US Defence Secretary Austin on first trip to Africa
On Thursday, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin concluded his first trip to Africa in the Angolan capital Luanda. There he met with Angola’s Head of State João Lourenço, among others. Austin’s trip focused on the expansion and deepening of security and defence cooperation with a number of African states. According to observers, the goal of expanded cooperation in this area is, among other things, to reduce the continent’s dependence on Russian arms exports as much as possible. To this end, on Monday, the former general had arrived in Djibouti, where the most important US military base on the African continent is located. He met with leading government representatives as well as with Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, President of Somalia. Austin highlighted the successes of the Somali armed forces, which he said have made more progress in the fight against the terrorist group Al-Shabaab in the past year alone than in the entire previous five years. The US Secretary of Defence then travelled to Kenya and Mozambique, where he signed defence agreements with his respective counterparts. In Mozambique, he also met with President Filipe Nyusi. On that occasion, Austin announced that the US and Mozambique had signed a new 500 million US dollar agreement with the America’s Millennium Challenge Corporation to promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth in the country. Among other things, the infrastructure in Mozambique’s Zambezia province is to be upgraded. This includes the construction of an important bridge over the Licungo River. President Nyusi welcomed the support and reaffirmed Mozambique’s commitment to fighting terrorism. Meanwhile, a five-year security agreement between the US and Kenya, which Austin signed with his Kenyan counterpart Aden Duale, is intended to deepen cooperation in combating the terror threat. The Pentagon chief pledged 100 million US dollars to support Kenyan security operations. The East African country’s paramilitary security organisation, the Administration Police Service (APS) is currently preparing to lead a multinational peacekeeping mission in Haiti to combat gang violence. As early as last October, Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry had asked the international community to deploy such a mission. This came after the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse in his private residence by as yet unknown assailants in July 2021. According to experts, the perpetrators are likely linked to organised crime. In August, a delegation of Kenyan police officers had already travelled to Haiti on a reconnaissance mission. The United States strongly welcomed this Kenyan initiative. Kenyan opposition politicians like Ekuru Aukot, chairman of the Thirdway Alliance Kenya, however, take a rather critical view of the planned peace mission. According to him, the Kenyan government is currently not in a position to provide security in large parts of its own country, but now wants to put a stop to Haiti’s well-organised and heavily armed drug gangs. In addition, human rights activists expressed concern about the mission, pointing to a number of human rights violations during operations by Kenyan security forces in Kenya itself. The actual deployment of the mission to the Caribbean island will require a mandate from the United Nations Security Council, which is expected to decide on the matter in the coming weeks.
Presidential election in Mali postponed
On Monday, Mali’s military government announced a postponement of the presidential election. Government spokesman and interim prime minister Abdoulaye Maïga said that the dates originally set for the two rounds of voting on 4 and 18 February 2024 would have to be “slightly postponed” for technical reasons. New dates for the election, which is intended to allow for a return to civilian government in the country, are to be announced at a later date. At the same time, Maïga announced the cancellation of the parliamentary elections scheduled for the end of October. These would only take place after the presidential elections and would thus be the responsibility of a new government. Reasons for the postponement were said to be problems such as the review of the electoral roll against the background of the new constitution adopted this year. In particular, the conflict with the French company Idemia was cited. In 2015, the company was commissioned by then-President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta to issue biometric passports and identity cards in Mali, and thus had corresponding registration data relevant to the electoral roll. The military government criticised Idemia for keeping the registration data locked up since March 2023 due to non-payment, thus making it impossible to update the electoral roll. A representative of Idemia confirmed the allegations and explained that the company had no contract with the military government and that the services had been terminated since payments stopped. The military government said that as of next month, it would start working on a new database, which would be exclusively under the control of the Malian authorities. However, the reason for the update of the electoral roll for the postponement of the elections is partly doubted by experts in Bamako, as the referendum on the new constitution in June was based on the same data. Also, because of her French origin, Idemia has allegedly been targeted for some time by the junta, which has been pushing France further out of the country since it seized power. The presidential election was meant to return power to civilians after three years of political uncertainty in Mali. In August 2020, the Malian military around commander Assimi Goïta had come to power in a coup. Under pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a civilian transitional government was installed, which was toppled again in 2021 after only a few months. ECOWAS imposed trade and financial sanctions, whereupon the military government committed to a plan to hold presidential elections in February 2024 and hand over power by March 2024. ECOWAS then lifted its sanctions. The postponement of the election is another violation of the agreement with ECOWAS, after the Malian military government had already postponed the date of the referendum on a new constitution. ECOWAS has not yet commented on the postponement of the election, but it is assumed that this could now lead to renewed tensions. In addition, the security situation in Mali has increasingly deteriorated in recent weeks. Mali is currently confronted with the re-emergence of the conflict in the north by separatist groups. Reasons for this include the withdrawal of French troops in 2022 as a result of the coup and the end of the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA by the end of this year.
In other news
This year, two Right Livelihood Awards will go to activists from Africa. On Thursday, it was announced that Ghanaian women’s rights activist and doctor Eunice Brookman-Amissah will receive the award, also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”, for her efforts to liberalise abortion laws. She initiated the improvement of access to safe abortion in Africa and brought about reforms of abortion laws in numerous African states. Since 2000, the number of abortion-related deaths in Africa has dropped by 40 per cent. Kenyan environmentalist Phyllis Omido is being honoured for her fight against pollution from industrial waste and her commitment to the rights of affected communities. Other award winners are an environmental organisation from Cambodia and the civilian sea rescue organisation SOS Méditerranée. The award ceremony by the Right Livelihood Award Foundation will take place in Stockholm in November.
The German Africa Foundation sends its warmest congratulations: Ethiopian Tigist Assefa set a new world record in the women’s race at the Berlin Marathon on Sunday. The 29-year-old runner crossed the finish line in just 2 hours, 11 minutes and 53 seconds, beating the previous best time by more than 2 minutes. Congratulations also go to Kenya’s Sheila Chepkirui for second place and Tanzania’s Magdalena Shauri for third place. We further congratulate world record holder Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya, who won the Berlin Marathon for the fifth time, and the runners-up Vincent Kipkemoi from Kenya and Tadese Takele from Ethiopia.