Press Review CW 34/2023: Alliances and rivalries
Press Review 18 August 2023 to 25 August 2023

BRICS Group accepts six more countries

The 15th BRICS Summit took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 22 to 24 August. In addition to South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, who currently holds the presidency of the bloc of states, China’s President Xi Jinping, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi also took part. Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, participated only virtually, as announced in July, and was represented on site by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. In addition, more than 60 other participants, including more than 30 heads of state and government from Africa, were present at the summit. The summit focused on the possible enlargement of the bloc of states, which had been widely discussed in the run-up to the summit. A total of 23 states had officially applied for membership and others had expressed interest. On Thursday, Ramaphosa finally announced the expansion of the BRICS group by six countries. From 1 January 2024, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will also belong to the group of five. A corresponding document on the regulations for future memberships was adopted on Wednesday; however, the exact contents of the document are unknown. After the expansion to “BRICS Plus”, the countries of the bloc will then generate more than 37 percent of global economic output and 46 percent of the world’s population will be living there, giving the group of states enormous economic and geopolitical weight. Ramaphosa also announced at the end of the summit that additional rounds of expansion would follow in the future. Another focus of the summit were discussions on a joint currency of the BRICS countries. The aim of such a currency would be to strengthen trade among themselves and at the same time reduce dependence on the US dollar. While Brazil’s President Lula advocated the introduction of a common currency, the other heads of state and government were somewhat more reserved. According to the final document, they agreed to trade more in the national currency instead of the US dollar. The central bank heads and finance ministers of the member states are to work out the implementation of this and present it at the next BRICS summit, which is to take place in Russia in October 2024. The summit was opened on Tuesday with a business forum at which Putin reiterated in a video message his promise made at the Russia-Africa summit at the end of July to deliver free grain to six African states (Press review CW 30/2023). In the lead-up to the summit, South Africa’s President Ramaphosa and his Chinese counterpart met for bilateral talks. The focus was on the war in Ukraine and on further strengthening economic relations between the two countries. Accordingly, several cooperation agreements were concluded for various trade and economic sectors. Although this is already the 15th BRICS Summit, it attracted a great deal of international attention – not only because of speculation about Putin’s participation in persona and South Africa’s stance on the international arrest warrant against Russia’s president. In particular, the possible expansion of the bloc was followed closely in view of the current geopolitical situation, after the BRICS countries had long shown themselves to be at odds here. While Russia and China advocated an opening and thus strengthening of the alliance vis-à-vis the West, Brazil, India and South Africa were much more critical of an opening and feared, on the one hand, the loss of influence within the alliance and, on the other hand, as Lula da Silva and Ramaphosa in particular emphasised, a stronger bloc formation against the West.

​​Chadian rebels call off ceasefire

On Saturday, the Chadian rebel group Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) announced the immediate end of the ceasefire which it had agreed with the transitional government in 2021 after the death of then-President Idriss Déby. This was preceded by the bombing of a FACT base last Wednesday, for which the rebel group blamed the military, calling it an act of war by the ruling junta. According to FACT, three people were killed in the attack. On Sunday, interim President Mahamat Déby justified the attack, saying the army had been forced to intervene after FACT rebels in the north of the country crossed into Chadian territory from Libya. In a televised speech, Déby, who is currently on a frontline visit near the Libyan border, also called on the rebel group to lay down their weapons. Current developments point to a possible resumption of fighting between government security forces and FACT. In 2021, then-President Idriss Déby was killed in fighting with the rebels, which led to his son Mahamat Idriss Déby being declared head of the military transitional council and thus de facto president of the country. After the expiration of the promised 18-month deadline for a transition to a civilian government, demonstrations and partly violent clashes with the security forces broke out in October last year, in which, according to official figures, at least 50 people were killed. However, the military government was able to hold on to power and elections were again called, to be held in 2024. FACT is only one of about 47 rebel groups in the Sahel state, but it is not among the 42 groups that signed a peace agreement, brokered by Qatar, with the transitional government in 2022. Autocratically ruled Chad is considered a reliable partner of the West in the fight against terrorism in the region. Close relations are maintained with France in particular, including in the area of defence. As a result of the coup in neighbouring Niger (Press review CW 33/2023), Chad’s role is becoming increasingly important. While the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has imposed sanctions on Niger and with the possibility of a military intervention by the armed forces of its member states still on the table, the government of Chad, which is a member of the Economic Community of East African States (ECCAS), is trying to play a mediating role. Only one week after the ousting and imprisonment of the democratically elected President of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, Déby had travelled to the neighbouring country in order to meet both Bazoum and representatives of the new military government. The importance of relations between the two countries was further underlined by Niger’s new military-appointed prime minister, Ali Lamine Zeine, who travelled to Chad to hold talks with Déby’s transitional government just days after his appointment by the National Council for the Salvation of the Fatherland (CNSP).

Zimbabwe elections

On Wednesday, polling stations opened in Zimbabwe for the presidential, parliamentary and local government elections. However, there were considerable delays in some constituencies due to missing ballot papers. According to the opposition and international observers, constituencies that are considered opposition strongholds were particularly affected. As a result, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) announced a one-day extension of voting in some constituencies and wards. So far, according to official figures from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), ZANU-PF has secured 38 seats and the main opposition party, the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), led by Mnangagwa’s main challenger Nelson Chamisa, 32 seats of the 210 parliamentary seats up for election. The result of the presidential election is expected in five days. Meanwhile, the European Union Election Observation Mission released its preliminary statement this afternoon in Harare. It stated that election day had been largely calm, albeit chaotic, but that the electoral process itself had been characterised by restrictions on rights, a lack of equal opportunities, intimidation and a lack of transparency and independence of the ZEC. According to the statement, various international and regional standards for elections were not respected. Information on the background to the elections and the opportunities and challenges associated with them are discussed in the new issue of Afrikapost aktuell.

In other news

From 19 to 27 August, the World Athletics Championships will be held in Budapest. Also this year, African athletes are showing remarkable performances. In the men’s 100-metre race, 20-year-old Letsile Tebogo from Botswana won the silver medal with an impressive time of 9.88 seconds – the first world championship medal for the African continent in this discipline. African athletes were not only successful in the sprint, but also in the middle distances. Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon won the gold medal in the 1,500 metres for the third time in a row. In the men’s 3,000-metre steeplechase, Olympic champion Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco secured his second consecutive world title, surpassing Ethiopia’s world record holder Lamecha Girma. In the medal table, Ethiopia is in fourth place with six medals so far, followed by Kenya in seventh place with three medals so far. Botswana, Burkina Faso, Morocco and Uganda also celebrated victories with one medal each. The World Athletics Championships, which will continue until next Sunday, promise more exciting moments and top sporting performances.

New Podcast episode of Dialogues with Dee

Our German Chancellor Fellow, Dambisa Dube had a great conversation with Uta Lehmann, a Senior Project Coordinator at the Hanns Seidel Foundation who is leading the Civics Academy Project. The two discussed the importance of civic education work against the South African political backdrop and zoned in on chances for the work to be multiplied using digital methods and efforts. You can listen to the episode here.

Event information

African Book Festival Berlin 2023

The fifth edition of the African Book Festival Berlin starts today at the Alte Münze on Alexanderplatz. The event is organised annually by InterKontinental e.V., a non-profit, politically independent association, and brings together renowned authors and artists from Africa and the Diaspora. The festival offers a diverse programme of readings, discussions, book premieres and concerts until 27 August. Over 30 authors and artists, including Leila Aboulela, Fiston Mwanza Mujila, Laila Lalami and C. A. Davids are expected. The programme will be accompanied by a book table, food trucks with African cuisine and market stalls for fashion, art and handicrafts.

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