By Nosmot Gbadamosi
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The highlights this week: The Israel-Hamas war’s potential regional spillover effects, the Sudan coup’s two-year anniversary, and Nigeria’s legal victory in a U.K. court.
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People wave the Palestinian flag during a protest in solidarity with Gaza in Tunis, Tunisia, on Oct. 21.Fethi Belaid/AFP via Getty Images
As the Israel-Hamas war continues, leaders in the Middle East and Africa are increasingly worried that the violence and instability could spill over into the wider region. There are concerns that public anger against Israel’s regular bombardment of the Gaza Strip, which is home to 2.3 million residents, is serving to, in the words of the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, “reignite grievances and reanimate alliances” in the Middle East and North Africa, where another Arab Spring uprising can’t be ruled out.
“We have a significant worry that we could slide into a religious conflict and an expansion of the confrontation,” Arab League chief and former Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Saturday at a peace summit in Cairo convened by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Nine leaders and five premiers from Arab and European countries, along with high-level representatives from the United Nations, European Union, and African Union, attended the summit.
Security analysts point to the 2011 uprising in Libya, which led to the NATO-backed removal of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi and a proliferation of weapons as well as Islamist terrorism across the Sahel, as an example of the unpredictable ramifications of such instability.
Mass pro-Palestine protests have been held across the Middle East, including in Egypt, Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia. Egypt in particular is at risk of destabilization given its shared border with Gaza and control over the Rafah crossing, the only non-Israeli-controlled border into the territory. Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, Danny Ayalon, told Sky News that the “people of Gaza should evacuate” to “the Sinai border in Egypt … and Egypt will have to accept them.”
Sisi argued that this could cause Sinai to become “a base for terrorist operations against Israel” and proposed that refugees could instead be housed in Israel’s Negev desert. Arab nations fear an exodus of Palestinians from Gaza would allow Israel to reoccupy the territory and permanently displace the population. At the Saturday peace summit, Sisi reiterated that “the liquidation of the Palestinian cause without a just solution” would “never happen at the expense of Egypt.”
What’s more, many Egyptians are already disgruntled with Sisi over the economy as the country heads into an election in December, providing a volatile mix. Critics have accused Sisi of piggybacking off public anger over Gaza to improve his approval ratings. He called for nationwide protests in support of the Palestinian cause last Friday—a rarity given his yearslong clampdown on political activism.
Cairo’s Tahrir Square—the epicenter of the 2011 Arab Spring protests that ousted former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak—was not listed among sites at which people could demonstrate, and participants who gathered in the square were brutally removed by police. More than 100 people were arrested for being at the square or for demonstrating against Sisi.
Experts also fear the conflict could motivate Islamist militant groups in Africa to capitalize on public anger over the humanitarian crisis to garner support and legitimacy. In Somalia, for instance, the al Qaeda-affiliated group al-Shabab held pro-Palestine protests. As FP’s Lynne O’Donnell reported, “The broader impact of the Hamas attacks—even before a potentially escalating regional war—is the possibility that terrorist groups around the world will try to match the spectacular carnage that Hamas pulled off earlier this month.”
And as Ghaith al-Omari, a former Palestinian Authority official now at the Washington Institute, noted, “You can destroy all of [Hamas’s] physical infrastructure, but it’s very hard to destroy the idea.” As public anger extends toward Arab leaders, there is a fear that the war could spark new unrest.
Tuesday, Oct. 24, to Wednesday, Oct. 25: The first European Union-Namibia Business Forum focused on green energy and critical raw materials is held in Brussels.
Wednesday, Oct. 25, to Thursday, Oct. 26: The 2nd Africa Air Force Forum on evolving security challenges is held in Dakar, Senegal.
Thursday, Oct. 26: Sudanese warring parties to meet in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Sunday, Oct. 29: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz begins a three-day trip to Nigeria and Ghana.
Kenya troop delay. A Kenyan court on Tuesday extended an order preventing the government from deploying 1,000 police officers to Haiti until a court case is resolved. A petition against the U.S.- and U.N.-backed mission was brought by opposition politician Ekuru Aukot and two civilians. Kenya’s Parliament has to give formal consent before the mission can start. The case resumes on Nov. 9.
Sudan civil war. Today marks two years since the Oct. 25 military coup in Sudan and just over six months since fighting broke out in the capital, Khartoum, between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. The fighting has now spread beyond Khartoum into other towns, and 9,000 people have been killed so far.
Yet aid agencies say the conflict has been largely forgotten by the international community and that they have received little support from international donors. And last week, Médecins Sans Frontières, one of the few organizations active in Khartoum, was forced to suspend support for lifesaving surgery in a hospital in south Khartoum because it said the Sudanese military has blocked medical supplies from getting to the area for over a month.
On Saturday, the Sudanese army’s deputy commander in chief announced that both parties in the conflict had agreed to resume cessation talks in Saudi Arabia, which are scheduled to take place on Thursday.
Niger coup. The European Union said on Monday that it had begun steps to impose sanctions on Niger’s military junta, which overthrew the country’s democratically elected leader in July. The bloc’s foreign-policy chief said the move “sends a clear message” that “military coups bear costs.” Deposed former President Mohamed Bazoum has remained under house arrest since the July 26 coup. The military government said last week it foiled an escape attempt by Bazoum.
France, meanwhile, has started moving its troops to Chad after Niger’s junta demanded the roughly 1,400 French soldiers stationed in Niger leave the country. According to Agence France-Presse, it marked the third time in 18 months that French troops have been kicked out of a former African colony.
South Africa to regain top spot. South Africa could briefly overtake Nigeria as the continent’s largest economy next year, according to International Monetary Fund forecasts. South African gross domestic product is estimated to reach $401 billion based on current prices in 2024, compared with Nigeria’s $395 billion and Egypt’s $358 billion. This is due to Nigeria’s and Egypt’s struggles with dollar shortages and devaluation of their currencies. However, South Africa is expected to fall once again to third place behind Nigeria and Egypt in 2026 once both nations recover.
Nigeria off the hook. On Monday, Nigeria won a high court case in the United Kingdom against paying $11 billion to Process & Industrial Developments (P&ID), an offshore company based in the British Virgin Islands. The court found P&ID had paid bribes to a former Nigerian minister to gain a contract in 2010 to build a gas plant that never materialized; yet almost a decade later, P&ID wanted Nigeria to pay $6.6 billion for breach of contract. The figure soared to $11.4 billion with interest—representing about a third of Nigeria’s 2024 budget—after the government refused to pay, claiming the project was a scam. Nigerian President Bola Tinubu described the verdict as a victory for all African nations against “overt exploitation.”
Egypt’s Palestinian catalyst. In Africa Is a Country, Hossam el-Hamalawy argues that Sisi is right to be worried about the impact of the Israel-Hamas war on his regime. As far back as Egypt’s 1967 defeat in the Arab-Israeli War, conflicts involving the Palestinian cause often produce anti-regime dissent in Egypt. Sisi is competing against pressure from all sides, including from global leaders, Egyptian unions, and the public. While he has so far managed to quash dissent, the overwhelming support for Palestine among Egyptians could serve as “a potential flashpoint that could erupt spontaneously,” el-Hamalawy writes.
Nigeria’s oil theft problem. In Context News, Bukola Adebayo reports on a community in Lagos whose water sources have been polluted for more than three decades following a 1994 oil leak linked to oil theft. Samples collected by Context showed homes and schools are still contaminated despite assurances by the government that it would look into the issue.