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Russia’s return to Africa: A blessing for China or not?

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Authors: Yang Yi-zhong and Paul Wang (Wang Li)

On October 23-24, beautiful Sochi, a summer resort in Russia, hosted the inaugural Russia-Africa summit with more than 50 leaders of African states participating. It is a symbolic that the forum was co-chaired by President Putin and President Abdel el-Sisi of Egypt which is the strongest military power of the continent. So the implications of this summit must go beyond that.

It is a cliché that Russia slipped into a regional power after the disintegration of the former Soviet Union (USSR). This sort of discussions are either ambiguous or groundless. As early as the 1990s, just after the fall of the USSR, Henry Kissinger and many other geo-strategists have argued that throughout history, Russia’s achievements and ambitions have kept pace with its physical dimensions. On two occasions, Russia’s strategic depth and Russian people’s capacity for endurance prevented a conqueror from dominating Europe: Napoleon in the 19th century and Hitler in the 20th century. At the turn of the new millennium, then Prime Minister Putin firmly said, “For Russians, a strong state is not an anomaly, given this, …… we must remake Russia a great, powerful and mighty state.”

Though controversial, Putin has obviously kept his promise to Russia and the world. Despite its economics looks not remarkable as expected, Russian military capacity has been fully recovered up to its former level during the Cold War. Diplomatically, Russia and China have enhanced a series of fruitful and pragmatic cooperation over the past years in view of the comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination. And the two Eurasian powers have worked steadfastly to innovate the fields and modes of cooperation and expand and deepen the strategic ties between their armed forces as well. Geopolitically, Russia has performed deftly in the Middle East so that it once again acts as a guarantor of the regional order and the initiator and major balancer of the world equilibrium. In light of this, Russia’s return to Africa is a natural result since there have existed strong historical traditions of friendship and solidarity in support of the Africans for freedom and independence. As a note from the Russian Embassy revealed, “Russia will continue to contribute to ensuring peace, stability and progress in Africa, both bilaterally and through international organizations. Now eagerly acting as a new civilian power, Russia has called for cooperation with African states in the fields of digital development, nuclear & high-technologies, humanitarian and social spheres.

Is Russia’s return to Africa a challenge to the rise of China’s status or a new opportunity for their work in order to expand and deepen their shared strategic interests?  No doubt, Western media like to intend to exaggerate any disagreements between China and Russia with a view to exploring the natural competition as major powers. Yet, it is unwise to try to sow the differences between them.

First, historically the Soviet Union supported Africa’s national independence during the post-WWII era, and the Russian influence has been there even after the fall of the Soviet Union. Now with Russia striving to be a major power on the global stage, the “return” to Africa is inevitable. Second, geopolitically it can be argued that Russia’s Middle East strategy has made remarkable deeds which have obviously raised its confidence. As U.S. troops withdraw from Syria, Russia’s influence over the region is surging. In addition, its relationship with Iran is closer than ever before and its relations with Turkey and Saudi Arabia are equally rising. With the proximity of the Middle East and Africa, Putin’s strategic move into the one area can be seen as an extension of Russia’s victory in another. As a Chinese scholar held, like many other countries such as the U.S., Europe, China and Japan, Russia wants to be treated as one of the major powers in a global stage. Due to this, it is proper to say that Russia’s return to Africa has been driven by its conventional strategy of the great power diplomacy to seek geopolitical and geo-economic opportunities whenever it sees properly and necessarily. In brief, faced with western blockage, Russia’s return to Africa is surely a showcase of its capability to engage with the continent against Western wishes.

China’s role in the world has changed dramatically. As its economy has grown into the second largest of the world, the future of China’s prosperity has hinged on it becoming an increasingly relevant stakeholder in broader global affairs, with the success of China increasingly dependent on securing a stable and wider global share. Due to this, China’s foreign policy has placed a growing emphasis on multilateral forms of engagement and cooperation. Although Russia is bound to seek more economic activities globally, its political concerns are the main driving force of Russia’s return to Africa. First, Russia and African countries are all rich in energy and natural resources, therefore, arms sales dictate the trade between the two sides. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 28% of Russia’s arms exports goes to sub-Saharan Africa over the past 6 years.

In effect, China and Russia would be able to cooperate with each other in terms of their relative advantages: China is much stronger in finance and infrastructure, and Russia is much better in the advanced arms and heavy equipment. Also due to the common standing on offering aid and investment without political strings attached, China and Russia would not compete with each ideologically. In this regard, both powers’ competitor should be the West which has long asked structural change prior to providing help. Finally, given Russia’s staggering economic growth, the “return” to Africa for Russia is more symbolic rather than immediate move. In light of this, China should welcome Russia’s return as a potential counterbalance to the growing presence of the United States. As Chinese official line goes, for the sake of the current world under profound changes unseen in a century, while peace and win-win cooperation are irreversible trends, there is still an urgency for China and Russia to work together in securing their core interests and common development. As long as Moscow sees its presence in Africa in very broader terms, China and Russia would be more likely strategic partners than competitors. This was seemingly testified by former US National Security adviser John Bolton announced in 2018 that a new US strategy for Africa partly aimed at countering both China and Russia.

In sum, China and Russia have forged their strategic relations in a genuine sense due to their long-term deliberations. Therefore, their cooperation in Africa would be more proactive and pragmatic. Since 2014, military co-operation agreements between Russia and African states have been signed; and then during 2017-18, more arms deals were done with African states, covering fighter jets, combat and transport helicopters, anti-tank missiles and etc. Yet, Africa is really not a major defense market but a huge area for FDI and lower-technologies and cheaper goods. Now EU, China, the U.S., Japan and India give far more development aid and invest more in Africa than Russia does. Consider this, Moscow is nowhere near restoring the status that the Soviet Union once enjoyed on the continent. Yet, the nature of Sino-Africa relationship has always been laced with uncertainty which an U.S.-led bloc would not have, due to this, China-Russian relationship would be likely a dual insurance for their common interests in the huge and diverse continent.

Yang Yizhong, M.A in United Nations and Global Policy Studies, Political Science, Rutgers University, United States.

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Africa

Scaling Up Development Could Help Southern African leaders to Defeat Frequent Miltant Attacks

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Terrorism

Leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are now considering, without foreign interference, tackling frequent insurgency devastating regional development, causing havoc to human habitation and threatening security in southern Africa. This collective decision came out after the Extraordinary Double Troika meeting on 8th April in Maputo, Mozambique.

The violence unleashed more than three years ago in Cabo Delgado province took a new escalation on March 24 when armed groups attacked the town of Palma. 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, according several reports.

Many international organizations and foreign countries have responded with humanitarian support and with financial aid aimed at alleviating situation, specifically in Mozambique and generally in southern Africa.

For example, the European Union (EU) pledged to send almost €7.9 million in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by terrorism in northern Mozambique, part of a package totaling €24.5 million for the entire southern Africa and Indian Ocean region. EU humanitarian aid to Mozambique “seeks to provide a response to the humanitarian consequences of the conflict in northern Mozambique, where €7.86 million of EU funding will be directed,” a statement from the European Commission details.

Beside horrific attacks, drought is also currently affecting Angola, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. For instance, the EU will provide assistance to address a severe food and nutrition crisis in Madagascar. A further €6.00 million for helping children across the whole region gain access to education, and €8.00 million to improve the region’s disaster preparedness.

Now Southern African leaders are looking at pulling their resources together to improve the deteriorating security situation, supporting vulnerable displaced and affected people with shelter, food, protection and access to healthcare, especially in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, and further widely in southern Africa.

As a first step, SADC has called for cooperation in cross-border surveillance as essential to stem the flow of foreign fighters fomenting terrorism in Cabo Delgado, and further warning the spread of violence throughout southern Africa. Among other measures, SADC suggested that southern African police and judicial systems must consistently work to combat trafficking and money laundering that funds terrorism.

Despite these collective measures, there are still a few more questions as to whether SADC could, in practical terms, control frequent violent extremist attacks using available resources in the southern Africa.

SADC, among others, mandates for enforcing collective security in the region. While the presidents of Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have called for “an immediate technical deployment” to Mozambique ahead of another high-level meeting at the end of April, Mozambique has so far been unreceptive, according reports.

There have been various suggestions from experts. “What we have here is a human rights and humanitarian crisis that has left hundreds of thousands displaced, insecure and unable to return to their homes because of the attacks that have been ongoing,” said Dewa Mavhinga, the Southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch. “So, the lack of security then spills over to affect everything else, including in terms of stability and economic programs that might be taking place in Cabo Delgado.

Historian Yussuf Adam, a retired professor at Maputo’s Eduardo Mondlane University, told VOA the problems dated back way beyond the start of the insurgency in 2017. He attributed to sharp disparity in development in the region.

He believes that Mozambique’s government, most importantly, has to tackle systemic poverty and inequality, in addition to resorting to a military solution. “There is no military solution. People have to be heard, and things have to be negotiated, and also people’s right to land,” he said. “People have to benefit from whatever it is will come out, is coming out, from this mining, oil, petrol and gas operations. That’s something which has to be seen and done.”

Mavhinga says, the government needs to take responsibility for its own policy failures. While militants have committed grievous acts – including rapes and beheadings – rights groups have also documented abuses by Mozambican security forces, including torture and extrajudicial killings.

South African lawyer and scholar Andre Thomashausen has also indicated that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has its own internal differences. He anticipated that this SADC summit would not be able to take concrete measures, due to the division of opinions that exists within SADC, the lack of means and manpower resources could obstruct any positive results.

Thomashausen, however, said that the previous meeting did not express any solidarity, intervention and appeal to the African Union, regional and international community, explained further that SADC clearly indicated it prefers to deal with the crisis at the regional and without foreign interference. Therefore, the countries of the southern region “continue to bet on their own initiative, on their own commitment from region.”

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.

It further 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.

SADC, an organization of 16 member states established in 1980, has as its mission to promote sustainable and equitable economic growth and socio-economic development through efficient, productive systems, deeper cooperation and integration, good governance and durable peace and security; so that the region emerges as a competitive and effective player in international relations and the world economy.

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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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Africa

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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