On 23 November 2016, NATO announced that it has ended Operation Ocean Shield after a sharp decline in attacks by Somali pirates. While there has been no vessel hijacked off Somalia since May 2012, the threat of piracy remains high despite no major incidents reported. This is due to the fact that pirate action group’s (PAGs) operating in the region continue to maintain the capability and drive to launch attacks in a bid to successfully hijack a merchant vessel.
MS Risk advises all vessels transiting this region to remain aware that while NATO has ended its operations in the area, the threat remains high and continued vigilance and compliance with BMP4 procedures is necessary. The threat remains high in waters off the southern Red Sea/Bab el Mandeb, Gulf of Aden – including Yemen and the northern Somali Coast – Arabian Sea/Off Oman, the Gulf of Oman and off the eastern and southern Somali coast. In the past, incidents of vessels being attacked have been recorded in waters off Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, the Seychelles and Tanzania, as well as in the Indian Ocean and off the western and southern coasts of India and western Maldives. We advise that all vessels continue to maintain a 24-hour visual and radar watch. We further remind all Masters that fishermen operating in this region may try to protect their nets by attempting to aggressively approach merchant ships. Some fishermen may be armed and should no be confused with pirates.
MS Risk further advise merchant vessels transiting the Red Sea, Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Aden to also operate under a heightened state of alert due to increasing tensions in the region, which can escalate the potential for direct or collateral damage to ships transiting this area. We advise that all vessels transiting this region should report any incidents or suspicious activity immediately. The threat may come from a number of different sources including missiles, projectiles or waterborne improvised explosive devices. Houthi rebels have claimed responsibly for the 1 October 2016 attack on a UAE vessel.
All ships and patrol aircraft under NATO Operation Ocean Shield have now left the area off the Horn of Africa. The Royal Danish Air Force carried out the last Indian Ocean surveillance missions for NATO, with the commander of the Danish air force detachment disclosing that NATO can resume its anti-piracy efforts at any time – whether in the Somali basin or the Atlantic Ocean.
Ships and patrol aircraft operating under the mission had been patrolling waters in this region since 2009 as part of a broader international effort to crackdown on Somali-based pirates who were impacting world shipping. The Ocean Shield operation, as well as European Union (EU) counter-piracy mission, have significantly reduced attacks, with the last reported vessel hijacking off Somalia occurring in May 2012 – down from more than thirty ships at the peak in 2010 – 2011.
NATO is now shifting its resources towards deterring Russia in the Black Sea and people smugglers in the Mediterranean. Earlier this month, NATO broadened its operations in the Mediterranean Sea in a bid to help the EU stop criminals trafficking refugees from North Africa.
According to Zanzibar’s election commission, Tanzania’s ruling party has won the presidential vote re-run in the semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania.
Jecha Salim Jecha, the head of the commission, announced on 21 March that President Ali Mohamed Shein of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi party has been re-elected with more than 91 percent of the votes.
Zanzibar’s main opposition party, the Civic United Front (CUF) and its ally CHADEMA boycotted the re-run, stating that it violates electoral laws and the constitution of Zanzibar. The electoral commission annulled results of the presidential election on October, which the CUF believes it won. The CUF has tried for years to win control of Zanzibar’s local government from Chama Cha Mapinduzi, narrowly losing the last election in 2010.
On Sunday, 20 March, voters in five African countries cast their ballots, including four presidential elections and a constitutional referendum. Incumbents in Niger and Republic of Congo are expected to sail to re-election, while Benin’s presidential election run-off vote is less certain.
Below is a look at the contests:
Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi is stepping down after the maximum of two terms in office, effectively enhancing the West African country’s democratic credentials. Sunday’s election was between the current Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou and businessman Patrice Talon, who was once accused of trying to poison the outgoing president, an allegation he denies. Prime Minister Zinsou, who quit his job as the head of one of Europe’s biggest investment banks when he was nominated prime minister last year, is the leading contender. The 61-year-old candidate for Boni Yayi’s Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE) has the support of the majority of lawmakers in parliament via the backing of two main opposition groups. During the first round of voting, on 6 March, Zinsou won 27.1 percent of the vote, with Talon, a 57-year-old entrepreneur who made his money in cotton and running Cotonou’s port, coming in second with 23.5 percent. However since then, 24 of the 32 other candidates who stood in the first round of the election have come out in support of Talon, including third-placed Sebastien Ajavon, who won 22 percent of votes.
Polls opened at 7:00 AM (0600 GMT), with 4.7 million people eligible to cast their ballots. Voting was to close at 4:00 PM (1500 GMT). Voting on Sunday passed off calmly, with no major incidents reported.
On Monday, 21 March, Benin Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou conceded defeat to businessman Patrice Talon in the presidential elections. He conceded after early results overnight indicated that Talon won 64.8 percent of the vote, against 35.2 for Zinsou.
- Youth Unemployment – The 15 – 34 age group makes up some 60 percent of the country’s working population. Officially, the unemployment rate is under 4.0 percent, however with 85 percent of works in the informal sector of the jobs market, the figure does not reflect reality. With few jobs available, many university graduates end up driving motorbike-taxis that are increasingly found everywhere in the West African country. Zinsou has promised to create 350,000 jobs by 2021, especially for the young and women, while Talon has pledged to take steps in order to encourage job creation in the private sector.
- Corruption – When President Boni Yayi first took office in 2006, he had vowed to stop endemic corruption in several key sectors, including in the port in Benin’s commercial hub, Cotonou, and the cotton industry. However his two terms in office have been marked by several embezzlement and bribery scandals. In 2010, the head of state ws implicated in a major savings scandal in which thousands of Beninese lost money. The construction of a new national assembly building in the administrative capital Port Novo has also taken millions of dollars however it has never been finished. Furthermore, last year, the Netherlands suspended aid to Benin after four million euros, which were earmarked for drinking water schemes, disappeared.
- Health and Education – Benin, which has a population of 10.6 million, is considered by the World Bank to be a low-income country with poor ratings in both the health and education indicators. Free primary school education has been seen as a positive from Boni Yayi’s presidency, even if subsidies do not always reach schools. Furthermore, President Boni Yayi also created a universal scheme to open up access to healthcare to the poorest in society via an average monthly subscription of 1,000 CFA francs (1.5 euros). The scheme however is not yet up and running. Prime Minister Zinsou has promised that he will make development a key priority, including helping the 100,000 poorest families and improving medical infrastructure.
- Major Port in Benin – The port accounts for almost half of the country’s tax receipts and more than 80 percent of customs tariffs. It handles some 90 percent of the country’s overseas businesses and sells itself as a transit port for neighbouring Nigeria to the east and surrounding countries, such as Burkina Faso and Niger. Major infrastructure work has been carried out, including the construction of a new quay, which allows it to handle twice as many containers in 2014 as it did in 2008. A computerized management system of truck arrivals and departures has also been put in place as well as a single counter to handle all transactions, effectively helping to streamline procedures and cut graft. However waiting times remain long due to a lack of available space and the new checks. Accoridng to sources, ships often wait up to a week before offloading, with some opting to go to Lome in neighbouring Togo, brining in the containers by lorry, which is quicker. The port of Tema, in Ghana, is also a main competitor for business.
The election in Niger effectively pits incumbent president Mahamadou Issoufou against opposition figure Hama Amadou, who has been in prison since November 2015 on charges, which critics say are politically motivated. President Issoufou is campaigning on his credentials in the fight against Islamic militancy. His opponent left the country late last week to seek medical treatment in France for an unspecified ailment.
Voting on Sunday ended in Niger with President Mahamadou Issoufou the likely winner of the election. Throughout the day, security forces were posted at polling stations. They also patrolled the streets of Niamey and monitored the city’s main intersection. As polling stations closed in the early evening and elections workers began counting ballots, observers disclosed that there were no major incidents that had been reported, adding that voter turnout had been low. Provisional results are due to be released in the next few days.
Republic of Congo
President Denis Sassou N’Guesso, 72, who has been in power for more than 30 years, is seeking another term in office after he organized a constitutional referendum that effectively removed the an age limit that would have disqualified him from running again. The run-up to the October referendum was marred by violence, and mobile phone service was blocked in the country.
On 19 March, authorities in Republic of Congo announced a 48-hour communications blackout for Sunday’s presidential election. On Saturday, a government source disclosed that all communications would be cut on Sunday and Monday, by order of the authorities in order to avoid “illegal publication” of the results. A letter from interior minister Raymond Mboulou to the country’s phone companies disclosed that “for reasons of national security, please block all communications including SMSs from March 20 and 21.” The government source added that the move would not affect the voting process and would “in no way hinder the opposition’s access to the results.”
On Sunday, voting began under a media blackout, in a tense ballot that is expected to see President Denis Sassou Nguesso prolong his 32-year rule. Polling stations opened promptly at 7:00 AM (0600 GMT), with on the ground sources reporting that voters lined up quietly outside in the capital Brazzaville. The polls closed at 6:00 PM (1700 GMT). Tensions later broke out with riot police using tear gas to disperse 200 opposition supporters who were trying to get into a polling station. According to on the ground sources, dozens of heavily armed police fired tear gas at the supporters of opposition candidate Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas and chased them away from the polling station in the south of the capital Brazzaville.
Senegal is voting on a constitutional referendum, which proposes fifteen reforms that would make sweeping changes. In contrast with many African leaders, Senegalese President Macky Sall is asking voters to shorten the country’s presidential term from seven years to five. The proposed changes also call for a strengthened National Assembly, better representation for Senegalese abroad, and greater rights for the opposition in national elections.
Voting began on Sunday at 0800 GMT and ended at 1800 GMT, with up to five million Senegalese voting in the election. Technical problems with producing voter ID cards however will prevent 200,000 from exercising their democratic rights. According to Doudou Ndir, the head of the country’s election watchdog, turnout was slow early on, with only 10 percent of votes cast by 11 AM. Activity however was likely to pick up in the afternoon. The results are no expected to be released until later this week.
Voters are casing ballots in Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania. The opposition parties have called for a boycott of the election. Zanzibar’s vote is a re-run of an October ballot, which the main opposition parties say runs counter to Zanzibar’s electoral laws.
On Sunday, voting began with tight security. Polling stations opened on time at 7:00 AM (0400 GMT), with votes lining up peacefully. Turnout however was expected to be low in opposition strongholds after the Civic United Front (CUF) urged its supporters not to participate. The Zanzibar Election Commission (ZEC) indicated that there had been no delays in the delivery of ballot boxes and papers and said both local and African observers were in place, although those from the EU had stayed away. Polls closed at 4:00 PM (1300 GMT) with results expected as early as Monday.
Burundi’s president on Monday chose to skip key regional talks, opting to stay at home instead in order to campaign for a controversial third term in power as a rebel general threatened to step up attacks.
Leaders of the five-nation East African Community (EAC) bloc met in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam on Monday to discuss the ongoing political situation in Burundi. A statement released shortly after the summit indicated that East African leaders have called on the Burundian government to delay the 15 July presidential election by two weeks, effectively moving it to 30 July. During the meeting, leaders also named Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni as mediator of a dialogue between the Burundian government and the opposition. The decision comes in the wake of the ruling party stating that UN mediator Abdoulaye Bathily must immediately stop his work as he began without first being received by the government. Nyabenda has indicated that the ruling CNDD-FDD party is ready to work with the Ugandan President Museveni’s mediation efforts. The EAC also called on Burundi to disarm armed groups, including the Imbonerakure, or youth wing of Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party, and for rival factions to form a government of national unity “irrespective of whoever wins the presidential election.”
On Tuesday, Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party indicated that it will conditionally accept the call by the EAC to delay the 15 July presidential election by two weeks, effectively moving it to 30 July. Party chairman Pascal Nyabenda has disclosed that any decision to delay the vote must ensure that the constitution, which mandates that presidential elections cannot go beyond 26 July, is not violated, with the constitution also stating that the president-elect must be sworn in by 26 August. President Nkurunziza opted to miss Monday’s summit and instead sent his foreign minister. Nkurunziza stayed in Burundi to lead his presidential campaign in the central regions of Gitega and Mwaro.
Official results released Tuesday indicate that the ruling party of President Nkurunziza has swept to an expected overwhelming victory in controversial parliament elections that were boycotted by the opposition. The election commission announced that the CNDD-FDD party won 77 out of 100 selected seats in parliament, with two more seats going to its ally UPRONA. The election commission also announced that despite the opposition boycotting the polls, and calling on its supporters not to vote, the coalition Independents of Hope group of Agathon Rwasa and Charles Nditije won 11 seats. The commission has indicated that overall, voter turnout was 74 percent. The opposition has rejected the results, with Rwasa stating shortly after the announcement, “we reject these results because the parliament and legislative elections were not credible.” Both the African Union (AU) and European Union have condemned the polls. Former colonial power Belgium has also stated that it will not recognize the results.
Meanwhile rebel general Leonard Nendakumana, who took part in a failed coup in May, has vowed to carry out further attacks until the government is overthrown. In an interview that was broadcast late Sunday, Nendakumana told Kenya’s KTN news agency, “after we saw that we could not succeed our coup on May 15, we found it was necessary to keep fighting so that we can push Nkurunziza to keep thinking about what he is doing and maybe just resign,” adding, “all those actions that are going on in the country, we are behind them and we are going to intensify them until Pierre Nkurunziza understands that we are there to make him understand by force that he has to give up his third term.” Nendakumana further stated, “there was a need to organize that coup to make a change in the country because the situation was very bad… Mr Nkurunziza and his team were leading the country in a situation of civil war, and we could not accept that our population, our country, were led into a civil war,” adding “they are trying to move towards an open civil war just to find a way to protect themselves.”
General Nendakumana, a top intelligence officer, is an ally of coup leader General Godefroid Niyombare, who has been on the run since their attempt to seize power failed. In more than two months of protests, over seventy people have been killed, with almost 1440,000 refugees fleeing to neighboring countries.
After a regional summit on the on going political crisis in Burundi was held in neighbouring Tanzania on Sunday, East African leaders declared that the upcoming elections in Burundi should be delayed by at least a month and a half and that the on going violence must end. The leaders, however, stopped short of calling for Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza to abandon his controversial bid for a third consecutive term in office, which has effectively sparked weeks of civil unrest, a coup attempt and a major refugee crisis that is now affecting the region.
In a statement read out the East African Community’s (EAC) secretary general Richard Sezibera, which was released shortly after a meeting of regional leaders was held in neighbouring Tanzania, the East African leaders stated “the summit, concerned at the impasse in Burundi, strongly calls for a long postponement of the elections not less than a month and a half.” The statement further called “on all parties to stop violence,” for the “disarmament of all armed youth groups,” which is a clear reference to the ruling party’s supporters who have been accused of attacking the party’s opponents, and for “the creation of conditions for the return of refugees” who have fled the crisis. The EAC summit was attended by leaders from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who is a key regional player and Burundi’s neighbour, sent a minister to represent him. South African President Jacob Zuma was also present at the talks. The summit had been seen as a critical opportunity to resolve the crisis, with talks between the president’s camp and the main opposition currently at a deadlock.
President Nkurunziza was not present during Sunday’s summit, with his spokesman indicating that the president would instead be pushing ahead with his re-election campaign. However it is widely believed that the president’s absence is linked to the 13 May failed coup attempt, which occurred when President Nkurunziza attended the first crisis meeting in Tanzania’s economic capital. In an attempt to benefit from the president being out of the country, a top general launched an unsuccessful bid to oust him.
The political crisis in Burundi erupted after the ruling party designated President Nkurunziza, who has been in power for ten years, as its candidate for the upcoming elections. The opposition and rights groups however have indicated that this move effectively violates the constitution as well as a 2006 peace agreement, which ended the country’s 13-year civil war. That war killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and there are now growing fears that the current political crisis may push the country back into conflict. Despite the civil unrest leaving at least 30 people dead, the Burundian government has maintained that parliamentary elections will take place on 5 June, with presidential elections scheduled for 26 June.