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Decade of Sahel conflict leaves 2.5 million people displaced

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Two displaced women sit at a camp in Awaradi, Niger. © UNOCHA/Eve Sabbagh

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called on Friday for concerted international action to end armed conflict in Africa’s central Sahel region, which has forced more than 2.5 million people to flee their homes in the last decade.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, the agency’s spokesperson, Boris Cheshirkov, informed that internal displacement has increased tenfold since 2013, going from 217,000 to a staggering 2.1 million by late last year.

The number of refugees in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger now stands at 410,000, and the majority comes from Mali, where major civil conflict erupted in 2012, leading to a failed coup and an on-going extremist insurgency.

Increase in one year

Just last year, a surge in violent attacks across the region displaced nearly 500,000 people (figures for December still pending).

According to estimates from UN partners, armed groups carried out more than 800 deadly attacks in 2021. 

This violence uprooted some 450,000 people within their countries and forced a further 36,000 to flee into a neighbouring country.

In Burkina Faso alone, the total number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) rose to more than 1.5 million by the end of the year. Six in ten of the Sahel’s displaced are now from this country.

In Niger, the number of IDPs in the regions of Tillabéri and Tahoua has increased by 53 per cent in the last 12 months. In Mali, more than 400,000 people are displaced internally, representing a 30 per cent increase from the previous year.

Climate, humanitarian crisis

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating with crises on multiple fronts.

Insecurity is the main driver, made worse by extreme poverty, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of the climate crisis are also felt more strongly in the region, with temperatures rising 1.5 times faster than the global average.

Women and children are often the worst affected and disproportionately exposed to extreme vulnerability and the threat of gender-based violence.

According to the UNHCR spokesperson, “host communities have continued to show resilience and solidarity in welcoming displaced families, despite their own scant resources.”

He also said that Government authorities have demonstrated “unwavering commitment” to assisting the displaced, but they are now “buckling under increasing pressure.”

Bold response

UNHCR and humanitarian partners face mounting challenges to deliver assistance, and continue to be the target of road attacks, ambushes, and carjacking.

In this context, the agency is calling on the international community to take “bold action and spare no effort” in supporting these countries.

UNHCR is also leading the joint efforts of UN agencies and NGOs to provide emergency shelter, manage displacement sites and deliver vital protection services, including combating gender-based violence and improving access to civil documentation.

In 2021, more than a third of the agency’s Central Sahel funding needs were unmet.

This year, to mount an effective response in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, the agency needs $307 million.

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Africa

Russia Renews its Support to Mark Africa Day

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Russia has renewed its unique confidence that “it will be able to ensure the development and implementation of many useful and innovative projects and initiatives in various fields for the benefit of both countries and peoples, in the interests of strengthening security and stability in Africa and around the world.”

In a speech, on behalf of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, read by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, on May 25 when the continent marks Africa Day, further noted the change marked the emergence of a multilateral pan-African platform on a qualitatively higher level of interaction in the political, socioeconomic and other spheres.

Putin, in addition, acknowledged that “African states have achieved a great deal together over the past two decades. They have developed mechanisms for a collective response to local conflicts and crises, and are consistently promoting regional integration processes in various formats. Africa enjoys growing prestige on the global stage and plays an increasingly important role in resolving important issues on the international agenda.”

Later talking about Russia-Africa relations, Lavrvo told the gathering that Russia would continue to provide comprehensive support and to expand mutually beneficial cooperation. Russian-African relations are traditionally friendly and are making good progress.

Russia has always been and will remain a reliable partner and friend to the countries of Africa. Today, we are confronted with certain Western countries’ unscrupulous attempts to constrain our engagement with Africa. 

Russia has played a leading role in decolonisation and in consolidating decolonisation processes, as well as drafting UN resolutions. Unfortunately, some of them have been sabotaged by former metropolises to this day. We stand in solidarity with your demands for the complete liberation of Africa from the last vestiges of colonial legacy.

This year marks 20 years since the Organisation of African Unity was transformed into the African Union. That change marked the emergence of a multilateral pan-African platform on a qualitatively higher level of interaction in the political, socioeconomic and other spheres.

“Russia has always been and will remain a reliable partner and friend to the countries of Africa. Today, we are confronted with certain Western countries’ unscrupulous attempts to constrain our engagement with Africa. I’m referring to the all-out hybrid war against Russia declared by Washington and its European satellites in connection with the special military operation in Ukraine,” he added.

According to him, it is not so much about Ukraine, which is used as a bargaining chip in the global anti-Russian game. The main problem is that a small group of US-led Western countries keeps trying to impose the concept of a rules-based world order on the international community.

Lavrov suggested that Africa must not succumb to Washington’s discriminatory pressure. There are attempts to reverse history and subjugate the peoples of the continent again grossly violate the sovereignty and independence of the states of the region, and jeopardize the entire system of international relations, which is based on the principle of respect for the sovereign equality of states in the Unted Nations’ Charter.

He called on the African Union (AU) to persistently demand that the West lift illegal unilateral sanctions that undermine the transport and logistics infrastructure necessary for world trade, which creates risks for vulnerable segments of the population. 

Russia and Africa will work together to maintain and expand mutually beneficial bilateral ties in the new conditions without external interference. It is important to facilitate the mutual access of Russian and African economic operators to each other’s markets, to encourage their participation in large-scale infrastructure projects. All these tasks are at the center of attention in the preparations for the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit. 

Reports show that the Russia-Ukraine crisis has twisted the global economy and many African countries are among the most vulnerable in terms of ensuring food security. Some states of the continent are critically dependent on the import of agricultural products from Russia, therefore will make some deliveries, including food, fertilizers, energy carriers and other goods, of great importance for maintaining social stability and achieving the milestones stipulated by the Sustainable Development Goals approved by the United Nations.

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South Africa on the right side of history or captured by Cold War allies?

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Authors: Professor Gerrit Olivier and Michèle Olivier* 

A seemingly non-negotiable principle of SA’s foreign policy, is to be on the side of autocrats and dictators and habitually anti-West, irrespective of the issues. Cosy relations with the likes of Ethiopia’s Mengistu Haile Mariam, Sudan‘s Omar al Bashir Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, characterised our foreign policy under all presidents since Nelson Mandela. With the present government being enamoured with a rabid war criminal like Vladimir Putin, we see a continuation of this policy.

Obsessed with a myopic partisan ideology and habitual hop-nobbing with dictators, of course, come at a high price, particularly degrading SA’S erstwhile high international prestige, role and status as well as stunting our all-important economic development. In short, this means that SA’s prevailing foreign policy is totally out of zinc with its intrinsic national interests. 

According to ANC declarations, SA would ’stick to its principles‘ and not take sides in this war in spite of blatantly illegal and murderous Russian war crimes. Hence, it abstained from voting against Russia together with a motley minority of 34 other UN members in the 2 March General Assembly resolution (only 5 states voted against whilst 141 voted in favour). 

The minister of the department of international relations and development (DIRCO), Naledi Pandor, issued a statement demanding Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. This clearly upset the Marxist, anti-West faction in the ANC policy establishment who subsequently prevailed upon president Ramaphosa, to denounce the statement, no doubt to assuage Russian and local communist’s displeasure. 

For many, both inside and outside the country, this was a controversial decision resulting in a rare local public debate about our wayward foreign policy. What emerged was a conflict of opinion between the ideologues and realists in the foreign policy establishment. A hopeful sign, but unfortunately of little consequence in our fossilised ANC foreign policy establishment. 

All along, the ideologues accepted that being in cahoots with war criminal Russia was in SA’s best interests notwithstanding the normative constitutional dictates and founding moral principles concerning respect for human rights, sovereignty, democracy, and territorial integrity. 

What followed was indeed a case study of expedient, if not downright ’Walter Mitty’ diplomacy.  First, president Ramaphosa rushed to telephone Putin, obviously to bask the reflected glory and honour of speaking to the ‘great man’. Afterwards, he subserviently thanked ‘’his excellency president Vladimir Putin‘’ for taking his call.  At the same time, our ’great negotiator’ refused official engagement with the local Ukrainian ambassador as well as with ambassadors of the European Union, our biggest trading partners.

In the latest General Assembly meeting on Ukraine, SA persisted with its pro-Russian pseudo-neutrality but got a humiliating bloody nose after presenting a draft resolution, excluding the country of all blame. No wonder as this resolution was strictly in line with Kremlin propaganda lies casting doubt as to where exactly SA’s UN diplomats got their instructions from. 

Ramaphosa’s aim, it seems, is to push himself forward as facilitator in the conflict, recalling at length in parliament his past experiences a negotiator.

‘Illusions of grandeur’, it may be called, as SA ’s international status and role during about 3 decades of uninterrupted misrule has declined close to being almost insignificant. While most of the world reached out to end the horrible and unthinkable human and material misery inflicted upon Ukrainian people, he offered them naught for their comfort, except portending to be a great negotiator reporting for service.  

Belatedly, after strong criticism he rejected war as an instrument of policy, and signalled his wish to also speak to Ukrainian pres Volodimyr Zelinskiy, impressed perhaps by the latter‘s sterling performances addressing the American senate and the British, Canadian, Israeli, Italian and Japanese parliaments and the  German Bundestag. The pièce de résistance of his kindergarten diplomacy, was to blame NATO for being deaf to earlier warnings against eastward expansion, ignoring the Russian brutal invasions, of inter alia, Finland, Latvia, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, in the previous century not realising that NATO membership was their safeguard against future Ukrainian-type of invasions. Theirs was a wise decision.  Indeed, Mr President, ignorance is bliss….!    

Of course, good relations with countries like Russia are important provided they are based on pragmatism and national interest rather than sentimental ideological predilections. However, the ANC still acts as being a captive of the Cold War and, as if it still owes permanent a feudal fealty to Russia at a time when Soviet Union is passe and with communism on the ash heap of history. 

While the world must perforce deal with a totally different and dangerous Putinist Russia, the ANC obstinately refuse to accept that its subservient posture vis-a- vis that country is not in SA’s best interest. Lamentably, the global moral imperatives that saw them to power no longer guide its foreign policy. Like the apartheid regime, Putinist Russia today commits a crime against humanity in Ukraine with the support of the ANC government. 

The war in Ukraine may yet lead to unthinkable consequences for the world at large. What happens there is really a struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. Putin does not want a democratic Ukraine at his doorstep exposing his bland authoritarianism and precipitating a ’colour revolution’.  Given the solidarity in the democratic West and the sluggish performance of the Russian forces in Ukraine, he will probably end up losing. SA policy makers are demonstrably  myopic not realising the consequences for being on the side of a war autocratic war criminal war criminal. Like apartheid SA it would probably end up as an isolated global pariah.

An independent SA foreign policy is called for rather than one subservient to the preferences and dictates of Moscow and Beijing. This is the best way in which SA can regain international respect. The way in which it has handled the Ukraine crisis once again laid bare its diplomatic deficiencies, particularly lack of clear headed leadership. This will not change unless foreign policy making is democratised and professionalised rather than being monopolised by a small clique of badly trained  and inexperienced ideologues with the help of a few advocating stand-patters. 

* Michèle Olivier is a consultant of international law

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Africa

Reviewing Russia-Mali Strategic Partnership

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After withdrawing from the Joint Military Force of the G5-Sahel group which the United Nations described as “unfortunate” and “regrettable” middle of May, Malian Foreign Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, made a snapshot visit, for the second time under the new military administration to Moscow, intended to review various aspects of strategic partnership deals with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“We paid special attention to the practical aspects of organizing deliveries from Russia of wheat, mineral fertilizers and petroleum products that are so much needed by the people of Mali today in conditions of illegitimate Western sanctions,” Lavrov said at a press conference after talks with Diop in Moscow.

The sound pace of military and military-technical contacts between the two countries was noted during the talks, according to Lavrov, and thanked his Malian counterpart for support for Russia’s resolutions at the latest session of the UN General Assembly. Lavrov made to explicit reference to the meeting of the UN Security Council the Western countries that consistently tried to “put their blame at Russia’s door” and to shirk responsibility for the food crisis. 

“It goes without saying that we discussed the situation in Ukraine and around it, including the meeting of the UN Security Council devoted to world food security issues, where the Western countries tried to put their own blame at somebody else’s door. They argued that the crisis, which by and large is a result of their own efforts, allegedly stems from the crisis in Ukraine. Of course, they blamed it entirely on Russia,” Lavrov said.

Russia reaffirms its readiness to render Mali support in raising the fighting efficiency of its armed forces. “We reaffirmed Russia’s readiness as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to further contribute to normalizing the situation in Mali, render Bamako comprehensive support on a bilateral basis, in particular, in the sphere of raising the combat efficiency of the Malian armed forces, training troops and law-enforcement personnel,” Russia’s top diplomat said.

France’s decision together with Western allies to end the anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane and the European special forces mission Takuba does not contribute to restoring security in Mali and the entire Sahel region. Reports say France has approximately 5,100 troops in the region under Operation Barkhane, which spans five countries in the Sahel – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

With the final exit and the vacuum created by France, Russia now sees Mali as an excellent conduit to penetrate into the Sahel by pushing the much-criticized Wagner Group that organizes private military for countries in conflict. It is aggressively targeting the Sahel region, an elongated landlocked territory located between north Africa (Maghreb) and West Africa region, and also stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

“There is an obvious danger of the emergence of enclaves of power vacuum where militants of various outlawed armed gangs will feel free at hand and they have already prepared for such acts. This threatens the country’s territorial integrity and we repeatedly told our French counterparts about that,” Russia’s top diplomat said.

On March 2 at the United Nations General Assembly, African representatives and their votes were considered very interesting, and have geopolitical implications for study and analysis. Some 17 African countries abstained from the vote at the UN General Assembly to deplore the Russian invasion of Ukraine while some other 28 countries in the continent voted in favour. Mali was among those that abstained from vote. Eritrea was the only African country that voted against the resolution. It opposes all forms of unilateral sanction as illegal and counterproductive.

“All our initiatives were supported by Mali. We agreed to enhance coordination on the UN platform and in other international organizations. We are determined to work for this in earnest, including in the recently created Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations,” Lavrov assured.

During his first official visit in November 2021 to Moscow, Abdoulaye Diop and Sergei Lavrov, in fact, focused on increasing bilateral cooperation in economic sectors. But particularly significant was Russia’s military assistance to strengthen the position of the new military government and to fight rising terrorism in the Sahel region.

As developments explicitly show, Mali already stands in isolation there as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, the United Nations, and the bilateral and multilateral partners endorse and support the implementation of sanctions and other strict measures to ensure a peaceful return to constitutional and democratic government in Mali.

Mali, a landlocked West African state with an impoverished population, faces increasing isolation from the international community over the political power grab. Even as the African Union (AU), the continental organization, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the regional bloc, both suspended the membership of Mali following military coups in August 2020 and May 2021, the ruling military officials are still holding onto political power by delaying the proposed elections in February 2022.

The African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and foreign organizations such as the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) have requested a quick transition to a civilian government. They further urged that efforts are taken to resolve outstanding issues relating to sustainable development and observing strictly principles of democracy in the Republic of Mali in West Africa.

Moscow is still planning to hold the second Russia-African summit. The “special military operation” approved by both the Federation Council and the State Duma (legislative chambers) to “demilitarize and denazify” the former Soviet republic of Ukraine has pushed the United States and Canada, European Union members and many other external countries to impose sanctions against Russia.

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