CW 34/2021: Far-reaching decisions
Press Review 21 August 2021 to 27 August 2021

Algeria breaks off diplomatic relations with Morocco 

Last Monday, Algeria severed its diplomatic relations with Morocco. The decision was announced by Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra at a press conference on Tuesday. Lamamra accused the Moroccan side of waging a systematic war against his home country and of using Israeli spy software against Algiers. The Moroccan Foreign Ministry regretted the decision from Algiers and classified it as a completely unjustified step. However, this escalation was preceded by clearly noticeable tensions in the past months, so the current, temporary low point in Algerian-Moroccan relations comes as no surprise. Relations between the two Maghreb states have long been difficult and conflict-ridden. For Morocco, Algeria’s recognition of the independence of the Western Sahara in particular put a strain on relations. Both countries also accuse each other of supporting separatist movements in each other’s countries. Against the background of the latest developments, Algeria recalled its ambassador from the Moroccan capital Rabat in July after the Moroccan ambassador to the United Nations (UN) spoke out in favour of self-determination for Kabylia. In this region in the north-east of the country, mainly inhabited by Berbers, the Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylia (MAK) has been fighting for the autonomy of the province since its foundation in 2001. Most recently, the Algerian authorities had held the MAK partly responsible for the devastating forest fires of recent weeks and accused Morocco of actively supporting them. The fires have destroyed thousands of hectares of forest and claimed at least 90 lives. In addition, Morocco’s rapprochement with Israel is said to have contributed to Algeria’s decision to break off diplomatic relations with its neighbour. Algiers has traditionally supported the Palestinian side in the Middle East conflict. Morocco, on the other hand, has begun normalising its relations with the Israeli state after former US President Donald Trump officially recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara late last year. A fortnight ago, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited Morocco for the first time and criticised Algeria’s role in the region. Algiers interpreted this visit as a hostile act on the part of its neighbouring country.


Kenya’s Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) upheld as unconstitutional

On August 20, the Court of Appeal in Nairobi officially upheld a ruling by Kenya’s High Court that the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) was unconstitutional. The initiative was considered the most important reform project of incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta ahead of the highly anticipated parliamentary and presidential elections in August 2022. At its core was the holding of a constitutional referendum that, among other things, provided for the reintroduction of a prime minister’s post as well as the abolition of the controversial “winner-take-all” electoral principle. The initiative was launched by Kenyatta and his long-time political adversary Raila Odinga after the so-called “handshake” that ushered in reconciliation between the two political heavyweights in March 2018 following the disputed 2017 elections. According to its initiators, the BBI was meant to facilitate more inclusive politics and thus also reduce the periodic political violence surrounding presidential elections. Critics, however, see in the BBI mainly unjustifiably high costs as well as an attempt by the political elite to distribute posts among themselves. This would allow Kenyatta, who is not eligible to run for president after two terms, to remain in power as prime minister while supporting Raila Odinga in his fifth attempt to become the elected head of state of the East African nation. However, the current ruling by the Kenyan judiciary, seen as another sign of its independence, puts a stop to the necessary referendum. In its reasoning, the court writes that the president is not empowered to initiate constitutional amendments, but that according to the constitution, this right is reserved only for parliament or a popular initiative. With the failure of the BBI, the alliance of Kenyatta and Odinga is also on shaky ground. The beneficiary of the situation is Vice President William Ruto. Ruto, who was indicted at the International Criminal Court in the aftermath of the 2007/2008 post-electoral violence just as Kenyatta was, albeit on different sides, had supported Kenyatta’s presidency in both 2013 and 2017 and conversely relied on Kenyatta’s backing for his own candidacy in 2022. However, since the BBI at the latest, Ruto’s political isolation has been on the rise, and the relationship between Kenyatta and his vice is considered to be fractured. Only on Tuesday, Kenyatta called on Ruto to resign should he be dissatisfied with the government’s work. However, an end to the BBI could now reshuffle the cards in Kenya’s power struggle.


In other news 

Last Saturday, the tenth edition of the Chale Wote Street Arts Festival in Accra celebrated its grand conclusion. For one week, the street arts festival took place in the former Ussher Fort prison in the Jamestown district, featuring a colourful mix of art, music, dance and performance. For a long time, the organisers had hoped to hold the festival normally, but due to the ongoing Covid 19 regulations, this event also had to be held virtually at short notice. The vision of this festival is to attract a broad audience to art by using public space once a year to exhibit and show works that often only happen in galleries. Organised exclusively by volunteers, the festival has become a tourist magnet that usually attracts thousands of spectators every year.

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