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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 16th July 2018

ERITREA/ETHIOPIA: President Issayas's historic visit to Addis Ababa leaves some tough questions about the pace of rapprochement

Patrick Smith

More dramatic developments in Ethiopia this week, with the arrival of Eritrea's President Issayas in Addis Ababa. Kayode Fayemi's victory in the Ekiti State governorship election boosts the Buhari government and is a blow to opposition plans. Despite the mounting security and economic crisis in Cameroon, President Paul Biya is to vie for a seventh term. And China's President Xi Jinping is embarking on an Africa tour this week, taking in a BRICS summit in South Africa.

ERITREA/ETHIOPIA: President Issayas's historic visit to Addis Ababa leaves some tough questions about the pace of rapprochement
On Wednesday (18 July), an Ethiopian Airlines passenger jet will make the first scheduled commercial flight to Asmara, Eritrea in 18 years. It will be a powerful symbol of the rapprochement between the two countries which stepped up a gear on 4 June with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's announcement that Ethiopia would withdraw its troops from the disputed area and accept the ruling of the international border commission.

Today (16 July), President Issayas Aferwerki, who is visiting Addis Ababa for the first time in over two decades, reopens the Eritrean embassy in the Ethiopian capital. His visit reciprocates Abiy's trip to Asmara a week ago. Full diplomatic and commercial relations have been restored. Ethiopia will be able to use Eritrea's ports again, speeding up trade and earning much-needed revenues for Issayas's government. It could also revive investor interest in a potash-development that straddles the border area.

But the hectic rapprochement raises some tough political questions. Peace with Ethiopia cuts through the rationale for Eritrea's compulsory national service programme, which has driven tens of thousands of young men and women to flee the country. Eritrean oppositionists want the end of conscription, the opening up of the political system, and the release of the thousands of political prisoners. They may be encouraged by the moves towards political liberalisation that they see in Ethiopia under Abiy's leadership, which started with a mass release of political prisoners.

Issayas experienced the new climate in Ethiopia first-hand when he attended a welcome meeting of 20,000 people in Addis Ababa on Sunday (15 July). Later, Abiy took him to meet regional leaders in Hawasa, in southern Ethiopia. Although Abiy's charm offensive has worked with Issayas there are still questions about the enthusiasm of Ethiopia's security forces for the changes.

Old guard politicians and military officers are uneasy with Abiy's political style, pushing initiatives publicly and communicating directly with citizens, as when he addressed a crowd of over 700,000 in Meskel Square in Addis at the beginning of June. That carries its own risks, as shown by a clumsy attempt to assassinate him at the rally.

NIGERIA: Fayemi wins governorship in Ekiti State, boosting Buhari and ruling party
Winning the governorship of Ekiti State by 20,000 votes in elections on Saturday (14 July), Kayode Fayemi has struck a blow against the new opposition coalition's plan to expand its support across the country, from its base in the south-south and south-east. Fayemi's victory means that the governing All Progressives' Congress (APC) now controls all the states in the south-west, a region that the opposition coalition had been targeting.

The APC had thrown heavy resources into the campaign, with visits from top-level officials to the state, after Fayemi had decided to resign as minister for mineral resources to contest for the Ekiti governorship. He had already served one term as governor, after a tortuous legal battle to prove that his opponents in the People's Democratic Party had rigged the vote.

Fayemi's victory also strengthens the hand of Bola Tinubu, the godfather of Lagos politics whose ally Opeyemi Bamidele directed Fayemi's campaign. It also means that President Buhari will fight the presidential elections next February with control of over two-thirds of the states.

The opposition has rejected the results in Ekiti, after the sitting governor, PDP stalwart Ayo Fayose tried to announce the victory of the party's candidate, Kolapo Olusola-Eleka, on the state government's radio station.

Much is at stake for Fayose. When his term as governor ends, he will lose his immunity from prosecution. On Sunday (15 July), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission announced it will open investigations into Fayose's management and use of public funds in a poultry project.

CAMEROON: As his country faces turmoil, Biya is to run for seventh term in October elections
Amid a mounting rebellion in the west of the country, the 85-year-old President Paul Biya says he will run for a seventh term in elections due on 7 October. His announcement followed a meeting with Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission, last Friday (13 July).

Although Biya rarely attends AU meetings he wants to stop the organisation referring the deepening security crisis in his country to its Peace and Security Council. Months of fighting between Anglophone dissidents in the south-west and government soldiers have caused tens of thousands of people to flee into neighbouring Nigeria.

Over 80 soldiers have been killed in the south-west in the past year and many more civilians. For several months the Biya govermment turned off the internet in the region to disrupt the dissidents' organisation. Human rights organisations have accused the government of atrocities in their bid to suppress dissent. So far, they have been unable to galvanise the attention of either Nigeria or France to pressure the Biya regime.
The day before Biya announced his candidacy, a convoy in the southwest carrying his defence minister Joseph Beti Assomo came under fire. The army claimed to have killed six of the assailants.

CHINA/AFRICA: President Xi Jinping takes off for eight-day tour of Africa and the Middle East
On his first foreign tour since his re-election in March, President Xi Jinping starts a swing through Africa and the Middle East on Thursday (19 July). First port of call will be the United Arab Emirates, which is an important staging post in Beijing's One Belt, One Road grand trade plan. Both China and the UAE are getting more involved in the politics and business of the Horn of Africa.

China has opened its first overseas naval base in Djibouti. One of the UAE's biggest companies, DP World, is in a bitter commercial dispute with President Omar Guelleh over billions of dollars in port dues.

Next on Xi's itinerary will be Senegal and then Rwanda, where President Paul Kagame's brand of authoritarian politics and dirigiste economic management have already found favour with Beijing.
Then, Xi is to attend the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in Johannesburg on 25-27 July, whose theme is 'BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution', which has been driven by President Cyril Ramaphosa's government. The summit is set to move from economic discussions to political and security questions. All BRICS members states are concerned about the implications of the United States-backed trade war and how to manage other regional threats.

After the summitry, Xi is to stop over in Mauritius on his way back to Beijing.


UGANDA: Critical vote on 26 July to determine Museveni's eligibility to run for another term

SOUTH SUDAN: Juba Parliament extends President Salva Kiir's term until 2021 and undermines negotiations

CONGO-KINSHASA: President Kabila appoints sanctioned military chiefs, snubbing Washington again after cancelled meeting

ZAMBIA: IMF team due in Lusaka this week to discuss rising debt levels

TUNISIA: President Béji Caïd Essebsi calls for Premier to step down or seek confidence vote to resolve crisis

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