On Wednesday, 17 February 2022, President Emmanuel Macron of France announced the end of Operation Barkhane, declaring that all French contingents of Operation Barkhane will be leaving Mali, giving France time to “reorganize” France’s strategy in the region. A decision that may well give Mali time to “reorganize” its own foreign policy strategy, adopting new strategic agreements with emerging countries interested in the region.
In 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the drawdown of Operation Barkhane, signaling alarm and possible betrayal to France’s Malian counterparts, interim leader of Mali, Colonel Assima Goita, and interim Prime Minister, Choguel Kokalla Maïga. The later stated in August 2021 to the General Assembly of the United Nations that “…the unilateral announcement of Barkhane’s withdrawal and its transformation ignored the connection that binds us, the UN, Mali and France, on the front lines of the fight against the factors of destabilization.”
However, destabilization and insecurity have been persistent throughout Mali even at the Operation Barkhane’s height, in 2019-2020. Over the last two years, the international operation mobilizing the support of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the European Union Training Mission (EUTM), the Takuba Taskforce, and the G-5 Sahel, have all had little success preventing major forms of instability, such as: numerous mass protests in Bamako, Gao, and Mopti; multiple IED bombings of MINUSMA observers and French troops; and most crucially, two coups d’état from 2020-2022.
There have been mentionable successes eliminating or ‘liquidating’ terrorist leader belonging to AQIM, ISIM, and Boko Haram. But in cell-like terrorist structures, these successes are short-lived as eliminated leaders are quickly replaced, while the instabilities that allow these organizations to thrive in areas like North and Central Mali remain and foment into larger, more pervasive insecurity throughout the greater Sahel region.
Thus the “connection that binds” Mali and its Western partners—the fight against the factors of destabilization—was never as fruitful as either party would care to admit. Both in Bamako and in Paris, the rewards of Operation Barkhane have often been outweighed by the losses. Especially regarding public opinion, where a majority of French and Malians no longer support a full-scale French security operation in the country, despite the economic assurances this presence provides Mali in the form of international development assistance or military investments made by French, EU, and G5 to Mali in pursuit of stabilizing Kidal region, where separatist and jihadist sentiments are at their highest.
In sum, there is a veritable storm of instability brewing in the Sahel, one that may only be escapable via new strategies or, more precisely, new partners. As many consider Emmanuel Macron’s announcement to end Operation Barkhane an attempt to garner positive public opinion before the 2022 presidential elections in France, Mali must consider its own political, security and foreign policy realities in 2022, too. Namely, through security, economic, and diplomatic cooperation with emerging countries like Russia and Turkey. Two countries which may serve as “lifeboats” from this Sahelian storm of instability as well as diplomatic upheavals, which have plagued Mali’s interim government from late-2021 into 2022.
Isolated in a storm of instability
Since the last coup d’état in summer 2021, Mali has been host to a series of instabilities, largely involving protests against the French presence in the region, sanctions against the interim government from both the EU and ECOWAS, and a series of violent activity in Mali’s northern region around Kidal and central region around Gao. These instabilities have—along with delayed presidential election timelines—worsened the diplomatic relationship between Mali and its long-time Western partners (e.g. France and the EU).
Following Macron’s announcement made in June 2021 that France would be drawing down its troop presence and military activities in Mali, public opinion in Mali towards France, as well as the G5 Sahel, has tumbled. This is largely to do with a series of diplomatic spats between France, ECOWAS, and the interim Malian government over the course of last year. Besides, sanctions have been imposed by ECOWAS and France for Mali’s purported dealings with the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company (PMC), and refusal to stick to the presidential elections’ timeline set by international agreement for February 27, 2022. Most recently, on January 14, 2022, protests against sanctions from ECOWAS and France have unfurled in Bamako as well as throughout the country, on behest of the interim leader of the current military junta, Colonel Assima Goita.
Sanctions and animosity from regional and western actors
In the aftermath of the 2021 junta, France as well as ECOWAS have levied sanctions against Mali. However, these sanctions may be a double-edged sword in that they may bare the inverse affect. According to ISS Africa, sanctions may be emboldening the Malian leadership and increasing levels of anti-French and anti-ECOWAS sentiment across the country. Sanctions are also impacting Dakar and Abidjan, which rely on port fees for goods headed through these cities to Mali. Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire are also reliant on meat exports from Mali and may experience goods shortages in the coming year due to this economic show of force from ECOWAS and France.
Once more, many in Mali are perplexed by the root cause of sanctions: failure to meet election timetables. As similar unconstitutional or democratically backsliding regimes remain close to or unpunished by the Elysée and Dakar, such as Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, why is that Mali is being punished? A running narrative in Mali, therefore, is that sanctions from ECOWAS are based on double standards and originate from French pressure for dealings with Russia and anti-French policies in 2021-2022.
New violence and encroaching instability
The number of jihadist attacks in Mali and the Central Sahel region (Mali, Niger, and Chad) have quintupled since 2016. From 2021-2022 alone, there were several jihadist attacks involving IEDs near French and MINUSMA installations across Mali. One such attack led to the death of French soldier Alexandre Martin of the 54-artillery regiment, stationed at a French military camp in Gao. Similar casualties have been reported by the French army and MINUSMA outside of Bamako and Kidal. The total number of French military casualties is now at 54 while MINSUMA casualties now total 268—154 of which are due to “malicious acts.”
Where to next?
Mali can revert to the old partnership arrangements, maintaining the holding pattern of semi-stability that it has known for nearly a decade—or it can reach out to new partners to become “lifeboats” out of a storm of pervasive instability. Both options present challenges and benefits to Mali’s future political development. The consequences of Mali’s choice, however, are that it may permanently upend the socio-political, economic, and diplomatic framework of the Sahel.
Two possible lifeboats on the horizon
Mali’s future horizons may rest on new partners, such as Russia and Turkey (from the external powers’ perspective) as well as Guinea and Algeria within Africa. Both sets of possible partners will likely demand fewer concessions, providing new paths towards sovereignty and a uniquely “Malian” political identity. However, these possible partners can only offer a fraction of the military or financial support that the EU and France has invested in the country over the last decade or more.
Old partners, such as France, the EU, and the U.S., from the external perspective, and the G5 Sahel and ECOWAS within Africa, are other options, as many of the partnership agreements, accords, and alliance infrastructure still exist. However, Mali’s bargaining position with these actors, should it choose to reengage with them, would be significantly weakened, which may result in forced presidential elections, the step-down of interim leader Colonel Assima Goita, and full country-access for personnel belonging to Task Force Takuba, G5 Sahel, EUTM, MINUSMA or any whatever new military groupings formulated by the Elysée during this “reorganization period.”
Lifeboat 1: Russia, Turkey, Guinea, and Algeria
Mali has a complex set of new partners, from which it could derive novel foreign policy strategies to improve not only the security situation within the country but also its diplomatic and economic situation. Mali could try to attain a multi-vector foreign policy strategy, where France would play a less hegemonic role in Mali’s internal affairs, opening room for regional partnerships with Algeria and Guinea—the two countries that have not jumped to admonish the current military junta in charge of Mali—as well as leading the country to explore partnerships further afield with Russia and Turkey, with both being the countries that have expressed increased political and economic interest in Mali and the Sahel throughout the last decade.
First, Russia. Despite frenzied media accounts of Russian PMCs active in Mali or the sale of military equipment and helicopters to the interim Malian government since the announced end of Operation Barkhane, which somewhat dramatize Russia’s larger role in the region, Russia has indeed become increasingly active across the continent since 2013. According to French think-tank IFRI, Russia’s “grand retour” to Africa has been punctuated by seemingly ad hoc diplomatic strategies, grandiose summits, and packaged energy development and arms contracts with various African countries from Zimbabwe and Angola in the South to Algeria and Libya in the North. However, one speaking point at Africa-Russia summits and the Economic Forum in St. Petersburg may appeal to Assima Goita and the interim Malian government and to observers interested in Mali. That speaking point is sovereignty and self-determination. In the words of Russia’s Representative to the UN Security Council Vasily Nebenzya, “Mali has the right to interact with other partners which are ready to cooperate with them in the domain of the reinforcement of their (Mali’s) security,” this after Russia voted with China to block a French-backed UN Security Council Resolution to enact sanctions against the interim Malian government for failure to meet election deadlines. This is far more amenable to a multi-vector strategy and a far-cry from the dynamic of relations between Bamako and Paris in the past, where partnership was predicated almost on a basis of exclusivity in Mali’s foreign relations.
Furthermore, according to Tatyana Smirnova of the FrancoPaix Research Centre at the University of Quebec in Canada, Malians may by-and-large be more disposed to a partnership with Russia. According to Smirnova, “In Mali, its image (Russia) anchors itself undeniably in this idealist and heroic representation of Russia since the past (Cold War Era).” In the Cold War Era, the USSR funded Mali’s development en gros, building: schools, hospitals, arenas, and providing loans for Soviet arms. In 2019, the Malian government renewed a strategic partnership signed with the Russian Federation in 1994; while in 2022, the Groupe des Patriotes du Mali (GSM) provided the Malian government with a petition of 8 million signatures, calling for further partnership between Mali and Russia.
Russia is not the only suitor looking to establish new relationships with Mali and the larger Sahel region. Turkey, too, has been very active in the Sahel over the past decade, building: the train line between Blaise Diagne Airport in Dakar to the Dakar city center, financing Islamic schools in Bamako and Gao in Mali, and hosting its third “Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit” in 2021, where Turkey notably held discussions with the representatives of Senegal, Mali, and Burkina Faso. Although, like Russia, Turkey’s financial means are limited and so are its means of influence in the greater Sahel region and Mali. Much of Turkey’s efforts in the Sahel are tied to the UAE and what other emerging powers are doing. Turkey seeks to partake in a new great power competition in Africa and to expand its policy of Neo-Ottomanism, which is based on a more modern vision of Islam, around Africa. In pursuit of this goal, Turkey has incorporated Sahelian states like Mali into its cultural expansion scheme, building mosques, religious schools, and offering scholarships to Malian students.
Despite the cap on its hard financial and military capabilities in the region, Ankara has made strong inroads into the Sahel over the last few years. Namely, establishing a defense agreement with Niger and increasing economic activities in Sahelian countries. Trade between Mali and Turkey, for example, has more than doubled from 2003-2019 ($5 million – $57 million). In 2018, Ankara also provided the G5 Sahel with $5 million and, as TIKA (Turkish Development Agency) indicates, Turkey gave $61 million in ODA to Mali between 2014 and 2019, dwarfing Russia’s contributions by more than $50 million. Turkey has therefore demonstrated more tangible partnership opportunities to Mali and be its best singular “lifeboat” towards new partnership that brings stability, diversification, and the possibility for a more authentic Malian culture not built on francophone ties but a longer, more engrained Muslim tradition, which Ankara seems to support through official rhetoric and diplomatic agreements with Mali and other Sahelian countries.
The final lifeboat in this category is one of solidarity. Following ECOWAS’ decision to levy sanctions against Mali over delayed presidential elections, Guinea—a member of ECOWAS—refused to follow suite and penalize Mali. Instead, Guinea offered support to the interim Malian government, emphasizing their current set of common challenges—Guinea being led by a similar military junta, after a coup d’état which took place in the approximately the same period (October 2021). Equally, Algeria has demonstrated restraint by neutrally by raising questions about ECOWAS’ decision to sanction Mali and refusing to take actions against Mali’s interim government. These two countries cannot offer Mali massive development contracts or security cooperation, but they can legitimize the government and be smaller partners in a multi-vector strategy spearheaded by Mali’s interim government to subdue a break from ECOWAS following the end of Barkhane.
Lifeboat 2: France, the EU, and ECOWAS
The second lifeboat would entail a return to old habits. If Mali concedes and renounces its recent outspoken position against the Elysée and EU involvement in Mali, there is a possibility for reproachment between Mali and its assortment of Western partners—both in Europe and in West Africa.
Reproachment with France and the EU will be difficult. As stated by Emmanuel Macron on February 17, 2022: “France will continue to play a federative role in the region.” Demonstrating France’s continued interest in fighting jihadism in the Sahel and maintaining an intelligence presence both in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea. However, Emmanuel Macron also noted that France “cannot stay engaged militarily on the side of authorities who, in fact, do not share their strategy with us, nor hidden objectives” underlining French, and moreover, European dismay at Mali’s recent activities with Russia and purported operation with PMCs.
Moreover, after Interim Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga labeled France’s decision to reduce its military operations in Mali as a “betrayal” to the UN General Assembly in 2021, relations with France have only deteriorated. Following such an attack, French President Emmanuel Macron called Interim Prime Minister’s Choguel Kokalla Maïga comments to the UN, “a shame” and that “it dishonors what isn’t even a government,” alluding to the fact Mali is currently led by an illegitimate military junta in the eyes of the Elysée. Additionally, French Defense Minister Parly called Maiga’s remarks, “indecent” and “unacceptable” going on to say that Maiga is “wiping his feet on the blood of French soldiers.” Despite the hostility of comments on both the French and Malian side over the end of Barkhane, Emmanuel Macron’s insistence on France playing a “federative role” in the Sahel and assuring that “the fight against terrorism in the Sahel will not be known to be an affair of African states alone” on February 17, 2022, indicates that Operation Barkhane may be over, but French interests in the region are not. This could be a benchmark for future cooperation should Mai decide to reengage with France.
The European Union and Economic Community of West African States is on equally bad footing with Mali in 2022. According to current reports from the Takuba Taskforce and NATO, Norwegian and Estonian troops have been restricted access to enter or conduct operations in Mali, while joint flight operations with France and the US have been suspended after interim leader Goita forbade such flights over Malian airspace. Moreover, France, Germany, and the larger EU community have threatened additional sanctions and political isolation if Mali continues to make arms deals with the Russian Federation or continues any purported military operations with the Russian PMC the Wagner Group.
ECOWAS, and to a lesser extent, the G5 Sahel, appear to be more amenable to reproachment with Mali. For example, despite supporting France’s sanctions regime against Mali in 2021-2022, sanctions against Mali will have rippling affects on the ECOWAS economy as well as on the regional labor force, which is highly subject to seasonal work migrations and a need for semi-fluid travel to sustain economic growth and stability across the region. Trade and such worker migration will be deeply hindered if ECOWAS and the G5 Sahel maintain their united front with France against Mali. The eventual result of these hindrances may be economic strain throughout ECOWAS, which may allow Mali more negotiating room with the Economic Community of West African States in the near future, should Mali decide to appeal to its West African neighbors down the road.
Based on the strategies employed by other African states, which have adopted multi-vector policies and gravitated towards Russia and Turkey in the past few years, Mali’s rapid shift to the East may be a means of convincing partners in the West to reduce their standards (strict democratic transitions and elections timelines) while maintaining or increasing their commitments to official development and military assistance. The first accounting for $1.8 billion in total in 2019 and the later for over 880 million euros from Operation Barkhane alone in 2020. Whether Mali’s courtship with Turkey and Russia will be a long-term facet of a multi-vector foreign policy approach, a short-term solution to the announced end of Operation Barkhane, or a means of garnering concessions from the rest of ECOWAS and the West, is not yet certain.
Regardless of the long-term intent, there is a competition for Africa unfolding in 2022. If Mali decides that its future is more secure in “lifeboat 1”: creating new agreements, pursuing novel security arrangements, and organizing new cultural allies with Russia and Turkey while establishing networks for regional diplomacy and trade with Algeria and Guinea, then it is possible Mali could be a stepping-stone for larger multi-vector diplomacy in the Sahel. A diplomatic strategy which would exclude decades of French and Western hegemony in the region. This would be, from a modern perspective, an unprecedented outcome and only close analysis of Mali’s political, economic, and military arrangements with partners from all areas (the East, West, and within Africa) will be able to shed light on the future direction of the country and its implications for regional stability and development.
From our partner RIAC
Africa Needs Increased Financial Support to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals
Seventy-eight years ago, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the nations of the world made a solemn commitment to save future generations from the horror and the suffering of war.
Through the United Nations Charter these nations accepted a shared mandate to foster peace and to promote fundamental human rights, social progress and a better standard of life for all.
And yet, as we gather here, much of humanity is confronted by war and conflict, by want and hunger, by disease and environmental disaster.
Solidarity and trust between states is being eroded.
Inequality, poverty and unemployment are deepening.
In these conditions and in the wake of a devastating global pandemic, the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals seem increasingly remote.
At the moment when every human effort should be directed towards the realisation of Agenda 2030, our attention and our energies have once again been diverted by the scourge of war.
But these woes, these divisions, these seemingly intractable troubles, can and must be overcome.
Over millennia, the human race has demonstrated an enormous capacity for resilience, adaptation, innovation, compassion and solidarity.
At this moment, we are all called upon to reaffirm these essential qualities that define our common humanity.
These qualities must be evident in how we work together as a global community and as nations to end war and conflict.
Democratic South Africa has consistently advocated for dialogue, negotiation and diplomacy to prevent and end conflict and achieve lasting peace.
It has committed itself to the promotion of human rights, human dignity, justice, democracy and adherence to international law.
From the experience of our own journey from apartheid to democracy, we value the importance of engaging all parties to conflicts to achieve peaceful, just and enduring resolutions.
It is these principles that inform South Africa’s participation in the African Peace Initiative, which seeks a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
In this conflict, as in all conflicts, we have insisted that the UN Charter’s principle of respect for the territorial integrity of every country should be upheld.
Our participation in the African Peace Initiative is informed by a desire to see an end to the suffering of those most directly affected by the conflict and the millions on our continent and across the world who, as a result of the conflict, are now vulnerable to worsening hunger and deprivation.
As the international community, we must do everything within our means to enable meaningful dialogue, just as we should refrain from any actions that fuel the conflict.
As we confront other conflicts in several parts of the world, including on our continent Africa, we need to be investing in prevention and peacebuilding.
We support the call by the UN Secretary-General in the New Agenda for Peace for Member States to provide more sustainable and predictable financing to peacebuilding efforts.
As a global community, we should be concerned by recent incidents of unconstitutional changes of government in some parts of Africa.
The global community needs to work alongside the African Union to support peace efforts in the eastern DRC, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Mali, Central African Republic, South Sudan, northern Mozambique, the Great Lakes Region, the Sahel, Niger and the Horn of Africa.
The African Union Peace and Security Council has declared that it stands ready to deepen its cooperation with the UN Security Council to silence the guns on the African continent and to achieve peace, stability and development.
We are called upon to remain true to the founding principles of the United Nations, by recognising the inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination in line with the relevant UN General Assembly resolutions.
We must work for peace in the Middle East. For as long as the land of the Palestinians remains occupied, for as long as their rights are ignored and their dignity denied, such peace will remain elusive.
The actions of the Government of Israel have imperiled the possibility of a viable two state solution.
The principles of the UN Charter on territorial integrity and on the prohibition on the annexation of land through the use of force must be applied in this situation.
South Africa continues to call for the lifting of the economic embargo against Cuba, which has caused untold damage to the country’s economy and people.
Sanctions against Zimbabwe should also be lifted as they are imposing untold suffering on ordinary Zimbabweans.
As many people around the world are confronted by hunger and want the essential human qualities of cooperation and solidarity must be evident in the actions we take to bridge the divide between wealthy and poor.
We must summon the necessary will and resolve to regain the momentum towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.
This means that we must address the fundamental development challenges that have long characterised our unequal world.
To address the developmental challenges that face many people in the world we required targeted investment, technology transfer and capacity building support, especially in key areas such as industrialisation, infrastructure, agriculture, water, energy, education and health.
This also requires predictable and sustained financial support, including supportive trade policies, from the international community.
We call on our partners from wealthier countries to meet the financial commitments they have made.
It is a great concern that these wealthier countries have failed to meet their undertakings to mobilise 100 billion dollars a year for developing economies to take climate action.
We support the proposals outlined in the Secretary-General’s Sustainable Development Goals Stimulus.
In particular, we support the call to tackle debt and debt distress, to massively scale up affordable long-term financing to 500 billion dollars a year, and to expand contingency financing to countries in need.
It is a grave indictment of this international community that we can spend so much on war, but we cannot support action that needs to be taken to meet the most basic needs of billions of people.
The achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals depends fundamentally on the empowerment of women in all spheres of life.
Social and economic progress will not be possible unless we end gender discrimination. We must ensure that there is equal access for women to health care, education and economic opportunities.
We must pay particular attention to the provision of adequate health services to every woman, child and adolescent. By doing so, we will fundamentally improve the health and well-being of all.
The empowerment of women must be central to the actions we now take towards the realisation of Agenda 2030.
The essential human qualities of innovation and adaptation must be evident in the actions we take to prevent the destruction of our planet.
Africa is warming faster than the rest of the world.
We are told that of the 20 climate hotspots in the world, 17 are in Africa.
Centuries after the end of the slave trade, decades after the end of the colonial exploitation of Africa’s resources, the people of our continent are once again bearing the cost of the industrialisation and development of the wealthy nations of the world.
This is a price that the people of Africa are no longer prepared to pay.
We urge global leaders to accelerate global decarbonisation while pursuing equality and shared prosperity.
We need to advance all three pillars of the Paris Agreement – mitigation, adaptation and support – with equal ambition and urgency.
African countries, alongside other developing economy countries, need increased financial support to both implement the 2030 Agenda and achieve their climate change goals in a comprehensive and integrated manner.
We need to operationalise the Loss and Damage Fund for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters, as agreed at COP27.
Africa has embraced this challenge.
Africa is determined to deploy smart, digital and efficient green technologies to expand industrial production, boost agricultural yields, drive growth and create sustained employment for Africa’s people.
As the global community, we must ensure the essential qualities that define our humanity are evident in the institutions that manage the conduct of international relations.
We require institutions that are inclusive, representative, democratic and advance the interests of all nations.
We require a renewed commitment to multilateralism, based on clear rules and supported by effective institutions.
This is the moment to proceed with the reform of the United Nations Security Council, to give meaning to the principle of the sovereign equality of nations and to enable the council to respond more effectively to current geopolitical realities.
We are pleased that the Common African Position on the reform of the Security Council is increasingly enjoying wide support.
This process must move to text-based negotiations, creating an opportunity for convergence between Member States.
We must ensure that the voice of the African continent and the global South is strengthened in the United Nations and broader multilateral system.
All the peoples represented here in this United Nations had their origins in Africa.
In Africa, they developed the tools and capabilities to spread across the world and achievable remarkable feats of development and progress.
Despite its history, despite the legacy of exploitation and subjugation, despite the ongoing challenge of conflict and instability, Africa is determined to regain its position as a site of human progress.
Through the African Continental Free Trade Area, which is creating a wider seamless trading area of low tariffs and accelerated interconnectivity, African countries are mobilising their collective means and resources to achieve shared prosperity.
Through the African Continental Free Trade Area, African countries are establishing the foundation for a massive increase in trade, accelerated infrastructure development, regional integration and sustainable industrialisation.
As the global community, we have the means and we have the desire to confront and overcome the enormous challenges that face humanity today.
As the nations gathered here in this General Assembly, let us demonstrate that we have both the will and the resolve to secure a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable future for our world and for the generations that will follow.
A New Wave of Leaders in West Africa: A departure from instability to stability
In recent years, West African countries have witnessed a notable shift in political dynamics, characterized by the emergence of a new wave of politicians. These leaders, often hailing from younger generations, mostly military, bring with them a fresh perspective and a renewed commitment to addressing the pressing concerns of their countries. Several countries in sub-Saharan Africa have experienced a resurgence of coup d’états, marking the departure from instability to stability with a better political landscape compared to previous decades per se. This phenomenon prompts a critical examination of the underlying factors driving these political transformations and their implications for governance, stability, and regional dynamics in West Africa. In this context, it becomes imperative to analyze the interplay between these new political actors and the resurgence of coup d’états and to discern the broader implications for the socio-political landscape of the region.
Causes and Catalysts of Coup d’états in African Countries
The surge in coup d’état in some sub-Saharan African countries seems to be a departure from a long hold of colonialists to freedom. Recently, the crisis in Burkina Faso has spotlighted a shift in political approaches, with a new generation of politicians aiming to address the pressing concerns faced by the society, particularly the youth, who are growing up on a path seemingly devoid of opportunities. Following Burkina Faso, Niger has witnessed a change in leadership due to the predecessor’s failure to adhere to the law and serve the interests of the people. Prior to Niger, Mali boldly resisted colonialists, and now Gabon has taken a similar stance. What is the correlation or the relationship between these coup d’états, and what are the possible causes?
The coup d’état in Mali raised a lot of concerns about France’s foreign policies in Africa, but the narrative on the international realm seems to favor the country with the higher bargaining power. In most of the African countries, instability and political tensions have become common. A surge of grievance and discontent with leaders has emerged as people become increasingly open-minded, largely due to the influence of social media platforms. This trend has raised questions about the fragility of governance structures in several African countries and the challenges they face in consolidating democratic institutions. Factors such as political corruption, socioeconomic disparities, ethnic and regional tensions, and security threats have contributed to the resurgence of coup attempts. For instance, Burkina Faso experienced a revolt in 2014, leading to a transition towards a more democratic system. Similarly, Sudan saw mass civilian protests in 2019 and recently in Gabon, ultimately bringing down a longstanding autocratic or so-called democratic leader. These examples highlight the complex dynamics at play in Africa’s evolving political landscape, where both traditional military-led coups and hybrid models involving various actors are on the rise.
The international community and regional organizations such as the African Union (UA), and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), also known as CEDEAO in French, have been actively engaged in responding to these coup attempts. Diplomatic efforts, peacekeeping missions, other military interventions, and even sanctions have pressured coup leaders and sought resolutions that align with democratic values. However, the effectiveness of these interventions varies from case to case, and the delicate balance between stability and democracy remains a central challenge. As Africa navigates this period of political
transformation, there is a growing need to strengthen institutions, foster civic engagement, and uphold the rule of law to ensure that the departure from instability leads to lasting stability and democratic progress on the continent (Nkurunziza, 2020; Williams, 2018; Kandeh, 2021). However, despite the coup attempts, poor governance and political corruption remain some serious unsolved issues.
Governance Failure and Political Corruption
While the surge in coup d’états may appear concerning at first glance, it also signals a shifting dynamic in African politics. It reflects a growing desire for accountable governance and the rejection of autocratic regimes, as citizens increasingly demand transparency, representation, and a voice in their countries’ affairs. This changing political landscape is echoed in the popular uprisings and movements that are sweeping across the continent. There is an increasing belief that a positive change and the determination of African citizens to shape their own political destinies can be a reality. However, unexpected rise in coup attempts continues to raise concerns about the region’s progress towards stability and democratic governance. Factors such as socioeconomic disparities, governance failures, and security challenges have contributed to the fertile ground for discontent and unrest. An analysis of these factors and reforms from one regime to another is not convincing since the political landscape never really change and the leaders kept falling in the same path.
Governance failures and political corruption have long been persistent challenges in Africa, contributing to instability, economic stagnation, and diminished public trust in institutions. Weak governance structures, characterized by inadequate checks and balances, limited transparency, and a lack of accountability mechanisms, have allowed corruption to thrive. The misallocation of public resources and embezzlement of funds intended for essential services like healthcare, education, and infrastructure development have been detrimental to the well-being of citizens (Osei-Tutu & Mahama, 2017). This pervasive corruption not only hampers economic growth but also undermines the legitimacy of governments and erodes public confidence in the effectiveness of state institutions. The impact of corruption on development is particularly pronounced in several sectors like healthcare and education, where limited resources are stretched thin, leading to inadequate service provision and compromised public welfare (Méon & Weill, 2010). Efforts to combat corruption and improve governance in Africa are crucial for fostering sustainable development and ensuring that the benefits of economic growth are equitably distributed among all citizens, but first and foremost, strengthening institutional frameworks, promoting transparency, and empowering civil society are essential to address the challenges that are facing African countries.
Transitions to stable governance and the path from instability to stability
A successful transition to stable governance can provide valuable insights into the key factors and strategies that may contribute to sustainable political stability. Ghana has experienced a successful transition from military rule to democratic governance in the early 1990s. Through a combination of strong civil society activism, international support, and an effective transitional justice mechanism, Ghana has managed to establish a stable democratic system, and still today there is no coup attempt. The establishment of democratic institutions, coupled with a commitment to the rule of law, allowed for the peaceful transfer of power through multiple elections, solidifying Ghana’s reputation as one of the most politically stable countries in West Africa. I hope that Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Gabon will seize the opportunities presented to forge a more robust democratic system anchored in resilient and trustworthy institutions. These foundations, coupled with effective accountability mechanisms, hold the potential to catalyze the restoration and progress of these nations.
In examining the emergence of the new wave of politicians in West African countries alongside the resurgence of coup d’états, it has become evident that Africa is at a critical juncture in its political evolution. The dynamic between these factors highlights a complex struggle for governance and stability. While the infusion of fresh perspectives offers a promise for transformative change with youth conscious awakening, the specter of coup d’états must serve as a stark reminder of persisting challenges and the need for robust democratic institutions. The success of the new leaders in this political landscape may require a commitment to inclusive governance, transparency, and accountability. Learning from the successes and failures of past political transitions will be instrumental in steering these nations towards a future characterized by stable, prosperous, and democratic societies. The path ahead may be fraught with obstacles, but with determination, strategic foresight, and a collective dedication to the betterment of their nations, West Africa has the potential to emerge stronger and more resilient than ever before.
Africa is not yet a paradise, Russia must learn to navigate the challenges
With the emerging multipolar world, Russia has to ditch its decades-long peripheral engagement with Africa. In practical terms, the first Russia-Africa summit was to raise relations unto a more quantitative level, especially promoting frequent interaction and boosting presence in economic spheres. Winning Africa’s sympathy through hyperbolic pledges and promises, tonnes of bilateral agreements most of which have largely remained unfulfilled, would not be enough in this competitive geopolitical era. Beyond Sochi and St. Petersburg summits, however, policy proposals until now lack effective visible actions. Critics say Russia, most probably, needs to show some degree of assertiveness.
In the past few years, Russia’s geopolitical influence has already been heard on the global stage. It claims to be pursuing an integrative multipolar relations with friendly countries around the world, including those in Africa. But Russia is still not a popular holiday destination for Africa’s political elite, corporate business leaders and middle-class. The politicians and corporate business leaders highly prefer to spend their vacation in the United States and Europe, some Asian destinations are increasingly becoming their preferential choice. That trend is unlikely to change, it will remain as such for the next decades.
After the first symbolic Russia-Africa summit in the Black Sea city of Sochi in October 2019, both Russia and Africa adopted a joint declaration – in fact a comprehensive document which outlines various parameters for uplifting cooperation into a new qualitative stage.
In order to boost effective economic interests and to foster cooperation, frequent interaction is therefore necessary. The frequency of interaction should not only be established during summits, but some basic strategic steps and measures are necessary to encourage simply holiday travels to both regions. These are significantly missing in the current relations between Russia and Africa. Critics often say Russia is contributing enormously to its own so-termed isolation, it closes its doors especially when there are huge opportunities to develop first-class tourism.
With current geopolitical situation, Africa’s middle-class estimated at 380 million still have other suitable alternative holiday destinations. Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi beach or Crimea are not their desired priority for spending vacations. Russian tour operators acknowledge that there is nothing such as African tourism to Russia. On the opposite side, Morocco, Egypt, Seychelles, South Africa and Zanzibar are the few African destinations popular among Russian vacationers.
The second summit declaration on 28 July 2023 in Saint Petersburg, points to building on the historical and time-tested friendly ties between the Russian Federation and African States. Here Russia officials only dream of official state visit by heads of African states and ministers as an essential pillar of their version of multipolar world.
Since the first symbolic Sochi summit held 2019, very little has happened on the tourism, social and cultural sides. Russia and Africa have been discussing how best to explore untapped resources, the possibilities of promoting cooperation in the field of tourism, dissemination of information on tourism opportunities of the Russian Federation and African States.
Meanwhile, Russia and Africa have agreed to promote exchanges of delegations, athletes, teams, coaches and other specialists in the field of sports training. And further down, take steps toward ensuring respect for the rights of journalists and promoting the development of media outlets. While reiterating professional training programmes, academic and student exchanges et cetera, all these have, in practical terms, remained largely as official documents stacked in computerized files and would later be pushed into electronic historical archives.
For the past few years since Sochi, the first declaration remains tacitly as a declaration. The basic question often asked is for what purposes are the summit declarations. Worse, series of speeches and juicy-coated remarks are seemingly for linguistic colouration. “Russia is ready to build multifaceted relations with Africa. If Russia Wins, Africa Wins!” remarked by the Current Chairman of the African Union, Comoros President Azali Assoumani during the late July St. Petersburg summit.
After the first Russia-Africa summit held in Sochi (2019), and within the framework of the joint declaration that was adopted, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation created a Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum. With hopes for a comprehensive and enduring collaboration on long-term programs, Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum has since then been networking for potential Russian, African and international organisations with the aim of effectively promoting Russia’s economic interests in Africa and to foster mutually beneficial cooperation with African countries.
Early September 2023, local Russian media abuzzed with latest information emerging from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Russia plans ‘visa-free regime’ with all African countries, referring to the fact that it was within the framework of Russia and Africa’s action plan adopted at the second summit in St. Petersburg.
Our investigations and research indicate that Russia has visa-free agreements with six African countries. And visa-free regime only applied to African countries that signed agreements with Foreign Ministry. Within the agreements, only holders of diplomatic passports are permitted under this consular agreement. Moreover, the point on developing or facilitating work, easing contacts with African countries, between ordinary citizens of Russia and Africa still need visas to travel both ways.
According to sources monitored, agreements have to be signed after successful negotiation with Russian authorities. One source confirmed in an interview with me that Russia has an agreement on visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic service passports with 32 countries on the continent, and yet refused to make public and to the media the official list of approved African countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and the African leaders adopted the final declaration of the second Russia-Africa summit. An action plan of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum for the period 2023-2026 and a number of other documents were also adopted.
In addition, a number of agreements, contracts and other documents related to various areas of cooperation between Russia and Africa were approved on the sidelines of the forum and the summit.
“We highly appreciate the results of our joint work at the summit. I am confident that the results achieved will form a good basis for further deepening the Russian-African partnership in the interests of prosperity and well-being of our peoples,” Putin said in a speech posted to official Kremlin website.
Putin was pleased with the results of the summit, which was held in a “constructive and very friendly atmosphere.” Russia and the Africa have confirmed their position on the formation of a multipolar world order.
According to the stipulated rules and regulations, the Russia-Africa summit will be held every three years. In the period between the Russia-Africa summits, the mechanism of dialogue partnership will operate, regular political consultations will continue through the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Russia, African countries and the leadership of the African Union.
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