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.
Water Diplomacy: Creating Spaces for Nile Cooperation
The Nile River is the longest river on the earth, with eleven nation states sharing it and over 487 million people or about 20% of the African population living in the basin countries and they depend partly or fully on the Nile for their daily water use, foods and other economic benefits. The river drains 10 % of the African continent or an area greater than 3,176,541 km2, and its divided to ten different sub-basins with two main feeding sources’ the White Nile and the Blue Nile, which making it one of the worlds largest and complicated international trans-boundary river basins.
It’s very clear that the long and current regional disputes over the Nile’s waters between the upstream and downstream countries specially Uganda, Ethiopia and other upstream nations who are been the forehead leading the campaign for the lifting of colonial era treaties regarding Nile waters allocutions, governance, management, economic use and other Nile related issues and they been demanding renegotiating Nile river basin for fair shares and equal benefits and which they did in 2010 by reaching and signing of (Cooperative Framework Agreement or Entebbe agreement) to replace all the European colonial agreements, meanwhile the two downstream countries Egypt and Sudan in the other sides refusing to renegotiate or sign the Entebbe treaty and insists on maintaining the colonial era treaties or what they called “the historical rights” which gave the lion’s share of the Nile waters and the absolute veto to only two Nile countries and ignored the rights of other Nile’s nations.
Egypt and Sudan for years been using what they called “the historical rights” guaranteed by the colonial era agreements and their diplomatic influence to block international development funds and loans a policy which its aims only to prevent the upstream nations from establishing or constructing any developmental or economical projects on the Nile River, while Egypt is warring about the potential impacts which could effect its water security level as a result of any construction on the Nile river, the other Nile Basin nations said they are addressing the undergoing social, economic and environmental changes plus the population in the region is growing rapidly which will need more access to Nile basin resources in aim to provide water, food and energy to their people.
The looming conflict in the Nile Basin region over water recourses governance, allocutions and economic use has been a major security threat to the regional and international peace and stability, the risks of militarizing the Nile water dispute among the basin countries has been a growing serious security threat to the basin region as a result of lacking of middle point agreement on how to share, mange and benefit from the longest river fairly and equally.
In past years the downstream nations had already unilaterally constructed dams, used Nile waters for irrigation, industrial and other projects and with the upstream nations complaining about those unilateral projects done by the downstream nations and the none cooperative method and approach of Egypt and Sudan and as an outcome of years of disagreement over the Nile water issues and unilaterally decisions and actions taken by the individual countries claiming the Nile River waters and only favoring their own benefits over other Nile nations. The Entebbe Agreement came in to escalate the none cooperation situation more by geo-politically shifting the control of Nile basin waters away from the downstream nations and gave the upstream countries a legal frame to construct dams, establish different projects and increase their water use for different propos.
With some countries see themselves as victims of other Nile countries who had taken an advantage of certain period of time or situation that they were in, which let some of them to see no benefit now in been cooperative with the others concerning the Nile related issues and looks only at their national interests, but still the diplomatic dialogue and inclusive negotiations between the Nile basin nations is the only way forward to build confidence, trust and cooperation for sustainable future of the Nile and mutual and shared benefits for basin members countries. A positive engagement between the Nile basin members now can be observed in some steps taken by the countries were technical dialogue and diplomatic approach has increased the sharing of technical and hydrological data between the basin members countries, capacity building workshops and inter-nations trainings and seminars for technicians, policy and decision makers, government officials, diplomats, scientists, researchers, journalists, local and global think-tank institutions, NGOs, regional and other international stakeholders had really helped in easing the interstate political tensions and putting concord foundation for more regional cooperation which will contribute to a better understanding, enhancing the diplomatic relations and cooperation among the basin nations.
To have a sustainable Nile Basin with equal benefits, comprehensive cooperation, joint management, and effective partnership the diplomatic approach and inclusive negotiations is the only solution to overcome years of mistrust and standoff in the Nile Basin region.
Russia, Africa and the SPIEF’19
In 2019, four African countries – Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho Niger and Somalia – for the first time attend the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF’19) held on June 6-8 under theme “Creating a Sustainable Development Agenda” in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
The Forum brought together a record-breaking number of participants: over 19,000 people from 145 countries, with 1,300 guests representing heads of companies. The sheer number of business community participants, variety of thematic events, and level of representation on both national and international levels underscore the status of SPIEF as a truly global economic forum.
Over the years, SPIEF has become an open platform to exchange best practices and key competences in the interest of providing sustainable development.
The main event was the plenary session, with the participation of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping, President of the Republic of Bulgaria Rumen Radev, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic Peter Pellegrini, and Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres.
During his address to the participants of the Forum, Vladimir Putin talked about the tasks the country is facing, as well as about the importance of national projects as a driver of economic growth in Russia.
The overall budget for the implementation of proposed development projects of Russia is about US$400 billion. The priorities are healthcare, education, research and development, and support for entrepreneurship. And, considerable funds will also be allocated to develop major infrastructure, transport and the energy industry.
Putin also stressed to the guests and participants for their friendly attitude to Russia, their willingness for joint work and business cooperation based on pragmatism, understanding of mutual interests and, of course, trust, frankness and clear-cut positions. That global inequality between countries and regions is the main source of instability. It is not just about the level of income or financial inequality, but fundamental differences in opportunities for people.
More than 800 million people around the world do not have basic access to drinking water, and about 11 percent of the world’s population is undernourished. A system based on ever-increasing injustice will never be stable or balanced.
As a first step, necessary to conduct a kind of demilitarisation of the key areas of the global economy and trade, that also includes utilities and energy, which help reduce the impact on the environment and climate. This concerns areas that are crucial for the life and health of millions, one might even say, billions of people on the entire planet.
Russia has embarked on implementing long-term strategic programmes, many of which are global in nature, it is important to hear each other and pool efforts for resolving common goals. Russia is ready for these challenges and changes.
During the four days of the Forum, over 1,300 speakers and moderators, including Russian and international experts, took part in discussions. They shared their knowledge, experiences and best practices with the participants of the Forum. There was special zone of the area that hosted interviews with politicians, government officials, representatives of big business.
On the sidelines, there were business dialogues between Russia and other countries, for example Russia–Africa, were very popular this year. President of the Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Mabel Chinomona, was one of the African participants. State officials came from Botswana, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Mauritius, Niger, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
The Russia-Africa session featured Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation; Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa; Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, African Union Commission and Tatyana Valovaya, Member of the Board – Minister in Charge of Integration and Macroeconomics, Eurasian Economic Commission.
Isabel Jose dos Santos, Chairman, Unitel SA; Daniel Kablan Duncan, Vice President of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire; Dmitry Konyaev, Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors, URALCHEM JSC and Benedict Okey Oramah, President, Chairman of the Board of Director, The African Export Import Bank.
Sylvie Baipo-Temon, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Central Africans Abroad of the Central African Republic; Nikita Gusakov, General Director, EXIAR; Boris Ivanov
Managing Director, GPB Global Resources and Nataliya Zaiser, Chair of the Board, Africa Business Initiative UNION; Executive Secretary, Russian National Committee, World Energy Council (WEC).
The participants noted that 2019 should be a historic year in the development of Russian-African relations. The summit of heads of state in October should take place amidst record growth in Russian exports to Africa. Russia is interested in new markets and international alliances more than ever before, while Africa has solidified its position as one of the centres of global economic growth in recent years.
In this context, the countries need to rethink the approaches, mechanisms, and tools they use for cooperation in order to take their relations to the next level as their significance grows in the new conditions of world politics and economics. What steps are needed to give a new impetus to bilateral economic relations? What are the key initiatives and competencies that can create a deeper strategic partnership between Russia and African states?
These are among the key questions on the meeting agenda for the upcoming Russia-Africa Summit planned for October in Sochi under the co-chairmanship of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the Arab Republic of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Chairperson of the African Union.
Russia joins Gulf states in coaching Sudan’s military
Russia has emerged as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ silent partner in assisting the Sudanese military’s efforts to weaken, if not defeat a months-long popular revolt that has already toppled president Omar al-Bashir.
Documents leaked to The Guardian and MHK Media, a Russian-language news website, by the London-based Dossier Centre, an investigative group funded by exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, disclosed Russia’s hitherto behind-the-scenes role in Sudan.
Laying out plans to bolster Russia’s position across Africa by building relations with rulers, striking military deals, and grooming a new generation of leaders and undercover agents, the documents included details of a campaign to smear anti-government protesters in Sudan.
The plan for the campaign appeared to have been copy-pasted from proposals to counter opposition in Russia to president Vladimir Putin with references to Russia mistakenly not having been replaced with Sudan in one document.
Russia advised the Sudanese military to use fake news and videos to portray demonstrators as anti-Islamic, pro-Israeli and pro-LGBT. The plan also suggested increasing the price of newsprint to make it harder for critics to get their message out and to discover “foreigners” at anti-government rallies.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg-based businessman and close associate of Mr. Putin, complained in a letter to Mr. Bashir before he was overthrown that the president was not following his advice.
Mr. Prigozhin, who was indicted by US special counsel Robert Mueller for operating a troll factory that ran an extensive social media campaign that favoured of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was according to the documents a key player in efforts to enhance Russian influence in Africa.
Mr. Prigozhin accused Mr. Bashir and his government of not being active enough and adopting an “extremely cautious position.”
If a visit this week to Sudan by foreign journalists at the invitation of the military to show them medical facilities that had allegedly been ransacked by protesters and demonstrate that hospitals that had been attacked by notorious paramilitary forces associated with Sudanese army were returning to normal, is anything to go by, Mr. Prigozhin’s criticism may have merit.
“It must have seemed like a good idea to somebody, although I cannot imagine why. The plan was to show us how terribly the protesters had behaved. If the world could see what they were really like they would understand that the regime had no choice but to send in the militia. Except from the moment we arrived at the first medical facility things started to go wrong,” said the BBC’s Africa editor, Fergal Keane.
To Mr. Keane, the omnipresence of paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) made the paramilitary headed by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo aka Hemedti, believed to be a Saudi and UAE favourite because his troops fought in Yemen and his reputation for ruthlessness, look “more like an army of occupation than an internal security force.”
Widely viewed as ambitious and power hungry, General Dagalo resembles in the eyes of protesters Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the autocratic general-turned-president who in 2013 staged a Saudi-UAE-backed military coup that toppled Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president.
Defending the UAE’s contacts with the military council, Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said his country’s “credibility is our means to contribute to enhancing peaceful transition in a way that preserves the state and its institutions.”
Human Rights Watch this week called on the United Nations Security Council to halt the withdrawal of peacekeepers from Darfur, noting that the Rapid Support Forces “have a long track record of abuse. They carried out highly abusive counter-insurgency campaigns in Darfur, and the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions over the past five years, in which they attacked villages, killed and raped civilians, and burned and looted homes.”
Witnesses outside a medical facility and a hospital that Mr. Keane visited countered the military’s tale, describing how troops stormed the buildings and looted and destroyed facilities. “”The international community has to intervene. There is no peace here in Sudan. People are suffering a lot… I am frightened for my country,” said a man as he drove by Omdurman Hospital.
The failed public relations tour, the crackdown, the Russian guidance and stalled talks between protesters and the military fits a Saudi-UAE promoted pattern that has evolved across the Middle East and North Africa since the 2011 popular Arab revolts. It’s a pattern that aims to defeat popular protest at whatever cost.
The Sudanese protest movement has emerged from the crackdown that doctors said killed at least 118 people and efforts to delegitimize it battered, divided and potentially weakened but still standing.
A general strike declared at the beginning of this week initially paralyzed the capital Khartoum but within a day or two appeared to be weakening.
Ethiopian mediator Mahmoud Dirir said on Tuesday that the protesters had agreed to end the strike while the governing Transitional Military Council (TMC), headed by officers with close ties to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, was ready to release political prisoners, one of several key demands of the protesters.
Mr. Dirir said the two sides had also agreed to “soon” resume talks to resolve the crisis even if they were nowhere near narrowing differences of returning Sudan to civilian rule. It was not clear what soon meant.
“Negotiation – even if it happens soon – will circle back to the same issue: will the military cede power to a civilian government? Nothing about the generals’ actions has indicated that this is an imminent possibility. The fear is that they will use any negotiations to try to divide the opposition while security pressure is maintained on the streets,” Mr. Keane said.
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