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Afghanistan redux, mind your language, and Angola’s First Family

Isabel dos Santos ANGOP

President Joao Lourenco – can he escape “the family”?

It’s no surprise, Angola’s next president is going to be Joao Lourenco. The big question is can the party loyalist and former general usher in any real change in Africa’s third largest economy after his electoral victory? Angola has a per capita GDP of $6,800. But, run as a “crony petro-state”, its social indicators are appalling and economy in free-fall. Lourenco has promised to crack down on corruption. Although not known for personally having sticky fingers, he is part of the system. He is the hand-picked successor to José Eduardo dos Santos who has ruled for close to four decades and will remain head of the ruling MPLA party. Dos Santos’s billionaire daughter Isabel heads Sonangol, the state oil company, and his son José Filomeno runs the country’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund. Lourenco is generally depicted as the candidate for continuity. Yet he will need resources to build his power base, and so the transition may have real impact on the dos Santos family's business interests. The Financial Times suggests the showdown could come with Isabel, whose job “puts her in control of much state revenue”. And the family could fight back. Rebecca Engebretsen writes in African Arguments that President Filipe Nyusi was elected in Mozambique also on an anti-corruption platform, but has since been troubled by leaks connecting him to prominent fraud cases during his time as a minister. What is clear is that change is unlikely to come overnight in Angola.

Cameroon’s deepening language divide

On a recent visit to Yaoundé, an IRIN journalist was rash enough, over lunch in a modest eatery, to raise Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis with the head of an NGO that works with the country’s youth. When the man suggested the main problem lay not between the restive Anglophone minority and French-speaking majority, but between the Anglophones and President Paul Biya, a women at a neighboring table, who turned out to work in Biya’s office, kicked up an almighty fuss and seemed set to have the man arrested. So sensitive is this 10-month-old crisis which has paralysed education, led to strikes in two English-speaking parts of the country, and seen dozens of activists and even bishops detained pending trial in military courts, that it cannot be discussed in public. Yet it continues to fester. At least six schools were set on fire over the past week, reportedly for failing to stick to a declared education strike. Earlier in the year, markets and government buildings were targeted. The government blames emerging separatist groups. Dialogue is moribund. According the International Crisis Group’s latest report on the issue, “ahead of presidential elections next year, the resurgence of the Anglophone problem could bring instability.” The report added that small secessionist groups that emerged this year are taking advantage of the situation to radicalise the population with support from part of the Anglophone diaspora. While the risk of partition of the country is low, the risk of a resurgence of the problem in the form of armed violence is high, as some groups are now advocating that approach.”

A man. A plan. Afghanistan

"It was 2 or 3 in the morning. I was woken up by gunfire. It was so loud. There were people screaming. My children were scared. My youngest was only a few months old. We all ran down to the basement. It was the safest place in the house. It was terrifying." So begins Doctor Marzia Salam Yaftali in this BBC Outlook feature linked to US President Donald Trump's announcement that American troops will remain in Afghanistan for the long haul. Doctor Yaftali is describing the situation the last time the Taliban tried to retake their northern former stronghold of Kunduz. It was 2015 and she was the gynaecologist in the city's last public hospital. Those weeks under siege were an extreme time, but the danger of a repeat and more is still real. Two years on the Taliban have made more gains in other parts of the country and half the country is now back under their control. Trump's new Afghan policy was criticised as more of the same and light on strategy and detail. But if it means Yaftali and her patients are safer, they won't complain, and Washington's renewed pressure on Pakistan is going down well in Kabul too.

In Islamic State’s crosshairs

So-called Islamic State’s loss of territory does not mean it has been defeated, but instead presents several new challenges, argues Megan Stewart in an article for Sustainable Security. When rebels control territory and civilians, they move from being roving bandits to stationary bandits, “incentivised to provide some form of governance”. The rise of IS was linked in part to the Iraqi state’s inability to deliver services. So without IS, “people’s needs might not only go underserved, triggering a humanitarian crisis,” says Stewart, but the governance vacuum could be filled by “equally ruthless and dangerous actors” such as al-Qaeda. She argues that civilians may also increasingly become targets, either as victims of deliberate acts of terror, or “collateral damage” as IS resorts to guerrilla tactics. “In sum, as IS transitions from controlling territory to a more clandestine network, civilians’ lives and livelihoods remain in the crosshairs. Weak rebel organisations and rebel organisations that lack territorial control are more likely to engage in terrorism and indiscriminate violence," she notes.

Did you miss it?

The death toll in Sierra Leone has risen to approximately 500 from recent mudslides. The event is tragic, but also characteristic – rapidly urbanising areas in West Africa and beyond all face similar vulnerabilities as Freetown. Equally characteristic has been the response, from sporadic relief to political tours of affected sites. How do we move beyond short-term intervention and mitigate everyday risks? What should the priorities be for reducing the effects of both small- and large-scale disasters? This week we explored the lessons to be learned for disaster risk reduction. Researchers from Urban Africa: Risk Knowledge have a few findings and suggestions for collaboration between governments, humanitarian actors, and the civil society.


TOP PHOTO: Isabel dos Santos - Africa's richest woman

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