Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Major events in North and West Africa during the last decade 2010-2019

Article from AFRIC Editorial
The transition from 2019 to 2020 is not just from one year to the next. It also marks the beginning of a new decade. Before stepping into this new episode, let us look back at the major events that have made the past decade a special period in the history of the African continent. From the popular revolts in the Maghreb region that led to the fall of powerful heads of state, to the rise of terrorism, the increase in the scale of the migration crisis and the desire of an African Union in search of autonomy and new dynamism, Africa has experienced major upheavals over the past decade, more or less positive, which have not dampened the ardor of major foreign powers motivated by growth indicators that show that it remains a continent with a promising future.

The Arab Spring 

Africa is the cradle of the Arab Spring, the movement that has taken hold of many Arab-Muslim countries. These popular demands with a social and political dimension have based their struggle around the denunciation of the authoritarian powers which have been in place for decades, the high rate of unemployment, the deplorable economic situation, corruption and the dominance of the small privileged elite class. This protest originated in Tunisia after young street vendor in Sidi Bouzid in the central-western part of the country set himself on fire on December 17, 2010. The act committed by the young Mohammed Bouazizi was intended to protest against the seizure of his goods by the police. This act sparked the anger of the Tunisian people, who took advantage of the situation to demand the departure of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and it spread like wild fire to neighbouring countries, namely in Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. The repercussions, however, are different.  

In Tunisia, we witnessed the fall of Ben Ali’s regime, which led to the organisation of elections that resulted in the coming to power of Beji Caïd Essebsi. Even if Tunisia is still struggling to regain a certain balance on the economic front and youth unemployment remains a problem, the country has lived through its transition to become a model of democracy in North Africa, as shown by the maturity with which it managed the post-Ben Ali period and the death of its successor Beji Caïd Essebsi at the end of his term of office. 

Egypt also obtained from its revolt the departure of Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power since 1981. Eighteen days of protests were enough to put an end to the thirty year reign of the old leader. This paved way for the return of Muslim brothers at the top of the State, a movement long banned from political activities in Egypt, the future was however not very glorious for Mohammed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of this country, who was later chased out of power by the army as a result of pressure from the street. His arrest and imprisonment gave the army the opportunity to return to power through Marshal Abdel Fatah Al Sissi. The death in custody of Morci, the exoneration of Mubarak and the modification of the constitution, which makes it possible for Al Sissi to remain in power until 2030, seem to have brought Egypt back to square one. Could there be a third force behind the scenes?

Libya is the most obvious example of the failure of the Arab Spring in Africa. The oil Eldorado ruled by Muammar Gaddafi with an iron fist sank into total chaos after the invasion of this country by NATO forces and the assassination of its leader. Ungovernable, Libya has become the hub of illegal immigration to the coasts of Europe, the sanctuary of arms trafficking and terrorism because of its instability.

Morocco, unlike its neighbours, is doing rather well thanks to the ability of King Mohamed VI to satisfy popular demands and anticipate the demands of its population. At the first signs of revolt, the monarch initiated a series of constitutional reforms by referendum, ranging from speeding up regionalisation to deepening human rights, pluralism and individual freedoms. Having escaped this first wave of popular protests, Algeria and Sudan succumbed to the second phase at the end of 2019.

Excessive migration flows

The Mediterranean has never caused so many deaths in a decade before.  The migration crisis has exploded in the last ten years. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) put the number of people who died trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean in 2018 alone at 1,100. The number of illegal migrants from sub-Saharan Africa trying to reach Europe by sea has reached worrying proportions, and the chaotic situation in Libya has played a major role.  It has moreover encouraged the birth of a business of crooked smugglers who get rich through the despair of the migrants fuelled by their desire to reach the European coasts at all costs. Abandonment on the open sea, assassinations in the desert for organ trafficking networks, torture in detention camps and scams are all treatments reserved for African migrants in Libya when they are not sold as slaves by their executioners. These inhuman acts exposed by a shocking report on CNN broadcast in November 2017 and the numerous resolutions taken by the visibly overwhelmed European Union have not succeeded in slowing down the migration crisis which remains closely linked to the death of Gaddafi, who in his lifetime had succeeded in setting up a system of strict control of the Libyan coasts. 

Increased terrorism 

Although Boko Haram began to spread terror in Nigeria in the early 2000s and Al-Shabaab in East Africa, terrorism in Africa has grown considerably over the past decade with the jihadist insurgency which has established itself in the Sahel, led by several groups with allegiance to the Islamic State and Al Qaeda that had been active in the Maghreb long before. Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mauritania and Mali have become the targets of jihadist attacks. The growing insecurity in the Sahel led to the creation on 16 February 2014 in Nouakchott of the G5 Sahel force. Despite the common will of the five Member States to put an end to the terrorism that is plaguing the Sahel region, the issue of its financing remains a problem that limits its operationalization on the ground and above all forces it to seek the military assistance of foreign troops, including French troops, which are increasingly rejected under suspicions of Paris’ financing of terrorism in the region. According to Congolese President Sassou Nguesso, Chairman of the African Union’s High Level Committee on Libya, the Libyan crisis is at the root of the scale of terrorism in the Sahel.  Taking part in the Dakar international summit on peace and security held in November 2019 in Senegal, Mauritanian President Mouhamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani said that “Any attempt to fight terrorism that is meant to be effective must integrate the resolution of the Libyan crisis. The terrorist threat in the Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel will persist as long as the Libyan crisis persists”.

Reforms within the AU and creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area – 2010 to 2019

One cannot talk of the changes observed on the African continent over the past decade without mentioning the multiple reforms within the African Union. The pan-African body created in 1963 decided in 2016 to carry out in-depth reforms of its institutions in order to be in line with the vision of the continent’s 2063 agenda, which is based on economic growth and inclusive development. 

Through a meticulous study it found that the fragmentation of the AU into different cells made its actions ineffective, thus weakening its missions. Added to this was the financial assistance that makes it less autonomous in its decision making. In order to assert itself, the pan-African body saw fit to reduce its financial dependence on foreign donors and partners.  It should be noted that the AU’s foreign financial allocations alone accounted for almost half of its estimated budget of 596 million euros. President Paul Kagame, who is appreciated by his African peers for his management style, was entrusted with the responsibility of proposing the ambitious AU reform plan. As a whole, it was to target five major points; reducing the number of areas of intervention, reorganizing the body, strengthening ties with the African people, ensuring efficiency in the accomplishment of its missions, establishing long-term financing for its programs and limiting its dependence on aid from its development partners.

President Paul Kagame to increase the AU’s financial autonomy proposed that each member state should pay a 0.2% tax on imports. The rejection of this measure by some southern African countries has not allowed the organisation to reach its objective of 100% self-financing. The Rwandan president in his reform plan also insisted on the creation of a peace fund to be supplied with 350 million euros. Its objective to support peacekeeping operations on the continent. Two other symbolic measures are included in this institutional reform, namely the reduction in the number of commissions (from 8 to 6) and the possibility for the chairman of the AU commission to appoint commissioners himself. The latter measure has been rejected by member states wishing to take on this prerogative themselves. The creation of the continental free trade area remains the most symbolic of the progress noted within the African Union. Officially launched on 7 July in Niamey during the 12th extraordinary summit of the African Union, this vast market of 2.1 billion inhabitants, whose agreement has been ratified by 27 of the 55 states that make up the AU is the largest in the world.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Photo Credit : google image/illustration

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