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Key Developments in Africa in 2019
The year 2019 bore witness to multiple developments which dotted the continent and may lead to not only an impact in the immediate times but also have far-reaching impact on the society and polity of African nations.
Peaceful Transition of Power
Most important development in Africa was the peaceful transition of power in the northern, western and southern parts of the continent. The year was filled with a dozen elections which were mostly presidential and legislative. Elections took place in countries like Senegal, Democratic Republic of Congo, Benin, Guinea Bissau, Nigeria, Comoros, Malawi, South Africa, Algeria, Tunisia, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia. Year 2019 was seen as a crucial period for the political landscape in Africa. The whole process of democratic transition in the continent has not only impacted Africa, but has influenced political development(s) globally.
Drought in Africa
Several parts of the African continent grappled with drought and natural disasters. In countries like Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe, drought destroyed and killed a huge number of animals. In Botswana, around 40,000 cattle died because of the drying up of rivers and lakes. A severe drought also plunged Angola, leaving 2.3 million people into a food security crisis that resulted in thousands of children being malnutritioned. In Namibia, due to poor rains, a state of emergency was declared for the second time in three years. The impact can be gauged by the fact that, owing to lack of rainfall - one in five Namibians were without access to enough food.
Terror Attacks in Africa
The continent was adversely impacted by several terror attacks in the year 2019. In the north region of Mali, jihadist groups linked to the Islamic State group attacked several military bases in Niger and Burkina Faso. This attack took place despite the presence of the French troops from France’s anti-terrorist Barkhane force and the joint forces of the G5 Sahel. The December 2019 attack against the Inates military base in Niger which killed 71 soldiers; followed an earlier attack on the Indelimane camp in mid-November 2019 where more than fifty died. According to the United Nations report, around 1,500 civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks since January 2019. In the month of February 2019, Boko Haram fighters killed eight people in an attack in Nigeria’s northeastern city of Maiduguri. Moreover, the U.S. military shot down fifty two al-Shabab fighters in southern Somalia air attack. This was done in response to an attack early that left at least eight Somali soldiers dead. In March 2019, more than 130 people were killed in an attack on a village in central Mali by armed men wearing traditional Dogon hunters' clothing who resorted to killing people in their homes in Ogossagou in the Mopti region. These attackers targeted members of the Fulani ethnic community who are accused of having ties to jihadists. In June, nearly a hundred people were killed in an attack in a village in central Mali inhabited by the Dogon ethnic group.
Other Developments Month Wise
January: Year 2019 marked the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi because of which President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa graced the occasion and visited India as the Chief Guest of the Republic Day Celebrations in New Delhi in January 2019. Both the countries showed interest in cooperating in areas related to minerals and mining, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, high-technology manufacturing; and information and communication technology. In addition, Cyril Ramaphosa's visit to India elevated hopes for both the nations to strengthen and deepen their engagement and relation.
February, March and April: Rwandan President Paul Kagame stepped down from the African Union chair and the baton was passed on to the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in February 2019.
In the same month the former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj signed four MoU’s during her visit to Morocco. The agreements signed focussed upon setting up of Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism; Cooperation in Housing and Human Settlement; Cooperation in Youth Matters and Reciprocal facilitation of procedures for issue of Business Visa.
February 2019 also saw the first Indian military exercise which was joined by counterparts from seventeen African states for the Africa-India Field Training Exercise (AFINDEX-19). Its opening ceremony was held at the Indian Army’s Aundh Military Station in Pune, Maharashtra. The countries that participated were Benin, Botswana, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
A Category 4 Cyclone 'IDAI,’ the worst tropical cyclone had hit Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Comoros and Madagascar and led to massive destruction. Thousands lost their livelihood, over 1400 people died and many are still missing leaving several areas affected by cholera. The Government of India was amongst the first ones to extend its support to the affected region and people of Africa. Ethiopia suffered its deadliest plane disaster as an Ethiopian Airways Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed on 10 March carrying 157 people including the crew members and people from around 35 nations.
May and June: Indian Minister of State (MoS) for External Affairs, V Muraleedharan visited Nigeria for three days for the “Democracy Day” celebrations in Abuja and to interact with the Nigerian leadership. Nigeria is the largest trading partner of India and it is also the fifth largest supplier of crude oil and the second largest supplier of LNG to India. Indian firms have a huge presence in Nigeria and it is home to one of the largest Indian communities in West Africa. Also, during the same time Mahatma Gandhi Information Technology and Biotechnology Park (MGIT-BP) which was built with India’s assistance was inaugurated at Grand-Bassam in Cote d’Ivoire. The project is a dedicated Free Trade Zone (FTZ) for Information Technology and Biotechnology and is built with India’s assistance through EXIM Bank Line of Credit (LoC) amounting to around $20 million. Furthermore, the African continental Free Trade Agreement (FTA), to build a single market in goods and services with free movement of persons and investments, was brought into effect from May 2019 to boost the continent's economy.
July and August: The President of India was on a state visit to Benin, The Gambia and Guinea. In Benin, he announced a fresh Line of Credit worth US$ 100 million for developmental projects in Benin. He also announced the extension of e-visa facility to Benin. India also offered to extend free tele-education courses to 15,000 Beninese students and tele-medicine courses to 1000 doctors and paramedics in Africa. The respective Presidents witnessed the signing and exchange of a) MOUs on Cultural Exchange Programme between the two countries for the years 2019-2023, b) Cooperation in the field of Export Credit and Investment Insurance, c) MOU between Benin & Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL) for participation in the e- VBAB Network Project (Technology upgradation of Pan Africa e-Network Project (PAeNP)- Phase-I) of Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, and lastly d) an agreement on mutual exemption from the visa requirement for holders of Diplomatic, Official/Service Passports. In Gambia, the President offered a grant of US dollars 500,000 in support of skill development and cottage industry project. In addition, the two sides also signed and exchanged a MOU on Cooperation in the field of Traditional Systems of Medicine and Homeopathy. In Guinea, President Kovind was conferred the National Order of Merit of Guinea, the highest award of Guinea.
The same time frame witnessed the overthrowing of Omar al-Bashir in Sudan. The citizens of Sudan saw Algeria as an inspiration for their own pro-democracy movement and they gathered in huge numbers to overthrow the autocrat Omar al-Bashir who had ruled the country for thirty years. The protest movement continued and around two hundred people were killed in clashes which took place between the military and the protesters. Finally on August 15, Abdalla Hamdok who was a former senior UN official got appointed as the Prime Minister for the next three years until elections get conducted.
September and October: In September, Zimbabwe mourned the loss of its first post-independence leader Robert Mugabe at the age of 95 years. In October, to expand ties with Africa, the Vice President of India, Shri M Venkaiah Naidu visited Comoros and Sierra Leone. During his visit to Comoros he signed six agreements to cooperate in fields including defence, health and medicine, arts and culture and tele-education. With Sierra Leone he signed six agreements to expand bilateral relations and extended concessional lines of credit worth USD 123 million for sectors in agriculture, water and transmission lines.
December: Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia was conferred the Nobel Peace Prize 2019 for introducing several liberalised reforms in an extremely controlled nation like Ethiopia. He was also successful in freeing thousands of opposition activists from jail, further allowing exiled dissidents to return home. For many years, the Eritrean–Ethiopian border conflict remained stuck in a violent deadlock and a proxy conflict for both nations. But, it was Prime Minister Abiy’s effort that led to the signing of the peace deal with her neighbour Eritrea, which further brought an end to the two-decade conflict that existed between the countries.
Year 2019 also brought an end to the CFA franc. The French President Emmanuel Macron, on a visit to Abidjan, met the Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara and announced the launch of the “Eco”, a revamped common currency which would replace the CFA in West Africa. The new single currency is likely to be introduced across the Economic Community of West African States this year. Besides, it was a year of revolution in Algeria as there was a protest movement known as the Hirak which showed no signs of waning despite the election of a new President, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, on December 12. The movement drew thousands of people onto the streets of the capital which initially began on February 16, 2019 after an announcement that then president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who had been in power for 20 years, was planning for his fifth term.
Lastly, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria visited Egypt in December 2019 to boost defence cooperation. The Indian Navy would be hosting ‘Milan 2020’ in Visakhapatnam in March in the current year. 41 African countries are likely to participate in this international joint naval exercises.
Dr Neha Sinha (VIF)
28 January 2020
- PIB, 2019 https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=192369
- MEA, 2019 https://www.mea.gov.in/outoging-visit-detail.htm?3106/List+of+MoUsAgreements+signed+during+visit