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In the Eye of the Storm: Mali’s Search for New Partners in 2022

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UN peacekeepers patrol the Menaka region in northeast Mali. MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko

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.

Background

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).

Protests

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.

Conclusion

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

Dual M.D. in International Development and World Politics, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) & Sciences Po Paris, RIAC Intern

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Central African Republic: Militias spreading ‘terror, insecurity’, must lay down arms

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UN peacekeepers patrol the town of Bambari in the Central African Republic. (file) MINUSCA/Hervé Serefio

Armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) must lay down their arms and engage in political dialogue, a UN-appointed independent human rights expert said on Friday, urging the international community to strengthen efforts to restore State authority and end impunity there.

“I vehemently condemn the obstinacy of the Coalition of Patriots for Change and other armed groups who continue to spread terror, insecurity and suffering among the civilian population and victims of violations and abuses,” said Yao Agbetse, who monitors rights abuses in CAR.

Armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) must lay down their arms and engage in political dialogue, a UN-appointed independent human rights expert said on Friday, urging the international community to strengthen efforts to restore State authority and end impunity there.

“I vehemently condemn the obstinacy of the Coalition of Patriots for Change and other armed groups who continue to spread terror, insecurity and suffering among the civilian population and victims of violations and abuses,” said Yao Agbetse, who monitors rights abuses in CAR.

Grave human rights violations

At the end of a ten-day official visit to the country, he expressed dismay over reports from residents in the town of Bria, capital of the Haute-Kotto prefecture, who described the ease with which armed groups can move in and out of neighbouring Sudan.

In that same district, schools in Ouadda, Yalinga, and Sam-Ouandja regions, have been closed for four years.

Meanwhile, in Haute Kotto and Mbomou prefectures, the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic and the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance en Centrafrique (FPRC) have committed numerous grave human rights violations, including sexual violence, particularly rape and sexual slavery, mostly targeting girls aged 11-17.

Mahamat Salleh, an FPRC leader based in Nzako, has been implicated in several cases of rape and other serious human rights abuses, Mr. Agbetse said.

‘Unacceptable’ attack

He pointed to the brutal, organized attack on the village of Boyo last December, saying that human rights violations committed by the CAR national army (FACA) and the internal security forces (FSI) and their auxiliaries were “unacceptable”.

Russian allies and the FACA had allegedly provided support to the mostly Christian anti-Balaka militia who committed atrocities there, including beheadings and sexual violence, and forced thousands of residents to flee.

“The seriousness of these facts requires appropriate responses from national authorities towards the victims,” Mr. Agbetse said.

“I recommend that the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCAset up a more reactive warning system and regular joint operations with the FACA to prevent tragedies like the one in Boyo”.

Mercenaries

The UN expert also demanded that Russian mercenaries of the Wagner security group refrain from obstructing collaboration and joint operations between FACA, FSI and UN peacekeepers. 

“The Wagner group must not prevent the deployment of MINUSCA protection operations and not obstruct the investigation of human rights abuses and violations of International Humanitarian Law,” he continued.

In the interest of all citizens of CAR, the UN expert urged outlawed militias to engage in the peace and reconciliation process led by the Commission on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation.

Systematic investigations

At the conclusion of his visit, Mr. Agbetse recommended that all allegations of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law be systematically and thoroughly investigated by Central African authorities.

“These investigations must be followed by concrete actions to ensure that the victims have access to justice,” he said.

The expert said a reparation fund should also be established to ensure justice for victims.

Moreover, he strongly recommended extraordinary judicial sessions to tackle the heavy caseload of sexual violence allegations linked to the chronic instability and conflict across CAR.

Sentencing

Mr. Agbetse upheld that in cases of conflict-related sexual violence, so-called “amicable settlements” were simply unjust to victims, and must be stopped, he added.

Moreover, he noted that some testimonies and reports indicated a lack of control and accountability within the State apparatus, including the judiciary, police, and the civil service in general.

He also called on Authorities to address hate speech and incitement to violence, and on the international community to strengthen its support to ensure that State authority restoration is effective.

Independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.

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Russia and Zimbabwe Relations Remain Work-in-Progress, says Brig. Gen. Nicholas Mike Sango

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Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in Southeast Africa, and shares borders with South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique. It is very rich in mineral resources and is the largest trading partner of South Africa on the continent of Africa. Russia maintains very friendly relations with Zimbabwe, thanks to ties which evolved during the struggle for independence. Since then, Russia has had a very strong mutual sympathy with and friendly feelings toward the southern African people, government and the country.

Brigadier General Nicholas Mike Sango, Zimbabwean ambassador to the Russian Federation, has held his position since July 2015. He previously held various high-level posts such as military adviser in Zimbabwe’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations and as international instructor in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

As Brigadier General Nicholas Sango prepares to leave his post in August, our media executive Kester Kenn Klomegah conducted this exclusive interview with him to assess and guage the current climate of relations between Russia and Zimbabwe specifically and Africa generally. The following are excerpts (summarized text) from the long-ranging interview.

Q: As you are about to leave, what would you say generally and concisely about Russia’s policy towards Africa? 

Amb. Sango: Russia’s policy towards Africa has over the last few years evolved in a positive way. The watershed Russia-Africa Summit of 2019 reset Russia’s Soviet-era relations with Africa. Africa fully understands that the transition from the Soviet Union to the present-day Russian Federation was a process and that today Russia is now in a position to influence events at the global scale. Even that being the case, her institutions and organs, be they political or economic are equally in a transitional mode as they adapt to the Federal policy posture and the emerging realities of the present geo-political environment. Africa in return has responded overwhelmingly to the call by its presence in its fullness at the 2019 Sochi Summit.

Q: Do you feel there are still a number of important tasks which you have not fulfilled or accomplished as Zimbabwean Ambassador to the Russian Federation? 

Amb. Sango: Zimbabwe government’s engagement with the Russian Federation is historically rooted in new state’s contribution towards Zimbabwe attaining her freedom and nationhood in 1980. This is the foundation of the two countries relations and has a bearing  on two countries  interactions and cooperation. Relations between the two countries have remained stead-fast with collaborations at political and economic spares hallmarked by Russia’s involvement as early as 2014 in the commissioning of the Darwendale Platinum Project followed by ALROSA, the diamond giant setting its footprints on the territory of Zimbabwe. 

The President of the Republic of Zimbabwe visited Moscow in 2019. Since then, there have been reciprocal visits by ministers and parliamentarians. In early June 2022, the Chairperson of the Federation Council visited Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s military have participated in Army Games over the years and will do in 2022 ARMY GAMES. Further to these mentioned above, Russia has continued to support human resource development through its government scholarship programmes as well as training other arms of government.  Zimbabwe recently hosted the Russia-Zimbabwe Intergovernmental Commission where new cooperative milestones were signed.

Zimbabwe’s foreign policy is anchored on engagement and re-engagement. As Ambassador to Russian Federation, my focus as per direction of the Zimbabwean President was to promote business-to-business engagement and attract Russian investment in Zimbabwe. While the Darwendale Platinum Project and ALROSA’s entry into the Zimbabwe market, we have not seen other big businesses following the two. 

The volume of trade between Zimbabwe and Russia could be better. Perhaps, as an Embassy, we have not made a strong case for importers to look in Zimbabwe’s direction. Or, our own trade and investment institutions have not fully appreciated the potential of the Russian market. The concern by Russian importers regarding the logistical cost of bringing goods from landlocked countries in the far southern hemisphere is appreciated. This, however, would not inhibit the importation of non-perishable products.

As mentioned earlier on, businesses are still in transitional mode and it is the hope that the emerging world order will in time persuade business to look at Africa through the lenses to see the vast opportunities and benefits beckoning. On the other hand, having established the Russian-Zimbabwe Business Council, it was hoped that businesses of the two countries could speak to each other, appreciate the strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities open. Although the benefits are yet to be seen, this remains work-in-progress.

Q: Has the experience, including all your interactions, changed your initial thoughts when you first arrived to this ambassadorial post in 2015?

Amb. Sango: Interestingly, my views and perceptions about Russia before and during my stay in the beautiful country has always been grounded in the history and our nation’s journey to nationhood, independence and sovereignty. As a product of the revolutionary struggle and from my government’s direction and policy, Russia was and will always be an ally regardless of the changing temperatures and geo-political environment.

Q: What would you frankly say about Russia’s policy pitfalls in Africa? And what would you suggest especially about steps to take in regaining part of the Soviet-era level of engagement (this time without ideological considerations) with Africa?

Amb. Sango: There are several issues that could strengthen the relationship. One important direction is economic cooperation. African diplomats have consistently been persuading Russia’s businesses to take advantage of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) as an opportunity for Russian business to establish footprints in the continent. This view has not found favor with them and, it is hoped over time it will.

Russia’s policy on Africa has been clearly pronounced and is consistent with Africa’s position. Challenges arise from implementation of that forward-looking policy as summarized:

– The government has not pronounced incentives for business to set sights and venture into Africa. Russian businesses, in general, view Africa as too risky for their investment. They need a prompt from government.

– Soviet Union’s African legacy was assisting colonized countries attain independence. Russia as a country needs to set footprints into the continent by exporting its competitive advantages in engineering and technological advancement to bridge the gap that is retarding Africa’s industrialization and development.

– There are too many initiatives by too many quasi-state institutions promoting economic cooperation with Africa saying the same things in different ways but doing nothing tangible. “Too many cooks spoil the booth.”

– In discussing cooperative mechanisms, it is important to understand what Africa’s needs and its desired destination is. In fact, the Africa Agenda 2063 is Africa’s roadmap. As such the economic cooperation agenda and initiatives must of necessity speak to and focus within the parameters of the AU Agenda 2063.

Q: And finally about the emerging new world order as propagated by China and Russia? 

Amb. Sango: Africa in general refused to condemn Russia for her “special military operation” in Ukraine at the United Nations General Assembly and that shook the Western Powers. The reason is very simple. Speaking as a Zimbabwean, our nation has been bullied, subjected to unilateral coercive measures that have been visited upon us and other poor countries without recourse to the international systems governing good order, human rights and due process. There is one more historical fact – Africa is no longer a colony, of any nation and refuses to be viewed as secondary states. It is for the above reasons that Africa welcomes multilateralism and the demise of hegemonism perpetuated by so called “big brothers” – be it social, cultural, ideological or economic. Africa rejects this western perception of Africa. 

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South Africa’s Storms and Good Hope

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Recent days have seen Cape Town once again pummelled by heavy storms, high rainfall, severe winds and tumultuous seas giving credence to the title ‘Cabo Tempestado’ (Cape of Storms) the name given it by Portuguese navigator Bartholomew Dias after passing around a terrible storm off the Southern African coast in 1488 as he sought to circumnavigate the African continent in search of a trading route to the wealth of India and the East.

In the socio-economic-political spheres the country, as described by Prof. Dr. Irina Filatova’s, June 16 RIAC article South Africa Stands on Verge of Massive Domestic Crisis appears to be facing escalating multi-faceted storms.

Systemic corruption, mismanagement of state owned entities, public sector bloat, an increasingly belligerent revenue collection service that treats South African’s more like chattel slaves than citizens, amongst the world’s highest unemployment and rates of violent crime, among the world’s worst performing countries in terms of maths and science scores for high school graduates and an unacceptably high rate of tertiary educational dropouts. This isn’t breaking news but the logical outworking of the ongoing National Democratic Revolutionary (NDR) philosophical narrative adopted by the governing African National Congress (ANC). It is true that under these policies the country is being directed to an ever-stifling centralisation in the name of common good collectivism.

It is an undeniable and deepening crisis, one which the governing ANC/SACP/COSATU1 Alliance will find increasingly difficult to navigate in order to avoid losing their outright parliamentary majority which they have enjoyed for an unbroken 28-year tenure since 1994. According to recent reports and polls, including statements by the SACP, the forecasted outcome of the next general election is that the ANC will lose their parliamentary majority and be forced into some sort of coalition with smaller opposition parties. The most likely partner in this respect would be the extremist far-left leaning Economic Freedom Fighters who favour nationalisation of mines, banks, agriculture and the private health sector.

A less likely outcome is that there is sufficient defection amongst ANC voters to the centre/centre-right parties liberal (Democratic Alliance/DA), socially conservative (African Christian Democratic Party/ACDP and Freedom Front/FF+) or the emergent but electorally untested Independent Candidate level movement (One South Africa/OSA). These parties, despite differences, share a broadly similar political and economic outlook (protection of the rights of the individual, free markets, privatisation of state owned entities et.al) and at the provincial, metropolitan and municipal level demonstrated the ability to work together in order to run efficient, comparatively corruption free administrations in their respective spheres.

The political stakes are rising, compounded by the various debilitating factors described by Dr Filatova, a toxic cocktail that if not neutralised could push the country off the edge into a failed state or the even worse case of a Hobessian ‘war of all against all’ scenario. The situation in many ways resembles the early 1990’s when fears of a full scale political/tribal war between the ANC and the IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party). The added risk of a military coup by the South African Defence Force generals to stop what they regarded as a communist takeover of the country. The very prospect of a peaceful outcome seemed remote with the IFP refusing to participate in the elections. Efforts by America’s Henry Kissinger and Britain’s Lord Carrington failed to reach an accord with news reports of cataclysm, doomsday and apocalypse being forecast for the country.

Yet events turned out quite differently to what many had predicted, the IFP finally agreed to take part in the elections. The threat of a military coup when senior officer General Constand Viljoen registered the Freedom Front as a party on 1 March 1994 sending a clear message that the only feasible option was through the political process. Peaceful elections took place in what many believed to have been a miraculous trend reversal. South Africa had survived the storms and seemed to have entered a new and hope filled era.

That was then. Today the euphoria of the Rainbow Nation lies dead and buried in the graves of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It would seem that the socio-economic-political storms for which we are so accustomed have returned with a vengeance.

Alongside the decrepit and ailing political state of affairs the future direction of which could swing in any number of ways there exists a robust and resilient private and non-governmental sector consisting of multiple entities that are self-consciously working to counteract the decline of and fill the vacuum caused by dysfunctional local government as well as building alternative structures in multiple spheres that have become synonymous with the general socialist drift of the ANC. Chief amongst these groupings is the Solidariteits Beweging (Solidarity Movement).

The broader Solidarity Movement could best be described as a confederation of civil society organisations, including but limited to a Trade Union (Solidarity), Civil Rights (Afriforum), Social services (Solidarity Helping Hand), a private university and other training institutions.2

British born political scientist, journalist, historian and emeritus fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford describes the function of the Greater Solidarity Movement as “quite explicitly building a state within a state”3

Johnson goes on to say: “As will be seen, not only is the Solidarity Movement incomparably stronger than any other part of civil society but it is also far more assertive and ambitious. That said, the movement is keen to turn its back on the apartheid past. It wants to “bring about a South Africa where all will be free and equal before the law and will be treated with dignity and fairness”. It stresses “self-reliance” as the answer to “state decay” and emphasises “Christian democratic values” and a free market economy. It is particularly concerned with minority rights and has taken up a great variety of legal cases. While the Afrikaans community is closest to its heart it has also offered legal assistance to members of other racial groups.”

It appears that funding is raised solely from voluntary individual member contributions with no state or large corporate support.

Some of the key figures in the broader movement are Flip Buys (BA Communication & Political Science, Hons. Labour Relations). Kallie Kriel (BA, MA Political Geography) CEO of Afriforum and Deputy CEO of Afriforum Ernst Roets (LLB, LLM). Roets is the author of the book, “Kill the Boer4: Government Complicity in South Africa’s Brutal Farm Murders” has been interviewed by, amongst others, Tucker Carlson of Fox News and by Russia Today about the violence faced by the countries farmers.

Naturally, Solidarity is just one visible example of what is taking place on the ground as Johnson describes it: “A stampede away from reliance on the state has been under way for some time. Many residents have invested in solar panels and boreholes in order to be no longer dependent on the state for electricity and water and those who can rely on private health, security, education and transport.” The trek away from dependence on the state is not restricted to South Africa’s High Net Worth Individuals and middle class professionals but is becoming equally attractive to the working class and informal sector. Private sector schools have begun investing in some of the poorest socio-economic areas around Cape Town. Curro, a Johannesburg Stock Exchange listed company in February 2020 opened a cutting edge private school, fees for which have been offered at a price point commensurate with the income level of the residents of Delft. Delft, an area on the outskirts of Cape Town with an estimated unemployment rate of 43% (pre-covid) and where less than 50% of the residents have graduated from has been deemed by Curro to be a suitable location in which to invest for the future. If the project is successful, it could become the model for a country-wide rollout.

In the health care sector, private listed companies Mediclinic, Netcare and Life Healthcare have also been pursuing, in addition to their network of hospitals, the development of clinics in lower income areas.

It is not within the purview of this article to investigate the extent to which private companies in security, banking, technology, agriculture, mining, and professional services have adapted and continue to operate in an often openly hostile environment. Providing goods and services reflective of a thriving advanced industrialised country and not that of a developing one. Suffice to say that the collective de-centralised strength of the non-state sector may well prove to be robust enough to absorb the impact of a massive domestic crisis to prevent descent into complete chaos. The genuine work of reconstruction from the grass roots could then begin in earnest.

South Africa has had its fair share of storms and it would appear that the clouds are darkening again as the next crisis gathers momentum. When news of Batholomew Dias’s successful passage past the southern coast of Africa reached Portugal it was taken to be a good omen that a sea-faring trade route to India could be opened. In anticipation there of the Portuguese King, John II, changed the name for Cabo Tempestado to Cabo da Boa Esperanca – The Cape of Good Hope. It is that same spirit that looks ahead past the challenges and dangers that beset this beautiful country to that has opened up the realisation of the possibility of a peaceful and prosperous future.


[1] The so-called Tripartite Alliance was formed in 1990 after the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of revolutionary organisations. The member organisations consisted of the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress Of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Much of the membership is intertwined with the ANC as the political expression of the broader movement in the National Legislative Assembly. The SACP, whilst a registered political party, has never contested an election, its leadership however sit as Members of Parliament or cabinet ministers under the banner of the ANC.

[2] https://beweging.co.za/en/what-is-the-solidarity-movement/

[3] https://www.politicsweb.co.za/opinion/thinking-about-state-failure-iii-2

[4] The struggle song – Dubul’ ibhunu – includes repeated chanting of the phrase ‘aw dubul’ibhunu’, literally: shoot the boer (farmer) and continues to be used at public rallies by some political parties, notably the EFF

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