6 Biggest Political Developments in Africa in 2012


2012 saw major political developments in Mali, Ethiopia, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Guinea-Bissau, and the Central African Republic. Catch up here on the year’s revolts, coups, and political transitions in Africa as well as what to expect in 2013.

Obviously this list is not exhaustive and I welcome additions in the comments!

1. Mali: Revolt in the North

Mali has faced an armed revolt in the north since January 2012. While the fighting began with secular separatists from the Tuareg ethnic group, a coalition of armed Islamist fighters linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have since taken control of the major cities in the north.

The Malian army, dissatisfied with the handling of the fighting, led a coup in March. While an interim civilian government has been appointed, the army continues to exercise disproportionate power over politics. Last week, the military deposed the prime minister and forced a cabinet reshuffle.

AQIM’s safe haven in the north concerns both Mali’s neighbors and the international community. On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council voted to approve an international intervention to restore Mali’s territorial sovereignty, but action is unlikely before late 2013.

2. Ethiopia: Death of an Icon

Longtime Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi passed away in August 2012 after ruling Ethiopia for over 20 years. As the leader of Africa’s second most populous country, he rose to global prominence and cultivated strong relationships with the West.

British Prime Minister David Cameron called him “an inspirational spokesman for Africa” and the U.S. made Zenawi a strong partner in counterterrorism efforts in neighboring Somalia.

The last few years of Zenawi’s rule in Ethiopia were marked by increasing repressiveness as he harshly enforced policies that targeted opposition politicians, independent journalists, and human rights advocates.

It remains to be seen whether his successor, former deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, will be able to maintain the country’s stability and regional prominence.

3. Democratic Republic of Congo: Rwanda-Backed Rebellion

The eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been plagued by recurrent conflict since 1997. In April 2012, a group of rebels known as M23 defected from the Congolese army and has mounted a rebellion that has already displaced 177,000 civilians.

The fighters of M23 are linked to a past Congolese rebel army. A March 23rd, 2009 peace agreement was supposed to integrate those rebels with the government army, an effort which observers agree has largely failed.

The rebels are mainly ethnic Tutsis, the same as the ruling party in neighboring Rwanda. The international community, including President Barack Obama, has condemned the Rwandan government for arming M23 and has announced sanctions against members of M23. M23 and the government are currently holding negotiations. If these negotiations do not come to an agreement, 2013 may see an escalation of sanctions against M23 and the Rwandan government.

4. Guinea-Bissau: Another Coup

The troubled state of Guinea-Bissau has never had a president that completed a full term in office, and 2012 was no different. After the death of Guinea-Bissau’s president in January, the military staged a coup in the midst of elections to replace him, arresting his likely successor.

Guinea-Bissau’s military has historically been very powerful as well as deeply involved in the lucrative drug trafficking in the country. A DEA official told the New York Times that Guinea-Bissau is “probably the worst narco-state that’s out there on the continent.”

Regional peacekeepers from ECOWAS (The Economic Community of West African States) have been in place since May but have largely been unsuccessful in establishing political stability. International actors are meeting this week to coordinate action in the coming year. While new elections are planned for April 2013, it is uncertain whether they will occur.

5. Somalia: A New Beginning

The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has been fighting to retake the country from the forces of Al-Shabaab, an affiliate of al Qaeda, since 2007. They achieved several key military victories this year, including taking back the capital, Mogadishu. This paved the way for the establishment of a federal government in August.

The new president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and his cabinet have general been positively received so far by both the international community and Somalis themselves.

Factors to watch for in 2013 include the withdrawal of forces from neighboring Ethiopia (which historically has an antagonistic relationship with Somalia), AMISOM success in retaking the remainder of territory from Al-Shabaab, and the situation with the autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland.

6. Central African Republic: Armed Insurrection

The newest development on this list comes courtesy of rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR), which launched an offensive two weeks ago to overthrow the government. The rebels consist of an alliance of three previous rebel groups that have been inactive since peace agreements in 2007.

The rebel alliance, called Seleka, says the government has failed to honor the peace agreement and implement agreed-upon reforms. So far, Seleka soldiers have taken control of seven towns in the north. CAR’s government has already requested assistance from neighboring Chad.

Seleka announced yesterday that it halted its advances and is open to negotiation. However, it is unlikely that they will be pacified with another peace agreement without concrete steps towards previous promises, so expect this situation to be on the international agenda in 2013.

Across the continent, look for regional representatives like the African Union and ECOWAS to take an increasingly visible role in 2013. ECOWAS in particular has been bolstered by its active engagement on the conflicts in Guinea-Bissau and Mali.