Crisis Group: The Horn
Source: Crisis Group, October 7, 2020
Eritrea’s One-man Rule
President Isaias Afwerki has become virtually synonymous with the state of Eritrea, having single-handedly moulded the country in his image since its inception in 1991. Alan is joined this week by Martin Plaut – author, journalist and now Senior Fellow at the University of London – who has covered Eritrea’s trajectory for almost 40 years.
Together they explore how Isaias has maintained his unyielding grip on power while pursuing his geopolitical ambitions in the region and further afield. Martin describes a country pervaded with regime paranoia, extreme domestic repression and isolationism that has somehow also managed to leverage itself into strategic partnerships with actors ranging from the UAE and Saudi Arabia to insurgent groups.
This in-depth conversation offers insights into the inner workings of the Horn of Africa’s most off-the-radar country, the shape-shifting quality of Isaias’ shrewd foreign policy as well as the uncertain future of a post-Isaias Eritrea.
Episode 2: A Rare Glimpse into Darfur’s Last Rebel Stronghold
Sudan’s 31 August peace deal between the government and an alliance of rebel groups from Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile was welcomed with enthusiasm by the international community. But in the Jebel Marra mountains of Darfur, controlled by a faction of the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM), a rebel group that refused to sign the agreement, it was met with raised eyebrows.
In early 2020, Vice News correspondent Julia Steers became the first foreign journalist to set foot in the Jebel Marra in five years. She witnessed first-hand why mistrust toward the government flies high in this remote area traumatised by seventeen years of war, even after former President Omar al-Bashir’s ousting in 2019.
Steers explains how the rebels want justice for the crimes committed in Darfur and a significant improvement of the situation on the ground, where gunshots ring out daily and humanitarian services are absent. High on their list of concerns is also the fact that the process that led to the August agreement involves a general they consider as one of the masterminds of the genocide committed against them.
Elsewhere in Darfur, Steers notes, challenges standing in the way of peace also abound. One obstacle is a surge in what the United Nations calls “tribal clashes”, where civilians displaced by the conflict are attacked in and outside the camps they live in.
Episode 1: Peace and Conflict in Africa, Then and Now
To mark the first episode of season two of The Horn, Alan talks with Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director Comfort Ero about how the politics of conflict and peacemaking have changed — and not changed — across the African continent during the decade that she has led the organisation’s work on Africa.
She highlights that although headlines may be dominated by topics such as “jihadist threat” and “violent extremism”, the key causes of conflict remain the same, including corruption, instrumentalisation of ethnicity, and marginalisation of certain communities.
They discuss power struggles in the Horn of Africa as America’s primacy wanes, the African Union’s more assertive role in peace and security, and how African leaders should manage their relationships with China to strengthen conflict resolution on the continent, not repressive authoritarian regimes. They also explore the benefits and risks of talking about African solutions to African problems, and the need to take into account the crucial national interests that can drive a state to try to shape the future of a neighboring country.
Episode 22: Somali Politics Heat up, Again
Somalia’s political crisis has reached a worrying stage. Since his election in 2017, President Farmajo has pushed to strengthen the federal government’s control, fuelling infighting between the government and member states. The decision to postpone upcoming elections has inflamed these already deteriorating relations.
Meanwhile, Al-Shabaab continues to inflict violence and will likely benefit from this political disarray, and external actors compete for influence, using the country as a playground for their own interests.
Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Somalia Omar Mahmood joins Alan for the final episode of this season to discuss these worrying trends and the need for a consensus agreement over the electoral process. They also examine the skirmishes in Jubaland’s Gedo region and their impact on wider regional dynamics.
Episode 21: As Rains Begin, Crisis Looms over the Nile Dam
As rains swell the Blue Nile, Ethiopia has made clear its intent to soon start filling the massive dam it is building. However, it has yet to reach an agreement with its two downstream neighbours, Sudan and Egypt.
Trilateral talks resumed in early June, and while most elements have been agreed upon, two key issues remain unresolved: drought mitigation and dispute resolution. The gap to reach an agreement is closing fast.
William Davison, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Ethiopia, returns to The Horn once more to unpack the complex dynamics at play. He and Alan discuss negotiations, technical issues, and the parties’ various concerns. He stresses that all three need to compromise if they hope to reach a deal, lest tensions rise further.
Episode 20: Africa and the Emerging US-China Cold War
The “age-old story of the rise and fall of great powers”, already in motion, has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
So says Abdul Mohammed, chief of staff and senior political advisor for the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel. Amid waning U.S. influence, the steady rise of China, and a new era of competition between the two, he asks, where does Africa fit in?
The continent has undergone a dynamic transformation over the past twenty years. In the absence of robust, long-term U.S. engagement, China has emerged as the continent’s most important economic partner. Meanwhile, the U.S. is now primarily focused on sidelining China in Africa rather than providing the transformative engagement needed.
With the continent now caught between these two opposing geopolitical forces, just like the rest of the world, Abdul argues that Africans cannot afford to be passive. They will need to “play a weak hand well” by positioning themselves as relevant actors, both in managing the current pandemic and in contributing to the shaping of a future global order.
Episode 19: Inside Africa’s Coronavirus Response, with Africa CDC’s Dr. John Nkengasong
Africa’s priority in fighting COVID-19 is to find the right “balance between saving lives and saving livelihoods”, based on the experience of what happened in Europe, the United States, and China, says Dr John Nkengasong, Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the African Union body coordinating the response to the pandemic on the continent.
The wave of COVID-19 infections that many predicted would cruelly expose Africa’s weak health systems has not materialised on the continent thanks to early lockdown measures, lessons learnt from the Ebola and HIV crises, and strong leadership and coordination on a continental level.
But Africa is not out of the woods yet, and as European countries start easing lockdowns, Africa needs to redouble its efforts if it wants to avoid a massive spread of the disease.
Episode 18: Fighting the Pandemic in the Horn of Africa: A Conversation with Amb. Alexander Rondos
Africa has been hit with a double punch. The economic fallout of COVID-19 has preceded the health crisis, resulting in job losses and endangering food supplies. The pandemic’s impact on the region’s tumultuous political transitions could be grave.
The international community has moved surprisingly quickly in response to the pandemic, but is it enough? EU Special Representative to the Horn of Africa Alexander Rondos explains that greater regional cooperation is needed to address the potential consequences wrought by the crisis. Only by working more closely together can they develop an effective strategy for pandemic relief.
Episode 17: Climate, Conflict and Peacekeeping’s Unwanted Footprint
“Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change across the world, and yet is the least responsible”.
Climate change is a threat multiplier. Its ability to disrupt livelihoods, change migration patterns and complicate political imbalances make it an increasingly significant driver of conflict.
David Mozersky, co-founder of Energy Peace Partners and a former Crisis Group project director for the region, is Alan’s guest this week. They examine the conflict in Darfur, UN climate goals and the international community’s carbon footprint.
Episode 16: Bracing for the Post-pandemic Storm
“COVID-19 is not just an epidemic, but a highly complex emergency”.
The implications of the coronavirus pandemic are still unclear. But the looming global recession and direct impact of containment measures on livelihoods make this an unprecedented crisis for Africa. Furthermore, the U.S., once an important ally in times of health crises, has turned its back on the continent, especially after President Trump’s “reckless” decision to terminate funding for the World Health Organization. Worst-hit countries are now faced with the prospect of major food shortages, political fragility, and major economic dislocation.
Alex de Waal, an expert on the continent who has written extensively on the effects of pandemics on political power, joins Alan this week to discuss the international system’s ability to respond to the new crisis in Africa and the value of community-led strategies to help blunt the impact.
Episode 15: Around the Horn: The Political Fallout of the Pandemic
We continue our COVID-19 series with a 360-degree view of perspectives on the pandemic’s impact. Five Crisis Group analysts look at the risks and opportunities in Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Sudan, as well as the profound political and economic implications of the disease.
Episode 14: Sizing Up the Threat of COVID-19 in East Africa
COVID-19 poses an enormous threat in the Horn of Africa. Beyond deadly risks to public health and hospitals, democratic systems are already affected and critical diplomatic efforts disrupted. Outbreaks in camps housing refugees and other populations displaced by conflict could be catastrophic.
Kenyan diplomat Ambassador Mahboub Maalim joins Alan for this second special COVID-19 episode. They discuss the implications of the disease on vulnerable populations, the threat to multilateral institutions and the limits of virtual diplomacy.
Episode 13: Flattening the COVID-19 Curve in East Africa
The death and disruption wrought by the coronavirus pandemic has already been felt by much of the world. With the disease now making its way across East Africa, Alan Boswell sat down with journalist April Zhu to discuss the challenges the region faces.
Overstretched healthcare systems, the consequences of a global economic depression on stability, and the long-term geopolitical implications of China’s growing engagement are all covered in this first episode of a special COVID-19 series on The Horn.
Episode 12: The Dangers of Deadlock in the Nile Dam Talks
Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan are struggling to reach agreement over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
Ethiopia, which sees the dam as a defining national development project, is ready to start filling it; Sudan, a historic ally of Egypt, covets the cheap electricity and expanded agricultural production that it promises; while Egypt remains deeply concerned about the impact it could have on the Nile’s water flow.
Harry Verhoeven, a leading academic expert on the issue, joins Alan this week to discuss the current impasse. They examine the technical issues, the politicisation of the dam, understandings of security and power, the role of the U.S. Treasury, and what the dam could contribute toward poverty reduction, environmental sustainability and agricultural productivity in the Nile Basin.
Episode 11: Will South Sudan’s Peace Deal Hold?
On 22 February, South Sudan’s two warring leaders, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, agreed once again to form a unity government. After several failed attempts to make peace, this deal is more important than ever. In this episode, we flip the script by bringing Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director, Comfort Ero, into the studio to interview host Alan Boswell. Alan, who is Crisis Group’s senior analyst on South Sudan, has just returned from field research there. In this episode, Comfort and Alan discuss how we got to this point, what the unity government needs to succeed and what may hold it back, again.
Episode 10: Freeing Sudan from U.S. Sanctions
Sudan’s transition hangs in the balance.
As the country embarks on its journey to inclusive, democratic rule, one of the most pressing issues it faces is the flailing economy. The civilian-led administration inherits a legacy of decades of ruinous economic policies, exacerbated by crippling U.S. sanctions. Crisis Group has long called on the U.S. to rescind its outdated designation of Sudan as a State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST), which would be an important first step in supporting economic reform.
Cameron Hudson, Senior Fellow at Atlantic Council, joins Alan this week to shed light on the nature of U.S. sanctions, the factors obstructing the lifting of the SST, the role of the international community and the challenges for Prime Minister Hamdok.
Episode 9: Ethiopia’s Fragile Transition
Ethiopia’s elections, scheduled for August, are set to be the first free and fair elections since 2005. But myriad challenges lie ahead, warns Will Davison, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Ethiopia and Alan’s guest on The Horn this week.
When Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power, he immediately marked himself as a departure from the country’s authoritarian past. He has opened up the country’s politics, embarked on a historic rapprochement with Eritrea, released more political prisoners and invited home exiled dissidents.
However, efforts to dismantle the country’s old order have sparked a debate between supporters and opponents of the country’s ethnic federalist system. Hostility among different regions has soared, ethno-nationalism is on the rise and intercommunal clashes have displaced millions. Concerns abound that intensified political competition around elections could further destabilise the state.
Tune in to hear all about the complex dynamics at play.
Episode 8: East Africa in 2020
From Sudan’s fragile transition and Ethiopia’s internal tensions to a resilient Al-Shabaab insurgency, 2020 is set to be an important year in the Horn of Africa.
Murithi Mutiga, Crisis Group’s Project Director for the region, joins Alan to discuss the conflicts and crises dominating the headlines and the ones evading them, from the Kenya-Somalia maritime dispute to the dramatic deterioration of Tanzania’s political environment.
Episode 7: How Women’s Support Energises Somalia’s Al-Shabaab
The Al-Shabaab insurgency remains a potent force in Somalia. One understudied source of its resilience is the support it enjoys among Somali women, despite the group’s patriarchal ethos, strict gender ideology and brutal methods.
Azadeh Moaveni, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Gender, joins Alan to discuss women’s roles within the movement, from intelligence gathering, to fundraising, to arms carrying and to recruitment.
Episode 6: Kenya and Somalia Quarrel Over Offshore Oil
Kenya and Somalia are currently fighting a legal battle over their shared maritime border, an area rich in oil and gas.
Somalia’s President Mohammed Abdullahi “Farmajo” is playing hardball. With national elections approaching, he has taken a more assertive stance to demonstrate the country’s strength and appeal to his support base. Kenya views itself as a powerful country in a turbulent region and doesn’t wish to be seen caving into pressure from Somalia.
Rashid Abdi, Consultant and former Horn of Africa Director at Crisis Group, joins Alan this week to shed light on the deeply complex issue. They seek insights about why the dispute flared up, Ethiopia’s changing role under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and how mediation efforts have achieved some positive, modest success in de-escalating tensions.
Episode 5: Inside South Sudan’s Peace Talks
After five years of violent conflict, South Sudan’s main warring leaders, President Salva Kiir and his chief rival Riek Machar, signed a peace deal in September 2018. The agreement established a ceasefire and set out a political roadmap toward elections in 2022, which included the formation of a unity government. But the peace deal is imperilled, and with it the fragile ceasefire.
Emmily Koiti, a civil society activist who participated in the peace talks, joins Alan this week to discuss why she thinks the main parties will fail to form a functioning unity government, what the principle issues obstructing progress are and why the country’s current leaders do not represent the aspirations of the South Sudanese. She also described what it was like to be present at the negotiations, shedding light on how Sudan’s forceful mediation methods under Omar al-Bashir’s leadership achieved a peace deal but failed to push the warring parties together.
Episode 4: Trumpian Minimalism vs East African Realities
In theory, President Trump hoped that minimal engagement would bring big wins in the Horn of Africa: more U.S. trade & investment and seeing off his great power competitors. In practice, multiple surprises have forced U.S. policy into a mode of serial reaction. How are these priorities and realities different from those of his predecessors? And how has he dealt with themes that rarely feature in his usual doctrines, issues like governance, peace and security?
Alan Boswell drills down on U.S. Africa policy with Judd Devermont, Director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and formerly a senior official at the National Intelligence Council under the Obama Administration.They highlight the importance of multilateralism, democracy and governance in a tumultuous region, the incoherence of U.S. policy toward the rising competition between Gulf Arab states in this part of Africa, and the issues of using great power rivalry as a framework to dictate policy.
Episode 3: After Sudan’s Revolution with Reem Abbas
Sudan’s strongman Omar al-Bashir was swept from power in April after a 30-year dictatorship. A power sharing agreement was signed in August between the military and opposition alliance, which offers the best hope for the country as it transitions away from autocracy. However, the civilian-led government faces monumental challenges, among them a a deeply dysfunctional economy, political polarisation and a powerful security establishment bent on clinging onto power.
Reem Abbas, journalist, activist and researcher, joins Alan Boswell this week to discuss these dynamics and suggest ways forward that can improve the lives of the many millions of disempowered Sudanese who, for decades, have been reduced to dire living conditions, conflict and marginalisation.
Episode 2: On East Africa’s Digital Frontier
Byte by byte, digital technologies are having a dramatic impact on politics. But while their influence in Western political spaces has been heavily scrutinised, their role in East Africa is only beginning to become widely discussed.
As Africa attracts greater foreign investment, countries in the Horn find themselves at the intersection of politics and technology. In Sudan, social media offered civilians a space to organise against and eventually oust the repressive regime of Omar al-Bashir. But in Kenya, politicians put big data to work. Long before the U.S. 2016 presidential election, the private data company Cambridge Analytica manipulated the Kenyan electoral discourse, operating with little accountability and stripping away the agency of ordinary people.
Nanjala Nyabola, who recently authored Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics: How the Internet Era is Transforming Kenya, joins Alan Boswell on The Horn this week. They discuss everything from digital colonialism and the exploitation of technology by state powers to the democratising potential of social media.
Episode 1: Red Sea Rising
The Horn of Africa, long an arena of great power competition, today sees a new rivalry playing out on its shores. Gulf countries and Turkey are vying for allies, influence and physical presence in the Red Sea corridor. They are injecting resources, but also exporting rivalries in ways that could destabilise fragile politics in the region.
Alan Boswell is joined by Elizabeth Dickinson, our Senior Analyst for the Arabian Peninsula and formerly a reporter for publications like Foreign Policy and The Economist. On this week’s episode, they discuss the risks of Red Sea rivalries and also the opportunities.