Africa in the news: Sudan peace deal, Ethiopia elections, and Eastern and Southern Africa updates

Sudan's Sovereign Council Chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, and Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok lift copies of a signed peace agreement with the country's five key rebel groups, a significant step towards resolving deep-rooted conflicts that raged under former leader Omar al-Bashir, in Juba, South Sudan August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Samir Bol

Sudan signs peace deal with Darfur rebel groups

On Monday, August 31, Sudan’s government and the Sudan Revolutionary Front, a major coalition of rebel groups, agreed to a peace deal to end 17 years of conflict in Darfur. The peace agreement seeks to end fighting in Darfur, where more than 300,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million displaced since 2003, and in Sudan’s southern regions of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, where thousands more have died in fighting since 2011. The agreement will allocate hundreds of legislative and executive positions in Sudan’s transitional government to the rebels, incorporate rebel fighters into the military, provide support for displaced populations, and stipulate measures for land reform and transitional justice.

The agreement has been welcomed by officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, and the United Nations as a first step to rebuilding stability in Sudan. However, observers to the deal cautioned that at least two rebel factions did not join the peace talks, endangering the success of the agreement. Furthermore, two previous peace agreements signed in 2006 and 2011 under the tenure of former Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir failed to end the conflict. Despite these issues, current Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok expressed optimism toward the agreement, stating that since protests against al-Bashir first erupted in December 2018, the Sudanese people had looked for “the promise of justice, the promise of development, and the promise of safety.”

Regional elections in Ethiopia and US-Ethiopia relations

Ethiopia’s Tigray region held parliamentary elections on Wednesday, September 9 in defiance of the federal government, which has postponed general elections originally scheduled for August until an as-yet-undetermined time in 2021 due to health and safety concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. Senior Ethiopian lawmakers had ruled the Tigrayan elections unconstitutional. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has also stated that the regional vote was illegal but that the government would not respond with force. In explaining their decision to hold elections, Tigray politicians accused Abiy of postponing the general elections in order to prolong his rule, as the delayed elections will extend the current government’s term by at least nine months. William Davison, senior analyst at the Crisis Group, has stated that tension between the federal and regional government reflects a “power struggle between Abiy and Tigrayan elites,” who once led Ethiopia’s ruling coalition.

In other Ethiopia news, last week, the U.S. State Department announced that the U.S. would temporarily suspend up to $130 million in aid to Ethiopia due to the “lack of progress” in Ethiopia’s negotiations with Egypt and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). A State Department spokesperson stated that the decision reflected U.S. concern about “Ethiopia’s unilateral decision to begin to fill the dam before an agreement and all necessary dam safety measures were in place.” Tensions between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan have escalated recently after Ethiopia announced that it had started filling the GERD’s reservoir in defiance of Egypt’s mandate that the dam not be filled until an agreement is reached over allocation of the Nile’s waters. For more on this complicated issue, see “The controversy over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” by AGI Nonresident Senior Fellow John Mukum Mbaku.

Border and trade relations in East and Southern Africa

Recent border and trade tensions between Kenya and its neighbors Tanzania and Somalia continued this week. Earlier this summer, Kenya and Tanzania had already been in a dispute over COVID-19 clearance certificates for truck drivers looking to cross the border. In fact, Kenya still requires all arrivals from Tanzania to quarantine for 14 days, a policy Tanzania considers to be more political than health-driven. In response, in recent weeks, Tanzania has barred a number of Kenyan airlines from its airspace.

In recent months, a number of trade disputes between Kenya and Somalia have also arisen. Somali officials have accused Kenya of not treating their country as an equal partner and have instituted a blockade on the trade of miraa (also known as khat) to Kenya. According to The East African, Somali officials are demanding that Kenya “desist from interfering with Somalia’s internal affairs, apologise for violating Somalia airspace, allow in goods from Somalia including fish, rice, sugar, honey, meat and milk and […] stop forcing flights from Somalia to make a detour to Wajir for inspection.”

Meanwhile, other African borders continue to not only open, but institute protocols to ease bottlenecks to cross-border trade. Late last month, Botswana and Zimbabwe announced that they will soon establish a “One-Stop Border Post,” with the aim of creating seamless border immigration processes for traders and, consequently, improved trade prospects for the region at large. According to the Zimbabwean newspaper The Chronicle, trade between to the two countries has been growing substantially in recent years, with Zimbabwe’s exports growing from $19.2 million in 2017 to $43.3 million in 2019.

Other borders in the region are opening as well: In Uganda, authorities announced earlier this week that its Entebbe airport—which has been closed since March to nonemergency flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic—is set to reopen on October 1 of this year.

In other airline news, despite a recent restructuring and government bailout, South African Airways continues to struggle financially, with officials stating that the state-owned company needs short-term funding from the government by the end of next week for its business rescue process to continue. Although the company is already looking to cut jobs and scale back its fleet, it says that at least 10 billion rand ($598 million) in new funds is needed to stay afloat.