Press Review CW 30/2023: Turned away from the West?
Press Review 21 July 2023 to 28 July 2023

Russia-Africa Summit

The second Russia-Africa Summit began in St Petersburg on Thursday, with delegations from 49 African countries, including 17 heads of state and government and African Union (AU) Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat, arriving in Putin’s home city. Among the heads of state who travelled were Egypt’s President Al-Sisi, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. Other regional heavyweights such as Nigeria’s President Tinubu and Kenya’s President Ruto, on the other hand, stayed away from the summit. In general, this year’s turnout was significantly lower compared to the 2019 summit, which was attended by 43 heads of state and government. The main reason for this is Moscow’s withdrawal from the Grains Agreement, which was concluded last year with the mediation of the UN and Turkey and had secured the export of Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea. This led to strong criticism from African States. The suspension of the agreement would massively worsen access to Ukrainian grain and thus drive-up food prices, warned AU Commission Chair Faki. Accordingly, this issue overshadowed the real issues of the summit, namely trade and investment promotion, where Russia, with a current annual trade volume of US$ 15 to 20 billion, falls short of its 2019 promise to double the volume to US$ 40 billion within five years. At the summit kick-off on Thursday, President Putin presented himself as a reliable supplier of food to Africa and announced that Russia would replace Ukrainian grain with Russian grain and offer free grain shipments to states particularly affected by food shortages. Within the next three to four months, a total of 25,000 to 50,000 tonnes of grain will be provided to Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Mali, Zimbabwe, Somalia and the Central African Republic. Furthermore, Russia will support the AU in its plan to become a permanent member of the G20 at their summit in India, Putin said. Ahead of the summit, Somalia and Russia signed two agreements on Thursday to settle Somalia’s debt to Russia, totalling more than US$ 690 million. Part of the debt is now to be paid according to a new payment plan, the rest has been written off. Numerous bilateral talks between Putin and his African counterparts have already taken place in the framework of the summit. According to reports, the talks between Putin and Egypt’s President Al-Sisi focused on joint projects such as the Al-Dabaa nuclear power plant and the Russian industrial zone, as well as cooperation in the development of the transport and railway systems, among others. Al-Sisi also pushed for the resumption of the grain agreement. Another central point of the summit was bilateral military cooperation. According to the Kremlin leader, agreements on military-technical cooperation were concluded with a total of 40 African states, including arms deliveries and the participation of African representatives in Russian military-technical forums and manoeuvres. There was also reportedly a meeting on the sidelines of the summit between a high-ranking representative of the Central African Republic and Wagner chief Prigozhin, whose mercenary force has great influence there. More agreements are expected to be signed on Friday. Among other things, Putin announced that an action plan between Russia and the AU on further cooperation will be agreed by the next summit in 2026. After the official part, talks are also planned on Friday evening with the seven participating states of the African Peace Initiative, which travelled to Russia and Ukraine in June this year under the leadership of South Africa’s President Ramaphosa for mediation talks in the Ukraine war. The final declaration of the summit is also expected this Friday evening.

Coup in Niger

In Niger, the head of the presidential guard, General Omar Tchiani, declared himself president of the National Council and thus the de facto head of government of the West African state on Friday. Only on Thursday, the Nigerien military had announced its support for the coup leaders of the Presidential Guard, an elite unit of the army that had seized President Mohamed Bazoum in the palace the previous day and declared the government propped up. Previously, Bazoum’s government had assumed that the putschists would be defeated with the help of the National Guard. Chief of General Staff Abdou Sidikou Issa justified the military’s decision to oppose the democratic government and side with the putschists by arguing that they wanted to avoid a violent confrontation between different forces. On Wednesday morning, in addition to the presidential palace, surrounding ministries and the building of the national broadcasting station were sealed off, and pro-democracy demonstrations were responded to with warning shots in the air. On Thursday night, the coup leaders addressed the public in a televised speech and declared the suspension of all state institutions and the closure of borders, including airspace. They also imposed a nighttime curfew until further notice. They cited the continued deterioration of the security situation and perceived weak governance as reasons for the coup. The international community, including the European Union (EU), UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the United States, the African Union (AU), and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), condemned the putschists’ actions. The UN suspended humanitarian aid for now due to the closure of Nigerien airspace. Meanwhile, calls for the president’s immediate release came from the EU, the UN and Russia. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also echoed these calls, pledging German support during a phone call with the elected government’s foreign minister, Hassoumi Massoudas. The coup in Niger, which has long been considered an anchor of stability in the Sahel, especially for Germany and the EU, has enormous implications not only for the regional security situation, but above all for German and European engagement in the region. For example, military cooperation with Niger was long considered a flagship project: in 2018, the European mission Operation Gazelle started, which was in charge of training special forces, among other things, and Niger also played a central role in the European Training and Education Mission Mali (EUTM Mali). Just at the end of last year, the EU also decided to launch the European Union Military Partnership Mission in Niger (EUMPM Niger) to support the Nigerien army in the areas of reconnaissance, command and control, security and protection in its fight against terrorist groups active in the region. Germany is also involved in the mission, the implementation of which began at the beginning of this year. Currently, there are about 100 German servicemen and women in Niger, who are safe in the military base along with embassy personnel, according to the Bundeswehr. However, the coup and the closure of Nigerien airspace also pose enormous challenges for the withdrawal of German troops stationed in the neighbouring country as part of the UN-Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA Mali). Not only are the 900 or so soldiers still in Mali being supplied via the airlift base in Niamey, but it is also the hub for the withdrawal of troops and materiel from Mali after MINUSMA’s mandate was terminated by UN decision at the end of June. There is still no official statement from the German side on the question of how the orderly withdrawal can now continue to be guaranteed. It is also unclear whether special forces trained by Germany were involved in the coup, which would further call into question the military cooperation with Niger, long considered a success. The current developments in Niger are therefore a serious setback for the German government’s Sahel strategy, which includes a central development policy component in addition to the military component. For example, Svenja Schulze, Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, announced only at the beginning of May the expansion of German development policy engagement in West Africa within the framework of the Sahel-Plus Initiative and took over the chairmanship of the Sahel Alliance in mid-July (press review CW 18/2023).

In other news

Last Friday, a national Spelling Bee competition for deaf children was held for the first time at Embangweni School for Deaf Children in Malawi. A total of six schools for deaf children, each with three children, participated in the competition, which was organised by the Malawi National Association for the Deaf (MANAD) and financially supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision International and the Australian government. Malawi is the second African country after Botswana to host this type of competition during which Malawi’s chief education officer, Peter Msendema, also announced the development of the first sign language training manual for special needs teachers. With this, the Ministry of Education plans to improve the quality of teacher training and access to education for students with special needs.

New podcast episode of Dialogues with Dee

In her latest podcast episode, our German Chancellor Fellow Dambisa Dube talks to Sphamandla Mhlongo, a Project Manager of the Democracy Development Programme about the importance of civic education beyond the ballot box and the importance that different actors within the sector need to play. They also shed light about the interesting ways in which communities can be equipped with necessary “civic education tools” to compliment the civic education mechanisms targeted at young people. The episode can be listened to here.

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