Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The week’s highlights: a turning point for Sudan as it pledges to hand former dictator Omar al-Bashir over to the International Criminal Court, Israel courts African governments, and Nigeria’s satellite sputters past its expiration date.
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A Turning Point for Sudan
On Aug. 12, Sudan signed a historic agreement with the International Criminal Court to hand over former President Omar al-Bashir. The agreement would also see Sudanese officials give greater assistance to the court as it prosecutes those accused of atrocities during the conflict in the Darfur region. Sudan’s decision to comply with the 2009 international arrest warrant was in line with the principles of justice put forth by the December 2018 revolution, its leaders said.
But truly coming to terms with the legacy of the Darfur conflict may be difficult given that one of the transitional government’s key leaders was instrumental in terrorizing Darfur, as Jérôme Tubiana noted in a 2019 Foreign Policy profile of the former janjaweed militia leader Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, widely known as Hemeti, who now serves as first vice president of Sudan’s Sovereign Council.
A familiar routine. In February last year, Sudan’s Sovereign Council announced it would cooperate with the International Criminal Court to prosecute Bashir. Then, as the council evolved to what was described as a “uniquely Sudanese model of transition,” the move was seen as a way to align itself with the civilian protesters who shook Sudan and brought Bashir down in 2019. It would also, as Cameron Hudson wrote in Foreign Policy at the time, help Sudan’s military leaders sideline the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the powerful militia group led by Hemeti.
Yet, when the ICC’s new top prosecutor Karim Khan visited Sudan last week, he sat down with Hemeti, who in turn confirmed Khartoum’s cooperation with The Hague. Khan’s trip to Sudan was key in securing Sudan’s latest promise to hand Bashir over and negotiating the agreement that would see an ICC team arrive in Sudan in the coming months to begin working on another matter: the case against Ali Kushayb, another former janjaweed leader who was handed over to the court last year.
The shadow of Darfur. Hemeti is now firmly in the seat of power, confident that he has no reason to fear the ICC’s chief prosecutor despite his central role in the Darfur conflict.
It’s a spectacular rise for a man who once drove camels to Libya and Egypt, tried his hand as a small-business owner, patrolled the desert to stop migrants when it was opportune, and was for at least six months a Chadian-backed rebel. He switched sides at a crucial time during the Darfur conflict and became the leader of the RSF, a janjaweed militia formalized into a paramilitary force in support for Bashir’s government.
When the protests began in 2018, Hemeti returned to the capital to allegedly violently disperse the civilian crowds. Hemeti switched sides again and told local media that he refused Bashir’s orders to fire on protesters and aligned himself with Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the former army general who is now the head of the Sovereignty Council. Hemeti is now positioned at the top of the transitional government that is wooing European powers and the United Nations, and he is comfortable enough to meet with the ICC.
While the ICC has no warrant for Hemeti’s arrest, his role in the conflict could raise a red flag in The Hague. (The ICC did not respond to a request for comment.) More so, his current position raises questions about how the new cast of characters in Sudan’s government could be using the ICC to carry out political revenge while protecting themselves.
A regime on trial. Bashir evaded international arrest for a decade, even when he visited countries like South Africa, a signatory to the Rome Statute that many observers argued had a legal obligation to arrest him. But it was his own army officers who eventually arrested him in a civilian revolution driven by the price of bread and living conditions.
Along with Bashir, Sudan’s former Interior Minister Ahmad Muhammad Harun and former Minister of National Defense Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein were also detained and could be extradited to the international court for their role in the conflict. If the three, who were once at the top of Sudan’s ruling class, are indeed handed over, it would signal that members of Bashir’s inner circle, who tried to stage a counterrevolution within the transitional council, have been defeated.
The cooperation with the ICC may not, however, signal the arrival of civilian-led democracy or solve Sudan’s many problems. Protests have not gone away in Sudan, and neither has the public’s dissatisfaction with the state. But if Bashir goes on trial, it will at last bring some measure of justice to the estimated 300,000 people who died during the Darfur conflict.
Sunday, Aug. 15-Tuesday, Aug. 24: U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman travels to Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Wednesday, Aug. 18: Southern African leaders meet in Lilongwe, Malawi, for a Southern African Development Community summit.
Monday, Aug. 23: Health ministers from 47 African countries meet in Lomé, Togo, for a World Health Organization regional summit.
Tuesday, Aug. 24: The 30-day suspension of Tunisia’s parliament is scheduled to end.
Zambia’s new president. In an election that hinged on the state of the economy, businessman Hakainde Hichilema won a landslide victory on Monday against the incumbent candidate, President Edgar Lungu. Ahead of the Zambian election, inflation had climbed to nearly 25 percent, and the price of food soared.
The win was also a testament to the southern African nation’s democratic institutions since becoming a multiparty democracy in 1991. Even as Lungu alleged violence and interference, despite observers’ reports to the contrary, the electoral commission did not stop counting the ballots of the more than 70 percent of registered voters who lined up for hours.
Ethiopians called to take up arms. As fighting continues to escalate in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and surrounding provinces, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has called on “all capable Ethiopians” to join the war and “show their patriotism.” In a statement last Tuesday, he also called on the journalists and artists to contribute their work to strengthen the public’s resolve for the war effort.
The U.S. State Department criticized the “inflamed rhetoric,” while envoy to the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman will return to Ethiopia in a bid to broker a settlement. Yet, after Abiy rebuffed a face-to-face meeting with the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, there are questions about what Feltman’s trip will achieve as relations between Washington and Addis Ababa seem to be faltering.
Israel’s relationship with Africa. Israel’s newly granted observer status at the African Union has been met with opposition from Arabic-speaking African countries and others that maintain political solidarity with Palestinians. On July 22, Israel announced it had been granted observer status for the first time since 2002, but in the weeks since, opposition has grown.
Algeria called for Israel’s expulsion from the AU, while South Africa registered its disappointment with the African Union Commission. Since the signing of the Abraham Accords—Israel’s peace agreements with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates—the Israeli government has also normalized relations with Sudan and Morocco. On Aug. 11, Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita hosted his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid, the first such visit since 2003.
Parallel outbreaks. The Ivory Coast may have avoided high rates of COVID-19 infections, but reports of a case of Ebola have raised concerns for the West African nation’s health care system. On Aug. 14, the health ministry announced the first case of Ebola in the Ivory Coast since 1994. The patient traveled from neighboring Guinea, which suffered a four-month-long Ebola outbreak that was declared over in June, with 12 fatalities.
The Guinean outbreak occurred in the same area where the 2014 to 2016 outbreak first emerged, killing 11,000 people in neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia. This time, the distribution of the Ebola vaccine helped keep numbers low. However, last week Guinea also recorded West Africa’s first case of Marburg virus, also a highly infectious hemorrhagic disease.
Nigeria’s satellite sputters past expiration. The satellite NigeriaSat-2 is orbiting the Earth beyond its life expectancy of seven years. The earth observation satellite was launched in 2011 and for ten years has helped Nigerian authorities map agriculture, infrastructure, and importantly, the country’s security through imaging and other data. Along with the communication satellite NigComSat-1R, the NigeriaSat-2 has supported civil, commercial, and military operations.
“We are living on grace because normally based on the fuel of the satellite, you imagine that it is going to last for seven years but since 2018, the satellite has been functional and it is still giving us the necessary data,” Halilu Shaba, director-general of the National Space Research and Development Agency, told local media in June.
While Nigeria has pumped $1 billion into its satellite development in the last two decades and has set aside a budget to train 60 satellite engineers, it isn’t enough to manufacture and maintain its own satellites, making it reliant on expensive suppliers for key information. When NigeriaSat-2 gives in, Nigeria will be reliant on outdated mapping or the generosity of allies.
“The loss of any satellite is inevitable. So timely investment in a replacement is critical,” Samuel Oyewole, an academic at Federal University Oye Ekiti, told the Conversation Africa.
Bribes for care in Uganda. Despite the gains Uganda has made in meeting development goals in its health sector, its budget has not kept up, and the wages of its health care workers have remained unacceptably low, while supplies of essential equipment and basic medicines also suffer. This has created a public health sector that is vulnerable to corruption.
A recently published survey by Afrobarometer shows that nearly half of respondents have paid a bribe, given a gift, or done a favor in exchange for health care. As the COVID-19 pandemic has made citizens more desperate for high-quality, timely care, Ugandans may find themselves more willing to give a bribe.
How different is Burundi’s new president? In power for just over a year, President Évariste Ndayishimiye has made enough changes to give some Burundian journalists a sense of cautious optimism, as Lorraine Nkengurutse explains in African Arguments. While hundreds of inmates have been pardoned, some political prisoners remain behind bars. Press freedom has improved, but certain topics remain off limits to journalists—and, worryingly, key figures from the old regime still wield a great deal of power.
Sour milk. In the Takeout, Kenyan writer Lutivini Majanja recalls the childhood joys of sour milk, a beloved beverage in several countries across the region. As the pandemic sent people back to their kitchens, Majanja rediscovered the rich drink.