In a three-part analysis briefing series, EXXAfrica explores specific threats to the aviation sector in Africa. In part one, we examine how the risks of war and terrorism may manifest via an explosive device attack, assault on an airport, or shoulder to air missile attack.
A shock to global oil prices leaves many African markets unprepared for more expensive import bills, while some crude producers may struggle to reap the benefits of higher oil export revenues. EXX Africa assesses the risk outlook for Africa’s largest oil producers and the continent’s main fuel importers.
Algeria’s ruling general is either preparing to install himself as a strongman-president of an Egyptian-inspired securocratic state or he is seeking to transition political power to a civilian administration that will protect the military’s interests. EXX Africa investigates the probability and implications of both scenarios.
With 54 countries and a continental coastline of 30,500 km that spans the Mediterranean sea in the north, the Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the northeast, the Indian Ocean in the east, and the Atlantic Ocean in the west, Africa’s borders are both numerous and vulnerable. EXX Africa delves into the primary threat actors taking advantage of these vulnerabilities to further their own objectives across the continent. The report will be submitted the United Nations General Assembly this month and is pre-released to our clients ahead of the publication.
EXX Africa takes a closer look at the idiosyncrasies of some of the prominent internet shutdowns on the continent over the last year, exploring the causes and consequences of this repressive technological tactic.
The use of internet shutdowns by African governments to suppress popular dissent is becoming increasingly common. So far in 2019, there have already been reports of internet shutdowns in at least 12 countries. The states most affected usually have few internet providers, which makes it easier to implement a ban. Although such shutdowns may be contrary to local law, they are often detrimentally effective before they can be challenged in court. Furthermore, there is a lack of a binding international legal framework to hinder governments from acting with impunity.
These partial or near-total internet blackouts are most often implemented in anticipation, or in the wake, of anti-government protests, particularly around elections. However, governments also use targeted blocking of certain websites to restrict access to specific information during critical periods, such as national examinations. We explore some recent case studies from the past 12 months in this latest briefing. We also examine the impact such shutdowns have on commercial operations and the wider economy in African countries.
This briefing follows on from EXX Africa’s special report published at the beginning of the year and updates the key forecasts established in that report (See SPECIAL REPORT: THE COST OF INTERNET SHUTDOWNS IN AFRICA).
Sudan: Prolonged shutdowns to control unrest
Internet blackouts have become a staple during the past 12 months in Sudan, particularly from December to April as protesters took to the streets to oust former president Omar Al Bashir from power. During this period, the government intermittently blocked access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Whatsapp. However, it was the near-total shutdown instituted in June until July, following particularly violent unrest in the capital, which garnered the most attention (See SUDAN: HARD-LINE DARFURI MILITIA SEIZE CONTROL OF THE CAPITAL).
On 3 June, the Sudanese Transition Military Council ordered a partial internet shutdown amidst reported paramilitary attacks on pro-democracy demonstrators in Khartoum, during which an estimated 100 people were killed. To begin with, the ban targeted mobile networks before escalating to encompass fixed-line connections on 6 June. From 6 June to 9 July, a near-complete blackout was implemented, cutting the population off from the outside world. According to NetBlocks, a web freedom group, the internet disruptions under the rule of the Council were “more severe” than those imposed under Al Bashir at the time.
The Council’s actions contributed to significant condemnation from local and international watchdogs, in turn spurring social media campaigns. For example, throughout June, international social media campaigns, #BlueForSudan and #IAmTheSudanRevolution, were launched in an attempt to gain attention for the massacres and censorship being perpetrated in Sudan.
Locally, a lawyer, Abdel-Adheem Hassan, challenged the shutdown in court. On 23 June, Hassan was successful in ordering his telecoms operator, Zain Sudan, to restore connectivity. Yet, while his win was widely publicised and celebrated in the belief that the internet would be restored countrywide the next day, the operator only restored connection to his personal line.
According to Human Rights Watch, the near-total blackout in Sudan resulted in “wide-ranging harm”. Notably, it prevented activists and residents from reporting critical information regarding paramilitary forces, who were responsible for the attacks in Khartoum and previously for violent campaigns in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile. Medical professionals further added that it made it difficult to organise ways to provide care.
The internet was only fully restored on 9 July after a further court challenge and a formal denouncement of the shutdown by the UN.
Chad: The longest night
Although Chad has a very low internet penetration rate – with only 6.5 percent of the population reported as having access to the internet as of 2017 – the country was recently subjected to the longest-running internet blackout on the continent. In March 2018, President Idriss Déby announced a partial internet block that affected major sites including WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook, as he prepared to amend the constitution to remain in office until 2033. Sixteen months later, the ban was lifted on 13 July 2019 (See CHAD: CREATING A DE FACTO MONARCHY AMID MULTIPLE CHALLENGES TO POLITICAL STABILITY).
According to the government, the ban was implemented for security concerns over terrorism threats. While this justification was challenged in local courts, all appeals were ultimately unsuccessful. The government only lifted the ban following a sustained international campaign, led by Internet without Borders, which included diplomatic pressure, protest action, as well as the sponsorship of VPN access for Chadians.
Long-term social media blackouts are common in Chad. Previously, in 2017, the government cut connections for ten months following controversial elections. These long periods of internet blackouts have severe economic consequences for the already impoverished country. According to the ‘Cost of Shutdown Tool’ by NetBlocks, the 2017 blackout cost the government an estimated USD 163 million. It is estimated that the most recent blackout cost upwards of USD 253 million.
Moreover, during the blackout, the country’s largest ISP, Millicom, a Swedish telecommunications company, was subject to substantial adverse media in Sweden regarding the company’s alleged failure to honour its UN commitments to protect free expression. In the early days of the blackout, the company claimed that the outage was due to technical problems before later admitting that the government had ordered the blackout. In June 2019, Millicom completed the sale of its operations in Chad to Maroc Telecom, a Moroccan telecommunication company. Although part of wider strategic disinvestment from Africa, Millicom’s withdrawal was likely impacted by the reputational damage it faced following the Chad blackout.
Mauritania: Internet shutdowns and propaganda campaigns
Mauritania held its presidential elections on 22 June. When violent protests broke out on 23 and 24 June in the capital Nouakchott, challenging the initial election results, the government moved to disrupt the internet before instituting a near-complete ban on both mobile data and fixed-line connections by 25 June. All of Mauritania’s consumer ISPs – Mauritel, Chinguitel, and Mattel – were impacted by the government’s decision.
By suppressing social and news media, the government was able to provide its own account of the protests through a false propaganda campaign. On 26 June, the state television broadcaster paraded a group of foreign nationals who alleged to take full responsibility for the protests. Only after the internet services were fully restored on 3 July did a more accurate picture of the post-election situation emerge.
Contrary to state propaganda, a number of Mauritanian political activists were reported to have been arrested for participating in the protests. Moreover, it was revealed that during the blackout, the state had detained two prominent journalists without charges. Lastly, once connectivity had resumed, delayed reports of civil unrest in the immediate aftermath of the elections from outlying rural areas began to emerge (See MAURITANIA: NATURAL GAS AND MINING BONANZA WILL MITIGATE INVESTMENT RISKS).
Ethiopia and Somalia: Shutdowns for exams
Internet shutdowns are not always instituted for political reasons. In Ethiopia and Somalia, they have also been implemented during national exams to prevent cheating. While internet access is occasionally restored in the evenings during these periods, the impact of such shutdowns is significant. According to Netblocks, a one-day shutdown of the internet costs Ethiopia at least USD 4.5 million and has a long-term impact on investor confidence in the host country.
The latter is particularly true in the case of Ethiopia as newly elected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has sought to privatise the national telecommunications provider, Ethio Telecom. Nevertheless, while such government interference is likely to concern potential investors, the anticipated establishment of an independent regulator is expected to provide appropriate checks and balances (See
Countries to watch
Protests in Zimbabwe have also been met with internet shutdowns in recent months. In January 2019, for example, the government imposed a “total internet shutdown” amid violent protests against a dramatic fuel price increase. Access to the internet and social media apps like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp were intermittently blocked as the country’s largest telecom company, Econet, sent customers text messages relaying the government’s orders and calling the situation “beyond our reasonable control”. As the situation has continued to decline over the past few months, with reports of load shedding of up to 16 hours a day, food shortages, and the outlawing of anti-government protests, further unrest and associated internet clampdowns are expected.
Tunisia is scheduled to hold the first round of its presidential elections on 15 September 2019. The country has enjoyed relatively free access to the internet since widespread blackouts during the Arab Spring in 2011. After transitioning into a democracy, a key test for the budding democracy will be whether or not these elections are free and fair. Any internet shutdowns during the election season, which the government would likely justify by appealing to the threat of terrorism, will instead be an indication of the state’s democratic integrity.
Burundi is expected to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in May and June 2020. In 2015, as President Pierre Nkurunziza, sought to seek a third term ahead of the country’s elections, messaging services including Facebook, Whatsapp,Twitter, and Tango were shutdown. Actions by the government since then have further pointed to little tolerance for media freedom. In March 2019, for example, the government renewed its suspension of Voice of America and withdrew the BBC’s operating license. As such, it is highly likely that next year’s elections will be accompanied by an internet shutdown and near-total blackout.
Tanzania is expected to hold multiple elections in 2020, including presidential and parliamentary votes. With current President John Magufuli having cracked down on online media over the last year (See EXX Africa Special Report: The Cost of Internet Shutdowns in Africa) it is likely that he may move to control messaging ahead of and during the elections by implementing partial bans on the internet and removal of anti-government sites. Indeed, during an August 2017 meeting with leaders from China, the Tanzanian Deputy Communications Minister praised his counterpart for blocking social media platforms and replacing them with “homegrown sites that are safe, constructive and popular”.
Each case of those in power using internet blackouts to control information, and therefore people, has its particularities. However, one constant in all of these cases is the economic impact of the blackouts at both a macro- and micro-economic level. Decreased productivity, lack of email communication, disruption to online sales, decreased online advertising; these are a few examples of the consequences of internet shutdowns for commercial entities. At a national level, a recent Global Network Initiative report indicates that the loss of internet connectivity has a pronounced effect on a country’s daily GDP. The report estimates that an average high-connectivity country stands to lose at least 1.9 percent of its daily GDP for each day of a total internet shutdown. For an average medium-level connectivity country, the loss is estimated at one percent of daily GDP, and for an average low-connectivity country, the loss is estimated at 0.4 percent of daily GDP.
Activist groups like NetBlocks and Global Network Initiative are creating awareness of both the prevalence of internet shutdowns around the world and their associated economic impact. This awareness is vital for the media, NGOs, and international organisations to try to combat the increased use of shutdowns across the African continent. Indeed, internet access and the guarding against the abuse of it by those in power are fast becoming a key frontier for the protection of international human rights. However, the fight against the abuse of freedom of expression is expected to be prolonged in Africa, as more and more leaders are turning to this form of control to suppress dissent and manipulate access to information. In the interim, businesses and the wider economy are expected to bear the brunt of these decisions.
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After five months, Algeria has reached an impasse, as the Hirak popular protest movement continues unwaveringly to press for the total reformation of the country’s political system. EXX Africa assesses the political, security, and commercial implications of the current situation, which has been marked by the dismantling of the political and business connections of the former regime of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Transport logistics are a vital and promising sector for business in Africa. However, traversing land, sea, and air routes across the continent comes with a plethora of political and security risks. EXX Africa explores the key concerns in this regard, their manifestation, impact, and outlook.
Doing business in Africa is beset with a number of political and security risks. Recent research by Aon reveals that 70 percent of countries in sub Saharan African are currently at risk from strikes, riots, and other types of civil unrest while 25 percent are at risk from sabotage and terrorism. Although government assets are most frequently targeted during such events, these risks ultimately affect the viability and profitability of private entities and investments as well.
The latest Emerging Markets Logistics Index, which ranks 50 emerging economies across the world, places these concerns in the transport logistics sector. Agility Logistics produces this index. Rankings are pulled from data from institutions such as the IMF, the OECD, the World Bank, the UN, and the WEF, among others, and is supported by a survey of trade and logistics industry professionals. Findings from the 2018 Index reveal that many of the top supply chain risks in sub Saharan Africa relate to political and economic concerns, with industry professionals citing corruption (23 percent), government instability (18.3 percent), terrorism (9 percent), and piracy (4.1 percent) as major risks. In North Africa, terrorism (43.8 percent) and government instability (19.9 percent) together represent almost two thirds of the primary concerns.
A similar long-term study by Willis Towers Watson echoes these findings. Its 2016 Transportation Risk Index, compiled from data and insights derived from 350 interviews with executives in the sector, noted that the number one long-term (up to ten years) megatrend for logistics across the continent concerned geopolitical instability and regulatory uncertainty.
Such political and security risks tend to affect transport logistics across the continent in three ways: border closures or delays, the targeting of state assets, or the targeting of private assets. We explore each of these manifestations, identifying their major trends, impact and outlook below.
Border closures and delays
Government and geopolitical instability frequently result in the planned or unexpected closure of land, sea and air routes, affecting the movement of goods and services. Such closures most often arise as a result of a change in government – whether by democratic or undemocratic means – or as a result of bilateral tensions between neighbours.
Election periods pose one of the primary threats in this regard. Even votes deemed free and fair, and organised by democratically elected governments can cause disruption. During the General Elections in Nigeria in February 2019, for example, the government announced the closure of all borders and implemented various restrictions on vehicular movements for the voting weekend. A similar elections-related border closure took place in December 2018 when the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) closed its borders with its nine neighbours as it held its long-awaited polls.
Unexpected changes of power, such as via an insurrection, coup, revolution or rebellion, further results in risks to the logistics sector and induces high levels of uncertainty. During the successful removal of President Omar Al-Bashir in Sudan in April 2011, following weeks of anti-government protests, the transitional military council closed the country’s airspace for 24 hours as well as all border crossings until further notice.
Unsuccessful attempts at regime change can also result in panic, as witnessed in January 2019 when Gabon suddenly closed its border with Cameroon following an attempted coup against President Ali Bongo. All cross-border trade ground to a halt forcing local businesses to divert their goods to Equatorial Guinea.
Poor bilateral relations can further limit the flow of goods and services. While there are some known long-standing tensions between neighbours that have resulted in border closures, such as between Morocco and Algeria (ongoing for 25 years) and Ethiopia and Eritrea (borders have closed again despite a peace deal in July 2018), emergent socio-political developments can cause abrupt stoppages to cross-border commerce as well. In February 2019, Rwanda unilaterally decided to close its busiest border with Uganda over mutual allegations of threats to national security. The decision not only affected bilateral trade but impacted trade to Burundi, the DRC and Zambia as well. One month later, borders were again closed in Southern Africa, this time between South Africa and Mozambique following xenophobic attacks in Kwa-Zulu Natal province. During this incident, a crowd of around 200-300 Mozambicans barricaded the N4 and began targeting trucks with South African license plates.
Targeting of state assets
Beyond broader political threats and the closure of borders, the logistics sector is often impacted by security-related incidents in which non-state actors target key state infrastructure assets. Such incidents may emerge during acts of militancy, labour unrest or sabotage.
The strategic importance of a country’s infrastructure – particularly its ports – often renders these assets prime targets for militant attacks and activity. This has been demonstrated repeatedly in conflict zones over the past 12 months, with attacks reported against sea and air ports in Somaliland (Bosaso Port), Somalia (Mogadishu International Airport), Libya (Ras Lanuf and Es Sider Ports, and Mitiga International Airport), Niger (Diffa Airport), and Mali (Sevare Airport). Militants may even attempt to seize such assets for political leverage. In March 2019 in the Central African Republic, a local rebel group stationed at the border post with Cameroon blocked cargo to impede commercial traffic in an attempt to force the government to include them in the newly formed government.
The economic importance of logistical infrastructure further incentivises established worker unions to target such assets during labour disputes and negotiations. In this instance however, disruptive events are not limited to conflict zones but can be found across all countries, including the major economies. In a 2019 survey on supply chain risk management in South Africa, all 20 participants identified socio economic factors, such as labour unrest, as a key source of vulnerability. South Africa has also been impacted by frequent incidents of sabotage within the logistics sector, with arson and derailment attacks having recently been carried out against both its passenger and cargo rail services.
Targeting of private entities
Political and security risks may also affect private commercial entities and their assets directly as well. One of the primary security threats in this regard is posed by piracy. While this threat is location and sector specific, its impact is significant – particularly considering that 90 percent of African imports and exports are moved by sea. According to the 2018 Oceans Beyond Piracy report, in East Africa alone, the annual cost of maritime piracy was estimated at USD 1.4 billion in 2017 (down from USD 7 billion in 2010) while in West Africa it was estimated at USD 818 million (up from USD 719.6 million in 2015).
Most concerning, according to the latest statistics released by the International Maritime Bureau, the threat from piracy is increasing in West Africa. Since 2014, there have been approximately 250 actual and attempted attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, with a 70 percent increase in incidents being reported between 2017 and 2018 alone. This surge is expected to result in associated rises in the cost of maritime business, particularly with regard to insurance. In 2017, the total costs of additional premiums incurred by ships transiting the Gulf was calculated at USD 18.5 million. Moreover, it was estimated that 35 percent of all ships now take out Kidnap & Ransom insurance, totalling USD 20.7 million.
Companies operating in the transport logistics sector are also frequently targeted by corrupt individuals. The sector remains particularly vulnerable to corruption given its close engagement with customs officials who are often underpaid and look to increase their wages through opportunistic facilitation payments. Extensive red tape and delays further amplifies this risk: according to the African Development Bank, the average customs transaction across the continent could involve 30-40 different parties. In addition to increasing commercial operating costs and affecting intraregional and international trade, such corruption at ports of entry and exit frequently facilities a range of illicit activities as well, such as the smuggling of people and goods, and tax evasion.
Despite these challenges, there remain sound opportunities for transport logistics in Africa. Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, and Angola all featured within the Emerging Markets Top 50 Logistics Index last year.
Looking more closely at the data, Egypt and Ethiopia were identified as having made significant strides in the logistics sector. The improvement in business conditions in Egypt, including the reduction in business costs associated with crime, violence and terrorism, has been identified as one of the primary reasons for it jumping six places in the index last year – the most of any country. Similarly, Ethiopia’s goal to become a low-cost manufacturing and textiles hub along with the opening of Africa’s largest cargo terminal in Addis Ababa has attracted much attention. However, ongoing security concerns, especially the threats posed from ethnic conflicts and terrorism along border areas with Somalia and Kenya, were identified as setbacks.
In another promising development, South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and Kenya were identified within the pool of countries that have the most potential to grow as logistics markets within the next five years. However, sub Saharan Africa’s two largest economies – South Africa and Nigeria – each fell down the index, with Nigeria falling seven spots. Both countries were nevertheless identified as turning a corner, particularly with regard to corruption and political instability and uncertainty in 2019.
As demonstrated above, supply chain risks vary wildly from country to country across Africa. From isolated events that cause single points of impact (such as a militant attack), to ongoing events that generate a localised yet sustained impact (such as strikes), to all-encompassing events (such as a coup), companies in the transport logistics sector are advised to stay abreast of political and security dynamics to navigate and forecast their threat environment. In addition, transport logistics should consider using political risk insurance to insulate their operations against disruption.
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The political stalemate between the new military establishment and the protest movement that is increasingly tilting in favour of Islamist ideology risks dragging a politically destabilised and economically weakened Algeria into a broader regional conflict that would put at risk contracts signed with key investment partners from across the Gulf and Europe.
On 4 May, Algeria’s new military leadership arrested three of the former regime’s highest profile leaders, namely Generals Mohamed Mediène and Athmane Tartag, both former heads of the powerful intelligence agency the Département du renseignement et de la sécurité (DRS) – later called the Département de Surveillance et de Sécurité (DSS) – as well as Saïd Bouteflika, the brother of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was forced to step down by the military last month.
The three men arguably posed the greatest resistance to the authority of General Ahmed Gaïd Salah, who as military chief of staff forced the ouster of president Bouteflika on 2 April. Even though Mediène was removed from the DRS in 2015 after serving as intelligence chief for 25 years and replaced by Tartag, he has remained an influential figure. Last month, Salah accused Mediène of trying to undermine the transition that is due to end with the presidential election on July 4. Meanwhile, Saïd Bouteflika was the primary gatekeeper to his brother, as the latter became infirm and wheelchair-bound, building up a vast business network and exceptional political influence.
The three arrests show the growing confidence of the new military leadership under Salah to strike against top figures of the ousted Bouteflika regime and culminate a series of military-ordered detentions over the past month.
Purging the elite
EXX Africa had accurately forecast the series of arrests of high-profile Bouteflika regime leaders following the removal of the former president. Immediately following the military intervention, soldiers arrested the head of business association Forum des chefs d’entreprises (FCE), Ali Haddad, who has been at the centre of the patronage bestowed for years on Algerian politically-connected businesses. Well-placed local sources then reported that the detention of Haddad and a dozen other businessmen on corruption charges was ordered by the military under the command of General Salah (See ALGERIA: THE MILITARY TAKES CHARGE IN AN APPARENT CONSTITUTIONAL INTERVENTION).
We subsequently assessed that Saïd and Nacer Bouteflika, the ousted president’s brothers, as well as former prime ministers Abdelmalek Sellal and Ahmed Ouyahia, along with others, would be prime targets of arrest. Almost all the names we mentioned last month are now facing corruption charges or have been imprisoned. Several businessmen, including the country’s richest man, Issad Rebrab, have been placed in custody pending completion of investigations of corruption allegations. Current Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal, former police chief Abdelghani Hamel, and former prime minister Ouyahia appeared in court last week on embezzlement charges.
The purge of Algeria’s business tycoons is most significant from a commercial risk perspective, since their removal may augur contract reviews and cancellations. Other notable business tycoons who have been arrested or face charges include Chamber of Commerce chairman Mohamed Laïd Benamor and Condor group chief Abderrahmane Benhamadi. Together with Ali Haddad and Issad Rebrab, as well as other prominent tycoons such as the Kouninef brothers, these individuals represent the senior leadership of corporate Algeria that was firmly intertwined through the FCE with the political establishment of the Bouteflika family. As corruption proceedings unfold, pressure will mount on the new military leadership to redistribute the former Algerian oligarchs’ wealth among the new regime and their business backers.
The same is true in the oil sector, where an extensive reform process has been halted following the removal of state energy company Sonatrach CEO Abdelmoumen Ould Kaddour. The military is reportedly preparing to also remove the company’s vice-president Abdelhamid Raïs Ali. Meanwhile, Algeria’s supreme court has started investigating cases of alleged corruption relating to Chakib Khelil, energy minister from November 1999 to May 2010. The cases include capital movements and contracts signed by Sonatrach with two foreign companies. This could mean that military courts are seeking the dismissal of the entire Sonatrach management board. Newly-appointed head Rachid Hachichi lacks the clout of his predecessors and is more open to political influence from the military.
Placating the protesters
The high-profile corruption crackdown is a typical post-coup strategy aimed at both eliminating former regime rivals to avoid a counter-coup, while also placating the civilian protesters whose obstinate demonstrations provided the impetus for the military intervention in the first place. While the Bouteflika regime has been decapitated and left powerless, the protesters have been less amenable to appeasement. On 3 May, after Friday Prayers, hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied peacefully in the capital Algiers calling for the resignation of interim president Abdelkader Bensalah, who is due to serve until the election slated for July, and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, appointed by Bouteflika days before he stepped down as president. Many protesters also insist on the removal of General Salah, although the opposition is split on the role of the military in the transition.
While the protest movement has remained incorruptible and persistent in its daily and weekly turn-out, its leadership remains divided. Since Bouteflika’s resignation, many demonstrators have rejected military intervention in civilian matters, while others have been supportive of the army’s role in the transition. The military is now attempting to split the protest movement by co-opting some into their fold with promises of influence in an eventual political transition. Several prominent opposition leaders have backed the military intervention, perhaps viewing an opportunity to re-enter government with army support after the elections. Ali Benflis, a former head of the ruling FLN party who now leads the Talaie Al Houriyet party, said he prefers military stability than the ongoing political chaos. Benflis has been unsuccessfully scrambling for support among the protestors and may view his closeness to the FLN as a political advantage. Others, like Mustapha Bouchachi, a lawyer and protest leader, have rejected the caretaker government.
Over the next few weeks, the military is likely to co-opt some protest leaders and opposition parties, including the moderate Islamist Mouvement de la Société pour la Paix (MSP) led by Abderazak Makri, along with fragments of the governing FNL party under the leadership of newly-elected party chief Mohamed Djemai. They are also seeking international support for such a transition, particularly from France and the US. If they are successful, they will be able to split the protest movement and offer a mediated pathway out of the current crisis that would allow the military to retain some political and economic power. However, some of the protest leaders and opposition parties hold very divergent ideological views for the future of Algeria that would put them in conflict with the military and regional powers in the Middle East and Europe.
Regional partners such as Egypt and the UAE would favour a military-led transition in order to shore up their interests in the Maghreb region. Meanwhile, local sources report that rival regional powers, such as Qatar and Turkey, are seeking a stronger role for Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, the MSP, which would tilt the balance of power in North Africa in their favour. The prominent Islamist protest leader, Seif Islam Benatia has called for a six-month transition period under the leadership of Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi, a conservative former minister who is perceived as outside of the Bouteflika elite and who retains close ties to Islamist groups. The struggle between Islamists and the military risks dragging in more regional powers and creating a political stalemate, resembling neighbouring Tunisia, or even Libya (See TUNISIA: POLITICAL INSTABILITY AND SECURITY THREATS IMPERIL ECONOMIC RECOVERY).
If the ongoing mediations fail, the military under Salah is likely to move towards further consolidation of political power and seek to contest the elections in the guise of a new political movement. The vote would then be less likely to be free and fair. As a result, protests would continue across Algerian cities, which would be more likely to trigger a violent crackdown from security forces. For now, the protests have remained relatively peaceful, yet hard-line elements would be likely to emerge in case the crisis draws out or security forces deploy more heavy-handed tactics. We have outlined the commercial implications of more violent unrest in previous briefings (See ALGERIA: DESPITE CONCESSIONS, THE POLITICAL ELITE DIGS IN FOR THE LONG HAUL).
The power struggle between the military and hard-line elements in the protest movement risks dragging out well beyond the elections slated for July. The subsequent disruption to commercial activity is likely to further drag down Algeria’s economic outlook, particularly as oil export revenues drop. Algeria’s first quarter energy earnings fell 1.68 percent year on year, from USD 9.153 billion from USD 9.310 billion. As a result, the country’s trade deficit has increased over the same period by 11 percent to USD 1.37 billion. Oil and gas account for 94 percent of Algeria’s total exports and 60 percent of the state revenues.
In its latest updated forecasts, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the Algerian economy to grow by just 2.3 percent this year and then fall well below 2 percent growth in the coming two years. The Fund also expects inflation to shoot up in the one-year outlook and beyond, while the current account deficit could exceed 12 percent this year. Last month, the IMF said the government should carry out reforms to help cut the deficit and reduce reliance on oil and gas. The government last year started implementing changes that allow the central bank to lend directly to the treasury to fund internal public debt. The budget deficit is projected at 9.2 percent of GDP for this year, up from 9 percent in 2018.
The economic outlook is further impacted by the spree of politically motivated corruption charges against the country’s most senior public officials and business tycoons. The liberalisation and privatisation reform agenda of former prime minister Ouyahia has been scrapped, while the military is taking an ever more prominent role in Algeria’s economy. This bodes well for contract stability in terms of agreements signed with regional allies of General Salah and other generals, especially the UAE. Dubai’s DP World has jointly operated the Port of Algiers since 2009 and runs port operations at Djen-Djen under a 30-year concession. Gulf monarchies have long backed the Algerian military. In the 1990’s, Saudi Arabia persuaded the US and other allies to support Algeria’s military after its army intervened to cancel the 1991 legislative elections that were won by Islamists.
Contracts signed with French businesses and the French government and military are also looking more secure if the military remains in charge given French support for the Algerian military over recent years. However, Italian firms may struggle to remain in favour with the Algerian military establishment, given Italy’s vocal support for the Islamist government in neighbouring Libya, which is currently engaged in a war against eastern forces supported by France, Egypt, and the UAE. While supply contracts with Italy’s Eni were recently renewed, Italian firms would be more likely to face discrimination unless they express their firm support for the Algerian military-led transition.
However, the ongoing mass demonstrations are becoming a growing concern for political stability and are shifting the popular mood increasingly towards supporting Islamist groups, especially Muslim Brotherhood affiliates such as the MSP. Gulf monarchies now fear that an anti-status-quo Islamist political order supported by Qatar and Turkey could emerge in Algeria driven by street protests, reminiscent of Egypt in 2011/2012. The MSP and other Islamist parties are already capitalising on growing anti-Israel sentiment by criticising the US and Arab states for supporting a rapprochement with Israel and the Trump Administration’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ Arab-Israeli peace plan.
If Islamists gain the upper hand in the political transition, contracts signed with the UAE and perhaps even France could face greater risk of frustration or even cancellation. For DP World this would continue a trend of licence revocations across the region as the geopolitical balance is shaken. In the meantime, the primary fear is that Algeria risks becoming a new theatre of conflict between rival regional powers, like the political stalemate in Tunisia and the military conflict in Libya.
SEE COUNTRY OUTLOOK: ALGERIA
Algeria’s military has forced the resignation of the president and will seek a continuation of its power base following elections due by the end of June. The army’s ability to negotiate a new political agreement with the opposition and protest leaders will be key in its success to ensure stability and mitigate further commercial disruption.
After five weeks of mass demonstrations, the embattled political elite is showing no signs of giving into the protestors’ demands. The next five weeks will prove crucial in determining Algeria’s political, security, and economic outlook for years to come. EXX Africa assesses the main pathways on how the crisis is likely to unfold and what this means for foreign investments and key sectors.
- BENIN: TRADE DISPUTE AND POLITICAL TENSIONS DESTABILISE COUNTRY’S EXEMPLARY MODEL
- MOZAMBIQUE: ELECTION MANIPULATION IS UNLIKELY TO TRIGGER RETURN TO CIVIL WAR
- NIGERIA: TRADE RESTRICTIONS DRIVE UP NIGERIAN INFLATION AND BOOST FUEL SMUGGLING
- KENYA: PRESIDENT STEPS UP PRESSURE TO LIFT THE LENDING RATE CAP TO APPEASE THE IMF
- BOTSWANA: POLITICAL TRANSITION WILL DRIVE MUCH-NEEDED ECONOMIC REFORMS