Showing posts with label Africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Africa. Show all posts

16 August 2022

Is Iran Grooming Al Qaeda as its New Proxy in Afghanistan?

Farhad Rezaei

On August 1, 2022, an American drone strike in Kabul killed Ayman al Zawahiri, the head of Al Qaeda Central. News stories noted that Zawahiri went into hiding in the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan after Operation Enduring Freedom in 2002. This narrative omits the fact that Zawahiri spent a considerable time in Iran, where his heir apparent, Saif al Adel, still lives. Having harbored Zawahiri and Adel, the Islamist regime in Tehran stands to increase its influence among the broadly dispersed units of the terror group, which still subscribe to Osama bin Laden’s vision of waging war on the West.

Iran’s connection with Al Qaeda dates to bin Laden’s arrival in Sudan in 1991, where the Saudi terror entrepreneur set up camps to house and train Arab jihadists returning from the Soviet-Afghan war. Although bin Laden was a Sunni Salafist, Ahmed Vahidi, the then head of Quds Force (QF), the foreign operations division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), was keen to enlist him to fight against Saudi Arabia and the West. The IRGC-QF helped run training camps in Sudan, where Egyptian jihadists affiliated with Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) had a strong presence. Lebanese Hezbollah was also involved in training bin Laden’s group in a dedicated camp in the Beqaa Valley. Vahidi was rewarded when in 1993, Al Qaeda fighters participated in the battle of Mogadishu against the American-led peace force. After suffering casualties, the Clinton administration withdrew, ending active American involvement in Africa.

14 August 2022

A Little Great-Power Competition Is Healthy for Africa

Howard W. French

During the Obama administration, when the United States belatedly began to stir itself over the issue of China’s by then already long-standing economic engagement with Africa, one of the most common warnings from Washington was that Beijing might seek to export its political model to the continent.

As then-U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton admonished African leaders to beware of what they were getting themselves into, saying they had more to learn from the West and criticizing China for supposedly encouraging its new partners to eschew what is often fancied as Western-style democracy and adopt Beijing’s authoritarian methods of rule instead, especially through control of information and the internet.

Back then, China was highly sensitive to this kind of criticism and went to great lengths to deny that it was doing anything of the sort. Its official stance in engaging with the developing world, endlessly proclaimed as its unique virtue, was that contrary to the West, Beijing regarded the domestic politics of other countries as purely internal matters. In an interview I had during a visit to Zambia a decade ago, the Chinese ambassador to that country expressed pity for his U.S. counterpart for supposedly having little more than support for the training of election workers to boast of, whereas seemingly everywhere one looked, China was building tangible things.

9 August 2022

Climbing out of the Chinese debt trap

Dr Alex Vines OBE

Poorer countries across the world – including many in Africa – are facing $35 billion in debt-service payments in 2022. According to the World Bank, around 40 per cent of this total is owed to China.

Across the African continent, the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic have increased rates of extreme poverty and inequality. Since early 2022 the situation has worsened even further, due to the knock-on effects of spiking inflation and interest rates following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Shortages of fuel and foodstuffs have caused prices to leap upwards. Urban unrest is on the rise, and African governments are having to make tough economic choices as their budgets are squeezed ever more tightly.

Across the continent, progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is being jeopardized, and non-energy-producing lower and lower-middle income African governments are struggling to repay their loans.

4 August 2022

A New World Order Ensues Ukraine War

Timothy Hopper

During the last few months since the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the perception of most of the countries of the world about the war in Ukraine has been formed not according to the western framework; and now they see the continuation of the conflict as a geopolitical game in which the west, instead of solving the Ukraine crisis, is trying to weaken Russia and does not intend to back down from aiming to discredit it.

The west was aware that the expansion of NATO in Russia’s security environment is a red line for Moscow. On the other hand, having the vital energy artery of Europe, Russia thought it can maintain this security red line and adjust its relations with Europe and America based on its own geopolitical goals and achievement. However, not only did Russia not remove the threat, but Moscow’s actions up to this point have backfired and created a front against it that has even placed the eastern and northern countries of Europe against it.

Africa Is a Continent of Contradictions

It makes sense that a continent that is home to 54 countries and 1.2 billion people would also house many contradictory developments. Africa features several of the world’s fastest-growing economies and a burgeoning middle class. But much of the continent remains mired in debt, burdened by conflict and beset by elites clinging to power. Now, although the human cost of the coronavirus pandemic was less catastrophic than many feared, the unfair distribution of vaccines worldwide continues to leave African populations vulnerable to future waves and variants, even as the pandemic’s economic impact could undo much of the continent’s growth over the past two decades.

Even during the years when economies across Africa were expanding, many people were driven to migrate—either within Africa or to Europe and even South America—because of humanitarian catastrophes or because economic opportunities were not coming fast enough for everyone. Those who remained behind at times succeeded in disrupting the status quo. Civilian-led reform movements toppled regimes in Algeria and Sudan in 2019, and recent examples of independent courts overturning fraudulent elections—as well as other signs of democratic institutions taking hold in previously corrupt or authoritarian states—offered hope for the health of democracy in Africa. Yet, the relative frequency of elections marred by fraud and violence, including many that involve incumbents seeking constitutionally dubious third terms, confirms that the phenomenon of long-ruling authoritarian leaders—known as “presidents for life”—remains a problem. And a resurgence of military coups, including in Mali, Guinea, Chad, Sudan and most recently Burkina Faso, has underscored the fragility of democratic governance across the continent.

31 July 2022

What Do Chinese People Really Think About Some of China’s Important Partners?

Kristina Kironska, Yiju Chen, and Richard Q. Turcsanyi

Most polls provide insights into people’s attitudes based on closed test questions. Such questions bring lots of valuable information but have some downsides – for one, people cannot express themselves freely outside of the topics they are asked about. As part of the Sinophone Borderlands online public opinion survey in China in March 2022, we asked 3,000 Chinese respondents (split into six groups) open-ended questions about what they thought about the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe, Singapore, and Africa. Here is what they had to say.

United States

The United States was commonly thought of as an advanced and powerful state, yet hostile to China, untrustworthy, and tending to interfere in other countries’ affairs. “Hegemon” was the most prevalent association (70 out of 500 respondents mentioned it), followed by “advanced technology,” “bossy,” “developed economy,” “powerful,” and “war.” Current U.S. President Joe Biden received about half the amount of mentions compared to his predecessor, Donald Trump, but neither was mentioned frequently.

27 July 2022

Islamic State’s Expansion in Africa and its Implications for Southeast Asia

Jasminder Singh and Rueben Dass

On June 15, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), the Islamic State (IS) group’s affiliate in northeastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin, released on its various media outlets a 39-minute propaganda video titled “A Book that Guides and a Sword that Helps.” The video called on Muslims around the world to undertake hijrah (migration) to Africa in order to build up a new base of operations there. This was followed by the release of IS’ weekly newsletter, the An-Naba (343rd Edition) which stated that the African states were “one of the fruits of IS’ blessed path” and the “land of jihad and hijrah.”

IS in Africa

Recent statistics have shown that more than half of IS’ official provinces are located in Africa. These are IS-Sinai, IS-Libya, IS-Sahel, ISWAP, IS Central Africa Province (ISCAP), IS-Mozambique, and IS-Somalia. Africa, in particular Mozambique, is the only other region where IS has been able to control territory apart from the Middle East and Marawi, Philippines. ISCAP laid siege over the strategic port of Mocimboa de Praia in August 2020, which they held for almost a year, and the town of Palma in March 2021, which they held for four days. IS-Mozambique was declared a separate wilayah (province) in May of this year.

The Energy Crisis Is Global

Christina Lu

As Russia plays hardball with Europe’s gas supply, the continent is staring down a worrisome energy future—and it’s not alone. For months, sky-high natural gas and oil prices have been wreaking havoc around the world, and experts warn that there is no end in sight as long as the war in Ukraine barrels on.

From Ecuador to South Africa, fuel shortages and blackouts have plunged import-dependent countries into economic turmoil, leaving desperate governments scrambling for workaround solutions. In Sri Lanka, which was already buckling under mounting crises, acute shortages and dayslong lines have forced authorities to issue work-from-home orders. Pakistan has resorted to shortening its work week to relieve pressure from lengthy power cuts, while Panama has been rocked by demonstrations over surging prices.

“We are experiencing the first global energy crisis,” said Jason Bordoff, an energy expert at Columbia University, who noted that the crunch has hit almost all of the world’s regions and energy sources. “The ripple effects are being seen globally, and I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of it yet.”

Ghana’s ‘Success’ Exposes the West’s Toxic Development Model

Howard W. French

At first glance, an item of business news that crossed my transom one morning this week seemed like a clear economic win from Africa: Ghana, which enjoys a reputation as one of the continent’s most successful nations, had signed a $3.2 billion contract with an international consortium to rehabilitate a defunct railway line between its western port city of Takoradi and its second-largest city, Kumasi, in the nation’s interior.

Putting the 210-mile route back into service would allow Ghana to deliver the minerals and commodities it produces to international markets more easily. Before the line became inoperable in 2006, worn out by years of heavy use and inadequate maintenance, it had been used to transport raw manganese, bauxite, and unprocessed cocoa, earning export income in dollars intended to power the country’s development. Read quickly, the contract sounded like unadulterated progress for a country that is seeking to broaden prosperity for its fast-growing population.

23 July 2022

Ayman al Zawahiri is alive; Taliban and Al Qaeda “remain close,” UN reports


Ayman al Zawahiri, the head of Al Qaeda who served as Osama bin Laden’d deputy on 9/11, “is confirmed to be alive” and is “communicating freely,” according to a report from the United Nations’ Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team. Additionally, the UN said the Taliban-Al Qaeda alliance remains strong, as reported by FDD’s Long War Journal, and the leaders of Al Qaeda’s branches in North and East Africa have assumed roles in Al Qaeda’s line of succession.

While it is not news that Zawahiri is alive, well, and communicating comfortably, some terrorism analysts previously claimed Zawahiri was dead as recently as Nov. 2020. While not explicitly stated, Zawahiri is likely operating inside Afghanistan.

Ayman Zawahiri, al-Qaeda leader & Osama bin Laden successor, died a month ago of natural causes in his domicile. The news is making the rounds in close circles.

18 July 2022

Cycles of Turmoil

Political leadership in Arab countries is often a poisoned chalice. Violence and upheaval have been hallmarks of political transition in the Middle East and North Africa in the modern era, but in fact the history is much longer. Legacies of tribalism and instability stifled the region’s political development while the imposition of centralized nation-states by colonial powers lacked relevance to the cultural and social realities of the region. Their failure to take hold has hampered the emergence of a stable political culture, leaving difficult transitions as the norm and militaries as a major political force. Countries’ difficulty – and at times inability – to overcome their tribal roots and establish a strong sense of national identity all but guarantees this cycle of turmoil will continue. The coups and uprisings in Sudan and Algeria are only the most recent reminders.

14 July 2022

Why South Africa Is in the Dark, Again

Anusha Rathi

South Africa’s national energy utility, Eskom, announced last week that it would extend its rolling blackouts, plunging most South Africans into darkness for more than six or even nine hours a day and leaving the economy, already struggling with a broader unemployment and inflation crisis, on life support.

Eskom, the state-owned monopoly that is responsible for overseeing all stages of electricity provision in the country from generation to distribution, was established in 1923 during the apartheid era and followed a grid system that was designed to serve the country’s white minority. The grid largely bypassed Black areas and, as a result, struggled to meet the country’s rising energy demands over time.

But that’s not the biggest problem. There simply isn’t enough juice. A 1998 government white paper warned about the country’s poor energy planning and predicted that if South Africa did not start building new power plants, it would witness drastic shortages by 2007. The report could not have been more accurate. Often when demand for electricity exceeds supply, energy providers use load-shedding (turning off the lights) to ease the pressure and prevent the collapse of the entire power grid. Eskom started implementing load-shedding in late 2007.

10 July 2022

BRICS: China Remains the Primary Challenge for India

Mark S. Cogan & Vivek Mishra

With the world’s attention focused squarely on Ukraine, the leaders of the five BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – met virtually at the 14th Summit, hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping. While some of the focus of the meeting was centered on the possibility of expanding the group into Iran, Argentina, and/or Pakistan, India was able to steer clear of the rancor raised by their Chinese and Russian counterparts at Western countries, instead focusing mainly on the humanitarian situation unfolding in Ukraine.

Modi, who met with G7 leaders in southern Germany, managed to avoid the diplomatic pitfalls that would have been injurious to India’s relationship with the United States. Likewise, refraining from joining the Western chorus on Russia while knowing Moscow would be the principal target of criticism at the G7 allowed India to balance two delicate bilateral relationships.

Iron net: Digital repression in the Middle East and North Africa

James Lynch


In April 2021, Malcolm Bidali, a Kenyan security guard living in Doha, opened his Twitter account to find that someone had sent him a link to a Human Rights Watch report about migrant workers. Bidali was using an anonymous account, @noaharticulates, to blog about his life and document the daily exploitation and abuse that he and his fellow workers experienced. His account, which only had a few hundred followers, had just begun to attract interest both from foreign readers and young Qataris who appreciated his frank, unflinching account of the reality he and his colleagues confronted every day.

The link did not work. But it was never meant to: it was a phishing link designed to reveal the true identity of @noaharticulates. A week later, Bidali was arrested at his labour camp by State Security officers. After a month in solitary confinement and a campaign for his release by students in Qatar, he was deported to Kenya with a hefty fine for publishing “false news with the intent of endangering the public system of the state”. And there ended the career of Qatar’s first – and, so far, only – migrant worker blogger. A year before the 2022 Men’s Football World Cup, the build-up to which had been characterised by international concern about the abuse of migrant workers, the Qatari state had used a relatively simple technical measure to snuff out a perceived threat.

8 July 2022

Can China Achieve Its BRICS Ambitions?

Jacob Mardell

Beijing and Moscow have so far failed to repurpose the BRICS group into an anti-U.S. coalition, but they are not done trying and might yet succeed. The BRICS countries share a common dissatisfaction with the status quo, and the group is becoming increasingly important to Beijing’s global agenda.

The five leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa met virtually on June 23 for the 14th annual BRICS summit. In his opening remarks, Chinese President Xi Jinping, this year’s host, was the only leader to directly reference what he called the “Ukraine crisis.”

Russian leader Vladimir Putin made a swipe at Western sanctions, decrying the “selfish actions of certain states,” but Xi was even more explicit and detailed in his criticism of the West, claiming that attempts by “some countries [to] expand military alliances” and “pursue unilateral dominance” were “dangerous trends” that could not be allowed to continue.

30 June 2022

Political Front Lines: China's Pursuit of Influence in Africa

Nadège Rolland

Over the past five years, China’s overseas political influence activities have drawn increasing scrutiny in Western democracies in Oceania, North America, and Europe. Groundbreaking scholarly work by academics, media investigations by journalists, revelations of high-profile cases, and public warnings from intelligence agencies have led several governments to officially express concern over Chinese influence activities and to adopt measures to better defend themselves against unacceptable intrusions into their domestic social and political processes. This collective knowledge production has also allowed greater public awareness on what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) calls “united front work,” including its tactics, targets, objectives, proxies, and supporting bureaucracies. However, compared with the growing body of literature that is available on Chinese united front activities in advanced liberal democracies, very little attention has been devoted so far to understanding whether and how this sophisticated and sprawling system is deployed in the developing world. This report strives to fill this gap, by focusing specifically on China’s influence efforts in Africa.

28 June 2022

Climate Change Affects The Likelihood Of Armed Conflict

Climate change influences the likelihood and duration of armed conflicts in Africa. This is the result of a study carried out by a team from the INGENIO Institute, a joint centre of the Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV) and the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), together with the University of Rome III and the University of Urbino Carlo Bo, published in the latest issue of the journal Economía Política.

The team of researchers based their study on data from the African continent from 1990 to 2016. Using a negative binomial regression mathematical model, they assessed whether certain climatic phenomena, in combination with the socio-economic characteristics of the areas studied, affected the likelihood of a conflict breaking out and, if it did, its duration.

Among its findings, the study states that a prolonged increase in temperature and precipitation increases the probability of conflict beyond the affected area by four to five times, specifically in populations up to a radius of about 550 km.

Political Front Lines: China's Pursuit of Influence in Africa


Over the past five years, China’s overseas political influence activities have drawn increasing scrutiny in Western democracies in Oceania, North America, and Europe. Groundbreaking scholarly work by academics, media investigations by journalists, revelations of high-profile cases, and public warnings from intelligence agencies have led several governments to officially express concern over Chinese influence activities and to adopt measures to better defend themselves against unacceptable intrusions into their domestic social and political processes. This collective knowledge production has also allowed greater public awareness on what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) calls “united front work,” including its tactics, targets, objectives, proxies, and supporting bureaucracies. However, compared with the growing body of literature that is available on Chinese united front activities in advanced liberal democracies, very little attention has been devoted so far to understanding whether and how this sophisticated and sprawling system is deployed in the developing world. This report strives to fill this gap, by focusing specifically on China’s influence efforts in Africa.

As observed in Western democracies, political influence activities can take many forms, from “routine cultural diplomacy to purchasing political favors and silencing critics.”[1] Other noted activities include “securing access to strategic information and resources,”[2] “repurposing” democratic structures as tools serving the CCP’s policies,[3] and “increasing the CCP’s political influence, interfering in the Chinese diaspora, suppressing dissident movements, building a permissive international environment for a takeover of Taiwan, intelligence gathering, encouraging investment in China, and facilitating technology transfer.”[4] The scope of united front work has evolved to keep up with the CCP’s varying priorities, but its main task and basic framework remain unchanged. Put simply, it seeks to form tactical alliances to engineer an environment that is favorable to the advancement of the party-state’s goals, while marginalizing and neutralizing those who may stand in its way. In Xi Jinping’s words, united front is about drawing the broadest possible concentric circle around the party.[5] Accordingly, the CCP “wants to expand united front work to make maximum use of all Chinese talent, both domestic and among the Chinese diaspora as well as from any others who might be willing to assist.”[6] Managing overseas Chinese communities, co-opting foreigners, and influencing the perception of wider audiences are equally important to achieve the broadening of the CCP’s supporting circle.[7] As Mareike Ohlberg explains in the opening essay of this report, the same basic framework is applied throughout Africa, where united front organizations and tactics are deployed to serve the CCP’s strategic objectives both at the global and local levels. Her meticulous description of united front organizations active in Africa sheds a unique light on their characteristics, targets, tactics, and objectives.

27 June 2022

Ethiopia Just Might Have a Chance for Peace

Adem Kassie Abebe

During an African Union summit on humanitarian work in late May, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed affirmed his government’s “commitment to ensuring assistance reaches those afflicted by natural and manmade disasters,” and called on international partners to “scale up their support for humanitarian services across the continent.”

The statement drew the ire of some commentators, who regarded it as an empty promise at a time when Ethiopia itself is enduring a dire humanitarian crisis, particularly in the war-ravaged northern region of Tigray and the neighboring regions, Amhara and Afar, to which forces under Abiy’s command have contributed. Nevertheless, Abiy’s statement added some weight to the Ethiopian government’s recent rhetoric, which has slowly but markedly softened, suggesting its willingness to address the consequences of a civil war that, since November 2020, has pitted government and allied forces against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, a regional political party and rebel group.

26 June 2022

The Nile River Dispute: Fostering a Human Security Approach

Akram Ezzamouri

Between 21–26 March 2022, decision makers, multilateral institutions and representatives from civil society, the private sector and academia gathered in Dakar, Senegal, for the 9th World Water Forum. The Dakar Declaration, issued on 25 March, reiterated international commitments, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which guarantee the right to water and sanitation for all and called for a strengthening of mutually beneficial cooperation and partnerships for an equitable management of transboundary water resources.

Applying these principles to the controversy surrounding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and broader tensions over the management of the Nile River is fraught with challenges. The decade-long dispute, which began in 2011 as Ethiopia unilaterally began building the dam, has been characterised by firm state-centric approaches among riparian states. The inability (or unwillingness) of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to consider compromises for an equitable sharing of these transboundary water resources has undermined the spirit of cooperation and, with it, efforts to place human security and the human right of access to water have also been overshadowed.[1]