Africa in the News: Boko Haram Commits Massacre, Egypt Voices Concerns over Ethiopian Dam Project, and Sudan Opposition Party Calls for Election Boycott

As Elections Approach, Boko Haram Increases Attacks on Northern Nigeria

Just one month before Nigeria’s general elections are scheduled to take place (on February 14), Boko Haram intensified its attacks on the country’s northern states likely due to the upcoming elections, stated a U.S. State Department spokesperson on Tuesday. On Saturday, January 3, in its single most lethal assault to date, Boko Haram is estimated to have killed anywhere from 150 to 2,000 people and razed 3,700 structures in the towns of Baga and Doron Baga, according to Amnesty International. The following weekend, on January 10 and 11, two suicide bombings—one of which is believed to have been carried out by a young girl—in Yobe and Borno states killed at least 23 people and wounded countless others. President Goodluck Jonathan, who is currently campaigning for re-election throughout the country, paid a visit to Borno state on Thursday in order to speak with wounded Nigerian soldiers and to the hundreds of civilians from Baga displaced by the violence. Voice of America reports that while 13,000 people have fled to Chad as a result, and this number could grow to 20,000.

Meanwhile, as the elections draw nearer, the Financial Times observes that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has only printed 54 million of the 69 million voter registration cards, which are required for eligible voters to cast their ballots, and fewer than 40 million of the cards that have already been printed have been collected by voters. In other words, the INEC has less than one month left to print and distribute 15 million voter registration cards to registered voters or they will not be able to vote on February 14. Since these elections are expected to be the closest in recent history and with the potential for election-related violence if Nigerians feel that the elections were mismanaged, ensuring that these registration cards are printed and distributed in a timely fashion is a top priority of the Jonathan administration and the INEC.

For more analysis on the most significant factors influencing the upcoming Nigerian elections, please see Jideofor Adibe’s Foresight Africa piece: The 2015 Presidential Elections in Nigeria: The Issues and Challenges.

Egypt Engages with Riparian Countries over Ethiopian Dam Project

This week, Egyptian leaders publically expressed their concerns over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)—an Ethiopian hydroelectric dam project that has been under construction along the Blue Nile River since May 2013. Once completed, the GERD is expected to be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa, capable of delivering 6,000 megawatts of electricity to Ethiopia and its neighboring countries.

The dam project has exacerbated long-standing tensions between Ethiopia and both Egypt and Sudan, which have articulated their concerns over the effects of the dam on their water supplies since they are located downstream from the dam. On Monday this week, Alaa Yassin, a spokesperson for the Egyptian irrigation ministry, called on Ethiopia to reduce the dam’s capacity of 74 billion cubic meters, which he called “unjustified” and “technically unacceptable” due to the major reduction it would have on Egypt’s water supply (according to studies performed by the ministry). The Egyptian National Planning Institute also stated recently that Egypt will need to add 21 billion cubic meters of water per year to its current water supply (of 55 billion cubic meters) in order to meet its growing water needs by 2050, making any reduction in the Blue Nile’s water supply potentially disastrous for the country.

Also on Monday, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi held talks with Mathias I, the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and stated that while he respected the right to development of the Ethiopian people, the Nile constitutes a vital “source of life” for Egyptians, so measures to protect the rights of both countries must be taken as political agreements over the dam are negotiated.

In September 2014, a tripartite commission involving leaders from Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia decided to commission a study on the possible environmental impacts of the dam. The commission is expected to meet again this month to select an international firm to conduct the study. In the meantime, Egyptian trade and foreign affairs ministers have been touring the Nile Basin region, engaging in trade talks in Nairobi this week, and will continue on to Kampala for similar talks next week. Some observers have noted that Egypt’s heightened engagement with other riparian countries might reflect its long-term strategy of rallying political support for Egypt in the row over the Ethiopian dam.

For more insight into the potential benefits and adverse effects of the GERD on the Nile River Basin, please see the following piece by AGI scholars: While Egypt Struggles, Ethiopia Builds over the Blue Nile: Controversies and the Way Forward.

Sudan Opposition Calls on Parties to Boycott Upcoming Election

On January 10, Sadig al-Mahdi, the leader the National Umma Party, (the main Sudanese opposition party,) called for a boycott of the general elections scheduled to be held in April of this year. Al-Mahdi stated that the conditions are not present for free and fair elections to be held in April and indicated his support for a regime change of what he identified as Umar al-Bashir’s 26-year “dictatorship.”

Following al-Mahdi’s announcement, the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) submitted a request on Tuesday, January 13 to the registrar of political parties to disband the National Umma Party for allegedly signing two accords with rebels groups. The Umma Party has asserted that these accords called for peace and democratic transition in Sudan and were signed along with other political opposition parties and civil society organizations, and that it will legally challenge the NISS charges for dissolution.

For more information on historical context and biggest issues affecting the Sudanese elections, please see AGI scholar John Mukum Mbaku’s Foresight Africa piece: African Elections in 2015: A Snapshot for Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Burkina Faso and Sudan.