“It’s not only about Libya” – article for EurActiv

Below I re-post an article about current protests and instability across Africa, and what ought to be the EU response. The original article can be found here

It’s not only about Libya

As oil-rich Libya moves dangerously towards full civil war and all eyes continue to focus on the north of Africa, the question of how events on the shores of the Mediterranean relate to other political processes and crises across Africa should not be completely overlooked.

In fact, throughout last month, protests took place in numerous African countries up the Nile, from Gabon to Cameroon and Djibouti. In Senegal a man set himself on fire in an attempt to emulate Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia.

In Sudan, new protests have been called for this month after the first demonstrations were violently dispersed by security forces. In Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, regimes have acted pre-emptively to avoid confrontation, including the arrest of 46 people in Harare for watching videos on events in Egypt and Tunisia.

In Uganda, demonstrations have been banned following the 18 February presidential elections, with President Yoweri Museveni declaring there would be ‘no Egyptian-like movement’ in the country after opposition candidates announced plans for nationwide protests after alleging that the elections were rigged.

But it is unlikely that massive revolts will really spread south and that an unstoppable ‘freedom virus’ triggering democratic transitions will affect the rest of Africa.

First, as violence takes hold of Libya, potential protesters seeking bloodless overthrows are starting to think twice. Second, many countries further south are less urbanised, have higher illiteracy levels and less access to the Internet and media.

Most significantly, however, in sub-Saharan Africa most countries have ‘hybrid’ regimes, where powerful patronage is commonplace and opposition or civil society is weak. Many countries abandoned single-party authoritarianism in the early 1990s and now do have a formal multi-party system, and so in a way justifying demands for democratic reform is not so straightforward.

But this does not mean that there will be less instability throughout the continent. Given Muammar Gadaffi’s numerous connections with many African states, his fall in Libya could further destabilise many poor African countries and the African Union itself.

In planning for this scenario, it is critical for the European Union and the rest of the international community to keep engaged in Africa. However, the disappointing outcome of the last Africa-EU Summit held in Tripoli at the end of 2010 suggests that the EU’s channel for its relations with the continent – the EU-Africa Joint Strategy – is still ‘stuck’ in the paper phase (except for some peace and security elements).

Libya contributes a significant portion of the African Union’s operational budgets and also helps many states to pay their own membership fees.

If the country’s contribution were to diminish greatly, the EU should be ready to provide the funds necessary to maintain AU peacekeeping in countries such as Somalia, where progress against the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab has been reported, and Sudan, where violence is rapidly increasing in North-South border regions.

But most importantly, the EU should not neglect the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, where failure to resolve the post-election stalemate is pushing the country towards civil war.

Already 40,000 refugees have crossed into Liberia as the economic and security situation worsens. Also, recent clashes between the pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara armies in the west of the country, as well as reports of a possible violation of the arms embargo, call for greater international engagement to prevent an escalation of violence.

In Guinea-Bissau and Zimbabwe, long-standing political stalemates are entering a critical few months too, and 2011 could also see instability in countries like Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria, all of which have forthcoming electoral processes.

The EU should move beyond continent-wide schemes when dealing with crises. Given the complex nature of most conflicts and the need for rapid reactions, it would be wise to complement existing agreements with somewhat ad-hoc arrangements on a case-by-case basis.

The European Union needs to learn to respond in an agile and firm manner. While the long-term objective should be to deepen economic cooperation, politics is unlikely to go away any time soon in EU-Africa relations.

In this respect, the common thread running through all European policies from Brussels and member states should be a firmer stance on human rights: from the most blatant cases (Equatorial Guinea) to those with a strategic importance (Morocco).

This commitment should be accompanied by a varied political tool-box that favours fast and effective action. It is important to establish dialogue with regional bodies and key states (South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya or Angola) and to balance sanctions and engagement with complicated partners.

In the long term, it is crucial to support civil society across the continent, defending media freedom and helping civic organisations, and backing also new forms of citizen mobilisation, advocacy and monitoring, which are becoming more and more prominent throughout Africa.

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