Africa Brief

From Algeria to Zimbabwe and countries in between, a weekly roundup of essential news and analysis from Africa. Delivered Wednesday.

What’s in Store for Africa in 2022

Ethiopia’s war and other conflicts in the Horn of Africa region will shape the coming year.

By , a multimedia journalist and the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief.
People hold candles and Ethiopian flags during a memorial service for victims of the Tigray conflict in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Nov. 3.
People hold candles and Ethiopian flags during a memorial service for victims of the Tigray conflict in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Nov. 3. EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.

This week’s edition is the last of the year. Below, we take a look at the conflicts that will shape Africa in the coming year and other things we’ll be watching, from Somalia’s governance crisis to Sudan’s stalled transition. See you in 2022.

If you would like to receive Africa Brief in your inbox every Wednesday, please sign up here.

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.

This week’s edition is the last of the year. Below, we take a look at the conflicts that will shape Africa in the coming year and other things we’ll be watching, from Somalia’s governance crisis to Sudan’s stalled transition. See you in 2022.

If you would like to receive Africa Brief in your inbox every Wednesday, please sign up here.

Conflicts in the Horn of Africa Take Center Stage

Ethiopia’s federal government said last Thursday that its forces will not advance further into the northern Tigray region. The move came days after Tigrayan rebels announced a retreat and the recent recapture by federal troops of strategic towns north of the capital, Addis Ababa. Humanitarian organizations are hoping this latest announcement will lead to a possible cease-fire, although no official peace talks have begun.

No one could have predicted the many twists Ethiopia’s more than yearlong war has taken. Since he took office in 2018, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, has gone from international hero for ending his country’s 20-year conflict with Eritrea to leading front-line troops in battle against Tigrayan rebels.

The conflict in the region started on Nov. 4, 2020, when Abiy ordered a military response against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) after it attacked military bases of the federal army’s Northern Command.

The outbreak of war followed months of mounting tension between the federal government and the TPLF, which had previously dominated the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, leading a repressive authoritarian government from 1991 until Abiy’s ascent in 2018 following widespread anti-government protests. Abiy’s moves to make peace with longtime enemy Eritrea and bring ethnic diversity to the upper ranks of the Tigrayan-dominated federal army were perceived as provocations by the TPLF.

Abiy promised a swift offensive and initially seemed to have quashed the rebellion by early 2021, but Tigrayan forces then retook their regional capital, Mekele, during the summer and made further advances. By last month, the TPLF was threatening to march on Addis Ababa, before retreating as federal troops retook key towns.

The United Nations has accused all sides of committing atrocities in the war. More than 1 million people have been displaced from Tigray since the conflict began, and some 5.2 million out of Tigray’s population of 6 million face hunger, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

On Dec. 24, Ethiopia was removed from the United States’ duty-free trade agreement under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. U.S. officials had threatened in November to revoke the preferential trade status over “gross violations” of human rights. Guinea and Mali were also removed due to coups in those countries.

The Biden administration has been increasingly concerned that Turkey, China, and the United Arab Emirates are helping to arm Ethiopian federal troops with drones. The possibility of further sanctions or intervention can only exacerbate the conflict, analysts warn. As Bronwyn Bruton and Ann Fitz-Gerald argued in Foreign Policy this week: “U.S. policy in the Horn of Africa is in tatters. … The United States has been losing ground in Africa to China, Russia, Turkey, and the Gulf states for some time. But now, there’s not a single nation in the geostrategically vital Horn region that is reliably in Washington’s corner.”

Ethiopian leaders have shown little appetite for Western mediation, having resisted various international calls for an end to the fighting. Attempts by the African Union to broker a cease-fire have also achieved few tangible results.

What happens in Ethiopia in 2022 will likely reverberate across the Horn of Africa, making it a key region to watch.

What We’re Watching in 2022

Somalia’s governance crisis. Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (widely known by the nickname Farmaajo) suspended Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble’s powers on Monday. The president accused the prime minister of corruption in an ongoing investigation. “The duty and powers of the Prime Minister remain suspended pending the conclusion of the ongoing investigations,” Somalia’s presidential office said in a statement.

Roble said the move amounted to an open coup. The two have been locked in a power struggle for months and accused each other on Sunday of holding up ongoing indirect parliamentary elections that began on Nov. 1 and were supposed to be completed by Dec. 24.

Only 24 of 275 representatives had reportedly been elected as of Saturday. The U.S. Embassy in Somalia urged leaders to “take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions.” In April, fighting broke out in the capital of Mogadishu, after Farmaajo controversially approved an extension of his mandate, which should have ended in February—a move he defended in the pages of Foreign Policy in May.

Somalia’s crisis is multifaceted—including widespread food insecurity, drought, and rising violence from the al Qaeda-affiliated extremist group al-Shabab. More than 80 percent of Somalia is estimated to be experiencing severe drought conditions, the United Nations warned, and this will likely lead to further conflict.

South Sudan’s decade of war. Two years after seceding from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan descended into turmoil amid clashes between President Salva Kiir and his vice president, Riek Machar. A civil war ensued that killed some 400,000 people, and although the war formally ended in 2020, violence has continued between warring government factions and competing local groups.

Nicholas Haysom, the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for South Sudan, warned that the emerging insecurity was of “grave concern.” In July, a four-month food supply intended for 41,000 people was looted or destroyed during violence between armed youth in Tonj in the northwest of the country. Some 8.3 million people need humanitarian assistance, according to the U.N. As South Sudan’s 2023 elections draw closer, security experts fear tensions could rise.

Sudanese anti-coup protesters attend a gathering to express support for the country's democratic transition in Omdurman, Sudan, on Oct. 30.

Sudanese anti-coup protesters attend a gathering to express support for the country’s democratic transition in Omdurman, Sudan, on Oct. 30.-/AFP via Getty Images

Sudan’s stalled transition. Sudanese demonstrators have continued to demand an end to the military’s role in the country’s transition to democracy. The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, a union allied to the protest movement, said 178 people were injured by security forces on Saturday in the 10th day of pro-democracy demonstrations against an Oct. 25 coup led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Sudan’s military reinstated ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok on Nov. 21, almost a month after he was put under house arrest. Hamdok said the deal he signed with the military allowed him to form a new technocratic transitional government, but protesters now demand his resignation over an agreement that secures the military’s legitimacy, blocking civilian politicians from Sudan’s cabinet.

The country will begin 2022 ostensibly bankrupt. Authorities reportedly withdrew more than $1.2 billion in hard currency reserves to cover imported goods during the coup, leaving its treasury empty. Sudan secured a $2.5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund in June, however this—along with $700 million in direct assistance from the U.S. government—is frozen due to the coup.

Sudan has spent 52 of its 65 years since independence under military control; some analysts suggest any transition to a fully democratic system would be immensely difficult to achieve.

Countering the ADF in Uganda. Uganda on Thursday charged 15 people with terrorism offenses related to bombings in the country’s capital of Kampala and elsewhere in October and November that killed at least nine people. The Islamic State, which is allied with the local rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), claimed responsibility for the November attacks.

Originally a Ugandan group, the ADF relocated to the dense forests in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo for more than three decades, after fleeing offensives by the Ugandan military. It pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2019, though some experts contest that link. However, the ADF’s expanded violence and evolving propaganda correspond with higher levels of external funding and relationship with the Islamic State, other researchers argue.

Ugandan forces entered Congo this month in a joint military offensive against the ADF. But Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, is himself accused of targeting opposition figures and violating human rights. Uganda is also the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, with around 1.56 million refugees from neighboring South Sudan, Congo, and Somalia.

Nineteen months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Ugandan schools are still closed, the longest closure globally. It is feared that one-third of those students may never return to the classroom. Deadly crackdowns by Uganda’s security forces, an unaccountable authoritarian government, and dwindling economic prospects for young people lacking formal education are likely to help rebel groups such as the ADF recruit new members.

What We’re Reading

Starvation in Nigeria’s IDP camps. Some women living in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Nigeria said they preferred life as abductees in Boko Haram-governed towns because they had access to food, HumAngle reports. Aminata, a former Boko Haram captive who was once forcibly married to a terrorist after she was abducted, said her livelihood was better with the insurgent group. Many living in the Dalori IDP camp, located on the outskirts of Maiduguri in northeastern Nigeria, told HumAngle that they had gone for months without meal tickets from the government or nongovernmental organizations.

Can Barrow deliver in Gambia? Now that Gambian President Adama Barrow has been given a second term, there is ever greater pressure on him to provide efficient public services, writes Sait Matty Jaw in African Arguments. Overall, the December election was the most credible in Gambia’s recent political history. Many Gambians are hoping that Barrow’s second term in office will be different from his first and that he delivers on promised institutional and legal reforms to combat corruption.

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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