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2019 in Africa: pro-democracy uprisings, regime change and terrorism in the Sahel

From left, former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, former Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
From left, former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, former Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Pierre Dejong, Zacharias Abubeker, AFP

From Felix Tshisekedi’s rise to power in the Democratic Republic of Congo to the fall of Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria and the acquittal of former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, Africa was rocked by seminal change throughout 2019. FRANCE 24 takes a look.

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For pro-democracy protesters, 2019 got off to an auspicious start. Political change would sweep the continent throughout the year, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where an electoral battle for the country’s leadership proved a harbinger of the winds of change.

Felix Tshisekedi succeeds Joseph Kabila in DR Congo

On January 19, after a controversial election, Felix Tshisekedi, son of longtime opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, was proclaimed the DR Congo’s new president with 38.57% of the vote.

Runner-up Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary came third in the poll, while incumbent Joseph Kabila was forced to give up his seat after 18 years in power. But the results were met with widespread scepticism by the international community and were contested by the Catholic Church, which announced that the real winner was in fact opponent Martin Fayulu, who polled second. 

International Criminal Court acquits Laurent Gbagbo

After being held for nearly seven years at the International Criminal Court detention centre for crimes against humanity committed during the 2010-2011 post-election crisis, former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo and his youth minister Charles Blé Goudé were acquitted in January of all charges against them.

Few saw the explosive verdict coming in a three-year-long trial.

The International Criminal Court initially ordered their immediate release. But prosecutor Fatou Bensouda appealed against the judgement on procedural grounds. The former Ivorian president is currently on parole in Belgium, awaiting news of a possible appeal. Blé Goudé remains in the Netherlands under similar conditions.

A year of revolution in Algeria

In Algeria, the popular protest movement, known as the Hirak, shows little sign of waning despite the election of a new president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, on December 12.

The Hirak continues to draw thousands of people onto the streets of Algiers, and several other major cities in the country, every Friday. It began spontaneously on February 16, sparked by an announcement that then president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who had been in power for 20 years, was planning to run for a fifth term despite his poor health.

Under pressure from the street, Bouteflika, whose public appearances were becoming increasingly rare, finally resigned on April 2. But this did nothing to assuage protesters who continued to call for the removal of an entire governing elite that they considered nepotistic and corrupt. The protest movement eventually forced the arrest of several of the regime's leaders, including Said Bouteflika, brother of the deposed president.

Overthrow of Omar al-Bashir in Sudan

Sudan’s aggrieved citizens looked to Algeria for inspiration for their own pro-democracy movement. Last December, a first rally was held to protest against the rising cost of bread and petrol. Soon after, thousands more took to the streets of Khartoum, and several other Sudanese cities, to demonstrate against inflation and demand better living conditions.

They railed against their leader and longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir, who had ruled the country for 30 years. The vast protest movement continued unabated even though the Sudanese president was deposed by the army in April. More than 250 people were killed in clashes between protesters and the military.

After bitter negotiations between the political opposition, civil society and the military, a Sovereign Transitional Council was formed. On August 15, Abdalla Hamdok, a former senior UN official, was appointed prime minister to head up the country’s transitional government for the next three years, until elections can be held.

Terrorism in the Sahel

The Sahel witnessed the continuing scourge of terrorism throughout 2019. In northern Mali, jihadist groups affiliated to the Islamic State group attacked several military bases in Niger and Burkina Faso, despite the presence of French troops from France’s anti-terrorist Barkhane force, and the joint forces of the G5 Sahel.

The December attack against the Inates military base in Niger killed 71 soldiers, following an earlier attack on the Indelimane camp in mid-November, which left more than 50 dead. Nearly 1,500 civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks since January, according to the UN.

Several countries on the frontlines of the fight against terrorism in the Sahel pleaded for more support from the international community. French President Emmanuel Macron responded by organising a summit on January 13 in Pau in southwestern France to meet with regional leaders to reassess France’s military engagement in the region.

Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

When Ethiopia’s newly elected prime minister, 43-year-old Abiy Ahmed, came to power in April, he wasted no time in asserting his progressive agenda in a country marked by social injustice and lack of freedoms.

In October, his parliament elected a woman, Sahle-Work Zewde, as head of state for the first time. A few days earlier, he demonstrated his commitment to gender parity by appointing ten men and ten women to his cabinet.

But it was his rapprochement with Eritrea that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. In July, Ahmed signed a joint declaration of peace and cooperation with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, ending 20 years of war in which 80,000 people were killed.

Death of Tunisian President Béji Caïd Essebsi

Tunisia's first freely elected president, Béji Caïd Essebsi died at the age of 92, just a few months before presidential elections originally scheduled for November. A symbol of Tunisia’s post-Arab spring, he was first appointed prime minister of a provisional government in February 2011 after the fall of former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and was tasked with preparing a new constitution in the wake of the nation’s pro-democracy uprisings.

Nine months later, he left office to found his Nidaa Tounes party, with which he won the presidential election in 2014 at the age of 88.

The end of the CFA franc

On a visit to Ivory Coast’s economic capital of Abidjan on December 21, President Emmanuel Macron and Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara announced the launch of the “Eco”, a revamped common currency that replaces the CFA in West Africa. The new single currency will be introduced across ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) in 2020.

The CFA franc was created by France in 1945, then a colonial power, and was seen by its detractors as a lingering symbol of colonialism almost 60 years after independence had been declared in the former French colonies.

The currency, shared by 14 West and Central African countries, had crystallised tensions and divided public opinion among Africans. Anti-CFA economists believed that the currency kept Africa underdeveloped through its fixed parity mechanism with the euro, guaranteed by France. In return, France required African countries to pay about 50 per cent of their foreign exchange reserves to the French Treasury.

But for others, the CFA franc was seen as a guarantee of economic stability. Ouattara sought to reassure ECOWAS, saying that the new currency will remain pegged to the euro, thereby guaranteeing its stability.

This article has been adapted from the original in French.
 

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