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Ahead of African elections

Here’s some of Jamie Thomson (pictured), Senior Risk Analyst at Northcott Global Solutions’ insight ahead of presidential elections in Côte d’Ivoire and Tanzania.

In any situation of national instability – political violence, civil unrest, terrorist militancy or any sort of conflict, the mining industry is likely to experience more attention than usual. Different national actors can be expected to take advantage of insecurity to try to secure the revenue that is generated from major international mining operations. Accordingly, nationalist movements across Africa are pushing for greater national ownership of natural resources, and may use the opportunity granted by any insecurity to make a case for seizing control of foreign-owned assets. (The Tanzanian government has already demonstrated its approach to international mining companies with its 2017 bill to Acacia Mining for $190 billion over alleged owed tax).

African governments and their officials, particularly those that have become increasingly authoritarian in the manner of both Côte d’Ivoire and Tanzania, are likely to become concerned about possible loss of earnings from operational downtime if they start to feel that expats are planning an evacuation in the face of security breakdown. This could prompt the deployment of groups of government supporters: in some African countries these are often party-affiliated or youth militant organisations (such as the Wanagambo or UVCCM in Tanzania). Such groups would pressurise mining projects by seizing control of access routes (particularly infrastructure choke points like bridges and junctions), and setting up roadblocks and barricades. In addition to harming supply chains, this would ultimately add to local instability, and increase the risk of petty and violent crime in the area.

International mining companies therefore have a two-fold problem – securing their personnel and securing their operations. The safety of personnel will depend on thorough and fully resourced evacuation planning. As security situations escalate, evacuation resources can become vulnerable. For instance, aviation may become over-subscribed (some areas of West Africa have a limited number of aircraft available for private charter and many have a poor rotary aviation capability, while some mining sites have limited access to suitable fixed-wing landing locations); or major arteries can easily be blocked by protesters, militant groups or disgruntled employees. If roads are blocked, then operators have a limited amount of time before fuel, food and other supplies begin to run out. The safety of both personnel and operations therefore relies upon making the decision to hibernate or to extract at exactly the right time.

Operators should also consider the longer-term issues. In the wake of any sort of conflict, whether months or years later, an economic downturn is inevitable. During any sort of nationwide recession, local nationals will be looking for employment opportunities or other financial benefits from big mine sites, and will expect engagement from operators. Disgruntled former workers or other unemployed locals may seek to disrupt operations with protests and blockades if they feel that they are not being heard by those in a management position, particularly foreign nationals. Mine site operators will need to consider how best to engage and co-operate with local communities to ensure that everyone can benefit positively from a smooth and ongoing operation in a post-conflict environment.

When faced with the possibility of increased insecurity, mine site operators can only give themselves the opportunity to make the right decisions at the right time if they conduct detailed preparations, considering evacuation planning, security mitigation, emergency medical and transport options, all overseen by clear and thorough risk and threat assessments pertinent to their location and situation. Nationwide conflict in the wake of the presidential elections in both Tanzania and Côte d’Ivoire is clearly possible, but the risks to personnel and to operations can be managed if given serious consideration in enough time.

Likelihood of violent civil unrest

Tanzania –

Violence after the 2010 election led to three deaths, so there is a precedent for major tensions around elections. Zanzibar, already interested in increasing its autonomy, could descend into serious widespread violence if it experiences the same censorship that it did in 2015, as the local population already has a tense relationship with Dodoma. The increased authoritarianism by the government over the last five years has stoked political tensions within regional communities, so although the opposition may not be able to organise large-scale protests at the moment, they may break out organically in major urban areas, particularly in Dodoma and Dar es-Salaam. Importantly, the national security forces have a habit of using tear gas and even live ammunition to control crowds: any post-election protest that is met with this sort of response will be treated as an attempt by the government to use violence against the electorate, and will only perpetuate the violence.

Côte d’Ivoire –

A consideration of the situation in neighbouring Guinea is insightful. There, President Condé’s decision to run for a third term in office resulted in two years of protests, in which dozens of people died. Since last weekend’s election, violence has already been reported after both Condé and the opposition challenger Cellou Dalein Diallo claimed victory. At least three opposition protesters have reportedly been killed by security forces in civil unrest since the election.

In exactly the same vein, President Ouattara has amended the constitution in an attempt to make a case for a third term in office. This meddling has not been well received by the public, and has resulted in months of civil unrest against him. If Ouattara wins, there is a ready-made reason for protesters to demonstrate against his victory. Since the removal of 40 potential presidential candidates from the list by the Constitutional Council, major opposition figures (including Henri Konan Bédié, Laurent Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro) have called for civil disobedience to protest against Ouattara, so the environment for unrest has already been set.

It is very likely that the election results will be close, regardless of how rigged they might prove to be. Criticisms have already been raised about voter registration, so it is hard to image the opposition accepting any claim of victory by Ouattara’s team. The inevitable result will be violent civil unrest in major cities, primarily Abidjan and Yamoussoukro. They may even go further: the 2010 elections were so divisive that they resulted in a civil war that claimed at least 3,000 lives, and Ouattara’s presidency has not done much to heal the ethnic and social divisions that lay behind that conflict.

(The full insight report also covers intimidation of opposition, suppression of the media, electoral fraud, and a backdrop of ‘deeper national problems’.)

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About the firm

London-based Northcott Global Solutions is an emergency evacuation company that runs tracking, remote medical and security operations for global clients; whether the emergency is natural, typically such as extreme weather, flood or fire; or man-made, such as political instability. Visit

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