Africa Digest - March 2019

India Helps Out Mozambique


India was among the first international responders to arrive at the Mozambican port of Beira after it faced the full brunt of Cyclone Idai on March 15. Three Indian naval ships, INS Sujatha, INS Shardul and INS Sarathi, arrived with food, clothes, medicine and potable water five days after the storm hit the Mozambican coast. Mozambique’s defence minister visited the ships as the aid was transferred to the local defence forces. 

According to the Red Cross, the cyclone affected 90 per cent of Beira, the second largest city of Mozambique. President Filipe Nyusi warned the death toll would probably pass over 1,000 and nearly 150 confirmed dead were reported in Zimbabwe. The category 4 storm left nearly 3000 sq km of land under water in what was described as an “inland ocean” with thousands of people left stranded in trees or the roofs of building. Nearly 1.5 million people have been displaced throughout central and southern Mozambique. The storm is expected to act as a further dampener on the country’s economy, already reeling from the debt fallout of a billion-dollar financial scandal. 

Mozambique and Mauritius are regularly affected by cyclones crossing the southwestern Indian Ocean. Cyclone Jokwe in 2008 killed about 20 people in Mozambique, the last major storm to hit the country. While major cyclones come roughly every five years, experts say climate change will make such storms more powerful and lethal in the coming decades. Cyclone Idai is set to be the worst such storm in the country’s history. 

India has particularly close relations with Mozambique, going back to the days when it was a “frontline state” in the fight against apartheid South Africa. India presently provides training to all the arms of the Mozambican military and Indian firms have large stakes in the country’s offshore gasfields. Almost a quarter of India’s total investment in Africa goes to Mozambique.

Protests May Force Out Algerian Head


The head of Algeria’s ruling party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), on March 21 declared his party’s support for the popular protests calling for the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Media reports say Bouteflika, who has ruled Algeria for 19 years, may step down on April 28.

The protests began in February when Bouteflika, 82, announced plans to run for a fifth term as president and hold elections in April. In a mass movement that has drawn parallels to the demonstrations seen during the Arab Spring, protesters demanded elections be held but without Bouteflika as a candidate. 

The FLN, Bouteflika’s own party, has struggled since then to contain the protests and ensure they are not directed against the ruling establishment. A number of different political reforms have been floated by the government, including allowing Bouteflika to extend his present term while allowing a national conference headed by veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi to oversee constitutional reforms. The president also sent an envoy to Russia, presently backing another embattled leader in Venezuela, to shore up international support.

However, several FLN leaders have since resigned to join the demonstrators and called on the FLN’s geriatric leadership to abandon Bouteflika and step aside for a younger generation.  A new technocratic minded prime minister, Noureddine Bedoui, has since been appointed and the FLN has now distanced itself from Bouteflika. Whether this will be sufficient to appease the demonstrators who are calling for a caretaker government and the en masse resignation of the cabinet and parliament as well. The protests draw much of their support from disaffected youth angered by the country’s long-standing economic ailments and alienated from the entrenched FLN establishment.

US Media on Africa


A study on US media coverage of Africa released in January concluded that not only does Africa receive little attention, what little it does is marked by negative stereotypes. The report, by the Norman Lear Center of the University of Southern California, looked at print, television and social media.

Among its findings were that Europe received about seven times more references than Africa; out of 700,000 hours of television programming only 25 major scripted storylines were about Africa; only 13 per cent of entertainment storylines that mentioned Africa had an African character and most of the last were minor roles; negative depictions were twice as common as positive ones, and only eight per cent of African coverage was about business and economics.

Nearly half (44 per cent) of the references to Africa were about the continent as a whole rather than specific countries. The figure was 27 per cent for Twitter. Five countries – Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, Congo and Seychelles – represented half of the country-specific coverage. If the fictional country of Wakanda, home of the superhero Black Panther, was included in the list it would rank as the fourth commonest African country mentioned.

Rwanda Vs Uganda


Rwanda and Uganda relations have hit a new low with the former virtually closing its borders to all trade and human movement from its eastern neighbour. The falling out between Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, and Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, is the culmination of a series of incidents going back to two years.

Last year, Uganda arrested and dismissed a number of senior security officers claiming they were assisting the Rwandan authorities to track and extradite political dissidents. In June the Ugandan chief of police, Kale Kayihura, was among those removed from his post. Kampala began removing executives from the country’s MTN telecom firm on the same grounds. In addition, Rwandans accused of being part of that country’s intelligence services and carrying out kidnappings and even assassinations on behalf of Kagame’s regime were expelled.

Rwanda responded angrily to these developments and accused Uganda of harbouring dissidents and demanded explanations for the deportations. Kenya has begun a mediation process between the two countries.

Kagame and Museveni have a long history together. Kagame and other Rwandan militia members helped Museveni when he came to power in Uganda in the 1980s. He returned the favour by providing shelter to Kagame’s militia during the on and off Rwandan civil conflicts of the 1990s. However, the two leaders began to drift apart after soldiers from both sides clashed in 1998 in the Congo.

Rwanda has gotten caught in smaller but similar disputes with Burundi and Tanzania over the presence of dissidents. Kagame denounced South Africa for providing a home to the previous Rwandan army chief.

A to Zoning of African Politics


Oxford University Press has published a new Dictionary of African Politics that puts together a lexicon of African political terms. Besides some difficult academic concepts like neo-patrimonialism, it also include the following:

Zoning: A Nigerian expression to describe the practice of alternating the presidency between the northern and southern parts of the country.

Skirt and Blouse Voting: A Kenyan expression to split one’s presidential and legislative votes between different parties.

Glissement: The French word “to slide” was used by Congolese to describe their president’s habit of “sliding” past election dates and holding onto power without going to the ballot.

Watermelon Politics: A Zambian expression for someone who declares for one party but is, secretly, loyal to another to avoid reprisals.

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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.