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10 June 2011 The Horn of Africa David H. Shinn, Adjunct Professor Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University Overview In assessing the impact on Sub-Saharan Africa of the political upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East since the beginning of the year, it is essential to be careful about generalizing. Although this analysis looks at six countries in the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia), only Djibouti and Sudan have experienced protests that can be linked to the Arab Spring. For a variety of reasons, including relatively democratic leadership and a strong economy in some Sub-Saharan African countries, the Arab Spring has had no impact on the vast majority of countries and, in my view, will not have any significant impact on the overwhelming majority. There have been and may continue to be a few exceptions. Political transitions, especially from autocratic to more democratic regimes, tend to be messy. Once opponents and potential protestors residing in Sub-Saharan Africa that have autocratic regimes observe up close the unpleasant aspects of political change in North Africa and the Middle East, they may have second thoughts. While this would be an unfortunate setback for expanding democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is probably a realistic conclusion. This messiness will also reinforce efforts by existing autocratic leaders in Sub-Saharan Africa to be even more repressive as they put down threats to their regimes and try to remain in power. Tunisia has made a generally peaceful transition from autocracy to more democratic rule but faces growing Islamic fundamentalism. Morocco may institute enough reform to avoid a serious challenge to the government; the other examples in North Africa raise more serious questions. Algerian leaders have cracked down hard on protestors in order to stay in power. The outcome in Egypt may eventually be a big improvement but it has touched off serious incidents between the Christian minority and elements of the Muslim majority. The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups may end up as one of the most powerful political blocs and the damage to Egypt¶s economy may set back the country for a decade or so. And then there is Libya. Increasingly, it looks like Libya is becoming mired in tribal conflict just as one of Qadhafi¶s sons predicted at the outset. African leaders and their opponents, especially those in the Horn of Africa, are also taking into account developments in the Middle East where the future of democracy in countries
2 such as Syria, Bahrain and Yemen is even in greater doubt. African leaders and even some of their opponents probably have little interest in replicating the situations in these countries. The fact that an election has taken place, often one in which there was little political space available to the opposition, rarely results in a more democratic regime. There have also been too many cases in Africa over the last decade when an elected leader subject to term limits subsequently manipulated the political system to eliminate term limits, thus ensuring more time in office. Transparent elections that provide a reasonably level playing field for a strong or at least viable opposition are a realistic measure of democratic progress. Unfortunately, too many elections in Africa have not met this test. Horn of Africa Let me turn now to the Horn of Africa. Although Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan and South Sudan all have more or less regular national elections, the governments in all of these countries operate in an autocratic fashion with minimal, but varying, space for the political opposition. Eritrea is an autocratic government that does not hold national elections. Somalia, a failed state, is a special case. The only democratic government in the Horn is Somaliland. It is not part of this analysis nor does any government recognize Somaliland. Theoretically, therefore, all of the governments in the Horn except for Somaliland are candidates for the kind of protest that has occurred in North Africa and the Middle East. I believe that the leadership in all of the countries of the Horn with the exception of Somalia, which is preoccupied by a civil war, was deeply concerned that the Arab Spring might have serious implications for their regimes. The Horn has important ties geographically, historically and culturally to the Arab world but with the exception of parts of northern Sudan and isolated pockets in several other Horn countries, the region is not Arab ethnically, culturally or in its way of thinking. Three of the countries²Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia²are members of the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Conference. All of the countries in the Horn are predominantly Muslim or have significant Muslim minorities. Northern Sudan is heavily Muslim while the new South Sudan has a Muslim minority. The government in Khartoum claims South Sudan has an 18 percent Muslim minority, although the percentage may be lower. Somalia and Djibouti are overwhelmingly Muslim. Eritrea is about 50 percent Muslim and 50 percent Christian while Ethiopia is predominantly Christian but has at least a 35 percent Muslim minority. Sudan Sudan is one of two countries in the Horn that actually experienced some protests reflecting developments earlier this year in North Africa and the Middle East. On the face of it, Sudan would seem to be the most likely candidate for repeating Tunisian or Egyptian style revolutions. In fact, on two earlier occasions²1964 and 1985²just this kind of popular protest on the streets of Khartoum overturned the Sudanese government. One could argue that Sudan was actually the precursor of the Arab Spring.
3 In late January, a Facebook group called ³Youth for Change´ urged Sudanese to follow in the steps of their Tunisian and Egyptian brothers. Thousands of young Sudanese, including many university students, went to the streets in Khartoum, Omdurman, El Obeid and Kosti to express grievances over rising prices and political repression. The police responded forcefully, beating protesters and arresting others. The protests ended quickly. The traditional power centers in Sudan (Umma, Khatmiya, and Hassan al-Turabi¶s Islamic faction) are a shadow of their former selves. Young Sudanese are looking for a new political identity and new political leaders, but this leadership has not yet evolved. In March, demonstrations occurred again in Khartoum, this time organized by leaders of the small Sudanese Communist Party and the Unionist Nasserist Party. The goal was to topple the government. Anti-riot police and plain-clothed agents of Sudan¶s National and Intelligence Services put a quick end to the demonstrations. There are several reasons why the Arab Spring will not be replicated in Sudan in the foreseeable future. First, the military is not only loyal to the government, but it is the government. Second, the political opposition is weak and divided. Third, street protests in Sudan generally occur as a result of a major deterioration in the economic situation. Although the economy is getting worse, it has not reached a point where it will lead to large numbers of people to protest on the streets as happened in 1964 and 1985. Fourth, and perhaps most important, Sudan is undergoing so much change at the moment with the secession of South Sudan on 9 July 2011, and Sudanese are so preoccupied with problems related to this change that it is just not the time when Sudanese want to spend energy on trying to topple the government. There has been one tangible response from Sudan as a result the Arab Spring. A government spokesman for President Omar Bashir, who seized power in a military coup in 1989, announced in February that Bashir will not run for office again after his current term ends in 2015. I believe Bashir will comply with this announcement. Although the spokesman said the announcement had nothing to do with popular revolts taking place in the Arab world, the timing of the statement belies this denial. South Sudan South Sudan will not even become a nation until July 9 and there is no prospect it will experience the kinds of protests that have occurred in the Arab world. The euphoria of independence alone will sustain the ruling Sudan People¶s Liberation Movement (SPLM) for some time after independence. On the other hand, the SPLM has built a record as an authoritarian organization and there are already dissident militias operating in South Sudan as a result of political marginalization. These groups, which predate the Arab Spring, threaten future stability. The SPLM will need to change its ways if it expects to maintain the support of a significant majority of the people in South Sudan.
4 Should there eventually be protests in South Sudan that threaten the ability of the SPLM to survive, they will occur without any connection to the Arab Spring. A history of corruption in government and long-standing ethnic conflict will be the most likely causes. Ethiopia Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, protest in Ethiopia has been muted. The government-controlled radio and television have given limited coverage to the protests in North Africa and the Middle East but persons with access to satellite TV are well aware of the issues. There have been reliable reports of increased arrests of persons who support the political opposition to the ruling Ethiopian People¶s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Ethiopia keeps a tight rein on any group that threatens EPRDF control in the country. The principal legal opposition coalition in Ethiopia²Medrek²composes eight regionally-based parties. While its supporters have experienced arrests since the protests in North Africa and the Middle East, Medrek has apparently not drawn direct parallels to the Arab Spring. The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) is one of the largest opposition groups dedicated to the overthrow of the EPRDF. It has its headquarters in Eritrea and is designated a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian government. The OLF website does not make a close link between the situation in Ethiopia and the Arab Spring, although one posting from the ³Ethiopian Youth Movement´ did state that it is ³inspired by our peers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. There is no reason why we cannot have the Arab uprising in Ethiopia.´ An Ethiopian exile organization²Ginbot 7²dedicated to the overthrow of the government is also considered by the Ethiopian government to be a terrorist organization. In a recent press release, Ginbot 7 argued that ³the criminal regime in Addis Ababa must have learned a valuable lesson from the recent two successful popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Objective conditions on the ground and current political developments in the country clearly indicate that the Ethiopian people are ready for a North African type revolution while Zenawi and his cronies are working hard to avoid the inevitable.´ The leader of Ginbot 7, Bucknell University professor Berhanu Nega, recently announced that he is planning to trigger a Tunisiastyle revolution against the EPRDF. There is little evidence so far that opponents of the EPRDF, especially those in the diaspora, have been able to link in the minds of the Ethiopian people the Arab Spring to the situation in Ethiopia. Self-styled democracy activists called for a ³day of rage´ in Ethiopia on May 28. The cyber campaign seems to have originated in the Ethiopian diaspora. The call to protest was a bust. There was little local interest. The fact that the diaspora probably led the attempt doomed it to failure. There was also concern that the government would crack down on protestors. Finally, it is difficult to orchestrate a cyber-protest as the government carefully controls information and internet penetration in Ethiopia is less than one percent.
5 Perhaps more importantly, the negative economic factors that affect average Ethiopians have not reached the level where they result in rage. Unemployment is very high, but it is always high in Ethiopia. Unsustainable inflation has returned as a major concern, but it will take more than that to bring large numbers of Ethiopians into the street. Growing corruption could at some point tip the balance if the EPRDF does not reverse this pernicious trend. All of the active Ethiopian opposition groups predate the Arab Spring by many years. So far, these groups have been able to do nothing more than draw attention to their on-going efforts as a result of the international focus on protests in North Africa and the Middle East. Prime Minister Meles announced last year before the Arab Spring began that he would not seek office again at the end of his term in 2015. I believe he will carry out this promise. (Ethiopia¶s prime minister is not subject to term limits.) While this announcement may have taken some of the wind out of the opposition¶s sails, the EPRDF will continue to take every feasible step to ensure victory in 2015 so that its candidate can reclaim the position of prime minister. Eritrea President Isaias Afwerki has led the country since de facto independence in 1991 and never stood for election. This has led to increasing political opposition, but all known leaders are in jail or have gone into exile where they have been no more effective than their Ethiopian counterparts. Eritrea does not permit opposition political groups or independent media. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the government of Eritrea has imposed an ³extreme´ news blackout on developments related to the Arab Spring. The website of an exile opposition party, the Eritrean People¶s Democratic Party, does include considerable commentary on the Arab Spring. One posting, for example, noted that ³the Eritrean pro-democracy forces have been ahead of these popular uprisings´ in North Africa and the Middle East. It added that ³the young Eritrean revolutionaries are now inspired by the young revolutionaries of Egypt and Tunisia who have toppled their dictators . . . .´ There have been demonstrations against the Eritrean government by Eritrean refugees and exiles at various locations outside the country. While they have tried to link these events to the Arab Spring, the demonstrations most likely would have occurred in any event. The Eritrean government maintains such tight control inside the country that it is highly unlikely change will come by way of popular street protests unless the economic situation completely deteriorates. President Isaias has long had a close relationship with Libyan leader Qadhafi. It does not look like this relationship will turn out well for either one of them. Djibouti Of all the countries in the Horn, Djibouti came closest to experiencing the backlash of the Arab Spring. It is hard to separate, however, the impact of the Arab Spring on demonstrations in Djibouti and the fact that contentious presidential elections were scheduled for 8 April 2011. By
6 way of background, the Djiboutian parliament approved in 2010 an amendment to the constitution that removed presidential term limits, exacerbating the political atmosphere. Government controlled radio and television censored news about the North African protests, although wealthier Djiboutians were able to monitor events by their satellite dishes. In late January and early February, large numbers (perhaps as many as 20,000 on one occasion) of protestors entered the streets and called for President Guelleh, who was up for reelection, to step down. Students started the demonstrations, which were thought to be inspired by events in Egypt and nearby Yemen. Opposition political parties then took advantage of the volatile political environment later in February to protest against dictatorship, bad governance, lack of democracy and the succession process. The goal was to force President Guelleh to leave office. The government briefly arrested three opposition leaders. The protestors encountered a strong police presence and, according to press reports, the arrest of some 300 protestors. Subsequent protests failed to materialize, according to one organizer because of the earlier arrests of key organizers. Opposition parties boycotted the election; one of the opposition leaders in exile claimed he would be arrested if he returned to Djibouti. In February, he told the Associated Press: ³In the wake of events like Tunisia and Egypt the president¶s instinct will almost certainly lead him to violence to counter the rising confidence of the demonstrators.´ Guelleh faced only the late arrival of an independent candidate and won the election with 80 percent of the vote, not surprising in view of the fact there was not a viable opposition candidate. His reelection means that Djibouti has been governed by the same family and party since independence more than thirty years ago. Guelleh managed to survive his own Arab Spring and the pressure seems to be off for the moment. The presence in Djibouti of French and American military forces does not seem to have played a significant role in developments there since the beginning of the year. A relatively strong economy may be keeping Guelleh in power. Should the economy start to slip, Djibouti will become the primary candidate in the Horn of Africa for more street protests. Somalia Somalia has been a failed state since 1991 and the situation for most Somalis has been so dismal for so long that that they might welcome the conditions that faced Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans before the protests began in those societies. The Arab Spring will have minimal impact on Somalia. The Somali Transitional Federal Government is already subject to severe criticism and does not control enough territory to get excited about anyway. There have been no obvious repercussions of the Arab Spring on the semi-autonomous Puntland government and other smaller local centers of power. The al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group controls much of south and central Somalia, but uses such draconian tactics that it is not threatened by any aspiring Somali democratic movement.
7 Conclusion In the Horn of Africa, the Arab Spring has given a psychological boost to groups in several countries that want to depose autocratic governments. Due in large part to the repressive measures that all governments in the Horn are prepared to take, the kind of change we have seen in Tunisia and Egypt and the continuing agitation that we see in several other countries to the north and east is not likely to occur in the Horn in the foreseeable future. In any event, the opposition groups were in place before the Arab Spring and only a significant deterioration in living standards and/or out of control corruption would rally enough ordinary people to take to the streets. The longer rulers remain in office without subjecting themselves to truly competitive elections, the greater will be an increase in the unhappiness of ordinary people, especially if this is accompanied by a failing economy and rampant corruption. Social media are relatively undeveloped in the Horn. As they become more widespread, they will play a more important role in enabling protest groups to organize and even implement protests. Factors such as demographic pressure, better education, and anti-U.S. sentiment are all marginal to the protest equation, at least over the short and medium term. Over the longer term, the high population growth rate in the region and increasing education will contribute to more frequent and perhaps more effective protest.