“Guinea is beautiful: we don’t need to rape it anymore. We just need to make love to her.” — Mamady Doumbouya
More often than not, news coming from countries in Africa remain somewhere on the periphery of our news feeds, seemingly carrying little significance for global politics and world economy as compared to other macro-regions. Many of us, Russians included, know next to nothing as to what is going on across the vast expanses of the African continent.
Many would have heard about the ridiculous incident in the Suez Canal in Egypt, while few in Russia ever paid attention to a possible extension of Russia’s industrial zone in the North African country — to possibly include the East Port Said and Ain Sokhna regions. However, over the past months of 2021 it is West Africa rather North Africa that has come to the regional “epicenter”, rich in events of far-reaching consequences.
Africa’s “Wild West”
For this, article could have sought to explore one of the following:
- a conceivably increased risk of the terrorist threat (notably, on the part of the Boko Haram group whose terrorist activities now span Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon) in the wake of the complete U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan;
- an aggravated political situation in Chad following the mysterious death of the nation’s long-time strongman, President Idriss Déby, who had remained in office since 1990, — in less than a month of being re-elected into his sixth term while “defending the sovereign nation on the battlefield”;
- dubious consequences of a third-in-ten-years coup d’état in Mali which occurred this May and has seen to the ousting of the nation’s interim President Bah Ndaw as well his Prime Minister and Defense Minister by Vice President Assimi Goïta, the very same person behind the August 2020 Malian coup d’état;
- the slow-rolled intention of the ECOWAS member states to adopt a single currency, the “Eco”, by 2027, thereby abandoning the long-established semi-colonial practice of relying on the France-guaranteed and euro-bound CFA franc;
- a rather complicated epidemiological situation in Côte-d’Ivoire, trapped in an unhealthy dynamic of COVID-19 cases to be aggravated by a possible outbreak of Ebola;
- Malawi’s freshman in presidential office, Lazarus Chakwera, now seeking to eradicate corruption and discover an alternative base for promoting economic growth, with cannabis being considered among the candidates to replace tobacco, the country’s mono-culture, amid a dwindling global demand;
- or, finally, the authorities of Ghana, the continent’s largest gold-mining nation, willing to embrace the basic tenets of “green economy” to effect a socially-beneficial transition.
In the name of the nation’s unity and the country’s development
Each of these stories has its own significance and value for understanding international affairs. Today, it seems, though, that it is worth darting a glance at Guinea. More recently, the international community was taking an exclusive interest in this small West African country within the epidemiological context. Back then, everyone feared the Marburg fever spreading globally. The highly fatal disease, “boasting” a mortality of up to 88%, owes its origins to contacts with bats, much like the coronavirus (whose mortality, we shall say, rarely exceeds 34%). Fortunately for us, though, the fever is not expected to acquire a global footprint—unlike the Sunday coup d’état in Guinea that may bear far-reaching consequences.
No-one seems to have foreseen the events of September 5, 2021, when an early Sunday morning was mired by (supposedly) extensive shooting in downtown Conakry, the nation’s capital, when the presidential guard attempted to repel an attack of the elite Special Forces Groupe (GFS) under the command of Col. Mamady Doumbouya, a native Malinké  from Kankan, Guinea’s second-largest city. His military career includes training at the École de guerre, the French War College, in Paris as well as service in the French Foreign Legion, with him participating in missions in Afghanistan, Côte-d’Ivoire and Djibouti. M. Doumbouya only returned to Guinea in 2018, when he was to take command of the elite group to help the country’s authorities combat terrorism. Throughout 2021, he was paving the way to become something more than a military man, boosting the strength of his unit and insisting on more autonomy from the Defense Ministry to raise concerns among many in the ruling class and trigger rumors of his would-be arrest. To counter his growing influence, the Defense Ministry set up another elite group, the Quick Response Unit (GIR); but that was, as it now seems, a bit too late.
Rumors of the upcoming arrest could have played its role in M. Doumbouya’s decision to mastermind the coup, which he explained in his televised address to the nation—this time as the person in charge of the National Committee for Rally and Development (CNRD) and, thus, the country’s future—through ousted President Alpha Condé abusing his powers and the rights of citizens, also citing paralysis of the state institutions, rampant corruption and the all-the-more deteriorating situation in the country’s economy and social affairs. Besides, it was noted that the new military authorities would abrogate the current constitution and dissolve the government, while closing down Guinea’s borders. As became evident from a video-proof released by the GFS, President Alpha Condé, in office from 2010, is being detained by the Special Forces. Alongside the President, the speaker of Guinea’s Parliament, Amadou Camara, seems to have been arrested—being the second person in the state, he was an ardent supporter of A. Condé. The fate of the country’s defense minister has long remained unknown, although he, as well as the President, apparently deemed what was going on beside his residence as not that serious, releasing a message on the government’s official Facebook page that “the threat was contained, and the attack was repelled.”
The Sunday coup may seem all too familiar to the other military-driven regime changes, especially given the recent events in Mali that borders Guinea to the north—many parallels could, in fact, be drawn with the May coup in the neighboring country, especially so since M. Doumbouya and A. Goïta are well-acquainted as they both participated in the U.S.-organized “Flintlock” exercises in Burkina Faso in 2019. Interestingly enough, Alpha Condé’s ascent to power in 2010—the first rather “democratic” transition in Guinea’s history as a result of elections rather than a coup, as was the case in 1984 or in 2008—was nevertheless mired by tensions and uncertainty, imposed curfews as well as the military and armored vehicles on the capital’s streets. Getting back to M. Doumbouya’s address, though, we would gently suggest that the Sunday coup d’état apparently came to be a by-product of the more general political process in Guinea, following up on the events of October, 2019.
Elections — Guinea-style, or no Constitution is set in stone
In 2019, at the initiative of A. Condé, whose second term in office was nearing its end, the authorities organized a constitutional referendum to be held together with the parliamentary elections, intending to legalize the president’s desire to be re-elected for a third consecutive term, which was banned under the constitution . Along with resetting the count of all A. Condé’s previous terms, the amendments provided for the extending the number of years in the presidency: raising the bar from 5 to 6 years. Despite the government’s attempts to present the new edition of the constitution as a step towards further democratization of the country—since other amendments proposed were to ban child marriages and female circumcision, to grant spouses equal rights in divorce and to redress gender inequality in state institutions—the referendum was largely seen in a negative light, both in Guinea and abroad.
The issue was not in the government’s move only; it was just as much about how the authorities in Conakry went about its implementation. First, even the rather loyal ECOWAS officials had to indicate that the vast discrepancies in the polling lists, apparently containing many a “ghost voter”, be removed, something the President’s administration only did in part. Second, in order to preclude any undesirable coverage, the authorities went on to block all messengers and social media on the eve of the referendum and until the outcome, with 89,76% of the votes “FOR”, was revealed. Third, the official redaction of the constitution, as was published by the government, appeared to be somewhat different from the one the Guineans vote for. The “new” constitution provided for an extension of the President’s powers, especially in regional affairs, and an exclusion of any opportunity for independent aspirants to be elected into office. The only commentary offered by a governmental official came from Papa Koly Kourouma, Minister for Hydraulics and Sanitation (sic!), who argued that “no final version was ever submitted to the people, because the text was in perpetual modification, before and after (sic!) its adoption.”
It is, therefore, far from surprising that the country’s cities and towns witnessed numerous and rather violent protests—in the build-up to the referendum; following the official announcement of its outcome; and immediately after A. Condé having endorsing the proposal of his own party, “Rally of the Guinean People” (RPG), for him to run in the presidential elections.
The elections held in October 2020, while mostly following the logic of “ethnic voting” typical of Guinea and a number of other nations in Africa (such as when people of one nationality tend to vote exclusively for “their own”, without taking other factors into account), came to mark a watershed in Guinea’s political process. At this point, it would do us good to remember that the key ethnic groups in Guinea are the Malinkés and the Fulbhés. While Malinkés tend to occupy the highest positions in the state hierarchy more often than others (A. Condé is no exception here), Fulbhés, who are often ready to position themselves as an oppressed people , ultimately stand at the helm of the country’s big businesses, however, remaining out of business politically. The confrontation between these two ethnic groups in the political domain, as well as the struggle for “winning the hearts” (and votes) of the smaller ethnic groups, has determined the essence of the elections, where A. Condé put up his candidacy against Cellou Dalein Diallo (Fulbhé), the former Prime Minister and the leader of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea, a party in opposition to the government.
In the end, the demographic situation, being generally favorable for A. Condé, was aptly used by his spin doctors to allowed him—in spite of C. Diallo’s initial leadership in the counting of votes—to win the election, having received, according to the official data, some 59.5% of the votes. At that point, the protests inspired by the defeated C. Diallo and the opposition were nevertheless quelled, albeit with civilian casualties of about 50 people, including children.
When examining the Sunday coup staged by M. Doumbouya and his faithful, it would be too easy to assume that the coup d’état came as a corollary of this deep-rooted conflict between the two ethnic groups. May it well turn out that, much like a year before, the reason for the coup lies in the “third-term problem” that has got in the way of unity among the West African nations? Back then, A. Condé’s aspirations failed to win approval of most of his neighbors. Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, for instance, chose to endorse C. Diallo and, by extension, the Fulbhés—a move that resulted in a closure of Guinea’s borders. All this is too easy until we pay attention a seemingly minor detail.
Perhaps, it is well worth remembering that M. Doumbouya by no means shares an allegiance to the Fulbhés; he is a Malinké and a native of Kankan. Located in Upper Guinea, the city is the heart of A. Condé’s electoral campaigns as the overwhelming majority of the region’s residents back his policies. What can then provide an explanation for the discontent among Guinea’s GFS, who are now claiming to be “responding to the legitimate aspirations of the people”, as has been mentioned M. Doumbouya’s appeal?
Changes to shuffles to blunders
On the one hand, the jubilation of Conakry’s residents about the coup, which is now described by most of the media, is quite understandable, since there is no compact dwelling of any ethnic group in the capital—instead, we are dealing with a noticeable difference in the neighbourhoods that are opposed to the government and are loyal to it. If this is the case, then most of the cheering, apparently, should probably be attributed to the Fulbhés. Otherwise, it would be difficult to explain why one of Conakry’s residents said in his commentary to the French Le monde, “People are afraid. They wonder what will come next, preferring to stay safe at home rather than rub shoulders with the military”. At least, this testifies to the ambiguity of the public as regards the coup and its instigators. This is, by the way, also visible from the comment by Abdourahmane Sano, coordinator for the oppositional National Front for the Protection of the Constitution, established during the 2019–2020 protests, which is not particularly optimistic: “I am not surprised that a military coup follows the constitutional coup. We take note of the CNRD’s statements promising an inclusive and peaceful transition, but we are awaiting details on the modalities”.
On the other hand, it is somewhat more difficult to explain the motives of the coup. It seems, however, that there are two main reasons here, with the two closely intertwined.
First, the coronavirus pandemic and the Ebola fever, which has long persisted in the country, have finally exposed all the gaps in President A. Condé’s socio-economic policies. Home to world’s largest bauxite deposits, Guinea has so far managed to sustain its annual GDP growth at a fairly high level. When A. Condé assumed power in 2010, the number was around 4.8%, reaching 5.6% in 2012. By 2016, Guinea’s GDP growth stood at 10.8%. Even in the pandemic-spoiled 2020, the country’s economic growth was as much as 7%. These figures, though, poorly reflect the real state of affairs in national economy, which is also true of the standard of living of Guineans. Some 71% of the country’s residents have to live on less than $3.20 (PPP) per day which renders the country one of the poorest in the world. Although Guinea now finds itself at an early stage of demographic transition, which can theoretically translate into promising economic potential as the number of young people goes up, the social dynamics “on site” seems to chisel away at this advantage. According to a World Bank report, only 30% of Guinea’s nations are literate, while the government’s spending on education does not exceed 2.6% of GDP (by way of contrast, the average indicator for sub-Saharan Africa stands at 4.6%). In many of the country’s regions, the people either continue to live their traditional way, remaining virtually unintegrated into Guinea’s “official economy”, or prefer to migrate. In fact, it is in many ways the Guinean diaspora abroad—rather than the government in Conakry—that keeps the population afloat through the remittances they send to their relations in Guinea.
Alpha Condé came to power under the slogan of the changes to come. Eleven years ago, it seemed that he, a graduate of the French Sorbonne and the author of the book “A Caring African: This is What I want for Guinea”, would succeed in reversing Guinea’s political source, achieving a better life for his fellow citizens. As we may see, however, it was absolutely not enough to embark on the path of ensuring political and fiscal stability. Apparently, it is for a reason that the new interim body of government is called the “National Committee for Rally and Development”.
Second, the Sunday coup could also be regarded through the lens of a generation gap. The President, who was elected in October 2020 for a six-year term, is already 83 years old. His perspective on the world and his country must have formed back in the era when Guinea took its first steps on the path to decolonization and, later, as an independent state. If we only take stock of age considerations, A. Condé only represents some 3.85% of the population (group 65+). M. Doumbouya was born in 1980, and the “brothers in arms”, who stand behind him, are young. His generation is, therefore, much closer to the bulk of the country’s population: the youth. For this reason, it seems that the support of these segments of the population may well come to play a pivotal role in the future fate of the newly-made head of state. In the meantime, he pledged to “end the personalization of political life” and “rewrite the constitution together on the basis of an inclusive dialogue that will decide the future of the country.”
Finally, we have to mention that the reaction of the international community to the coup contains exclusively negative assessments. The coup has already been condemned by the United Nations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Some African states (for example, Nigeria), as well as the European Union, France, the United States, Russia and China have all taken the same positions—such a united front is a rare thing to see, which is quite indicative.
This may well mean that A. Condé—whose political career saw both ups and downs, as he was twice defeated in elections, forced to migrate to France only to end up behind the bars upon returning to Guinea in 2010—could still be able to restore his former glory. If this happens, we can then assume that the president’s power would no longer be so far-reaching, while the ruling party, just as the 83-year-old A. Condé himself, would need to decide on a successor whose candidacy could be endorsed in the next presidential election (or even earlier).
In the meantime, we see that A. Condé’s entourage chose to take the path of least resistance to the new authorities. The meeting of the incumbent government, convened by M. Doumbouya on Monday, was attended by Prime Minister Ibrahima Kassory Fofana, Secretary General of the Presidency Kiridi Bangoura and the all-powerful Defense Minister Mohamed Diané (who, as one might remember, was previously confident that the coup would fail). Their absence would have been equated to “rebellion against the government”. All of them have now lost their positions, as well as their passports (they were taken over by the GFS), but they have so far walked free.
Alright, what about the Russians?
Guinea is one of the few countries in Africa to be openly oriented on Russia, due to various circumstances throughout its history. Back in 1958, Guinea was the only nation that refused to join the French Community, instead declaring its independence—two years earlier than other francophone countries in Africa. The wrath of France (all production facilities were shut, and all specialists left the country) notwithstanding, Guinea’s Sekou Touré, as a snub to the former colonial power, put forward his own alternative to France-Afrique”, calling for the creation of the United States of Black Africa (this was even enshrined in the constitution) and persisting in his new, independent course. As a sidenote on the bilateral history of relations, we shall indicate that the only visit of a highest Soviet official to Africa was paid to Guinea, when a month into Sekou Touré’s election as the President of Guinea in 1961, Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Conakry on a visit. There was little surprise, then, in Guinea proclaiming a “non-capitalist path of development” already in 1962, although its official abandonment followed just as soon (in 1967). Anyway, the bilateral relations have always remained quite close, being based today on a fairly solid framework. One of the recent achievements of Russia’s diplomacy in Guinea was the signing of an agreement on military cooperation. Besides, Alpha Condé became the first African leader to be publicly vaccinated with the Russian “Sputnik V” vaccine against the coronavirus.
And yet, the economic aspect of the bilateral relations is much more important, as the Russian business is profoundly represented here, enjoying a predominant influence along the way. RUSAL, for one, is implementing at least three major projects in Guinea: the development of the world’s largest bauxite deposit Dian-Dian (production launched in 2018), the operation of the mining complex at the Debele bauxite deposit as well as the production of alumina at the Phrygia complex. The development of bauxite mines is also carried out by the Russian “Nordgold”. Finally, most recently, STM Holding reported on the planned deliveries of 6 TGM8 locomotives to be exploited in RUSAL production chains in the country.
Another major success of the Russian business was the agreement on the transition of all schools in the country to the Russian software “MoiOfis”, an analogue of a more expensive ecosystem from Microsoft Corporation.
This quite explains why the news about the Sunday coup was met with some concern among Russian businesses operating in Guinea to find a mirror reflection in an unprecedented growth of prices for aluminium: the metal is now trading at $ 2,727 per ton on the London Metal Exchange, updating the record of 2011. Perhaps, someone has also pondered the comparison of the current situation in Guinea being resemblant of the fate of the agreement on the Russian base in Sudan—a success story suspended in the air and riddled in uncertainty.
However, there is reason to believe that nothing will fundamentally change for Russian businesses in Guinea. Faced with the rejection from the international community and probably fearing isolation and sanctions, M. Doumbouya has been quick to stress that National Committee for Rally and Development will respect all the obligations towards “economic and financial partners”, asking mining companies not to put a halt to their operations. In addition, all restrictions—such as curfews—were lifted in the mining areas of the country, and maritime borders were reopened.
Of course, there remain many gray spots in the story about Sunday’s coup in Guinea at the moment. This applies to the true motives of the members of the CNRD, the fate of both A. Condé and the coup itself. The level of real public support for M. Doumbouya is not completely clear as well. What follows from available sources is that his figure is not so-well known to the general public—he appeared on the forefront as late as 2018, being an experienced military man rather than an ambitious politician with a clear-cut program. Therefore, his further steps also remain in the dark: what will follow the words that there will be no “witch hunt” on those who supported A. Condé and that a “government of national unity” will be created?
- This ethnic group, totalling some 10,5 million people, dwells on where we now find the modern states of Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Côte-d’Ivoire, the Gambia, Sierra-Leone and Burkina-Faso. In Guinea, this is the second largest group, although quite compatible to a bit more numerous Fulbhés. While Malinkés account for some 30% of the country’s population, the share of Fulbhés stands at around 32%; however, it is within possibility that this ration may have levelled off recently. The ousted Alpha Condé is also a Malinké, although coming from a Burkina-Faso wing known as Dioulas.
- Throughout its history, Guinea has known a total of four constitutions, with the first adopted upon the country’s declaration of independence in 1958. Interestingly enough, the story with the constitutional referendum seems to be repeating itself as a similar referendum took place in 2001 to see the amendments to the 1990 approved. The amendments lifted restrictions on holding consecutive terms, with the presidential term expanded from 5 to 7 years. The Constitution adopted in 2010 reintroduced these restrictions. Apparently, this could be what A. Bregadze, the Russian Ambassador to Guinea, may have meant when he said: “The Constitution is not a dogma, the Bible or the Koran… The Constitution needs to be adapted to reality, not reality to the Constitution.”
- Despite the may attempts to eradicate tribalism, including through mixed marriages and promoting Islam as a factor uniting people, it is still ethnic considerations that dominate the political process in Guinea.
- Indeed, alongside with the repressions of the late years of Sekou Touré in power, September 2009 saw tragic events when an opposition rally was brutally put down by the security forces, killing some 157 demonstrators, most of whom turned out to be Fulbhés.
- The international poverty line is now set at this level. According to Guinea’s own poverty indicators, 55% of the population is considered to be poor.
From our partner RIAC
Shaping the Future Relations between Russia and Guinea-Bissau
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Guinea- Bissau Suzi Carla Barbosa have signed a memorandum on political consultations. This aims at strengthening political dialogue and promoting consistency in good cooperation at the international arena.
Russia expects trade and economic ties with Guinea-Bissau will continue developing; they must correspond to the high level of the political dialog between the countries, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in his opening remarks at the meeting with his counterpart from Guinea-Bissau Suzi Carla Barbosa.
“Probably, the next natural step will be to build up our trade-economic, investment cooperation in order to bring it to the level of our sound, confident political dialogue,” the Russian Minister added.
Speculation aside, the face-to-face diplomatic talks focus on effective ways for developing tangible cooperation in most diverse areas in Guinea-Bissau. The meeting agreed to take a number of practical steps, including reciprocal visits by entrepreneurs both ways.
“We talked about more efficient ways of developing our trade and economic cooperation. We agreed to undertake a range of specific steps, including the trips of businessmen from Guinea-Bissau to Russia and then from Russia to Guinea-Bissau,” Lavrov said.
Last year, Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau Nuno Gomes Nabiam met with representatives of the Russian business community. The areas of interest mentioned in this respect included exploration of natural resources, construction of infrastructure facilities, as well as development of agriculture and fisheries.
Guineans are keen on deepening bilateral cooperation in fishing. The five Russian fishing trawlers have recently resumed their operations in the exclusive economic zone of Guinea-Bissau.
As explained the media conference, the topics discussed for cooperation included such spheres as natural resources tapping, infrastructure development, agriculture and fisheries
In terms of education, over 5,000 people have already entered civilian professions, and more than 3,000 people have acquired military specialties, which is important for Guinea-Bissau. In addition, military and technical intergovernmental cooperation agreement is about to enter in force. According to reports, Russia would continue to pursue military cooperation with the country.
Both ministers reviewed the situation in Mali, the Republic of Guinea and some other African areas, with an emphasis on West Africa and the Sahara-Sahel region.
Lavrov and Carla Barbosa discussed preparations for the second Russia-Africa summit planned for 2022. With high hopes that the collective attendance will include President of Guinea-Bissau Umaro Sissoco Embalo.
Guinea-Bissau, like many African states, has had political problems. In April 2020, the regional group of fifteen West African countries often referred to as ECOWAS, after months of election dispute finally recognized the victory of Umaro Sissoco Embaló of Guinea-Bissau.
Perspectives for future development are immense in the country. The marine resources and other waterbodies are integral part to the livelihood. Steps to increase agricultural production are necessary. The economy largely depends on agriculture: fish, cashew nuts and peanuts are its major exports. Its population estimated at 1.9 million, and more than two-thirds lives below the poverty line.
Sharing borders with Guinea (to the southeast), Gambia and Senegal (to the north), Guinea-Bissau attained its independence in September 1973. Guinea-Bissau follows a nonaligned foreign policy and seeks friendly and cooperative relations with a wide variety of states and organizations. Besides, Eсonomic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Guinea-Bissau is a member of the African Union (AU) and the United Nations.
Analyzing The American Hybrid War on Ethiopia
Ethiopia has come under unprecedented pressure from the U.S. ever since it commenced a military operation in its northern Tigray Region last November. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the armed forces to respond to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which used to be the most powerful faction of the former ruling party, after it attacked a military barracks. Addis Ababa now officially considers the TPLF to be a terrorist group. It fell out with PM Abiy after initially facilitating his rise to power as a result of disagreements over his fast-moving socio-political reforms.
The TPLF refused to join PM Abiy’s Prosperity Party upon its formation in December 2019. It also regarded his decision to postpone national elections last August until this June due to the COVID-19 pandemic as resulting in him illegitimately remaining in power. In response, the TPLF organized its own elections in the Tigray Region in September 2020 that were not recognized by the central government. This set a tense backdrop against which the group attacked the military a few months later in early November, which was what triggered the ongoing conflict.
The U.S. and its allies claim that Ethiopia is carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Tigray, which Addis Ababa, of course, denies. This set the basis upon which the U.S. began to sanction the country. The first sanctions were imposed in late May to target Ethiopian officials as well as some of their Eritrean allies who, the U.S. claimed, were supporting them in their military campaign. The Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) pulled out of Tigray a month later in June, claiming that this unilateral move would facilitate the international community’s relief efforts in the war-torn region that had attracted so much global attention.
The conflict did not end, however, but actually expanded. The TPLF felt emboldened to invade the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara, parts of which it continues to occupy. Addis Ababa suspected that the group was receiving various equipment and other forms of support under the cover of UN aid shipments. It also accused the TPLF of manipulating international perceptions about the region’s humanitarian crisis in order to generate more support and increase pressure on the Ethiopian government. PM Abiy published an open letter to U.S. President Joe Biden last month, urging him to reconsider his country’s policy towards the conflict.
It regrettably went unheeded but deserves to be read in full, since the Ethiopian leader compellingly argued that the American policy is counterproductive and influenced by the TPLF’s lobbyists. Shortly after that, his government expelled seven UN officials at the end of September, who it accused of meddling. In early October, CNN published a report claiming that Ethiopian Airlines was illegally transporting weapons to and from Eritrea during the early stages of the conflict. This, in turn, prompted more sanctions threats from the U.S. The situation is such that the U.S. is now actively working in support of the TPLF against PM Abiy’s government.
This American hybrid war on Ethiopia is waged in various ways that deserve further study. They closely resemble the American hybrid war on Syria in the sense that the U.S. is using humanitarian pretexts to justify meddling in the country’s internal affairs. Its motivations to backstab its regional ally are entirely self-interested and zero-sum. The U.S. is uncomfortable with PM Abiy’s geopolitical balancing between Washington and Beijing. Although the former TPLF-led government was also close to China, the U.S. likely expected PM Abiy to distance Ethiopia from it, considering the pressure that Washington exerts upon its partners to do so.
He came to power in early 2018 around the time when the U.S. began to intensify its ongoing New Cold War with China. From the American perspective, it is unacceptable for the country’s partners to retain close ties with its top geopolitical rival. It is for this reason why the US far from appreciates PM Abiy’s balancing act since it likely expected for him to move away from China. This leads to the next motivation for the American Hybrid War on Ethiopia, which is to return the TPLF to power there, if not in a national capacity, then at least in its home region. Such an explanation will now be elaborated on more at length.
Ethiopia finds itself at a crossroads whereby the country can either continue on the path of centralization, like PM Abiy has attempted to do, or pursue the course of further federalization to the point where its regions receive more autonomy than before. One of the TPLF’s primary criticisms of the Ethiopian leader is that he is allegedly going against the country’s post-civil war federal foundation. If it can succeed at least in securing broad autonomy for its home region by force after failing to do so peacefully, this might then trigger radical reforms that result in advancing its federal vision throughout the rest of the country.
The U.S. could exploit the broad autonomy that these regions might receive in order to individually pressure them to distance themselves from China. Ethiopia is, after all, Africa’s second most populous country and used to have one of the world’s fastest rates of economic growth before the COVID-19 pandemic. From a continental standpoint, the U.S. might believe that turning Ethiopia against China could eventually become a game-changer in the New Cold War’s African theater. In other words, everything that the U.S. is doing against Ethiopia is motivated by its desire to “contain” China. It is now time to explain its modus operandi in detail.
The U.S. immediately exploited the TPLF-provoked conflict in Ethiopia to pressure PM Abiy to treat the group as his political equals. This was unacceptable for him, since doing so would legitimize all other groups that attack the armed forces in pursuit of their political objectives. The Ethiopian leader rightly feared that it could also trigger a domino effect that results in the country’s “Balkanization”, which would advance American interests in the sense of taking the country out of the “geopolitical game” with China. In response to his recalcitrance, the U.S. alleged that his government was carrying out ethnic cleansing.
American officials knew that this would attract global attention that they could manipulate to put multilateral pressure upon his government. Even so, PM Abiy still did not relent but continued waging his war in the interests of national unity. With time, the U.S. began to portray him as a “rogue leader” who did not deserve his Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for resolving his country’s frozen conflict with the neighboring Eritrea. Its perception managers presented him as a power-hungry dictator, who was ruthlessly killing the ethnic minorities that opposed his government, including by deliberately starving them to death.
The ENDF’s withdrawal from the Tigray Region over the summer was interpreted by the U.S. as having been commenced from a position of weakness. It believed that ramping up the pressure at this sensitive point in the conflict could lead to him politically capitulating to the TPLF’s demands. This was a wrong assessment since PM Abiy hoped that everything would stabilize after his decision facilitated international relief efforts to the war-torn region. These were unfortunately exploited, according to Addis Ababa, in order to provide more support for the TPLF, which is why his government recently expelled those seven UN officials.
The U.S. “humanitarian imperialism”, as one can now call its policy against Ethiopia, is very pernicious. It focuses solely on the humanitarian crisis in the Tigray Region while ignoring the ones that the TPLF caused in the neighboring Afar and Amhara regions. This policy also manipulates perceptions about the situation in Tigray in order to delegitimize PM Abiy, the ENDF and the political cause of national unity that they are fighting for. The purpose is to encourage more members of the international community to pressure Ethiopia to the point where it finally feels compelled to politically capitulate. This policy, however, has proven to be counterproductive.
Far from giving up the fight, Ethiopia is doubling down and is now more motivated than ever before to see the war to its end, though ideally through a political rather than military solution due to humanitarian considerations. This does not imply treating the terrorist-designated TPLF as an equal but envisions replacing its leadership in the Tigray Region with a pro-government/unity party instead. That is, of course, easier said than done, which is why military means might continue to be relied upon to this political end. Throughout the course of its struggle, Ethiopia has begun to be seen as an anti-imperialist icon across Africa and the rest of the Global South.
PM Abiy’s open letter to Biden was full of powerful statements articulating Ethiopia’s sovereign interests. It showed that African leaders can resist the U.S., which could inspire the Ethiopian leader’s counterparts who might also come under similar pressure from their partner sometime in the future—due to its zero-sum New Cold War geopolitical calculations. Ethiopia’s sheer size makes it an African leader, not to mention it hosting the headquarters of the African Union, so it can influence the rest of the continent. It also has a very proud anti-imperialist history which motivates its people not to submit to foreign pressure.
China, Russia and India have politically supported Ethiopia against the U.S. at the UN, thereby debunking The Economist’s lie last week that “Ethiopia is losing friends and influence”. To the contrary, Ethiopia is gaining friends and influence, especially among the rising powers and the rest of the Global South. Its principled resistance to the American hybrid war on it has shown others that there is an alternative to capitulation. It is indeed possible to fight back in the interests of national unity. Not all American destabilization plots are guaranteed success. Just like the U.S. failed to topple the Syrian government, so too has it failed to topple the Ethiopian regime.
Ethiopia, however, is many orders of magnitude larger than Syria. This makes its hitherto successful resistance to the American hybrid war all the more significant. The leader in the Horn of Africa is a very diverse country, whose many people could be pitted against one another through information warfare to provoke another round of civil war that would help the TPLF’s U.S.-backed anti-government crusade. That worst-case scenario has not materialized, though, due to the majority of the population’s commitment to national unity even among some of those who might have misgivings about the present government.
This year’s elections saw the Prosperity Party win by a landslide, which shows how much genuine support it and its founder have among the masses. Furthermore, PM Abiy’s concept of “medemer” (“coming together”) aims to counteract “Balkanization” processes by pragmatically reforming socio-political relations inside the country. It is a very promising idea that could inspire other very diverse states across the Global South and help them ideologically thwart divide-and-rule plots like the one presently waged against Ethiopia.
Assessing the strategic situation as it presently stands, the American Hybrid War on Ethiopia is expected to intensify on manipulated humanitarian pretexts. More sanctions and even the threatened revocation of Ethiopia’s access to the U.S. market through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) could worsen the economic situation for millions of people. The purpose in doing so would be to provoke anti-government protests that the U.S. hopes would be violent enough to catalyze a self-sustaining cycle of destabilization throughout the country after the security services crack down on the rioters.
The supplementary purpose is to encourage some Ethiopians to join anti-government terrorist groups allied or working in coordination with the TPLF unless the U.S. succeeds in pulling off a Color Revolution. This modus operandi is identical to the one that it relied upon in its hybrid war on Syria. In the Ethiopian context, the U.S. hopes to forcefully “Balkanize” the country, whether de jure or de facto through an extreme form of federalization. The point is to punish Ethiopia for balancing between China and the U.S., which showed other Global South states that such a pragmatic approach is possible instead of the U.S.-practised zero-sum one.
Nevertheless, the U.S. might still fail. The ENDF and other security services retain control throughout all the country’s regions with the exception of Tigray. It is therefore unlikely that any Color Revolution or Unconventional War there will succeed. Furthermore, Ethiopia enjoys close ties with the rising multipolar powers like China, Russia and India who can help it weather the current crisis by neutralizing U.S. attempts to isolate the country. In addition, the “medemer” concept ensures that national unity remains at the core of the Ethiopian society, reducing the appeal of foreign-backed “Balkanization” narratives.
Altogether, it can be said that Ethiopia is successfully resisting the U.S. hybrid war against it. There have certainly been some serious costs to its international reputation, but it remains committed to the cause of national unity, and it does not seem likely to politically capitulate to the terrorist-designed TPLF’s foreign-backed demands. Expelling those seven UN officials for meddling was a major move which speaks to how serious the country is about protecting its sovereignty. The same can also be said about PM Abiy’s open letter to Biden which preceded that development and explained why the U.S. is wrong for meddling in Ethiopia.
The American Hybrid War on Ethiopia will likely continue since the US doesn’t like to lose. It keenly understands what’s at stake in the realm of international perceptions, and it’s that the US cannot afford to have an African country – let alone one as large and influential as Ethiopia is – successfully resist its pressure campaign. Ethiopia’s resolute resistance can inspire other countries across the Global South, which can complicate the US’ efforts to pressure them into curtailing ties with China in the New Cold War. Had the US simply accepted Ethiopia’s balancing act, then the conflict might have ended by now, but its zero-sum policies prevented that.
From our partner RIAC
Reducing industrial pollution in the Niger River Basin
The Niger River is the third-longest river in Africa, running for 4,180 km (2,600 miles) from its source in south-eastern Guinea, through Mali, Niger and Nigeria, before discharging via the Niger Delta into the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. Tributaries that run through a further five countries feed into the mighty Niger.
Hundreds of millions of people in West Africa depend on the river and its tributaries, for drinking water, for fish to eat, for irrigation to grow crops, for use in productive processes, and for hydroelectric power.
The health of the Niger River Basin is vitally important for the people and for the environment of West Africa. But this health is endangered by land degradation, pollution, loss of biodiversity, invading aquatic vegetal species and climate change.
To both assess and address these environmental issues, a Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded project has brought together international, regional and national entities to work on integrated water resources management for the benefit of communities and the resilience of ecosystems. (Project details can be found here.)
One part of the early project research found that as the Niger River passes through Tembakounda, Bamako, Gao, Niamey, Lokoja and Onithsa – major trading, agro-processing and industrial cities – wastewater and other polluting substances are discharged directly into the river, often without consideration for the environment. National governments of the countries which the river runs through are either unable to deal with the accumulated environmental problems and/or are ineffective at preventing, regulating, reducing and managing pollution from industrial activities.
For this reason, one component of the GEF project, implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), will facilitate the Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technology (TEST) to reduce wastewater discharges and pollution loads into the Niger River.
Despite the limitations on travel resulting from measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus, in August this year, UNIDO successfully identified and engaged with 19 pilot enterprises in various sectors, including pharmaceuticals, mining and agribusiness, operating in ‘pollution hotspots’ in the countries of the Niger River Basin. This number exceeds the original target of one enterprise per country.
UNIDO experts are now introducing and sharing the Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technology (TEST) methodology with the pilot enterprises. In essence, this will mean the application of a set of tools including Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production, Environmental Management Systems, and Environmental Management Accounting, which will lead to the adoption of best practices, new skills and a new management culture.
Armed with these tools, the enterprises will be able to reduce product costs and increase productivity, while reducing the adverse environmental consequences of their operations. An awareness-raising campaign will be carried out so that the demonstration effect resonates across the Niger River Basin, prompting other enterprises to follow suit.
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