The former rebel leader who swept Cote d’Ivoire’s president to power almost a decade ago has withdrawn his political support, while the president’s political nemesis is due to return to the country following his acquittal at the ICC. These are strong indicators of a more tumultuous and likely violent lead-up towards the 2020 presidential ballot.
A delicate political transition is underway in one of West Africa’s most exciting economies driven by developments in the mining and energy sectors. While the risk of a military coup has subsided, the threat of terrorism and post-election unrest remains high.
Despite recent alarmist warnings of an imminent terrorist threat to Kampala, Islamist militant groups such as the ADF and al-Shabaab do not have the capability or even aspiration to carry out high-profile attacks in Uganda. The ADF will continue to pose a heightened insurgency threat in Beni, in DRC.
President Kenyatta’s ambitious policy agenda is increasingly being undermined by emerging challenges as his governing coalition begins to unravel and the economy becomes exposed to debt vulnerabilities, falling state revenues, and a fragile banking sector. Meanwhile, militant groups seem determined to frustrate Kenya’s economic progress.
President Buhari seeks to tamper with Nigeria’s judiciary three weeks before hotly contested elections, as his political campaign falters over weak economic management and his credentials on security policy continue to be undermined by ongoing violence in northeastern and central states.
The Sudanese government is struggling to secure urgently needed cash lifelines from Gulf allies, while intensifying rivalries between the elite intelligence service and military rank-and-file threaten to undermine its political stability.
On 23 January, a member of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) was killed during fighting between members of the service and army troops in Port Sudan, in the country’s Red Sea province. The incident marks the first time security and military forces have confronted each other since a wave of anti-government protests began five weeks earlier.
EXX Africa has consistently maintained that the stability of the government of President Omar al-Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party (NCP) would be assured through the fidelity of the politically powerful NISS and leadership structures of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). However, the incident indicates a potential turning point in this forecast (See SUDAN: PROSPECT OF ECONOMIC REFORM REMAINS REMOTE DESPITE URBAN VIOLENCE).
As we assessed in early December, discontent with the continuation of Bashir’s political reign has encroached into the rank-and-file of the SAF, where the juxtaposition of their remuneration in relation to senior commanders has become starker amid the economic conditions in the country. Discontent among the ranks of the SAF has also been fuelled by the preferential treatment that Bashir has afforded to the paramilitary Rapid Support Force (RSF),which falls under the direct command of the NISS and is said to derive significant financial benefits from extortion and racketeering rings in areas of deployment within southern Sudan (See SUDAN: PRESIDENT’S RE-ELECTION BID RISKS DISRUPTING OPPOSITION DIALOGUE).
Meanwhile, there are growing indications that NISS commander Salah Gosh or Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo, who commands the RSF, could end their support for al-Bashir. In such a scenario, the probability of mutinies and perhaps a military coup instigated by junior and middle-ranking SAF officers would become more likely.
Moreover, the powerful Islamist movement, the Popular Congress Party (PCP), has become increasingly critical of the NCP and continues to threaten to withdraw from Sudan’s parliament. Various other Islamist parties have already withdrawn their participation in the government, most notably Reform Now, which has helped found the National Forces for Change opposition alliance. Local sources report that the Islamist and non-Islamist opposition parties, such as the Sudan Communist Party, are collaborating more frequently.
Any collaboration between the usually fractured opposition, as well as divisions within the elite RSF, the NISS, and the military ranks of the SAF, would be strong indicators that the government faces an immediate challenge to its stability. There is precedent for such indicators, firstly in 1964 when protesters ousted the military dictatorship of Ibrahim Abboud and in the 1985 protests that ended the May Regime of Jafa’ar Nimeiri.
Divisions in the security forces
The intensifying rivalries between the SAF and NISS come at a time of continuing mass rallies and violent protests across Sudanese cities. On 24 January, police used teargas to disperse protesters in the capital Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman, as well as in the eastern city of al-Qadarif. The latest demonstrations were instigated by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a group of trade unionists who have been leading some of the protests. The SPA’s call was aimed to mobilise the largest number of protesters since unrest began five weeks ago, although it seems that many protesters heeded warnings from security forces whose response has frequently been heavy-handed.
Sudan has witnessed near-daily protests since 19 December, amid worsening economic conditions and calls for an end to President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule. The official death toll from five weeks of unrest stands at 26, although local activists place the fatality count much higher. The NISS, as well as a host of other parallel security organisations and armed militias, have been at the forefront in policing Khartoum, rather than regular SAF units.
On 23 January, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the first time confirmed that Russian private military contractors were training SAF forces. The number of contractors is estimated at several hundred, according to well-placed local sources. UK media had previously suggested that Russian contractors were assisting the SAF in suppressing demonstrations, an accusation which the Russian government denies. The role of Russian trainers may indeed have been overplayed as there is insufficient evidence to prove Russian military or contractor support for the NISS or the RSF.
Nevertheless, in case of a loss of NISS support, the government would lose its first line of defence against the protesters and face a potential spree of mutinies in SAF ranks. The SAF plays a more important role in combating armed rebel movements that form part of the opposition coalitions. The current uprising has seen collaboration between regional armed movements and urban civil opposition. Any perceived weakness in the SAF could also resume the insurgencies in the Darfur region and the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, including those fought by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which is part of the wider Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) collective.
A resumption of conflict and insecurity in these regions – particularly in Darfur, which will be left vulnerable given the African Union/United Nations peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) withdrawal – could compromise a key tenet of the full sanctions removal that focuses on maintaining internal peace in Sudan. However, a full-scale return to hostilities in Sudan’s conflict zones is not expected at this time. Rebel groups operating in southern Sudan no longer enjoy the patronage of South Sudan and neighbouring states, which severely impacts their operational capabilities. Moreover, the leadership structures of non-state armed groups are likely to enjoy political and financial concessions in exchange for their involvement in a peace agreement.
Rampant inflation and a sliding economic outlook
There is no immediate resolution to Sudan’s fast deteriorating economic and financial crisis. The closure of the country’s fuel refineries, combined with exhausted foreign reserves, has led to chronic fuel shortages across Sudan and left the bankrupt Bashir administration with minimal avenues of recourse. Fuel shortages have left most of the country without a stable electricity supply, while water provision systems reliant on diesel power have also failed. The most significant outcome of the fuel shortages has been its impact on Sudan’s agricultural sector which has witnessed a marked decline in harvest. This has led to the closure of flour mills and bakeries, leading to countrywide shortages of bread and other wheat-based staple foods.
Earlier in January, Sudan’s central bank announced a three-month plan to boost revenue, bring in hard currency, and print more banknotes supported by foreign funding. The central bank hopes that the printing of the new and larger bank notes will help solve the liquidity shortage. The new cash injection into the local banking sector may further stoke rampant inflation. The country’s inflation rate increased to 72.94 percent in December from 68.93 percent in November, according to state news agency SUNA. The central bank still intends to reduce the inflation rate to 27.1 percent this year, which seems highly unrealistic.
The removal of US economic sanctions a year ago had been hoped to allow Sudanese banks to complete dollar transactions and reconnect to the international financial system. Sudan’s economy has in fact deteriorated since the removal of sanctions. Equally, a decrease in oil production and revenues have left the state with a lack of foreign currency to import fuel and basic commodities, leaving few avenues of respite for a government that is facing an increasingly desperate and agitated population. As an alternative solution, the government is now desperately seeking financial support from key allies on both sides of the ongoing rivalry in the Gulf.
Reaching out to the Gulf
The government is making urgent overtures to end the economic crisis, before allowing it to spiral further out of its control and to risk alienating the security forces even more. Over the past few weeks, NISS commander Salah Gosh has repeatedly warned President al-Bashir that the unrest poses a greater threat to political stability than initially anticipated. Sources in the ruling NCP comment that party leaders are becoming increasingly nervous by the ongoing civil and military unrest and are encouraging the government to seek urgent financial support.
On 23 January, Sudanese Oil Minister Azhari Abdel Qader confirmed the country had received financial assistance from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and offers of support in the form of fuel and wheat from Russia and Turkey. Meanwhile, President al-Bashir this week risked travelling outside of the country for the first time since protests began to visit the Qatari emir.
Qatar has long played a mediating role in Sudan’s Darfur conflict and has important investment interests in the country. Last year, Qatar agreed a USD 4 billion deal to jointly develop Suakin port in Sudan. Qatar was also among the first countries to express support for Sudan’s government after protests broke out last month. However, no firm offers of financial assistance seem to have been made by Qatar, which is possibly due to the country’s animosity with the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Local sources also report that the government is urgently seeking further financial support from Gulf nations, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Sudan’s central bank has previously received deposits from the UAE, likely in exchange for military and logistical support for the Saudi-led offensive in Yemen.
Attempts to secure new foreign funding from Saudi Arabia and the UAE would provide some temporary relief. However, a real change in the economic situation in Sudan is not anticipated at this time. Remedying the challenges requires significant fiscal reform which would necessitate a cut in government spending to the defence sector that would be unpalatable to the Bashir administration. Indeed, attempts at remedying Sudan economic situation by redirecting military funds could threaten Bashir’s position.
Outbreaks of fighting between the NISS intelligence service and SAF military units are a strong indicator that the foundations of political stability in Sudan are unravelling. The NISS remains the guarantor of executive power in Sudan and any divisions in the organisation’s leadership would swiftly undermine President Bashir’s authority over the SAF hierarchy and the governing NCP party. Therefore, any further military unrest, such as mutinies and skirmishes between security forces, should be seen as an indicator of political instability. Attempts at remedying Sudan economic situation by redirecting military funds could threaten Bashir’s position. There is also a latent threat of a mutiny by the rank-and-file within the SAF should they continue to be beleaguered by the economic situation in the country.
In the absence of any means to resolve the economic and financial crisis by itself, the government will depend on Gulf aid and support from other countries. However, attempts to secure new foreign funding from Saudi Arabia and the UAE would provide only temporary relief. Remedying the challenges requires significant fiscal reform which would necessitate a cut in government spending to the defence sector that would be unpalatable to the Bashir administration. Indeed, attempts at remedying Sudan economic situation by redirecting military funds could threaten Bashir’s position.
Further business closures are likely over the coming weeks, as these incur unsustainable losses due to the devalued currency. While the government is seeking to close the discrepancy between the official and unofficial currency exchange rates, it is unwilling to implement a free exchange rate mechanism, as suggested by the IMF. Moreover, the high inflation rate has contributed to a continued rise in the consumer good prices throughout the country.
As a result, the risk of violent protests across Sudanese urban centres will remain severe at least in the coming weeks. Security forces will continue to use tear gas, stun grenades, and live ammunition against demonstrations, posing risk of death and injury to bystanders.
Unless protest fatigue sets in, the crisis may still reach an escalation point as the NCP-led parliament proceeds with a proposal to amend the Sudanese constitution to allow President Bashir to run for another term in office in 2020. While the Bashir administration has been able to achieve peace negotiations with a number of rebel groups operating in the country’s Darfur region and neighbouring Blue Nile and Kordofan states, the tentative peace has always been based on the long-serving leader stepping down and fostering a competitive pluralist democracy. Any efforts made to extend Bashir’s rule thus compromise a ceasefire with groups such as JEM, which had earlier threatened to resume its insurgency should Bashir contest another term.
SEE COUNTRY OUTLOOK: SUDAN
In this open access report, EXX Africa assesses the risk of internet shutdowns and online media restrictions in 2019, identifying the countries and operators most at risk of commercial disruption over the coming year.
So far in 2019, there have been internet shutdowns in at least five African countries, most prominently in Zimbabwe, as well as in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, Cameroon, and Sudan. The rate of internet shutdowns has steadily increased over the past few years. According to global digital rights group Access Now, there were 21 shutdowns across Africa last year, up from 13 in 2017. Togo, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, and Egypt were among the countries implementing connectivity restrictions over the past two years. Cameroon’s Anglophone regions spent 230 days without internet access between January 2017 and March 2018.
In this open access special report, EXX Africa assesses the circumstances of recent internet shutdowns and identifies the African countries where the risk of outages will be highest over the course of 2019. This report also assesses the commercial and economic impact of internet shutdowns and the technical processes involved in shutting down an entire country’s connectivity.
PRECEDENT AND LEGAL JUSTIFICATION
While the practice of shutting down the internet is nothing new in Africa, the frequency and duration of shutdowns is steadily increasing. During the 2011 Arab Spring, North African governments regularly orchestrated shutdowns of connectivity and social media. Between 2015 and 2016, most instances of internet shutdowns occurred in West and Central Africa, in countries such as Mali, Chad, Gabon, Republic of Congo, and DRC. Since 2017, the practice has become more common in East Africa and southern Africa.
Governments usually implement these shutdowns through order requests sent to Internet Service Providers (ISP) or telecommunications operators, some of which may be government-owned. Shutdowns are easier to achieve in countries with few ISPs, unlike South Africa which has more than a hundred internet providers. The legal basis of such order requests lies in the contracts that ISPs sign with the communication regulator in each country. Usually, the regulator will have the power to order ISPs to restrict access to the internet or block social media apps at the regulator’s request.
The implementation of such order requests may create a total internet blackout (as most recently in Zimbabwe), or a restriction of access to certain websites, specifically social media (as in Cameroon), or the throttling of bandwidth (as in Sudan). Sometimes, domain name servers can be manipulated to send traffic away from intended destinations and toward servers controlled by the government. African governments have depended on tested practices in China to censor the internet. China is heavily involved in Africa’s internet, with state-backed firms like Huawei and ZTE building internet backbones and other infrastructure for many African countries.
According to Access Now, the top three reasons given for internet shutdowns are public safety, stopping the spreading of illegal content, and national security. However, the legal justification for internet shutdowns is often vague or non-existent. Some governments have in the past denied issuing order requests to ISPs and have instead blamed technical problems, although ISPs are becoming more transparent in announcing government-ordered shutdowns. African governments increasingly link their orders to the necessity to protect the public order, particularly during election cycles or bouts of civil or military unrest.
While internet shutdowns may often violate domestic law, the international legal framework remains vague and relies on assurances protecting the right to freedom of expression or UN Guiding principles on Business and Human Rights. In 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council released a non-binding resolution condemning intentional disruption of internet access by governments. The resolution reaffirmed that ‘the same rights people have offline must also be protected online.’ However, the non-binding nature of the UN resolution, as well as entrenched internet censorship by countries such as China, has hampered attempts to implement broader prevention of internet shutdowns by governments.
In the absence of a clear framework governing the right to internet access, African governments will maintain their responsibility to protect the public order or to curb ‘fake news’. The below case studies are aimed at finding patterns on internet shutdowns in Africa and to assess the commercial impact of shutdowns.
‘TOTAL’ INTERNET SHUTDOWN IN ZIMBABWE
On 21 January, the High Court said Zimbabwe’s government exceeded its mandate in ordering an internet blackout during recent civilian protests and ordered mobile operators to immediately and unconditionally resume full services. Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile phone operator Econet Wireless subsequently restored all internet and social media services. The sporadic internet blackout was ordered by Security Minister Owen Ncube on 15 January following the start of often violent protests against high fuel prices (See ZIMBABWE: POLITICAL DIVISIONS TAKE HOSTAGE AN ALREADY DISTRESSED ECONOMY).
Many people were left without access to social media platforms and email amid accusations that the government wanted to prevent images of its heavy-handedness from being broadcast around the world. Zimbabwe’s millions-strong diaspora raised the attention of the world to the internet blackout through various social media campaigns that were picked up by traditional media and triggered criticism from foreign governments, such as the UK.
While some internet users sought out virtual private networks (VPN) to bypass the controls, Zimbabwe’s shutdown did cut off crucial access to electronic bank deposits. The cash-strapped government uses such transfers to pay public sector workers, such as teachers, who were already on strike. Moreover, electronic remittances from the large Zimbabwean diaspora were also affected, further exacerbating Zimbabwe’s economic and financial crisis.
Some estimates assess that the shutdown will cost the country USD 5.7 million per day in direct economic costs. However, the widespread international condemnation of the Zimbabwean internet shutdown and the judicial ruling that the service order to ISPs was illegal does mitigate further risk of internet restrictions in 2019.
See Country Outlook: Zimbabwe
SOCIAL MEDIA RESTRICTIONS IN DRC ELECTION CYCLE
The government of DRC President Joseph Kabila shut down internet and text messaging services ahead of and following disputed elections in December, claiming to preserve public order after ‘fictitious results’ were circulated on social media. The government warned of ‘chaos’ in case unofficial results were published on the internet or social media. Diplomats from the US, European Union, Canada, and Switzerland criticised the internet shutdown. The shutdown heightened fears of electoral fraud in presidential and legislative elections that were already marred by delays and violence (See DRC: TENSE PROTRACTED ELECTORAL CYCLE FINALLY COMES TO CONCLUSION).
Data leaked from the state’s electoral commission unambiguously contradicted the official results, triggering a dispute over the election results. The leaked data covers over 80 percent of the votes cast in the 30 December general election and closely matches voting data gathered independently by a parallel vote tabulation held by the Catholic bishops’ organisation, as well as three recent polls.
Internet provider Global and telecom operator Vodacom said that they had cut web access on government orders, although some NGOs claim that interruption to connectivity was being carried out at the discretion of commercial operators. Congolese authorities specifically targeted social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, and Skype in order to hamper communication among protesters, while allowing businesses and banks to operate as usual. Nevertheless, disruption to mobile communications was widespread. The economic cost of a shutdown in DRC is estimated at USD3 million per day. The DRC’s restrictions on internet connectivity were similar to those that occurred in recent elections in Mali and Equatorial Guinea, as well as those that followed an attempted military coup in Gabon in early January.
See Country Outlook: DRC
TANZANIA CRACKS DOWN ON ONLINE MEDIA
Some African countries have extended authoritarian practices to the online media sector by amending local legal frameworks. Tanzania’s government is a relevant case study since its implementation of the Electronic and Postal Communications Online Content Regulations Act in March 2018. The new law facilitates the government’s ongoing clamp-down on blogs, online content providers, and users alike with stringent regulatory requirements. These include a USD 924 licensing fee, the disclosure of ‘strategic’ information and the auditing of content by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), failing which transgressors may be subject to severe penalties.
After dealing with the online media sphere, the Tanzanian government has turned its attention to broadcast media, especially foreign-owned companies. Last year, the TCRA threatened to suspend the operating license for the Multichoice and Simbanet television companies. This action follows a string of contentious media-related regulatory measures, beginning with the Media Services Bill and Cybercrime Act. The Act criminalises ‘defamatory’ remarks and content that is deemed ‘seditious’ while authorising greater government oversight. This, in an apparent bid to regulate publicly accessible information so as to manage the narrative on a problematic political and economic agenda.
In targeting such entities with rigid operating requirements and colouring its persecution with nationalist rhetoric such as the ‘my country first initiative’, the government of President John Magufuli stands to gain both politically and economically. This, through increased revenue, royalties and penal payments as well as an appreciation in political stock in a country where economic nationalistic sentiments are still prevalent.
Various other African governments are implementing strict regulations on online media, which may set the tone for future crackdowns on internet connectivity and mobile telecommunications. Last year, Uganda’s government passed a new tax on social media, under which users must pay USD 0.05 a day to use popular platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp. Both Tanzania and Uganda’s restrictive cybercrime and media laws were inspired by similar measures imposed in China.
Other than Tanzania and Uganda, countries where such authoritarian practices are most likely to be implemented over 2019 include Zambia, Zimbabwe, Togo, Senegal, DRC, Guinea, Algeria, and Egypt.
See Country Outlook: Tanzania
RISK OUTLOOK FOR INTERNET SHUTDOWNS IN AFRICA IN 2019
In 2019, a number of countries are likely to impose full or partial internet shutdowns that will pose severe risk of contract frustration to operators, as well as broad economic disruption to investors. Some of these countries will hold highly contested elections this year and have already been identified in EXX Africa’s recent Africa Elections Special Report. More than half of Africa’s 54 countries will hold some form of election next year (See SPECIAL REPORT: TEN KEY AFRICAN ELECTIONS IN 2019).
Other countries, like Tanzania and Uganda, are implementing restrictive cybercrime and media laws to crack down on dissent and protests. EXX Africa has selected the ten countries where the probability of internet shutdowns or other forms of connectivity disruption is highest and where the risk of commercial disruption is most severe.
A 2016 study by the Brookings Institution revealed that shutdowns drained USD 2.4 billion from the global economy between 2015 and 2016. A 2017 report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), estimated that sub-Saharan Africa lost up to USD 237 million to internet shutdowns since 2015. Given the rise in internet shutdowns and other forms of connectivity restrictions since then, particularly in Asia and Africa, this number is likely to be far higher in 2019.
The estimated cost of daily economic disruption varies from country to country: Ethiopia’s daily cost is USD 3.5 million, while Cameroon’s shutdown in Anglophone regions results in daily economic losses of USD 1.67 million. Since the shutdowns have become increasingly sophisticated, with governments targeting specific regions or communities, the broader economic costs may be mitigated. In Ethiopia 36 days of national and regional internet shutdowns between 2015 and 2017 cost the country USD 123 million, while Cameroon’s 93-day shutdown in Anglophone regions in 2017 made USD 38 million in total economic losses.
However, the cost would be different for economies with more developed media and IT sectors – a total shutdown in Kenya could potentially cost USD 6.3 million a day (CIPESA). As indicated in our 2019 risk ratings above, the threat of internet shutdowns in large and developed economies such as Kenya or Senegal, is rising. Shutdowns are no longer restricted to small and less developed economies, like those of Chad, Burundi, or DRC.
Activist groups Internet Society and NetBlocks have created a data-driven online tool, The Cost of Shutdown Tool (COST), to better measure the economic cost of internet shutdowns. Greater awareness of shutdowns in Africa, driven by media, governments, business, and NGOs, is expected to facilitate improved assessments of the economic costs, as well as enhanced risk mitigation strategies (like VPNs) to avoid commercial disruption in future.
Amid swirling reports of party intrigues and the possibility of another coup, Zimbabwe’s government is seeking an urgent bailout from key partners like Russia and South Africa. However, no firm financial commitments are expected to be made unless Zimbabwe implements broad structural reform, the prospect of which seems highly unlikely.
The opposition has run out of recourse to challenge the elections results and the threat of widespread post-election violence is gradually subsiding. The incoming government under President Tshisekedi is expected to oversee a moderate economic recovery and to seek the phasing out of international sanctions.
Despite some tentative overtures towards peace, the Anglophone insurgency in Northwest and Southwest regions is unlikely to be resolved in the short term, while the risk of kidnapping and broader commercial disruption will become more prominent.
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