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France and China in Africa

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A geoeconomic and strategic clash between China and France is currently emerging across Africa, with France supporting the United States in a new bilateral relationship, and China changing its economic penetration into the Dark Continent- in a new relationship with the Russian Federation.

Let us look at the main data and statistics: this year the African Development Bank has forecast a 1.9% growth in Southern Africa; a 2.2% growth in Central Africa and even 3.4% in Eastern and Northern Africa.

However, the trend is towards a slowdown in economic growth across the world – a slowdown that will be ushered in by the reaching and exceeding of the 100 US dollar threshold of the oil barrel price.

In fact, if we analyse the data and statistical series, the recent great economic and financial crises have been triggered by a significant increase in the oil price – that the West is facing with increasing difficulty.

Reverting to the focus of our analysis, in East Africa growth will be even 5.7%, the current highest rate in the world, apart from some Asian countries.

Africa’s development, however, has two sides – the side of the GDP growth and the equally important one of the increase in the external debt of many African countries.

An African indebtedness that mainly concerns China.

Here two very severe cases can be seen: in fact, in January 2017, Mozambique declared it could not to repay its foreign debt, due to a hidden debt incurred by its companies to the tune of 1.8 billion euros.

Furthermore, in August 2017, Congo had to revaluate its debt to 120% of its GDP (it was previously 77%) for similar reasons.

Hidden indebtedness is currently one of Africa’s plagues. It is currently worth 34% of the total African GDP. It is a debt mainly denominated in foreign currencies, often run up by unsavory and deceptive bankers, including members of Italy’s and other regions’ organized crime. This obviously favours China’s purchase of African companies that now cost a handful of rice.

In Nigeria, currently 60% of State revenue is used for servicing the public debt, with evident and foreseeable internal turmoil in the near future, considering that the Nigerian government has no reserves for productive public spending and for the necessary poverty mitigation policies.

In Ghana, the government led by Nana Akufo-Addo, who has been in power since January 2017, has taken on the debt piled up by its predecessors, which today accounts for 80% of GDP.

Also Angola, the second sub-Saharan oil power, is debt-ridden and is reducing extraction activities.

In Angola the debt is supposed to account for 90% of GDP and it is rising quickly.

As previously mentioned, China already holds much of the African debt.

It owns 70% of Cameroon’s public debt. This holds true also for Kenya.

Moreover, international banks inform us of the fact that between 2010 and 2014 the appetite for Chinese credit has increased by 54% throughout Africa.

A figure never reached by any developed country in banking and economic development relations with Africa.

Until 2017, however, the average of the African public debt was 45% of GDP.

Currently, however, according to the African Development Bank, at least 11 out of the 35 low-income African countries are considered to be at very high over-indebtedness risk.

For years the low cost of raw materials has been the trigger of the crisis, which will certainly become very severe in the phase of the “debt peak” which, in the case of Africa, is expected to materialize in 2021.

At the same time, however, some African States have begun to lend money to some emerging African countries, obviously at a rate higher than the rate granted to them. Countries that had no access to international credit.

And with raw materials that have been on the wane for long time, as well as a growing cost of manpower and the increase in internal political instability, caused by the crisis in public spending for a minimum level of Welfare State.

A debt spiral that has already enabled as many as 32 African countries to accept the unfair conditions of the private Funds for debt recycling, which acquire the securities at derisory prices and then resell them at a higher price to good European and American clients.

In 1996, however, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Gabon, Rwanda and Kenya accepted the PPTE program of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – the program for heavily indebted countries which imposed strict spending control on them so as to later enable them to return into the international credit mechanism.

The recipes are well-known: privatization, in the belief that the private sector is metaphysically better than the State one; heavy cuts in current spending, as well as reduction of spending on security and investments, including the productive ones.

As can be easily imagined, this has created a very profound crisis in the income of the poorest walks of society and has really annihilated the prospects for the young generations who, in fact, flee unreasonably towards the EU – or swell the ranks of the very strong exchange of manpower between the various African countries.

Currently the most indebted countries in Africa are South Africa, Sudan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Kenya. Hence a continent already destroyed before being made sufficiently productive.

Ironically, many of these countries are also on the list of the richest nations in Africa: Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria–again in descending order.

France, however, has lost its traditional role as top investor in Africa.

Between 2015 and 2016, for example, China invested as many as 38.4 billion US dollars in the Dark Continent, while the second largest investor in Africa, namely the United Arab Emirates, reached 15 billion US dollars over the same period.

Italy, however, is the top investor among European countries, especially through ENI.

France ranks only sixth with 7.7 billion US dollars invested.

Meanwhile the Russian Federation is strengthening its traditional ties with Algeria and it is arranging a free trade area in the Maghreb region, with the Alawite Kingdom of Morocco at the core. It is also building nuclear power plants in Egypt and Southern Africa, with further exports of Russian grain to the poorest African countries.

Russia is also organizing peer cooperation projects in Equatorial Guinea, Burundi, Zambia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Areas that are less relevant to China or where there may be cooperation between China and Russia, with the latter interested in agriculture and oil and the former building infrastructure and operating on the market of the other raw materials.

China already owns 98% of the world’s coltan -i.e. the columbite-tantalite used for all commercial electronic devices – which can be found in the Central African Republic.

France’s exports to Africa, however, have almost halved in 2018 compared to 2000, falling from 11% to 5.5%.

In Senegal, French exports fell by 25% in 2017 – a loss that locally favoured Turkey, Spain and, above all, China.

Certainly the French-speaking Africa – linked to the CFA Franc – is a huge source of raw materials, with 14% of the world’s energy reserves and 22% of the world’s habitable areas.

Through the Africa using the CFA Franc, the French-speaking regions, which alone account for 4% of the world population, still account for 16% of world GDP and 20% of global trade in goods. France led by President Macron (but also France led by his more colourless predecessor Hollande) wants to create an autonomous common market – to be used also against an adverse EU – between the economy of the French Hexagon and the economies of the African French-speaking countries.

And this is precisely the point of geopolitical contrast with China.

China, however, still has many strings to its bow.

Last June, for example, Burkina Faso announced it had broken its relations with Taiwan to recognize only the People’s Republic of China.

The first step that China asks all its partners to take.

China also doubled US bilateral trade with Africa as early as 2013.

The beginning of the new relationship between China and Africa – after the “Three Worlds” Maoist theory in which, however, the People’s Republic of China became the leader of the Third World, after the two American and Soviet “imperialisms”-materialized after the Tiananmen Square protests and crisis in 1989, with a view to escaping the isolation imposed by the West (and by Russia which, at the time, had many problems to solve).

It should also be noted that many current African leaders have been educated in China.

Think of Joseph Kabila, the leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who studied at the National University of Defence in Beijing.

Or to Mulatu Teshoma, the President of Ethiopia, who studied philosophy and political economy with a PhD in international law at the Peking University, before continuing his studies at the Tufts University in the United States.

Or again to Emmerson Mnangagwa, the President of Zimbabwe, former student of the “School of Marxism” at the Peking University, who later spent a period of time in Nanjing studying combat training.

The current leader of Tanzania studied military engineering in China and then returned to the country in 1964.

Hence how is France responding to this? In July 2018 President Macron went to Nigeria -after having paid an official visit to Ghana – but he has the clear intention of gaining broad consensus not only in the old African French-speaking countries, but also in the English-speaking part of the Dark Continent.

The French President believes that also Africa is now “globalized” and hence he must go well beyond the old traditional perimeter of the so called Françafrique.

The concept underling the strategy of President Macron is no longer the traditional one of Françafrique, but rather that of AfricaFrance.

The offer made to the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, to become President of the International Organization of the Francophonie must be seen in this context.

From the African autonomous culture – which, according to President Macron, must be revitalized – to the recovery of the French economy and companies in Africa: the French market in Africa fell from 11% in 2003 to 5% in 2017.

Meanwhile China rose from 3% in 2001 to the pan-African 18% in 2017.

Even Germany has currently overtaken France in foreign trade with Africa.

Certainly the French President also wants his country to remain the “policeman” of Africa – as during the Cold War –  but he plans to confine his fight “to terrorism”, or more precisely to the sword jihad, in the Sahel region, which is and will be the future core of the French military presence in Africa.

Furthermore, President Macron intends to deal with business, thus limiting the security role played by France in Africa France as much as possible.

This is also the meaning of the increasingly important role that will be given to the G5 Sahel,i.e. the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel including Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.

In short, according to its best strategic analysts, France wants to prevent future geoeconomic battles by preserving its global strategic role. Hence it wants to protect its old African colonies from the predatory and harmful effects of globalization.

This means that France tends to produce a new African “common market” between its economy and the developing economies if its old Françafrique.

Hence the recent France-G5Sahel military operations must be seen in this context: Operation Barkhane, which began in 2014 with 3,000 French soldiers, in addition to those of the G5-Sahel, based in ‘Ndjamena, the capital of Chad, as well as the Operation Serval aimed at ousting Islamic militants from the North of Mali, and Operation Epervier, a French counter-terrorist action between Cameroon and Chad.

The other two French military operations, namely Sangaris and Licorne – the former in the Central African Republic, which ended in 2016, and the latter a peacekeeping action in the Ivory Coast, replaced in 2015 by the “French Forces in the Ivory Coast” -were a relative success, but with a progressive support from the US African Command.

However, what about the CFA Franc, which is now a controversial topic inside and outside Africa France?

For some African Heads of State and Government, who obviously do not want to give in to China or to other new players in Africa, the CFA Franc “is a sound currency” and “does good to the African people”, just to quote the explicit words of Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.

President Macron stated that the CFA Franc is “a currency that works and needs to be modernized together”.

It should be recalled, however, that France intervened militarily in Africa as many as 42 times from 1968 to 2013.

France will never give up Africa, but it has not the liquidity to really do so. China, too, will certainly not give up Africa and will never intervene militarily, if not directly hit, while investing massively in the Dark Continent.

Hence how will the CFA Franc be reformed?

It is easy to predict: with an increase of its value as against the Euro and new internal regulations governing the relations between France and the other African partners.

The French game in Africa will work until the Chinese economy slows down and hence there will be less Chinese capital to invest in Africa.

China, however, is already a net importer of semi-finished goods, as well as clothes and basic products from countries such as Ethiopia, while many African countries keep on importing high-value-added goods and capital for basic industrialization from China.

In Africa, China tends to replicate the same development as its development of the early days of the “Four Modernizations” phase.

Therefore, the most likely solution in the near future will be a concentration of French power on the G5 Sahel, with a parallel reduced role of France in the Eastern region of the Dark Continent.

While China will keep on expanding its influence in Africa, from the South to sub-Saharan Central Africa, up to Egypt and the Northern Atlantic Coast of Africa.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Africa

SADC Summit Ends With Promises of More Meetings

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The Southern African Development Community (SADC) held an Extraordinary Double Troika meeting on 8th April in Maputo to deliberate on measures on addressing terrorism and its related impact on the current development specifically in the Mozambique and generally in southern Africa. The Cabo Delgado crisis started in 2017 with insurgents taking control of parts of northern Mozambique.

One of the two troikas consists of the current, incoming and outgoing chairs of SADC (namely Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania), while the second is formed by the current, incoming and outgoing chairs of the SADC organ for politics, defence and security cooperation (Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe).

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa and the ministers of international relations, defence and state security attended the meeting. It was also attended by Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

The summit was called in the wake of the terrorist attack of 24 March against the town of Palma in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, but the leaders did not pledge any immediate practical support for Mozambique.

SADC Troika heads however said the acts of terrorism perpetrated against innocent civilians in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, could not be allowed to continue without a proportionate regional response and reported that 12 decapitated bodies have been found behind a hotel in the region.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi has called for cooperation in cross-border surveillance as essential to stem the flow of foreign fighters fomenting terrorism in Cabo Delgado, warning of the spread of violence throughout Southern Africa.

Among the measures that the SADC countries should implement to combat terrorism is strengthening border control between Southern African countries, he said, and further added that Southern African police and judicial systems must consistently work to combat trafficking and money laundering that funds terrorism.

Nyusi stressed that the organization should implement practical acts to combat this scourge of terrorism to prevent its expansion and destabilization of the region, and warned of the risk that the actions of armed groups with a jihadist connotation could hinder regional integration.

According official reports, SADC fends off United States / European Union anti-terror intervention in Cabo Delgado. It further said no to another Mali / Somalia / Libya / Syria disaster on the African continent, adding that the global Anti-Terror lobbies are frustrated.

Deeply concerned about the continued terrorist attacks in Cabo Delgado, especially for the lives and welfare of the residents who continue to suffer from the atrocious, brutal and indiscriminate assaults, the leaders decided at their meeting to deploy a technical mission to Mozambique. It’s not clear what action the region will take but the deployed technical mission will report back to heads of state by 29 April.

The final communiqué from the summit condemned the terrorist attacks “in the strongest terms” and declared that “such heinous attacks cannot be allowed to continue without a proportionate regional response” but it did not suggest what such a regional response might consist of.

The Summit expressed “SADC’s full solidarity with the government and people of Mozambique” and reaffirmed “SADC’s continued commitment to contribute towards the efforts to bring about lasting peace and security, as well as reconciliation and development in the Republic of Mozambique.”

The summit ordered “an immediate technical deployment” to Mozambique, and the convening of an Extraordinary Meeting of the Ministerial Committee of the Organ by 28 April 2021 that will report to the Extraordinary Organ Troika summit on 29 April 2021.

The extremely brief communiqué mentioned no other specific measures.

The violence unleashed more than three years ago in Cabo Delgado province took a new escalation about a fortnight ago when armed groups attacked the town of Palma, which is about six kilometres from the multi-million dollar natural gas, according to United Nations data.

The attacks caused dozens of deaths and forced thousands of Palma residents to flee, worsening a humanitarian crisis that has affected some 700,000 people in the province since the conflicts data. Several countries have offered Maputo military support on the ground to combat these insurgents, but so far there has been no openness, although reports and testimonies are pointing to security companies and mercenaries in the area.

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African agriculture is ready for a digital revolution

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Authors: Akinwumi Adesina and Patrick Verkooijen*

After a dark 2020, a new year has brought new hope. In Africa, where up to 40 million more people were driven into extreme poverty and the continent experienced its first recession in 25 years, a brighter future beckons as the economy is forecast to return to growth this year.

Africa now has an opportunity to reset its economic compass. To build back not just better, but greener. Particularly as the next crisis—climate change—is already upon us.

Africa’s food systems must be made more resilient to future shocks such as floods, droughts, and disease. Urgent and sustainable increases in food production are needed to reduce reliance on food imports and reduce poverty, and this is where digital services come into play.

With mobile phone ownership in Sub-Saharan Africa alone expected to reach half a billion this year, digital services offered via text messaging can reach even the most remote village. And at least one-fifth of these phones also have smart features, meaning they can connect to the internet.

We can already see how digital services drive prosperity locally and nationally. In Uganda, SMS services that promote market price awareness have lifted the price farmers receive for bananas by 36 percent, beans by 16.5 percent, maize by 17 percent, and coffee by 19 percent. In Ghana, services that cut out the middleman have lifted the price for maize by 10 percent and groundnuts by 7 percent.

But digital services don’t just raise farmgate prices, they are the gateway to farm loans, crop insurance, and greater economic security, which in turn enables farmers to increase their resilience to climate change—by experimenting with new, drought-resistant crops, for example, or innovative farming methods.

Text messages with weather reports help farmers make better decisions about when and what to plant, and when to harvest.

In Niger, a phone-based education program has improved crop diversity, with more farmers likely to grow the cash crop okra, while an advisory service in Ethiopia helped increase wheat production from one ton to three tons per hectare.

The data footprints phone users create can also be analyzed to help assess risk when it comes to offering loans, making credit cheaper and more accessible.

Phones and digital services also speed up the spread of information through social networks, helping farmers learn about new drought-resistant crops or services that can increase productivity. Free-to-use mobile phone-based app WeFarm, for example, has already helped more than 2.4 million farmers find certified suppliers of quality seeds at fair prices. They can also connect farmers to internet-based services.

Examples of digital innovation abound, sometimes across borders. In Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria, equipment-sharing platform Hello Tractor is helping farmers rent machinery by the day or even hour, while in Ethiopia, AfriScout, run by the non-government organization Project Concern International with the World Food Programme and the Ministry for Agriculture, provides satellite images of water supplies and crops every 10 days so problems can be spotted quickly to aid remedial action.

Transforming food systems digitally has demonstrably excellent results: the African Development Bank, which has allocated over half of its climate financing to adaptation since 2019, has already helped 19 million farmers in 27 countries to lift yields by an average 60 percent through applying digital technology, for example.

This is why the Global Center on Adaptation and the African Development Bank have launched the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP) to mobilize $25 billion to scale up and accelerate innovative climate-change adaptation across Africa.

Once developed, the digital nature of these services often makes such projects easy to replicate elsewhere and scale, even across large rural areas with little existing infrastructure.

Further, adaptation projects are proven to be highly cost-effective, often delivering value many times the original investment and so helping African economies grow faster and create many more much-needed jobs.

This makes it imperative that the global resolve to rebuild economies in the wake of Covid-19 is harnessed in the most effective way. We must not simply replicate the mistakes of the past. We must build back stronger, with a more resilient and climate-smart focus.

Funding and promoting disruptive business models in which digital technologies are embedded to increase productivity without using more land or more water will create a triple win: increased production, a more resilient climate and more empowered farmers.

We have the means and the technical capability to put Africa well on the way to achieving food self-sufficiency and greater climate resilience. In doing so, we can help millions move out of food poverty. We must not squander this opportunity to create truly historic and lasting change.

AfDB

*Patrick Verkooijen is CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation.

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Towards the Second Russia-Africa Summit

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Following the instruction of Russian President on the preparation of the second Russia-Africa Summit in 2022, a working meeting between Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation and the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS), the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum and the Roscongress Foundation was held in Moscow.

Among the participants of the meeting were Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation Anton Kobyakov, Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Oleg Ozerov, Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer of the Roscongress Foundation, Head of the Coordination Council for Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Alexander Stuglev and Head of AECAS Alexander Saltanov.

They discussed the prospects for further development of relationships with African countries in accordance with the decisions of the first Russia-Africa Summit that was held in Sochi in October 2019, as well as the key aspects of preparation for the next top-level Russian-African meeting in 2022, including the need to establish efficient information cooperation with African countries.

Adviser to the President was presented with the interim results of the work done by the Secretariat that was created in 2020 for coordination and preparation of events within the Russia-Africa format, as well as advances made by AECAS, the establishment of which is an important achievement on the way to efficient and fruitful preparation for subsequent events of the Russian-African track.

The day before Russian President Vladimir Putin informed the participants of the International Inter-Party Conference Russia-Africa: Reviving Traditions about the preparation for the second Russia-Africa Summit in a telegram and noted that the first Summit «gave a strong momentum to the development of friendly relationships between our country and countries of the African continent.»

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, who took part in the Inter-Party Conference, said that the Summit is already being prepared and filled with meaningful content, and roadmaps of Russian-African economic, scientific and humanitarian cooperation are to be drafted in the near future. Minister also noted that African issues are supposed to be included in the programme of the upcoming St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. These topics will be further discussed at the next meeting of foreign ministers of Russia and the African Union trio that is scheduled for 2021.

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