Navanti News Regional Forecasts |  Africa | 2021 |

Navanti News Regional Forecasts | Africa | 2021 |

Much of North Africa, the Central Sahel, Lake Chad Basin, and East Africa face several challenges ahead, as political, economic, and humanitarian crises continue to exacerbate the plight of millions. What follows are a list of key trends that are worth monitoring closely going into 2021.

North Africa

Libya and multilateralism: Foreign intervention escalated and prolonged Libya’s conflict through 2020. An UN-brokered peace process is now underway. But spoilers, including US allies and adversaries, continue to defy a UN arms embargo. With this disregard for UN resolutions, Libya has become a microcosm for the global crisis of multilateralism, where regional and world powers disregard and undermine UN-backed initiatives to pursue conflicting strategic interests. Failure to hold these actors to account risks further undermining the UN’s credibility in Libya’s peace process and beyond.

Political tension mounts in Tunisia: The president and prime minister are at loggerheads over the powers of office. Meanwhile, remnants of the old regime are enjoying growing popularity. The Tunisian revolution has reached its tenth year, and Tunisians are questioning its progress in, and prospects for, delivering the revolutionary demands of “bread, freedom, and national dignity.” Youth-led, nationwide protests have already swept the country in the first month of 2021. The controversial police response, arresting hundreds of minors and dispersing peaceful protesters, may only lend momentum to this increasing popular mobilization.

Support and accountability for Egypt: President Sisi was on the brink of invading Libya in 2020, but has recently charted a more diplomatic course by sending a delegation to Tripoli in December. Whereas Egypt continues its efforts to calm regional tensions, the Egyptian government continues to fiercely repress dissent within its borders. Contending with the new US administration, Egypt may point to its efforts in Libya and recent rapprochement with Qatar to market itself as a positive regional partner. It remains an open question whether Biden’s focus on democracy and human rights will apply to Egypt given its strategic importance to US interests.

Morocco-Algeria tensions increase: The United States recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara has drawn fierce criticism from Algiers, and could cause significant repercussions on US-Algerian relations. These damaged ties come as Algerian officials increasingly talk of deepening relations with Russia, China, and Turkey. The US move also threatens the balance of power between Morocco and Algeria, as hostilities between the Algeria-backed Polisario movement and Morocco have resumed. Tensions between Morocco on one side and Algeria and the Polisario on the other are likely to escalate further.

East Africa

Jihadist insurgency in East Africa: Al Shabaab (AS) remains a persistent security threat to East Africa. With national elections approaching in Somalia, the group continues to demonstrate its capability to stage high-profile attacks that threaten government functionality. Given that known AS members may run in the parliamentary election, the risk of election security and public safety appears to be growing. Outside Somalia, the group continues to attempt to strengthen its influence in northeastern Kenya, and attacks are likely to continue along the Somali border. Furthermore, AS published pieces of propaganda focusing on Ethiopia in 2020, signaling a renewed desire to expand operations in East Africa.

Anticipated withdrawal of troops from Somalia: Ethiopia withdrew its troops in the wake of the conflict in Tigray region, and the US has announced plans to withdraw its troops by 15 JAN 2021, further weakening Somalia’s security apparatus. Somalia’s volatile relationship with neighboring Kenya, fueled by recent diplomatic tensions and civilian allegations of abuses by Kenyan troops, risk further troop pull-out. Given these recent developments, a shift of focus to negotiations with Al Shabaab, rather than continued military action, could be considered.

Increasing and expanding insurgency in Mozambique: Al Shabaab in Mozambique (AS-M, no ties to the Somali Al Shabaab) continued to increase its rate of operations in 2020, holding territory for the first time since the beginning of the insurgency. AS-M’s first claim of an attack in southern Tanzania at the end of 2020 showcases the group’s intent to continue to expand around southeastern Africa. In 2021, we could see the group beginning to implement elements of governance in its held territories, as the Mozambican government struggles to combat the militants.

Central Sahel and Lake Chad Basin

Democratic backsliding: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Niger, and Togo held presidential elections in 2020, resulting in five incumbent victories. West African democratic institutions such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had some success protecting democratic norms, most notably by supporting the creation of a civilian-led transitional government in Mali after a military coup. However, regional trends toward authoritarianism will test these institutions’ power.

Resource conflicts: Violent Extremist Organizations (VEO) activity in the Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel will remain a concern in 2021. However, the more consequential problem is arguably resource conflicts, primarily between farmers and Fulani herders. In addition to being deadlier than VEO violence in Nigeria, these conflicts are exploited by insurgents to sow unrest and grow their own influence. Local and national governments’ ability to manage these conflicts will be key to stabilizing the affected regions.

Foreign influence: China will continue to be a major player in West Africa, supported by their Belt and Road Initiative. COVID-19 will give China another opportunity to grow its ties and influence in the region, as China has pledged to prioritize providing vaccines to low-income countries.