Africa Digest - February 2019

Buhari Re-elected In Nigeria

Nigerian President  Muhammadu Buhari was officially re-elected on 27 February for another term to lead Africa’s largest country. He defeated his closest rival, People’s Democratic Party candidate Atiku Abubakar, by nearly four million votes. Administrative problems and delays marred the election process, but the result has been accepted by the international community. 

The expectation is a second-term Buhari government will push ahead with its popular social welfare programmes and high-profile infrastructure projects. The welfare programmes included meals for schoolchildren, agricultural mechanisation and soft loans for farmers, and small loans for traders. A number of railway lines and bridges are the key infrastructure plans Buhari will now hope to complete. The president can also benefit from his success in having brought down inflation.

The Nigerian economy is starting to come out of a short recession. Critics blamed the economic slowdown on Buhari’s decision to hold up the naira’s exchange rate, causing the currency to become overvalued. However, the volatility in global oil prices last year also played a major role. 

Buhari gave the military a free hand in curbing the attacks of the Boko Haram Islamicist terror group. Boko Haram is now a far less threat than it was before. In a television interview in January, however, the Nigerian leader indicated unhappiness with the way the next stage of the military operations were being conducted and that he intended to change the army’s top brass. 

Buhari is expected to continue sparring with the judiciary, a body he seems to believe have stymied the anti-corruption campaign that brought him to power in 2015. The campaign has produced few results in terms of convictions, though this clearly did not stop him from being re-elected.

Nigeria's Tech Brain Drain

Among the issues the new Nigerian government may need to address has been growing evidence that the country’s much lauded tech sector is beginning to suffer from a growing migration of its best tech minds to the West – and even other parts of Africa.
While part of this is about income, with even tech workers in South Africa earning substantially more than their Nigerian counterparts, the anecdotal evidence indicates the challenging business environment is even more of a problem. Some are comparing the growing tech migration to the brain drain problems that afflicted the country in the 1980s and 1990s.

Terror Threat to Mozambican Gas Plans 


Suspected Islamic militants carried out two attacks on assets of the Anadarko Petroleum Corporation in Mozambique on February 21, killing one and injuring six. This represents the first coordinated attack by the militants, who operate in the northernmost Cabo Delgado province, against the $ 50 billion worth of natural gas investments planned in that area.

Anadarko has 75 million trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves in the offshore Rovuma gasfield. About a third of the company is owned by Bharat Petroleum, Oil India and ONGC. 

This month Anadarko agreed to sell one million metric tonnes of LNG per year for 15 years to Bharat Petroleum. The contract would take Anadarko over the demand threshold it had said would commit it to expanding its Mozambique LNG terminal to nearly 13 million tonnes capacity.
The shadowy militant group has become an additional complication for Mozambique’s plans to become a major LNG exporter. While locally called “Al Shabaab” – after the Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia – this terror group has issued no statements and its motives, ideology and even if it has a name are unknown.

The members seem to be from a radical sect which split off from a conservative Islamic group Ansaru Sunna that was, in turn, a member of the official Islamic Council. The council, worried about the sects violent attempts to force Sharia on villagers, urged the Mozambican government to act against them. The group fled into the bush, but emerged to carry out its first terrorist attack in October 2017. It has now carried out a steady stream of attacks along a coastal strip running from Pemba to the Tanzanian border. The Anadarko attack was unusual in its sophistication and may indicate the sect has tied up with Tanzanian Islamicist militants who shifted across the border after Dar es Salaam began moving against them in early 2017, a belief held by US intelligence agencies.

UK Loses Chagos Judgement

In a major victory for Mauritius, the International Court of Justice ruled on 25 February that the British occupation of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean was illegal. The World Court said the territory should be returned to Mauritius "as rapidly as possible" and portrayed it as the final stage of the decolonization of Mauritius. The ruling was advisory and non-binding. 

The Chagos archipelago, home to the military base of Diego Garcia on lease to the United States, is half way between Madagascar and Kanyakumari. Britain agreed to lease Diego Garcia to the US, split off the Chagos Islands and began deporting its population just three years before Mauritius got independence in 1968. 

Mauritius has run a long standing campaign against Britain’s rule over the Chagos, a campaign which has been supported by India. In 2017, the United Nations General Assembly voted to refer the case to the World Court. In the vote, 94 states voted in favour of Mauritius, 15 nations voted against. Notably, many European countries joined the 65 abstainers. 

London has said it would cede the islands when they were no longer important to its defence needs. Mauritius can now be expected to push for stronger resolutions at the UN and other multilateral fora and build up pressure on Britain.

Italians Make a Return to the Horn


Fed up with the European Union’s inability to stop the waves of African migrants arriving in southern Europe, Italy is making a cautious return to its colonial-era stamping grounds of Eritrea in Ethiopia. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte made a state visit to the two countries in October last year, the first high-level outreach by Italy to the Horn of Africa since the 1990s. 

Conte’s action is partly a sign of Italy’s desperation regarding its refugee crisis. Illegal seaborne migration across the Mediterranean has risen from 60,000 in 2010 to over one million in 2015. Previous Roman government had begun mapping out a strategy for the region in previous governments, including increased development assistance and ministerial contacts. But the refugee crisis, the end of Eritrea’s pariah status and Ethiopia’s sky-high economic growth rates have lent some urgency in Italy’s policy. An estimated 25 per cent of the illegal African migrants who come to southern Europe through Libya are from the Horn.
The rise of anti-immigrant populism across Europe has made it politically difficult for governments on either side to find a solution. In December last year, African leaders publicly criticised the decision of eight European governments to not sign a global compact to handle such migrations because of rightwing views that even regularized migration was unacceptable. 

European governments have tried piecemeal solutions such as increasing aid to Africa to reduce economic incentives to migrate. One German official proposed swathes of African land be leased to the West for long-term development, a suggestion denounced as “voluntary colonialism.” Others have reverted to bribing autocratic regimes or coastal militia to block migration. Experts say this only adds to political instability or human rights abuses. 

Southern Europe, which has borne the brunt of the refugees, has been particularly frustrated with the failure to create a pan-European response. Italy is among those that have taken to seek unilateral solutions. Earlier this year, France recalled its ambassador from Italy for the first time since 1940 after the latter blamed its colonial policies for the present migrant crisis. Interestingly, one of the reasons Italy has publicly embraced China’s Belt Road Initiative has been its view Beijing can be of help because of its large economic and political footprint across Africa.





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About the Author

Pramit Pal Chaudhury

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Foreign Editor, Hindustan Times, and Distinguished Fellow & Head, Strategic Affairs, Ananta Aspen Centre

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri writes on political, security, and economic issues. He previously wrote for the Statesman and the Telegraph in Calcutta. He served on the National Security Advisory Board of the Indian government from 2011-2015. Among other affiliations, he is a member of the Asia Society Global Council, the Aspen Institute Italia, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, and the Mont Pelerin Society. Pramit is also a senior associate of Rhodium Group, New York City, advisor to the Bower Group Asia in India, a member of the Council on Emerging Markets, Washington, DC, and a delegate for the Confederation of Indian Industry-Aspen Strategy Group Indo-U.S. Strategic Dialogue and the Ananta Aspen Strategic Dialogues with Japan, China and Israel. Born in 1964, he has visited over fifty countries on five continents. Mr. Pal Chaudhuri is a history graduate from Cornell University.