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East Africa and Yemen Regional Context Analysis 2021

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Regional Context

This document will focus on the political and conflict dynamics that underpin and define the parameters of the humanitarian response in the Greater Horn and Yemen. In doing so it will seek to provide a brief overview of some of the broader dynamics influencing the region, and to identify trends and trajectories that will influence the region in the coming year. But since it is impossible to predict the future, this paper also embraces uncertainty, and accepts that the most likely outcomes will lie somewhere in between the various elements of the scenarios presented.

1. The Region: Fragility, fracture and recovery

The Greater Horn of Africa region (incorporating Yemen, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya,
Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan and Sudan) faces greater levels of instability, and greater levels of humanitarian need than at any time in recent years.

The past year was undoubtedly an extraordinary year, and the longer-term impact of Covid-19 on the economies, societies and health infrastructure in the region is still to be determined. East Africa is expected to lead the continent in economic recovery from Covid-19, and had seen the fastest and most sustained economic growth in Africa until the pandemic – albeit growth that masked public debt and wealth inequality – yet it is the implications of the region’s interlinked and overlapping ecosystems of conflict and instability that will drive humanitarian needs in 2021.

This paper will focus on the political dynamics in the region’s most unstable countries, but it is also worth noting that recent elections in Tanzania and Uganda unsurprisingly returned incumbents who deployed violence and the resources of the state to undermine their opponents, and silence the media. These election outcomes were the result of years of narrowing of the political space, and concerted policies to constrain dissent. Kenya’s political culture of perpetual election cycles will also be tested in June 2021 with a referendum on major constitutional changes that will potentially open old political wounds. While all these trends are significant indicators of democratic state development, they will be unlikely to degenerate into drivers of humanitarian needs in 2021 on the scale of the countries featured below.