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Africa Weekly #80&81 | Africa in the Indian Ocean and Conflict in Sudan |

  NIAS Africa Team

Africa Weekly
#80&81, Vol. 2, No. 35 & 36

Africa in the Indian Ocean region: Explained
Many traditional players—Australia, France, India, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States—continue expanding their presence in the Western Indian Ocean. Geopolitical significance has led to the emergence of new players—China, the UAE, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Türkiye. All of these players are investing in Indian Ocean countries economically, politically, and militarily, which will impact the region’s security environment on both traditional and non-traditional lines.
Anu Maria Joseph

The Eastern and Southern coast of Africa is one of the sub-regions of the Western Indian Ocean region. African countries from Egypt, Djibouti, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Tanzania and Mozambique in the east to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia in the South lie along the Western Indian Ocean region. Islands of Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius and Comoros are additionally part of the region. Rich in bio reserves and minerals and proximity to several trade routes make the region crucial. The maritime route connects the Middle East and Africa to Southeast Asia, East Asia, Europe and the Americas. 

Geopolitical importance
First, the region is rich in bio and mineral reserves. The Western Indian Ocean region is rich in mineral reserves- Egypt (oil and gas), Sudan (gold and oil), Ethiopia (gold and platinum), Somalia (Uranium), Kenya (gold), Tanzania (gold and diamond), Mozambique (coal and gold), South Africa (gold, platinum, diamond and Uranium). Additionally, the region is characterised by vast biodiversity in terms of species and ecosystems. More than 2,200 fish species, 300 hard coral species, ten mangrove species, 12 seagrass species, 1,000 seaweed species and hundreds of sponges, molluscs, and crabs can be found in the coastal and marine environments of the region.

Second, proximity to strategic trade routes. Djibouti and Eritrea are positioned directly at the Bab al-Mandab Strait near the Suez Canal which flows along the Horn of Africa and connects Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula to the Red Sea. The region also hosts the Mozambique Channel between Madagascar and Mozambique which is a key trading route for goods transiting the Cape of Good Hope to the Middle East and Asia. 

Third, naval bases. The US has its key military base in Diego Garcia which is used as a launchpad for Air Force missions in the Middle East. Nearly 5,000 US personnel are based on the island. China has built a 300-metre-long base in Djibouti which could accommodate large vessels including aircraft carriers and submarines which it presents as a “logistic facility.” France has a naval presence in Djibouti and the Island of La Reunion with a bid to defend its “overseas territories in the Indian Ocean region.” Besides, India, Japan and the UN have been carrying out missions combating piracy off the coast of Somalia. Surveillance and reconnaissance missions and a strong security profile around the Western Indian Ocean region are essential for external actors.

Fourth, proximity to Africa’s leading economies. The region has a proximity to Africa’s relatively stable and leading economies of Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. Egypt has a GDP of USD 477 billion; the highest in Africa along with Nigeria. Its economic sectors range from tourism to agriculture to textiles and petroleum. Tanzania's GDP is USD 75.71 billion, driven by tourism, agriculture, and mining industries. Kenya's IT, innovation sector and business-friendly approach contribute to the country's economic prosperity, with a GDP of USD 113 billion. Ethiopia's GDP of USD 127 billion is driven by a thriving agriculture and manufacturing sector. South Africa's GDP is USD 406 billion, making it a financial and industrial powerhouse. Investors prefer the East African region over its favourable economic development, political stability and large market of approximately 120 million people. French, Indian and English diaspora in African countries including Tanzania, South Africa and Kenya always attracted foreign investment and paved the way for pragmatic diplomatic engagements.

Major issues
1. Territorial Disputes
Territorial disputes in the Indian Ocean extend from Maritime boundary disputes to control of Islands. A dispute between Mauritius and the British government over the Chagos Archipelago after the decolonization of Mauritius has been ongoing since 1975. Another maritime boundary dispute over 160,000 square kilometres of waters between the two East African countries- Somalia and Kenya has been continuing since 2014.

France has territorial disputes with Comoros and Madagascar. It has expressed interest in co-managing disputed islands and their surrounding waters with Madagascar, while its dispute with Comoros remains a challenge in the bilateral relationship. 

The disputes are unlikely to escalate, leading to significant diplomatic and military tensions.

2. Climate change issues
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Coral Reefs in island countries in the Western Indian Ocean are under high threat. According to the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems criteria, four of the sub-regions-East and South Madagascar and the Comoros, reefs were assessed as “critically endangered.” Increasing seawater temperatures due to climate change is a threat to coral reefs in the region. On the East African coast from South Africa to Kenya, reefs were classified as “vulnerable” to collapse. Overfishing, altering the ecology of reefs and promoting algal takeover pose the greatest threat.

East African countries near the Indian Ocean region including Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia have been experiencing extreme weather conditions including severe drought and severe flooding for the past four years. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), nearly 7.1 million people in Somalia face acute food insecurity and three million are internally displaced due to climate change-induced crisis. 

3. Piracy
The International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) Piracy Reporting Center (PRC) reported that there weren't any piracy attacks in the Horn of Africa in 2022. However, the IMB PRC warned that Somali pirates continued to possess the potential to carry out attacks in the Somali basin and wider Indian Ocean region. The naval units from China, India, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea and the US operate in the region against piracy.

4. Terrorism, drug and weapon smuggling
In the western Indian Ocean, the eastern coast of Africa has emerged as a transhipment hub for drugs and small arms. The movement of drugs and terrorism are connected. Since 2016, regional maritime security forces have intercepted Iranian weapons for al-Shabab and the Islamic State in Somalia.

Al Shabaab insurgents in Somalia do not directly threaten security at sea. However, the conflict undermines the government’s capacity to protect Somalia’s territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Moreover, Al Shabaab has been involved in maritime smuggling operations to fund its operations and to supply its forces with arms and ammunition. 

5. The proliferation of external naval deployments undermining regional stability
In recent years, the Western Indian Ocean has witnessed growing militarization with the presence of external players including the US, China, France and India owing to the region’s geopolitical importance. For Africa, infrastructure demands and capacity deficiencies in ensuring the safety of their maritime domain is the reason behind external assistance. So far, the presence of China, India, the US and France has not been a source of concern for African countries in the region, although there remain potential geopolitical rivalries. If the presence of external actors in the region were to be reduced, it would weaken efforts to secure shipping lanes and patrol Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). On the other hand, if there is an increase in external military operations, it may undermine regional stability leading to increased tensions.

(The commentary is the first draft of an essay aimed to be published shortly.)

Sudan: Escalated fighting between rival factions and its implications
The current state of affairs in Sudan is highly disconcerting, with escalating violence that threatens to plunge the country into civil war. Such a scenario could have grave repercussions for the country's democratic aspirations as well as the safety and prosperity of its people.
Jerry Franklin A

On 19 September, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reported that more than 1,200 children have died in Sudanese refugee camps from suspected measles and starvation; thousands more including newborns, are at risk of dying before the end of the year. Additionally, the agency stated that every month in Sudan, more than 50,000 children need to be treated for malnutrition.

On 18 September, for the first time since the conflict began more than five months ago, fighting in Sudan reached the seaside city of Port Sudan where the Sudanese army battled with tribal militias, the Forces of the Eastern Sudan Parties and Movements Alliance.

On 17 September, clashes between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) resulted in the burning of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) tower, located in the heart of Khartoum.

On 14 September, the commander of Rapid Support Forces (RSF), General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, threatened to install a government in regions under their control if his adversaries in the army established a government in Port Sudan.

On 13 September, the UN's special envoy to Sudan, Volker Perthes, stated that he would resign from his position after being declared unwelcomed by the military administration in the war-torn region for more than three months.

Increased fighting in terms of intensity and geography
Since mid-April, when hostilities broke out between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) under the direction of General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, open warfare has shaken Sudan.  Khartoum has become an urban battle zone as a result of the fighting. The military retaliated by bombing the residential neighbourhoods of Greater Khartoum after RSF forces seized civilian residences and transformed them into operating bases. According to rights groups and the UN, the fighting in the western Darfur area has turned into interethnic violence, with the RSF and affiliated Arab militias assaulting ethnic African populations. Heavy artillery and airstrikes were deployed in the city as the army and the RSF continued to battle for control of Khartoum. The armed fighting between the warring sides intensified as it destroyed several iconic landmarks. The Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), the Ministry of Justice, and the Sudanese Standards and Metrology Organization in the Al Mugran neighbourhood were destroyed by fire during the recent violence in the capital. The Sudanese army engaged in combat with tribal militants devoted to the Beja tribe's leader Sheba Darar in Port Sudan. This was the first violence in the important coastal city in more than five months of conflict. Government representatives and representatives of the United Nations, who have evacuated from the country's war-torn capital Khartoum, are accommodated in Port Sudan, which is the only city with an operational airport. 

Struggle between the warring parties for legitimacy
The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) commander, Al-Burhan, recently set up a base in Port Sudan, the capital of the Red Sea state, after departing the General Command of the Armed Forces' headquarters in Khartoum. Many federal government entities have now moved their operations to Port Sudan. The army, together with supporting political groups, reportedly intends to set up an interim administration with Port Sudan as its capital. As a retaliation, the leader of Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, has threatened to proclaim a new government with Khartoum as its capital. Besides, SAF leader al-Burhan had carried out regional visits to South Sudan, Qatar, and Eritrea, calling for political and humanitarian support. Meanwhile, RSF’s special envoy, Yousif Izzat, met with the African Union chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, to discuss RSF’s vision to end the conflict. RSF firmly opposes the Sudanese Army’s effort to represent Sudan on the international front and claim legitimacy. Additionally, the assets in the US of Abdelrahim Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy and brother of Mohamed Hamdan "Hemedti" Dagalo have been blocked, while Abdul Rahman Juma, an RSF commander in West Darfur, has had his visa suspended. Both were punished for human rights violations, notably crimes committed in Sudan's West Darfur area. According to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Juma was sanctioned for ordering the death of West Darfur Governor Khamis Abdallah Abakar on 15 June. Due to US sanctions, the RSF faces an issue with legitimacy and its attempt to gain political credibility is now in peril. Legitimacy is crucial to be politically relevant and the current sanctions by the US pose a setback to RSF’s effort to establish international legitimacy. Additionally, the Sudanese army attempts to gain firm support by spreading operations from the capital to the eastern half of Sudan, where most eastern tribes support the army. 

International efforts to resolve the conflict and its failure to reach a long-term truce
Several international actors, including the US, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab League, have attempted to establish a ceasefire in the region to de-escalate the conflict, however, they failed to sustain it. Since the commencement of the conflict, both parties have routinely breached several ceasefires led by the US and Saudi. In August, the RSF's leader, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, made a 10-point plan calling for new negotiations to end the conflict. However, the Sudanese army rejected the proposal, declaring that they would not negotiate a deal with traitors, and denied appeals for a cease-fire. 

Consequences of the continued cycle of fighting
The majority of the violence has been concentrated in Khartoum and the western Darfur region, with Port Sudan and the east remaining free from violence. However, the recent violence in Port Sudan poses a threat of violence expanding to other parts of Sudan which could worsen the humanitarian crisis and lead to a prolonged power struggle. According to estimates from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), nearly 5,000 people have died due to the violence. According to UN statistics, more than 4.6 million people have been compelled to evacuate their homes in the four months of conflict. Food supplies are entirely exhausted and humanitarian workers are unable to reach the needy due to conflicts and roadblocks. The humanitarian crisis exacerbates as the conflict worsens, and there is less hope for the long-awaited democratic transition.

The RSF and SAF are competing fiercely for recognition and validation. The army has attempted to characterize the fight as a confrontation between the state and a rebel group rather than a combat between two sections of the security forces. US sanctions against the RSF seem to support the army's narrative. The army could be less receptive to peace negotiations due to the sanctions against the paramilitary. The SAF has been using the US sanctions on the RSF to turn international opinion against the RSF and hence to seek legitimacy. The constant efforts to establish regional, national, and international legitimacy by both the warring sides may result in a full-fledged civil war shortly.

(Part of this commentary has been previously published as part of NIAS-IPRI-KAS Conflict Weekly.)

20 September-3 October
By Anu Maria Joseph

SAF leader warns of spillover of conflict to neighbouring countries
On 22 September, speaking at the UNGA, Sudan’s transitional military leader, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan urged the international community to designate Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and its allies as terrorist groups. Al-Burhan additionally warned of potential spillover of fighting into the neighbouring countries. He also mentioned that his party is open to peace talks and wanted to "put an end to this war and to alleviate the suffering of our people.” Conflict in Sudan which began in April has killed thousands and displaced millions. Both warring parties are accused of carrying out human rights violations during the fighting. Both sides have shown little commitment to ceasefire efforts initiated by international and regional actors. Recently, the fighting spread to Port Sudan after RSF announced the establishment of a parallel government based in Khartoum. (“Sudan army chief warns war could spill over into neighbours,” BBC, 22 September)

President Kiir visits Russia
On 28 September, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir visited Russia and held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to Euronews, the leaders have agreed to expand their ties in the sectors of energy, trade and oil. They also discussed political and security issues in South Sudan, which is planning its first presidential elections in 2024. Putin stated that Russian investments in oil refineries in South Sudan would bolster bilateral ties. The visit comes against the backdrop of Russia and the West continuing to reach out to African countries seeking support in the war in Ukraine. (“New allies for Russia? Putin meets South Sudan’s leader to discuss closer ties,” Euronews, 28 September 2023)

Restores diplomatic ties with Iran
On 22 September, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the restoration of diplomatic ties with Djibouti after seven years. The announcement came after the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of both countries met at the UNGA held in New York. Djibouti joined Saudi Arabia in cutting ties with Iran in 2016 after Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Iran following the execution of Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement read: “The two governments have agreed to further develop friendly relations between the two countries based on mutual respect for sovereignty, equality, mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence.” (“Djibouti and Iran restore diplomatic ties,” BBC, 22 September 2023)

Drone strikes in Amhara
On 20 September, BBC reported that dozens of civilians were killed in a drone strike in Ethiopia’s Amhara region. A resident of the region told BBC that at least 30 people were killed during the attack. In the town of Dembecha, at least 18 people were killed in a similar drone strike. Months of Fighting has been going on in the Amhara region between the federal government and the Amhara regional forces, Fanp. According to the UN, more than 180 people have died in the conflict. The conflict erupted after the federal government announced its decision to integrate regional forces into the federal forces. (“Civilians killed in Ethiopia drone strikes - residents," BBC, 20 September 2023)

Establishes diplomatic ties with Haiti
On 21 September, Kenya and Haiti established diplomatic ties. Haitian and Kenyan Ministers of Foreign Affairs announced the exchange of ambassadors. The development comes after Kenya offered 1,000 police officers to Haiti, part of an international assistance force to fight gang violence. (“Kenya and Haiti establish diplomatic ties," BBC, 21 September 20203)

Paul Kagame announces decision to run for fourth term
On 20 September, Rwandan President Paul Kagame announced his decision to run for a fourth term next year, extending his presidency to almost three decades. Kagame stated: “I am happy with the confidence that Rwandans have in me.” Kagame has been leading the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) ever since it came to power after the genocide in 1994. According to the Rwandan Election Commission, in 2017, Kagame won the presidential elections receiving 99 per cent of the votes. Human Rights Watch (HRW) had claimed that the elections took place where free speech was limited. Kagame was also criticised for cracking down on the opposition. (“Rwanda's President Paul Kagame confirms fourth-term bid,” BBC, 20 September 2023)

President calls for the immediate withdrawal of UN mission
On 21 September, Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshosekedi called on the UN peacekeeping mission to withdraw its troops by the end of the year. The UN mission, MONUSCO, began its mission in 2010 pledging to fight insurgency in eastern DRC. However, its presence became increasingly unpopular after it failed to quell the increasing insurgency. Tshisekedi during the UNGA stated: “It is to be deplored that peacekeeping missions deployed for 25 years … have failed to cope with the rebellions and armed conflicts; “This is why … I instructed the government of the republic to begin discussions with the UN authorities for an accelerated withdrawal of MONUSCO … by bringing forward the start of this progressive withdrawal from December 2024 to December 2023.” (“DR Congo President Tshisekedi seeks withdrawal of UN peacekeepers this year,” Al Jazeera, 21 September 2023)

Coup leader’s UNGA address; calls on West to stop “lecturing us”
On 22 September, addressing the UNGA, Guinea’s military leader, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya commented that the Western model of democracy imposed on Africa does not work in the continent. He stated that Africa is suffering from “a model of governance that has been imposed on us and is facing “trouble adapting to our reality.” He added: “It is time to stop lecturing us and stop treating us with condescension like children.” Guinea is among the African countries which went through military coups across West Africa in 2021. (“Stop lecturing us, Guinea junta leader tells West,” BBC, 22 September 2023)

Ousted President Bazom files appeal to ECOWAS for release
On 21 September, ousted President Mohamed Bazoum appealed to the ECOWAS’s court for his release. An appeal filed on 18 September demanded Bazoum’s release and reinstatement as president against his “arbitrary arrest” and “violation of freedom of movement” following the coup in July. Bazom’s lawyer Seydou Diagne stated: “We request... given the violation of political rights, that the state of Niger be ordered to immediately restore constitutional order by handing over power to President Bazoum, who must continue to exercise it until the end of his mandate.” (“Niger's ousted leader petitions Ecowas court for help,” BBC, 21 September 2023)

France withdraws its ambassador and troops over souring relations
On 25 September, the Niger junta banned French aircraft from entering the country's airspace. The Agency for Air Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA) stated that Niger's airspace was open to all commercial flights except to those chartered by France. On 26 September, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that Paris will withdraw its ambassador and end all military cooperation with Niger. He added that French troops will withdraw in “the months to come.” Macron stated: "France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. In the next hours, our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France. Nearly 1,500 French soldiers are present in Niger assisting in to fight against Islamsit militants. Following Macrons’ announcement, the military junta stated: "This Sunday we celebrate a new step towards the sovereignty of Niger.” France-Niger relations soured following the military coup in July and France refused to recognise the coup leadership. (“Niger's military bans French aircraft from its skies,” BBC, 25 September 2023; “France to pull troops and ambassador from Niger,” BBC, 25 September 2023)

Junta says it thwarted a coup attempt
On 28 September, the Burkinabe military government stated that the country's security and intelligence services thwarted a coup attempt on 26 September. The junta commented that unnamed military officers organised to destabilise the country. Reuters quoted the junta: They had "the dark intention of attacking the institutions of the republic and plunging our country in chaos.” Burkina Faso is marking one year of the military takeover on 29 September. In 2022, President Captain Ibrahim Traoré seized power amid growing Islamist insurgency in the country. However, the junta struggled to address the insurgency after the withdrawal of the UN and French troops. Previously, he had promised to hold elections by July 2024. Before the coup attempt, Captain Traoré stated that he was "determined to safely lead the transition [to democracy] despite adversity and the various manoeuvres to stop our inexorable march towards assumed sovereignty.” (“Burkina Faso junta says it foiled coup attempt,” BBC, 28 September 2023)

IMF approves USD 1.3 billion in loans for disaster management
On 29 September, BBC reported that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved a USD 1.3 billion loan to assist Morocco in its natural disaster management sector. The announcement comes three weeks after the earthquake that killed more than 3,000 people in the country. The Moroccan government is being criticised for its poor handling of the earthquake on 8 September in the High Atlas Mountains. The IMF stated that the 18-month loan would assist the country’s climate action by tackling "climate vulnerabilities,” "resilience against climate change,” and seizing "opportunities from decarbonisation.” ("Morocco gets $1.3bn disaster fund from IMF," BBC, 29 September 2023)

Ukraine promises to establish “grain hub” 
On 20 September, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met Kenyan President William Ruto and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Zelensky promised to establish a “grain hub” in the Kenyan city of Mombasa. Meanwhile, with Ramaphosa, Zelensky discussed “the way forward on the peace initiative.” They also discussed the revival of the Black Sea Grain Initiative following Russia's withdrawal. Zelensky informed Ramaphosa that Ukraine was trying to establish alternative routes to supply grains. Zelensky stated: "Several ships with grain have already successfully passed through these routes despite the difficult situation.” Kenya remains one of the major supporters of Ukraine in the war; however, South Africa has been taking a neutral stance. (“Ukraine and Kenya plan 'grain hub' for East Africa to help tackle food insecurity,” BBC, 20 September 2023)

About the authors
Anu Maria Joseph is a Research Assistant at NIAS. Jerry Franklin is a Postgraduate Scholar at Madras Christian College, Chennai. 

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