similar plan implemented earlier this year). The centre piece to all of this is that the plan ultimately deepens Ethiopia’s aid dependency and economic inequality with developed nations, which is one of the country’s most difficult obstacles to long-term development. 

In principle, the project could be defended if there were any evidence that development actually reduced migration. However, as people become wealthier they are inclined to travel more, not less. Industry and trade in emerging economies should complement migration, but will not prevent it. Equally, a short-lived abundance of low-paid factory jobs on the outskirts of Addis will not change the demands for skilled and unskilled labour in Europe, nor quell the labour demands of its looming demographic crisis.

Besides this, Ethiopia (although stable) is politically implicated in some of the key source countries’ conflicts, which makes it a questionable choice for the industrial hub. If it is accepted that little that can be done to stem economic migration, then efforts should be focused on reducing “push factors”, such as armed conflict.  Given that the EPDRF has been accused of arming refugees on the Sudanese border and prolonging clan scuffles in the Somali region, it is debatable whether supporting the government lends itself to peace-building in the region.A serious attempt by the UK government or global financial institutions to reduce growing number of asylum seekers would involve more decisive efforts to combat high-level international corruption and reduce the number of arms flowing into affected regions. 

 Instead, the project in Ethiopia looks more like an attempt by Europe to outsource responsibilities a country that is no more impartial, and certainly no better equipped, than most European states. By offloading these responsibilities Europe also shies away from action to improve local tensions between its longstanding citizens and 100 000s of new arrivals. Without acting on broader social concerns such as a shortage of stable employment and affordable housing, countries like the UK will only see these tensions will continue to grow, with or without their involvement in Ethiopia’s industrial projects.

PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organisation. All views expressed are the author’s own.

Italy and Libya: Why Libyan stability is vital to PM Renzi’s career


By Lorenzo Holt- Lorenzo is an Italian-American journalist based in London.

The Italian government is facing enough pressure to put its survival over the next few months into question. Depositors have withdrawn €78 billion from Italy’s central bank since May, while government attempts at bailing out Italy’s private banks have been met with little private-sector interest and inflexibility from the EU. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s main opponents, the anti-establishment party Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S), accuse him of being subservient to EU interests while ignoring those of Italians.

Italians are also increasingly frustrated at Renzi’s inability to secure EU support for the migrant crisis. Over 300,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the EU took control of Mediterranean border security in 2014, costing the Italian government over €3 billion a year, according to the Financial Times.

The migrants and their smugglers are facilitated by the chaos in Libya, where Italy has very large interests but little influence. There too, Italian popular opinion doesn’t always coincide with international politics. The way Renzi handles the volatile situation in Libya – exacerbated by a recent coup – may determine his career.

Italy and Libya have mutual business interests reinforced by time and proximity, and Italy enjoyed a privileged economic relationship with Libya under Berlusconi in the 2000s. Thousands of small and medium-sized Italian businesses were working in Italy before Libya’s civil war in 2011, and many left behind millions of dollars in suspended contracts and equipment. ENI, Italy’s national oil company, has been operating in Libya since 1959 and is responsible for much of the country’s energy infrastructure.

The Italo-Libyan chamber of commerce estimates that business revenue between the two countries in the years leading up to the war (excluding oil and gas) totaled €30-40 billion- and that initial reconstruction investments in Libya could total €400 billion. Access to suspended investments and new business opportunities in Libya would be a much-needed tonic for Italy’s consumptive economy.

Obviously, no progress can be made until Libya is stable – a prospect which looks increasingly unlikely. Libya is divided between the secular Tobruk government in the east, Tuareg rebels and smaller fractions in the southwest and the UN-sponsored Government of National Accord (GNA) in the west. The GNA was formed in December 2015 in an attempt to unite Libya’s rival governments. Widely regarded by Libyans as a foreign imposition, it was first rejected by the Tobruk government in September and more recently deprived of some of its municipal buildings in Tripoli during a coup on October 14.

Foreign nations have been ambiguous about which of the many Libyan factions they support. Although officially declaring exclusive support for the GNA, US, French and British special forces have been widely reported to be fighting alongside other factions including the GNA’s main opposition, the Tobruk government. The UAE has been reported to be providing weapons to Tobruk’s military commander, Khalifa Haftar, in violation of the UN arms embargo, while Egypt – eager for stability on its western border – has also been reported to have supplied Haftar with military helicopters and aeroplanes.

Italy’s role in such a high-stakes environment is limited by its military and political weakness. So far, it has faithfully aligned itself with the UN and the interests promoted by France, the US and the UK. In September, Italy deployed 300 soldiers to Misrata to staff and protect a newly built field hospital, making it the first nation to establish an official military presence in the country. It has allowed US drones and aeroplanes to operate from its airfields and has publicly expressed its willingness to lead a UN intervention in Libya. During Renzi’s stay in Washington on Tuesday October 18, Obama praised Italy’s role in forming the GNA and fighting ISIS.

Libyan oil facilities captured by Haftar in September are producing over half a million barrels per day and funding the GNA. This provides the country with much-needed revenue and a tentative sense of progress. It also benefits Italian oil importers. But the coup in Tripoli on October 14, although largely ignored by the media, signals deep, unresolved divisions and the potential for escalated conflict.

Libya’s status quo is bad enough for Renzi, but his sensitivity to UN interests could make things very difficult for him should the situation deteriorate. Accusations from his opponents of being a US or EU stooge and wasting government money while neglecting domestic problems would be particularly damaging. Renzi can only hope that his traditional western allies will find a tactful, non-military solution in Libya; given their track record over the last 15 years, the odds are not in his favour.

Libya represents a relatively detached geopolitical interest to the main international actors but it is Italy’s next door neighbour. The impact of a worsening situation in Libya would be immediately felt through increased migrant arrivals, rising energy costs and the further loss of business and energy assets. Stability, on the other hand, would help keep the Italian economy afloat while offering a viable, safer alternative for migrants.

The question for Renzi is whether or not his decision to follow the UN line in Libya, like that of following the EU line at home, is something the Italian people will find agreeable.

PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organisation. All views expressed are the author’s own.

SOLD OUT: London event – the changing face of counterterrorism

Photo 24.11. crowd whitehall

WHEN: Wednesday, August 17, 2016 from 17:30 – 19:00 

WHERE: Whitehall, London, United Kingdom – Exact location to be confirmed to attendees


From Paris to Brussels,, Nice, Orlando and beyond, Western states appear to be facing an almost unprecedented tempo of militant attacks – although they pale in comparison to those in truly front-line nations such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria. With a growing number of such incidents apparently involving single radicalized individuals, often with mental health problems, how can one really define “terrorism”? And with recent attacks in Europe and North America now helping drive domestic politics, what can be done to protect civilians while avoiding further polarizing communities and deepening divisions?

Peter Apps [moderator] – executive director, PS21. Reuters global affairs columnist

Nigel Inkster – former deputy chief, MI6, now head of transnational threats and political risk for international Institute for Strategic Studies

Omar Hamid – former Pakistani police officer, now head of Asia-Pacific risk at IHS

Julia Ebner – policy analyst specializing in European militant threats, Quilliam Foundation

Frederic Ischebeck-Baum – Sir Michael Howard Centre Fellow at King’s College London and PS21 fellow.


You can sign up here.


The PS21 Team.

Friendship & Cooperation? – India’s African Strategy


William Farmer is a recent graduate from King’s College London, specializing in Postcolonial Africa and political risk.

In its relations with the African continent, the Indian state claims that historical and cultural commonalities between the two naturally engender unique and mutually-beneficial foreign relations. The main tenets of such solidarity are a shared colonial past, helped by the large Indian diaspora in Africa, and the history of the Non-Aligned Movement, of which India, and many African nations were members. This sentiment was also evident at the UN in 2010; India’s representative to the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri, remarked that ‘India’s own links with Africa go back a long way. They are anchored in a history of civilizational contact and friendship across the Indian Ocean. Our friendship and cooperation has been further strengthened through a common journey of anti-colonial struggle and post-colonial nation-building.’[1] This narrative attempts to set India apart from other foreign actors in Africa, such as China or Western nations, whose policies in Africa are often branded as “neo-colonial” and exploitative.


The cultural commonality of India and Africa is used by the Indian state to supplement a narrative of benevolent policy towards Africa. Specifically, the Indian state has argued that their colonial and Non-Aligned past engenders an aptitude for capacity building projects; in other words, it is the ideal nation to “develop” Africa. This can be seen with initiatives such as the Pan-African e-Network, which has been running since February 2009. It is a project that shares Indian skills (namely education and healthcare expertise) with African audiences, connecting ‘53 African countries into one network through satellite, fiber optics and wireless links to provide tele-education, tele-medicine and voice and video conference facilities’.[2] The blueprint of the Pan African e-Network is supposedly ‘within the framework of South-South cooperation.’[3] Even the name of the project evokes notions of the Non-Aligned Movement, with prominent Pan-Africanists such as Nkrumah professing staunch support for the Non-Aligned Movement.


Nevertheless, the relevance and provenance regarding this narrative of cultural and historical commonality is dubious at best. When examining Indian policy in Africa more broadly, it becomes apparent that it is not particularly unique nor benevolent; rather, Indian policy more closely resembles that of China, or Western nations. This is ironic, as India expressly defines its own policies in Africa against that of these competitors. Despite the lengths the Indian state goes to, to differentiate their relationship with Africa from China’s, India has been seen to follow China’s lead. This can be seen in a number of different ways, but primarily through its investment in raw materials. The Indian Department of External Affairs has made this clear, stating that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ‘is very rich in natural resources’ and that ‘there is tremendous possibility of enhanced bilateral cooperation.’[4] India, much like China, traded in Africa largely to gain natural resources to service infrastructure advancements in their respective home nations. In 2010, 91 per cent of India’s imports from Africa were primary commodities – this meant that India bought very few processed materials or products from Africa.[5] It is plain to see that India is, in fact, extracting natural resources from Africa in a manner strikingly similar to China, and that the Indian narrative of cultural similarity and cooperation is, in this context, nothing more than a pretext for the extraction of natural resources.


The provenance of India’s narrative of a shared colonial and non-aligned past is equally suspect. Rather than India’s colonial past engendering a relationship across the Indian Ocean that benefits Africa, it can be seen to imbue an unequal and prejudiced relationship. Under the British Empire, Indians were seen as more “civilised” than Africans. With the break-up of Germany’s colonies after the First World War, members of the Indian diaspora in East Africa, with a clear belief in the Indian “civilising mission” in East Africa, lobbied to annex German Tanganyika to British India, as recompense for India’s contribution to the war effort.[6] This thinking has persisted: the experiences of African students in India provides a clear example. In 2013, Jalandhar in the Punjab experienced a series of racially-motivated attacks. Twenty-one Congolese exchange students were arrested and Indian state officials stated that the Congolese ‘stole the bag of the [Indian] victim’, but the Congolese students claimed that this was not the case, and that one student was ‘beaten with a cricket bat in what appeared to be a racist attack.’[7] The Congolese students in question, as well as the president of the Association of African Students in India (AASI) argued that racism against Africans was a big issue in India, particularly in the Punjab. Christophe Okito, AASI president, claimed that ‘many of them [Indians] believe that black people are cursed by the gods, destined to be slaves, whereas white people here are seen as intrinsically successful.’[8] This negative attitude towards Africans, with specific reference to slavery, implies that Africans in India are aware of the colonial roots of this racism.


The mere fact that India positions itself to be a nation fit to take part in “developing” Africa articulates an assumed hierarchical and neo-colonial relationship. Arturo Escobar’s theory of development discourse likens the practice of “development” to colonialism, as the “development” of one people by another presumes the “developer” to be more civilised than their recipients of “development” efforts.[9] This theory helps to explain the racially-hierarchical nature of India’s work in Africa.


This article is not aimed to vilify foreign actors in Africa. Rather, deconstructing foreign policy narratives – such as India’s – aims to provide a case study of the problems presented by the utilisation of cultural or historical commonality for political and economic ends. This article is also a call to those in foreign policy, arguing that they should be equally as critical when considering the role of culture and history in foreign relations. First of all, such narratives can be largely irrelevant to the true practices of states, as shown by the nature of Indian investment in Africa. Secondly, cultural and historical narratives are often used to ingrain a false sense of cooperation and solidarity between nations. The failure of both Indian and African states to accept the real nuance in their relationship – including the hangover of a colonial, racial hierarchy between Indians and Africans – shows that simplified and reductive notions of non-aligned and post-colonial solidarity do not reflect the true nature of India-Africa relations.



Project for Study of the 21st Century is a non-national, nongovernmental, nonpartisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.


[1] India’s Foreign Relations – 2010 Documents, ed., Avtar Singh Bhasin, (Geetika Publishers), page 2283.

[2] Ibid, page 2284.

[3] Ibid.

[4] ‘India-DR Congo Relations’, Embassy of India, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, accessed 20/3/16, http://eoi.gov.in/kinshasa/?0810?000.

[5] Standard Chartered, ‘Africa-India Trade and Investment: Playing to Strengths’, Standard Chartered, On the Ground, Global Research, (08/08/2012), page 5.

[6] Dhruba Gupta, ‘Indian Perceptions of Africa’, South Asia Research, 11:2, (1991), page 163.

[7]  ‘DR Congo shop attacks over arrests in India’, BBC News, 19/06/2013, accessed 23/05/2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-22973235.

[8] Christophe Okito, quoted in http://www.africareview.com/News/DRC-students-arrested-in-India-expected-to-be-released/-/979180/1889666/-/1599xfp/-/index.html, accessed 14/4/2016.

[9] Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World, (Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1995), page 9.

Africa in 2016: Three strategic contingencies

AMISOM_&_Somali_National_Army_operation_to_capture_Afgoye_Corridor_Day_1_01_(7293144058)A printer-friendly version is available here.

Edward Wanyonyi is a security and defence policy specialist. He can be reached on edward.marks09@gmail.com

2016 promises to be an interesting and dynamic year in Africa’s peace and security agenda. Barely 60 days into the New Year, three distinct trends are emerging which will determine major decisions in most defence and national security engagements in the region. While surprises are inevitable, rarely do countries struggle to bounce back when hit with these shocks unless one is talking about disasters such as the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 or the 2006 Tsunami. However this year presidents, cabinets and security chiefs will be faced with the challenges pertaining to insurgencies, containing shocks brought by the collapse of oil prices and handling political transitions.

Dealing with Insurgencies

The recent attack by Al Shabaab on an Africa Union peace keeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) stationed on a military base that also housed Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) is the latest indication of the changing nature of unconventional warfare waged by combatants with a well-organized military command and control structure. Although Kenya’s defence establishment has not released the final death toll, the attack seems to have benefited from a highly trained operational planning unit. It is alleged that a heavily armed infantry with over 100 fighters equipped with Russian PKM assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades, and a suicide bombers corps split in two groups and used vehicle borne IEDs to launch their assault. One group took on the Somali National Army, a mere 600 metres away from the AMISOM base, while the other waited in ambush. As soon as the AMISOM base responded to the distress call, the second group of insurgents struck the base.

According to Kenya’s Chief of Defence Forces General Samson Mwathethe, air rescue teams could not be immediately deployed in the area due to the presence of active anti-aircraft missiles.  It is clear that this was a well-coordinated ambush; planned way in advance, endowed with prior intelligence of base deterrence capabilities and aware of AMISOM threat response strategies. The incident provides an important space to ask hard questions when dealing with insurgencies whether at a national level or in a large scale international peace keeping effort.

First, what is the most appropriate intelligence sharing system that counterinsurgency operations should adopt in the face of an enemy such as Al Shabaab, Boko Haram or even Al Mourabitoun? Secondly, counterinsurgency operations in theatres with an active enemy presence require a separate dedicated military base and a refugee camps security component headed by no less than a deputy commander of the peacekeeping forces who is directly answerable to the force commandant. Lessons need to be learned from the 2000 Sierra Leone peacekeeping operation where several blue helmets were captured by RUF rebels and from the South Sudan civil war in 2013, where UN bases and humanitarian camps in Bor and Juba were attacked. Furthermore in 2015 Al Shabaab attacked bases manned by Burundi and Ugandan contingents, yet there has been a serious lack of new measures put in place by the Africa Union Department of Peace and Security institute to secure all other AMSIOM bases. Third, perhaps it is high time to reconsider troop deployment in counterinsurgency operations especially when a) loss of life is unprecedented and b) when the insurgency has been highly embedded in the local population like in the case of North East Nigeria where Boko Haram maintains an active military advantage. Fourth, future counterinsurgency operations will require a joint coordinated agency that is staffed by civilian and military advisors who can relay information to the head of mission and the presidency. This task cannot just be left only to military staff and suffer the fate of collective group think. Neither can this task be delegated to party sycophants who occupy sensitive positions within the presidency and only prioritise regime preservation when dealing with national security challenges. It is essential to include a diverse set of professionals who can avail their expertise and help to shape winning counterinsurgency strategies.

Containing shocks brought by the collapse of oil prices  

As the US overtakes Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of crude oil, the optimism earlier envisaged by oil importers is suddenly being replaced by a sombre mood as they come to terms with effects of cheap oil. In a globalized world, the effect of a recession in most oil companies and the sudden shrinkage of operations means that the entire well-to-market value chain suffers. Therefore, countries in Africa which depend on oil as their core export will have to reappraise their economic forecasts and seek to urgently contain possible unrest and disruptions to their industrial and manufacturing sectors. A number of steps need to be urgently put in place.

First, governments need to bolster the capacity of multi-stakeholder teams so they can provide detailed analytical information for government decisions and investor engagements. This should be considered not just among oil producing countries but also countries which have ambitions for oil production in the near future such as Uganda, Kenya and even Somalia.

Second, ministries of finance and governors of central banks must actively find space to cushion national economies from the knock on effects of low oil prices. Managing the transition and emergence of new market cartels will be a task that will feature regularly. It is possible that we might see a mild form of market regulation by the state especially when cartels seek to hold on to their dominant positions regardless of the need to change for public good. If handled properly, this phase can allow regimes to survive potential protests and even investor boycotts.

Handling political transitions

While 2015 saw an unprecedented appetite for constitutional amendments to allow third terms for incumbent leaders, the greater challenge is how to manage political transitions in a manner that does not lead to civilian unrest, instability and a climate of fear. As the events in Burundi and Burkina Faso reveal, an attempt at incumbency that attracts widespread unrest and civilian agitation is not worth the effort. However the case of Rwanda, which followed its own due process, demonstrates the importance of well thought out transition processes. Another case is Uganda. It is one thing to clamour for the exit of Museveni, but one must look at the capacity and independence of the oversight institutions that are necessary to cushion the country in the event of a power vacuum.

Therefore, agitators for change and reforms should ask, what sequence should this transition take? How shall we embark on structural change, but escape the tragedy of post-Gadhafi Libya? This is not in any way to disqualify attempts at legitimate change of government such as that which took place in Burkina Faso recently. However, it is a call for caution and for a measured approach in handling political transitions that avoid perilous conflicts like those that were triggered by poor management of transitions.

As Africa prepares to lurch forward in 2016, the UN Sustainable Development Goals project promises to provide increased opportunities for ensuring that development does not just take place at the centre in order to cascade to the periphery. Furthermore, at the heart of the SDGs is a call to ensure that development does not stagnate or reverse due to a lack of mitigation measures to cushion against these shocks. It is therefore important that countries prepare for the three contingencies as they pose a significant risk to current development forecasts.

Project for Study of the 21st Century is a non-national, non-ideological, non-partisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.

Are presidential term limits in East Africa checks and balances that don’t balance?

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza on a visit to South Africa, November 2014.

Eric Mwiine-Mugaju studies Social Policy and Development at the London School of Economics. He can be reached at e.mugaju@lse.ac.uk

In July, Burundi, a speck on the Continent’s map, has become the focus of attention on the international stage thanks to a familiar story, “Democratizing Africa”. Burundi’s Nkurunziza has stepped into the famous role of the immovable African President. Like 007, this is a role that overshadows the actors that step up to play it; and we know that every time they do, politics–the metaphorical Martini–is going to get seriously shaken.

However, we must to look through the disguise: this isn’t a one-size-fits all get-up, and however tempting it may be to roll our eyes at Nkurunziza and start muttering about Mugabe, Kabila or Museveni, we must resist, for a very simple reason. These charismatic men have dominated the regions’ politics, all playing the same game, but all playing by very different rules.

It is these players’ individual appeal and intimate knowledge of which strings to pull in their respective countries that keeps them in place. To paint them all with the same brush at best oversimplifies and at worst neglects important political nuances in each of these nations. As we have witnessed in Burundi last summer and across the East African Community over decades, enforcing term limits is risky business when politics is a battle of personalities.

Add a spark of discontent to a barren wasteland of opposition politics, and you have a political wildfire on your hands. In Burundi this has mostly been confined to social media. But, with democratic checks and balances so frequently throwing up violent protests in the region, is it time to be self-critical and interrogate the way we apply democracy, and more specifically, term limits?

After three months of violent protests, the incumbent Nkurunziza draws over 70% of the vote in the provisional results. Protesters were in opposition to the President’s attempt to alter the Constitution and remove term limits, allowing him to remain in power for a further 5 years. The move was rejected by parliament by simple majority, led by one dissident MP. Despite opposition, Nkurunziza stood for election that finally took place on 21st July 2015 after being delayed several times and was officially re-elected as the country’s President.

In a region that is susceptible to the manipulation political circumstances, the outcry over Nkurunziza’s gross misinterpretation of democracy has been surprisingly meek. By contrast, opposition in neighbouring Rwanda backed the the removal of presidential term limits and have effectively making Kagame “president for life”. In West Africa, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) shelved plans to require all members to include term limits in their constitutions when some west African states were leaving office peacefully. So where are democracy’s standard-bearers on the continent? And perhaps more puzzlingly, why are the likes of Rwanda, East Africa’s “miracle”, keen to dump term limits, risking donor outcry?


So, what’s the situation in Burundi?


Burundi is a tiny country in East Central Africa. Ethnically speaking, its population resembles the dynamics of neighbouring Rwanda–whose ethnic makeup is more familiar and is composed of a Tutsi minority (around 14%) Hutu majority of 85%, not forgetting 1 % Twa- so barely talked about outside of EA that typing this article I realised that Microsoft doesn’t recognise the word.

Despite opposition to a re-run, elections took place on July 21st 2015 against the backdrop of a boycott and a peculiar absence of observers from the African Union. The arguments for and against the legality of Nkurunziza’s move term limits have been well and truly exhausted, and so I will only summarise them.

Emerging from civil war in 2005, Burundi signed a consensus known as the Arusha Accord. Acting as a symbol of transition from violence to positive change, the commission, amongst other things, sought to make clear the terms of the Presidency. For example, Article 7 (1) (a) states that “the [subsequent] Constitution shall provide that, for the first election of a president, the president … shall be elected by direct universal suffrage …” Article 7 (1) (c) prescribes that the National Assembly should elect the first post-transition president using the procedures described in Article 20 (10). Article 7 (3) prescribes that the constitution of Burundi shall provide that the president is elected for a term of five years renewable only once. The argument boils down to different interpretations of these articles, namely:

  1. a) Nkurunziza was elected by the National Assembly for his first term (not national suffrage), therefore if he is elected again, he can still serve one more term in office.
  1. b) Nkurunziza has already served his maximum two terms. It doesn’t matter whether he was elected by the National Assembly instead of universal suffrage, his time is up.

Whatever the conclusion, the Arusha Commission is not a treaty such as, for example, the Vienna Convention on Treaties. It serves as an agreement between parties’ consensus rather than a ratifiable legal instrument. It may be morally biding. However, states are ultimately governed not by constructions of morality, but law.

This lack of leverage has probably contributed to the silence of the international community, who, at state level, have not been very vocal. The implications of the politics of its neighbors have also influenced Nkurunziza’s compadres on the sidelines Museveni’s silence and later moving in “smooth operator” comes as no great shocker, given that he has also manipulated his constitution in order to extend his seat.

Rwanda and Tanzania have issued strong statements urging Nkurunziza not to run. None of the those leaders have waded into the Constitutional debate. Most likely is that this support comes in the form of worry for regional instability and thinly veiled concern for the inevitable boom in the number of refugees in their respective countries if Nkurunziza were to abandon power.


Political parties as personal projects

The leaders advising Nkurunziza have been good political entrepreneurs in their own countries: Museveni and Kagame have both manipulated the political climate to their own advantage. For Museveni, he is aware for his political importance to the West, providing the army to AMISOM and as an ‘anchor’ for their so called global war on terror. With a track record of modest economic growth, Museveni has been able to play these cards long enough to crush his opposition. The walk-to-work initiative, in protest of the rising cost of living, resulted in floggings; opposition leaders such as Kizza Besigye have been roughed up and are frequently ridiculed in Museveni’s speeches. By contrast, re-asserting his valuable position in the region, all of this goes unchecked, without any major backlash from Uganda’s aid donors.

Similarly, Nkurinziza returned to Burundi after the attempted coup to remind Burundians of the “threat posed by Al-Shabaab”, completely dodging discussion of the attempted coup just days earlier. The opposition leaders were swiftly disposed of, and for Burundi’s incumbent, it was business as usual. Like Museveni, he is aware of the country’s growing importance since he has been providing forces for AMISOM. He is able to crush the opposition and its demand for term limits.

Likewise, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame is a master puppeteer when it comes to donor politics. However, unlike his counterparts, Rwanda’s development under his rule has been really very impressive. Despite negotiating himself into a position that effectively (and legally) could make him President for life, Kagame has won the opposition’s support in a power-sharing deal that is de facto single-party state with no term limits.

Tanzania is the only EAC member to have peaceful leadership and transition. However, Tanzania has been led by one party (CMM) since independence, and as a result its politics have noticeably “more policy and less personality”. However, Tanzania is not economically better off than its counterparts. Multi-party democracy cannot function where political parties are personal projects. For example, without Museveni there is almost no NRM, without Kagame no RPF. In cases like this, democratic checks and balances in an East African political economy cannot balance.

Are term limits hindering democracy?

What we commonly refer to as “democracy” is a newcomer on the continent. It is applied unimaginatively, unanimously, uniformly across all 54 modern African states, and when it fails we fling up our hands in despair and begin to ask silly questions like “is democracy possible in Africa?” with silly answers like “No! Africa isn’t ready for democracy!” (as Mr. Chirac once put it). A more appropriate and fruitful question might be “what do we mean by democracy?” or better still “what do we really want, when we talk about ‘democracy’?”

Thinking about these last two questions, we should consider whether term limits are such a hindrance to democracy and good governance that Mo Ibrahim spending millions of dollars to pay off power-clinging leaders to step down is considered the more democratic route.

As it stands, the majority of countries actually have stipulations that require leaders to only run for a maximum of two terms. Rwanda’s President Kagame has commented that leaders flaunting term limits are not the greatest problem that Africa faces–indeed, they may hinder meaningful change and democratic settlement. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore remained in power for 32 years and in this period transformed Singapore into a developed country. Should Africa be looking away from the likes of Mandela’s one-term precedent and towards the likes of the “Asian Tigers” if it wants to secure long-lasting social and economic change?

Confusing “social media democracy” with democracy


Protest in Burundi was inspired and organized on social media. Social media challenges our “depth perception” on a daily basis. Last summer, Cecil the Lion met his unfortunate end, and the Internet was understandably in outcry. Meanwhile, at least 54 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean Sea and Boko Haram murdered another 25 people in Northern Nigeria. All of these events are tragic; but their disproportionate coverage on social media (hint: Cecil was most talked about) demonstrates how we need to be mindful of who is saying what, where, and when, when we use social media.

Burundi suffered from the “Cecil the Lion effect” when Sudan’s al-Bashir controversially visited South Africa and the world’s media seemed to lose interest in the growing protests in Bujumbura and storms on Burundi’s social media. However, both of these things raise some important questions about how the outside world perceives politics in Burundi.

Both the capital city and Burundian social-media users have a strong middle-class/elite bias. In developing countries, it is important to ask who has access to social media and how this affects our perception of the general population. The typically poorer rural areas constitute the majority of the population and are likely to have lower rates of access to Facebook etc. and also possess different priorities to city dwellers.

Why rural dwellers remain royal to incumbents

“No third term” protests were mainly in the capital Bujumbura. Urban warfare was a rare phenomenon in post-independence Africa. Most of East Africa’s conflicts were fought in the bush, with the city symbolising a refuge for the elites or incumbent government forces. Urban centres were made safe by the presence of state houses, presidential palaces, national radio and TV stations: all of the institutions one has to control in order to claim control of a nation. This meant that security was always provided in cities at the expense of rural areas. And so it comes as no surprise that city dwellers are typically the champions of change as in Uganda’s “walk-to-work” or Bujumbura’s street protests. For rural populations who suffered disproportionately during the guerrilla wars, the relative peace attached to long-standing presidents is very desirable, and firmly associated with the fighting efforts of armies-turned-political-parties such as Uganda’s NRA and Rwanda’s RPF.

Rural areas are less dependent on government services in comparison to the dense residential areas of the inner city, with no access to land or means of (food) production. It’s easy to see how rural concerns for security could outweigh urban concerns of bad governance and cement an incumbent in place.

What does it mean for rural communities in times where the cities are becoming centres of resistance? Cities are becoming violent. The Arab Spring, the storming of the parliament in Burkina Faso and, now, Burundi, are the result of social media democracy.

In Rwanda and Uganda, protests and public gatherings are illegal, with opposition leaders continually harassed. In situations like this, peaceful transitions seem beyond reach. Looking to Egypt, Libya and Syria, we see the consequences of pushing “democracy” into a system with an underdeveloped opposition.

Afrobarometer indicated that 62% Burundians were against Nkuruziza’s third presidential third term. But again, this raises the question of who has access to technology and should be paired with evidence that has shown that opinion polls often get it wrong especially in times of uncertainty. The UK election was testimony to that as Cameron, out of the blue, won an absolute majority thanks to a climate of economic uncertainty (I wonder if an African country would have also escaped allegations of rigging in the face of such an unexpected result?). With Burundi’s civil war still well within living memory of rural voters, security is an important issue–I would treat the Afrobarometer polls with caution.

At the moment, political settlements are too weak in East Africa to allow meaningful transition and term limits. Creating legitimacy should be seen more in an economic mirror rather than simply political term limits. Term limits will remain illusive in countries healing from the effects of civil war and in the process of economic transition.

PS21 is a non-ideological, nongovernmental, nonpartisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.

Assessing the EU and Britain’s Response to The Immigration Challenge: Time for a Foresight Approach?


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Edward Wanyonyi is a Security, Leadership and Society Fellow at University of London-Kings College. He can be reached on edward.walekhwa@kcl.ac.uk 

The recent pronouncements by British Home Secretary Theresa May and France minister for interior Bernard Cazeneuve in Calais distancing the EU from the unfolding immigration crisis and placing it on external factors- fragile and stateless societies in Africa and Asia has sparked fresh debate on whether the neglected approach of foresight can be more suitable.

The meeting comes at a time when Calais is the scene of unprecedented numbers of immigrants seemingly overwhelming border police and assorted deterrence barriers while the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called for an extraordinary summit in September for global heads of states to deliberate on appropriate responses to the 50 fold increase of deaths of migrants attempting to get to EU.

While the British society is quick to celebrate the achievements of Mo Farah, a citizen of migrant heritage, the current Tory leadership has not been shy to assert and defend its disdain of immigrants irrespective of the reasons- poverty or conflict. To them, Britain’s ‘way of life’ is threatened by the ‘swarm of immigrants’ as David Cameron recently remarked while in a tour of Vietnam in response to the Calais crisis. More recent pronouncements have presented the position that ‘migrants think Britain is lined with gold’ and therefore Her Majesty’s welfare system is a strong incentive. Such a position has often served to legitimise the current militarised response to the crisis that is flawed on two conceptual errors. First, the EU and Britain have nothing to do with the ongoing conflicts and state of deprivation, poverty in source countries and second, throwing money- in this case, the use of aid to establish micro enterprises will provide a stronger incentive for potential migrants to stay in their countries. Nothing could be further from the truth and here is why.

On the first response, the EU and Britain specifically, occupy an important place in the global architecture of power- hard, soft and smart as renowned political scientist Joseph Nye has reminded us. The combined gravitas in the UN Security Council by Britain and France for example means that both countries have sweeping powers over decisions of early intervention in countries at the cusp of conflict before borders of neighbouring states start swelling and transnational smuggling rings set shop. A vote for early intervention in countries that are clearly on the verge has a greater multiplier effect than increasing border police in Calais and definitely, reduced presence of humanitarian agencies operating in the Italian coast of Lampedusa and Sicily. However, the Britain and France have showed an uncharacteristic aversion for early intervention akin to the cold war period when the UN Security Council was the stage for super power interests assertion and defence. It is not a surprise that most countries that are descending in war or mired in post conflict insurgency lack UN led stabilisation operations. While the excuse has been the need to respect local ownership of post conflict reconstruction, the obvious lack of a centralised authority and growing public security gap in countries like Libya, Egypt, Mali, Niger, Tunisia and Syria clearly shows a security council that is selectively aiding and abetting the immigration crisis. Moreover, countries that have authoritarian regimes further in the South such as Eritrea, Sudan, Morocco have security and defence pacts with EU countries especially Britain and France and therefore, this doctrine of authoritarianism and the tools thereof are not just home grown. It is therefore crucial to appreciate that the EU and Britain are part and parcel of the crisis and not just victims.

Second, the announced set of proposals by Theresa May in Calais that present a raft of monetary allocations to support micro enterprises in source countries fails to acknowledge that in most of these countries, autocratic regimes have a far and wide reaching means to divert the allocated funds in order to maintain the status quo. Also, which criteria will be used to identify a potential migrant? Will all young people be subject to the allocations of ‘soft loans’ in order to launch their entrepreneurial ideas? What about the other mitigating factors such as security, climate change, reliability of power which affect the scalability and sustainability of entrepreneurship? It therefore seems that this proposal partly inspired by the Department of International Development, takes the neoliberal approach of reforming economic development in countries at risk or emerging from conflict. However, the neoliberal approach has been the subject of criticism as it fails to acknowledge the everyday realities of these societies that although unstructured from a Western perspective are actually highly structured with social networks that straddle across ethnic and religious lines producing unique economic, political and social systems and processes.

Perhaps, it is high time that the EU and Britain considers a scenario planning approach. The former approaches borders as defences, citizenship as pristine and multi culturalism as a threat to ‘our way of life’. The latter frames the crisis as a set of challenges that can be turned into opportunities when the response is brought to a shared understanding of the transitions in source countries and the drivers of transnational organised crime. Scenario planning uses foresight techniques to remind decision makers that intractable problems are not solved by distance but by a careful analysis of possible scenarios.

Therefore, any solution to the ongoing immigration crisis must not only be bold in terms of the financing muscle but it must It undertake a major scoping exercise of the current ‘jobs as a conflict deterrence’ intervention with a view of identifying possible black swans. Only then can the EU and Britain develop possible scenarios based on extensive conversations and not just representatives of DFID funded NGOs and opinion shapers in academia or political spaces.

PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.

100 days into his presidency, Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari faces serious challenges

Nigerian President Buhari addresses reporters in the US (photo: State Department).
Nigerian President Buhari addresses reporters in the US (photo: State Department).

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Emmanuel Akinwotu is a freelance journalist and PS21 contributor. He tweets: @ea_akin.

It is too early to define President Buhari’s presidency. The first 100 days have been illusory; he has made sweeping changes in military personnel and laid the groundwork for the restructuring of the massively bureaucratic and shady petroleum sector. But on Boko Haram–what will be the central issue of his term–progress has been predictably difficult.

Attacks by the Islamist insurgency have increased. Buhari’s decision to move the military HQ to Maiduguri in Borno, right in the heart of the conflict, makes strategic sense but has yet to yield perceivable change. Quite bizarrely, Buhari has given the military a deadline to defeat the group by the end of the year. In truth, ‘defeat’ in an absolute sense is prospectively bleak, if not unachievable in the medium term. But significantly weakening their capability is more than plausible.

Yet this is yet to materialise, despite his considerable and much-needed diplomatic efforts to tighten cooperation with Nigeria’s bordering neighbours, who, to lesser extents, are grappling with the group’s threat. Nigeria’s alliances under Goodluck Jonathan were ineffectual and passive. Relations under Buhari, with Chad, Cameroon and Niger are markedly more proactive.The joint military operation between the countries could be yet more effective but is now underway.

An inquiry into the murky finances of the Defence budget has also been set up. Accusations and press leaks that military equipment was inadequate and hampering its chances against Boko Haram were damaging to the previous administration. Again, Buhari seems to be addressing the problem at the root. His first three months have seen several inquiries and bodies set up to investigate federal departments and national problems. Appointments have been slow, but, where they occur, sweeping. The entire board of the NNPC, Nigeria’s petroleum company, were resigned sporadically. Likewise, several military figures have been replaced.

Broadly, in Nigeria, these sweeping sackings play out well politically for Buhari. He is the strong man “getting things done”. They illustrate conviction and decisiveness, characteristics central to Buhari’s win in the elections in May. However, even if the changes are welcome, the expectations he stoked in the election campaign–that Boko Haram would not be the same threat under his leadership–leave him little time. The internal workings of the fight against Boko Haram may be more concise and organised, but the bombs and deaths mount on.

The sense that a concerted anti-corruption drive is needed is prevalent in Nigeria. Buhari’s cabinet remains unannounced, but the lack of speed has been explicable if not ideal. The presidency is at pains to appoint ministers who will not be implicated in corruption probes. Dishearteningly, that sharply diminishes Buhari’s options. The economy remains in a poor state. GDP has fallen to 2.6% as the effect of the election postponement and the fall in oil price kicks in. The naira has lost 15% in the last year. The Central Bank has taken frantic steps to avert the slide but the naira has only weakened further. The lack of a finance minister or clear fiscal policy from the government is having adverse consequences. 100 days in, it remains to be seen whether Buhari has a clear plan for the economy.

Yet classically for Nigeria, on the other side of the numerous economic problems is an ever-growing economic potential. Despite struggling infrastructure, more and more multinationals are biting the bullet on the downsides due to the sheer commercial gains of investing in a country as populous as Nigeria. A young and vastly growing population will present more challenges but also opportunities.

Buhari’s government must navigate those. It may yet do so better than previous governments but there are few encouraging signs. Ultimately, amidst several huge challenges ahead, it is on security that the previous government was spectacularly defeated and on which this government will likely be defined.

PS21 is a nonpartisan, non-ideological, non-governmental organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.

The Deflation Shock: Geopolitical Ramifications of the Global Commodity Price Drop


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David Murrin is the author of Breaking the Code of Historythe culmination of decades of personal research across a wide range of disciplines. David compellingly argues that human behaviour is not random, but determined by specific, quantifiable and predictable patterns fuelled by our need to survive and prosper. He has called this cycle The Five Stages of Empire, which due to its fractal nature is applicable to empires, all the way down to the cycle of the individual. According to David, to resolve the issues confronting us today we cannot merely study the past. The human race will need to understand this precise algorithm of behaviour that has caused us to re-enact the same destructive cycles in ever-greater magnitudes, in order to change our future. He is also a Global Fellow at PS21.

We have for quite a while now been predicting a sharp period of deflation from 2015 to as late as 2018. This prediction has been based on the Kondratieff cycles’ second phase, which corrects the first impulsive stage of commodity inflation. We maintain our view, despite the assurances of various central banks, that this is only a short-term dip. Indeed, the ongoing decline in global commodity prices suggests that these deflationary dynamics will accelerate in the next 12 to 18 months.

One of the interesting questions about the Kondratieff cycle is that its price history has–until the past decade–been based on the cycle of the Super Western Christian Empires as these were the dominant industrial powers across the globe during the past two centuries. With the current dip in Chinese demand, we are now able to confirm that the rising Super Asian Empire has phased its commodity demand cycle with that of the West.

Why? Because this deflationary cycle has to a large extent been driven by the loss of demand within the Chinese economy. As such, we should expect to see that loss of Chinese demand continue for the next 12 to 18 months and the Chinese authorities wrestle with increasing economic dislocation.

Deflation driven by loss of global demand like this is not easy to combat, as the Chinese are now realising. For commodity prices to be where they are now, it is clear that the world as led by China is suffering a slump in demand, which suggests that economic growth is much lower than the world’s stock markets are trying to reflect. This suggests that an imminent and very large asset reprising will take place in the months ahead.

My concern is that this event will represent a global financial shock of greater magnitude than 2008 and possible of a similar magnitude as 1929. The Western Central Banks had financial levers to contain the shock of 2008, which are now no longer available, so the impact will be much greater. Indeed, the use of the printing presses in what we know as QE has inflated stock and asset prices to completely unrealistic levels, and the gap below to reality is probably greater than ever before. Hence, we should expect not only very deep price drops, but moves that are very powerful.

In Breaking the Code of History, we discussed the concept that shocks such as this deflationary shock affect every economy simultaneously and usually with the same magnitude. However, what differentiates the strong from the weak nations is the speed of the recovery and whether that recovery subsequently reached new highs.

Although this shock started in China, this is not the all clear signal that the Chinese challenge is ending, as I would anticipate that they recover faster than any other nation. Conversely, I reckon that the greatest losers will be the weaker Western nations. Certainly the EU is top of that list, but close behind is America. Thus, I would expect this shock to accelerate the power shift from West to East.

In addition to the effects associated with the long-term five stages of empires cycles, changes in the commodity cycle create geopolitical shifts in power of smaller cycle degree. In assessing the oncoming ramifications of global deflation, the first nations to consider are the commodity producers themselves.


Russia has been hit threefold with economic mismanagement, Western sanctions and lower oil prices, which have placed it in a very precarious situation. On one hand, there are the forces of economic implosion that might lead to civil unrest against Putin, but on the other hand, there is the argument that the West caused the problem via sanctions. Putin could use any external event to trigger a war to unite his people in a common cause to save himself. This situation needs to be carefully monitored and managed and is a very high-risk scenario.

The United States

The effect of the price decline on America as a high-cost oil shale producer seems to have been neglected with the ramifications of a massively shrinking nation’s shale oil industry. America will be forced back into the geopolitical sphere of oil importation and dependence on the Middle East and thus will have to show a greater engagement against ISIL. The boost to its economy from lower oil prices will not counter the overcooked price levels of the stock markets hyped on QE. However, in the long term the inactive oil shale fields will act as a national hedge for America as they could be reactivated when the oil price goes up again after the bottom has been reached.

Government subsidies would enhance this process. Politically, this shock will ensure that Obama’s popularity plumbs new depths and that he will go down in history as the most unpopular president ever, almost guaranteeing a Republican winner the next time round. As per 1929, American investors will be forced to withdraw their overseas capital to shore up the onshore balance sheets, especially in the emerging markets. This will create future opportunities for Chinese investment and increased influence.

Middle East

Saudi Arabia and Iran will once more become important due to the low cost of their oil. However, the civil war in the Middle East is expected to continue and intensify in complexity, especially if nuclear proliferation takes place.


Growth in Africa has been driven by the investment boom in commodities coupled with indigenous demographic expansion. The latter is powerful enough to maintain growth on its own, although at a lower level without the commodity boost. However, nations such as Nigeria with dependence on oil production will undergo considerable economic stress compounded by poor governance.

Meanwhile, the importer of commodities might not find lower prices as beneficial as one would have expected.


China will undergo a phase of significantly lower growth and retrenchment with the demand gap. However, this period of economic uncertainty should not be used to argue that a central demand economy does not work and will fail, but rather be seen as a similar dip to the Asian crisis and a healthy retracement. We would not expect to see no change in the aggressive expansive Chinese foreign policy, indeed it may become more so, in balance to its internal economic weakness. In addition, the Chinese will use this commodity dip to keep buying the best assets at the lowest prices, as they maintain a long-term view of their own growth just not present in the West.


The failed economics of Europe will make it most vulnerable to the effects of deflation and asset price depreciation. This will most probably provide the catalyst for the restructuring of the EU, with further knock-on effects for global markets.

Thus, in summary, we expect the months ahead to produce both large economic and geopolitical stress globally. Astute consumer nations should use these price dips to acquire cheap assets and reduce future dependency on importation. However bad the deflationary period may be, the ensuring inflationary period will bring its own significant geopolitical changes.

Earlier versions of this article originally appeared on DavidMurrin.co.uk on Monday, August 24, 2015 and Wednesday, August 26, 2015.

PS21 is a non-national, non-ideological, non-governmental organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.

A false start for Nigeria’s president?


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Emmanuel Akinwotu is a freelance journalist and PS21 Africa contributor. He tweets @ea_akin

Nigeria’s historic election victory afforded Muhammadu Buhari precious momentum. On foreign policy he has been determined, consolidating international alliances in tackling Boko Haram. But domestically he has been inexcusably passive, whilst Nigeria’s numerous and converging crises persist. Largely of his own volition that momentum has now fizzled away.

Seven weeks into his term, Buhari is yet to announce his cabinet. In part, the tribal politics of ministerial appointments are difficult to negotiate quickly. Each of Nigeria’s cabinet positions are mandated by the constitution to come from each of Nigeria’s 36 states. Buhari’s desire to have a leaner and less expensive government has been thwarted by this.

But for the huge economic, energy and security challenges facing Nigeria, the electorate’s patience for the intense wrangling of these positions to conclude would have been more readily available. But the immediacy of these challenges have opened Buhari to allegations of complacency.

By this point, each of Nigeria’s previous four administrations had submitted their appointments to the Senate for ratification. The presidency recently confirmed that they would not be announced until September.

To compound things further, deep divisions in his APC party have surfaced. The party’s majority in the senate is unravelling after the arguments over the APC’s nominee for senate president have left various factions seething. The new doggedly ambitious senate president, Bukola Saraki, won without the backing of the party leadership but on the back of votes from the opposition PDP.

Amidst the infighting, Buhari has been deliberately withdrawn, refusing to explicitly endorse any candidate and promising to work with any senate leader. His reticence to get involved in his party’s disputes was initially shrewd. The US Congress is perhaps the perfect example of how stifled politics can become when it is deeply partisan. Buhari’s willingness to work with all parties is pragmatic.

But his Party’s divisions have rocked on and on, and the merits of his withdrawal are weakening by the day. The party’s unity has unravelled weeks into its first term in Government, and on an issue that will be trivial in the long run. There will be bigger challenges to contend with.

One of which is the economy. Over 20 states are currently struggling to pay their civil servants, many of whom have not been paid for close to a year. The states are reliant on their monthly allocation from the federal government which has fallen sharply as a result of the drop in oil price. GDP last quarter fell 2% to 3.9%, a 3 year low. Unemployment has risen whilst productivity and exports have fallen. The absence of a finance minister in this period is at best unsettling and at worst oblivious.

More optimistically, 38 years after he co-founded the NNPC as a petroleum minister, Buhari has taken a hands on role in reforming it, dissolving the board and ordering a probe into it’s murky finances. The NNPC is currently reporting directly to the government. It has been rumoured that he will personally run the Petroleum ministry when the announcements are made in September.

However, until Buhari’s government is formed and hits the ground running, the coming changes to the NNPC and other industries will continue to be speculative. His foreign policy agenda, driven by the cross-border insurgency by Boko Haram, has been the key focus of his first month as president. But the attacks from the group, in sync with ISIS in the Middle East, have only increased since Ramadan began. His efforts, however plausible, are juxtaposed by a death toll that is rising starkly by the day. Over 200 people were killed in just two days last week.

The broad lack of urgency from Nigeria’s new president has dampened the goodwill that was so palpable a month ago. His distinct and defiant  rhetoric against the group contrast an approach that is as yet unclear. Domestically, Buhari’s government is stretching at the starting line. It is still early days, but after much promise, this has not been an ideal beginning.

PS21 is a non-governmental, non-ideological, non-partisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.