A tough start of the new year: North Africa and Sahel confronting uncertainty

January 23, 2020

Dear colleague,

The new year started with a lot of tension in the region. In general terms, Libya remains the most dangerous crisis in the southern Mediterranean, where, despite apparent diplomatic efforts to impose a ceasefire and force the stakeholders to negotiate a permanent truce, Khalifa Haftar and his supporters show no interest in compromise.  In this article and podcast, I argue that there are clear signs that the violence will not end anytime soon (article here). While Haftar and all others, from the UAE, the French and Russians to the Turks picked Libya to settle their own disputes, the country is in a state of collapse. Tens of thousands of Libyans fled their homes and the infrastructure and public services are crumbling.

The other, and equally depressing crisis is that of the Sahel. There is no single conflict, but many that are conspiring to turn the region into a desperate place. All countries in the region are facing an utterly violent insurgency.  Terror groups roaming the Sahel have shown ruthlessness in their campaigns to hit soft targets, in addition to the military and government interests. An example of one Sahel country's dire situation is that of Burkina Faso, where we issued a somber assessment here. While it is clear that the Sahel's biggest challenge is the proliferation of armed groups engaged in the insurgency, the role of France in the crisis in the region cannot be underestimated.  Paris has been working hard to protect its interests at any cost and has been unwilling to engage in constructive political talks to at least address the legitimate grievances of the various ethnic and tribal groups. These groups have long suffered from neglect and repression by the hands of Bamako and other central governments, and poverty fuels tension and feed into the terror narrative.  Driven by hawks who want to see the re-emergence of France as the most influential power in Africa, Paris sees no solution but more boots on the ground.

Up north, Algeria is still looking for a new identity.  While the extraordinary Hirak movement is preparing to celebrate its one-year anniversary, the forces that governed Algeria over the past 30 years show no willingness to turn the page and accept a Second Republic. The irony is that the death of former army chief General Gaid Salah, which has led to a certain easing of the Hirak movement, is now providing an opportunity for the former regime operatives to attempt a re-take over, partly because President Tebboune cannot control them, and partly because Tebboune is part of them. All our readings about Algeria suggest that the newly appointed president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, has no full control of his house. He is weak on style and substance. He has no leadeship capacity, no communications skills, and no control of the administration. His management style is very much the same as always… making secret deals, never address the people, and hold the occasional cabinet meetings for a photo op. Meanwhile and in silence, former officers of the notorious intelligence agency DRS, who are once again in full control of the presidency, are re-emerging to undo what General Gaid Salah did and seek to re-build a DRS-like infrastructure that helped maintain the generals in power for so long. Our parent company MEA Risk LLC released data specific to Algeria in 2019. You can access the data here.

In Tunisia, there has been political tension over the nomination of a Prime Minister, which observers and the media tend to equate to gloom-and-doom. Indeed, new President Kais Saied saw his first nominee for Prime Minister rejected by the Tunisian parliament and was forced to nominate another one, former Finance Minister Elyes Fakhfakh. The truth is that such political maneuvers are no gloom-and-doom. They are part of the democratization process that Tunisia should be proud of.
There is plenty more analyses on The North Africa Journal.  Head to http://www.North-Africa.com and thank you for your attention.

Arezki Daoud
Direct line: +508-981-6937


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