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East African leaders call for a ceasefire in East Congo
East African Community (EAC) leaders called for an immediate ceasefire from all parties to the conflict during a summit in Bujumbura, Burundi, last Saturday. The meeting was called by Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye, who also chaired the summit. Besides the heads of state from the Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, DR Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi and Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame were also present. The latter had recently come into conflict with the DRC accusing Rwanda of supporting the Tutsi-led rebel group M23, against which the Congolese military is taking action. Rwanda, however, continues to deny the allegations. Since October 2020, the M23 have seized large parts of the mineral-rich province of North Kivu in eastern DR Congo, displacing at least 520,000 people since March 2022 alone (see press review week 17/2022). They have also captured the Kitshanga settlement in Masisi and a new road, further cutting off the provincial capital Goma. At the summit, leaders now demanded that all parties immediately cease violence and withdraw all armed groups, including foreign ones. The EAC agreed last April on a regional force to be deployed in eastern Congo to end decades of conflict bloodshed in the region. President Felix Tshisekedi warned the commander of the East African Regional Army deployed in eastern Congo, Kenyan Jeff Nyagah, against taking sides unilaterally with the rebels. The last attempt to negotiate a ceasefire in November last year, under which the rebels were supposed to leave North Kivu province by 15 January this year, was unsuccessful because, according to the UN’s assessment, the M23 rebels did not meet the evacuation conditions and continued to operate in the conflict region. The summit came after Pope Francis visited the Democratic Republic of Congo last Wednesday, where he met with victims of the conflict. He denounced the inhumane brutality and called for an end to the bloodshed.
Russian Foreign Minister in Mali, Mauritania and Sudan
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was on his third trip to Africa in six months this week, and second this year, visiting Mali, Mauritania and Sudan. On Tuesday, he met his Malian counterpart Abdoulaye Diop in Bamako. During his meeting with Diop, Lavrov promised to continue supporting Mali in strengthening its military capabilities and praised the operational successes that Mali has been able to achieve against jihadist groups thanks to the delivery of Russian aviation technology. As recently as 19 January, Russia had delivered further military equipment to Mali, and the training of Malian military personnel at Russian military universities was also planned for the future. Lavrov affirmed that he also wants to support other countries such as Burkina Faso, Guinea and Chad in the fight against terrorism. Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit also takes place against the background of the expulsion from Mali of the head of the human rights department of the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA, which took place only on Sunday. The latter had accused the Malian army of serious human rights violations in cooperation with the Russian mercenary group Wagner. During his first visit to the West African country, Lavrov also met with interim President Colonel Assimi Goita, who is currently the subject of doubts as to whether he will keep to the roadmap to return to civilian rule by March 2024. In the efforts for a new constitution, which was originally supposed to be voted on in March, Goita only suffered a setback at the end of January after important organisations such as the predominantly Tuareg alliance Coordination of Azawad (CMA) or the Movement of Imam Mahmoud Dicko (CMAS) rejected her appointment to the constitutional commission. After his stay in Bamako, Lavrov travelled on to Mauritania, where he met with President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani on Wednesday. The meeting is said to have been about security in the Sahel as well as the conflict in Western Sahara. Possibilities for cooperation in the exploration and extraction of raw materials were also discussed. Mauritania, which voted in favour of both the March 2022 UN resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the October 2022 UN resolution against Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions, has oil and gas reserves as well as important raw materials such as gold. Finally, on Thursday, Lavrov met Sudanese military leaders in Khartoum and claimed to be one step closer to ratifying a Russian naval base in the Red Sea. International media coverage seems to agree that this is a charm offensive by Moscow, which at the same time is meant to denounce the West’s alleged neo-colonialism. At the end of January, Lavrov visited Angola, Eswatini and South Africa in Southern Africa. The success of the visits is assessed differently, also due to last-minute changes: a visit to Botswana, for example, which was planned as part of the first trip this year, was cancelled at the last minute. Instead, Lavrov travelled to Eritrea and met with long-term ruler Isaias Afewerki. Mali and Sudan, on the other hand, were only announced as destinations at the last minute. Whether Lavrov will also visit Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia in February, as had been rumoured in the meantime, is therefore open. What is certain is that the second Russia-Africa summit is to take place in St. Petersburg at the end of July – the heads of state who have visited have already been invited.
The Libyan city of Ghadames hosted the Pearl of the Desert arts and crafts and shopping festival last Saturday. The city, located about 600 km south of Tripoli, is one of the oldest cities in the pre-Saharan region and has long been considered a shopping mecca. The festival, which aims to preserve Tuareg culture and promote intercultural exchange between people, attracted visitors from all over Libya as well as from neighbouring Tunisia. Currently, Ghadames is on the UNESCO list of dangerous places, although the city has so far been largely spared by the civil war, which also affects the festival.