Alex Vines

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10 Downing Street in London, United Kingdom as seen on 05 September 2022 as Liz Truss was announced as the UK's next prime minister. Photo: Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

It says something of the UK that the incoming prime minister has ordered a rewrite of British foreign policy barely 18 months after the last one was published.

Liz Truss, who has become the fourth prime minister in Downing Street in six turbulent years, is not prone to risk aversion or offering bland reassurances. She made clear during the campaign for the Conservative leadership that she wants the 2021 Integrated Review redrawn with a far greater focus on combating the ‘growing malign influence’ of Russia and China. She has also pledged to increase defence spending from its current 2.1 per cent of GDP, to 2.7 per cent, and then to 3 per cent by 2030, which will include more support for the intelligence services and cyber security, a further £10 billion overall at a time when public finances are in dire straits.…  Seguir leyendo »

An official shows an empty ballot box during the counting of votes at the end of the 2017 general election in Luanda, which marked the end of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos's 38-year reign in Angola. Photo by MARCO LONGARI/AFP via Getty Images.

The electoral contest in Angola – which officially started on 24 July – is fiercely competitive. An Afrobarometer survey in May found the opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) party was trailing the governing Movement for Popular Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party by just seven percentage points, with around half of voters still undecided.

The ruling MPLA is headed by current president João Lourenço and the UNITA party is led by Adalberto Costa Júnior. A decision in May by the Constitutional Court to rule UNITA had to campaign on its own and not as part of an opposition coalition is a reminder that the MPLA capitalizes on its incumbency.…  Seguir leyendo »

Young man with a Malian flag during a demonstration in Bamako to celebrate France's announcement to withdraw troops from Mali. Photo by FLORENT VERGNES/AFP via Getty Images.

This meeting comes at a watershed moment, following President Macron’s announcement that the French are pulling their troops out of Mali. This follows a spate of coups in this region, successful in Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali, and Sudan, unsuccessful in Guinea Bissau and Niger.

However well-trained by the West some of these soldiers are, some are developing a putschist appetite. This has resulted in a moment of increasing self-doubt among some of the key Minusma – the United Nations (UN) Mali peacekeeping mission – contributors who are reviewing their options on how to respond to a widening Sahel crisis at a time that they are also having to forensically focus on Ukraine.…  Seguir leyendo »

Chinese president Xi Jinping delivers his speech during the November 2021 China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) meeting in Dakar, Senegal, pledging to offer one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to Africa. Photo by SEYLLOU/AFP via Getty Imag

More than 20 low-income African countries were in debt distress or at risk of debt distress in autumn 2021 according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The good news is that while overall debt levels have generally risen, action requested by African governments from development finance institutions (DFIs) and multilateral lenders has meant many African countries have been able to support their economies without taking on too much additional private debt.

The IMF has also allocated Africa $33 billion in special drawing rights (SDRs), providing an immediate liquidity boost without adding to the debt portfolio.

At the same time, the G20’s short-term crisis management tool – the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) – has just ended and its intended replacement – the ‘Common Framework for Debt Treatment beyond the DSSI’ – has been implemented far more slowly than originally envisaged with only Chad, Ethiopia and Zambia engaging with it so far.…  Seguir leyendo »

The fourth bridge at Abidjan under construction which connects the cities of Yopougon and Plateau in Côte d'Ivoire. Photo by SIA KAMBOU/AFP via Getty Images.

2022 is already shaping up to be a year of mixed fortunes for Africa if the events of this first week are a harbinger.

A possible arson attack of South Africa’s parliament, the military junta in Mali claiming it aspires to govern for five years, and prime minister Abdalla Hamdok resigning in Sudan – leaving the military in full-control again and General Burhan stating that Sudan is now working towards holding national elections in July 2023 – are all reminders of the fragility of African democracy.

Democratic advances and retreats

Since the start of the decade, there have been successful or attempted coups in Guinea, Mali, Sudan, Chad, and Niger.…  Seguir leyendo »

A woman who lost a relative stands next to the plaque bearing the names of those killed in the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo by TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images.

Osama Bin-Laden’s masterminding of the US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in August 1998 saw more than 200 people killed – including a friend of mine – in nearly simultaneous truck bomb explosions linked to local supporters of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Al-Qaeda.

Living in Nairobi at the time, I had been in the embassy to collect a US visa a couple of days before the attack but my Kenyan friend was not so lucky and was killed. Both US embassies were badly damaged – in Nairobi, a memorial park was constructed on the site with a new embassy built elsewhere while Dar es Salaam got a new highly fortified embassy with a monument to the victims in its grounds.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kenneth Kaunda at a Commonwealth Summit as Zambian president. After the former British colony gained its independence in 1964, Kaunda was elected president, a position he held until 1991. Photo by Peter Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images.

During his 9,860 days in office from 1964, Kenneth Kaunda fought for majority rule of his neighbours, hosting the headquarters of the ANC and SWAPO in Lusaka and after losing elections in 1991 he left office graciously and became a campaigner for HIV and youth engagement.

In 1960 Kaunda took over the leadership of the United National Independence party (UNIP) and it swept to victory in the independence election of 1964, ending Zambia’s legal status as a British protectorate. Almost immediately, Kaunda was confronted by the white Rhodesian rebels’ unilateral declaration of independence on 11 November 1965.

Independent Zambia became a one-party state under Kaunda (widely known as KK), who banned all political parties except UNIP in 1972.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) will hold a two-day extraordinary Troika Summit in Maputo on 8-9 April to deliberate on measures to address the armed militancy in northern Mozambique.

Countering the armed militants known locally as al-Shabab is an urgent regional and international priority following their attacks on Palma since 24 March and the devastation caused in deaths, displaced, and destruction and damage to property. The government recaptured the town on 5 April but it is too soon to assess the total death count in Palma, likely to be in the dozens with thousands newly-displaced.

Since 2017, some 2,500 have been killed and nearly 700,000 internally displaced by this insurgency, but the Palma attack is a new morbid watershed.…  Seguir leyendo »

A newspaper vendor on a deserted street in Lagos, Nigeria during the country's first COVID-19 lockdown. Photo by Adekunle Ajayi/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

The year 2020 will of course be remembered for the COVID-19 pandemic, but many African countries have handled the public health effects of the first wave well compared with neighbouring continents, with some 55,000 related deaths and two million recovered out of a population of just over one billion.

This can be credited to quick action and leadership by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and others, assisted by public support and a youthful population with about only three per cent aged over 65 and relatively few institutionalized homes for the elderly.

Climate, prior exposure to other coronavirus strains, and effective community health networks set up in response to contain previous epidemics such as Ebola also clearly played a role.…  Seguir leyendo »

Chinese president Xi Jinping walks past a guard of honour at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, during the start of an official tour to South Africa in 2015. Photo by KAREL PRINSLOO/AFP via Getty Images.

Africa is experiencing its first continent-wide recession in 25 years due to the impact of the COVID-19, but many southern African states were already in economic distress prior to the pandemic – with Angola, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe partly because of unsustainable debt burdens they owe to China.

The COVID-19 crisis propelled African debt – and repayment and forgiveness – to the top of the international agenda once again, although this time much of the debt is bilateral, non-concessionary, or commercial in origin.

In April, the World Bank’s Development Committee and G20 finance ministers endorsed the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) which includes 40 African Least Developed Countries (LDCs).…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian president Vladimir Putin with African leaders at the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum in Sochi, Russia. Photo by SERGEI CHIRIKOV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.

Europe's preparation for the European Union–African Union Summit in 2021 needs to succesfully provide a coherent African policy on security, immigration and climate change that goes beyond trade and provides, at the very least, an opportunity for dialogue with the Russian Federation, which is also re-engaging in Africa.

The first Russia-Africa summit in Sochi in October 2019 was co-chaired by the Russian president Vladimir Putin and the Egyptian president and African Union chairman Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi. It also attracted 43 heads of state or government and more than 6,000 participants and media representatives from Russia and 104 foreign countries and territories.

Resulting from the Sochi summit is the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum, which is tasked to prepare for the second Russia-Africa summit in 2022.…  Seguir leyendo »

Press conference in Kati after the military arrested Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and he officially resigned. Photo by ANNIE RISEMBERG / AFP via Getty Images.

The coup in Mali is not a putsch by disgruntled soldiers in a distant land. It is an extended European neighbourhood and matters to Britain. The UK already has three Chinook helicopters deployed in country and 250 British troops are scheduled to take up UN peacekeeping duties in December in what could be the ministry of defence’s most dangerous deployment since Afghanistan.

This coup was not unexpected as it followed months of mass protests against alleged corruption, a worsening economy, disputed legislative election results and deteriorating security in this West African country. Mali’s military is struggling to stop the insurgents, some of them now also affiliated with the ISIL (ISIS) armed group, despite UN, EU, French and regional military support.…  Seguir leyendo »

Pictured is a Nigerian refugee living in the Awaradi settlement that houses some 9,000 displaced people fleeing violence from Boko Haram. Image: Getty Images.

The UK has been redeploying diplomatic, defence and development capabilities towards the Sahel since 2018 – a strategic pivot intended to deliver development impact, address long term security threats to UK interests and support alliances with international partners.

The Sahel is one of Africa’s  poorest and most fragile regions and has witnessed an escalation in jihadist activity, illegal migration and trafficking since a security crisis erupted in Mali in 2012.

The crisis spread to Niger and Burkina Faso and may now spill over into Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal. With Nigeria also facing insurgency in the Lake Chad basin, all major regional security and economic anchors in the region are under threat including key UK partners.…  Seguir leyendo »

Macomia, Cabo Delgado, Northern Mozambique. Photo by EMIDIO JOSINE/AFP via Getty Images.

On March 23 to 24, the centre of Mocimboa da Praia in Cabo Delgado province was occupied by up to 40 “jihadists”, who targeted government facilities, including a barracks, and brandished banners of affiliation to the so-called Islamic State.

On March 25, suspected jihadists raided the town of Quissanga and destroyed the district police headquarters. They too carried an Islamic State flag. Twenty to 30 members of Mozambique’s security forces were killed in both attacks.

Mocimboa da Praia is just south of the Afungi Peninsula, the location of gas projects worth $60- billion. Mocimboa was briefly occupied in late 2017, during attacks claimed by a group known as Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama (or al-Sunnah) that marked the start of a brutal low-intensity conflict, with widespread human rights abuses and attacks on civilians.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man holds a portrait of Robert Mugabe during his official funeral ceremony. Photo: Getty Images.

Africa’s dinosaur leaders are members of an increasingly small and unstable club. Popular protests last year forced Algeria’s president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, out of office after almost 20 years in power, as well as Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, who ruled for 30 years. In 2017, Robert Mugabe was deposed in a military coup (although this was denied) after 40 years.
And in 2011, mass protests led to the downfall of Tunisia’s president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, after he had been in power for 23 years.

Somewhat smoother are the political transitions in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). José Eduardo dos Santos, after almost 38 years in power, stepped down from office in 2017 as his term ended.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sales of papal-pictured capulanas have been brisk. Photo: Chatham House.

Pope Francis’ visit to Mozambique on 4–6 September comes at a critical political moment. The theme for the papal Africa trip (which also includes Madagascar and Mauritius) is ‘pilgrim of hope, peace and reconciliation’. This is especially relevant for Mozambique, as this is the first week of the official campaign for Mozambique’s sixth national elections on 15 October.

It is also the one-month anniversary of the Maputo Accords for Peace and Reconciliation between the government and the armed opposition, RENAMO (and the fifth anniversary of the previous such agreement in 2014).

What is unusual is that the pope accepted to visit Mozambique just after a peace accord and in the run-up to national elections.…  Seguir leyendo »

Xi Jinping at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing in September 2018. Photo: Getty Images.

There is no doubt that 2019 will see a quickening of renewed international competition in Africa. China is now Africa’s leading trading partner and India, Russia and others are increasing their involvement, whereas the European Union is treading water and the United States is falling behind.

A key development in 2018 was Russia’s re-entry into Africa. In 2019 the first Russia-Africa summit will add to an already lengthy list of summits. Russia has, for several years, been quietly investing in Soviet-era partnerships and forging new alliances by offering security, arms training and electioneering services in exchange for mining rights and other opportunities.…  Seguir leyendo »

Theresa May visits a school in Cape Town on 28 August as she begins her visit to South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. Photo: Getty Images.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s trip to South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya this week is an important signal of renewed British political and economic interest in Africa.

It was long overdue: a British prime minister has not visited Africa since 2013, and there has been a comparative decline in the UK’s visibility in many parts of the continent over the last decade, just as many other states, including France, Turkey, China and Japan, have been upgrading their Africa engagement. A planned trip by David Cameron was cancelled in 2016 with just five days’ notice because of the Brexit referendum and its results.…  Seguir leyendo »

Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections will be closely watched after the removal of Robert Mugabe last year. Photo: Getty Images.

Last year was a year of leadership changes and unprecedented events in a number of sub-Saharan African countries — several that were not predicted for that year.

Regional leaders from the Economic Community of West African States ensured that President Yahya Jammeh obeyed the will of the Gambian people to end his 22-year reign. President Robert Mugabe was forced from office, the only leader independent Zimbabwe has known in its 37 years.

In Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos, also president for 37 years, ended his own tenure, enabling a smooth transition. Somalia’s Mohamed Abdullahi 'Farmaajo' Mohamed defeated his more established rivals to win the February presidential election, and the Kenyan supreme court made history by declaring the result of the August election void.…  Seguir leyendo »

Robert Mugabe is sworn in for another term in 2008. Photo: Getty Images.

The end of the Mugabe presidency in Zimbabwe – with the swearing in of Emmerson Mnangagwa in Harare on Friday – is being watched closely across Africa, and especially by its long-standing leaders.

Currently, 30 per cent of African countries are ruled by long-standing rulers, defined as heads of state that have ruled for more than 10 years. Africa is not unique in this respect (Central Asia also has its share of ageing leaders), but Africa has a long tradition, and about a fifth of all African heads of state since independence can be classified as long-standing.

A recent study, African Futures: Horizon 2025, by the European Union Institute of Security Studies (and which this writer contributed to), shows that long-standing rulers in Africa are reducing in number.…  Seguir leyendo »