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Africa Last Updated: Feb 7, 2024 - 1:42:03 PM

Coups, Catastrophes, and Great-Power Competition
By Gbadamosi-Nosmot, FP, 21/12/23 
Dec 28, 2023 - 2:23:52 PM

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Coups and Catastrophes

It has been a difficult and turbulent year for African nations faced with severe debt, global inflation, and extreme weather events. A 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Morocco on Sept. 8, killing and injuring thousands while floods in eastern and southern Africa displaced tens of thousands of people. Niger’s president, Mohamed Bazoum, was ousted by a military junta on July 26. A month later, the central African nation of Gabon experienced a palace coup. There have been two overthrow attempts in Sierra Leone since the reelection of President Julius Maada Bio in June 2023.

In early December, Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo, following an attempted coup, dissolved a parliament dominated by the opposition. So far, Africa has had eight successful coups since 2020, creating a so-called junta belt from Guinea to Sudan.

Analysts have tended to view these events through the lens of U.S. geopolitical competition with Russia and China—the argument being that Moscow and Beijing’s engagement in Africa has supported coups in the Sahel and had a major impact in disrupting democracy.

That may or may not be true—but the overriding factor seems to be that Africans are reacting foremost to internal problems, driving them to support military regimes that are not vastly different from their previous governments. As Comfort Ero and Murithi Mutiga argued in Foreign Affairs, “both African policymakers and analysts outside the continent must better understand the shared dynamics that underpin these coups. … Discontent with governing authorities cuts across much of Africa. Economic woes are the primary driver of popular frustration.”

There’s also disgruntlement in Nigeria against a flawed election and the highest food inflation rate in two decades. President Bola Tinubu was elected in February with just 37 percent of total votes—the lowest mandate of any democratically elected Nigerian president. These frustrations have exacerbated an exodus of educated Nigerians who have migrated to Europe and the United States, as Ugonna-Ora Owoh explained in Foreign Policy. The economy is also causing problems: The country’s debt payments have outstripped revenue.

Middle Eastern powers have entrenched themselves in spaces vacated or ignored by the U.S. government, as the world witnessed in Sudan’s war between rival generals. But after years of neglect, the United States stepped up engagement in Africa this year. By March, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris was the 18th U.S. official to visit Africa in 2023. But a promised visit by U.S. President Joe Biden by the end of the year failed to materialize.

It’s safe to assume a further decline in the relationship between the United States and African nations as leaders look for support elsewhere, particularly the Middle East, in the form of foreign direct investment that can turn the tide on economic woes. Here are some of the major African stories of 2023.

South Africa’s Nonsensical Nonalignment

South Africa’s insistence on hosting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the summit of the BRICS nations (which also include Brazil, Russia, India, China, and six other recently added nations) in August became an international embarrassment, given its obligations as a member of the International Criminal Court. But Putin eventually chose to stay at home.

South African analyst and journalist Eusebius McKaiser—who tragically died shortly after the publication of this piece in May—detailed how Pretoria’s stance on Russia and support for a multipolar world order have been confused and incoherent. “Being displeased with the United States’ place in the world does not logically entail supporting an illegal war started by Russia,” he wrote. U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety claimed in May that Pretoria had supplied arms to Russia, sparking a diplomatic row that sent the rand’s value plummeting.

Tensions seemed to have been smoothed out—at least for the sake of a working diplomatic relationship—by the time South Africa hosted the U.S.-Africa trade summit in December. Yet far too many South Africans wish that the governing African National Congress (ANC) would focus on the country’s nose-diving economy and power shortages instead of a failed Russia-Ukraine peace mission. Analysts suggest that support for the ANC could fall below 50 percent in the 2024 elections.

The Wagner Group’s Staying Power in Africa

The death of mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin in August hasn’t dislodged the Wagner Group from African countries. Rather, it has been business as usual. This could be because the use of military contractors is widespread in Africa, and Wagner’s success is due to a series of Africa-specific events, including extreme violence in the Sahel and the rejection of Western military interventions that failed to reduce insecurity.

Wagner does not control the states in which it operates, but it has taken advantage of political circumstances as in the Central African Republic and Mali, where it presents itself as an alternative option. The rejection of U.N. peacekeepers in Mali will likely result in an increased reliance on Wagner troops.

What Russia Wants in Niger

The Sahel continues to be volatile. Since various military takeovers rocked the region, writers have rushed to draw links and argue that the coups further diminished Washington’s sphere of influence in the region. Many of these analyses fail to take into account the point of view of Africans themselves. Military takeovers seem to enjoy popular support from an African public fed up with staged elections, economic mismanagement, and violent state repression.

Although Bazoum, the ousted president, reduced insurgencies, he could not coup-proof himself from Niger’s status as the world’s seventh-poorest country. The West’s praise for Niger was at odds with local realities. “For Western government officials, pundits, and journalists—in the United States and France, especially—the Wagner threat in Africa has proven a useful means to avoid defining Washington or Paris’s own interests in Africa,” write Sergey Eledinov, a retired Russian military officer, and analyst John A. Lechner.

The UAE’s Role in Sudan’s Civil War

Sudan’s two rival generals have flouted multiple cease-fires as they vie for control of the country—each backed in a proxy war between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Meanwhile, Russia funnels Sudan’s gold to fund its war in Ukraine.

Inspired by the Wagner Group’s financial strategies, Rapid Support Forces leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo has “created an enormous network of shadow companies run by Algoney Hamdan Dagalo, his younger brother in Dubai,” writes Yasir Zaidan. The delivery of UAE weapons to the RSF, reportedly transferred through Chad, “is prolonging the conflict in Sudan,” Zaidan adds.

One day after a summit of African leaders held in Djibouti agreed on a pathway toward cease-fire and political talks, the Sudanese government officially rejected the final statement on Dec. 10, saying that talks would begin only after the permanent withdrawal of the RSF from the capital city of Khartoum. At the time of writing, war had reached Sudan’s second-largest city, Wad Madani, in the densely populated state of Al Jazirah, where half a million people had sought refuge from Khartoum. Sudan could fracture along ethnic lines—in a situation that resembles Libya.

Egypt’s Border With Gaza

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Egypt has faced pressure to open its border to fleeing Palestinians, regarded as “a red line” by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government.

Cairo fears a mass inflow from the only non-Israeli exit point at a time when its economy is near bankruptcy and facing reforms through a $3 billion bailout that the International Monetary Fund has said it will increase to more than $5 billion. Cairo does not want to assume responsibility for a permanent exodus of Palestinians and the risks of fleeing militants using its territory to attack or plot against Israel, which could prompt Israel to target them on Egyptian soil. Egypt already hosts more than 300,000 Sudanese refugees who are facing hardship in the country, with no immediate possibility of repatriation as Sudan’s war between rival armies intensifies.

There is unease around previous Israeli suggestions that Egypt cede part of its Sinai territory to form a Palestinian state. Leaks from inside the Israeli government suggest that one of Israel’s potential plans was to eject Gaza’s 2.3 million population into tent cities in Sinai. As history has shown, previous expulsions of Palestinians into so-called temporary camps hosted by neighboring countries have become permanent.

A Return to Ethiopia-Eritrea War?

Eritrean military sources in November suggested that the country was bracing for a potential war as Ethiopia amassed troops near the border. The concerns centered on Ethiopia’s quest to regain access to a port on the Red Sea, which it lost after Eritrea separated from Ethiopia in 1993. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said that his country deserved a port of its own and that the conversation should not be off limits. “The thing that saddens me the most and pains me is that discussing the Red Sea agenda even at the level of parliamentarians is considered a taboo,” he said, sparking fears that the former enemies-turned-allies might return to a state of conflict after briefly joining forces against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in a bloody civil war that ended in late 2022.

“Abiy is known for his paradoxical approach of promoting peace while contemplating war. … He sees himself as divinely guided in his quest for Ethiopia’s glory, with the Red Sea and Eritrea playing a pivotal role,” writes Mohamed Kheir Omer. “The last thing the Horn of Africa needs is another war.”

If war were to break out, it could allow Ethiopia to recapture areas still under Eritrean occupation or controlled by Amhara militias (which have mounting grievances about Abiy’s leadership). Disarmed TPLF forces could also attempt to regain territories that they believe constitutionally belong to them.

The Biggest Story in Energy: Algeria

Algeria overtook Russia this year as Europe’s second-biggest natural gas supplier, after Norway—making it a key European energy ally. Algeria has sought a “multi-alignment” approach, keeping the United States, Russia, and China close as the country rides high on oil and gas exports, which make up about 90 percent of Algeria’s foreign exchange income.

Algeria has, since last November, made clear that it has ambitions to join the BRICS nations. After the August BRICS summit, its North African neighbor Egypt was picked to join instead due to Algeria’s smaller economic footprint. Algeria’s GDP is about $195 billion, one-third of South Africa’s, the smallest BRICS economy. But its economy is booming while South Africa and Egypt face downturns.

Next year, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune plans to boost state funding as he seeks reelection; about 40 percent of that budget will be funded through energy shipments.

Source:Ocnus.net 2023

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