African politics in the headlines for all the wrong reasons

by Francois Conradie and Christie Viljoen 0

Related to this, Michel Wormser, Vice President and CEO of the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), said this week that investors in Africa are increasingly able to see beyond negative headlines of violence.

“Many investors understand the difference between countries and even understand the difference within a country between regions and sectors,” he said. Elsewhere, the African Development Bank (AfDB) also commented this week that net foreign direct investment (FDI) in the continent could increase from 56 billion dollars last year to as much as 80 billion dollars this year.

However, these positive comments come during a week that has seen some of the continent’s prominent economies and conflict hotspots return to headline news for all the wrong reasons. There were bomb blasts in Kenya and northern Nigeria, abductions in Cameroon, and military clashes in northern Mali.

British tourists were last week leaving Kenya’s Coast Province in response to an urgent travel warning issued by their government. More than 250 British tourists flew out of Mombasa on Thursday, May 15, on flights specially chartered by travel operator Thomson. And not a moment too soon: a double bomb attack killed 12 people in Nairobi on Friday, May 16. The explosions took place two minutes apart in Gikomba market, and caused more than 70 injuries.

The question of how increasing terror will affect business and investment in Kenya depends more on perceptions of risk than on real risk. Terror fears have already hit tourism hard, and the danger now is that other sectors that depend on expatriate staff or foreign businesspeople travelling to Kenya will be affected as executives or their human resources departments decide that the country is too dangerous to work in.

On the day after the bombings, the US said that it was reducing the size of its embassy in Nairobi, and has requested additional security from both the Kenyan government and the US State Department.

Nigeria has of late been the most prominent hotspot for news about African security problems with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign against Boko Haram. On Sunday, May 18, a bomb went off in Kano, the biggest city in northern Nigeria.

The explosion was reportedly caused by a car bomb detonated by a suicide bomber in front of a bar in a busy street in Sabon Gari, a part of the city mostly inhabited by Christian Igbos from Nigeria’s south. Up to 13 people died, including the bomber. Yet another presumed Boko Haram terror attack took place on Tuesday, May 20, killing at least 118 people in Jos.

The attack took the form of a double car bomb attack at Terminus Market in the central business district of Jos, which is the capital of Plateau State. It seems clear that the bomb attacks are intended to stoke sectarian divisions and destabilise the country, and in Nigeria’s current feverish environment it may well succeed. We consider that the point has been reached where Boko Haram’s insurgency has affected overall stability in Nigeria. If the government cannot show some success against the terror group, and soon, the negative trend will persist.

Boko Haram abducted 10 Chinese workers in Cameroon on the evening of Friday, May 16, near Waza on the Nigerian border. At least one Cameroonian soldier died when a group of gunmen attacked a site belonging to Sinohydro (a Chinese state-owned hydropower engineering and construction company), abducted 10 workers and stole 10 of the companies’ vehicles as well as a crate of industrial explosives. The Chinese embassy instructed Chinese companies operating in the north of Cameroon to “instantly start security contingency plans.”

According to Cameroonian government sources, all military helicopters that could have been used in a pursuit operation are in Yaoundé to participate in the national day festivities on May 20, and the Rapid Intervention Brigade (BIR), an elite army unit equipped with armoured vehicles, is quartered in Yaoundé too. The abductions of the Chinese workers was probably done for ransom – the previous abductions of expatriate workers in northern Cameroon have earned the group substantial amounts of money, with the ransom it received for one French engineer and his family reportedly over 3 million dollars.

Malian Prime Minister Moussa Mara has declared that his country is “at war” with terrorists in the north. Mr Mara’s belligerence is a response to clashes in Kidal on Saturday, May 17, between the Malian army and the Tuareg separatists of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), in which eight soldiers and 28 insurgents died (according to the MNLA, four soldiers and one insurgent died).

Another 30 government employees, made up of civilian staff and soldiers, were abducted. While the French had much success in confronting the most extremist terrorists involved in the Mali war in 2012-13, their and the Malians’ desire to bring ‘moderate’ separatists like the MNLA on board meant that the Ouagadougou accord was signed without much clarity on what the northerners would get out of it.

They kept their part of the bargain by not obstructing the presidential election held in August 2013, but have since then not seen progress on further negotiations towards some sort of autonomy for the north.

That is why Mr Mara was not well received in Kidal. If the issue is not addressed (and we think it probably will not be), then the separatists will again grow stronger.