Can African Leaders End Ethiopia’s War?
As civil war spreads, Kenya and the African Union are trying to broker a cease-fire.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief. I’m Nosmot Gbadamosi, and I’m currently in Lagos, Nigeria.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief. I’m Nosmot Gbadamosi, and I’m currently in Lagos, Nigeria.
I have spent almost a decade reporting from across the continent—covering culture, politics, business, technology, and the young people shaping Africa’s future. I’m excited to begin writing regularly for FP through this newsletter. Africa Brief will continue to unpack the week’s news from across the continent and analyze the issues shaping geopolitics.
Yes, we’ll cover conflict. But we’ll also go beyond the usual headlines to introduce the creative thinkers driving the continent’s cultural life and burgeoning tech scene, offer data insights on key economic trends, and highlight notable investigations by journalists based on the continent.
From Algeria to Zimbabwe, FP’s Africa Brief aims to be your weekly insider guide to what’s happening in Africa and why those events matter for the world.
So let’s get right to it. The highlights this week: Mozambique seeks to appeal an ex-finance minister’s U.S. extradition, former Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi’s son runs for president, and a digital platform partnership drives the fledgling NFT art scene in Africa.
If you would like to receive Africa Brief in your inbox every Wednesday, please sign up here.
Kenya and the AU Push for Peace in Ethiopia
When fighting between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) began just over a year ago, in what the government called a “police action,” few observers would have envisaged it culminating in Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed urging all citizens to arm themselves and defend the capital, Addis Ababa.
A state of emergency is now in place, with neither side ready to negotiate. Africa’s leaders may be the last bulwark preventing an even broader and more brutal civil war. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta visited Abiy on Sunday to push for an end to the conflict.
In the meantime, the African Union (AU) has intensified its diplomacy. On Sunday, the AU’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, said he was “optimistic” that “a peaceful resolution of the conflict can be secured,” but an immediate cease-fire is needed for dialogue to begin.
Obasanjo’s words come as the United States imposed sanctions on Eritrea’s military and its ruling political party on Friday, accusing them of contributing to the conflict.
“Eritrea’s destabilizing presence in Ethiopia is prolonging the conflict,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. Eritrea sent troops into Tigray to aid its enemy-turned-ally Ethiopia but also used that opportunity to detain thousands of Eritrean refugees and allegedly commit human rights abuses, according to reports by Amnesty International and Reuters.
Washington has already tried a punitive approach, sanctioning Eritrea’s defense force and its head of national security while threatening to remove Ethiopia, the continent’s second most populous nation, from its preferential trade program, the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
Yet sanctions and threats have failed to trigger any progress. Despite warnings of harsh economic measures, Ethiopian authorities allegedly rounded up ethnically Tigrayan residents last week and detained at least 16 Tigrayan United Nations employees and dependents in crackdowns on suspected TPLF supporters.
The Ethiopian government set out terms for negotiating a cease-fire on Thursday, insisting the TPLF recognize Abiy’s government’s legitimacy and withdraw from the Amhara and Afar regions bordering Tigray. Yet TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda previously said pulling out of Amhara and Afar before talks begin is “an absolute non-starter.” As Addisu Lashitew argued this week in FP, both parties could start by recognizing the legitimacy of each other’s regional and national elections.
The balance of power on the battlefield has shifted back and forth as the fighting has intensified. Once in control of the Tigrayan capital, Mekele, Ethiopian federal forces were pushed south as the TPLF advanced in recent weeks.
Eight anti-federal government resistance groups have now allied themselves with the TPLF, including the Oromo Liberation Army, a rebel group in the Oromia region. Some observers fear that the alliance, including several groups fighting for secession, could lead to Ethiopia’s breakup. As Adem K. Abebe writes in FP, a national dialogue on federalism and negotiations over disputed territories could help the two sides take the first steps toward peace.
The Week Ahead
Monday, Nov. 15 to Saturday, Nov. 20: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal to meet those nations’ presidents.
Thursday, Nov. 18: Britain’s Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, arrive in Egypt on a two-day visit to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Climate change commitments are on the agenda ahead of Egypt hosting the U.N. climate change conference next year.
Saturday, Nov 20 to Wednesday, Nov 24: African heads of state and trade ministers meet for the African Union’s Summit on Africa’s Industrialization and Economic Diversification, held in Niamey, Niger.
Tuesday, Nov. 23: The United Nations Security Council briefs on the work of the International Criminal Court in Libya.
Wednesday, Nov. 24: North African policymakers meet for the United Nations 36th Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts for North Africa, held virtually.
What We’re Watching
Qaddafi’s son makes a comeback. Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of the ousted autocrat Muammar al-Qaddafi, announced he would run in December’s presidential elections. A video posted on Sunday by local news media Al-Marsad reportedly shows him registering his candidacy.
The elder Qaddafi ruled Libya for more than four decades until his death in 2011 during a NATO-backed uprising that was followed by a decade of violent chaos. Saif al-Islam is still wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity during a crackdown against the uprising. He was tried in absentia in 2015 and received a death sentence for war crimes but was released six years later.
His comeback is likely to divide a nation with wounds that are still raw from the Qaddafi era and could complicate the fragile United Nations-backed electoral process. World leaders agreed at a meeting in Paris on Friday to sanction any forces that disrupt or prevent the Dec. 24 elections.
Saif al-Islam may not be a serious contender for the presidential position, but after a decade out of the public’s eye, his intention to run signals his reentry into the political scene. “You need to come back slowly, slowly, like a striptease,” he told the New York Times in July. “You need to play with their minds a little.”
South Africa’s COP26 deal. At the U.N. climate change conference (known as COP26), South Africa—the continent’s biggest carbon dioxide emitter—struck an $8.5 billion deal to help the country ditch coal, partnering with the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union.
It’s one of the most ambitious deals to come out of the summit. On Nov. 11, ministers reached an agreement to sell some of state-owned Eskom’s coal-fired power plants to help reduce its debt burden. (Eskom is drowning in more than $27 billion in debt.)
The plan was first raised in a 2019 South African National Treasury policy paper, which suggested the sale of those assets could raise 450 billion rand (around $29 billion). But for the firm to transition to cleaner energy, between $30 billion and $35 billion will be needed over the next 15 years, Eskom chief executive André Marinus de Ruyter estimated in October.
All this suggests the $8.5 billion proposed is insufficient to ease South Africa’s transition. Finding new jobs for its more than 90,000 coal workers adds to the immense challenge ahead. Given its dependence on coal—and a surge in coal prices—South Africa supported a Chinese and Indian push to water down the Glasgow Climate Pact, replacing the “phasing out” of coal with “phasing down.”
Mozambique appeals extradition. The Mozambican government said it will appeal a South African court ruling ordering the extradition of its former finance minister, Manuel Chang, to the United States on corruption charges rather than to his home country. Chang was arrested in transit through Johannesburg’s airport on his way to the United Arab Emirates in 2018.
He was indicted alongside other Mozambican officials in the $2 billion “tuna bonds” loan scandal; part of the money went through the U.S. and U.K. finance systems. The loans—involving Credit Suisse, Russia’s VTB Bank, and French-Lebanese shipping firm Privinvest—were said to be for government-sponsored maritime security, including a state tuna fishery.
However, Mozambican officials were later found to have secretly arranged bribes and kickbacks worth more than $200 million, including $150 million for government officials and $50 million for bankers at Credit Suisse to secure favorable deals on the loans. It is estimated to have cost Mozambique’s economy around $11 billion—almost the equivalent of its entire GDP in 2016.
Both the United States and Mozambique have requested Chang’s extradition. The South African court overturned an earlier decision by South Africa’s justice minister to send Chang to Mozambique and ruled it was unclear whether Chang would receive immunity from prosecution there.
Morocco-Algeria conflict. Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said his country was determined to “turn the page” on the Western Sahara conflict without relinquishing rights over the disputed territory.
Morocco is committed to finding a solution to the “artificial regional conflict that stems from the opposition of a neighboring state to its legitimate rights to the consummation of its territorial integrity,” Bourita told senators in Rabat, Morocco, on Nov. 9, referring to ongoing tensions with Algeria. Morocco “does not negotiate” over Western Sahara or its rights, he said.
Tensions have flared between Morocco and Algeria in recent months. Morocco controls 80 percent of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that boasts rich Atlantic fishing grounds as well as lucrative mineral deposits. Algeria backs Western Sahara’s Polisario Front, which has sought full independence since the 1970s.
In August, Algeria cut diplomatic relations with Morocco—accusing the country of supporting the Islamist Rashad and Amazigh separatist movements in Algeria’s Kabylia region. Morocco denied the allegations. But Algeria has since accused Morocco of killing three Algerian civilians in a Nov. 1 bombing in the disputed territory.
The longstanding conflict heated up in late 2020, when then-U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara in what many observers regarded as a quid pro quo for Rabat’s normalization of ties with Israel.
This Week in Culture
NFT sales in Africa. African and Latin American artists accounted for just 3.6 percent of the nonfungible tokens (NFTs) market, according to a report published last week by research firm ArtTactic, which tracked sales over the past 21 months.
NFTs are original versions of digital artwork—including GIFs, videos, music, or tweets. They are securely recorded on a blockchain, making the artworks difficult to copy. African artists have benefited very little from the growing NFT market, which reached $10.7 billion in the third quarter of 2021, according to data from market tracker DappRadar. White male artists hold more than 70 percent of the market share, according to the ArtTactic report.
To address the imbalance, international art fair Art X Lagos is auctioning works by 10 artists of African descent on the platform SuperRare until Nov. 21, starting at $4,500. Two sold on the first day, according to Art X Lagos. Zimbabwean artist Moonsundiamond’s NFT sold for 2.75 ethereum, a cryptocurrency (around $11,900 on Nov. 16), and Nigerian artist Arclight’s artwork sold for 2.2 ethereum, almost $9,400.
Although tiny, the cryptocurrency art scene is growing in Africa. South African artist Norman O’Flynn sold the country’s first ever NFT for around $35,000 in March. And in April, Kenyan marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge sold his career highlights as NFTs for $50,000.
Chart of the Week
Gambia, mainland Africa’s smallest country, has one of the world’s smallest carbon footprints at less than 0.01 percent of global annual emissions. It is the only nation, according to nonprofit group Climate Action Tracker, with adequate plans to mitigate climate change by 2030.
What We’re Reading
Facebook failure. On Aug. 30, a Facebook user accused the Qimant, an ethnic minority in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, of supporting opposition forces—calling Qimant residents in the town of Aykel “snitches” in a post.
Two days later, more than a dozen Qimant people in Aykel were butchered in the streets. An Amhara militia group called Fano was coordinating “calls for violence and other armed conflict in Ethiopia,” according to the Continent, based on more than 10,000 documents leaked by Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist.
Although there is no proof of a direct causal link between the post and the attacks, it appears Facebook was aware of possible incitement. Company employees monitoring hate speech recommended in March that all associated accounts be taken down, but some accounts still remain active, according to the Continent’s Nov. 13 issue.
Bombings in Uganda. The Islamic State claimed credit for explosions that happened outside of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, last month. The police said the suicide bomber was on its list of wanted Allied Democratic Forces members, a terrorist group affiliated with the Islamic State. However, experts interviewed by Uganda-based journalist Musinguzi Blanshe for the Africa Report are skeptical about the group’s links to local insurgents.
Nosmot Gbadamosi is a multimedia journalist and the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief. She has reported on human rights, the environment, and sustainable development from across the African continent. Twitter: @nosmotg
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