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By Morten Løkkegaard

BRUSSELS - As governments across the European Union (EU) begin their coronavirus vaccination rollouts, there is growing hope that we shall soon leave the worst of the health crisis behind us.

However, it will take much more than just a small injection to reverse the economic damage caused by the pandemic.

Last year, the European economy contracted by a staggering 7.4 percent in 2020. As a result, millions lost their jobs.

Rising unemployment and economic anxiety is threatening families all over Europe. The need to create jobs is urgent, and that demands concrete proposals to boost the economy.

One way is to realise the huge potential in the single market for services.

The EU has taken unprecedented and decisive action to mitigate the economic fallout. However, for the European economy to remain competitive and resilient in the long-term, we need to continue reforming and strengthening our single market.

Improving the free movement of services, one of the 'four freedoms' of the single market, is the best way to continue creating jobs and help our economies recover.

The services sector is the indispensable growth engine of the European Union. It accounts for three-quarters of the EU's economy and a similar proportion of its employment.

Faced with a historic recession, boosting the services sector must be on top of our political agenda. Especially, since completing the single market for services is one of the few areas where we can generate growth without increasing public debt.

As studies have shown, the potential gains of better harmonising service regulations could be around €300 billion – that is around half the entire recovery fund.

Due to the nature of service provision, other economic sectors - such as manufacturing or the digital economy – are strongly dependent on it. A better functioning internal market for services is therefore a crucial necessity for a more competitive and innovative European economy.

Over the last years, the EU has taken important steps to address existing barriers to the free movement of services, for example by adopting the services directive.

However, the full potential remains largely untapped.

There is ample evidence of how red tape, discriminatory practices and regulatory restrictions create barriers that deprive citizens of jobs, consumers of choices and entrepreneurs of opportunities.

Having worked on this subject for many years, there are three key problems that Europe must tackle to fully benefit from a single market for services.

Three steps

First, we must address national barriers and ensure the enforcement of EU legislation.

Unfortunately, some member states frequently either refuse to fully implement existing legislation or create unjustified barriers that obstruct the provision of services.

Especially smaller companies suffer from red-tape and unjustified administrative barriers. The European Commission must finally make use of all resolution mechanisms and infringement procedures at its disposal to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market.

Second, provide legal clarity to businesses and consumers.

Whenever I talk to small business owners one issue comes up sooner or later: how exceedingly difficult it is to obtain the necessary information about what rules to comply with, which procedures to follow, and which authorities to contact in the member state they wish to do business in.

Given these realities, an improvement of the already existing single points of contact is needed. Member states must make serious efforts to implement them in a more business and consumer friendly manner and to transform them from mere regulatory portals into fully functioning portals.

Third, providing transparent evaluation of member states performance.

Evaluating how open member states are for the provision of services is essential to complete the single market. It allows member states to learn from each other through best practice and it applies much needed pressure for enforcement of EU legislation and the removal of administrative barriers.

To this end, using the single market scoreboard would enable consumers and businesses to see how much progress is being made and in which areas, as well as allow the commission to prioritise enforcement action in areas that are particularly lacking.

The time has come to address the enduring flaws of the single market and to launch the necessary reforms to create a stronger and more prosperous Union.

The European Parliament will speak with one clear voice: creating a truly unified market for services, from Madrid to Tallinn, must be given the highest priority.


Morten Løkkegaard is a Danish Renew Europe MEP and member of the committee on the internal market and consumer protection (IMCO) and rapporteur of the report on the future of free movement of services.



This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

This is not about supposedly traditional values – when was violence against women ever a value? – it is about living up to the European values we all signed up to. We have to put pressure on Poland.



BRUSSELS - The European Commission announced on Tuesday (19 January) targets to accelerate the roll-out of vaccination across the EU, and the intention to set up a "common approach" for vaccine certificates before the end of the month.

Brussels wants to see at least 80 percent health and social care professionals and 80 percent of people over 80 years old vaccinated by March. But member states should also have vaccinated at least 70 percent of the adult population by the summer.

"Vaccination is essential to get out of this crisis. We have already secured enough vaccines for the entire population of the European Union. Now we need to accelerate the delivery and speed up vaccination," said commission president, Ursula von der Leyen.

Meanwhile, EU commissioner for health, Stella Kyriakides, told the European Parliament that certification "could reinforce the success of vaccination programs in member states" and even set "a global standard".

The eHealth Network, composed of authorities from all member states plus Norway, will define what is needed for such certificates at EU level - to include a unique identifier and a framework that ensures privacy and security.

The debate about vaccine certificates intensified last week, after the Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that these certificates could facilitate travel across the bloc.

While the commission considers that it is "premature" to use these certificates for other purposes than health protection, "an EU approach may facilitate other cross-border applications of such certificates in the future," reads the commission document.

"We are taking all the precautions so we do not create any situation where people who do not want to or cannot be vaccinated would receive a different treatment or see their rights and freedoms limited," inter-institutional relations EU commissioner Maroš Sefcovic said on Monday.

Additionally, the commission called on member states to update their testing strategies, in the light of new variants of Covid-19, ramping up the use of rapid antigen tests.

These topics will be picked up by EU leaders who will meet online on Thursday.

Delivery difficulties

After BioNTech/Pfizer representatives announced last week delivery difficulties, six European health ministers wrote to the commission to express their "severe concern" over shipment delays.

These "temporary" delays are related to modifications at Pfizer's Belgian factory in Puurs necessary to increase production and meet the target of delivering two billion vaccine doses per year.

However, ministers from Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark and Sweden have urged the EU executive to engage with the vaccine's developers to demand a "public explanation of the situation and to stress the need to ensure stability and transparency of timely deliveries".

"National governments cannot plan for successful vaccination without [the] predictability of the vaccine delivery schedules," they wrote in a letter, in which they describe the situation as "unacceptable".

Similarly, MEPs on Tuesday demanded more clarity on distribution delays and the purchase of vaccines.

"Vaccine[s] give us the hope that we can finally start slowly imagining a return to normal life, but we risk undermining it by a lack of transparency and unnecessary delays," said the head of the liberals in the parliament, MEP Dacian Cioloş.

While welcoming the publication of the CureVac contract, the head of the left-wing party in the parliament, MEP Manon Aubry, also said her party will continue fighting to make all contracts available to the public.

"Transparency is essential to gain the trust of the population, which is essential for the vaccination strategy of member states," Left MEP Marc Botenga told EUobserver, adding that secret information and hidden contracts only give the anti-vaccine movement more ammunition.

Danish leadership

The UK tops Europe's coronavirus vaccination race, while Denmark is leading the bloc's inoculation campaign with nearly three percent of its citizens already receiving one dose of the vaccine.

The Danish strategy aims to have all adult citizens who want to receive the jab, approximately 80 percent, vaccinated by June.

Immunisation campaigns in Italy and Germany have also been notably efficient - with both countries already administering more than one million doses to their populations.

However, other European countries - such as Bulgaria and France - have seen far worse results with their vaccination programmes, with less than one percent of their population having received the first jab.

The EU has already vaccinated approximately 1.2 percent of citizens, with over five million doses.

The commission, on behalf of member states, has sealed deals with six companies for up to 2.3 billion vaccine doses.

The European Commission refused to comment on whether a bilateral deal between Germany and BioNTech for 30 million additional vaccines is a breach of EU collective purchase agreements - which forbid member states from negotiating separate deals.


By Andrew Rettman

BRUSSELS - German Green MEPs led calls to halt Russia's 'Nord Stream 2' gas pipeline over Alexei Navalny's arrest, while others urged the EU to invoke its new 'Magnitsky Act' against Russian oligarchs on Tuesday (19 January).

Germany ought to stop its "shameful" Nord Stream 2 project with Russia, German Green Sergey Lagodinsky told fellow MEPs and EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell at the European Parliament (EP) hearing.



LONDON - Sussex-based IosBio has found a way to turn injected vaccines into tablets and signed a deal with California's ImmunityBio

Putting Covid vaccines into pills could soon move from dream to reality after a Sussex-based biotech signed an agreement with a US pharmaceutical company to test the technology in clinical trials.

Burgess Hill-based IosBio has found a way to turn injected vaccines into orally administered tablets. The technology is now being used by ImmunityBio, a Californian company developing a vaccine against Covid after signing a licensing agreement with iosBio.

Clinical trials in monkeys have shown the oral vaccine made using iosBio technology to be highly effective, while the jab version is already in phase two/three trials.

The oral vaccine will begin clinical trials on Americans this month and ImmunityBio is applying for regulatory approval to run trials in the UK.

IosBio’s technology is called OraPro. It engineers vaccines into pills that can withstand temperatures of up to 50C, allowing them to pass through the stomach and be directly absorbed into the mucous membranes.

“You catch Covid in your mucosal cells,” said Wayne Channing, chief executive of iosBio. “But with jabs you get injected into the arm which goes into the muscles and blood cells. Our tablets go straight into mucosal cells to illicit mucosal immunity so we hit the virus where it is.

“When you catch this virus you breath it in or swallow it and 80pc of your immune system cells are mucosal so we are addressing that directly. I think this will be a new paradigm in vaccination.”

Under the terms of the licensing agreement, ImmunityBio has exclusive rights to OraPro. In return, IosBio will get royalties on global sales of the approved vaccine.

“The results from the non-human primate trial were outstanding for oral and I think oral is the right strategy,” Mr Channing added.

“Patrick Soon-Shiong, the chief executive of ImmunityBio, called me and said he had woken up at 3am and thought, this should be an oral vaccine.”


NEW YORK - Israel’s decision to advance plans for some 800 new settlement units, most of which are located deep inside the occupied West Bank, has sparked the concern of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

In a statement issued on Monday by his spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, the UN chief urged the Israeli Government to “halt and reverse such decisions”, calling them “a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”.

‘No legal validity’

Mr. Guterres reiterated that Israel’s establishing of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”.

“Settlement expansion increases the risk of confrontation, further undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and further erodes the possibility of ending the occupation and establishing a contiguous and viable sovereign Palestinian State, based on the pre-1967 lines”, he said.

Pushing forward

Israel has given the green light to 780 new homes in West Bank settlements on Sunday in a move widely seen as being influenced by the imminent transfer of power in the United States.

Breaking with decades of US diplomacy, outgoing President Donald Trump, in 2019 unilaterally declared that the settlements no longer breached international law.

Against that backdrop, Israel has been increasing construction and either approved or made plans for more than 12,000 homes in 2020, according to news reports.



By Tom Nicholds, this article was first published by the Atlantic on 30 December 2020.

WASHINGTON - Donald Trump is intent on creating as much chaos as possible on his way out of the White House. Could that include saddling Joe Biden with another war in the Middle East?

We already know that Trump is thinking about attacking Iran. In mid-November, after he lost the presidential election, Trump asked for military options against Iranian nuclear facilities, a reckless idea that was derailed by top aides. Since then, the United States has sent B-52 bombers on missions in the Persian Gulf three times, including a 30-hour round trip from North Dakota to the Gulf on December 29.

B-52 flights are a traditional American method of demonstrating resolve, a way to signal to an enemy that the United States is engaged and alert for trouble. (Whether such flights do any good is questionable, but American administrations of both parties use them.) These recent bomber missions are ostensibly an effort to deter Iran from carrying out attacks on U.S. or allied forces as the anniversary of the Iranian terror chieftain Qasem Soleimani’s killing approaches on January 3.

Iran is almost certainly planning retaliation for Soleimani’s death, and both Trump and Biden have a duty to be vigilant about possible revenge, a real danger that deserves serious attention. Even if Iran forgoes action before January, the regime in Tehran is an ongoing threat to peace and stability in the region, a problem that Trump did not invent and that Biden will inherit.

As he has done with most things, however, Trump took a bad situation and made it worse. Killing Soleimani was the right move, for example, but the clumsiness and confusion that followed—including Trump threatening to engage in war crimes by destroying Iranian cultural sites—created a moral and political void in which Iran was able to take the initiative and retaliate against U.S. bases in Iraq without further consequences.

And whatever the flaws of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—and I was one of the critics who had serious problems with the Iran deal—it at least temporarily stabilized the Iranian nuclear problem. The JCPOA was imperfect, but it was the only game in town, and Trump dumping it gave the Iranians the out they needed to go right back to their previous mischief.

Now Trump’s defense officials are making noises—while Trump himself is silent—about deterrence. But repeated bomber flights and stories about strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities, particularly when they’re coming from a claque of mostly unqualified officials in an acting capacity who will not be around to fulfill these vague threats, are not much of a deterrent in the waning days of an administration that refuses to cooperate on basic matters of national defense with its successor.

Instead, Trump might be planning a final grand distraction before he is forced to relinquish his office.

The question is not whether Trump has the power to do any of this. He holds the authority of Article II of the Constitution until noon on January 20. As unsettling as it may be to realize this, Trump—like any American president—can launch anything, from a reconnaissance mission to a nuclear strike, even as Biden is standing on the steps of the Capitol waiting to be sworn in. Whether U.S. military leaders, including the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, would promptly execute orders they thought unwise or possibly illegal is another matter, but the authority of the president of the United States is not limited by losing an election.

Rather, the question is why Trump would ignite a war with Iran at the last minute, and what to look for if he has made such a decision.

The obvious reason Donald Trump does anything is because he thinks it will benefit Donald Trump.

At the least, it is one last chance for Trump to role-play the only part of the job he has ever liked: the strutting commander in chief. If Trump decides on war, he will issue orders, and there will be a great deal of saluting and generous use of the word sir, all of which (if we are to judge from his rants at rallies) he finds irresistible. From the border wall to the COVID-19 crisis, Trump’s fallback position when he is flummoxed by the complexity of governing is to call in the military and issue orders that cannot be countermanded by another branch of the government or by his own bureaucracy.

War with Iran could also be a way of making one more last-ditch argument for staying in power, but launching a war, of course, will not keep Trump in office. He may not realize this; he did not understand that his own vice president has the constitutional duty to count Electoral College votes. And someone in the current chaotic scrum may well have convinced Trump that some double-secret codicil of the Constitution will allow him to remain president.

But a war with the mullahs—the devout wish of Iran hawks like Michael Flynn, who supported Trump from the start and who now has his ear as the White House melts down in these final days—would more likely be a final punishment that Trump could inflict on the American people for rejecting him, and a massive act of sabotage against Biden for defeating him.

American citizens and their elected officials may not be able to stop Trump from issuing orders, but they can be watchful for the traditional signs of a country about to go to war.

These are the same things that observers such as journalists and foreign-intelligence analysts would also watch for, including the sudden congregation of national-security officials at the Pentagon and the White House, a heightened state of alert, an increase in the “force protection condition” at U.S. bases, and the movement of large assets into the region. (The carrier Nimitz returned to the Persian Gulf in November, but a Navy spokesperson says this was not in response to any “specific” threats, a careful use of language that does not rule anything in or out.)

Trump was never much interested in the business of governing, and once he lost the election, he completely gave up on the job of being president. He is now fully in survival mode, and this is why he should not get the benefit of the doubt we might give to other presidents who have exercised their powers until their last days in office. If we must go into another conflict in the Middle East, Trump must stand before the American people and Congress—now—and explain himself, instead of surprising us all with the ultimate act of political arson in his final minutes in an office he never wanted and of which he was never worthy.



By Omar H. Rahman, Brookings Doha Center, December 23, 2020

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is entering a new stage. A viable diplomatic process for resolving “final-status” issues has been non-existent for several years. The Palestinian national movement is feeble and fractured, leaving it ill-equipped to face down persistent challenges and unable to exert leverage in pursuit of its goals. Israel is rapidly consolidating decades of illegal settlement activity through legislative and institutional means, positioning itself to formally incorporate vast swathes of the West Bank into the state through de jure annexation.

This latter process, in particular, has come at the direct expense of establishing an independent State of Palestine and leaves millions of Palestinians stranded under Israeli sovereignty without political rights or a horizon for achieving them in the future. Absent any intention of integrating these stateless Palestinians into its citizenry, Israel is formalizing a “two-tier system of disparate political, legal, social, cultural and economic rights based on ethnicity and nationality,” which a group of leading United Nations (U.N.) human rights experts recently characterized as “a 21st century apartheid,” and what others have simply termed a “one-state reality.”
In this context, the road to a negotiated settlement of the conflict has be- come impossible to envision without dramatic changes to each side’s internal socio-political dynamics, the gross imbalance of power between them, and the approach of the international community. Perhaps as important is the need for a thorough reassessment of the appropriate conceptual framework to resolve the conflict. For more than three decades, the international community has remained wedded to the paradigm of partition into two independent states, or the “two-state solution.” This despite the growing divergence between the objective of establishing a separate Palestinian state and the reality of gradual Israeli annexation on the ground, as well as eroding public support on both sides and the increasing struggle of advocates to defend the solution’s viability.
While interest in alternative frameworks has grown in recent years, there is still a significant shortfall in the examination and development of the various modalities, not to mention a lack of political traction or broad-based mobilization on behalf of any particular option. It is clear that alternatives to classic partition need to be studied with more frequency and in greater depth in order to widen the range of options available to policymakers and civil actors in the years ahead.

This paper presents an exploration of one such alternative: the hybrid model of confederation. The intention of this paper is to think beyond the classic two-state model for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to present ideas for how policymakers and civil actors can apply a confederal framework in the future. Given the already entrenched one-state reality, the emancipation of Palestinians through enfranchisement in a single democratic state is the most conceptually straightforward alternative to decades of failed attempts at implementing partition. Striving for the more complex model of confederation may appear unnecessarily burdensome.

However, confederation is more responsive to the realities often overlooked by one-state proponents. More so, it does not preclude a single democratic state from emerging in the long run, should such a state be recognized as feasible and beneficial. Confederation has the potential to serve as a workable and mutually appealing model of governance that liberates Palestinians from the current reality of interminable oppression, halts further settler colonialism, preserves self- determination and national expression for both sides, and addresses Israeli and Palestinian aspirations and grievances in a harmonizing and practical manner. In doing so, the confederal approach envisions a resolution to the conflict that prevents, or at least limits, further conflict down the road.

By providing pathways toward open or soft borders, permanent residency status, and aspects of shared sovereignty, a confederal system of governance expands opportunities beyond those envisioned under the classic two-state formula, in ways that could minimize zero-sum competition over the most intractable areas of conflict and resolve the security/sovereignty dilemma. The confederal system will necessarily be complex and able to withstand a considerable amount of stress and recurring tensions.

It will also demand huge conceptual and practical leaps in order to rearrange hard-to-dislodge systems of privilege. Breaking the deadlock that has prevented a resolution up to this point will require marshalling unprecedented levels of external and internal pressure, coupled with a clearly articulated alternative that is acceptable to a majority of Israelis and Palestinians. While many will surely cast doubt on the feasibility of confederation, the same could once be said for the two-state solution, which came to a hold a monopoly over peacemaking efforts.

At present, the inequitable one-state reality being imposed by Israel is deeply disturbing and harmful. It also fails to offer any resolution to the underlying conflict. While that is likely cause for more instability in the near future, it also presents an opportunity to reassess how Israelis and Palestinians may one day live more equitably in a land they share. At this juncture, the development of that framework is urgently needed.


NEW YORK - Addressing the UN Security Council on Monday, the UN envoy for the Middle East Peace Process urged Israelis, Palestinians, regional States and the broader international community to “take practical steps to enable the parties to re-engage” in the peace process.

“The Middle East Quartet – alongside Arab partners – and Israeli and Palestinian leaders, must work together to return to the path of meaningful negotiations”, Nickolay Mladenov told the ambassadors in his final briefing as Special Coordinator.  

A historic struggle

“Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs have lived with conflict for too long”, said the UN envoy. “Loss and displacement are part of the personal history of every single household” for generations.

He painted a picture of Palestinians being “upended from their homes” and forced to seek refuge across the region while “Jews have been upended from across the region” and forced to seek refuge in Israel.

Mr. Mladenov reminded that the conflict is not only over land or history, “it is a conflict over the very right of two nations to co-exist”.

Financial shortfall

A disruption of vital services in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) is hanging in the balance as the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) faces a funding gap of $88 million, which includes some $22 million to pay salaries of nearly 30,000 frontline education, health, social and other workers directly assisting Palestine refugees.  

“The Agency is not only a lifeline for millions of Palestine refugees, and fully engaged in the fight against COVID-19, but is also critical for regional stability”, said Mr. Mladenov. “Sufficient funding is essential for the Agency’s continuity, and I renew my appeal for support”.

Meanwhile, last week the Palestinian Prime Minister and the Acting OPT Humanitarian Coordinator launched a 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan, which includes a $417 million appeal to help 1.8 million vulnerable people over the coming year.  

“The latest humanitarian needs assessment found that 2.45 million Palestinians — some 47 per cent of the population currently need aid”, he said.  

Settlements must cease

Israeli settlement-related developments continue, with expansions in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Mr. Mladenov added, saying they entrench Israel’s occupation and undermine the prospect of a two-State solution.  

“The advancement of all settlement activity must cease immediately”, he spelled out, underscoring that they constitute “a flagrant violation” of UN resolutions and international law.

The Special Coordinator also called “deeply concerning”, the continued demolition and seizure of Palestinian humanitarian projects and schools.

“I call on Israeli authorities to end the demolition of Palestinian property and the displacement and eviction of Palestinians”, he said.  

Peace achievable  

In closing, he recounted that every Palestinian he met believed that negotiations were “only a façade” for more land grabs while every Israeli believed they would lead to more “violence and terror”.  

 “The world cannot leave the situation unattended”, said the Special Coordinator, pointing to UN resolutions, bilateral agreements and the Middle East Quartet’s efforts, all aimed at resolving the conflict.

“No one in the international community questions the foundation that any resolution…must be based on two States” and that requires “engagement between the parties and not through violence”, he stressed.

Both sides must “look inward” both in coordination and independently “to protect the goal of sustainable peace”.  

“I firmly believe that the goal of a just and lasting peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people remains achievable through negotiations and can be mediated between the Middle East Quartet and the Arab partners”, the Special Coordinator said.

Mr. Mladenov informed that in January, Tor Wennesland would take over the mission and called his successor “one of the most capable diplomats I have ever worked with”.  

“I wish him every success in the years ahead and hope that you will extend to him your full support, as you have done to me”, concluded the outgoing UN envoy.

North Africa

National human rights institutions: A reason for hope in the Middle East and North Africa?

By Turan Kayaoglu, Brookings, 7 January 2021

Eighteen national human rights institutions (NHRIs) operate in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Some of them have been at work since the early 1990s and others emerged in the 2000s. This analysis explains the emergence, impact, limitations, and potential of the NHRIs in the MENA region.

Often established by executive decree to appease international critics and to assert government authority over human rights discourse, NHRIs did not, as some had hoped, transform the region’s dismal human rights record. They remain weak and controlled by their respective governments, upon whose goodwill they rely to do their work. They cooperate with governments to a fault rather than confront them, even when gross human rights violations take place. They also lack powers to protect human rights, such as the legal power to launch official investigations into violations. Consequently, they cannot hold powerful state actors, such as the police or army, to account.

 But not all is doom and gloom. Contrary to what the dismissive skeptics say, MENA NHRIs have achieved moderate gains. They help legitimize and increase awareness about human rights in a region where human rights skepticism and cynicism run deep. They monitor and document human rights abuses with publications such as annual reports, even if these reports often fail to elevate victims’ voices and instead align with government accounts. They are also active in promoting human rights through education and outreach activities.

 NHRIs cannot transform human rights in MENA countries when the latter face major structural barriers, including autocratic governments, the repression of civil society, and security pressures. Still, they are able to promote, if not protect, human rights. By legitimizing human rights norms and providing ideological opportunities for domestic and international human rights advocates, they can advance human rights modestly. Moreover, they hold great potential to do more when structural constraints ease.

 The domestic and international human rights communities should continue to lobby MENA governments to strengthen NHRI independence from governments. One way of doing this is to push for greater compliance with the Paris Principles, which set the standards for and responsibilities of NHRIs seeking United Nations (U.N.) accreditation. Only six MENA NHRIs are in full compliance with the Paris Principles, and they perform better compared to other NHRIs in the region.

Moreover, it is essential to strengthen the Arab Network for National Human Rights Institutions (ANNHRI). Regional forums are an effective way to pro- mote human rights, especially with respect to NHRI independence and effectiveness. Currently, NHRIs in the MENA region are split between the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) and the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI). As a regional forum, the ANNHRI has the potential to better support and facilitate mutual learning among NHRIs across the MENA region. However, the ANNHRI remains under-resourced and under-staffed and needs to be strengthened. Finally, NHRIs must collaborate with civil society organizations (CSOs) in order to be effective. As such, the domestic and international human rights communities should continue to support the development of MENA civil society and ask governments to ease political restrictions on CSOs and the human rights community.


BY SARAH YERKES AND NESRINE MBAREK, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 14 January 2021

Ten years after its protests sparked the Arab Spring, Tunisia remains the lone country in the Middle East to have effectively changed its system of governance. Yet many Tunisians have mixed feelings about how much progress their country has made.

On the eve of the tenth anniversary of the 2011 Tunisian uprisings that toppled a twenty-three-year dictatorship and ignited the Arab Spring, the revolution’s balance sheet is still being debated. We asked twenty-three Tunisians from different regions and backgrounds to reflect on the successes and failures of the last decade and to describe the steps needed to move Tunisia forward. Their answers varied, and many stressed that ten years is a short time to assess the impact of a revolution. However, most agreed that the popular revolts achieved three main outcomes. First, they led to the rewriting of the constitution. Second, they allowed for free speech and open criticism of those in power. Third, they paved the way for peaceful and democratic transitions—though many believe that Tunisia remains a procedural democracy that has yet to fully sever ties to the old regime. The revolution’s greatest achievement is perhaps that Tunisians discovered the power of their collective voice to depose dictators and bring about concrete political change.

Although the tenth anniversary of president Ben Ali’s removal is certainly cause for pride and celebration, most people are not celebrating. From many Tunisians’ perspective, particularly those who protested on the streets in 2010–2011, the revolution did not achieve its goals. In 2019, as the country elected new leaders and the economy finally showed signs of improvement—such as positive GDP growth, lessening inflation, and a recovery of the tourism sector hurt by the 2014 terror attacks—there was revived hope about Tunisia’s future. But the initial burst of optimism has retreated into staunch pessimism due, in large part, to the incredible economic pain brought on by austerity and exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. According to a September 2020 poll by the International Republican Institute (IRI), 87 percent of Tunisians believe their country is headed in the wrong direction, compared to 67 percent in December 2019.

Today, while significant political progress has been achieved, many Tunisians are frustrated by the lack of economic headway—particularly the failure of the government to address soaring unemployment and lingering corruption. This sluggish progress is not only painful for Tunisians who have experienced ongoing personal economic hardship over the past decade but also dangerous to the democratic transition, as it has bred nostalgia for the Ben Ali era. As several people explained, some Tunisians look back fondly at the dictatorship as a time of lower unemployment and poverty, blindly ignoring the massive corruption and human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ben Ali regime.

There is also significant frustration over the inability and unwillingness of the elected government to root out corruption. President Kais Saied was elected on an anticorruption platform, and he, along with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, has taken some steps at rooting out high-level corruption. But many Tunisians express anger over the continuing lack of transparency in the country and are infuriated by the high economic cost of corruption.

Another troubling sign is the constant government turnover, which makes it impossible for the government to tackle challenging but necessary economic reforms. The last government, under prime minister Elyes Fakhfakh, lasted only five months. The current government, under Mechichi, is likely to go through a cabinet reshuffle in the coming weeks, which could make this one of the shortest-lasting governments in the country’s history. A combination of party tourism (politicians jumping from one party to another), personality-driven politics, and the revolving door of cabinet ministers has led to significant public mistrust of government.


Moving the transition forward into its second decade requires, foremost, rebuilding public trust by incorporating the voices of the people into decisionmaking. Saied announced at the end of 2020 that he will initiate a national dialogue “to correct the revolution that has deviated from its goals a decade after its outbreak.” National dialogues have a history of success in Tunisia—the most prominent example being the process initiated by the Quartet of civil society leaders that netted them the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 and helped keep the transition on track following a dangerous and difficult period in 2013. While there are few public details, the idea, proposed by the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), would address various goals of the revolution that have yet to be achieved, including social justice, lower unemployment, and regional equality. Saied intends to include youth from every governorate in the dialogue as well as civil society actors, providing citizens a forum to be heard by their leaders.

Additionally, Tunisians we spoke to want their government to prioritize anticorruption efforts at all levels and in all parts of society. This would entail both going after the big offenders but also addressing petty corruption at the societal level. In the September 2020 IRI survey, 78 percent of Tunisians said that corruption has had a negative impact on their lives. This is a problem that affects every strata of society and is a widespread impediment to economic growth and stability. Tunisian leaders should continue to publicly punish those engaged in massive fraud and personal enrichment at the expense of the public. But they must also work to dramatically increase government transparency and to change the norms around petty corruption. Both government and civil society should work together to develop a culture of zero tolerance for nepotism within public institutions, as well as for bribery in the police, hospitals, schools, and other arenas.

As Tunisians reflect on the last ten years, there is certainly cause for optimism. The very fact that people can freely and publicly express their criticism of the government without fear of harm or retribution is a dramatic achievement and one that has become so ingrained in Tunisian public life that it is often taken for granted. But there are also many reasons to be concerned about Tunisia’s future—from the worsening economic situation facing many individuals and families to the weak institutions and political parties whose leaders have shifted the tenor of dialogue from pluralism to polarization.

Tunisia faces the dawn of the next decade of its transition with great challenges and tremendous opportunities. It will be up to the Tunisian people, who ten years ago took on an even greater challenge of bringing about a revolution, to rise once again to the occasion and ensure the success of Tunisia’s democratic transition.


WASHINGTON - The text of the following Chair’s Summary was released by the Governments of the United States of America and the Kingdom of Morocco after virtual ministerial conference in support of the Autonomy Initiative under Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.

1. At the invitation of the Kingdom of Morocco and the United States of America, the Ministerial Conference in support of the Autonomy Initiative under Morocco’s sovereignty was held virtually on January 15, 2021.

2. Forty countries participated in the Conference, among which 27 were represented at the ministerial level.

3. The Conference participants expressed strong support for Morocco’s autonomy initiative as the only basis for a just and lasting solution to this regional dispute.

4. The Co-Chairs recalled the Proclamation of the United States of America of December 10, 2020, entitled “Recognizing the Sovereignty of the Kingdom of Morocco over Western Sahara,” which reaffirmed support for Morocco’s serious, credible, and realistic autonomy proposal as the only basis for a just and lasting solution to the dispute over the Western Sahara territory. The Proclamation also urged the parties to engage in discussions in coordination with the United Nations without delay.

5. Co-Chairs also underlined that the U.S. Presidential Proclamation provides guidance for efforts to advance the UN-exclusive political process aimed at reaching a lasting political solution, with the autonomy initiative as the only realistic basis for such a solution. This Proclamation will strengthen the international consensus in support of the UN-exclusive political process.

6. The Conference highlighted the decision of twenty United Nations Member States to open Consulates General in the Moroccan cities of Laâyoune and Dakhla, considering that such steps will promote economic and business opportunities for the region, strengthen the vocation of the Sahara region as an economic hub for the entire continent and advance progress towards reaching a long-awaited final political solution to this protracted dispute.

7. Participants welcomed the development endeavors launched in the region including in the framework of Morocco’s “New Development Model for the Southern Provinces” initiative.

8. Participants committed to continue their advocacy for a solution, using Morocco’s autonomy plan as the sole framework for resolving the Western Sahara dispute.


International Crisis Group, 24 December 2020

This Briefing Note provides up-to-the-minute analysis of attempts to end Libya’s almost decade-long civil war through talks focused on reunifying the country’s government, oil-based economy and security forces. It is the second in a series of twice-monthly updates.


Foreign Actors Drive Military Build-up amid Deadlocked Political Talks

A tenuous ceasefire continues to hold in Libya between forces allied to the Tripoli-based government and their rivals in the east. Yet there is reason to worry that the five-month hiatus in the conflict could end abruptly. The 23 October ceasefire agreement silenced the guns but otherwise is a dead letter: both sides have backtracked on fulfilling its terms and instead continue to build up their military forces. Another concern is the failure to find a political way forward. The UN’s attempt to revive dialogue and appoint a new Presidency Council and prime minister to head a unity government has floundered. The prospects of uniting the country under a single government equipped with an electoral roadmap are thus highly uncertain. Fortunately, despite these red flags, there appears to be little appetite among Libyan factions and their foreign backers to restart the war.

The Ceasefire Terms Go Unfulfilled

The October ceasefire agreement, which was signed by pro-Tripoli representatives and delegates of the Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, established that Libyan rival forces would withdraw immediately from the front lines and freeze foreign military training agreements. It also stipulated that all foreign fighters supporting the two military coalitions would leave the country by late January. Yet neither side appears keen to implement its commitments and both seem determined to dig in further.

Diplomatic sources and online reports indicate that Turkey sent several sea and air shipments of military equipment to its Tripoli-based allies throughout November and December. Satellite imagery published on 10 December suggests that Ankara has also continued to reinforce its presence at al-Wutiya, an air base close to the Tunisian border where Turkish officers have been operating since mid-2020. Some foreign analysts speculate that Turkey is installing new aerial defence systems there in preparation for deploying fighter jets. Officials in Ankara have not commented on the matter, nor have UN officials.

If the analysts’ conjecture is correct, however, such a deployment could rapidly escalate tensions between Turkey and its regional foes Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Western diplomats suspect one of these two countries carried out an airstrike (or at the very least, called on one of their other allies to do so) on Turkish positions in al-Wutiya in July 2020, in another manifestation of the years-long feud between Cairo and Abu Dhabi, on one side, and Ankara and Doha, on the other. Qatar reportedly bankrolls Turkey’s operation in Libya.

Haftar-held positions in central and southern Libya also have received military reinforcements. Pro-Haftar sources confirmed to Crisis Group that foreign partners are slowly seeking to strengthen the field marshal’s camp’s hold on the areas, though they refused to specify the countries involved. They added, however, that the Libyan National Army is enlisting numerous new recruits from the south, including non-Libyans. Russian private military contractors appear to have increased their presence at two air bases, al-Gardabiya and al-Jufra, in central Libya, and also appear to be moving equipment from there to Brak al-Shati, another Haftar-controlled base further south.

At the same time, diplomatic sources talk of continued Emirati military supplies to Haftar’s rear base in eastern Libya. It is unclear if Russia and the UAE are coordinating their movements and supplies. A recent Pentagon report suggests that the UAE is providing financing for Russian private contractors in Libya, a claim that both Abu Dhabi and Moscow have denied.

In light of these reports, the two Libyan sides have traded accusations of violating the ceasefire terms. On 7 December, the Tripoli-based government accused Haftar-led forces of attempting to take over a military base in the southern desert town of Obari. Tribal representatives in Obari, who are not aligned with either side, promptly clarified that the matter was based on a misunderstanding. But in the following weeks, officials in Tripoli continued to alert foreign diplomats to what they said was a military build-up in the south. The anti-Tripoli camp has officially denied it is mobilising in the south and instead accused Tripoli, in a 7 December statement, of dispatching “militias, weapons and military equipment toward the front lines west of Sirte and Jufra”.

Turkey has also been the target of accusations. On 9 December, the Haftar-led coalition blamed Ankara for “undermining Libyan sovereignty and its resources” by “dispatching military equipment through an uninterrupted air bridge and transporting mercenaries and foreign fighters to fight the Libyan people”. A few days earlier, naval vessels loyal to Haftar stopped a Turkish cargo ship off the eastern Libyan coast. This incident prompted the Turkish foreign ministry to warn that targeting Turkish interests in Libya will have “grave consequences” and that Haftar’s forces will be viewed as “legitimate targets”. The Libyan National Army released the ship on 10 December, having found no weapons on board.

An earlier incident may have fuelled the Haftar camp’s distrust of Turkey: on 24 November, a German vessel operating under the umbrella of the EU’s Operation Irini, which is tasked with monitoring violations of the UN arms embargo on Libya, had interdicted another Turkish vessel heading to Libya and suspected of carrying military equipment. German marines boarded the ship but had to abort the mission after Ankara intervened diplomatically to prevent the inspection. Under international law, the Irini mission requires tacit consent from a vessel’s flag state before it can board the ship for inspections.

The UN considers Turkey’s dispatch of military equipment a violation of the arms embargo, but Turkey rejects this, arguing instead that its military support to the Tripoli authorities is legitimate because it is part of a bilateral agreement between two sovereign governments, signed in late 2019 and ratified by the Turkish parliament in early 2020.

On this basis, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan submitted to parliament a decree to extend Ankara’s direct military support to the Tripoli government, which it approved on 22 December. This decree also renews the deployment of Turkish troops to Libya for another eighteen months, starting from 2 January 2021. UN and Western officials say this is a violation of both the arms embargo and the October ceasefire provisions, but Ankara has held firm in its own interpretation that its actions in the Tripoli-based government’s support are legitimate.

Russia also appears eager to consolidate its role in the conflict. In the past, Moscow has denied sponsoring the presence of Russian private contractors or backing any side in the conflict. In early December, however, a number of Western diplomats claimed that Russian officials had become much more straightforward behind closed doors in laying out the Kremlin’s interest in preserving its influence in Libya. These reports chime with remarks from within pro-Haftar ranks, where Russia’s apparent unwillingness to cooperate in facilitating the withdrawal of private military contractors has created some unease.

It remains unclear why pro-Haftar officers would want to cut back on Russian support, given how reliant they have become on these private military contractors to counterbalance Turkish support to their foes in Tripoli. Interpretations abound, ranging from financial disagreements between Benghazi and Moscow, to an alleged nationalist revival among Libyan military officers, including Haftar-led ones, that would have led them to seek to cut back on Russian support as long as Turkey also pulled its officers and allied Syrian fighters out of Libya.

Sources close to the Libyan National Army say officers in that camp had calculated that the October ceasefire agreement would force Russia to order the military contractors’ withdrawal, a move they claim they supported if carried out simultaneously with a Turkish withdrawal from Tripoli. But with the latter not occurring, and with Haftar’s Russian allies simultaneously becoming more entrenched, the Libyan National Army appears to have few options but to work with what it apparently has come to consider uncomfortable but necessary allies.

Overall, the failure to implement the ceasefire agreement, the military build-up and the inflammatory statements, as well as Turkish and Russian entrenchment, suggest that the conflict could resume, rather than wind down via a political process. Nonetheless, three elements mitigate the immediate risk of a flare-up. First, while keen to consolidate their influence, foreign actors have so far not signalled a desire to ignite a new round of hostilities. Secondly, there is no popular support for a new war, either in Tripoli or the east. Thirdly, there are ongoing steps to resolve the long-running dispute between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours; progress on this front could calm the proxy war in Libya. That said, the longer the ceasefire terms go unfulfilled and the military build-up continues, the higher the risk that a provocation could prompt a return to fighting.

The Political Deadlock Continues

Stalled political negotiations contribute to the grim outlook. UN-convened talks that were designed to lead to the appointment of a new interim government are on life support. The 75 participants in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum have been unable to agree on how to select a new three-person Presidency Council and prime minister to run Libya until fresh elections scheduled for December 2021. After weeks of deliberations, they narrowed a list of twelve different voting mechanism proposals down to two options. But when 23 of the 75 delegates boycotted the final session, which was meant to take place in mid-December, the proceedings hit a dead end.

Despite this failure, the UN decided to start preparations for the December 2021 elections. It established a Legal Drafting Committee, a group of eighteen Libyans drawn from the dialogue forum tasked with forging consensus on a legal electoral framework with the help of UN advisers. The absence of a functioning parliament and disputes over the constitutional framework for elections have blocked progress on this matter for years. The committee is supposed to complete its work within 60 days of its creation if parliament, which has been split in two for the past six years, fails to carry out the task, as is likely.

Regardless, the path to elections remains fraught. The decision to move forward with election preparations has given rise to another set of problems that could bog down discussions. First, dialogue forum members who support the appointment of an interim government oppose proceeding with election preparations as long as there is no progress on that front, seeing the two as a single package. Secondly, longstanding disputes over whether a referendum on an existing draft constitution is a precondition for staging elections, in addition to other controversies related to the constitutional framework, are likely to slow down the legal committee’s work.

Progress on the Economy

The past month saw positive breakthroughs on the economic front. On 16 December, five of the Central Bank’s seven board members held their first meeting in five years. Since the 2014 political crisis, the board has been divided between supporters of the Tripoli-based governor (part of the internationally recognised government) and partisans of his pro-eastern deputy. The absence of a functioning board entrusted with overseeing the bank’s work, approving monetary policy and making top appointments at the bank’s subsidiaries has exacerbated Libya’s economic woes. Individuals involved in the process have expressed confidence that the board will hold consultations to deal with a range of pending issues. If the board does meet, it would bode well for the chances of the bank’s reunification.

A second breakthrough came when the board agreed to devalue the Libyan dinar, fixing a new official exchange rate of 4.48 dinars to the U.S. dollar, starting from early January. The aim is to unify Libya’s multiple exchange rate systems. For the past three years, Libya has had: an official rate, used mainly by the government, of 1.4 dinars to the dollar; a commercial rate of 4.9 dinars to the dollar for private businesses able to secure a letter of credit, which only the Central Bank can approve; and black-market rates ranging from 6 to 8 dinars to the dollar for small businesses unable to get a letter of credit. The board agreed on the reform following considerable public pressure. Government officials also argued that the existing system provided loopholes to a handful of exchange rate differential profiteers, while most Libyans had to rely on the unfavourable black-market rates.

Although the new rate was a positive step, some entrepreneurs have expressed concern that the measure will fall short of improving access to foreign exchange. It is far from certain that the Central Bank will make hard currency available as long as a dispute over oil revenues management remains unresolved; such revenues provide almost all of the country’s foreign exchange reserves. At a 14-15 December UN-brokered meeting in Geneva, officials from the Tripoli-based government, National Oil Corporation and the Central Bank’s two rival branches, as well as Libyan financial experts, met with U.S., Egyptian, UN and European Union diplomats and World Bank officials to discuss pending banking and budgetary issues. They touched only marginally on the dispute over the allocation of oil revenues and took no decision on this issue. Oil revenues thus remain sitting in a blocked National Oil Corporation account for the time being.


Research Papers & Reports

Aid policy trends to watch in 2021

The New Humanitarian, 04 January 2021.

2020 could be a historic turning point for the humanitarian sector.

GENEVA - Past mega-crises have spurred reforms, so 2020 could be a historic turning point for the humanitarian sector. So the theory goes. But in practice, there's the likelihood not much will change.

Given the growing numbers of people affected, the disruptions to conventional ways of working, and the prospect of dwindling funding, the pandemic year reignited conversations about aid reform. Sheer necessity made things possible that previously seemed out of reach: Donors showed greater flexibility; international organisations took more of a back seat to local leadership; and COVID-19 drove a super-charged appetite for delivering aid as cash.

Whether that momentum will continue as vaccines are rolled out, travel restrictions are lifted, and life moves towards some semblance of normality is uncertain. As we said in last year’s list, reform in the aid sector never comes easily.

Here are four trends we’ll be keeping an eye on in 2021.

What do you think? Are these the big issues? What did we miss? Where did we go wrong? We look forward to hearing your takes. Please respond on Twitter, email, or Facebook. For a look at current and emerging concerns likely to drive needs across the humanitarian landscape, look out for our 2021 crises and trends to watch list later in the month.


1. Social protection meets humanitarian cash
How will state safety nets and humanitarian aid intersect?

COVID-19-related social protection programmes (unemployment pay, child benefits, “stimulus cheques”) have expanded fast. But while they resemble humanitarian cash aid projects – in so much as they provide money to people to cushion the impact of a crisis – the organisations and tools used to deliver them are quite distinct. So how will this rapid growth in state-led social protection change the humanitarian sector and how should the two fit together?

About 18 percent of all humanitarian aid in 2019, $5.6 billion, was spent as cash – the single largest programme being EU-funded allowances to refugees in Turkey. But this is dwarfed by the $800 billion governments paid out globally in 2020 in pandemic-related social protection, according to a December tally by a World Bank researcher. Many of these new schemes are in rich countries, but some – accounting for about $3 billion tracked so far – are in places classified by the UN as needing humanitarian aid, for example Haiti, Pakistan, and Sudan.

Pandemic safety nets in middle-income countries typically run through state institutions and digital ID registration systems, often with a mix of national tax or other revenue, as well as support from the World Bank or other institutions. But big aid organisations do step in and run social protection where states lack the capacity, and UN agencies are jostling to take the lead in this well-funded and rapidly growing area of provision, according to aid officials.

Not so fast... There are reasons for caution: While state-run systems seem good value for money and long-lasting, they may lack the independence and neutrality of humanitarian schemes. They could also be ill-suited for people on the move, refugees, those living on the fringes of society or in conflicts. For example, in Ethiopia, a donor-backed safety net scheme long kept a tranche of vulnerable people from slipping below the poverty line in bad years. But as relations broke down between the northern region of Tigray and the central government, payments in Tigray were reportedly halted for months. Less dramatically, eligibility criteria and digital registration complications can blunt the benefits of social protection too.

While state-run systems seem good value for money and long-lasting, they may lack the independence and neutrality of humanitarian schemes.

There could be other consequences too. For social protection, the World Bank and national governments have been the key players. State-led schemes – plugged into other social services and able to expand and contract as needs change – could end up taking the place of some of the sprawling projects and agencies of the international aid system. Which "humanitarian cash" offerings of the UN, NGO and Red Cross/Red Crescent providers would still be necessary? While humanitarian players continue to battle out their own coordination of modest cash programming, will the better-resourced alternatives bypass them altogether?


2. Solidarity versus selfishness
Will the arc of history bend towards cooperation or division?

Multilateralism – countries working together in their mutual interest – has been in decline for a while. So it should come as no surprise that while the pandemic has proved the world’s interdependence, it has frayed global solidarity even more: When push comes to shove, the race for PPE, vaccines, and monetary aid is more cut-throat than comradely.

In 2021, COVID-19 will continue to test the norms of international relations and the way countries do or don’t help each other. It is likely to lead to greater inequality, rivalry, conflict, and fragmentation. But it could also be the catalyst for reinvigorating international relations, reviving global civil society, and finding new ways to tackle global problems.

So far, despite excellent slogans like “nobody is safe until everybody is safe”, the pandemic has divided us more than it has united us.

For a time, it seemed we were indeed all in this together. Rich countries bore the brunt of the first coronavirus wave, and the World Health Organization, harnessing diplomats and celebrity influencers alike, led calls for a global and fair approach. In March, the most powerful nations, the G20, called for a “spirit of solidarity”. Meanwhile, any suggestion rich countries had it all figured out fast evaporated amidst faltering healthcare systems in Italy, food insecurity in the UK, and skyrocketing unemployment in the United States. The coronavirus (alongside some climatic disasters) has been a reminder that systemic vulnerabilities and hazards affect us all.

The race for PPE, vaccines, and monetary aid is more cut-throat than comradely.

But while we might be in the same storm this time, we aren’t all in the same boat. Nations have turned inwards, tightening borders and slashing aid budgets. A humanitarian response plan for the most critical situations got a sluggish response from donors. While some new grant and loan money has been mobilised for the Global South, part of that was redirected from other pots. In total, international aid funding looks set to drop just when it’s needed most, and private giving is also expected to decline.

By September, given the yawning gaps between provisions made for rich and poor, the UN chief said the world had “essentially failed” a test of international cooperation.

The litmus test... The most glaring case of looking after number one first is “vaccinationalism” – the scramble to buy up supplies and pre-order future shipments. Rich countries have hogged all of Moderna’s doses and 96 percent of Pfizer/BioNTech’s, according to the People’s Vaccine Alliance. Thousands of people could die unvaccinated while rich countries inject all their citizens, regardless of their level of risk.

Taking into account availability, funding, and logistics, some analysts say sufficient vaccine doses won’t reach many countries until 2022. If correct, that would mean a grim toll from the disease itself, lengthy economic, trade, and travel restrictions, and a “moral catastrophe” of international inequality. Among those to lose out could even be countries that were used in drug trials.

Set against the vaccine-fuelled euphoria in stock markets in late 2020, the them-and-us outlook is stark. “The whole call for global solidarity has mostly been lost,” WHO vaccines chief Katherine O’Brien said.

As nations put their own interests first and politicians act on the basis of “the Devil take the hindmost”, multilateral bodies like the UN – and its shared development goals – risk greater irrelevance. But while leaders pull up the drawbridges, public opinion still seems open to international cooperation. In 2021 and beyond, ad hoc and hybrid initiatives – coalitions, alliances, campaigns, and networks – might have more influence than the more ambitious global enterprises, based on nation states and UN processes.

COVAX, tasked with fairer vaccine research and distribution, is a practical example. Despite a struggle for funding, it will be at the front of the queue for some two billion doses of the second wave of vaccines. Its finances are a mix of private and public money from an eclectic group, including corporate donors, foundations, and governments.

Vaccines may be the most vivid example of a deficit of solidarity, but finances in general will be tight too. As tax and export revenues dip in the recession, a number of developing countries face difficulties in keeping up with debt servicing, threatening destabilising defaults. Some payments have been deferred, but no debt has been cancelled, while proposals to conjure a trillion dollars of IMF lending have stalled.


3. Diversity, equity, and inclusion
Will the Black Lives Matter movement make a difference in the aid sector?

In 2020, #BLM threw a spotlight on racism in international aid, and on its underlying assumptions. The UN was criticised for a lack of diversity at the top and how it treats Black officials. NGOs were pushed, often by their own staff, to take a hard look in the mirror.

A minority of NGO figures have been reluctant to accept the cue for change, suggesting the discourse is peripheral to the business of saving lives and the aid world is no worse than society at large. But most people The New Humanitarian heard from in 2020 saw it differently, saying – in so many words – you can’t go around claiming to do good while being racist.

Discussions over #BLM centred on the discrimination that people of colour experience in the sector – staff and aid recipients. But 2020 also saw renewed debate over the aid system’s role as a successor to colonialism: paternalistic, othering, and reinforcing prejudices and privileges. “Localisation” – redirecting more funding to local actors – is beginning to look like a failure to decolonise. And if aid behemoths can’t reform, defund them, suggested commentators.

Plus ça change... Challenged on their treatment of people of colour – but also on their whole raison d'être – aid agencies made pledges to do better. Some familiar organisational levers have already been pulled: new policies, new job titles (“Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisor”), workshops, and training sessions.

Despite all the talk, it’s hard to tell if attitudes are really changing. If you didn’t know it before, a new-ish acronym will be seen more and more: DEI, for Diversity Equity and Inclusion. But race is only one dimension of DEI. Other groups – the disabled, for example – face systematic exclusion too, and the aid sector has a lot more work still to do for equal treatment of LGBTQI+ people.

You can’t go around claiming to do good while being racist.

The aid “establishment” has proven adept at co-opting new trends before, while staying resistant to change. So, this time, will there be a real difference or just a few tweaks and some window dressing?

In 2021, we’ll be looking out for evidence of change, particularly in how agencies perform – and report – on race, gender, other types of inequity, and the composition of boards and leadership.

The way international organisations exercise their power – in particular how they deal with local humanitarian actors – may also show if pressure to #ShiftThePower is working. The Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic dominance of the sector excludes many and is well-embedded. If the reception to attempts at reaching gender parity is any indicator, expect to see continued resistance.


4. The mega-crises of tomorrow
What if COVID-19 is just a taste of the future?

However cogent the warnings, preparing for uncertain future crises can seem abstract – lacking urgency and eminently skippable to individuals and institutions.

COVID-19 has given the humanitarian system a glimpse into the overlapping and cascading crises of tomorrow, where the initial stressor – a climate event, a new disease, or even a cybersecurity incident – might cause domino effects in economies and critical systems relied upon by billions.

As a trial run for future crises, the pandemic carries both warnings and lessons.

Without reform, analysts argue that the international system will remain ill-equipped to respond to the scale and complexity of future crises. As 2020 came to a close, the WHO called for better readiness for next time, warning that even in the arena of emerging diseases, COVID-19 was “not necessarily the big one”, noting its relatively low fatality rate.


“Surprise is the new normal”

If responding more effectively is one lesson, mitigating the risks beforehand is another. Often a hard sell, preparedness and risk reduction have long been the Cinderella of disaster response. But if the message of “a stitch in time saves nine” was ever to cut through, surely it could – or should – be in 2021. That said, how much cash and political will is left to prepare for the next one?

Once bitten… The WHO and others warned of the prospect of a new Disease X in 2018; years of pandemic preparedness initiatives had made limited impact. The UN’s flagship report on risk reduction in 2019 pointed out that governments don’t easily budget for “what-if”, and highlighted the likelihood of climate-related compounded risks: “Surprise is the new normal”.

Anticipation, prediction, and forecasting of risk, climatic disasters, and future crisis scenarios may see a further upsurge of interest in the wake of the pandemic. Financial mechanisms that can release money promptly and avert worse impacts will continue to be a focus of innovation and experimentation in preparedness. However, data-driven modelling (including AI) has limits and pitfalls, and proved a disappointing basis for the World Bank’s pandemic insurance scheme.

Global health governance is likely to get a lot of new attention in 2021, but the pandemic shows how one type of crisis – health – can spill over into almost every other sector of society, and so crisis response needs to tap a broader constituency.

Similarly, the institutions and players involved in the pandemic go way beyond mainstream humanitarian responders. Those will now need to face up to their limitations and figure out where they fit amongst much larger, better-resourced players in the future. That may mean new roles, both for individual humanitarian agencies and for the sector as a whole.

States, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, have had some success in recent years in stepping up their risk reduction and preparedness. Humanitarian organisations have also made some shifts to preventive action. Overall, however, the funding, organisational capacity, leadership, and policy planning needed to mitigate risks and be ready to respond to the crises of tomorrow still looks inadequate.




By Robert Malley, President and CEO, International Crisis Group, 30 December 2020

The new year will likely be plagued by unresolved legacies of the old: COVID-19, economic downturns, erratic U.S. policies and destructive wars that diplomacy did not stop. Crisis Group’s President Robert Malley lists the Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2021.


If there were a contest for the 2020 event with the most far-reaching implications for global peace and security, the field would be crowded.

From the coronavirus pandemic to climate change’s growing impact, the Trump administration’s scorched-earth policies after Joe Biden’s election, the Azerbaijani-Armenian war over Nagorno-Karabakh, and a deadly conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, it has been an eventful year. In 2021, the world will be dealing with the aftermath and sifting through the debris.

Start with COVID-19 and its long tail. When the pandemic first broke out, many – myself included – feared that it would have immediate, potentially devastating consequences in developing countries, especially those facing deadly conflict. Although several low-income countries were hit badly, many were not; diplomatic activity, international mediation, peacekeeping missions, and financial support to vulnerable populations suffered, but it’s questionable whether COVID-19 dramatically affected the trajectory of major wars, be they in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, or elsewhere.

Longer-term ramifications are a different matter. The pandemic has precipitated a global economic crisis without precedent since World War II, with an additional 150 million people being driven below the extreme poverty line. Although income levels do not directly correlate with conflict, violence is more likely during periods of economic volatility.

In Sudan, Lebanon, and Venezuela, to mention but a few examples, one can expect the number of unemployed to grow, real incomes to collapse, governments to face mounting difficulties paying security forces, and the general population to increasingly rely on state support at a time when states are least equipped to provide it. The lines separating economic dissatisfaction from social unrest, and social unrest from outbreaks of violence, are thin. Nor are the U.S., Europe, or other donors likely to devote the requisite amount of high-level, continuous attention or resources on regional conflicts far away as they confront economic, social, and political havoc at home.

Next is climate change – hardly a novel phenomenon but an accelerating one with an increasingly discernible impact on conflict. It’s true that the causal chain is circuitous, with political responses to extreme weather patterns often playing a greater part than the patterns themselves. Still, with more frequent heat waves and extreme precipitation, many governments are harder-pressed to deal with food insecurity, water scarcity, migration, and competition for resources. This is the first year that a transnational risk has made it onto our top conflicts list, as climate-related violence stretches from the Sahel to Nigeria and Central America.

Meanwhile, the U.S. – polarised, distrustful of its institutions, heavily armed, riven by deep social and racial rifts, and led by a recklessly divisive president – came closer to an unmanageable political crisis than at any time in its modern history. While the country was spared the worst, President Donald Trump has spent his final weeks in office challenging the election’s legitimacy and therefore his successor’s, seemingly intent on dealing President-elect Biden the weakest possible hand to deal with the messy situation he will inherit.

Turning political spite into diplomatic art form, booby-trapping the field for the man who will replace him, Trump imposed an array of sanctions on Iran with the barely concealed objective of hindering Biden’s efforts to revive the Iranian nuclear deal. He extended U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara in an unbecoming exchange for Morocco’s decision to normalise relations with Israel. And he ordered a series of last-minute U.S. military drawdowns from Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. By acting precipitously, without coordination or consultation with key local stakeholders, he managed to give a bad name to potentially sensible policies. There is every reason to encourage better relations between Arab states and Israel; there is none to do so in a manner oblivious to international law. There is every reason to end America’s endless entanglement in foreign wars; there is none to do so in a manner that diminishes the incoming president’s hand and constricts his room to manoeuvre.

Biden’s election brought hope leavened with realism. Some of the damage wrought by his predecessor can be undone with relative ease. But the new team may find the impression of an erratic, unpredictable, untrustworthy giant harder to erase. By bullying traditional allies and ripping up international accords, Trump thought he was projecting power but was in reality exhibiting unreliability. To the extent Biden intends to negotiate anew with Iran and maybe North Korea, encourage compromise in Yemen or Venezuela, or revert to a less partisan role in the Middle East, he will be hobbled by memories of the man who came before him and forecasts of what might come next – especially if power only endures as long as the next U.S. electoral cycle.

The last of 2020’s legacies may be the most ominous. The final months of the year grievously injured that favorite adage of diplomats and peacemakers – that there is no military solution to political conflict. Tell that to Armenians, forced in the face of superior Azerbaijani firepower to relinquish land they had held for a quarter-century; to Ethiopia’s Tigrayans, whose leadership promised prolonged resistance against advancing federal troops only to see those forces ensconced in the regional capital of Mekelle within days. Tell that, for that matter, to the Rohingya forced to flee Myanmar in 2017; to Palestinians, who have remained refugees or under occupation since the 1967 Arab defeat; or to the Sahrawi people whose aspirations to self-determination have been snuffed out by Moroccan troops and a transactional U.S. president, to mention only a handful of recent conflicts seemingly resolved by force.

It has long been a core belief among peacemakers that, absent more equitable political solutions, military gains tend to prove brittle. Just as Azerbaijanis never forgot the humiliation of the early 1990s, so too will Armenians strive to erase the indignity of 2020. If their grievances are unaddressed, many Tigrayans will resist what they might perceive as alien rule. Israel will not know genuine safety so long as Palestinians live under its occupation. But that core belief is under assault and getting harder to cling to.

Many around the globe experienced the past year as an annus horribilis, eagerly awaiting its conclusion. But as the list of conflicts to watch that follows suggests, its long shadow will endure. 2020 may be a year to forget, but 2021 will likely, and unhappily, keep reminding us of it.

1. Afghanistan

Despite small but important advances in peace talks, a lot could go wrong for Afghanistan in 2021.

After almost two decades of fighting, the U.S. government signed a deal with Taliban insurgents in February. Washington pledged to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in return for Taliban commitments to forbid terrorists from using the country for operations and to enter talks with the Afghan government.

Afghan peace talks took time to get underway. The government stretched out for six months a prisoner exchange the U.S. had promised to the Taliban – the release of 1,000 government troops or officials held by the Taliban in return for 5,000 Taliban fighters – which Kabul saw as lopsided. The insurgents, who had initially reduced suicide bombings and assaults on cities and towns, responded to delays by stepping up attacks and assassinations.

Negotiations eventually started in Doha in mid-September, but the two sides took until December to agree on procedural rules. Neither shows much appetite for compromise. Bloodshed has, if anything, escalated. The Taliban appear to have abandoned any initial restraint. Recent months have seen an uptick in suicide bombings and larger offensives on towns.

One challenge lies in how the parties view talks. Kabul is publicly committed. But top officials deeply distrust the Taliban or see negotiations as potentially resulting in the government’s demise. Kabul has sought to slow-roll talks without openly crossing Washington. In contrast, Taliban leaders believe their movement is ascendant. They perceive the U.S. withdrawal and the peace process as reflecting that reality. Within insurgent ranks too, many fighters expect talks to deliver much of what they have fought for.

Looming in May 2021 is the deadline set in the February deal for a complete U.S. and NATO military withdrawal. Though Washington argues that was implicitly conditional on advances in Afghan peace talks, the Taliban would likely react angrily to major delays. Since February, Trump has pulled out thousands of U.S. forces. An initial drawdown to 8,600 was mandated in the bilateral agreement, but Trump has downsized to 4,500 and pledges to reach 2,500 before he leaves office. The extra, unconditional withdrawals have reinforced Taliban confidence and government disquiet.

Afghanistan’s fate lies mostly with the Taliban, Kabul, and their willingness to compromise – but much also hinges on Biden. His administration may want to condition the withdrawal on progress in talks. But it will take time for the Afghan parties to reach a settlement. Keeping a U.S. military presence in the country long past May without irreparably alienating the Taliban will be no small feat. To complicate things further, Biden has expressed a preference for keeping several thousand counter-terrorism forces in Afghanistan. He may have to decide between that and a potentially successful peace process. Neither the Taliban nor regional countries whose support would be crucial to any agreement’s success will accept an indefinite U.S. military presence.

A precipitous U.S. withdrawal could destabilise the Afghan government and potentially lead to an expanded, multiparty civil war. Conversely, a prolonged presence could prompt the Taliban to walk away from talks and intensify their attacks, provoking a major escalation. Either would mean that 2021 marks the year Afghanistan loses its best shot at peace in a generation.

2. Ethiopia

On 4 November, Ethiopian federal forces began an assault on Tigray region after a deadly Tigrayan attack and takeover of federal military units in the region. By November’s end, the army had entered the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle. Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) leaders abandoned the city, claiming they wished to spare civilians. Much remains unclear, given a media blackout. But the violence has likely killed thousands of people, including many civilians; displaced more than a million internally; and led some 50,000 to flee to Sudan.

The Tigray crisis’s roots stretch back years. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018 after protests largely driven by long-simmering anger at the then-ruling coalition, which had been in power since 1991 and which the TPLF dominated. Abiy’s tenure, which began with significant efforts at reforming a repressive governance system, has been marked by a loss of influence for Tigrayan leaders, who complain of being scapegoated for previous abuses and warily eye his rapprochement with the TPLF’s old foe, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki. Abiy’s allies accuse TPLF elites of seeking to maintain a disproportionate share of power, obstructing reform, and stoking trouble through violence.

The Tigray dispute is Ethiopia’s most bitter, but there are wider fault lines. Powerful regions are at loggerheads while supporters of Ethiopia’s ethnic federalist system (which devolves power to ethnically defined regions and that the TPLF was instrumental in designing) are battling that system’s opponents, who believe it entrenches ethnic identity and fosters division. While many Ethiopians blame the TPLF for years of oppressive rule, the Tigrayan party is not alone in fearing that Abiy aims to do away with the system in a quest to centralise authority. Notably, Abiy’s critics in the restive Oromia region – Ethiopia’s most populous – share that view, despite Abiy’s own Oromo heritage.

The question now is what comes next. Federal forces advanced and took control of Mekelle and other cities relatively quickly. Addis Ababa hopes that what it calls its continuing “law enforcement operation” will defeat the remaining rebels. It rejects talks with TPLF leaders; allowing impunity for outlaws who attack the military and violate the constitution would reward treason, Abiy’s allies say. The central government is now appointing an interim regional government, has issued arrest warrants for 167 Tigrayan officials and military officers, and appears to hope to persuade Tigrayans to abandon their erstwhile rulers. Yet the TPLF has a strong grassroots network.

There are disturbing signs. Reports suggest purges of Tigrayans from the army and their mistreatment elsewhere in the country. Militias from Amhara region, which borders Tigray, have seized disputed territory held for the past three decades by Tigrayans. The TPLF launched missiles at Eritrea, and Eritrean forces have almost certainly been involved in the anti-TPLF offensive. All this will fuel Tigrayan grievances and separatist sentiment.

If the federal government invests heavily in Tigray, works with the local civil service as it is rather than emptying it of the TPLF rank and file, stops the harassment of Tigrayans elsewhere, and runs disputed areas rather than leaving them to Amhara administrators, there might be some hope of peace. It would be critical then to move toward a national dialogue to heal the country’s deep divisions in Tigray and beyond. Absent that, the outlook is gloomy for a transition that inspired so much hope only a year ago.

3. The Sahel

The crisis engulfing the Sahel region of North Africa continues to worsen, with inter-ethnic violence increasing and jihadists extending their reach. 2020 was the deadliest year since the crisis started in 2012, when Islamist militants overran northern Mali, plunging the region into protracted instability.

Jihadists control or are a shadow presence across swaths of rural Mali and Burkina Faso and are making inroads in Niger’s south west. Intensified French counter-terrorism operations in 2020 dealt the militants some blows, pummeling the local Islamic State affiliate and killing several al-Qaeda leaders. Combined with jihadist infighting, they appear to have contributed to a decline in complex militant attacks against security forces. But military strikes and killing leaders have not disrupted jihadists’ command structures or recruitment. Indeed, the more foreign militaries pile in, the bloodier the region seems to become. Nor have government authorities been able to reclaim rural areas lost to militants. Even where military pressure forces jihadists out, they tend to return when operations subside.

The conditions on which militants thrive are difficult to reverse. States’ relations with many of their rural citizens have broken down, as have traditional conflict management systems. As a result, neither state nor customary authorities are able to calm increasing friction among communities, often over resources. Security forces’ abuses drive further discontent. All this is a boon for militants, who lend firepower and offer protection to locals or even step in to resolve disputes. Ethnic militias mobilised by the Malian and Burkinabè authorities to fight jihadists fuel intercommunal violence.

Even beyond rural areas, citizens are growing angrier at their governments. Mali’s coup in August, the result of protests provoked by a contested election but sustained by wider fury at corruption and inept rule, is the starkest evidence. Similar discontent plagues Niger and Burkina Faso.

Without more concerted efforts to tackle the Sahel’s crisis of rural governance, it is hard to see how the region can escape today’s turmoil. Broadly speaking, such efforts would require state actors and others to focus first and foremost on mediating local conflicts, talking to militants where necessary, and using the resulting agreements as the basis for the return of state authority to the countryside. Foreign military operations are essential, but international actors ought to emphasise local peacemaking and push for governance reform. Little suggests the military-first approach will stabilise the Sahel. If anything, over recent years it appears to have contributed to the uptick in inter-ethnic bloodshed and Islamist militancy.

4. Yemen

Yemen’s war has caused what the UN still deems the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. COVID-19 has exacerbated the suffering of civilians already stalked by poverty, hunger, and other diseases. Top humanitarian officials are again warning of famine.

One year ago, there was a window of opportunity to end the war, but the belligerents squandered it. Huthi rebels were talking through back channels with Saudi Arabia, the main outside sponsor of the U.N.-recognised Yemeni government led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The Saudis were also mediating among anti-Huthi factions that were squabbling over the status of Aden, a southern city that is the government’s interim capital and which has been controlled by the secessionist, Emirati-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) since August 2019. Combined, these two negotiating tracks could have served as building blocks for a U.N.-brokered political process. Instead, fighting has escalated, particularly in Marib, the Hadi government’s last urban stronghold in the north. It took a year of bad-tempered negotiations before anti-Huthi factions agreed on how they would divvy up security responsibilities in the south, move their forces away from front lines, and form a new government. The negotiations will likely face further roadblocks over relocating the cabinet to Aden. UN peacemaking efforts have also hit a wall.

Both the Huthis and the Hadi government have reasons to stall. If they prevail in Marib, the Huthis will have conquered the north and seized the province’s oil, gas, and power plant, allowing them to generate much-needed electricity and revenue. The government can ill afford to lose Marib, but it harbours another hope: the outgoing Trump administration may, in a parting shot at Iran, designate the Huthis a terrorist organisation, tightening the economic noose on the rebels and complicating negotiations with them by outside actors. Such a step would heighten risks of famine by obstructing trade with Yemen, which imports 90 per cent of its wheat and all of its rice. It might also sound the death knell for UN mediation efforts.

In any case, the UN two-party framework looks outdated. Yemen is no longer the country it was in the early days of the war; it has fragmented as the conflict raged. The Huthis and the government do not hold a duopoly over territory or domestic legitimacy. Other local actors have interests, influence, and spoiling power. The UN should expand its framework to include others, notably the STC and Emirati-backed forces on the Red Sea coast along with tribespeople in the north, who could otherwise upend any settlement they reject. Instead of pursuing a two-party bargain, the UN should start planning for a more inclusive process that would encourage deal-making among key players.

Absent a course correction, 2021 looks set to be another bleak year for Yemenis, with the war dragging on, disease and potentially famine spreading, prospects for a settlement evaporating, and millions of Yemenis getting sicker and hungrier by the day.

5. Venezuela

Nearly two years have passed since the Venezuelan opposition, the U.S., and countries across Latin America and Europe proclaimed legislator Juan Guaidó interim president of Venezuela and predicted incumbent Nicolás Maduro’s demise. Today, any such hopes lie in tatters. A U.S.-led “maximum pressure” campaign – entailing sanctions, international isolation, implied threats of military action, and even an abortive coup – has not toppled Maduro. If anything, these actions have left him stronger, as allies, including in the military, have rallied behind him fearing his fall would endanger them. Venezuelans’ living conditions, devastated by the government’s ineptitude, U.S. sanctions, and COVID-19, have hit rock bottom.

If Maduro remains entrenched, his adversaries could see their political fortunes collapse. The bases for Guaidó’s presidential claim lay in the parliamentary majority that opposition parties won in 2015, combined with the argument that Maduro’s May 2018 re-election was a sham. Now the opposition is weak, divided, and with barely a toehold in the National Assembly. The government won December’s legislative elections, which all but a few small opposition parties boycotted, with a thumping majority.

The opposition’s malaise stems primarily from its failure to bring about change. Its strategy underestimated Maduro’s capacity to survive sanctions and international isolation while overestimating Washington’s willingness to make good on vague threats of force.

Backing sanctions has also lost Maduro’s rivals support, given that those measures have hastened Venezuela’s economic collapse and further impoverished its citizens. More than 5 million citizens have fled, many now scraping by in Colombia’s cities or violent borderlands. Most families that remain cannot put enough food on the table. Thousands of children are suffering irreversible harm from malnutrition.

A new U.S. government provides an opportunity for a rethink. Support for the Venezuelan opposition has been bipartisan in Washington. Still, Biden’s team could change tack, give up trying to oust Maduro, and launch diplomatic efforts aimed at laying the groundwork for a negotiated settlement with the help of both left- and right-wing leaders in Latin America.

Together with the European Union, it could attempt to reassure Maduro’s allies such as Russia, China, and Cuba that their core interests in the country would survive a transition. Beyond taking immediate humanitarian steps to alleviate Venezuela’s coronavirus-related crisis, the new administration might also consider resuming diplomatic contacts with Caracas and committing to gradually lift sanctions if the government takes meaningful steps, such as releasing political prisoners and dismantling abusive police units. Internationally backed negotiations aimed in particular at organising credible presidential elections, scheduled for 2024, could come next, provided both sides show they are genuinely interested in compromise.

At present, Maduro’s government shows no sign it would hold a fair vote. Most of his rivals want to overthrow and prosecute him. A settlement looks as distant as ever. But after two years spent in fruitless and harmful efforts to provoke sudden political rupture, building support for a more gradual transition is the best path forward.

6. Somalia

Elections are looming in Somalia amid bitter disputes between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (also known as“Farmajo”) and his rivals. The war against Al-Shabaab is entering its fifteenth year, with no end in sight, while donors increasingly chafe at paying for African Union (AU) forces to help keep the militants at bay.

The mood ahead of the elections – parliamentary elections were scheduled for mid-December but have been pushed back, and preparations for a presidential vote planned for February 2021 are also lagging – is fraught. Relations between Mogadishu and some of Somalia’s regions – notably Puntland and Jubaland, whose leaders have long been rivals of Mohamed and fear his re-election – are tense, largely due to disputes over the allocation of power and resources between the centre and periphery. Such discord tends to pit Somalia’s communities against one another, including at a clan level, with increasingly bitter rhetoric employed by all sides.

Al-Shabaab, meanwhile, remains potent. The group controls large portions of southern and central Somalia, extends a shadow presence far beyond that, and regularly attacks Somalia’s capital. While Somali leaders and their international partners all recognise, in principle, that the challenge from Al-Shabaab cannot be tackled with force alone, few articulate clear alternatives. Talks with militants might be an option, but thus far the movement’s leaders have given little indication that they want a political settlement.

To further complicate things, patience is wearing thin with the AU mission that has for years battled Al-Shabaab. Without those forces, major towns, potentially even Mogadishu, would be even more vulnerable to militant assaults. Donors like the EU are tired of forking out for what appears to be a never-ending military campaign. The current plan is to hand over primary security responsibility to Somali forces by the end of 2021, yet those troops remain weak and ill-prepared to lead counter-insurgency efforts. The risk of a security vacuum has been aggravated by the sudden pullout of Ethiopian forces due to the Tigray crisis and the Trump administration’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops training and mentoring the Somali army.

Much hinges on the February presidential vote. A reasonably clean election, whose results main parties accept, could allow Somalia’s leaders and their foreign backers to step up efforts to reach agreement on the federal relationship and constitutional arrangements and accelerate security sector reform. A contested vote, on the other hand, could provoke a political crisis that widens the gulf between Mogadishu and the regions, potentially triggers clan violence, and risks emboldening Al-Shabaab.

7. Libya

Rival military coalitions in Libya are no longer fighting, and the UN has restarted negotiations aimed at reunifying the country. But reaching lasting peace will still be an uphill struggle.

On 23 October, the Libyan National Army (LNA) – led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar and supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia – and the Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al-Sarraj, signed a ceasefire formally ending a battle that had been raging on the outskirts of Tripoli and elsewhere since April 2019. The fighting had killed some 3,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. Turkey’s direct military intervention to aid Sarraj in early 2020 reversed what had been Haftar’s advantage. Front lines are now frozen in central Libya.

The ceasefire is welcome, but its implementation is lagging. The LNA and GNA committed to withdraw troops from front lines, expel foreign fighters, and stop all foreign military training. Yet both sides have backtracked. Their forces are still on the front lines, and foreign military cargo planes continue to land at their respective air bases, suggesting that outside backers are still resupplying both sides.

Similarly, progress has been stunted in reunifying a country divided since 2014. UN talks convened in November brought together 75 Libyans tasked with agreeing on an interim unity government and a roadmap to elections. But talks have been marred by controversy over how the UN selected these delegates, their legal authority, infighting, and allegations of attempted bribery. The participants have agreed to elections at the end of 2021 but not on the legal framework governing those polls.

At the heart of all the problems is a disagreement over power sharing. Haftar’s backers demand that a new government place the LNA and GNA camps on an equal footing. His rivals oppose including pro-LNA leaders in any new dispensation. Foreign powers have similarly contrasting views. Turkey wants a friendly government – free of Haftar supporters – in Tripoli. Conversely, Cairo and Abu Dhabi want to reduce Ankara’s influence and bolster that of pro-LNA politicians. Russia, which also supports the LNA, is keen to retain its foothold in the Mediterranean, but whether it prefers the status quo that preserves its sway in the east or a new government with LNA representation is unclear.

Fighting seems unlikely to flare back up in the immediate future because outside actors, while keen to consolidate their influence, do not want another round of open hostilities. But the longer the ceasefire terms go unfulfilled, the higher the risk of mishaps provoking a return to war. To avoid this outcome, the UN must help forge a roadmap to unify Libya’s divided institutions and de-escalate tensions among regional foes.

8. Iran-US

In January 2020, the U.S. killing of Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani brought U.S.-Iran tensions close to a boiling point. In the end, Iran’s response was relatively limited, and neither side chose to escalate, though the temperature remained perilously high. The new U.S. administration could calm one of the world’s most dangerous standoffs, notably by returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But doing so quickly, managing relations with Saudi Arabia and Israel – both bitterly opposed to Iran – and then moving to talks about broader regional issues will be no mean feat.

The Trump administration’s Iran policy has entailed what it calls maximum pressure. That has meant exiting the JCPOA and imposing harsh unilateral sanctions on Iran in the hope of forcing greater concessions on its nuclear program, tempering its regional influence, and – some officials hoped – even toppling the government in Tehran.

Sanctions devastated Iran’s economy but achieved little else. Throughout Trump’s presidency, Iran’s nuclear program grew, increasingly unconstrained by the JCPOA. Tehran has more accurate ballistic missiles than ever before and more of them. The regional picture grew more, not less, fraught, with incidents – from Suleimani’s killing on Iraqi soil to attacks on Saudi energy industry targets widely attributed to Tehran – triggering multiple brushes with open war. Nothing suggests that the Iranian government, despite periodic outbursts of popular discontent, is in danger of collapse.

Even in its dying days, the Trump administration has been doubling down. The waning weeks of its tenure saw it impose more sanctions designations. The killing of a top Iranian nuclear scientist, which was attributed to Israel, further inflamed tensions and prompted Iran to threaten to expand its nuclear program further still. Washington and some allies appear determined to inflict maximum pain on Iran and restrict the incoming Biden administration’s room for manoeuvre. Risks of a confrontation before Trump leaves office remain alive as pro-Iran Shiite militias target Americans in Iraq.

Biden has signalled that he will shift course, agree to rejoin the JCPOA if Iran resumes compliance, and then seek to negotiate a follow-on deal tackling ballistic missiles and regional policy. Tehran has signalled that it, too, is prepared for a mutual adherence to the existing nuclear deal. That seems the safest and swiftest bet, although even then obstacles will abound. The U.S. and Iranian governments will need to agree on a sequencing of steps between sanctions relief and nuclear restraints and also on which sanctions should be lifted. The window could be short, with presidential elections in Iran scheduled for June and a more hardline candidate predicted to win.

But if they return to the JCPOA, the larger challenge will be to address the regional tensions and polarisation that, left to fester, will continue to jeopardise the deal and could trigger conflict. European governments are exploring the possibility of prompting Iran and Gulf Arab states to engage in a dialogue to reduce regional tensions and prevent an inadvertent outbreak of war; the Biden administration could put its full diplomatic weight behind such an effort.

9. Russia-Turkey

Russia and Turkey are not at war, often in cahoots, yet frequently backing opposing sides – as in Syria and Libya – or competing for sway, as in the Caucasus. They often see one another as partners, compartmentalise discord on one issue from discussions on others, and cooperate even as their local allies battle it out. Yet as Turkey’s 2015 downing of a Russian jet near the Turkey-Syria border and the 2020 killings of dozens of Turkish soldiers in airstrikes by Russian-backed Syrian forces show, the risk of unexpected confrontations is high. While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, so far have proved adept at managing such mishaps, any falling-out could exacerbate the conflicts in which they are both entangled.

The contradictions of Ankara-Moscow relations are clearest in Syria. Turkey has been among President Bashar al-Assad’s fiercest foreign antagonists and a staunch backer of rebels. Russia, meanwhile, threw its weight behind Assad and, in 2015, intervened to decisively turn the war in his favour. Turkey has since given up on ousting Assad, more concerned with battling the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against Turkey for nearly four decades and which Ankara (and the US and Europe) considers a terrorist organisation.

A March 2020 deal cobbled together by Moscow and Ankara halted the latest bout of fighting in Idlib, the last rebel-held pocket in north-western Syria, and showed how much the two powers need each other. Russia expects Turkey to enforce the Idlib ceasefire. Ankara recognises that another regime offensive, which could drive hundreds of thousands more Syrians into Turkey, hinges on Russian air support, which gives Moscow virtual veto power over such an operation. But the status quo is tenuous: the Syrian war is not over, and another Russian-backed offensive in Idlib remains possible.

In Libya, too, Russia and Turkey back opposite sides. Russian contractors support Haftar’s LNA, while Turkey supports the Tripoli-based GNA. A fragile ceasefire has held since October. But it is far from clear that a deal can guarantee Turkey the friendly Libyan rulers it wants while also giving Russia the foothold it seeks.

Russia and Turkey were also enmeshed in the recent war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia has a military alliance with Armenia but avoided picking sides and eventually brokered the ceasefire that ended fighting. Turkey lent Azerbaijan diplomatic and military support, with Turkish (and Israeli) drones helping to suppress Armenian air defences. Despite their competition in the South Caucasus, both Moscow and Ankara gained this time around. Russia deployed peacekeepers and dramatically upped its influence in the region. Turkey can claim to have played a significant part in Azerbaijan’s victory and will benefit from a trade corridor established by the ceasefire deal.

Paradoxically, just as Moscow and Ankara compete on an increasing number of battlefields, their ties are stronger than they have been in some time. Their “frenmity” is symptomatic of broader trends – a world in which non-Western powers increasingly push back against the US and Western Europe and are more assertive and more willing to enter into fluctuating alliances.

Russia has seen tensions with the West mount against the backdrop of wars in Ukraine and Syria, charges of election interference and poisoning of opponents on foreign soil, as well as U.S. and European sanctions. Turkey chafes at U.S. support for the YPG and refusal to extradite Fethullah Gülen – the cleric Ankara accuses of masterminding an attempted coup in 2016 – as well as European critiques of its democratic backsliding and alleged bias in the Cyprus conflict. Sanctions imposed by Washington in response to Ankara’s purchase and testing of the Russian S-400 missile defence system encapsulate these tensions. By cutting bilateral deals in various conflict zones, both Russia and Turkey see the potential for gain.

Still, ties born of opportunity don’t always last. With their respective forces so close to multiple front lines, potential flash points abound. A downturn in their relations could spell trouble for both nations and more than one warzone.

10. Climate Change

The relationship between war and climate change is neither simple nor linear. The same weather patterns will increase violence in one area and not in another. While some countries manage climate-induced competition well, others don’t manage it at all. Much depends on whether states are governed inclusively, are well equipped to mediate conflicts over resources, or can provide for citizens when their lives or livelihoods are upended. How much climate-related violence 2021 will see is uncertain, but the broader trend is clear enough: without urgent action, the danger of climate-related conflict will rise in the years ahead.

In northern Nigeria, droughts have intensified fighting between herders and farmers over dwindling resources, which in 2019 killed twice as many people as the Boko Haram conflict. On the Nile, Egypt and Ethiopia have traded threats of military action over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, partly due to Cairo’s fears the dam will exacerbate already serious water scarcity. For now, Africa arguably sees the worst climate-related conflict risks, but parts of Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East face similar dangers.

In fragile countries worldwide, millions of people already experience record heat waves, extreme and irregular precipitation, and rising sea levels. All this could fuel instability: for example, by exacerbating food insecurity, water scarcity, and resource competition and by leading more people to flee their homes. Some studies suggest that a rise in local temperature of 0.5 degrees Celsius is associated, on average, with a 10 to 20 per cent heightened risk of deadly conflict. If that estimate is accurate, the future is worrying. UN scientists believe that man-made emissions have warmed the Earth by 1 degree since pre-industrial times and, with the pace accelerating, predict another half-degree as soon as 2030. In many of the world’s most unstable areas, it might happen faster still.

Governments in at-risk countries need to peacefully regulate access to resources, whether scarce or abundant, within or among states. But developing nations at risk of conflict should not face the pressures of a changing climate alone.

There is some cause for optimism. The new U.S. administration has put the climate crisis atop its agenda, and Biden has called for faster action to mitigate associated risks of instability. Western governments and companies have pledged to provide poorer countries $100 billion annually for climate adaptation starting in 2020. They should live up to these commitments: developing nations deserve increased support from those whose fossil fuel intemperance has caused the crisis in the first place.



International Crisis Group, 31 December 2020

The Al-Shabaab insurgency is in attack mode as elections draw near in Somalia. To stop the militants from disrupting the vote, federal and regional authorities should bolster security measures around polling stations and prepare impartial means of resolving disputes that may arise over the outcome.


What’s new? The Al-Shabaab insurgency has threatened to disrupt Somalia’s high-stakes elections due by the end of February. The Islamic State’s local branch may also stage its own assaults. A larger number of polling stations than in previous elections means that militants will have a wider range of targets to choose from.

Why does it matter? Militant attacks and intimidation of delegates and candidates could reduce participation in the polls and undermine their legitimacy. A disrupted electoral contest would sharpen political discord in Somalia, which Al-Shabaab and the Islamic State can exploit, while undermining longer-term efforts at reconciliation.

What should be done? Authorities should step up efforts to secure voting locations and their surroundings and keep security forces in place for some time after the polls. They should also stand up an impartial election dispute mechanism to ensure that most Somalis perceive the elections as fair.

I. Overview

As Somalia heads into fraught parliamentary and presidential elections, due to take place in January and February 2021, jihadist groups are on the lookout for ways to wreak havoc. The Al-Shabaab insurgency has said it will disrupt the vote and warned citizens against taking part. Both Al-Shabaab and the Islamic State’s local branch, a newer and weaker but still deadly player in Somalia, appear emboldened by the late 2020 drawdown of Ethiopian and U.S. forces from the country, which leaves a partial security vacuum. Jihadist violence and intimidation could undermine participation rates and thus the legitimacy of results. Militants will also be primed to exploit any aggravated political tensions that may arise from a contested vote. The federal and member state governments need to pull together to curb the jihadists’ chances of playing spoiler. Authorities should rapidly beef up security at and around polling stations, and keep these measures in place after the vote, while instituting an agreed-upon mechanism for adjudicating disputes over the results.

Securing the vote will be a major challenge. Events, including a conflict in northern Ethiopia that prompted Addis Ababa to pull out thousands of troops stationed near Al-Shabaab’s stronghold in south-central Somalia and President Donald Trump’s order to reposition U.S. troops from the country, mean that Somali authorities must shoulder more security responsibilities. Given limited capacities, federal and state authorities will struggle to stem militant attacks on candidates and voting delegates, who will be spread over an increased number of voting areas. That said, authorities, working with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), should continue to strengthen security arrangements, relying on the Somali police to protect designated voting centres while using the Somali National Army where needed to defend the areas around these hubs. Federal and state authorities tasked with election security should draw down the mobilised forces only gradually, in order to shield participants from harm.

Meanwhile, Somalia’s federal and state leadership should urgently resume dialogue with the political opposition to address the latter’s concerns about election management and avoid a contested vote that will likely trigger protests – and serve as a gift to the militants. They should also stand up the impartial electoral dispute resolution mechanism they agreed upon in September, in order to ensure that grievances do not linger unresolved. The more Somalis see the election as fair, the fewer frustrations militants will have to exploit. By contrast, a botched election could set off violence of which militants can take advantage.

II. Voting in Somalia: A Matter of Life and Death

Somalia’s parliamentary and presidential elections will unfold amid bitter wrangling among the country’s political elites. The vote, now scheduled to take place on a staggered schedule over January and February, will see President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmajo) seek to buck recent trends by becoming the first incumbent re-elected in many years. Farmajo’s opponents, backed by the leadership of the Jubaland and Puntland regions, accuse the president of reneging on the terms of a September agreement to organise the vote consensually. They claim that he has stacked the committees charged with conducting the indirect election with loyalists. Despite diplomatic pressure for all sides to work together and suggestions – including from Crisis Group – for a short postponement to create conditions for credible elections, Mogadishu on 23 December announced that the vote would go ahead beginning on the first week of January. The opposition rejected this unilateral decision and at the time of writing was mulling conducting a parallel process instead.

One threat that hangs over the high-stakes elections is that the disagreements between the government and opposition could spiral into violence among their respective supporters. A confrontation could break down along clan lines, as segments of the politically dominant Hawiye clan, an important constituency in the capital, are strongly opposed to the Farmajo government. Outside Mogadishu, in places like Gedo, where voting is scheduled to occur, government security deployments have displaced local forces, offering another potential flashpoint.

But such discord is not the only danger attending the impending vote. Al-Shabaab has threatened retribution for anyone participating in the vote, whether as electors, delegates or candidates for office, calling the exercise an “apostate” activity. Its warnings have aimed both to advertise the group’s position and to provide justification for attacks. At a March forum, the group defined any form of electoral participation as unbelief, in line with its perspective that democracy is a type of “infidelity” that elevates the rule of human beings above that of God. On 1 April, spokesman Ali Dheere stressed that the group will view all those who participate as legitimate targets for reprisal. Another press release in July responding to consultations among Somalia’s political leadership about electoral preparations reiterated these points and again warned Somalis not to take part. History shows that these threats are not empty. Following the 2016-2017 elections, Al-Shabaab assassinated dozens of elders and electoral delegates in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

Recent changes to the electoral process designed to make the vote more inclusive could inadvertently offer Al-Shabaab and the Islamic State’s local branch a wider range of targets this time. Just as in 2016-2017, Somalia’s elections will be based on an indirect model in which clan elders representing constituents pick delegates, who in turn select the parliamentarians who then choose the president. By the terms of a deal authorities hammered out in Mogadishu on 17 September, the delegate base will be twice as large as that in 2016-2017, alongside a corresponding increase in the number of voting hubs, all of which are in towns. These changes will place additional demands on authorities who will need to secure the additional locations. Apart from trying to disrupt the vote itself, militants will also look to exploit grievances stemming from contested results by, for example, stepping up recruitment among communities who perceive the vote as unfair.

Al-Shabaab has also issued private warnings to potential electoral participants. One elder told Crisis Group that militants summoned him and others to a meeting in 2019, granting them amnesties for having participated in the 2016-2017 elections but telling them not to expect forgiveness if they took part in the forthcoming polls.

Some officials believe that militants make such explicit threats in order to influence the election outcome by intimidating participants into selecting Al-Shabaab sympathisers instead of others, although no candidate would openly declare support for the group. There is little evidence that Al-Shabaab thinks this way: such an attempt to manipulate the vote would indicate that the movement wishes to turn the political system to its advantage. In fact, the militants seem to take an unambiguous position, arguing that participation in elections is a crime against Islam. According to the elder interviewed by Crisis Group, the militants did not ask him to do Al-Shabaab’s electoral bidding but simply to swear that he would boycott future polls. Other elders and delegates contacted by Al-Shabaab said they understood the group’s aim in the 2021 polls to be similar to that in 2016-2017, namely to disrupt participation and thus discredit the vote. Some opposition figures think that when officials charge Al-Shabaab with infiltrating the elections they wish merely to disqualify certain delegates or candidates.

Al-Shabaab’s threats have worked, at least to some degree. The elder interviewed by Crisis Group explained that without government protection or means of fleeing the country, he had little choice but to agree to Al-Shabaab’s terms. He said he would not participate in the 2021 elections. Other delegates who have seen their colleagues killed for participating in previous elections and who have promised Al-Shabaab not to take part in future contests echoed that view. The prospective drop in participation in indirect elections that are already quite restricted raises questions about whether polls can generate a representative government.

III. The Militants’ Growing Threat

Al-Shabaab is in attack mode. The group has increased the tempo of suicide attacks in Mogadishu, after a decline in early 2020, while continuing to assassinate government officials. Its violent campaigns in state capitals are also on the upswing. Indeed, high-profile attacks between September and November in Kismayo, the capital of Jubaland region and a city previously considered safe, targeted the city’s chamber of commerce head, an Amal bank representative and the state’s deputy speaker of parliament. Al-Shabaab’s encroachments near Dhusamareb, capital of Galmudug, as well as a series of attacks on the airport, are other worrying signs of deteriorating security.

New voting locations further add to the security challenge. Bosasso and Galkacyo, two major cities that are listed as new electoral centres, suffer from recurrent Al-Shabaab violence – including an 18 December suicide attack at a stadium in south Galkacyo shortly before Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble was expected to arrive. Meanwhile, Al-Shabaab retains a heavy presence in Lower Shabelle around Barawe, the new location where conditions may be shakiest.

While the Somali army has moved to retake territory from Al-Shabaab ahead of the elections, it has not taken enough. Operations targeting strategic locations like Janay Abdalle in Lower Juba and Basra in Middle Shabelle in September and October dislodged the militants only temporarily, despite the deployment of elite U.S.-trained forces (known as Danab) and U.S. assistance.

The withdrawal of Ethiopian and U.S. forces also leaves something of a security vacuum that Al-Shabaab can exploit, even if these forces were not expected to play a direct role in election security. In the first week of November, Addis Ababa recalled troops it had deployed in Gedo, Bay, Bakool and Hiraan regions as it turned its attention to the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray. The withdrawal comes at a particularly sensitive moment in areas where these forces had been deployed. Even before their departure, Al-Shabaab had already stepped up its attacks in Gedo and on Ethiopian troops occupying the main road to Baidoa. Following the Ethiopian drawdown, the Trump administration ordered U.S. troops in Somalia – thought to number 700 and involved in the provision of training and operational support to elements of the Somali National Army – to leave for neighbouring Kenya and Djibouti.

The militant group can now move more freely in the countryside, enabling it, in turn, to attack more urban voting centres. While Al-Shabaab prefers to use suicide bombers in cities, it has increasingly fired mortars to target locations from a distance. The threat of attack therefore remains even if security forces surround the polling venue itself. Authorities will need to work hard to secure the vicinity of voting locations before, during and immediately after the polls. The Somali police and AMISOM have lagged in formulating a plan to deal with these myriad issues. They were still drafting it at the time of writing.

In the meantime, the Islamic State’s local branch has also emerged as a threat. Once an Al-Shabaab splinter that joined the Islamic State when the global movement was at the peak of its potency in the Levant, for years it struggled just to survive. The group has, however, managed to maintain its presence around Bossaso. It has also staged attacks in Mogadishu, although less frequently in 2020. Its modus operandi generally involves assassination of security or government figures with gunfire or, occasionally, explosive devices. Mounting an operation during the electoral cycle would certainly raise the group’s profile vis-à-vis its competitor, Al-Shabaab.

IV. Limiting the Jihadist Damage to Elections

Preventing militant assaults will be crucial to ensuring the legitimacy of the vote. It will be impossible to insulate all participants from attack. With diminished external support, security forces will likely be hard pressed to push militants further back from voting centres, with their resources better channelled to maintaining defensive postures. Election security planners should thus hasten to bolster security around voting centres in order to maximise participation. They should mobilise state police to patrol the voting centres themselves, while relying on the Somali National Army to stop Al-Shabaab units from encroaching too far into their vicinity.

Election security officials should keep security arrangements in place around voting centres immediately after the vote, given Al-Shabaab’s past practice of targeting participants soon after elections are over, especially in areas where the vote has occurred. A more gradual drawdown could mitigate immediate retaliation against elders and electoral college delegates, many of whom will likely remain in town after voting concludes, especially those worried about returning to rural locales with little to no protection from Al-Shabaab. Somalia’s international partners like the UN, EU, UK and U.S., as well as AMISOM, should assist Somali authorities in securing the vote both during and after election day, channelling technical and logistical support to the election security task force.

In the long run, however, the best means of tackling Al-Shabaab is reducing the movement’s ability to leverage political and clan fissures to advance its goals. The first step is to conduct an election broadly perceived in Somalia as fair, so that few grievances emerge. Mogadishu’s unilateral approach to managing the election, including its decision to publish a timetable without consulting the opposition, threatens perceptions of fairness. The Farmajo administration should instead stick as closely as possible to the September electoral agreement, which demanded consultation in all decisions surrounding the vote. Even at this late stage, and with tensions running high ahead of the elections, Mogadishu should urgently convene a meeting with federal member state presidents and the political opposition to address their concerns over election management, even if that means further adjustments to the electoral timetable. Failure to do so will jeopardise the elections’ perceived integrity and, by extension, Somalia’s stability.

It is also essential to offer those unhappy with the election outcome institutional avenues to raise their grievances. Most expect the polls to be hotly contested so it will be vital to stand up a robust, impartial and authoritative dispute resolution mechanism, as Crisis Group has already advocated. This step will be key to finding mutually acceptable resolutions to electoral disputes.

Beyond that, the political class must repair fractures that have stymied institutional development and pivotal security reforms. Upon assuming office, President Farmajo vowed to defeat Al-Shabaab in two years – an objective that he clearly has not met. It was always unlikely – even absent wrangling among Somalia’s politicians – that authorities could beat back the resilient insurgency on the timeline Farmajo outlined. But the constant bickering between the centre and the regions has not helped. It stands in the way, for example, of establishing a national army and police force, which Somalia’s leaders agreed to do under the terms of a national security plan they endorsed at a London conference in 2017. All the proposals included in that plan for a “new Somalia security architecture” have since languished amid the politicians’ quarrels.

Without progress on mitigating tensions between Mogadishu and member states, Somalia will continue to struggle to deal with the militant threat. Bridging this divide will be the key challenge for the next Somali administration. In the meantime, a smooth electoral process will be an important first step that accords the victor a chance to build consensus, which will contribute to curbing the militants’ influence.

V. Conclusion

The threat of attack, whether by Al-Shabaab, Islamic State or both, hangs over the 2021 elections in Somalia. Prospective electors, delegates and candidates face a difficult choice – take part and hazard the militants’ wrath, or refrain and further undermine the credibility of a vote that already excludes the bulk of Somali society. Eliminating the militant risk is impossible. Yet adjusting security plans to protect voting centres during the vote and in its immediate aftermath, in addition to instituting the right mechanism for resolving electoral disputes, can help shift the balance in favour of participation and limit the damage militants can do. Elections perceived as fair will help cool Somalia’s overheated political climate and create the conditions, under the next government, for security and political reforms that in turn could shrink the space for militants to take advantage of political division.

Mogadishu/Nairobi/Brussels, 31 December 2020




BRUSSELS - The arms programmes of the EU, currently driven by digitalisation and artificial intelligence (AI), pose "a threat to the populations of Europe" as they fuel a military escalation of latent conflicts among major powers, according to a new report.

"On the EU level, there is serious rearmament with autonomous systems happening, and this clearly anticipates [a] global conflict," political scientist Christoph Marischka from the German Peace Movement Network, and author of the report, said on Friday.

For the full report,visit:


BY MARTIN PLAUT, African Arguments, January 8, 2021

The war against the TPLF will not be quick or easy, and it already looks to be going badly for Eritrea’s president.


There is little doubt now that Eritrean forces are participating in the war in Tigray. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has denied it and Eritrea’s foreign minister has insisted “we are not part of the conflict”. But other disagree.

On 8 December, Reuters reported that “a U.S. government source and five regional diplomats” told them the US believes Eritrean soldiers have crossed into Ethiopia. The EU and UK support this assessment. And in the last few days, a top-ranking Ethiopian general confirmed that Eritrean troops have been in Tigray. Major General Belay Seyoum, head of the Northern Command, described the presence of foreign forces on Ethiopian soil as “painful”.

Mesfin Hagos, a former Eritrean Minister of Defence living in exile, has claimed that Eritrean troops provided intelligence and cover from heavy weapons to advancing Ethiopian troops and later took active part in combat.

How did Eritrea become involved in Tigray?

To answer this question, one must go back to the 1970s when the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) fought alongside against the Derg regime. Despite their differences, the two rebel groups’ leaders – Meles Zenawi and Isaias Afwerki – joined forces, launching a final offensive in 1991 when they captured Addis Ababa and Asmara.

Meles became Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Isaias took control in Eritrea, which became an independent state. Gradually, however, relations between the two men soured, leading to the 1998-2000 border war that left some 100,000 people dead. That conflict ended, but relations between the TPLF-led government and Isaias were never repaired.

In 2018, the TPLF essentially lost power in Ethiopia. It had been the senior party in government, but amid widespread protests, the ruling coalition selected a new prime minister. Abiy Ahmed was quick to break with his predecessors’ stance on Eritrea and President Isaias was quick to take advantage. The Eritrean president invited Abiy to Asmara where the new PM received an ecstatic welcome from Eritrean crowds. Abiy returned the favour and Isaias was just as warmly greeted in Addis. In September 2018, the two leaders signed a formal treaty in Saudi Arabia, cementing their ties.

There followed a rapid growth in bilateral relations. Abiy and Isaias were in constant contact. In just over two years, they made nine official visits to each other’s capitals or went on joint delegations to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Their final meetings took place at their respective military bases. On 18 July 2020, Abiy visited Eritrea’s main military training base at Sawa where he inspected troops and military equipment. On 12 October 2020, Isaias visited Ethiopia’s Bishoftu air base, home to the nation’s air force.

According to reports citing well-placed sources, President Isaias brought together his closest confidantes on the eve of the Tigray war. He allegedly said that Eritrea had to accept that it has a small economy and a lengthy Red Sea coast that it cannot patrol on its own. He is reported to have suggested some sort of “union” with Ethiopia, at least in terms of economic co-operation and maritime security.

If this is true, he appears to have echoed Abiy’s grandiose dream of re-establishing the old empire-state of Ethiopia. This idea may not be as far-fetched as it would appear, despite the fact Isaias previously led Eritrea’s decades-long war to gain independence from Ethiopia.

The outbreak of the war

On 4 November 2020, the Tigray war began. By this point, Tigrayans had already been warning that Ethiopian and Eritrea forces were planning to attack. Events since suggest their fears were founded.

There have been numerous reports from the Eritrean diaspora of young Eritreans being rounded up as conscripts to support the war effort. In Eritrea, national service is compulsory and indefinite. There have been claims of people being picked up and transported without warning to remote locations along the Ethiopian border.

Eritrea has also hosted retreating Ethiopian forces. Redwan Hussein, spokesperson for Ethiopia’s newly-established State of Emergency Task Force for the Tigray Conflict confirmed that federal troops were forced back across the border to regroup. There have been additional reports of Ethiopian forces being flown into Asmara overnight to conceal their presence.

On 10 November, TPLF president Debretsion Gebremichael went on local television accusing Eritrea of sending soldiers into Tigray. “Since yesterday, the army of Isaias have crossed the country’s boundary and invaded,” he said. “They were attacking via Humera using heavy arms.” This would suggest that while Eritreans attacked from the north, Ethiopian federal forces and Amhara militia attacked from the south and east in a co-ordinated offensive.

From “police operation” to guerrilla war

On 9 November, Abiy claimed that the conflict in Tigray was a law and order operation that would “wrap up soon”. “Concerns that Ethiopia will descend into chaos are unfounded and a result of not understanding our context deeply,” he said.

Yet as the war has developed, evidence points in the opposite direction. Tigray’s regional capital, Mekelle, fell with hardly a fight but only because Tigrayan fighters withdrew in order to resort to tactics they adopted decades ago. The TPLF has always believed in war of manoeuvre rather than positional war – taking to the hills and mountains and attacking in the rear.

The Tigray war is unlikely to be a brief conflict or produce an easy victory for Abiy and Isaias. As a Reuters report explains, the TPLF “is battle-hardened from both the 1998-2000 war with Eritrea and the guerrilla war to topple dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. TPLF forces and militia allies number up to 250,000 men and possess significant hardware, experts say.”

For Eritrea, the war already appears to be going badly. Having allegedly looted religious sites, homes and factories, Eritrean forces are reportedly bogged down and vulnerable to ambushes. According to the Europe External Programme for Africa on 2 January, “multiple sources state that Eritrean soldiers are blocked in attempts to leave Tigray. Heavy fighting between Ethiopia National Defence Forces (ENDF) and Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) is taking place near the major roads out to Eritrea. This has stopped the Eritrean transfer of looted goods out of the region.”

The Tigray conflict was meant to rid President Isaias of his Tigrayan enemies. The problem for both the him and Abiy is that this conflict might drag on for months, if not years. The war could end up destabilising either, or both, governments.


BY KRISTOF TITECA & ANNA REUSS, African Arguments, January 7, 2021

President Museveni decries foreign interference yet plays to Western donors. Donors warn of Ugandan corruption yet facilitate it.

 Over the last few months, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has been vocal in branding presidential challenger Bobi Wine and his supporters as “foreign agents” or supported by “foreign elements”. This is not new. When the musician-turned-politician first entered politics, the government quickly painted him as a stooge of the West, pointing to his enthusiastic reception by Western media outlets or his Canadian lawyer. But as we get nearer to election day on 14 January, this rhetoric has been getting stronger.

President Museveni has accused “outsiders” and “homosexuals” of using Ugandans to instigate the deadly riots that followed Wine’s arrest last November. He has said that “amongst the fools supporting Bobi Wine are the Europeans”. And he congratulated the army for “defeating the insurrection that the traitors, with their foreign backers, attempted to stage a few weeks ago”. His Security Minister, General Elly Tumwine, has echoed this language, calling protesters “agents of foreign forces who want to destabilise African counties for their own interests”.

But it is not just rhetoric. In recent months, the government has targeted Western-financed democracy projects, deporting some of their officials and refusing others entry. It has expelled a number of foreign journalists and imposed more restrictive measures on reporters. And in September, it forced the USAID-funded NGO GiveDirectly to suspend its operations in an apparent attempt to exercise closer control over relief funds.

A success story turns sour

These developments mark a new chapter in Museveni’s relationship with international donors. Since taking office in 1986, his government has skilfully attracted foreign financial support and assessed donors’ needs to forge mutually beneficial relationships.

In the late-1980s and early-1990s, Uganda was a success story for the global donor community. With the international aid system under severe criticism, Uganda generated donor-financed economic growth after decades of conflict. At the same time, the country became particularly important for US regional interests. It provided a buffer against “rogue state” Sudan and a channel through which to support the southern SPLA rebels. Uganda was also a posterchild of how to effectively handle the AIDS epidemic.

Through the 1990s, Uganda’s success story slowly turned sour as elite corruption grew, most visibly during the army’s excursions into eastern Congo and in the armed conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army. Donors nevertheless continued their engagement. They needed the success story as much Uganda.

This generated a situation in which donor funds became an essential part of the Museveni government’s systems of patronage. As a never-published but leaked 2004 report written for the World Bank explained, “a strategic game being played is to see how much of the national pie can be monopolized by those in power; to see how much can be accumulated until there is either the threat of civil war or the international economy (i.e. donors and investors) backs off”.

This game is still on. While continuing to strategically play to donor interests, the government has become increasingly repressive and corrupt.

A key part of Museveni managing to maintain this game has been his clever image management. His government has engaged in policies that have been useful in buying support from donors. Firstly, it has projected itself as an anchor of stability in a volatile region, most importantly in contributing the bulk of troops for the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM). For playing this role, it has enjoyed continual US support for its military. Secondly, it has reinvented itself as a role model for hosting refugees to the extent is it seen as an “example to the world”. This has allowed the Ugandan government to attract resources but also allow the UN Refugee Agency to show its policies work.

Museveni’s paradox

In this way, the interests of international donors and the Ugandan government have become closely intertwined. And, as research has shown, the more donors invest in a country – both financially and politically – the “more committed they become to ensuring that [those countries] remain positive examples”.

In Uganda, that means there is no accountability for corruption scandals in refugee management or abuses committed by government forces. That would risk spoiling Uganda’s – and, by extension, the donor’s – image.

This situation allows the Museveni administration to use donor support to protect its interests. Two recent examples are telling. First, in May 2020, the IMF approved a $491.5 million loan to Uganda to limit the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Less than two weeks later, Museveni quietly awarded bonuses of UGX40 million ($10,800) to each of the 317 MPs who supported removing the presidential age limit from the constitution. Second, in June 2020, the World Bank approved a $300 million budget support loan to Uganda to “boost the Government’s capacity to prevent, detect and treat the coronavirus”. Shortly before this, the government had allocated a similar amount to a classified expenditure budget. These confidential accounts have a long history of funding human rights abuses and corruption, and are particularly concerning in light of the recent election-related violence.

This context highlights the paradoxical nature of the government’s relationship to foreign donors. It relies on donor aid yet accuses the opposition of being “foreign agents”. As journalist Daniel Kalinaki put it in the Daily Monitor, “the government is happy to beg and borrow and prostitute itself to ’development partners’ but will spear any citizen it finds in bed with the aforementioned partners.”

In the run-up to the 2021 elections, this paradoxical situation has been pushed to its limits. For instance, while Museveni had previously gone to lengths to distance himself from his party’s anti-gay legislation to avoid international damage, he is now using the discourse of blaming “homosexuals” for unrest.

Break up or make up?

What does all of this mean for the 14 January elections and, more importantly, a likely sixth presidential term for Museveni? Will the unprecedented use of violence, the hostile statements and actions towards foreign actors, and a complete abandonment of a level playing field mark a turning point for donor relations? Or will business continue as usual?

The EU’s decision not to send an observer mission signals its concerns about the electoral process, but it’s doubtful Uganda’s traditional partners will go as far as to openly deny recognition of the results. This neither-here-nor-there stance reflects donors’ perceived limits to their manoeuvring space: any critical statement may be used to substantiate the government discourse on interference by foreign backers. Moreover, there’s a latent fear that cutting off Museveni’s funds may drive him further into the arms of Russia and China.

Nevertheless, a change of tone is discernible, particularly in the US, Uganda’s most important donor with total budget assistance exceeding $970 million per year. Strikingly, both the American embassy in Uganda and the US Assistant Secretary of African Affairs recently tweeted how there “will be consequences for those who are continuing to undermine democracy”. What they might be and whether they will target individuals or broader funding dynamics remains unclear.

What is clear, however, is that, as long as donors frame their relations with Uganda in terms of regional stability, Museveni’s brinkmanship game won’t lose its persuasive power in the West. At the same time, history has taught us that short-term stability politics tend to eventually backfire.



By Adrienne Surprenant, The New Humanitarian, 18 January 2021

BANGUI - At least 100,000 people have fled their homes in Central African Republic as a rebel coalition calling for the resignation of the president launches attacks around the county, throwing into question almost two years of peace efforts.

The capital city, Bangui, has come under fire and major towns are occupied by the coalition of some of CAR’s strongest rebel groups, which formed shortly before December elections won by President Faustin-Archange Touadéra but contested by the opposition.

By capturing the western town of Bouar, the rebels – known as the Coalition of Patriots for Change, or the CPC – have cut off the main trade route linking Cameroon to Bangui. Other roads leading to the capital have also been seized in what could be a strategy to “asphyxiate” the city, according to Hans De Marie Heungoup, a Central Africa analyst at the International Crisis Group.

Juan-José Aguirre Muñoz, the bishop of Bangassou, estimates that 80 percent of the southeastern town’s population left their homes – many fleeing across the border to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo – when the CPC attacked it earlier this month, before withdrawing last weekend.

Muñoz said the latest offensive came just as life had begun to return to normal in Bangassou, a town hit hard by conflict in recent years. “This coalition puts fear back in our stomachs,” Muñoz told The New Humanitarian. “We want to be able to continue our projects of social cohesion, our projects for the future.”

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said 60,000 people have now fled to neighbouring countries due to the latest fighting, and 58,000 more have been internally displaced within CAR, which already has some of the highest humanitarian needs per capita of any state in the world.

The new offensive highlights the weakness of international efforts to stabilise CAR through an African Union-brokered peace agreement signed by 14 armed groups – including those involved in the CPC – in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, in February 2019.

The agreement – the eighth attempt to resolve a shifting crisis that began here in 2013 – had until the recent offensive helped to bring down overall levels of violence. But key parts of the deal have not been implemented, and rebel abuses have continued across the country.

Some armed group leaders who obtained government postings as part of the peace agreement have now been removed from their roles because of their involvement in the CPC.

Igor Acko, an independent Central African researcher, told TNH the goal of the rebel groups “was never to apply this [peace] deal”, and that controlling parts of the country brings them benefits greater than anything included in the accord.

Rebels generate significant revenues in the country by illegally taxing local populations, trafficking gold and diamonds, and levying additional taxes on those involved in the supply and production of the minerals.

‘Nobody is protected’

In interviews with TNH, residents in towns attacked by the CPC described tense situations. In Bangassou, roughly 700 kilometres east of the capital, inhabitants said rebels were moving around freely, but this was before the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, claimed on Sunday to be in control of the town.

In Bouar, a father of five who only gave TNH his first name – Yvon – said the population “lives with fear” since rebels took control on 9 January. “Nobody is protected for the time-being,” he said. “If the armed groups had the intention of doing wrong, there would be no one to stop them.”

On 13 January, the rebels launched coordinated attacks on the northern and western outskirts of Bangui using rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, and mortars. They were repelled after clashes with UN peacekeepers and Central African troops, who are supported by Rwandan soldiers and Russian military instructors.

On a visit to one area where fighting took place, TNH found bullet casings and the corpse of a rebel fighter lying by a house as residents fled their homes, their belongings stuffed into bulging sacks. Market stalls lay abandoned, with fresh produce discarded in the streets.

Tatiana, a 36-year-old from a Bangui neighbourhood where clashes took place, said she woke up to the sound of gunshots as rebels occupied positions between people’s houses. “We could only hide in our houses and wait,” she told TNH during a lull in the fighting.

Marina Serdangamo, a 31-year-old from the capital, said she walked for four hours with her eight-year-old son to escape the fighting. She is now living with family members in the centre of Bangui and has trouble sleeping at night. “I can’t go back [to my neighbourhood],” she said. “I’m too scared it starts again and continues.”

Bangui residents are also living under a night-time curfew that has left many workers struggling to make ends meet. Motorbike taxi drivers – usually omnipresent in the capital – have been told to stop working altogether for security reasons.

Market stalls in Bangui, meanwhile, lie half empty. The price of goods has soared as hundreds of trucks remain backed up at the Cameroonian border town of Garoua Boulai – unable to cross because of the rebel presence along the main highway.

Two convoys of trucks did leave Bangui for Cameroon in recent days after the government said it would use soldiers to secure a supply corridor with the support of peacekeepers.

Some Cameroonian truck drivers told TNH they had been stranded in Bangui for a month and were considering flying back home. They may now be counting on being part of the next convoy.

An unlikely alliance

The CPC was formed on 19 December, a week before the legislative and presidential elections.

Insecurity on voting day meant just 35 percent of registered voters were able to cast ballots, according to CAR’s constitutional court – in some locations, electoral papers were burned and polling stations were forced to close.

Opposition presidential candidates had demanded an annulment of the result, arguing that the polls “were not fair or inclusive”. But on Monday the constitutional court confirmed Touadéra as the winner with 53 percent of the vote.

Though the precise goal of the CPC remains unclear, Acko, the independent researcher, said the rebels might have ambitions that go beyond challenging the electoral results. He said the offensives in the countryside may be designed to increase the rebels’ negotiating power to secure a new deal with the government on more favourable terms, or even to expand their economic zones of influence in order to finance a full-scale assault on Bangui.

The CPC features an unlikely alliance of groups, some of which have fought each other in recent years. Among them are armed groups from northern CAR that previously made up the Séléka – the alliance that overthrew the government of François Bozizé in 2013, triggering years of conflict. It also includes anti-Balaka militias, which Bozizé is suspected of having helped set up in 2013 to fight the Séléka. The ex-president, who was barred from running in December’s polls by the constitutional court, is now under investigation by the public prosecutor's office for supporting the CPC.

“[The coalition] originally did not share much common interests,” said Heungoup of the International Crisis Group. “They were divided by community cleavages and were more attached to either the control of transhumance routes, mining resources, or, for others, closer links to Bozizé.”

Aid access limited

Ange Maxime Kazagui, the government’s spokesperson, told TNH the current administration is stronger than it was in 2013, when the Séléka entered Bangui with relative ease.

“There is resistance from our side and, above all, we are no longer alone, we have friendly countries by our side,” Kazagui said.

Though Russian military instructors sent to secure the elections are set to leave CAR, the government is supported by the Wagner Group – a paramilitary organisation linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin – as well as Rwandan troops. Thousands of UN peacekeepers are also deployed in the country to protect civilians.

Still, reports of Central African troops fleeing combat have circulated, leading to 700 soldiers being relieved of their duties last week.

As the recent string of attacks has escalated, the situation for civilians – in a country where one in four people were already either internally displaced or living as refugees abroad – has worsened.

Bruce Bieber, the International Committee of Red Cross’s head of delegation in CAR, told TNH the violence has made it harder to access populations in need of humanitarian assistance, with some areas cut off from the rest of the country for the past four weeks.

“The big change is that there is more mobility of the armed groups,” Bieber said. “It has made it more complicated to access and ensure a safe passage.”

On 27 December, the ICRC’s base in Bouar was ransacked by rebels – one of more than 40 incidents targeting humanitarian personnel since 15 December, according to a statement from the Norwegian Refugee Council.

In Bangassou, a local hospital is hosting around 2,000 people, while a site just outside the town has become the refuge for around 10,000 others who fled their homes.

In Bouar, more than 5,000 people are displaced in various sites that lack access to water sources and latrines, according to a priest from a seminary hosting displaced people.

The priest, who asked not to be named, said some people have tried to return to their homes in recent days, thinking the conflict might end.

“Sometimes, they try to go home,” said the priest. “But then they come back in a hurry.”



GENEVA - Two months after conflict forced humanitarian workers to withdraw from the Tigray region of Ethiopia, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), on Tuesday, stressed the need for "swift action" to restore safe access to "save thousands of lives at risk".

Granted one-time admittance by the Ethiopian authorities to conduct a needs assessment, UNHCR led the first humanitarian mission to Mai Aini and Adi Harush refugee camps since the start of the conflict in November and found Eritrean refugees in "desperate need" of supplies and services, agency spokesperson Babar Baloch told journalists at a regular press briefing in Geneva.

"The assessment, which concluded last week, found help is urgently needed for the tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees in northern Ethiopia", he said.

Refugee plight

Cut off from supplies and services for more than two months, Mr. Baloch explained that the refugees had run out of fuel for their water pumps, leaving them to fetch water from a nearby creek for washing, cooking and drinking – "resulting in diarrhea like illnesses".

While the only assistance they had received since the start of the conflict was a one-time food distribution conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) almost a month ago, he said that "plans are underway for a second distribution".

Threat from 'armed gangs'

The UN teams "thankfully" found that in both Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps, buildings and structures remain intact, including refugee homes, schools and clinics, "with little damage observed", according to the UNHCR spokesperson.

However, refugees told UNHCR staff that while they were not impacted directly by the fighting, they were threatened and harassed by various armed groups.

"The refugees told us they continue to have safety concerns, reporting that armed gangs roam the camps at night stealing and looting", Mr. Baloch said.

"UNHCR is working with the Government and partners to re-establish a regular presence at the camps and launch a response based on the information collected", he said, adding that the UN agency has also called on the Government to strengthen security in both camps.

Still inaccessible

Further north in Tigray, the UN refugee agency has not, since November, been able to access the Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps.

As highlighted in High Commissioner Filippo Grandi's statement last week, UNHCR continues to receive a number of reports of significant damage to those camps and indications that many refugees have fled in search of safety and food.

"We remain deeply concerned about them", said Mr. Baloch.

'Restore safe access'

Meanwhile, some 5,000 Eritrean refugees have made their way to the town of Shire where they are living in "dire conditions", said Mr. Baloch, painting a picture of many sleeping in an open field on the outskirts of the town, 'with no water and no food". 

"UNHCR reiterates the UN wide call for full and unimpeded access to all refugees in the Tigray region and remains committed to work with the Ethiopian government to seek solutions together", he stated.

The conflict between the Ethiopian Government and regional forces of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) began in early November, when the Prime Minister ordered a military offensive after rebels attacked a federal army base.

Government forces reported that the region had been secured at the end of November, but TPLF resistance has continued amid accusations of extrajudicial killings and rights abuses.




Par Tarik Oumazzane, Jeune Afrique, 04 janvier 2021

Tarik Oumazzane: Professeur d'histoire et de relations internationales à l'Université de Nottingham, Royaume-Uni, spécialiste dans les études sur le Moyen-Orient et l'Afrique du Nord

La reconnaissance américaine de la souveraineté marocaine sur le Sahara pourrait, à terme, avoir des bénéfices durables pour la paix en Afrique du Nord et au Moyen-Orient.

Dans quelle mesure la reconnaissance américaine de la souveraineté marocaine sur le Sahara peut-elle atténuer les tensions en Afrique du Nord et au Moyen-Orient ? Le conflit du Sahara entre le Maroc et le Polisario, soutenu par l’Algérie, dure depuis 45 ans. Il est ainsi l’un des conflits les plus anciens du monde, perpétuant une situation qui mine le développement économique régional et la coopération politique entre les pays du Maghreb.

Lors des discussions autour d’un référendum sur le statut du territoire, le Maroc et le Polisario n’ont pu s’entendre sur la question des votants, rendant la tenue du vote quasiment impossible à mettre en œuvre. Plus récemment, le blocus de Guerguerate par le Polisario, le seul passage frontalier entre le Maroc et la Mauritanie, a provoqué une intervention militaire marocaine afin de maintenir la sécurité des échanges et des personnes. En réponse, le Polisario a déclaré la fin des 29 ans de cessez-le-feu supervisé par l’ONU et a repris sa lutte armée. Ces développements posent des menaces de sécurité majeures à la fois pour l’Afrique du Nord et le Sahel, dans une région déjà impactée par l’instabilité de la Libye et l’activité des groupes extrémistes localisés dans le nord du Mali.


« Game-changer »

Déjà en 2018, la diplomatie américaine estimait que le plan d’autonomie marocain était « sérieux, crédible et réaliste ». Aujourd’hui, elle la juge ouvertement comme la seule proposition sur la table des négociations, ce qui devrait inciter l’Algérie et le Polisario à la reconsidérer.

D’autant plus que cette décision s’inscrit dans une dynamique à l’œuvre depuis plusieurs années. Plusieurs pays d’Afrique, du Moyen-Orient et des Caraïbes ont ainsi déjà ouvert des consulats au Sahara pour montrer leur soutien politique au Maroc sur cette question.

Mais la reconnaissance par Washington constitue, davantage encore, ce que les Américains appellent un « game-changer » [un événement qui change la donne], du fait de son statut dans le monde. Membre du Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU et de l’Organisation du traité de l’Atlantique Nord (OTAN), les États-Unis peuvent ainsi jouer un rôle important dans le règlement du conflit du Sahara.

Nouvelle impulsion économique

L’ouverture d’un consulat américain à Dakhla attirera les investissements directs étrangers (IDE), ouvrant ainsi la porte à une nouvelle impulsion pour le développement économique régional, lequel pourrait pousser des éléments du Polisario à abandonner la lutte armée pour participer à ce nouvel élan.

Le conflit entrave la croissance économique de la région depuis près d’un demi-siècle et un accord de paix pourrait offrir au Polisario une opportunité de participer à la gouvernance locale. Au lieu d’une course à l’armement entre le Maroc et l’Algérie, la santé, l’éducation et l’emploi devraient être en tête des priorités des deux États. Si l’investissement est encouragé, le Sahara pourrait devenir un pôle économique régional et continental. 

Les drapeaux nationaux d’Israël et du Maroc sont projetés sur les murs de la vieille ville de Jérusalem, le mercredi 23 décembre 2020.
La reconnaissance américaine de la souveraineté marocaine sur le Sahara pourrait, à terme, avoir des bénéfices durables pour la paix en Afrique du Nord et au Moyen-Orient.

Dans quelle mesure la reconnaissance américaine de la souveraineté marocaine sur le Sahara peut-elle atténuer les tensions en Afrique du Nord et au Moyen-Orient ? Le conflit du Sahara entre le Maroc et le Polisario, soutenu par l’Algérie, dure depuis 45 ans. Il est ainsi l’un des conflits les plus anciens du monde, perpétuant une situation qui mine le développement économique régional et la coopération politique entre les pays du Maghreb.

Lors des discussions autour d’un référendum sur le statut du territoire, le Maroc et le Polisario n’ont pu s’entendre sur la question des votants, rendant la tenue du vote quasiment impossible à mettre en œuvre. Plus récemment, le blocus de Guerguerate par le Polisario, le seul passage frontalier entre le Maroc et la Mauritanie, a provoqué une intervention militaire marocaine afin de maintenir la sécurité des échanges et des personnes. En réponse, le Polisario a déclaré la fin des 29 ans de cessez-le-feu supervisé par l’ONU et a repris sa lutte armée. Ces développements posent des menaces de sécurité majeures à la fois pour l’Afrique du Nord et le Sahel, dans une région déjà impactée par l’instabilité de la Libye et l’activité des groupes extrémistes localisés dans le nord du Mali.

« Game-changer »
Déjà en 2018, la diplomatie américaine estimait que le plan d’autonomie marocain était « sérieux, crédible et réaliste ». Aujourd’hui, elle la juge ouvertement comme la seule proposition sur la table des négociations, ce qui devrait inciter l’Algérie et le Polisario à la reconsidérer.

D’autant plus que cette décision s’inscrit dans une dynamique à l’œuvre depuis plusieurs années. Plusieurs pays d’Afrique, du Moyen-Orient et des Caraïbes ont ainsi déjà ouvert des consulats au Sahara pour montrer leur soutien politique au Maroc sur cette question.

Mais la reconnaissance par Washington constitue, davantage encore, ce que les Américains appellent un « game-changer » [un événement qui change la donne], du fait de son statut dans le monde. Membre du Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU et de l’Organisation du traité de l’Atlantique Nord (OTAN), les États-Unis peuvent ainsi jouer un rôle important dans le règlement du conflit du Sahara.

Nouvelle impulsion économique

L’ouverture d’un consulat américain à Dakhla attirera les investissements directs étrangers (IDE), ouvrant ainsi la porte à une nouvelle impulsion pour le développement économique régional, lequel pourrait pousser des éléments du Polisario à abandonner la lutte armée pour participer à ce nouvel élan.

Le conflit entrave la croissance économique de la région depuis près d’un demi-siècle et un accord de paix pourrait offrir au Polisario une opportunité de participer à la gouvernance locale. Au lieu d’une course à l’armement entre le Maroc et l’Algérie, la santé, l’éducation et l’emploi devraient être en tête des priorités des deux États. Si l’investissement est encouragé, le Sahara pourrait devenir un pôle économique régional et continental.

Le Maroc et l’Algérie peuvent aussi envisager d’ouvrir leurs frontières (fermées depuis 1994) et relancer l’Union du Maghreb avec une intégration potentielle à d’autres organisations régionales africaines, comme la Communauté économique des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (Cedeao).

En ce qui concerne le Moyen-Orient, la décision du Maroc de reprendre ses relations avec Israël n’est en rien inédite. L’Égypte en a été le précurseur lorsque Sadate a obtenu un accord de paix qui faisait partie des accords de Camp David en 1978. La Jordanie et Israël ont signé un traité de paix en 1994. Cinq ans plus tard, la Mauritanie et Israël ont établi des relations diplomatiques pleines et entières, bien que celles-ci soient gelées depuis 2009. Plus récemment, Israël, les Émirats arabes unis, Bahreïn et le Soudan ont signé les accords d’Abraham. Désormais, le Maroc jouit donc d’une position unique pour jouer un rôle central dans le processus de paix au Moyen-Orient.

Intermédiaire de la paix au Moyen-Orient

Le Maroc possède une connexion juive ancienne et profonde. Les origines de la communauté juive marocaine remontent à plus de 2 500 ans. À l’époque médiévale, à la suite de l’Inquisition espagnole et du décret de l’Alhambra de 1492, les Juifs ont en effet été contraints de fuir vers le Maroc, où ils ont été accueillis par la société marocaine. Dans les années 1940, entre 250 000 et 350 000 juifs vivaient au Maroc, au sein de la plus importante communauté juive du monde musulman.

Au plus fort du régime nazi en Europe et en Afrique du Nord, le sultan Mohammed V du Maroc a résisté à la pression nazie pour la déportation des juifs, en les considérant comme des citoyens marocains. Le royaume est ainsi devenu un refuge et une destination de transit pour les juifs européens fuyant le régime nazi en Europe. Même après leur départ vers l’État d’Israël, créé en 1948, un grand nombre de juifs marocains ont conservé leurs traditions et leur lien avec le Maroc. Aujourd’hui, environ un million d’Israéliens sont d’origine marocaine, et beaucoup d’entre eux sont devenus des personnalités politiques d’importance.

C’est cette connexion juive profonde que le Maroc peut aujourd’hui mettre sur la table. Le Maroc peut se connecter avec les Juifs marocains en Israël pour combler le fossé entre Palestiniens et Israéliens. Plus encore, le statut du roi du Maroc [en tant que descendant du prophète Mohammed, son titre d’Amir al-Mu’minin – commandeur des croyants], sa position de chef du Comité d’Al-Qods (Jérusalem) et ses bonnes relations avec l’Autorité palestinienne renforcent sa légitimité en tant qu’intermédiaire de la paix au Moyen-Orient.

Les opportunités de développement économique, de coopération politique et de promotion de la paix au Moyen-Orient et en Afrique du Nord sont rares. La reconnaissance américaine de la souveraineté marocaine sur le Sahara et le redémarrage des relations entre le Maroc et Israël pourraient favoriser un type de paix qui irait au-delà de l’absence de guerre et créer ainsi les conditions d’une coopération politique et économique entre plusieurs acteurs du Moyen-Orient et d’Afrique du Nord.


International Crisis Group, 22 December 2020

A quelques jours des élections prévues le 27 décembre, la République centrafricaine est en proie à de nouvelles violences. Pour que l’élection ait lieu et que le pays évite de nouveaux troubles, les chefs d’Etat voisins devront aider les rivaux politiques à trouver un accord.


A quelques jours seulement des élections, des combats ont éclaté dans l’ouest de la République centrafricaine (RCA), où une coalition de groupes armés se bat contre les forces gouvernementales et onusiennes à 100 kilomètres à peine de Bangui, la capitale. Ces violences surviennent à la suite d’un fort regain des tensions politiques, exacerbé par la décision de la Cour constitutionnelle d’empêcher l’ancien président François Bozizé d’être candidat aux élections prévues le 27 décembre. La mission de l’ONU dans le pays, déployée depuis 2014, a intensifié ses opérations militaires en appui au gouvernement et des forces internationales sont arrivées en renfort.

Impossible de savoir si cette intervention suffira à enrayer la progression des groupes armés ou si elle permettra au scrutin de se dérouler sans heurts. Pour que le pays ait une chance d’organiser ces élections et d’éviter de nouvelles violences et de nouveaux troubles, les dirigeants de la région devraient inciter le président Faustin-Archange Touadéra et François Bozizé à des négociations.

Depuis des décennies, la RCA connait des troubles d’intensités diverses et vit une crise prolongée depuis 2013. Cette année-là, une coalition rebelle composée majoritairement de musulmans, connue sous le nom de Séléka et issue du nord-est du pays, s’est révoltée contre le gouvernement de Bozizé et a brièvement occupé le pouvoir jusqu’à ce que certains pays de la région la poussent à se retirer. Les forces non musulmanes « anti-balaka » se sont soulevées pour défendre les non-musulmans contre l’attaque de la Séléka. Depuis cette crise, les anciennes factions de la Séléka et les anti-balaka se sont scindées, et de nouvelles factions armées ont vu le jour. Ces groupes armés sont responsables d’une insécurité généralisée dans le pays, car ils s’affrontent entre eux et combattent les forces du gouvernement pour conquérir territoire et influence.

Un accord de paix conclu en 2019 et signé par quatorze factions armées n’a contribué que dans une faible mesure à réduire les violences, même avant le dernier épisode en date. Les groupes armés s’impatientent face à ce qu’ils considèrent comme l’incapacité du gouvernement à mettre en œuvre, depuis 2019, certaines parties de l’accord, notamment l’intégration de leurs combattants au sein d’unités spéciales mixtes de sécurité. Ils ont également exprimé leur opposition croissante au gouvernement Touadéra lui-même.

Depuis plusieurs mois déjà, les tensions politiques en RCA sont vives, mais la décision de la Cour constitutionnelle du 3 décembre statuant que Bozizé, revenu en RCA en 2019 après des années d’exil, ne pouvait pas se présenter aux élections les a encore attisées. Pour justifier sa décision, la cour a indiqué que l’ancien président, qui a pris le pouvoir à la faveur d’un coup d’Etat en 2003, faisait l’objet de sanctions des Nations unies et d’un mandat d’arrêt délivré par le gouvernement pour son rôle présumé dans des meurtres, des enlèvements, des détentions arbitraires et des faits de torture. Ces accusations, que Bozizé nie en bloc, concernent des évènements qui se sont déroulés à l’époque où il était en poste et pendant la période qui a suivi sa destitution.

Peu après l’annonce de la décision de la cour, il a été rapporté que Bozizé rencontrait certains de ses soutiens politiques dans sa préfecture natale d’Ouham, dans l’ouest du pays. Entretemps, il a également rencontré trois dirigeants de groupes armés, deux anti-balaka et un ex-Séléka, qui avaient participé à la coalition qui l’avait évincé du pouvoir en 2013. En réponse, le gouvernement de Touadéra a accusé Bozizé de chercher à déstabiliser le pays.

A l’approche du scrutin, plusieurs groupes armés se sont joints à la mêlée de ce qui ressemble désormais à une tentative de suspendre les élections et de renverser Touadéra. Le 15 décembre, une coalition composée de six des groupes armés les plus importants et les mieux équipés, dont des factions ex-Séléka et anti-balaka, ont publié un communiqué fustigeant des préparations électorales, à leurs yeux, plus que bâclées. Ces groupes figuraient parmi les signataires de l’accord de paix conclu en février 2019, mais manifestent aujourd’hui leur intention de mettre un terme à toute coopération avec le gouvernement.

Bien que leur communiqué ne mentionne aucun soutien ouvert à Bozizé, il a été signé dans la ville de Kamba Kota, située non loin du fief politique de l’ancien président. Depuis le 18 décembre, ces groupes ont conquis des parties des préfectures de Lobaye, Ouham, Ouham-Pendé, Nana-Grébizi, Ombella-Mpoko et Ouaka, bloquant ainsi les principales routes d’approvisionnement vers Bangui. Dans une autre déclaration, ils ont appelé à l’insurrection populaire armée et proclamé leur résolution à manifester dans la capitale.

Les acteurs internationaux sont désormais intervenus, mais il n’est pas encore possible de déterminer s’ils parviendront à repousser les assaillants et à garantir la tenue des élections. A la demande du gouvernement, la Russie et le Rwanda ont envoyé des centaines de troupes en RCA, en particulier à Mbaïki (la capitale de la préfecture de Lobaye). Les forces de l’ONU, en particulier les contingents portugais et rwandais, ainsi que l’armée nationale ont entretemps combattu les rebelles dans l’ouest et le sud du pays autour de Bossombélé (préfecture d’Ombella-Mpoko) et de Bossemptélé (préfecture d’Ouham-Pendé).

Les combats pourraient se poursuivre au-delà de la date des élections, mettant ainsi le scrutin en péril. S’il n’est pas possible de procéder au vote, et qu’un nouveau président et une nouvelle assemblée nationale ne sont pas élus avant la fin des mandats le 31 mars 2021, les rivaux politiques de Touadéra s’opposeront certainement à une prolongation de ce dernier dans ses fonctions. En l’absence d’une procédure claire sur la désignation d’un président et d’une assemblée nationale intérimaires, le pays s’exposerait alors à des luttes intestines plus accrues entre les élites.

Une victoire décisive sur les groupes armés dans les jours qui viennent étant peu probable, il convient de mener une médiation afin d’apaiser les esprits à temps pour le scrutin. Le président et ses soutiens insistent sur le fait qu’ils ne se laisseront pas intimider pour reporter les élections ou permettre à Bozizé de s’y présenter. Ils pourraient toutefois faire une proposition intéressante à l’ancien président qui, à son tour, pourrait convaincre les groupes armés de baisser les armes.

Les autorités pourraient notamment mettre un terme au harcèlement envers Bozizé et les membres de sa famille qui ont subi des intimidations physiques, perquisitions et arrestations ; lever les mandats d’arrêt délivrés à son égard et celui de ses associés ; et discuter de la possibilité pour lui et son parti de revenir dans l’arène politique à l’avenir. Si ces perspectives sont impensables pour beaucoup de citoyens centrafricains, l’autre voie, qui pourrait impliquer davantage de violence, serait encore pire.

Les chefs d’Etat régionaux, y compris celui de l’Angola, qui préside la commission de la Communauté économique des Etats d’Afrique centrale, et du Congo-Brazzaville, qui est de longue date le médiateur principal dans les crises en RCA et qui jouit d’une certaine influence sur l’opposition politique dans le pays, pourraient devoir intervenir. Ils devraient convaincre Touadéra d’accepter ce type de négociations et persuader Bozizé que, pour l’heure, les propositions du président et de ses soutiens sont tout ce à quoi il peut prétendre. L’Union africaine, en sa qualité de garante de l’accord de paix de 2019, pourrait apporter un appui technique dans le cadre d’un dialogue, quel qu’en soit le format. Sans cela, Touadéra pourrait devoir faire face à une rébellion généralisée, qui pourrait rendre le pays ingouvernable pour son deuxième mandat ou même le renverser un jour. Bozizé pourrait quant à lui essuyer une défaite militaire et un renvoi devant la Cour pénale internationale. En outre, ces acteurs et d’autres garants internationaux devraient convoquer une réunion entre le gouvernement et les groupes armés afin de renforcer les efforts déployés pour mettre en œuvre l’accord de paix de 2019. Il s’agit en effet d’une demande fondamentale émanant des quatorze groupes armés signataires.

Pour beaucoup à Bangui, les solutions proposées ci-dessus pourraient être difficilement acceptables, mais au vu du déploiement des Nations unies sur un territoire aussi vaste et de la faiblesse des forces armées, ces propositions pourraient être la seule manière de s’assurer que le scrutin se tienne à la date prévue et relativement sereinement, et que le pays évite un nouveau cycle de violence dangereux.


Jeune Afrique, 25 novembre 2020

Après la condamnation du journaliste Khaled Drareni, une résolution d’urgence sur la détérioration des libertés en Algérie sera débattue le 26 novembre au Parlement européen.

C’est la deuxième fois en un an qu’une résolution d’urgence est soumise au Parlement européen pour dénoncer des atteintes aux droits de l’Homme en Algérie. Jeune Afrique a eu accès à ce nouveau texte à l’initiative des centristes de Renew Europe et des Socialistes&Démocrates, qui a déjà fait l’objet du consensus de six groupes parlementaires. Il sera présenté ce jeudi 26 novembre en plénière et, crise sanitaire oblige, à distance.

Cette résolution dénonce la répression à l’œuvre dans le pays mais aussi les amendements liberticides du Code pénal algérien et de la nouvelle Constitution.

La liste est longue : intimidations, hausse des arrestations politiques et des détentions arbitraires depuis l’été 2019, manque d’indépendance de la justice, allégations de torture, atteintes à la liberté d’expression et d’association, restrictions supplémentaires sous prétexte de crise sanitaire… sans oublier les féminicides et les atteintes aux droits des amazighs et des minorités religieuses.


Soutien aux détenus d’opinion


Le projet rappelle par ailleurs les rapports internationaux à charge pour Alger — quatre communications ont par exemple déjà été envoyées au gouvernement algérien cette année par le groupe de travail des Nations unies sur la détention arbitraire –, et ses engagements vis-à-vis des traités internationaux dont elle est signataire (y compris donc de leurs clauses sur les droits de l’Homme).

Il enjoint également les autorités algériennes à autoriser l’accès à leur territoire aux organisations internationales des droits de l’Homme et aux agents onusiens en charge des procédures spéciales du Conseil des droits de l’Homme.

Les eurodéputés réclament par ailleurs la libération de plus de 90 prisonniers d’opinion du Hirak. Cette année, l’Algérie est classée 146e sur 180 pays en termes de libertés de la presse par Reporters sans frontière (perdant 5 places par rapport à 2019 et 27 par rapport à 2015), avec notamment le cas très médiatisé du journaliste Khaled Drareni — souligné d’ailleurs par ce projet de résolution.

Ce rédacteur de médias algériens comme Casbah Tribune et correspondant de médias internationaux comme TV5 monde, a été condamné en appel à deux ans de prison pour « incitation à attroupement non armé et atteinte à l’intégrité du territoire national ». Un quatorzième sit-in s’est récemment tenu (virtuellement) dans le pays pour le soutenir.

En avril 2015 le Parlement avait déjà publié une résolution dénonçant des emprisonnements de travailleurs et d’activistes des droits de l’Homme en Algérie.

Pourquoi ce regain d’intérêt maintenant ? « L’Algérie est à un tournant », explique l’eurodéputée suédoise Karin Karlsbro (Renew), très active sur cette nouvelle résolution. « Nous admirons la mobilisation pacifique des Algériens depuis 2019 et souhaitons leur exprimer notre solidarité et soutenir leurs revendications contre la corruption et en faveur de réformes démocratiques. »

Des relations complexes
Si l’Union européenne (UE) et l’Algérie sont tenues par un accord d’association, avec cette résolution d’urgence, les eurodéputés exhortent l’Union européenne (UE) à placer la question des droits de l’Homme au centre du prochain Conseil qui y sera consacré.

Le Parlement appelle également la Commission européenne, les États-membres et le Service européen pour l’Action extérieure à aller plus loin dans leur soutien à la société civile algérienne.

À LIRE Algérie : le cas Drareni met sous pression les autorités
Un vœu pieux ? Cette résolution n’est en effet pas plus contraignante que les précédentes. Le Parlement européen — seule institution internationale démocratiquement élue au monde, comme aiment à le rappeler ses membres — représente simplement l’opinion des citoyens européens.




C’est donc avant tout le symbole qui compte, loin des contraintes diplomatiques avec lesquelles doivent composer les gouvernements. « Ces derniers restent timorés pour dénoncer les atteintes aux libertés dans le monde, et même en Europe », dénonce ainsi Karin Karlsbro.

Seulement, les prises de position européennes suscitent régulièrement de vives polémiques. Les autorités algériennes dénoncent régulièrement des ingérences étrangères. Une rhétorique également adoptée par une partie de la population. Le mouvement de protestation du Hirak s’était d’ailleurs lui-même saisi de cette thématique contre la France et les États-Unis lors de ses premières manifestations en mars 2019. Ce nouveau texte risquerait donc à son tour d’être contre-productif.




Pour tenter de s’en prémunir, les eurodéputés s’appuient justement sur les demandes du Hirak dans leur rédaction. « Les régimes autoritaires ou semi-autoritaires assimilent toujours les critiques à des trahisons de l’intérieur ou des ingérences de l’extérieur et l’Algérie ne fait pas exception, balaie Karin Karlsbro. Les activistes algériens et les familles de détenus consultés préféreraient une Europe critique à une Europe complice et silencieuse. »

La sensibilité aux droits de l’Homme au sein du Parlement n’a rien d’inédit, mais l’intérêt suscité par l’Algérie, si, à en croire l’euro-député Bernard Guetta (groupe Renew), à l’initiative de la précédente motion du 28 novembre 2019 sur les libertés dans le pays. Il souligne aujourd’hui le large spectre de nationalités des députés qui se sont mobilisées sur ce dossier.




« On constate une évolution tout à fait nouvelle des états d’esprit au sein de nos capitales et le sentiment partagé que l’UE doit devenir une puissance politique et un acteur de la scène internationale après avoir perdu tout rôle depuis la Seconde Guerre Mondiale », commente-t-il. « Cela s’accompagne d’une prise de conscience des répercussions possibles de ce qu’il se passe sur l’autre rive de la Méditerranée, et en particulier en Algérie dont les évolutions ont des résonances au Maghreb et au Sahel. »

Les instigateurs des débats de ce jeudi souhaitent donc peser dans la diplomatie parlementaire et espèrent des retombées concrètes. La précédente mouture de novembre 2019 avait, veulent-ils croire, influencé la libération de militants du Hirak. Les cas des figures du mouvement comme le militant Karim Tabbou, le journaliste Mustafa Bendjema et de l’ex-député Khaled Tazaghart sont ainsi cités dans cette nouvelle résolution.



Apaiser les tensions ethno-politiques au Cameroun, en ligne et hors ligne

International Crisis Group, 03 December 2020

Au Cameroun, deux ans après des élections présidentielles contestées, les rivalités entre les partisans du président et ceux de son principal opposant prennent une tournure ethnique. Le gouvernement devrait engager des réformes électorales, interdire la discrimination et travailler avec les entreprises de réseaux sociaux pour juguler les discours de haine.


Que se passe-t-il ? Le dirigeant de l’opposition, Maurice Kamto, conteste encore les résultats de l’élection présidentielle de 2018, tandis que ses sympathisants et ceux du président Paul Biya échangent des invectives qui se transforment souvent en insultes à caractère ethnique. Attisés par des propos incendiaires en ligne, ces discours haineux entrainent de nouvelles violences.

En quoi est-ce significatif ? Les tensions entre les camps de Biya et de Kamto, de plus en plus souvent formulées en termes ethniques, menacent la stabilité nationale, déjà ébranlée par l’insurrection séparatiste dans les régions anglophones. Sans une action du gouvernement, ces divisions risquent de détériorer le tissu social et politique du Cameroun et d’engendrer des violences.

Comment agir ? Le gouvernement devrait s’attaquer aux défaillances du système électoral qui ont discrédité le scrutin de 2018 et proscrire toute discrimination ethnique. Facebook, le réseau social le plus utilisé dans le pays, devrait travailler avec le gouvernement, l’opposition et la société civile pour limiter les contenus incendiaires et la désinformation.



Les tensions politiques et ethniques déclenchées par l’élection présidentielle très controversée de 2018 continuent d’agiter le Cameroun, qui faisait déjà face à une insurrection séparatiste dans ses régions anglophones. Le vaincu, l’homme politique d’opposition Maurice Kamto, conteste toujours le résultat du vote, tandis que le président Paul Biya n’indique pas vouloir renoncer au pouvoir après 38 ans à la tête de l’Etat. Leurs sympathisants échangent maintenant des insultes à caractère ethnique en ligne, en particulier sur le réseau social le plus populaire du pays, Facebook. Les propos haineux se multiplient, et avec eux les tensions ethniques – tendances qui, si elles se renforcent encore, pourraient menacer la stabilité du Cameroun. Afin d’apaiser la situation, le gouvernement devrait entamer un dialogue avec ses opposants sur la question du système électoral et prendre des mesures afin de le rendre plus juste.

Il devrait introduire de nouvelles lois interdisant toute discrimination ethnique et permettre à la Commission nationale pour la promotion du bilinguisme et du multiculturalisme d’imposer des quotas entre les nombreux groupes ethniques du pays au sein de ses institutions publiques. De son côté, Facebook devrait accroître ses efforts pour passer au crible les propos haineux et promouvoir des contenus vérifiés pour mettre fin à la prolifération de la désinformation.

Le conflit au sujet de l’élection présidentielle de 2018, que beaucoup d’observateurs, y compris l’Eglise catholique, ont estimé être entachée d’irrégularités, continue de peser sur la vie politique camerounaise. Depuis que les autorités électorales lui ont attribué la deuxième place derrière Biya, Kamto n’a cessé de contester le résultat, jusqu’à son arrestation en février 2019 pour insurrection, sédition et incitation à la violence. Même après sa sortie de prison en octobre 2019, il a régulièrement fustigé le gouvernement pour son refus de réformer le système électoral.

Son parti et lui ont boycotté les élections municipales et législatives de février 2020. Leur abstention a donné au parti au pouvoir une majorité sans appel au parlement, de sorte que les principaux opposants au gouvernement n’y sont pas présents pour le forcer à débattre des problèmes majeurs qui affectent le pays.

Kamto et ses alliés sont en conflit permanent avec le gouvernement sur les questions les plus clivantes du pays. Kamto, lui-même issu de la majorité francophone du Cameroun, a critiqué le gouvernement pour avoir organisé des élections auxquelles peu de Camerounais anglophones ont pu participer du fait de la violence et du boycott ordonné par les séparatistes. Il accuse Biya de mal gérer la crise anglophone en préférant la force au dialogue. Lors de manifestations publiques, il a appelé à la libération des dirigeants séparatistes emprisonnés, et le gouvernement l’a décrit, en retour, comme un dangereux agitateur.

Beaucoup, parmi les sympathisants de Biya et Kamto, décrivent ce conflit politique comme une course au pouvoir entre leurs groupes ethniques respectifs – entre, d’une part, les Bulu de Biya, originaires de la région francophone du Sud, et les Beti du Centre francophone, proches des Bulu ; et, d’autre part, les Bamiléké de Kamto, originaires de l’Ouest francophone.

La pandémie de Covid-19 et les élections régionales prévues par le gouvernement en décembre n’ont fait qu’exacerber les tensions. Kamto a demandé au parlement de déterminer si le président était encore capable de gouverner alors qu’il était absent de la scène politique au moment même où les cas de coronavirus commençaient à augmenter. Le 22 septembre, lorsque Biya a annoncé la tenue d’élections régionales deux mois plus tard, Kamto a lancé une série de manifestations pacifiques ayant pour but avoué d’évincer le président.

Avec la montée de la pression politique, les responsables politiques camerounais et l’opinion publique ont de plus en plus recours aux réseaux sociaux pour faire passer leurs messages et exprimer leurs opinions. Si la croissance des réseaux sociaux a été une aubaine pour la liberté d’expression, ces réseaux restent mal régulés. Des activistes de tous bords les utilisent pour propager la désinformation, aggraver les clivages ethniques et même inciter à la violence.

Les contenus incendiaires en ligne opposant Bulu et Beti d’un côté et Bamiléké de l’autre ont attisé les tensions. Des vidéos, postées sur Internet, montrant des manifestations anti-Biya à Genève en juin 2019 ont incité des députés du Sud – en grande partie loyaux à Biya – à accuser de tribalisme les émigrés de l’Ouest, généralement perçus comme des sympathisants de Kamto. Des affrontements violents ont opposé ces groupes à Sangmélima, dans le Sud, en octobre 2019, sans cependant entrainer de morts. S’il est difficile d’établir des liens directs de cause à effet, les parallèles entre antagonismes en ligne et accrochages réels suggèrent que les contenus postés en ligne pourraient attiser les violences.

Aucun des deux côtés n’a pris de mesures pour tempérer la rhétorique de ses sympathisants. De hauts responsables camerounais ont exprimé leurs préoccupations face aux publications au vitriol postées en ligne mais n’ont pas fait grand-chose pour y mettre un terme. Les mesures prises par le gouvernement au nom de la lutte contre les propos haineux ont généralement pour seul objectif de réprimer ses opposants. Quant à l’opposition, elle en a fait tout aussi peu pour modérer le ton de ses sympathisants, accusant au contraire le gouvernement de tribaliser la scène politique pour diviser les Camerounais opposés à Biya. De leur côté, les organismes nationaux chargés de la surveillance des communications manquent de moyens et ne bénéficient pas de la confiance de l’opinion publique. En outre, ils ne sont pas clairement mandatés pour s’attaquer à ce qui pourrait constituer une menace pour le gouvernement comme pour la stabilité du pays. Facebook elle-même ne consacre pas suffisamment de moyens pour faire obstacle aux propos nocifs publiés en ligne.

Si la logique d’une ethnicisation de la scène politique s’installe, les tensions d’aujourd’hui risquent de se transformer en conflits interethniques bien plus graves à mesure que les partis au pouvoir et d’opposition se préparent à la fin de la présidence Biya. Un tel scénario représente une réelle menace dans un pays qui compte plus de 250 communautés ethniques. Cette évolution serait particulièrement tragique alors que les relations entre communautés ont longtemps été relativement harmonieuses, au moins au niveau national (les poussées de violences ethniques, généralement sur fond de conflit foncier, sont, quant à elles, plus fréquentes). Le gouvernement, l’opposition et les entreprises de réseaux sociaux peuvent tous contribuer à apaiser les tensions :

- En tout premier lieu, le gouvernement devrait amorcer un dialogue avec l’opposition hors du parlement afin d’établir un consensus autour de la réforme électorale. Le président Biya et son parti sont peu favorables à une telle réforme, mais c’est le seul moyen de dépasser les antagonismes entre eux et leurs rivaux. Sans cela, les frustrations de l’opposition ne feront que croître et alimenter les divisions ethniques, une boîte de Pandore qu’il deviendra difficile de refermer. Les réformes pourraient inclure l’introduction d’un bulletin de vote unique, plutôt que le système à bulletins multiples actuellement utilisé au Cameroun, qui se prête aux manipulations ; une commission électorale plus indépendante ; et des résultats d’élections plus transparents et publiés dans de meilleurs délais.

- Le gouvernement devrait interdire toute discrimination ethnique dans les recrutements du secteur public en introduisant des amendements afin d’étendre la portée de la loi condamnant « l’outrage à la tribu ». Il devrait également réformer la Commission nationale pour la promotion du bilinguisme et du multiculturalisme, un organisme établi en 2017 mais qui manque de moyens et n’a à l’heure actuelle qu’un rôle consultatif, afin de lui permettre de combattre toute discrimination de cet ordre.

- Facebook devrait se donner les moyens – y compris en recrutant des modérateurs qui comprennent la culture politique du Cameroun – de passer au crible les messages postés en ligne et d’identifier les propos incendiaires afin de censurer plus activement de tels contenus. L’entreprise devrait sensibiliser davantage l’ensemble de l’échiquier politique et travailler avec les différents acteurs pour mieux identifier les contenus dangereux. De leur côté, les partis au pouvoir et de l’opposition devraient encourager leurs sympathisants à adopter les standards communautaires en matière de communication responsable en ligne.

De concert avec les institutions gouvernementales, l’opposition et la société civile, Facebook devrait redoubler d’efforts pour garantir qu’elle a vérifié leurs pages. En promouvant des pages vérifiées, l’entreprise aidera ainsi les utilisateurs à faire la différence entre les sources d’informations authentiques et celles de désinformation.
Ce chemin est semé d’embûches. Le président Biya lui-même pourrait être tenté de résister à des mesures perçues comme menaçant son pouvoir. Nombreux sont ceux qui, au sein de son parti, espèrent garder le pouvoir après le départ de Biya, et partageront donc cette préoccupation.

Les responsables politiques de tous bords n’ont que trop tardé à condamner une rhétorique qui divise. De plus, accorder au gouvernement l’exclusivité de la lutte contre les propos incendiaires risque de lui permettre d’utiliser de telles mesures pour réprimer ses rivaux. Les acteurs internationaux influents au Cameroun – en particulier les Etats-Unis, l’Union africaine, la France et d’autres pays européens – auront un rôle crucial à jouer, principalement en coulisses, pour pousser le pays à entreprendre une réforme électorale.

Malgré tout, on trouve dans chacun des camps des responsables politiques conscients du danger. Le président Biya lui-même n’a aucun intérêt à laisser derrière lui un pays déchiré par les combats et les velléités séparatistes dans les régions anglophones, mais aussi par les tensions croissantes qui menacent des relations intercommunautaires pourtant historiquement relativement amicales. En agissant dès maintenant pour renouer le dialogue avec ses opposants et en coopérant avec Facebook pour endiguer les propos haineux, il pourrait contribuer à réduire ce risque.

Yaoundé/Nairobi/Bruxelles, 3 décembre 2020

Pour l’integralise du rapport, visiter: