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.
The world’s second-worst Ebola epidemic has been marked by attacks against aid workers involved in the response effort. EXXAfrica’s latest analysis briefing looks at why this is the case in light of the wider political-security environment in eastern DRC.
A politically motivated audit of the government’s alleged wasteful expenditure and embezzlement at a time of falling tax revenues from the mining sector indicates an ongoing battle for political control of the world’s largest cobalt producer.
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.
SEE COUNTRY OUTLOOK: ALL COUNTRIES
One of Africa’s most successful economies and the country hosting next year’s Intra-African Trade Fair is itself struggling to secure access to markets due to arbitrary border closures and Ebola containment measures. A growing trade deficit may mean Rwanda will have to borrow more to fund its current budget, while bilateral disputes risk escalating into military conflict.
According to the latest findings from the Aid Worker Security Database, 2018 was the second-worst year on record for humanitarian workers deployed to conflict zones across the world. We explore the trends in this regard and threats to such personnel in the three riskiest locations in Africa: South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
EXX Africa explores Russia’s growing influence in Africa. We look at the drivers of this foreign policy shift, the locations of interest, and the implications for traditional players across the continent.
At the end of this year, in October 2019, Russia will host its very first Russia-Africa Summit, which will bring together more than 50 African leaders in Sochi. While Russian influence across the continent is nothing new, as the former Soviet Union enjoyed extensive support among many African nations throughout the Cold War, there has been a notable shift in its focus over the past half-decade. We explore the nature of this shift and the strategic objectives behind Russia’s engagements with select countries. We further look at how Russia fares against other global powers in this latest ‘scramble’.
Russian influence across the continent is not unprecedented. From 1960 until the end of the Cold War, the former Soviet Union supported liberation movements in Algeria, Angola, the DRC, Ethiopia, Guinea, Morocco and South Africa, among others. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, these relations faded. Indeed, throughout the next decade, Africa experienced a so-called ‘third wave of democratisation’ during which Vladimir Putin showed limited interest in Africa.
This outlook changed significantly after 2014. With the Russian annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, relations with the West reached its lowest point since the Cold War. The US and EU responded to Russian expansionist policies in Eastern Europe by implementing sanctions against the regime, while both sides of the dispute engaged in a military build-up.
In response to actions from the West, Russia amended its foreign policy to establish strategic ties outside of the West and to insulate its economy against ongoing sanctions. As a part of this, Russia established new economic and security ties with South Asia, the Middle East, South America and indeed, Africa.
The Africa pivot
According to leaked documents obtained by the Dossier Centre, a London-based investigative unit, Russia’s pivot towards the continent typically involves a deal in which it offers some level of political or security support to African leaders in return for various concessions, such as in mining, oil and gas, arms or infrastructure contracts. Through these deals, Russia also establishes close personal ties with various heads of state and upcoming leaders, ensuring longevity to its plan.
The man reportedly driving this shift to Africa is known as Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman and close ally of Putin who is believed to be a funder of Wagner Group: a private military contractor with a presence in Africa. According to the leaked documents, Prigozhin has identified various countries with which Russia is seeking to bolster relations through political and economic ties, police training, media and humanitarian projects, and “rivalry with France”. Each country is ranked out of five in terms of priority with five being the highest level, and one the lowest.
The following countries are identified as part of this shift, according to the leaked documents:
― Rank five: Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan and Madagascar
― Rank four: Libya, Zimbabwe, and South Africa
― Rank three: South Sudan
― Rank two: the DRC, Chad and Zambia
― Countries cited where Russia “plans to work”: Uganda, Equatorial Guinea and Mali
― Countries cited “where cooperation is possible”: Ethiopia
― Countries cited as “traditionally supportive”: Egypt
We explore the nature of these relations and the impact on Western interests in some of these countries of interest.
Central African Republic – Rank Five
Russian influence in the CAR – a former French colony – failed to garner much attention until July 2018 when it was reported that three Russian journalists had been killed around 180km from the capital, Bangui, while on an assignment focused on investigating the activities of Wagner Group in the country. By the end of the year, Russia’s involvement had made its way into a UN Experts Report.
In the midst of a protracted armed conflict that had been ongoing since 2013, it emerged that President Faustin-Archange Touadéra sought out Russian assistance on the side-lines of a UN General Assembly meeting in 2017 to help bring about peace and get armed groups around the negotiating table. Russia responded by providing the national army with training and equipment and provided the president with security advice and personal protection.
To date, this has included: the free delivery of thousands of smalls arms to equip local law enforcement and two local battalions totalling 1,300 men; the deployment of Valery Zakharov (a former member of Russian intelligence services) as the top security advisor to Touadéra; the deployment of over 170 servicemen to train local security services; the deployment of an additional 30 servicemen to join the local UN peacekeeping mission; and plans to open a local office in the country.
Rich in natural resources – such as gold, diamonds and uranium – Russia is suspected to be shoring up support with Touadéra to secure these contracts. Indeed, reports have emerged of the presence of Wagner Group mercenaries guarding valuable gold and diamond mining operations in the country. This includes the large Ndassima gold mine that is alleged to have been taken over by Russian interests funnelled through a locally registered company known as Lobaye Invest. Ndassima was previously owned by a Canadian company before falling into the hands of Seleka rebels.
In addition to winning contracts in the extractives sector, the leaked documents further reveal that Russia plans to “replace national assembly representatives and [the] foreign minister who are orientated towards France” and “own [a] radio station and two print publications”. These objectives were partially achieved with the establishment of a new government this year and the opening of Radio Lengo Songo, which is funded by Lobaye Invest and the Russian embassy, last year.
France’s response to Russian meddling in its former colony has been vociferous. Following the free delivery of arms to the CAR the French Defence Minister noted, “I am not sure that this presence and the actions deployed by Moscow… help to stabilize the country”. In November 2018, in a show of force, France announced that it would be delivering its own arms to the CAR as well as aid to the value of USD 27.4 million.
South Africa – Rank Four
Ranked as a level four, recent Russian interests in South Africa have revolved around entering into political consultations with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party ahead of the May 2019 general elections, monitoring of public-political social processes, and creating a new media – according to the leaked documents. This plan was formed as part of Putin’s strategy to support incumbents in office and to work against “pro-Western” parties and movements.
Just prior to the elections in May, in which doubt began to emerge as to whether the ANC would garner above 50 percent of the vote, a local investigation by the Daily Maverick revealed that these plans were underway. It emerged that entities linked to Prigozhin had devised to “create a disinformation campaign that favoured the ANC and put out a propaganda action against the opposition DA [Democratic Alliance] and EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters].” As a part of this strategy, Russia reportedly deployed a small team of political analysts to South Africa to work within a research outfit that would influence public rhetoric, degenerate and disseminate video content, coordinate with a “loyal pool of journalists” and produce “pro-ANC videos”.
While subsequent reports revealed that the initiative was not very effective and that there was no disinformation campaign, the attempt nevertheless points to the intent my Russia to meddle in African politics to ensure a favourable outcome.
Moreover, the investigation by the Daily Maverick further pointed to various business interests in South Africa that Russia planned to pursue under the leadership of Prigozhin. These include the supply of ammunitions and short-barrelled weapons to a South African company, the acquisition of stakes in a local industrial packaging company and various infrastructure projects, particularly in Johannesburg.
Beyond South Africa, the report revealed interests in Zimbabwe (a rank four country), particularly under the new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Here, Russia is looking to secure access to gold mining, tantalite, copper and chromium deposits – it is already developing one of the world’s largest deposits of platinum group metals – and the establishment of a military industrial complex.
South Sudan – Rank Three
Russia’s relationship with South Sudan cannot be explored without acknowledging the close ties it enjoys with its neighbour, Sudan (a rank five country). Putin had long enjoyed a close relationship with former Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir who reportedly even offered Russia a naval base at the Red Sea in return for support for his government, particularly in light of mounting protests. While Al Bashir was eventually removed in 2019, Putin still enjoys relations with the transitional military council in power and will likely play an active role in the 2020 elections.
South Sudan is crucial to Sudan, and therefore Russia. While Sudan lost 75 percent of its proven oil reserves after South Sudan gained independence in 2011, it nevertheless retains the infrastructure required to bring South Sudan’s oil to market and, as such, continued flow between the two states is necessary. As South Sudan has looked to open up its hydrocarbons sector to potential investors in light of its peace deal in 2018, Russia has emerged as a top contender.
In late 2018, a delegation from South Sudan along with officials from the government-owned Nile Petroleum Company travelled to Russia to a sign an MoU with a Russian oil company, Zarubezhneft, to explore some of its blocks open for licensing. The officials also signed two other MoUs with Russian oil producer, Gazprom Neft and energy company, Rosneft, to develop a geological map of the country’s minerals. In addition to these oil exploration deals, Russia is also reportedly working to establish a refinery for South Sudanese oil back in Sudan.
Furthermore, it is alleged that as Russia’s commercial relationship with South Sudan continues to expand, Russia may soon shift to promoting its military interests in the country. In this scenario, much like in the CAR, its security forces are expected to be deployed to guard Russian interests – such as oil blocks – and train local forces.
Democratic Republic of Congo – Rank Two
Russia has recently hedged its bets by backing newly-elected President Félix Tshisekedi following the controversial general elections that took place at the end of 2018. While many Western countries – including France and Belgium – supported opposition concerns that Tshisekedi had struck a deal with former President Joseph Kabila ahead of the vote, Russia not only sided with the new president but – along with China and South Africa – also blocked the UN from taking any meaningful action regarding the vote.
This action is unsurprising given that Russia had engaged in discussions with Kabila and his supporters about reviving a 1999 agreement on military cooperation in 2018, and had reportedly cultivated a relationship with Tshisekedi ahead of the vote. Rich in natural resources, Russia is likely looking to gain access to new concessions whilst promoting an anti-Western ideology in the country – a stance previously undertaken by Kabila and likely to be pursued under Tshisekedi.
While Russian engagement with Africa has certainly grown, with trade and investment climbing by 185 percent between 2005 and 2015, it lags behind the initiatives of other major powers, such the US, the EU, and China. Each one of these countries has established economic and military ties across the continent and has their own programmes in this regard.
While US investment in Africa has barely risen since 2010, in June 2019, it launched a new Prosper Africa policy to reverse this trend and, indeed, counter both Chinese and Russian influence across the continent. The US also has a vast military presence in Africa, which includes 34 sites with high concentrations in the north, west and the Horn of Africa.
The EU and Africa also have extensive ties. Economically, 41 African states have signed Economic Partnership Agreements with the bloc and there is even talk of a continent-to-continent free trade agreement. Military, France has a large presence across the continent, particularly in the Sahel and the Maghreb. As part of Operation Barkhane alone, France has deployed over 3,000 personnel to the region in its largest overseas operation.
Lastly, China remains the top contender (economically speaking) with it being the continent’s leading trading partner. The total volume of two-way trade between China in Africa currently exceeds USD 200 billion while investment from China to Africa doubled between 2010 and 2016. As a show of further commitment to the continent, in September 2018, President Xi Jinping pledged an additional USD 60 billion in broad and diverse financing. Its key focus in this regard has been its Belt and Road Initiative.
In comparison to these other actors, Russian influence in Africa appears relatively weak and poses a limited threat to more established players. However, instead of competing head to head in terms of military or economic might, Russia is likely playing a more subtle game in which it establishes itself in less popular destinations, sows seeds of discontent with the West, helps up prop up long-term leaders and secures access to natural resources.
SEE COUNTRY OUTLOOK: SOUTH-AFRICA, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC, SOUTH-SUDAN, SUDAN, MADAGASCAR, CHAD, ZAMBIA, GUINEA, UGANDA, EQUATORIAL-GUINEA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO, ETHIOPIA, EGYPT, MALI, LIBYA, ZIMBABWE
Ongoing security, political, and humanitarian challenges in the Great Lakes have prompted a series of meetings among regional heads over the past few months with the most recent being a summit between Angola, the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda in July. We examine the issues that likely prompted this recent gathering and the wider impact they are having on the region.
On 12 July 2019, the heads of state of Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Uganda attended a one-day Quadripartite Summit in Luanda. The purpose of this meeting was to address “security along the borders between the three countries [DRC, Rwanda and Uganda] and relations between Rwanda and Uganda,” according to Angolan President João Lourenço. Following a closed-door session that lasted roughly three hours, a joint communiqué was released that indicated the four presidents would “prioritise the resolution of any dispute between their respective countries by peaceful means,” and that Angola and the DRC had been mandated to help solve the Kampala-Kigali impasse. Little further information has since been provided.
The meeting itself was nevertheless significant, as it comes at a time when the Great Lakes is facing major security, political, and humanitarian challenges. We explore the main concerns that could have prompted this summit and their impact on businesses and civilians in the region, with a specific focus on border closures.
The proliferation of armed groups in the DRC
One of the key areas of discussion focused around armed non-state actors. Just a few weeks prior to the summit, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi hosted two important gatherings aimed at addressing this issue. In Kinshasa in May, Lourenço, Tshisekedi, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame held their first-ever tripartite meeting to discuss security in the region with a particular aim of uprooting non-state armed groups in the DRC, under their so-called ‘Congo-Angola-Rwanda’ axis. Thereafter, in June, Tshisekedi hosted a meeting of the Chiefs of the Intelligence and Security Services from the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania to develop an understanding of the security situation in eastern DRC and to agree on actions to neutralise these groups.
Violence and the proliferation of armed groups in eastern DRC is a major concern for all regional players. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 140-armed groups were active in Congo’s North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, which border Rwanda and Uganda, last year. Assailants – including security forces – reportedly killed more than 883 civilians, abducted nearly 1,400 others and displaced tens of thousands in the region over this period. Such violence has also had an enormous ripple effect across the border as well: Rwanda and Uganda are estimated to have hosted 75,740 and 312,691 refugees and asylum seekers respectively from the DRC over the course of 2018.
The ADF and P5 militant groups
The local militant groups known as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and Platform Five (P5) would have been key talking points at the Quadripartite Summit (See DRC/UGANDA: ISLAMIST INSURGENCY POSES A GROWING RISK OF COMMERCIAL DISRUPTION).
The ADF, established over 20 years ago as a merger of Ugandan rebel groups, is believed to have carried out close to 100 attacks around Beni in 2018 in which over 200 people were killed, earning it the title of the deadliest armed group in the DRC. Moreover, the ADF reportedly relies on a sophisticated recruiting network that sources fighters from Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, and even South Africa and further managed to establish tentative links with Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East in 2019. In response to a wave of attacks in the DRC by the ADF last year, Uganda announced the deployment of approximately 4,000 troops along its border to prevent infiltration. Both the DRC and Uganda have also previously both decried the links between ADF and IS and have attempted to shore up US counterterrorism support in the fight against the group (See DRC: REVIEWING THE EVIDENCE FOR AN ISLAMIC STATE CALIPHATE PROVINCE IN THE CONGO).
The P5 rebel group would have been another hotly contested topic at the summit. The P5 is a coalition of Rwandan opposition political organizations including the Amahoro People’s Congress (AMAHORO-PC), the Forces démocratiques unifées-Inkingi (FDUINKINGI), the People’s Defence Pact-Imzani (PDP-IMANZI), the Social Party-Imberakuri (PSIMBERAKURI) and the Rwanda National Congress (RNC).
In December 2018, a UN Group of Experts Report found that the military wing of a coalition of Rwandan opposition groups, known as the P5, had amassed 400 recruits under the leadership of former Ugandan senior officer and Rwandan Army Chief of Staff, General Kayumba Nyamwasa – currently exiled to South Africa. In 2011, Nyamwasa, a former head of the Rwandan military, was sentenced in absentia to 24 years in prison after he was convicted of multiple charges including terrorism, genocidal denial and crimes against humanity.
The stated aim of the P5 is to “liberate Rwanda” and Nyamwasa is staunchly anti-Kagame. Moreover, reports have indicated that the P5 receives support (weapons, ammunition, food, medicine, boots and uniforms) from Burundi and Uganda. In response to these developments, as well as the continued threat posed by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) that is also operational in eastern DRC, Rwanda has reportedly deployed its own Special Forces to South Kivu. In doing so, it allegedly supports local Mai-Mai militia as well as an anti-Burundian rebel group, known as the Red Tabara, in incursions against the P5. Such inter-state meddling on all sides widens the potential for conflict not just in the DRC but the Great Lakes region as a whole.
Rwanda and Uganda stalemate
Another major discussion point at the Quadripartite Summit would have been the ongoing stalemate between Rwanda and Uganda, which is linked to instability in eastern DRC. Formerly close allies, tensions between Kagame and Museveni have escalated once again over the past six months. The aforementioned UN Group of Experts Report in which it was revealed that regional actors – notably Burundi and Rwanda – were propping up the P5 helped trigger this stalemate.
Following the release of the report, Rwanda decided to unilaterally close its Gatuna Border Post with Uganda in February 2019, accusing Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni of harbouring fighters associated with the P5 and of detaining and torturing its citizens. Uganda has repeatedly denied the claims but it, in turn, alleges that Rwanda has deployed spies to the country to undermine Museveni’s government. Rwanda has also responded by issuing a travel advisory warning its citizens not to travel to Uganda where it claims that 900 Rwandans have been deported without consular support or due process and that 106 individuals remain in detention. Just prior to the latest summit the border was re-opened in June; however, it was shut again after 12 days and remained closed at the time of writing.
In response to the ongoing dispute, three civil society groups on behalf of communities along the border filed a complaint with the East African Court of Justice demanding repatriations from Uganda and Rwanda for their losses on 21 June. The lawsuit asks the court to issue a permanent injunction against both governments to keep them from closing the border and preventing the free movement of people and trade. The Ugandan government has not responded to the lawsuit but has advised locals to find alternative routes. However, as recently noted by the Minister of Trade and Industry, while routes via the DRC were previously proposed, “now there is the challenge of Ebola”.
Ebola likely featured as an additional talking point at the summit in Luanda. The outbreak, first confirmed in the DRC in August 2018, has claimed around 1,604 lives and is centred on the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which border Rwanda, Uganda, and South Sudan. Outside of the DRC, around two dozen ‘active cases’ have been caught at border points since the outbreak began and there were three fatal cases reported in Uganda in June. Rumours of a recent case in Rwanda have been denied (See DRC: RESHUFFLING THE POLITICAL CARDS).
The local situation escalated on 14 July, when the first confirmed case was reported in Goma – a major urban centre through which tens of thousands of people travel daily. In response to the geographic spread of the disease, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the epidemic a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). The WHO noted the declaration was in recognition of “possible increased national and regional risks and the need for intensified and coordinated action to manage them”. The WHO concluded that national and regional risk levels remain “high”.
Efforts to address the outbreak, however, have been hampered by what aid officials describe as a “perfect storm” of regional insecurity in eastern DRC. Not only do local armed groups pose a challenge to aid workers in all affected areas – prompting medical teams to travel with armed escorts and reinforce clinics with sandbags – but widespread false narratives have even prompted locals to attack centres as well. In June, for example, a driver working with the Ebola response team in Beni was left in a critical condition after angry crowds hurled rocks at him and set his vehicle on fire.
The issues that likely prompted the summit – and the gatherings just prior – together pose an unprecedented challenge to both regional governments and, indeed, civilians and businesses in the Great Lakes. While there is a high risk of injury and death to all entities in eastern DRC as a result of armed rebel groups, we explore the far-reaching and even deadly impact of border closures as a result of these issues. We explored similar issues in our Threats To African Borders analysis series (See THREATS TO BORDERS: AFRICAN MILITANCY AND TERRORISM).
The ongoing stalemate between Ugandan and Rwanda has already significantly-impacted the economies in both countries. Uganda’s Ministry of Trade and Industry recently noted that its exports to Rwanda decreased from about USD 660 million prior to the closure to around USD 203 million in June. Rwanda, in turn, has reported a loss of USD 104 million over the same period. Notably, the main route for Rwandan exports – along with goods from eastern DRC and Burundi – is through Uganda towards the Kenyan port of Mombasa. Our recent special report on supply chain risks in Africa mentions further commercial implications (See SPECIAL FEATURE: SUPPLY CHAIN RISK IN AFRICA).
The border closure has also severely impacted the movement of people. Indicative of this, several Ugandan schools reported a drastic decrease in its student numbers at the start of the second term, as Rwandan learners were prevented from crossing the border. Similarly, an estimated 30,000 Ugandans work and study in Rwanda. Locals have further been caught in the crosshairs. In May, Rwandan soldiers crossed the border and shot dead an alleged Rwandan clothes trader and a Ugandan civilian who tried to intervene on his behalf. This was the second such incident since February in which locals have been killed for crossing the border, highlighting the vulnerability of the situation.
At the time of writing, the borders into eastern DRC remained open and businesses were operational despite severe security and health threats. In response to the geographic spread of Ebola, the African Union Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recently appealed to the international community and member states in Africa not to impose restrictions on travel to anyone going in or out of the DRC, claiming this would hamper their efforts to administer aid. While free movement still stands, Rwanda has nevertheless warned its citizens not to travel to any areas affected by the outbreak across the border, including Goma. Should the outbreak continue to escalate or expand in reach, some restrictions on movement in and out of the east is expected.
SEE COUNTRY OUTLOOK: DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO, ANGOLA, UGANDA, RWANDA
While rival political leaders are preoccupied reshuffling the cabinet and the board of the important state mining company, Congo’s volatile northeast experiences a resurgence of violence that has triggered cross-border military deployments from Uganda and Rwanda, while frustrating efforts to contain the ongoing Ebola outbreak that has now spilled over into Uganda and threatens wider contagion.
- 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