How Russia Moved Into Central Africa

This is from Newsweek (highly recommended):

There are new guests at the ruined palace where Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa once held court. During his rule over the Central African Republic in the 1970s, Bokassa used a year’s worth of development aid to stage an extravagant coronation, and he personally oversaw the torture of prisoners. He fed some to his pet crocodiles and lions.

But the French government that helped install Bokassa in 1966 ousted him in 1979, deploying paratroopers to prevent any countercoup. Now, four decades later, it is Russian soldiers who mill around this crumbling estate in Berengo—and the shifting power dynamic is raising concerns in the West. President Vladimir Putin is pushing into Africa, forging new partnerships and rekindling Cold War–era alliances. “There will be a battle for Africa,” says Evgeny Korendyasov, head of Russian-African studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, “and it will grow.”

How did Russia muscle its way into CAR? According to Reuters:

CAR has been under a U.N. arms embargo since 2013 so weapons shipments must be approved by the U.N. Security Council’s CAR sanctions committee, made up of the Council’s 15 members, including France and Russia. It operates by consensus.

France first offered to help CAR buy old weapons but the proposal was too expensive. France then offered 1,400 AK47 assault rifles it had seized off Somalia in 2016, according to a Security Council memo and four diplomats.

Russia objected on the grounds that weapons seized for breaching the U.N. arms embargo on Somalia could not be recycled for use in another country under embargo, two diplomats said. But mindful of the need for a quick solution, the sanctions committee approved Moscow’s donation of AK47s, sniper rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers in December, according to committee documents and diplomats.

Why Russia interested in the CAR now? Possible answers include (i) the potential for lucrative mining deals (Putin’s Chef, Evgeny Prigozhin, reportedly runs a diamond mine near Bangui and a gold mine in a rebel-held area); (ii) the CAR might be a great launching pad for Moscow’s ambitions in the Sahel and therefore a great addition to existing military deals on the Continent; and (iii) Russia’s defense firms might just be in it to run guns and make a quick buck in a country that remains overrun by all manner of rebel groups (some reports claim rebels control 80% of CAR’s territory).

And as for the CAR leadership, they just might be in the mood for a partner that delivers results without too much paperwork and rules:

President Touadéra has a number of incentives to work with Russia rather than France or the United States. Russia’s aid in arming the CAR’s military is a huge boon for the chronically underfunded state. The EU training mission in CAR has been agonizingly slow, leaving an underequipped and undertrained military to face a deteriorating security situation. Russian instructors, while certainly less concerned with the moral or ethical dilemmas of war, may give Touadéra the military he needs to combat the rebel groups across the country.

 

 

 

Is Brexit good or bad for Africa?

Writing in Foreign Policy, Alex de Waal is certain that Brexit is terrible for African countries, and that “[e]verything from the economy to peacekeeping missions will suffer.”

The damage to British interests is significant, but the losses for [African countries] could be greater still. In campaigning to leave the European Union, Minister for Africa James Duddridge argued that Britain would be able to forge stronger ties with the continent if it were unencumbered by EU inefficiencies in aid and trade. Perhaps if Duddridge had a blank slate on which to construct a new Africa policy, he could do better than Britain’s existing one, which is part bilateral and part multilateral through the EU.farage But no policy is ever built on a blank slate, and surveying the post-Brexit political wreckage, he is now faced with a salvage job that will involve decoupling Britain from numerous EU-led peace and development initiatives and renegotiating dozens of trade deals. Even deftly managed by Duddridge or his successor, the Brexit will leave Britain with a fraction of the influence it currently wields in Africa.

And over at Africa is a Country Grive Chelwa notes that:

The one obvious channel through which Brexit could affect economies in Africa is if it triggers a recession in the UK. A recession might affect trade and investment between the two regions. The Bank of England thinks a recession might very well be on the cards. A study reviewing all studies that have estimated the likely economic impact of Brexit found: “GDP losses for the UK in the range of 10% or more [could not] be ruled out in the long run.”

How much trade takes place between the UK and Africa? Not much, it turns out. Combining data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for 2014, the latest year for which we have comparable data, we calculated that exports from Africa to the UK represent about 5% of Africa’s total exports. Africa is more worried about a slowdown in China, its biggest trading partner by far.

…. The UK doesn’t have the same influence on the continent that it did decades ago. And Brexit will be further proof of that. If the UK sneezes Africa will … well Africa will say “bless you” and move on.

On balance, I agree with Chelwa. It appears that with regard to the UK-Africa relationship, the Brits stand to lose more than Africa as a unit following Brexit. This is for the following reasons:

  1. Lacking the amplifying effects of the EU, UK influence in Africa will be diminished. This is bad for the UK, but not necessarily so for African states. Notice that the UK’s security objectives in Somalia or elsewhere on the Continent have not suddenly changed following the Brexit vote. We should disabuse ourselves of the notion that the UK involvement in these theatres of conflict is out of pure benevolence. It is largely to protect British interests (tourists, MNCs, aid workers, other tied aid, etc). Those interests have not suddenly changed with Brexit. Is a post-Brexit UK better off with a stable Somalia? I think so. Viewed this way, what Brexit has done is not to change British interests in Africa but to increase the UK’s transaction costs in catering to those interests. The Brits may invest less in specific peacekeeping operations, but their self-interest dictates that they will not suddenly close the taps on these investments.
  2. A diminished UK diminishes Europe, which may reduce Europe’s leverage vis-a-vis African countries. This outcome could cut both ways. On the one hand, it may exacerbate the moral hazard problem faced by African leaders by allowing them to play different European powers off each other (why invest in good governance if Europe is always at the ready to help if things go south?) But on the other hand, a weaker Europe may be less willing to bail out African leaders all the time. This might force these leaders to take their jobs seriously, thereby improving the welfare of their citizens. 
  3. It is not clear that decoupling UK aid from the rest of Europe will necessarily lead to the UK cutting its aid budget. In fact, the opposite might prove true. Going its own way may force the UK to put more aid pounds into projects in the region than it currently does under a joint EU aid budget. Again, increased transaction costs may mean the UK spending more money than it currently does in Africa, which is good for African economies. Plus the UK is likely to find itself needing to make up for the lost amplifying effects of the EU with more aid pounds.
  4. A recession in the UK may prove contagious. This would be bad for the world economy, and Africa would not be an exception. That said, I don’t think economic turbulence in Africa would necessarily lead to the conflicts of the early 1990s. With a few glaring exceptions, most African countries would be able to withstand a global recession without collapsing. We saw this during the Great Recession.
  5. The world is learning a lot about democracy by observing the challenges it currently faces in the West. Suddenly, corrosive ethnic politics is not exclusive to poor countries. “Leaders” like Donald J. Trump and Boris Johnson are not things that only happen in Zimbabwe or Nicaragua. These data points will serve to demystify democracy as a system of governance, and refocus global attention on what really makes democracy work — a stable intra-elite consensus coupled with reasonably sufficient responsiveness to the electorate (down with the fetishization of elections!!!) This will be a valuable lesson for Africa and other developing regions of the world. The ongoing sociopolitical troubles in the West are bound to liberate the worldview of leaders and other elites in the Global South, and will empower them to mold their own societies in their own image, instead of trying to turn them into Denmarks. The often-misrepresented “European mystique” has lost its shine. And this is a good thing for the world.

This is not to say that Africa’s economies will be able to weather Brexit without any non-trivial hiccups. South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya are probably the most exposed (in that order). Other African economies will be exposed to the extent that economic troubles in the UK lead to a global recession (the gold exporters might even benefit…)

And Western security policies and support for missions in Somalia and across the Sahel may face short-term uncertainties. But these experiences will not necessarily be catastrophic (on the security front, America will most likely steady the ship).

In fact, I tend to think that the long-run impact of these experiences will be positive. English speaking African economies will have incentives to diversify their export destinations away from the UK. African countries will have more leverage vis-a-vis the UK and (a fractured) Europe (and the US). And the lessons from the political upheavals in the West will serve to liberate Global South elites to mold their own societies in their own image and in a manner that respects sociopolitical realities in their specific contexts.

European Tariffs as a Barrier to Development in Africa

Harvard professor Calestous Juma writes:

Take the example of coffee. In 2014 Africa —the home of coffee— earned nearly $2.4 billion from the crop. Germany, a leading processor, earned about $3.8 billion from coffee re-exports.

The concern is not that Germany benefits from processing coffee. It is that Africa is punished by EU tariff barriers for doing so. Non-decaffeinated green coffee is exempt from the charges. However, a 7.5 per cent charge is imposed on roasted coffee. As a result, the bulk of Africa’s export to the EU is unroasted green coffee.

The charge on cocoa is even more debilitating. It is reported that the “EU charges (a tariff) of 30 per cent for processed cocoa products like chocolate bars or cocoa powder, and 60 per cent for some other refined products containing cocoa.”

The impact of such charges goes well beyond lost export opportunities. They suppress technological innovation and industrial development among African countries. The practice denies the continent the ability to acquire, adopt and diffuse technologies used in food processing. It explains to some extent the low level of investment in Africa’s food processing enterprises.

Something for an audience member to raise the next time an EU ambassador gives one of those tired and colorless lectures on “good governance.”

More here.

On Kenya’s diplomatic delusion

So far the ICC question has been the singular preoccupation of the Kenyatta administration. It appears that the Kenyan government is willing to pull out all the stops to halt the cases against the president and his deputy. Sadly, instead of a sober approach to the process of doing so, Nairobi has chosen to antagonize both the Hague Court and the West.

As I have argued before, Kenya has leverage vis-a-vis the West (security in the Horn and Somalia in particular; its status as host to regional diplomatic and aid efforts; and role as the biggest economy and potential gateway to the region) that it can use in a smart way to get concessions from Washington, London and Paris on key issues. Rather than wish for a restructured P5 (see post below), Nairobi should think of how to get its way with the current one.

Instead of the misguided chest-thumping about hollow sovereignty in a Chinese built conference hall in Addis under the banner of an organization partly funded by the EU, Nairobi could have chosen a different path.

Writing in the Daily Nation, Paul Mwangi, in a nutshell describes what is wrong with Kenya’s current approach to international diplomacy (Must read, more here):

The reality is that gone are the days when we were the “island of peace” in an unpredictable and violent part of the world. Over time, the world around us has changed, but we are yet to wake up and smell the coffee. Ethiopia is no longer in civil war and is quickly becoming a better investment opportunity for manufacturers both due to the low price of its electricity and the size of its population, about 90 million people. It is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

Tanzania is no longer socialist and is now the darling of America. Apart from its own vast mineral, oil and gas deposits, Tanzania is the new gateway to the DRC and is receiving mammoth investment from both China and America. China is building what is being called a “mega port” for Tanzania at Bagamoyo, which is more than 30 times the size of Mombasa, as part of a $10 billion investment package for Tanzania. When completed, it is bound to take away all central Africa business from Mombasa port, which will be left to serve only Kenya and Uganda.

……. Let us stop comparing ourselves with other countries. The painful truth is that Kenya is not Syria. In the Middle East, Syria is the only foothold for China and Russia. The rest of the countries are either fundamentalist or pro-Western. In Africa, China and Russia are spoilt for even better choices.

They will only go so far to help us out [Indeed some have started asking of the Afro-Chinese engagement has peaked].

The complete madness lack of tact that Mr. Mwangi points out will no doubt be on display this afternoon as the National Assembly debates Kenya-UK relations (Recently Kenyan MPs allied to the president have chosen to prove their loyalty by taking extreme positions on the ICC issue). This comes in the wake of the UK’s support of an amendment of the ICC statutes to allow President Kenyatta and his deputy to attend their trials via video-link; and stated opposition to granting sitting presidents full immunity from any prosecution under international law while in office as has been demanded by Kenya. The hurdle remains high for the Kenyan (AU) amendment proposals to the Assembly of Member States, especially after it emerged that 9 African states may not be illegible to vote on account of not having paid their dues.

According to a recent poll, 67% of Kenyans are of the opinion that President Kenyatta should attend trial at the Hague in person to clear his name.

Uganda is Not Spain

The Ugandan cyberspace went abuzz (see this, this, and this, for instance) following Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy’s quip a few days ago that Spain is not Uganda. Many commentators lamented at the implicit disdain that the Spanish Premier had for Uganda. Few, however, paused to consider why it is that Uganda is the country that first came to mind when Mr. Rajoy needed a representative state that did not have its sh*t together.

One exception is Daniel K. Kalinaki of the Uganda Monitor who tries to grapple with some of the difficult questions that many have skirted when reacting to Mr. Rajoy’s unfortunate comments:

“As far as making comparisons between the sizes of the two economies and their place in the world, Rajoy was speaking the truth, brutal as it might sound to our patriotic ears. The world would notice if Spain became bankrupt because of the size of its economy, which is several times bigger than ours, and its more central place in the international economy.

……..I am concerned about the ill-advised rants by foreign leaders such as Rajoy. I am concerned about the snide references, from James Bond movies to American TV series, of Uganda as a war-plagued basket case. I am also concerned about the misrepresentation by opportunistic do-gooders like Jason Blair and his Invisible Children.

………… We gloss over newspaper stories that speak to the modern-day horrors of parents tying their ill children to trees because there is no proper medical care available for them from a government that spends Shs350 billion a year in sending its officials and cronies to foreign hospitals. Where is the outrage over that?

……. I am proud to defend my country when our honour and genuine achievements are disparaged, but I am unable to find it within myself to ride the bandwagon of empty, predictable navel-gazing, played to a cyber gallery, while ignoring the potholed boulevard of our broken dreams.”

More on this here.

new eu policy on food aid commendable

For many years experts have pointed out the negative impact of international food aid. The practice of tying food aid to farm subsidies to western farmers resulted in unfair competition that drove many an African farmer out of business.

The EU intends to change this. New policy will now require the purchase of food aid in or near the needy countries.

Speaking of agriculture, we are yet to see any tangible results from Kofi Annan’s Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Mr. Annan seems to have been sidetracked by his peacekeeping duties as a Continental elder statesman. Perhaps the Alliance could get a less sought after individual – like Prof. Wangari Maathai, for instance – in order to increase its stature in public and highlight its importance in the quest for development on the Continent.