23 Nov 2021 18:26 IST

Africa is facing bigger threats than Covid

Protesters gesture and shout slogans as they demonstrate against the Sudanese military's recent seizure of power and ousting of the civilian government, in the capital Khartoum, Sudan.   -  Mohamed Nureldin | Reuters

The region is grappling with civil war, coups, and terror attacks, necessitating immediate action and reform.

Listening to G20 leaders, one might think that the problems confronting the world are climate change, Covid-19, racial justice, inflation, supply chain issues, and unbridled migration. None of these are front and centre in the forgotten continent of Africa. The huge landmass, which has stunned world leaders with its low Covid infections and death rates, despite an abysmally poor vaccination record, seems preoccupied with bread-and-butter issues that do not seem to concern other members of the world of nations. The challenges are much more existential — a coup in Sudan, a civil war in Ethiopia, and Islamist suicide bombings in Uganda.

Ten years ago, the country of Sudan was a lot larger in size. In 2011, it broke away into Sudan and the smaller country of South Sudan after decades of war, giving hopes that normalcy would finally return. But as it often happens during the first decade of any partition, the situation gets worse before it can get better. In the case of the two Sudans, it is likely to become increasingly worse as time goes on, and this past week was evidence.

According to the Mercy Corps, a global non-governmental organisation, which is deeply invested in South Sudan, over seven million people — about two thirds of the population — are in need of aid, including 6.9 million people experiencing hunger.

Power hungry

In Sudan, towards the north, Abdalla Hamdok, an official with international credentials, was appointed to the high office of Prime Minister in August 2019. The world noticed and aid was promised as there was hope that things would improve. But on October 25, Hamdok was taken to a secret location in a coup planned by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of the military. Pro-democracy groups instantly retaliated, taking to the streets of Khartoum, just as they did in Tunis a few months ago. The military and police responded brutally. Over 15 people died on the latest day of the mass protest.

But, in a strange twist, Hamdok surprised Sudanese by making a public appearance on Sunday with the General who organised the coup and directed his house arrest. The two leaders signed a 14-point agreement which emphasised that the bloodshed should stop. Protesters on the street immediately called foul, accusing the Prime Minister of cleverly teaming up with a military dictator to share power in a pact of convenience. Hamdok will return to office under the agreement but the Sudanese know who will be calling the shots. Sudan has been under military rule for 56 years of its 60-year history.

Demonstrators hold a protest to denounce the US stance on the conflict in Ethiopia, outside the White House.   -  Evelyn Hockstein| Reuters


Meanwhile, Ethiopia, the continent’s second largest country, is in the midst of a civil war. The country is highly diverse, with over 80 different ethnic groups. The Tigrayans, who are about 6 per cent of the population, and 18 per cent of Ethiopia’s powerful military, are launching attacks against the government of Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner, through the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The Tigrayans favour a federal system where the ethnic groups control their individual territories with the central government, a loose enterprise in Addis Ababa, the capital. But Abiy Ahmed, who was elected in 2018, wants more power for the central government and the elimination of the power of the ethnic groups.

Total neglect

Much like the Taliban did in Afghanistan, the TPLF — which was previously the main political party for nearly 25 years until 2018 — is slowly taking key cities in its military advance, including, most recently, the regional capital of Mekelle. And in a replay of Afghanistan, foreign nations, including the UK and the US are asking their citizens to leave. Secretary of State Antony J Blinken arrived this week in the region to urge calm and monitor the situation.

As though to compete for international attention, Uganda, the small nation to the south of South Sudan, is in the news for a different reason altogether. Last week, four innocent civilians died and 30 others were injured when motorcycle attackers wearing suicide vests detonated bombs in Kampala, on the shores of Lake Victoria. The so-called Allied Democratic Forces who are suspected of executing the attack are an affiliate of the Islamic State. Three days ago, Ugandan police shot dead a Muslim cleric who they said secretly coordinated the bombing.

And as I said in my earlier piece about Africa, where I reviewed Jeffrey Gettleman’s book, Africa continues to be the continent that most of us forget unless it raises its hand to draw the world’s attention — through war, poverty, or strife.