Below is my analysis of the possibilities for unrest and violence in the countries in larger eastern Africa – Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Burundi, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda. This is in the order of likely unrest/violence. The situation is dire in many of these countries and deteriorating in most of them.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC):

People displaced from North Kivu Province of the DRC.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has the highest number of refugees and internally displaced people in the world – including Syria and Iraq which get much more publicity. In 2016 President Joseph Kabila was unable to overturn the term limits in the DRC constitution so he has stayed in office through procrastination, postponing the election again and again. He has been asked to agree not to run for re-election, but so far he has not made this commitment. Formerly most of the unrest in DRC was in eastern Congo, but it now has spread to other parts of the country. There are an uncountable, ever changing number of rebel groups in the country. If an election is conducted in December as planned there will probably be considerable violence including property destruction and deaths. If there is no election, violence will also occur as the opposition demands the election and the Congolese troops respond with intimidation and violence. Angola, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Kenya are seeing, and will be seeing, more and more refugees from the DRC, straining their capacity to handle the situation.


Al-Shabaab soldiers in Somalia who are trying to topple the government.

Although there are over 20,000 troops from various African countries trying to train and shore up the Somalia military in a program called AMISOM, there is little indication that this is working. After over a decade the international community has become tired of supplying the troops and money for control that the Somalia government has been unable to do. Uganda is currently withdrawing 1000 of its troops by the end of the year and the whole operation is supposed to end by 2020. Although the international community keeps claiming progress and success, I don’t see it as Al-Shabaab continues to control large areas of the countryside, conducts major raids in Mogadishu, its capital – on October 14 over 500 people were killed in a truck bomb in the city –, and with little evidence that the Somalia army, beset by corruption and clan politics, is able to replace the foreign troops.

Under Donald Trump’s authorization, the number of American troops has doubled to about 500 and this year at least one has been killed. The number of drone attacks and navy SEAL operations has escalated. On August 25 a botched raid with American soldiers killed ten Somali farmers including three children. American involvement will only increase the number of casualties in a conflict that will never be solved by military means. Although there are suggestions of negotiations with Al-Shabaab nothing concrete has occurred to date.

South Sudan:

South Sudanese fleeing into Sudan.

Approximate 2 million South Sudanese have fled the country and another 2 million have been displaced inside the country. This is almost one-third of the 12 million population of the country. Due to the conflict and drought this year, a part of South Sudan was declared a famine area, the first in the world in six years. The fighting kept relief organizations from supplying needed food and medicine to the most affected area.

South Sudan, the newest nation in the world, is a creature of the US War on Terror as mostly Christian South Sudan was shaved off of mostly Muslim Sudan. In the six years of its existence it has never had a properly functioning government. In 2016 when clashes began between the elites of the ruling tribes, the little that was functioning collapsed. No resolution seems in sight as more people flee the country, others become internally displaced, the violence keeps people from farming and cattle raiding escalates. The over one million refugees fleeing to northern Uganda have overwhelmed the capacity of Uganda to deal with the situation.


Police/demonstrator conflict after President Nkurunziza declared president for a third term.

Since the disputed re-election of President Nkurinziza for a third term in 2015, Burundi has remained in crisis. The economy, always weak, has crashed and Burundi is now the poorest country in the world. About 4% of the population has fled the country including the leaders of the opposition parties, civil rights workers, and many NGO employees. One thousand to two thousand people have been killed during the conflict. The youth militia, called Imbonerakure, affiliated with the ruling party, has enforced political correctness in all parts of the country by attacking anyone suspected of opposing the current government. The Burundian government has continued to oppose any dialogue with the opposition, withdrew Burundi from the International Criminal Court, and imposed currency restrictions that leave the country sometimes unable to pay for imports including petrol and diesel. In some cases anti-Tutsi hate speech has occurred. The Burundian government has closed the border with Rwanda and has accused it of trying to destabilize the country by supporting armed rebels – Rwanda naturally denies this. The 2020 election cycle is already in progress with a change in the constitution so that Nkurunziza can run again and can become another “dictator for life.”


The Ugandan police and large army brutally repress any demonstrations opposing the current government.

In 1986 President Yoweri Museveni fought his way to power in Uganda. In 2005 he ended term limits in the constitution so that he could run for another five-year term. Since he controls the electoral commission, he won another term in 2017 in a disputed election. Now for the 2022 election he needs to change the constitution again to remove the requirement that the president must be under 75 years of age. This proposal has been passed by the legislature which he also controls and has led to major resistance from Ugandans. The police and military have responded to demonstrations with brutal tactics. Corruption is rampant and increasing. Museveni seems to be promoting his son to be his successor. Since the election is still more than four years away, the expectation is for increased unrest by the opposition and increased suppression of Ugandans by the government.


Ethiopians demonstrating against their government.

Ethiopia’s government is dominated by ethnic Tigray, who make up six percent of Ethiopia’s 99 million population. The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been in power for 25 years and there is no opposition member in the country’s parliament. Ethiopia is using the strategy of significant economic development – considered one of the highest in the world – to compensate for its authoritarian tendencies. This collapsed last year when large demonstrations occurred protesting the regime’s policies which had given much of the benefit of economic development to the ruling Tigray minority. In particular many foreign companies who had been part of the economic development were attacked and destroyed for their Tigray involvement. Expect further opposition to the government with increased suppression. This last Monday fifteen more demonstrators were killed by the police.


Demonstration by the NASA opposition for the October 26 re-vote since no significant reforms were made in the election commission after the August 8 election was overturned by the Kenyan Supreme Court. NASA boycotted the election so Uhuru Kenyatta of Jubilee Party won re-election with 98% but only 38% of the registered voters casting a ballot.

2017 was a year of election campaigning, voting, and then a re-vote. The result, rather than bringing a resolution of the fact that over half the population feels marginalized since independence in 1963 by the Kikuyu and Kalenjin tribes, has increased tensions and alienation making the country more divided than at the beginning of the year. The Kenyan security forces have responded to demonstrations with excessive violence including the use of massive amounts of tear gas, water cannons, and live ammunition (contrary to international law). Somewhere between 65 and 100 people including children and innocent bystanders have been killed since the first election on August 8. The resort to state violence is an indication of how insecure the government is as it refuses any negotiations with the opposition.


Tanzanian opposition politician Tundu Lissu who survived an attempted assassination on September 7 and is now recovering in a Kenyan hospital. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Normally I would not even report on Tanzania because, unlike all the other countries in eastern Africa, except for violence on the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, Tanzania has not experienced chaos, violence, and military involvement in governance. This year this has changed as Tanzania is becoming more like it unruly neighbors. In November 2015 John Magufuli was elected president of Tanzania as a member of the ruling party that has controlled politics there since independence in 1961. He, nicknamed “the bulldozer”, has turned to the authoritarianism common in the region. On September 7, a leading opposition leader, Tundu Lissu, barely survived an assassination attempt, shortly thereafter eight members of the opposition were arrested, MPs were forbidden to speak to audiences outside their constituency (thereby keeping the opposition from expanding to government controlled constituencies), and so on. It is unclear at this time if this repression will increase or not, but if it does, Tanzania will unfortunately become much more like the other countries in eastern Africa.


President Paul Kagame campaigning for re-election for the August 4 vote for another seven year term. He won overwhelmingly.

President Paul Kagame continues to exert tight control over Rwanda. Those who oppose his regime are forced to flee to other countries. As a result there is little opposition or resistance. Rwanda is at loggerheads with Burundi and accommodates 80,000 Burundian refugees. There are also a considerable number of refugees of Rwandan ethnicity from North Kivu of the DRC. Tensions between Rwanda and Uganda are increasing as the Rwandan government accuses the Ugandan government of supporting opponents of Kagame’s regime. Economically Rwanda has developed considerably since the end of the genocide in 1994, but growth is slowing down as Rwanda is seeing the same constraints to growth that other countries in the region experience. This includes unsustainable spending on mega-projects leading to mounting interest rate expenses.



Wow. This seems bleak. It is, of course, unclear where the next major upheavals will occur. Perhaps the local population, religious and business leaders, those in government, and/or pressure from the international community will lead to unexpected improvements. Let us hope so. On the positive side the drought that occurred in most of this region during the first half of 2017 has ended and now flooding is often the weather related problem. I plan on keeping you informed of developments, both good and bad.

In another sense this increase in authoritarianism and repression by government security forces mirrors similar developments in other parts of the world. Turkey and the Philippines are prime examples. President Donald Trump’s approval of authoritarian leaders and the neglect of human rights have embolden foreign leaders including some of these in eastern Africa to become more repressive. 


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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region. He is an analyst on eastern Africa issues for TVC News in Lagos, Nigeria.


David Zarembka

Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC)

Phone 254 (0)726 590 783
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