African politics, Horn Watch

America and China’s arms race in Africa

Africa has become an unlikely Ground Zero in China’s attempt to break America’s global hegemony. Nothing demonstrate this than two tiny African countries with a combined population of less than 3 Million- Namibia 2.303,000 and Djibouti 886, 313 that have become the epicentre of the Sino- American competition.

For comparison, Kansas State, 34th in terms of population, has more people than the combined population of Namibia and Djibouti. In terms of the size Djibouti is the same size as New Jersey.

Remarkably, Africa which until recently was regarded as the backwater of global diplomatic game, a poster child for conflict, famine and coups, because of decades of sustained economic growth and the search for the next frontier by the global powers, placed Africa at the sharp end of geostrategic contest.



As an emerging power, everything China does attracts attention, and therefore, the South China Sea tension rightly hogs the major news headlines- because it ticks off all the necessary diplomatic boxes. However, another equally high octane diplo-maritime competition between China and America is taking place behind the headlines.

Decades of sustained economic growth

Over the last few years, Africa has recorded remarkable stable economic growth; in 2010, Africa had a middle class of about 313 million people, or 34 percent of the population, according to the African Development Bank— almost three times the count in 1980, when they made up 26 percent.

Seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa. Seventy percent of the continent’s people live in countries that posted average growth rates in excess of 4 percent over the past decade, has made the continent as the next frontier of business/political and diplomatic.



According to African Development Bank’s 2015 Economic Outlook “many African countries have improved their investment climate and conditions for doing business, which enhance long-term growth prospects. Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Senegal and Togo are even in the top ten countries worldwide with the most reforms making it easier to do business”.

However, major African currencies have been performing poorly against the major global currencies. Nonetheless, this and many other impressive statistics has made Africa the next frontier of economic growth. The nexus between Africa’s economic growths, hence a decent return on investment, and global powers search for the next place to invest has made the continent a perfect candidate for the competition, with each wooing, as opposed to conditionality- a modus operandi decades ago.

Djibouti’s “Arc of Democracy” or “String of Pearls?

Djibouti has assumed an outsized strategic importance in the Indian Ocean pitting China and United States and its allies. While the United States and its allies would want to make Djibouti part of the Arc of Democracy connecting Djibouti to Port Blair to Yokosuka, China wants Djibouti to be under its Strings of Pearls orbit.

According to reports, China will in the next few years build naval bases in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Mynanmar in the northern Indian Ocean; Djibouti, Yemen, Oman, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique in the western Indian Ocean; and Seychelles and Madagascar in the central South Indian Ocean. Most of these primarily target the lucrative Indian Ocean trade route.

Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.gif


China is in discussions with Djibouti to build a naval base in the town of Obock where lucrative and strategic Bab-el-Mandeb Strait acts as a strategic link between the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea via the Red Sea and the Sauz Canal.

According to the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) fact-sheet on global oil chokepoints, 3.8 million barrels of oil and “refined petroleum products” passed through the Bab el-Mandeb each day on its way to Europe, Asia, and the US, making it the world’s fourth-busiest chokepoint.

According to World Oil Transit Chokepoints, Energy Information Administration, US Department of Energy, In 2006, an estimated 3.3 million barrels (520,000 m3) of oil passed through the strait per day, out of a world total of about 43 million barrels per day (6,800,000 m3/d) moved by tankers.

China’s Djibouti overture is back on the heel of United States signing of a 20 years lease for Camp Lemonnier, the Naval Expeditionary Base, situated at Djibouti’s Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport and home to the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa of the U.S. Africa Command, the face of the United States presence in Africa.

The terms of the lease renewal is about $70 million a year — $63 million in lease fees and the rest in development aid — more than double the current leasing fees of roughly $30 million a year. A clean demonstration of the value the United States attaches to the base.

While in the past China looked at Africa largely through the economic lens as a counter weight to the West, here, stealthy, China is guided by security more than trade, and Djibouti ticks the dual security and trade box.


In Namibia China is exploring building a naval base in Walvis Bay. “The South Atlantic, while below the radar of most policy makers today, has played an outsized role in modern naval history. Therein lies the importance of Walvis Bay’




The Walvis Bay will provide China with the ‘ability to patrol the critical Cape of Good Hope around Africa and Cape Horn around South America. The approaches to the key North Atlantic sea lanes linking the Americas, Africa and Europe would be nearby’

Walvis Bay and Bab-el-Mandeb Strait gives China a significant naval leverage and control of the major routes.

Recognising the critical utility of Walvis Bay, the United States, has embarked on charm offensive; barely three months in office, President Hage Geingob Ray Mabus of Namibia met United State Secretary of the Navy at the Pentagon.

With Facing East- being in China’s sphere of influence, or West being a choice most countries have to make, a stark throwback to the Cold War era, how this two African countries negotiate the tricky ‘double dipping’, will in the future form the template of how to accommodate the West and its technological prowess, and the East, with trade first approach. Either way, the sea change of Africa’s relations with the outsider needs to anchored on a solid mutually beneficial foundation, rather than one way traffic; whether that involves China- the most significant player in recent years, the West- that is playing catch up, or both at the same time.


Five ways to make our African cities places we will all love living in

DEMOGRAPHIC pressures associated with rural urban migration, massive urbanisation on the back of recent economic growth and failure to expand urban facilities in tandem with the increasing population has led to not only the ubiquitous traffic problem, but also a huge strain on other urban facilities – hospitals, housing and schools.

If endless rants in the morning and evening radio shows and persistent social media chatter about traffic jam during the work commute is the barometer, then traffic has become a major problem in most African cities.

According to a new UN report, The State of African Cities (2014)—Re-imagining sustainable urban transitions, “Africa is projected to experience a 16% rise in its urban population by 2050 – making it the most rapidly urbanising region on the planet – as the number of people living in its cities soars to 56%.”

This massive urbanisation, while impressive, unless properly and adequately planned for would make cities the next frontier of sharp social and political contestation.

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African politics

On-off-not-there-at-all electricity is Africa’s curse, but watch out for these dams

THE world has caught the new sweet smell of Africa, and it has fired the collective imagination of Africans themselves.

The undoubtedly impressive economic numbers coming out most of the continent are slowly but surely replacing the ubiquitous negative headlines that had marked headlines about the continent for decades – famine, war and poverty.

However, to maintain the present economic upswing and to address poverty sustainably, Africa has to fix its poor and erratic power production and distribution.

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The African criminal court, a dream comes closer

After four years of discussions, the African Union (AU) has agreed the statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights – a merger of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Court of Justice. Heads of state adopted the protocol during a summit held in Malabo (Equatorial Guinea) on June 26; but the long-expected dream of an African criminal court may take years to become reality and has already attracted many questions about its effectiveness.


Will the TJRC reported be implemented?

“Forgiving is not forgetting; it is actually remembering – remembering and not using your right to hit back. It is a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you do not want to repeat what happened,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Chairperson – South African and Truth Reconciliation Commission.

The Truth Justice and Reconciliation commission spent over a billion shillings and its report could remain un-implemented because of lack of political will

Moi and Kenyatta

Since independence in 1963, Kenya has witness several gross human rights violations, repression of dissent and theft of public funds. Both Kenyatta administration (1963-1978), and Moi administration (1978-2002) oversaw numerous forms of violations to stay in power.

During their administration, any form of dissent was interpreted as a de facto personal affront to the president rather than [a constructive criticism of] the presidency.

Creation of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in such an environment became untenable, since the state was the biggest purveyor of human rights violation.

The 2002 Elections

But after being in power since independence, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) lost the 2002 elections to the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) – a coalition of opposition parties.

Naturally, since many of them bore the brunt of KANU’s repression, upon assuming power, the new administration wanted to form Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) to inquire into historical injustices, massive or systemic human rights violations, economic crimes and the illegal or irregular acquisition of land committed by the previous ruling party.

Consequently, April 17, 2003, by a special issue of the Kenya Gazette, the Kenyan government through Hon. Kiraitu Murungi, the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, appointed the Task Force on the Establishment of a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission.

Makau Mutua, a law professor and the Chairman of Kenya Human Rights Commission- was appointed to chair the Task Force on the establishment of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission.

The Mandate of the Task Force

The terms of reference of the Task Force were to recommend to the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs whether the establishment of a truth, justice, and reconciliation Commission was necessary for Kenya.

If so, “the Task Force was mandated to recommend to the Minister how and when such a commission should be established; the membership of such a commission; the terms of reference of such a commission; the powers and privileges that should be conferred upon the commission in the execution of its mandate; and the historical period to be covered by the commission’s investigations. The Task Force was empowered to make such further recommendations incidental to the foregoing, as it may consider necessary”.

After public hearings, the Task Force presented its report the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs August 26, 2003. The debate about the establishment of Truth, Justice and Reconciliation was shelved since the administration lost the political will until the 2007-2008 electoral violence. However, during the Kofi Annan led mediation, the formation of a Truth and Justice became an imperative.

And October 2008, the Kenyan Parliament unanimously passed the bill for creating Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to investigate and recommend appropriate action regarding abuses committed between the country’s independence in 1963 and the conclusion of the power-sharing deal of February 28, 2008.

The 2007-2008 electoral violence, and the subsequent mediation by the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan gave the formation of the TJRC further impetus. The commission was established as part of the Agenda Four of the National Reconciliation and Dialogue Accord spearheaded by Annan.
According to the TJRC Act- The law that established it, the commission’s objective were promoting peace, justice, national unity, healing, reconciliation and dignity among the people of Kenya.
Specifically, the TJRC was mandated to investigate and recommend appropriate action on “human rights abuses” committed between December 12, 1963 and February 28, 2008, when President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga signed the peace and power-sharing deal.

This included politically motivated violence, assassinations, displacements and major economic crimes such as grand corruption and irregular acquisition of land.

However, after being launched with fanfare, the commission was beset with leadership crisis.

Commission’s work and the leadership crisis

Few months after starting its work, the commission’s chair Bethuel Kiplagat was accused of being a party to some of the atrocities the commission was meant to investigate. The Chairman denied any involvement. This dragged on for a while.

The wrangle impeded the smooth operation of the commission because it brought unnecessary spotlight. After a while, to facilitate the smooth operation of the commission, the Chair was asked to step aside until his name was cleared.

The law that established the commission- the 2008 Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Act, envisaged such a situation. And the remedy was, the Chief Justice will form a tribunal to establish the veracity of allegation against the accused individual, and declare whether he’s either fit or unfit to lead the commission.

Eroded goodwill

The fight to force the chair to step down until he clears his names paralyzed the commission, with some commissioners threatening to quite unless he steps aside. Indeed the Commission Vice Chair, Betty Murungi, one of the most qualified to serve, resigned from the commission over the controversy. The parliament stepped in and gave the commission an ultimatum, either put your house in order or they’ll be disbanded in 72 hours.

After intense public pressure the embattled Chairman stepped aside, but he went to the High Court and obtained an injunction against the tribunal, which as a result never commenced its work. Subsequently, after the tribunal had lapsed, he approached the court again, which ruled that without a tribunal in place to investigate him, the court cannot decide on the matter. This gave the embattled chair a reprieve and he resumed his position.

By this stage majority of Kenyans were tired of ceaseless fight surrounding the commission. This lost the commission a great deal of public goodwill.

Further, amidst the wrangling, the commission’s constant seeking of extension of its terms also engendered public fatigue. Initially, the commission’s term was meant to expire November 3 2011. However, the commission sought an extension, which it was granted.

This meant the commission would release its report May 3rd 2012. But commission again failed to release its report as per this deadline, and was given a further extension to November 3rd 2012. This extension was contrary to the law that established the commission.

Altering the substance of the report

Compounding the cloud of suspect leadership that besieged the work of the commission, altering of the commission’s report contrary to the 2008 Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Act, raised serious questions about the integrity of the commission’s final report. In particular, the reported interference in the land section- a central driver of electoral conflict In Kenya, by the present administration, casts a significant integrity question on the commission’s work.

Additionally, the subsequent amendment of the 2008 Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Act by the Parliament to give itself the power to amend the report flies in the face of addressing impunity which is central to the formation of the commission in the first place.

While the TJRC Act doesn’t explicitly provides for the Parliament to adopt the report in its entirety, but reports of such commissions are tabled in parliament such that it can take note. This is because the Executive will approach Parliament to allocate funding for implementation of the recommendations.

Above all, despite the president receiving the commissions’ report May 21 2013, and the report being published in the Kenyan Gazette- the official government, June 7 2013, and tabled in parliament, albeit perfunctorily act, but instead of being debated and adopted as is required by the TJRC Act, the Parliament focused on changing the TJRC law to give themselves power to ‘consider’ the report. This means that the requirement for the appointment of an implementation committee and the deadline of six months given in the Act during which implementation should commence have all been missed.

Despite all its failings, the TJRC formation and its report form a reasonable basis for a debate and subsequent policy intervention.