Twin bombings targeting churches in Egypt earlier this month have suggested that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group are lashing out, as they find themselves coming under increasing pressure in their strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
IS’ Egyptian affiliate claimed responsibility for the 9 April attacks in the Nile Delta cities of Tanta and Alexandria, with the group being centred in the Sinai Peninsula, where it has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers. It has however been unable to seize population centres there, unlike its early gains in Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, in recent months, it has lost top militants to Egyptian military strikes.
While the militant group has attacked Egyptian Coptic Christians before, Since December 2016, it has increased their campaign against the minority group. That month, a Cairo church bombing killed 29 people. In Sinai, IS militants killed seven Copts in January and February, forcing dozens of Christian families to flee the peninsula, which borders Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip. That December church bombing however marked a shift in IS tactics, as it was not until that incident when IS began a systematic campaign to target Coptic Christians in the North African country. In a video released in February 2017, IS attacked Christians as “polytheists” and promised that there would be further attacks.
The shift in tactics also comes at a time when it has been under growing pressure in Iraq and Syria, with the group likely carrying out deadly attacks elsewhere in a bid to boost morale amongst its followers and show its relevance and continued capability to launch attacks. In Iraq and neighbouring Syria, where the group proclaimed its “caliphate” in 2014 as it swept across the northern region of Iraq, IS has faced consecutive defeats in the last year and is now on the verge of losing control of Iraq’s second city Mosul.
The ongoing attacks on Coptic Christians hae prompted President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to declare a three-month state of emergency in Egypt.
According to a lead mediator from the Catholic Church, Congolese President Joseph Kabila will step down after elections, which will be held before the end of 2017, under a deal that was struck by political parties on 30 December 2016. Speaking to reporters, Marcel Utembi, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in the DRC, disclosed that under the deal, President Kabila will be unable to change the constitution to extend his mandate and run for a third term in office. Hopes are now high that the landmark power-sharing deal between DRC’s political opponents will bring an end to a months-long crisis. It also aims to head of further unrest over the fate of President Joseph Kabila, whose second and final mandate ended on 20 December with no sign of him stepping down and no election in sight.
Below is a timeline of the crisis that has affected the country
- 17 January 2015 – Parliament adopts a bill that would enable President Kabila, who has been in power for fourteen years, to extend his term beyond 2016. The president’s opponents believe that he wants to prolong his mandate by making the presidential and parliamentary elections contingent on a new electoral roll, as a census that was set to begin in 2015 has yet to take place.
- Between 19 – 22 January 2015 – Clashes between police and anti-Kabila demonstrators erupt in the capital Kinshasa and several other towns across the country. The clashes degenerate into riots and looting, with police using life fire and tear gas in a bid to disperse the crowds. Dozens are killed. Speaking from Belgium, opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi calls on the Congolese people to force a “dying regime” from power.
- 25 January 2015 – Parliament votes in favor of a new election law, which still leaves doubts over the timetable for new polls.
- December 2015 – The United Nations expresses concern over a government crackdown on opponents, pointing to “arbitrary arrests and detentions, in particular political opponents, civil society activists or demonstrators.”
- 4 May 2016 – Opposition leader Moise Katumbi declares that he will stand in the presidential election. He is seen as the leading challenger to Kabila. The wealthy businessman is a former Kabila ally who joined the opposition in September 2015 after stepping down as governor of mineral-rich Katanga province.
- 11 May 2016 – The Constitutional Court states that Kabia can remain in office when his mandate expires, even without being re-elected.
- May 2016 – Katumbi leave for South Africa, ostensibly for medical treatment, after appearing in court twice over the alleged use of foreign mercenaries.
- 10 June 2016 – During a Brussels meeting, which was organized by Tshisekedi, the mainstream opposition decides to set up a new coalition.
- June 2016 – Katumbi is sentenced to three years in prison over a separate real estate dispute in a move that effectively makes him ineligible to stand in the election.
- July 2016 – Tshisekedi returns to Kinshasa after two years in Belgium. Speaking before tens of thousands of supporters, he demands that the election be held by the year’s end and that Kabila departs.
- September 2016 – The opposition coalition calls for demonstrators to signal notice to Kabila, three months before his term is due to expire.
- 19 – 20 September 2016 – Violence erupts in Kinshasa between security forces and youths, leaving several dozen people dead. The protests were called by Tshisekedi’s opposition coalition to coincide with the last three months of Kabila’s term in office.
- 17 October 2016 – The parliamentary majority and an opposition fringe minority sign an accord, which effectively pushes the presidential election back to April 2018 and keeps Kabila in place until his predecessor takes over. The mainstream opposition however continues to demand that Kabila step down at the end of his mandate, in December 2016.
- 8 December 2016 – The DRC’s episcopal conference CENCO launches talks which are aimed at a deal on setting up a transition authority until a presidential election can be held. It sets a 16 December deadline, which comes and goes.
- 12 December 2016 – The United States and the European Union (EU) impose sanctions on top Congolese officials over bloodshed in the country.
- 17 December 2016 – Catholic Church negotiators announce that talks would resume only a day after Kabila’s term ends.
- 20 December 2016 – According to the UN, deadly clashes erupt in Kinshasa and other cities on the last day of Kabila’s mandate, leaving at least forty people dead.
- Late December 2016 – The CENCO-mediated talks resume
- 31 December 2016 – The two sides agree that Kabila will remain in power until elections are held at the “end of 2017.” During this 12-month period, a so-called National Transition Council, will be set up, headed by opposition leader Tshisekedi, and a prime minister will be named from opposition ranks.
This month, France appeared to accept that it would need to keep thousands of troops in Africa’s Sahel region for an indefinite period because of the ongoing instability and preponderance of Islamist militants.
Speaking to lawmakers, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault sought to reassure regional allies that Paris would not abandon them despite pressure on its military, which has not only seen it increase its operating in the Middle East, but also on home soli in the wake of a series of Islamist attacks in 2015 and this year. Speaking at a parliamentary debate on his country’s overseas operations, Ayrault disclosed that “France remains committed as long as the jihadist threat continues to weigh on the future of these countries,” adding, “what message would we be sending if we envisaged a reduction of our effort? We do not have the right to abandon our African brothers at the exact moment when they need us the most to consolidate the fragile balances.”
After deploying troops to Mali, France has since spread some 4,000 soldiers across the West African region in a bid to hunt down Islamists. United Nations peacekeepers have also been deployed to ensure Mali’s stability however the UN’s forces have lacked equipment and resources making a political settlement between Tuaregs and the Malian government increasingly fragile and paving the way for Islamists and traffickers to exploit a void in the northern region of the country. According to Ayrault, “we know it will be long and difficult (because) the national reconciliation process is taking time to come into effect, securing the north is slow and terrorist groups continue to destabilize the region by carrying out attacks on Mali’s borders at the entrances to other countries like Niger and Ivory Coast.”
At the end of this month, France will seek to discuss Mali when it hosts a ministerial meeting on UN peacekeeping operations in French-speaking countries to see how to increase and improve their efficiency.
The region, which spans from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east, is host to a number of jihadist groups and is seen as being vulnerable to further attacks after strikes on soft targets in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast earlier this year. The region’s security concerns have further been highlighted by a recent spike in violence in northern Mali, where France intervened three years ago in a bid to drive out al-Qaeda-linked militants who took control of a rebellion in 2012 by ethnic Tuaregs and attempted to take control of the central government in Bamako. More recently, insecurity in northern Mali seems too have spread in the region, particularly into neighbouring Niger where a string of incidents this month, including the kidnapping of a US NGO worker, has prompted officials across the region to enhance security measures.
The Gambia this month announced that it will be leaving the International Criminal Court (ICC) after Burundi and South Africa launched their own similar petitions in October to leave the court, which has been criticized by a number of African countries.
On Tuesday, 26 October the Gambian government announced that it is withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing the world body of ignoring the “war crimes” of Western nations and seeking only to prosecute Africans. Speaking on state television, Information Minister Sheriff Bojang disclosed that “this action is warranted by the fact that the ICC, despite being called the International Criminal Court, is in fact an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans.” The statement from Gambia, whose citizens make up disproportionately high proportion of the African migrant flow to Europe, further disclosed that it had sought to bring the European Union (EU) before the ICC over the deaths of migrants however it had received no response. It disclosed, “there are many Western countries, at least 30, that have committed heinous war crimes against independent sovereign states and their citizens since the creation of the ICC and not a single Western war criminal has been indicted.”
The decision by The Gambia comes just days after South Africa also announced that it was quitting The Hague-based tribunal. The ICC has yet to comment on the move, however coming soon after South Africa’s announcement, Gambia’s decision to also quit the court has added to pressure on the world’s first permanent war crimes court. Burundi has already said that it is planning to leave while Kenya’s parliament has disclosed that it is considering following suit. The ICC has had to fight off allegations that it is pursuing a neo-colonial agenda in Africa, where all but one of its ten investigations have been based.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel headed to Africa on Sunday 9 October on a trip that aims to seek investment opportunities, which her government hopes will drive economic development on the continent and curb future waves of migration to Europe.
A flood of almost a million migrants into Germany in 2015 has had an impact on Merkel’s popularity at home. While a European Union (EU) agreement with Turkey has helped stem the flow from the Middle East and Asia, thousands of people still risk the perilous Mediterranean crossing every day from Africa to Europe. According to German Development Minister Gerd Mueller, “the migration pressure will increase dramatically in the coming years if we do not manage to generate economic prospects in African countries. Mueller has pointed to the energy sector as an area where there was an opportunity for a “win-win partnership” for Africa and German business, which have been pioneering in developing solar technology.
Merkel has described Africa as “the central problem” in the migration issue. Last month, she stated that the EU needed to establish migrant deals with North African countries along the lines of the Turkey deal. In her first multi-day trip to Africa since 2011, she will visit Mali on Sunday, Niger on Monday and Ethiopia on Tuesday. Merkel, who has yet to declare if she will seek a fourth term as chancellor next year, wants to discuss bilateral aid and business investment on her trip, as opposed to aiming to secure any deals to return migrants there. During an industry conference on 6 October, she stated, “being an open society means that we should trying to aim for a kind of blanca such that the fist thing for young Africans, when they get a smartphone in their hands, isn’t ‘I have to go where I see a better world,’ bur rather that they live in a country in which things are at least getting better step by step…This is our task.”
Germany, France and Italy want to develop particularly close partnerships with Mali and Niger, as they see these states as being key in the migration issue. In Mali, Germany has over 550 soldiers that are taking part of a UN peacekeeping mission, while in neighbouring Niger, it will open a military base aimed at combating regional jihadists.