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Belt and Road in Africa: Opportunities and Challenges

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China’s „One Belt One Road “Initiative has been allocated as its most determined project ever in trying to shape and influence behavior in the international system in line with her growing figure. At the same time, mounting Sino-Africa relations have been the subject of scholarly debate with supporters taking an optimistic view, also presented by China herself, of this relationship being a win-win partnership. Critics led by the US argue China is just using Africa to extract resources for its use, an allegation she disproves. The authors therefore sought to look at Sino-African relations but focusing on the implementation of One Belt, One Road, in the African continent.

OBOR is a mixture of two outward-facing notions introduced by Mr Xi in late 2013 to uphold economic engagement and investment along two main routes. To date, reports suggest that the first route, the New Silk Road Economic Belt, will run westward overland through Central Asia and onward to Europe. The second route, the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, will probably circle south and westward by sea towards Europe, with proposed stops in South-east Asia, South Asia and Africa. Being the center of china’s foreign policy since 2013 study on OBOR in Africa will give an understanding and fully answer some questions surrounding these relations.

China’s approach to international diplomacy is growing. Having long sought to maintain a “low profile” on the global stage, it has in recent years begun to advocate a greater role for itself in the international order. Chinese companies are also leaving the comforts of their home-based market and going overseas, seeking to blow new markets and acquire new machineries. China’s president, Xi Jinping, is ramping up efforts to reinforce China’s global position. He has proclaimed a number of high-profile multilateral initiatives intended to advance China’s international existence and promote closer ties with more countries. The main initiative under this impulse, “one belt, one road” (OBOR), promises to be among the widest-reaching of these. It not only represents a renewed, stronger and better co-ordinated push to expand China’s influence overseas, but it is also coupled with a domestic investment drive, in which nearly every Chinese province has a stake.

In a period of three decades, China has transformed from an agricultural, self-contained and inward looking state into a global economic capital second only to the United States (Cheung & Lee, 2015). In line with her growing stature in the international system, China has sought to exert influence on the global stage, from Latin America, Middle East, South East Asia, to Africa. One way of achieving this and as part of China’s „global grand strategy‟ is the 21st Century Silk Road Economic Belt Initiative, informally known as One Belt, One Road‟. In the same vain, Sino-African relations have grown exponentially since the 1955Bandung conference. The original „Silk Road‟ was established over 2100 years ago during the Han Dynasty to promote trade and cultural development between China, Asia, Africa. The „New Silk Road Economic Belt‟ launched tenderly as “One Belt One Road‟ initiative or Yídàiyílù was introduced by china’s President Xi Jinping as the centerpiece of his foreign and economic policy in 2013. It is by far the most significant and far-reaching project China has ever embarked on however  the One Belt One Road project or is fundamentally comprised of two interdependent and interrelated concepts; the „Silk Road Economic Belt‟ and the „Maritime Silk Road‟. Essentially, the „belt‟ is comprised of a network of roads, rails, power grids and gas pipelines that run over land from Central China in Xi‟an, the capital of Shanxi Province through Central Asia, to Moscow, Rotterdam and Venice. This corporation of infrastructural projects will consequently pass through a number of countries. The Maritime Silk Road on the other hand is its oceanic counterpart. This involves the construction of a network of sea ports in the South China Sea, Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean. It will essentially connect South East Asia, Oceania, East Africa and North Africa through the Mediterranean. the essential pillars of the initiative are „promotion of policy coordination, facilitating connectivity, unhindered trade, financial integration people-to-people bonds and the African section of the belt and road is of concern for this article. It covers three countries; Kenya, Djibouti and Egypt.

According to Xinhua News Agency, three countries in Africa are directly involved in the belt and road initiative; Kenya, Djibouti and Egypt. However, the extent of their involvement is unclear, with many documents indicating Egypt as the sole African state to be involved in this initiative. Various factors have been attributed for the inclusion of these exclusive three African states into the center piece of china’s 21st Century diplomacy;

According to the realism theory of international relations world politics has been characterized by power politics. In the context of security and global geopolitics the horn of Africa region and the Suez Canal has been traditionally a Western-controlled zone with the US and her allies being the primary guarantor for maritime security. Any powerful state controls the security of that region, also controls the maritime trade routes between Asia, Europe and Africa. Egypt and Djibouti, two of the three African states part of the OBOR are strategically located at the heart of global geo-politics playground. Djibouti is quite unique as it now hosts military bases for the US, France and now China. While the fight against pirates has often been cited as the propellant behind this, one can’t quite push the power struggles as being the true variable for these great power shaving such a heavy military presence in the region. The entry into Djibouti and the region by China could slope and re align security partnerships that have underpinned global order since 1945 but For Egypt, its strategic geographical location at the Suez Canal gives it an indispensable status, explaining why it’s the only African nation to officially sign bilateral agreements with China on One Belt, One Road.

The initiative simply cannot afford to exclude Egypt. On the other hand, the inclusion of Djibouti has been a result of logical‟ assumptions than from official statements. This can purely be explained under the quest for global dominance and the geopolitics of the horn of Africa as stated earlier. With 30% of world shipping going through the entrance of the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean and on to the Suez Canal, Djibouti and Egypt are very critical.

In addition the opportunities can be eye from different aspects firstly the 1,780km Tanzania Zambia Railway line (TAZARA) has symbolized china’s presence in Africa since the 1970‟s. Currently China is involved in numerous mega infrastructural projects in Africa. For purposes of this paper, some of those which lie within the mandate of OBOR will be highlighted. Top on the list is the 2,700kmEast African Railway line. This includes Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. As indicated earlier, extent of involvement of OBOR affiliated institutions in financing the Kenyan part are not clear, though China‟s Exim bank has been linked. 8Another major railway project is the 1,315km Kano-Lagos railway line in Nigeria, the 1,302km Bengue railway line in Angola (which brings to total 4,000km railway in Angola constructed by China), 560km Belinga-Santa Clara railway in Gabon, 172km railway in Libya and 430km rail in Mauritania to name but a few. To put this into perspective, the entire African rail network is 50,000km.On the other hand, China is constructing port facilities in Kenya, Tanzania, Gabon, and Djibouti among others, with most road construction being handled by Chinese contractors, using Chinese financing. The 1302km Angola railway line will be linked with Angola-Zambia and TAZARA in future. On port construction, China is involved in construction of the Lamumega port in Kenya, Bagamoyo port in Tanzania, Santa Clara deep water port in Gabon amongst others9. It’s safe to say even without OBOR therefore, China is heavily involved in opening up Africa.

What Can OBOR Offer On Infrastructure?

Firstly, with China involved in all these infrastructural projects in Africa, coupled with OBOR‟s vision for improving connectivity among countries, the initiative will offer a centralized, clear vision, and concerted effort in streamlining infrastructural development in Africa. A case in point is the railway line in Angola which is complete on their side of the border, but under-utilized because neither Democratic Republic of Congo nor Zambia have linked up to connect to the port, hence hindering efforts to export their products. Secondly, capital for infrastructural development in Africa comes from various Chinese bank loans under individual bilateral agreements entered into by these countries. Through OBOR, the capital inflow can be clearly centrally monitored through the AIIB and the SRF. This need is further strengthened with China signing a memorandum of understanding with the African Union (AU) in January 2015 to connect all 54 countries with high speed rails, ports and roads. The traditional „equatorial land bridge‟ which is the natural trade route between East and West Africa can be a good starting point for OBOR in Africa expansion. This route begins in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Congo’s, Central African Republic, to the West in Douala Cameroon.

Increase China’s Soft Power

China’s fellow competitors in global influence, enjoy considerable advantage in Africa due to colonialism and history that exists between Africa and the West. Joseph Nye (1990) defines soft power as when „one country gets other countries to want what it wants‟. This means, the country uses attraction to get support by other states rather than the traditional use of military force and pressure. China has over the years strived to increase its soft power over other competitors. Through her slogan of „peaceful development‟ (hepingfazhan) she has sought to create a niche for herself as a peace loving, development minded global citizen, who has noble intention in her relations with other states.

Undeniably, this rhetoric has been repeatedly cited by Chinese diplomatic officials, and has earned China many friends. OBOR as a grand strategy squarely falls within the realm of peaceful development as espoused, with its commitment to peace and economic prosperity along the belt and road, and amongst all states involved. In a world dominated by the US hegemony and influence in virtually all the compasses, perhaps building soft power is the only way China can earn the trust of her neighbors, while at the same time building a modern state both in terms of her people, economy, and military. Any other strategy other than a soft peaceful rise might trigger US counterbalancing measures and perhaps destabilize Chinese society, leading to civil unrest and other issues that might curtail accumulation of power and her rise. Assigning primacy over economic matters therefore is designed to prevent drawing attention to her military pursuits, which would attract counterbalancing measures leading to a Soviet-style collapse, while earning China allies both regionally and globally. This is essentially, one goal of OBOR. In essence, through OBOR, china’s vision of a new modernity, characterized by free flowing ideas, goods, services and people to people engagement, and that shared economic future, common prosperity, would replace doubt, competition and power play. The Belt Road Initiative and the new regional order‟ that Beijing is using new ideas like „China dream‟ and„ Asian dream‟ to build what Chinese leaders call a „community of shared destiny.‟ this community begins in Asia which China at the epicenter, and would gradually aim to conquer the global order. This is the gist of china’s new vision of global governance to replace the Western fronted status. Compared to the US, UK, Germany and Japan, China has less soft power abilities in Africa. These countries have for many years used language and culture (largely due to colonization), and through aid and donor agencies ,the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has acted to impart democratic ideals of the US in Africa, the Bretton woods institutions have propagated Western free-market policies, while United Kingdom Agency for International Development (UKAID) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have served to further UK‟s and Japan‟s soft power aspirations. China on the other hand has risen largely on a different path. It has none of these organizations to further her soft power in Africa. OBOR as a source of soft power is not on the projects themselves being implemented in Africa, but the „Beijing consensus‟ which offers an anti-thesis to the„ Washington consensus.

The „Beijing consensus‟ is one which does not give a standard solution to all situations, but which encourages development based on the unique circumstances of individual states, and a „ruthless willingness to experiment and innovate‟. While for very long the US and her allies pushed the rhetoric that economic freedom is intertwined with political freedom (Washington consensus), over the years, the Chinese model has earned many admirers all over the globe.

Nevertheless OBOR‟s focus on trade between Africa and China, and the inclusion of the continent in this initiative will boost further the commitment China shows to Africa, not due to any hidden motives but as a true ally of Africa, thus furthering the narrative in support of the „Beijing consensus‟ as the best for Africa to replace the failed„ Washington consensus‟ fronted by the Bretton woods institutions and the West for many years. While the West emphasized on governance, political and economic reform along what they thought was acceptable to them in order to access development funds in the 1990‟s (through the Structural Adjustment Programs by World Bank and IMF), OBOR and affiliate financial institutions are cognizant of the fact that one-size-fits-all solutions are not realistic. Hence, they let states handle their own internal matters while helping them access the funding they require for their infrastructural development. The immense „soft power‟ that will arise from this will propel China into great heights in global politics.

Challenges to OBOR in Africa Intra and Inter-State Conflicts

The biggest challenge to OBOR in Africa is the state of continuous warfare experienced throughout the continent. War and conflicts have exacted a heavy burden to Africa’s development since time immemorial. As cited by Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2012) highlighted the five different types of conflicts that have plagued Africa; anticolonial, imperial, international, intra-state and inter-state conflicts. At present, many countries in Africa are experiencing wars of „regime change‟ with the Democratic Republic of Congo being a perfect example, while the Greater Sudan „War of Decentralization‟ led to splitting into north and south. In time however, South Sudan has also started experiencing its own war, what can be called „inter-communalinsurrection‟.17Conflicts are not limited to these, with Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo Brazzaville, Angola, Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya, Libya, Central African Republic, just a few of the African states to get into warand violence within the last decade or so. Greig, Mason and Hamner (2016) have identified and geo referenced over 73 different civil conflicts in Africa. In their paper, they argue that, conflicts begin, continue and end from depending on the logic behind the war.18 the potential gain from these wars is mostly control of massive natural resources which motivates parties to engage in long and drawn out wars. These wars have come with massive economic and infrastructural damage to the countries affected. In South Sudan alone, China imports 5%of its oil when operations are at full capacity.

However, the civil war within South Sudan itself, and conflict with the neighboring Sudan, has disrupted oil production from the oil fields, and subsequent shipping of this oil to China. Zhou (2014) goes further to posit that, the war in Sudan means production was reduced by over 30%capacity from 245,000 barrels of oil per day, to less than 160,000 barrels per day. Operations in oil blocks 1, 2and 4 were completely shut down in December 2013 following outbreak of war, and Chinese oil personnel evacuated from site. This is aside from the shutdown occasioned from conflict between the two Sudan’s with regards to transit fees between the two Sudan’s. While Sudan was demanding a fee of 30 USD per barrel of oil pumped through its pipeline, South Sudan wanted to pay the standard worldwide fee of 3USD per barrel on the physical infrastructure, conflict has a damaging impact on roads, railway lines and other infrastructural developments. A case in point is in Angola where over 4,000km of its rail network was destroyed in conflict and had to be repaired before it could be operational again. As an example therefore, the success of OBOR expansion in Africa would depend on how China navigates the conflict land of the African jungle for full potential to be realized. With conflicts experienced in DRC, CAR, Burundi, instability in Egypt among other countries, china’s resolve will be tested in launching and sustaining the OBOR initiative in Africa.

In conclusion China continues to be an important ally for the African continent to date. And the One Belt One Road Initiative offers an opportunity to deepen Sino-Africa Relations and should be explored further by the leadership of both China and Africa. The current status of OBOR in Africa is minute. As it is, OBOR in Africa, when looked at in terms of the importance that China puts in Africa does not mirror the optimism that Sino-African relationship has attracted in the recent past. It shows a discord between the rhetoric about the significance and growth in the relationship, vis a vis the reality, which is that Africa remains a cross-reference in china’s plans globally. 3 countries out of 67 involved in the project do not give an optimistic picture. However, the opportunity for further cooperation is still there.PRC can seize the opportunity presented by OBOR to streamline its foreign direct investment in the continent to leave lasting foot print. Indeed, successful implementation will result into firmly entrenching China as a „true friend‟ for Africa. China has global ambitions, while Africa is in dire need of capital for infrastructural development, and OBOR offers the best platform to pursue this.

David Ceasar Wani Suliman is a Doctoral Fellow (Ph.D.) in the school of Political Science and Public Administration at Shandong University China, Majoring in International Politics. He worked as a Research assistant at Jilin University China; He Achieved Master’s degree in International Relations from Jilin University China, and correspondingly graduated with honors from Cavendish University Uganda with bachelor degree in international relations and diplomatic studies.

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Mali’s withdrawal from G5 Sahel, Joint Force ‘a setback’ for the region

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UN peacekeepers patrol the Menaka region in northeast Mali. MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko

Mali’s decision on 15 May to withdraw from the G5-Sahel group and its Joint Force is “unfortunate” and “regrettable”, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council on Wednesday, as she urged countries in the region to redouble efforts to protect human rights, amid protracted political and security crises. 

Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, said the Joint Force was created in 2017 by the “G5” Heads of State – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – to counter terrorism in the Sahel “head on”. 

Challenging dynamics 

However, the challenging political and security dynamics in the Sahel – and uncertain outcomes of transitions in Mali and Burkina Faso, in particular – has already slowed Joint Force operations.  The G5 Sahel, meanwhile, has not convened a high-level political meeting since November 2021, while its Defence and Security Committee has not met in over six months. 

Thanks to Commander General Oumar Bikimo, she said, the Joint Force has been able to carry out operations in all three of its sectors since the Council last met in November, despite the absence of Malian battalions.  

How Mali’s decision to leave the G5 and the Joint Force will impact the dynamics in the region remains to be seen.  “It is most certainly a step back for the Sahel,” she said. 

MINUSMA on hand 

For its part, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) will continue to provide support to the Joint Force long as it is mandated to do so by the Council.  It has been working with contractors to deliver life support consumables to the contingents and will honour requests received by the other four contingents outside of Mali. 

Cycle of radicalization 

“Protecting the most vulnerable has become ever more important,” she stressed.  

She cited reports of serious violations committed against civilians – by terrorist armed groups, as well as reportedly by armed and security forces.  

To be sure, uprooting terrorist groups deeply enmeshed or embedded within communities is “uniquely challenging” in the Sahel, she said, making counter terrorism operations immensely difficult to carry out.   

But if civilians fall victim to these groups, “those very efforts are going to be pointless”.  Terrorist operations cause immeasurable human suffering, seriously undermine trust in the State and fuel radicalization. 

Time for a re-think 

“It is perhaps time to rethink our approaches and change the way we do our work” she added.  “We need innovative approaches in the face of the constantly evolving tactics of terrorist groups, whose influence keeps expanding”. 

She noted that for the last five years, the international community, donors and partners have struggled to reach a consensus on the most effective support mechanism for a collective security response in the Sahel.   

And the lack of consensus persists – despite the recognition by all, that the terrorist onslaught in the Sahel constitutes a slow-burning, mortal threat to international peace and security. 

Holistic approach needed more than ever 

“It is now more urgent than ever to act,” she said.   

She called for a holistic approach that honours “the primacy of politics”, addresses the causes of poverty and exclusion, and provides opportunities and fulfilled lives for the many young people in the region. 

The African Union Commission and the United Nations Secretariat will jointly carry out a strategic assessment of security and governance initiatives in the Sahel, she said, with the goal of strengthening support to the G5-Sahel, its Joint Force and other security and governance initiatives in the region. 

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African Development Bank Seeks U.S. Support to Alleviate Africa’s Food Crisis

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With Russia’s “special military operation” still continuing in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine and its impact especially on Africa’s economy, the President of the African Development Bank Group, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, made a compelling case for the United States to back the institution’s $1.5 billion emergency food production plan. The comprehensive urgent plan seeks to avert a looming food crisis in Africa caused primarily by Russia-Ukraine crisis that started late February.

The African Development Bank is prepared to meet this new challenge and has developed an Africa Emergency Food Production Plan. Within this plan, $1.5 billion will be used to support African countries to produce food rapidly – produce 38 million metric tons of food. The Russia-Ukraine conflict is a huge factor in fertilizer prices hiking upwards of 300%. Analysis has shown that Africa faces a fertilizer shortage of 2 million metric tons this year. It is estimated will cost about $2 billion dollars – at current market prices – to source new fertilizer to cover the gap.

The total value of the additional food production is $12 billion. The Africa Emergency Food Production Plan will deliver climate-resilient agricultural technologies to 20 million farmers. The $1.5 billion plan intends to source $1.3 billion of its own resources. With U.S. support to reduce the $200 million financing gap – this can ensure the Africa Emergency Food Production Plan’s success.

Chairman Senator Chris Coons, Ranking Member, Senator Lindsey Graham, and distinguished Members of the U.S Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, appreciated the opportunity to testify about the U.S. response and policy options for global food security crises.

The AfDB chief, and a panel of witnesses, testified about global food insecurity and persisting impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic before the US Senate subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. Among others, senators Chris Coons (Delaware), Lyndsey Graham (South Carolina), Dick Durbin (Illinois), Chris Van Hollen (Maryland) and Roy Blunt (Missouri) participated in the hearing.

Distinguished members of the Subcommittee are spearheading efforts for African solutions to Africa’s immediate, medium, and long-term challenges. US has a strong support for the Africa Emergency Food Production Plan, and will allow Africa to avert a looming food crisis and use the opportunity to drive structural changes in agriculture, to unleash the full potential of Africa to become a breadbasket to the world.

Ukraine exports 40% of its wheat and corn to Africa. According to the United Nations, 15 African counties import more than half of their wheat, and much of their fertilizers and oil from Ukraine and Russia. As the Russia-Ukraine conflict rages, Africa is also dealing with a 30-million metric ton loss of wheat and corn that won’t be coming from Russia. The cost of bread is now beyond the reach of many Africans.

Senator Coons, Chair of the Senate subcommittee, stressed that the US should move fast and provide sufficient funding. “We should be concerned and even alarmed about the widening food security crisis that this war is causing for hundreds of millions far beyond Eastern Europe,” he said. Senator Graham expressed support for the establishment of a global fund for food security.

Speaking live via videoconference from Accra, Ghana, Adesina said the proposed Africa Emergency Food Production Plan would result in the rapid production of 38 million tons of food across Africa over the next two years. “The African Development Bank, with your support, is prepared to meet this new challenge and others head-on,” he said.

The plan is anchored on the provision of certified seeds of climate-adapted varieties to 20 million African farmers. With the disruption of food supplies arising from the Russia-Ukraine war, Africa faces a shortage of at least 30 million metric tons of food, especially wheat, maize, and soybeans imported from the two countries.

Adesina said the African Development Bank would invest $1.3 billion in the plan’s implementation. He called on the US to make up the funding balance. “With US support to reduce the $200 million financing gap – we can ensure the Africa Emergency Food Production Plan’s success,” he said.

The Africa Emergency Food Production Plan is currently before the African Development Bank’s Board of Directors for approval. Also providing testimony were David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme and Ms. Tjada D’Oyen McKenna, Chief Executive Officer of non-governmental organization Mercy Corps.

McKenna said, “A perfect storm is leading to heightened global food insecurity, worse, much worse than the previous food crises over the past decade.” She cited the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change as factors sharpening the current food insecurity.

Beasley said food insecurity had already begun to rise sharply before the war. He said 135 million people were acutely food-insecure before the onset of the pandemic. “Covid comes along and that number went from 135 million to 276 million people marching toward starvation.”

Adesina emphasized that the bank’s food production plan would foster the production of nutritious food rather than simply calories. “One of the things we will be supporting through this emergency food production plan is bio-fortified foods. Sorghum fortified with iron. Nutritional supplementation is important,” he said.

The president said the AfDB was setting up meetings with international fertilizer companies to discuss ways to ensure that African farmers continued to have access to such inputs. “If we don’t solve the fertilizer problem, we cannot solve the food problem,” he said. According to Adesina, the Africa Emergency Food Production Plan would have a long-term impact on Africa’s food productivity. The initiative will “drive the structural changes in agriculture, to unleash the full potential of Africa to become a breadbasket to the world.” 

Furthermore, the fact is that the AfDB is helping to fend off a food crisis. On the other side, Africa must rapidly expand its food production. The AfDB has taken a few measures including mitigating the effects of a food crisis through the African Food Crisis Response and Emergency Facility – a dedicated facility being considered by the AfDB to provide African countries with the resources needed to raise local food production and procure fertilizers.

According to Adesina, the continent’s most vulnerable countries have been hit hardest by conflict, climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, which had upended economic and development progress in Africa. He warned that Africa, with the lowest GDP growth rates, has lost as many as 30 million jobs on account of the pandemic. Now the impact of the Russia-Ukraine crisis has brought an unimaginable suffering and extra hardships around the world.

Russia-Ukraine crisis has severe impact on Africa, only half the continent voted agaisnt Russia at the United Nations. Today, its focus is on feeding Africa and is doing a lot to address the global food crisis. Africa has an estimated 33 million smallholder farms. They are key to food production and the livelihoods of millions of Africans whose work and lives are linked to the agricultural sector. The African Development Bank’s strategic priorities are to light up and power Africa, feed Africa, industrialize Africa, integrate Africa, as well as improve the quality of life for the people of Africa.

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Will Southern Africa be the next Sahel?

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the shift in the geopolitical world order that followed is undoubtedly at the epicenter of the global focus at the moment and with a reason. Nonetheless, there are copious other issues of political instability that have been causing civil unrest, with the majority of them happening in Sub-Saharan Africa. The most prevalent example is the insurgency wave in the Sahel, which started with the coup in Mali on 2020 that quickly created spillover effects in Guinea and Chad. Burkina Faso has been the latest victim of the military takeovers trend, where Lieutenant Colonel Paul Henri Damiba took and his military junta ousted President Roch Kabore. These disruptive events stem from the broader distress that exists in the local communities to the point that there is no opposition to the violent transition of power within their own country. Similar patterns within the society are expanding across the continent, nonetheless, with Southern Africa in particular facing several destabilization efforts within the last years. Hence, questions ought to be answered. What are the reasons behind this instability wave in the Sahel? Can they be found elsewhere in the continent? Will Southern Africa be the next Sahel?

Reasons for the instability

Understanding the magnitude of the strain the society in the Sahel is facing is paramount to be able to anticipate a potential replication in this insurgency in the rest of Africa. A factor of uttermost importance is the  surge in extreme hunger and poverty, the biggest one in the world, at a regional level. Only in 2021 the Sahel saw a spike of 67%, while Burkina Faso alone was the champion in this category, with a staggering 200% rise in extreme hunger. And while hunger has been deemed a key driver of hunger, it is not the only one. Climate change also has a strong reinforcing effect on that regard. It has been gauged that the region faces a 50% more severe stress from climate change than the global average. Lake Chad alone has seen a 90% decline of its surface, which has been the main source of fresh water for nearly 40 million people around the region.

To add to that, over the past 5 years the Sahel has become a place for action for several jihadist groups. Boko Haram has been expanding its hits to Chad after Nigeria, whereas in 2017 JNIM emerged as a serious jihadist threat to the region. Only in the first half of 2021, 420 civilians lost their lives during massacres and raids from violent extremist groups, most of which in motorbikes.

The three foregoing factors resulted in a perfect storm in this part of Africa, that was devilishly challenging to tackle from the regional leaders. The common theme of these three issues was insecurity, on one hand in the traditional manner of lack of safety and security, and on the other hand on the insecurity in the food-water-energy nexus. This was, thus, seen as a vacuum of power that ought to be filled by military leaders and resulted in a reverse trend to the previous one of democratization that existed in the region.

One of the same in Southern Africa?

The economic state of affairs presents numerous similarities in the southern tip of the continent, as a side effect of the pandemic. During the previous two years, Zimbabwe saw a 23.9% of the poorest people losing their jobs and increased the tally of the people who lived in extreme poverty by 1.3 million. This formulated a migration crisis, as many Zimbabweans attempted to find better conditions in neighboring South Africa, that increased tensions and took them from a national to an international level.

A similar situation is observed in the two small landlocked states of Lesotho and Eswatini as well. Endeavors to reduce poverty have blatantly failed and this has resulted in desperation among the masses. Here the civil unrest was expressed rather internally, where clashes in both countries with the local authorities throughout 2021 were audibly violent and resulted in many deaths in addition to the existing clashes between the different political entities. The energy stemming from the clear dissatisfaction of the population over the political status quo can easily be harvested by the military elites who, especially in Maseru, have portrayed their appetite before.

Complementary to the struggle with poverty, the region is recently facing terrorism from jihadist groups. More precisely, Mozambique has been dealing with insurgencies in Cabo Delgado, caused by Islamist militants, since 2017. The increasing violent attacks by the local Al-Shabab militia, which is deemed to be connected to the Islamist State(IS) peaked in 2020, when almost 1800 people lost their lives. Connecting these disruptive actions with the expansion of terrorism from the North to the South of the continent, it would be safe to infer that such groups would be eager to spread to South Africa on the long-term.

Climate change is also present as one of the myriad issues that have been a burden on the local communities. Temperatures are rising at double the global rate in the region and this is having a detrimental effect on food security, as droughts are becoming substantially more severe effect, devastating crops and livestock. Out of the few “survivors” in this category, the majority is then damaged by the intensified insect infections.

The landscape looks alarmingly similar to the one is Sahel, as several common patterns can be identified. However, there are also some points of incongruity. A main difference exists in the structure of the regional blocs, as ECOWAS in West Africa comprises of two zones , which is not the case for SADC in Southern Africa. Furthermore, the leading country in ECOWAS, due to its GDP share and power, is Nigeria, which is already dealing with extremist insurgencies and hence it becomes increasingly challenging to aid other member states, either diplomatically or militarily. This does not apply to South Africa, which, despite its struggles in various aspect of its society, is managing to maintain relative stability internally and has a strong military presence which allows the country to also aid peacekeeping processes in the neighborhood. In addition, DRC, lying at the north end of the SADC, has had some successful efforts of deterrence against extremist violence and this can function as a roadmap, provided there is enough regional collaboration on security.

One final pattern  that has been observed in one region and is not yet that evident on the other, despite signs that we should worry, is the presence of Russian PMC’s. Wagner Group, being the prevalent example, has had major impact in the North of the continent, in particular in the Sahel, Sudan and throughout the Central African Republic. However, this should not be grounds for relief in Southern Africa, since CSIS has reported that the Russian private military has been deployed in Botswana, Zimbabwe and DRC, among others. The isolation of Moscow following the invasion of Ukraine is only going to make its approach to foreign affairs more aggressive and militarized, so it is paramount to monitor the Russian PMC’s movements in Southern Africa

In a nutshell

The African continent is facing severe hits to its societal cohesion, security and democratization efforts, with Sahel being the region that faces mayhem, which caused a wave of coups. The patterns that cause this major upheaval are being replicated at a worryingly accelerating pace and are gradually reaching the southern tip of the continent. There lies one of the continent’s two largest economies, namely South Africa, but also resource-rich countries of uttermost importance for the global energy landscape, such as DRC and Mozambique. Comparing to the situation in Western Africa, there might be some common points, but there are also some points of divergence that might prove to be critical for the successful deterrence of the extremist threat and the avoidance of a series of military takeovers. It is paramount that the following recommendations are taken into consideration for that to happen:

-The SADC sets up a special security task force mainly responsible organized by the respective Organ on Politics, Defense and Security (OPDS). An increase on funding to this organ ought to be allocated, but at the same time it should be ensured that these expenditures do not create unwanted imbalances within the respective militaries.

-Special attention ought to be paid towards Russian PMC’s. Amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the isolation of Moscow, aggression efforts from the Kremlin are only projected to rise and actors like the Wagner Group are expected to geographically broaden their sphere of action.

-Hitherto, it would be helpful that other international security institutions are involved. NATO reaching out to Mauritania to assist the Sahel in fighting extremism was a good step forward and a similar approach could be taken with South Africa as an example, with the objective of signing an agreement on collaboration. Another institution that could be involved, in a diplomatic manner, could be the EU, predominantly for intraregional conflicts, such as the looming one between South Africa and Zimbabwe.

-In terms of food security and climate change, the SADC needs to reach out to the global community and the international institutions for further financial support packages after raising the issue in the UN World Food Program.

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