Connect with us

AFRICA

Electoral test for Abiy as Ethiopians vote in first ‘free’ poll

Published

on

Electoral test for Abiy as Ethiopians vote in first ‘free’ poll

[ad_1]

The last time Berhanu Nega ran for office, in 2005, he performed so well that he ended up in jail. The then ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, rattled by a strong opposition showing, declared a state of emergency, fabricated the results and threw Berhanu, who had been elected mayor of Addis Ababa, into prison.

Now 62, Berhanu is a leading opposition candidate in Monday’s parliamentary election, billed as Ethiopia’s first truly “free and fair” poll.

The vote will be prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed’s first electoral test since sweeping to power on the back of protests in 2018 promising reform.

Even as some opposition politicians say the process is deeply flawed, Abiy hopes it will rescue a reputation badly damaged by the recent civil war, brewing famine and atrocities in the northern Tigray region.

“What is at stake is the very existence of this country,” said Berhanu, an economics professor once designated a terrorist and sentenced to death in absentia during years in exile, referring to the ethnic violence that has erupted not just in Tigray but across the country since Abiy took office.

That violence, between several of Ethiopia’s 80 ethnic groups, has displaced 2m people, not including in Tigray, and threatens to rip apart an ancient nation of 114m people whose ethnic cleavages are often compared to the former Yugoslavia.

Displaced Tigrayans queue for food at a reception centre for the internally displaced in Mekele, northern Ethiopia
Displaced Tigrayans queue for food at a reception centre for the internally displaced in Mekele, northern Ethiopia © Ben Curtis/AP

Berhanu, who shares with Abiy a view of Ethiopia as a more unified state, argues that the election could act as a reset, soothing tensions that he attributes partly to the election itself. “I care less about who wins and much more about the process,” he said. “If we can conduct a credible election, I think this could be a new beginning for this country.”

That view is not shared by other opposition parties, who regard the poll as deeply compromised and one that Abiy’s recently formed Prosperity party cannot lose.

Several prominent would-be challengers are in prison and many parties are boycotting an exercise that will not take place in some parts of the country, including Tigray, because they are deemed too unstable. Of 547 parliamentary seats, at least 102, mainly from three regions — Tigray, Somali and Harari — will not be contested, according to Chatham House, a think-tank.

“This will be an election like the ones during the days of Joseph Stalin, when he told the people of Russia ‘you vote, we count’,” said Merera Gudina, chair of the Oromo Federalist Congress, which is boycotting the poll. As a result, Abiy’s party is expected to sweep Oromia, the biggest region with 35m people, in spite of the fact that the prime minister, an Oromo himself, is regarded by many there as having sold out his region’s interests to a vision of a more centralised state.

Opposition parties, including Berhanu’s Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice, claim posters have been ripped down and supporters roughed up, although Berhanu said he did not expect any outright rigging, such as ballot stuffing. Unlike the last election in 2015, where the EPRDF “won” 100 per cent of parliamentary seats, he predicted opposition parties would gain significant representation.

Berhanu Nega greets supporters
Berhanu Nega: ‘What is at stake is the very existence of this country’ © Eduardo Soteras/AFP via Getty Images

Still, the election is scrappy, “full of illegal restraints, intimidation, arrests, violence of all kinds”, according to Belete Molla, chair of the National Movement of Amhara party, an ethnic nationalist group. “The Prosperity party has been massively spending government money for party campaigning, coercing people using government aid programmes,” Belete said, referring to alleged withdrawal of subsidised goods such as fertiliser for those not registered to vote.

About 37m people have registered after a slow start that necessitated a second minor postponement after a contentious decision not to run the election in 2020 because of Covid-19.

Daniel Bekele, head of the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, said that, despite the difficulties, the election was more open than those held under 27 years of EPRDF rule. “It’s a reasonably credible electoral process which is a step towards a better election in future,” he said. “But the overall political environment creates a challenge for a fully free and fair election.”

A few days before Monday’s poll, Abiy returned to his birthplace in the city of Jimma in Oromia for a rally designed to demonstrate his enduring popularity. There, it was hard to find anyone who did not support him or who did not endorse the war against a Tigray People’s Liberation Front blamed for decades of repression when it led the EPRDF coalition. Abiy’s supporters argued he was left with no option but to invade Tigray after troops loyal to the TPLF attacked the federal army’s northern command in November.

“The problem is the TPLF government, which was very bad,” said Nuritu Siraj, a 39-year-old housewife, whose eyes glazed over each time she mentioned “our Abiy”. Dressed in a hijab emblazoned with the Prosperity party’s lightbulb emblem, she said of the violence in Tigray, in which massacres, rape and looting have been common: “This is not a war, this is a peacekeeping operation.”

As tens of thousands of supporters gathered, some of them on horseback, Abiy plugged his unity vision, still unpopular in parts of the country where ethnic groups such as Somalis, Afars and his own Oromo people jealously guard their autonomy. “Our unity does not destroy our diversity, our diversity does not disperse our unity,” he said.

Even the prime minister appears to be reining in expectations about the coming poll. “This will be the nation’s first attempt at free and fair elections,” he said in a less-than-definitive endorsement.

However smoothly that attempt goes, many of Ethiopia’s swirling problems — most pressing of all the raging war in Tigray — remain intractable. “This is a critical time; we are at a critical crossroad,” said Merera.

[ad_2]

Source link

Advertisement
Click to comment

AFRICA

Is This the End of French Neo-Colonialism in Africa?

Published

on

Is This the End of French Neo-Colonialism in Africa?
A man holds a placard as supporters of Niger's National Council of Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) protest outside the Niger and French airbase in Niamey on September 2, 2023 to demand the departure of the French army from Niger. (Photo AFP via Getty Images)

In Bamako, Mali, on September 16, the governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger created the Alliance of Sahel States (AES). On X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, Colonel Assimi Goïta, the head of the transitional government of Mali, wrote that the Liptako-Gourma Charter which created the AES would establish “an architecture of collective defense and mutual assistance for the benefit of our populations.” The hunger for such regional cooperation goes back to the period when France ended its colonial rule. Between 1958 and 1963, Ghana and Guinea were part of the Union of African States, which was to have been the seed for wider pan-African unity. Mali was a member as well between 1961 and 1963.

But, more recently, these three countries—and others in the Sahel region such as Niger—have struggled with common problems, such as the downward sweep of radical Islamic forces unleashed by the 2011 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) war on Libya. The anger against the French has been so intense that it has provoked at least seven coups in Africa (two in Burkina Faso, two in Mali, one in Guinea, one in Niger, and one in Gabon) and unleashed mass demonstrations from Algeria to the Congo and most recently in Benin. The depth of frustration with France is such that its troops have been ejected from the Sahel, Mali demoted French from its official language status, and France’s ambassador in Niger (Sylvain Itté) was effectively held “hostage”—as French President Emmanuel Macron said—by people deeply upset by French behavior in the region.

Philippe Toyo Noudjenoume, the President of the West Africa Peoples’ Organization, explained the basis of this cascading anti-French sentiment in the region. French colonialism, he said, “has remained in place since 1960.” France holds the revenues of its former colonies in the Banque de France in Paris. The French policy—known as Françafrique—included the presence of French military bases from Djibouti to Senegal, from Côte d’Ivoire to Gabon. “Of all the former colonial powers in Africa,” Noudjenoume told us, “it is France that has intervened militarily at least sixty times to overthrow governments, such as [that of] Modibo Keïta in Mali (1968), or assassinate patriotic leaders, such as Félix-Roland Moumié (1960) and Ernest Ouandié (1971) in Cameroon, Sylvanus Olympio in Togo in 1963, Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso in 1987 and others.” Between 1997 and 2002, during the presidency of Jacque Chirac, France intervened militarily 33 times on the African continent (by comparison, between 1962 and 1995, France intervened militarily 19 times in African states). France never really suspended its colonial grip or its colonial ambitions.

Breaking the Camel’s Back

Two events in the past decade “broke the camel’s back,” Noudjenoume said: the NATO war in Libya, led by France, in March 2011, and the French intervention to remove Koudou Gbagbo Laurent from the presidency of Côte d’Ivoire in April 2011. “For years,” he said, “these events have forced a strong anti-French sentiment, particularly among young people. It is not just in the Sahel that this feeling has developed but throughout French-speaking Africa. It is true that it is in the Sahel that it is currently expressed most openly. But throughout French-speaking Africa, this feeling is strong.”

Mass protest against the French presence is now evident across the former French colonies in Africa. These civilian protests have not been able to result in straight-forward civilian transitions of power, largely because the political apparatus in these countries had been eroded by long-standing, French-backed kleptocracies (illustrated by the Bongo family, which ruled Gabon from 1967 to 2023, and which leeched the oil wealth of Gabon for their own personal gain; when Omar Bongo died in 2009, French politician Eva Joly said that he ruled on behalf of France and not of his own citizens). Despite the French-backed repression in these countries, trade unions, peasant organizations, and left-wing parties have not been able to drive the upsurge of anti-French patriotism, though they have been able to assert themselves

France intervened militarily in Mali in 2013 to try to control the forces that it had unleashed with NATO’s war in Libya two years previously. These radical Islamist forces captured half of Mali’s territory and then, in 2015, proceeded to assault Burkina Faso. France intervened but then sent the soldiers of the armies of these Sahel countries to die against the radical Islamist forces that it had backed in Libya. This created a great deal of animosity among the soldiers, Noudjenoume told us, and that is why patriotic sections of the soldiers rebelled against the governments and overthrew them.

Anti-Intervention

After the coup in Niger, the West hoped to send in a proxy force—led by the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS)—but the African military leaders demurred. Across the region, people set up solidarity committees to defend the people of Niger from any attack, with the threat provoking “revolt and indignation among the populations,” Noudjenoume explained. Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was even forced to back down from ECOWAS’s crusade when his country’s Congress rejected the measure and mass protests occurred against militarily intervening in the neighboring country. As ECOWAS’s ultimatums to restore the deposed Nigerien leader Mohamed Bazoum expired, it became clear that its threat was empty.

Meanwhile, not only did it appear that the people of Niger would resist any military intervention, but Burkina Faso and Mali immediately promised to defend Niger against any such intervention. The new AES is a product of this mutual solidarity.

But the AES is not merely a military or security pact. At the signing ceremony, Mali’s Defense Minister Abdoulaye Diop told journalists, “This alliance will be a combination of military and economic efforts [among]… the three countries.” It will build upon the February 2023 agreement between Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali to collaborate on a fuel and electricity exchange, to build transportation networks, to collaborate on mineral resource sales, to build a regional agricultural development project, and to increase intra-Sahel trade. Whether these countries would be able to develop an economic agenda to benefit their peoples—and therefore guarantee that France would have no means to exert its authority over the region—is to be seen.

Zoe Alexandra is the co-editor of Peoples Dispatch.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

Continue Reading

AFRICA

Charting the Rise of Anti-French Sentiment Across Northern Africa

Published

on

Charting the Rise of Anti-French Sentiment Across Northern Africa
Protesters in Bamako, the capital of Mali, during a demonstration last year against French influence in the country. Michele Cattani/Agence France Presse/Getty Images

In November 2021, a French military convoy was making its way to Mali while passing through Burkina Faso and Niger. It did not get very far. It was stopped in Téra, Niger, and before that at several points in Burkina Faso (in Bobo-Dioulasso and Kaya as well as in Ouagadougou, the country’s capital). Two civilians were killed as a result of clashes between the French convoy and protestors who were “angry at the failure of French forces to reign in terrorism in the region.” When the convoy crossed into Mali, it was attacked near the city of Gao.

Colonel Pascal Ianni, French Chief of Defense Staff spokesperson, told Julien Fanciulli of France 24 that there was a lot of “false information circulating” about the French convoy. Blame for the attacks was placed on “terrorists,” namely Islamic groups that continue to hold large parts of Mali and Burkina Faso. These groups have been emboldened and hardened by the 2011 war on Libya, prosecuted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and egged on by France. What Colonel Ianni would not admit is that the protests that followed the convoy revealed the depth of anti-French sentiment across North Africa and the Sahel region.

Coups d’états in the region have been taking place for more than two years—from the coup in Mali in August 2020 to the coup in Burkina Faso in September 2022. The coups in the region, including the coup in Guinea in September 2021 as well and the two other coups in Mali (August 2020 and May 2021), and another coup in Burkina Faso (January 2022), were driven in large part due to the anti-French sentiment in the Sahel. In May 2022, the military leaders in Mali ejected the French military bases set up in 2014, while France’s political project—G5 Sahel—flounders in this atmosphere of animosity. Protests against the French in Morocco and Algeria have only added weight to the anti-French sentiment spreading across the African continent, with French President Emmanuel Macron showered with insults as he tried to walk the streets of Oran in Algeria in August 2022.

Animosities

“The situation in the former French colonies (Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and Mali) is different from the situation in northern Africa,” Abdallah El Harif of the Workers’ Democratic Way Party of Morocco told me. “The bad relations between the regime in Morocco and France is due to the fact that the Moroccan regime has developed important economic, political, and security relations with the regimes of West Africa at the expense of the French,” he said. About the former French colonies along the Sahel in particular, El Harif said that “many popular insurrections” had taken place against the continued French colonial presence in these countries. With Morocco distancing itself from France, Paris is angered by its growing ties with the United States, while in the Sahel region people want to eject France from their lives.

Morocco’s monarchy has reacted quietly to the coups in the Sahel, not willing to associate itself with the kind of anti-French sentiment in the region. Such an association would call attention to Morocco’s close relationship with the United States. This U.S.-Morocco relationship has provided the monarchy with dividends: military equipment from the United States and permission for Morocco to continue with its occupation of Western Sahara, including the mining of the region’s precious phosphates (in exchange for Morocco opening ties with Israel). Each year, since 2004, Morocco has hosted a U.S. military exercise, the African Lion. In June 2022, 10 African countries participated in the African Lion 2022, with observers from Israel (for the first time) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Morocco, El Harif told me, “has enormously developed its military relations with the United States.” France has been sidelined by these maneuvers, which has annoyed Paris. As he left behind the jeering crowds in Oran, Algeria, President Macron said that he would visit Morocco in late October.

In the Sahel region, unlike in Morocco, there is a growing popular sentiment against the French colonial interference (called Françafrique). Chad’s former President Idriss Déby Itno, who died in 2021, told Jeune Afrique in 2019 that “Françafrique is over. Sovereignty is indisputable, we must stop sticking this label of French backyard to our countries.” “The French control the currency of these states,” El Harif told me. “They have many military bases [in the Sahel region], and their corporations plunder the natural resources of these countries, while pretending to combat terrorism.” When political challenges arise, the French have colluded in assassinating leaders who challenge their authority (such as Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara in 1987) or have had them arrested and jailed (such as Côte d’Ivoire’s Laurent Gbagbo in 2011).

Why Is Françafrique Over?

In a recent interview with Atalayar, France’s former ambassador to Mali Nicolas Normand blamed the rising anti-French sentiment on “the repeated anti-French accusations of Mali’s prime minister and the virulent media campaign carried out by Russia on social media, accusing France of looting Mali and actually supporting the jihadists by pretending to fight them, with fake videos.” Indeed, Mali’s prime minister before August 22, 2022, Choguel Maïga, made strong statements against French military intervention in his country. In February 2022, Maïga told France 24 that the French government “have tried to divide his country by fueling autonomy claims in the north.” Malian singer Salif Keïta posted a video in which he said, “Aren’t you aware that France is financing our enemies against our children?” accusing France of collaborating with the jihadis.

Meanwhile, about the accusation that the Russian Wagner Group was operating in Mali, Maïga responded in his interview with France 24 and said that “The word Wagner. It’s the French who say that. We don’t know any Wagner.” However, Mali, he said in February, is working “with Russia cooperators.” Following an investigation by Facebook in 2020, it removed several social media accounts that were traced back to France and Russia and were “going head to head in the Central African Republic.”

In an important article in Le Monde in December 2021, senior researcher at Leiden University’s African Studies Center Rahmane Idrissa pointed out three reasons for the rise in anti-French sentiment in the Sahel. First, France, he said, “is paying the bill in the Sahel for half a century of military interventions in sub-Saharan Africa,” including France’s protection of regimes “generally odious to the population.” Second, the failure of the war against the jihadists has disillusioned the public regarding the utility of the French project. Third, and this is key, Idrissa argued that the inability of the military rulers in the region “to mobilize the population against an enemy (jihadist),” against whom they have no real strategy, has led to this anger being turned toward the French. The departure of the French, welcome as it is, “will certainly not resolve the jihadist crisis, ” Idrissa noted. The people will feel “sovereign,” he wrote, “even if part of the territory remains in the hands of terrorist gangs.”

Globetrotter____________________

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

Continue Reading

AFRICA

Four Straight Years of Nonstop Street Protest in Haiti

Published

on

Four Straight Years of Nonstop Street Protest in Haiti
Protesters demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moise faced the police in Port-au-Prince. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

A cycle of protests began in Haiti in July 2018, and—despite the pandemic—has carried on since then. The core reason for the protest in 2018 was that in March of that year the government of Venezuela—due to the illegal sanctions imposed by the United States—could no longer ship discounted oil to Haiti through the PetroCaribe scheme. Fuel prices soared by up to 50 percent. On August 14, 2018, filmmaker Gilbert Mirambeau Jr. tweeted a photograph of himself blindfolded and holding a sign that read, “Kot Kòb Petwo Karibe a???” (Where did the PetroCaribe money go?). He reflected the popular sentiment in the country that the money from the scheme had been looted by the Haitian elite, whose grip on the country had been secured by two coups d’état against the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (once in 1991 and again in 2004). Rising oil prices made life unlivable for the vast majority of the people, whose protests created a crisis of political legitimacy for the Haitian elite.

In recent weeks, the streets of Haiti have once again been occupied by large marches and roadblocks, with the mood on edge. Banks and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—including Catholic charities—faced the wrath of the protesters, who painted “Down with [the] USA” on buildings that they ransacked and burned. The Creole word dechoukaj or uprooting—that was first used in the democracy movements in 1986—has come to define these protests. The government has blamed the violence on gangs such as G9 led by the former Haitian police officer Jimmy “Babekyou” (Barbecue) Chérizier. These gangs are indeed part of the protest movement, but they do not define it.

The government of Haiti—led by acting President Ariel Henry—decided to raise fuel prices during this crisis, which provoked a protest from the transport unions. Jacques Anderson Desroches, president of the Fós Sendikal pou Sove Ayiti, told the Haitian Times, “If the state does not resolve to put an end to the liberalization of the oil market in favor of the oil companies and take control of it,” nothing good will come of it. “[O]therwise,” he said, “all the measures taken by Ariel Henry will be cosmetic measures.” On September 26, trade union associations called for a strike, which paralyzed the country, including the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince.

The United Nations (UN) evacuated its nonessential staff from the country. UN Special Representative Helen La Lime told the UN Security Council that Haiti was paralyzed by “[a]n economic crisis, a gang crisis, and a political crisis” that have “converged into a humanitarian catastrophe.” Legitimacy for the United Nations in Haiti is limited, given the sexual abuse scandals that have wracked the UN peacekeeping missions in Haiti, and the political mandate of the United Nations that Haitian people see as oriented to protecting the corrupt elite that does the bidding of the West.

The current President Ariel Henry was installed to his post by the “Core Group” (made up of six countries, this group is led by the United States, the European Union, the UN, and the Organization of American States). Henry became the president after the still-unsolved murder of the unpopular President Jovenel Moïse (thus far, the only clarity is that Moïse was killed by Colombian mercenaries and Haitian Americans). The UN’s La Lime told the Security Council in February that the “national investigation into his [Moïse’s] murder has stalled, a situation that fuels rumors and exacerbates both suspicion and mistrust within the country.”

Haiti’s Crises

An understanding of the current cycle of protests is not possible without looking clearly at four developments in Haiti’s recent past. First, the destabilization of the country after the second coup against Aristide in 2004, which took place right after the catastrophic earthquake of 2010, led to the dismantling of the Haitian state. The Core Group of countries took advantage of these serious problems in Haiti to import onto the island a wide range of Western NGOs, which seemed to substitute for the Haitian state. The NGOs soon provided 80 percent of the public services. They “frittered” considerable amounts of the relief and aid money that had come into the country after the earthquake. Weakened state institutions have meant that the government has few tools to deal with this unresolved crisis.

Second, the illegal U.S. sanctions imposed on Venezuela crushed the PetroCaribe scheme, which had provided Haiti with concessionary oil sales and $2 billion in profits between 2008 and 2016 that was meant for the Haitian state but vanished into the bank accounts of the elite.

Third, in 2009, the Haitian parliament tried to increase minimum wages on the island to $5 per day, but the U.S. government intervened on behalf of major textile and apparel companies to block the bill. David Lindwall, former U.S. deputy chief of mission in Port-au-Prince, said that the Haitian attempt to raise the minimum wage “did not take economic reality into account” but was merely an attempt to appease “the unemployed and underpaid masses.” The bill was defeated due to U.S. government pressure. These “unemployed and underpaid masses” are now on the streets being characterized as “gangs” by the Core Group.

Fourth, the acting President Ariel Henry likes to say that he is a neurosurgeon and not a career politician. However, in the summer of 2000, Henry was part of the group that created the Convergence Démocratique (CD), set up to call for the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Aristide. The CD was set up in Haiti by the International Republican Institute, a political arm of the U.S. Republican Party, and by the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy. Henry’s call for calm on September 19, 2022, resulted in the setting up of more barricades and in the intensification of the protest movement. His ear is bent more to Washington than to Petit-Goâve, a town on the northern coast that is the epicenter of the rebellion.

Waves of Invasions

At the UN, Haiti’s Foreign Minister Jean Victor Geneus said, “[T]his dilemma can only be solved with the effective support of our partners.” To many close observers of the situation unfolding in Haiti, the phrase “effective support” sounds like another military intervention by the Western powers. Indeed, the Washington Post editorial called for “muscular action by outside actors.” Ever since the Haitian Revolution, which ended in 1804, Haiti has faced waves of invasions (including a long U.S. occupation from 1915 to 1930 and a U.S.-backed dictatorship from 1957 to 1986). These invasions have prevented the island nation from securing its sovereignty and have prevented its people from building dignified lives. Another invasion, whether by U.S. troops or the United Nations peacekeeping forces, will only deepen the crisis.

At the United Nations General Assembly session on September 21, U.S. President Joe Biden said that his government continues “to stand with our neighbor in Haiti.” What this means is best understood in a new Amnesty International report that documents the racist abuse faced by Haitian asylum seekers in the United States. The United States and the Core Group might stand with people like Ariel Henry, but they do not seem to stand with the Haitian people, including those who have fled to the United States.

Options for the Haitian people will come from the entry of trade unions into the protest wave. Whether the unions and the community organizations—including student groups that have reemerged as key actors in the country—will be able to drive a dynamic change out of the anger being witnessed on the streets remains to be seen.

Globetrotter______________________

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

Continue Reading

AFRICA

West Africa Fails to Stem Growing Jihadist Insurgency

Published

on

West Africa Fails to Stem Growing Jihadist Insurgency
Congolese soldiers exit the town of Mutwanga, partly deserted after recent armed attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), northeastern DemJihadists in the Sahel threaten west Africa’s coastal states. GETTY IMAGES

Quietly last week, the West African state of Togo extended a state of emergency for another six months. The country had declared a three-month state of emergency in the northern region in June after jihadists attacked a military outpost, killing soldiers. That attack was the first inside Togo since jihadists attacks began in the wider region in the mid-2010s. More have followed in the weeks since.

Togo is now the latest West African country to suffer a deadly terror attack. What started as an insurgency in the countries of the Sahel, a belt of nations below the Sahara desert, has now spread, slowly but inexorably, south to the coastal countries, with militants attacking Ivory Coast and Benin.

It is an insurgency that shows no sign of abating and one that countries appear to be powerless to stop. The nimbleness of the militants, combined with the vast, barely-governed spaces and porous borders beyond the main cities, mean that governments are constantly on the defensive, unable to maintain security and unable to predict where the next attack will come from.

The spread of jihadists across the region is causing, and is caused by, political instability. All the countries of the Sahel have suffered from a convergence of crises for years: political upheaval, a lack of governance, food crises and climate change. Each exacerbates the other. As it spreads, it becomes harder for political solutions to be found.

But crucially, this instability is now stretching and even breaking apart the very political structures and alliances that were meant to offer a solution.

Just last month, France finally withdrew all its forces from Mali. French troops had been in Mali for nearly 10 years as part of Operation Barkhane, but after a military coup two years ago, relations between the countries deteriorated.

The deterioration was political, of course, but there was popular feeling behind it. Nationalist sentiment in many countries of the Sahel is rising, with the public feeling that their own governments can’t end the violence and outside governments are merely interfering. Memories of historical western and French interference remain strong.

So far, Mali is the only country to have ordered French forces out – but anti-French protests have taken place in every country of the Sahel, particularly Chad and Niger, where the thousands of French troops are now concentrated. Given deteriorating public support in France, Mali will not be the last of the Sahel countries to ask the French to leave.

How happy these publics will be with their own governments remains to be seen. Part of why the public accepted the 2020 Mali coup was because the previous government was seen as weak and unable to stop the violence. The same rationale was behind the coup in January of this year in neighboring Burkina Faso. Yet the rule of military leaders – or, as in Togo, long-running states of emergency – doesn’t appear to be ameliorating or ending the violence.

In their place, countries are looking for new political alliances. Mali has already welcomed the presence of Russian mercenaries – although the government insists they are mere army trainers. Last week, Benin admitted it was in talks with Rwanda – a country more than 3,000 kilometers away – for aid to stop the jihadists.

Taken together, the nimbleness of the insurgency and the uncertainty of political alliances contributes to a sense of drift, a sense that the countries are trying anything, piecemeal, just to end the violence. What is needed is a joined-up strategy, but in a region as vast as West Africa, there are simply too many places to hide. The militants can source weapons and materials in one country, gather in another, and plot attacks in a third.

Yet the same factors that have allowed the insurgency to spread also make the spread of the insurgency dangerous. The borders are long and porous, and more than half of the population of West Africa lives rurally. The instability and widespread hunger – across at least six countries of the region, millions are in need of help – means population movements. As the attacks get closer to the populated areas of the coast – and especially Nigeria, with a vast population of more than 200 million – the possibility for destabilizing population movements increases.

Against that backdrop, extending a state of emergency is more of a political sticking plaster over a grievous wound. But with few options, the countries of the region are simply bracing themselves for more attacks.

yndication Bureau ________________

Faisal Al Yafai is currently writing a book on the Middle East and is a frequent commentator on international TV news networks. He has worked for news outlets such as The Guardian and the BBC, and reported on the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. Twitter: @FaisalAlYafai

Continue Reading

AFRICA

South Africa Is on a Knife Edge as Xenophobia Escalates

Published

on

South Africa Is on a Knife Edge as Xenophobia Escalates

Xenophobia is a global crisis, but in South Africa, it takes a particularly violent form. The day-to-day accumulation of insult and harassment from within the state and society periodically mutates into open-street violence in which people are beaten, hacked and burned to death. If there is a useful point of global comparison, it may be with the communal riots that rip Indian cities apart from time to time.

The state has tended to stand down while a neighborhood is roiled with xenophobic violence. When it does move in, after the destruction, removal of people from their homes and killing have stopped, it usually arrives to arrest migrants rather than the perpetrators of the attacks. It is overwhelmingly impoverished and working-class African and Asian migrants who must face this pincer movement from the mob and the police.

The severity of the situation in South Africa first came to global attention in May 2008 when xenophobic violence, sometimes intersecting with ethnic sentiment, took 62 lives. At the time, the country was ruled by Thabo Mbeki, a man with deep and genuine Pan-African commitments. But by the end of 2007, Jacob Zuma’s path to the presidency was clear, and the ethnic chauvinism he had introduced into the public sphere was rampant. The limited social support offered by the state was increasingly understood to be tied to identities such as ethnicity, nationality and claims to be part of long-established communities.

By the time that Zuma took the presidency in May 2009, it was common for party officials in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal to tell impoverished people that they had not received houses, or other entitlements, because of an “influx” of “foreigners” or people “from other provinces“—a euphemism for ethnic identity. There were cases where people, seeking the approval of political authority, began to “clean” their communities themselves.

Now, almost 15 years since the 2008 attacks, the situation is much worse. Most South Africans have lived in a state of permanent crisis since the colonial capture of land, cattle, and autonomy. But for most young people, that permanent crisis no longer takes the form of the ruthless exploitation of labor under racial capitalism. Last year, youth unemployment hit 77.4 percent, the highest out of all G20 countries. As Achille Mbembe, the Cameroonian philosopher who writes from Johannesburg, argued in 2011, the intersection of race and capitalism has rendered people as “waste.”

The pain of young lives lived in permanent suspension is often turned inward. There is a massive heroin epidemic, depression and anxiety are pervasive, and rates of violence, much of it gendered, are terrifying.

In this crisis of sustained social abandonment, there are attempts, sometimes extraordinarily courageous, to build forms of politics around the affirmation of human dignity. They have often met serious repression, including assassination. But unsurprisingly, there are also attempts to build forms of popular politics around xenophobia, some of them with fascistic elements. Young people, mostly men, are summoned to the authority of a demagogic leader, given a rudimentary uniform in the form of a T-shirt and the opportunity to exercise some power in the name of “cleaning” society. Perversity is dressed up as virtue.

At the same time, all the major political parties, including the ruling African National Congress (ANC), have moved sharply to the right and have become increasingly xenophobic. In government, the ANC has always run a highly exclusionary migration regime and is now moving to end the permits, established more than 10 years ago, that gave around 178,000 Zimbabweans the right to live, work and study in South Africa.

Its rhetoric has also moved sharply to the right. The party’s spokesperson, Pule Mabe, recently declared “open season on all illegal foreign nationals,” adding, “we can no longer guarantee their safety.” The party’s policy conference in early August proposed “a well-coordinated strategy for tracking down illegal foreigners.” That strategy explicitly included the recommendation that “ANC branches must take the lead in this regard.”

Many analysts take the view that the ANC, which has already lost control of many of South Africa’s major cities, will not be able to win the next national election in 2024. As the party faces the prospect of losing power for the first time since the end of apartheid, the temptation to scapegoat migrants for its failures is escalating. Alarmingly, the new parties taking the political space opened by the rapid decline in support for the ANC are more or less uniformly forms of authoritarian populism centrally organized around xenophobia.

Former business mogul turned politician Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA party, which is making rapid electoral advances, mixes hardcore neoliberalism with xenophobia. In 2018, Mashaba staged a “citizen’s arrest” of a migrant and then tweeted, “We are [not] going to sit back and allow people like you to bring us Ebolas in the name of small business. Health of our people first. Our health facilities are already stretched to the limit.” This conflation of a vulnerable minority with disease evokes the horrors of historical forms of fascist mobilization.

Public speech from the state, government and most political parties routinely conflates documented and undocumented migrants as “illegal foreigners,” “illegal foreigners” with criminals, and, in recent days, following a horrific gang rape on the outskirts of a decaying mining town, rapists. When the police come under pressure to respond to concern about criminality, they frequently arrest migrants, often including people with papers rather than perpetrators of actual crimes.

The mass-based organizations of the left, with political identities rooted, to a significant extent, in the factory, the mine or the land occupation have often opposed the turn to xenophobia, and it is common for migrants to hold positions of leadership in these kinds of organizations. But while they can provide nodes of refuge, they lack the power to effectively oppose the rapidly worsening situation at the national level.

With no national force with the vision and power to offer an emancipatory alternative to the poisonous politics, sometimes with fascist elements, that turns neighbors against each other, the country is on a knife edge.

_______________________

Richard Pithouse is an academic and journalist in South Africa. He is the coordinator of the Johannesburg, South Africa, office of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research; the director of the Forge, a cultural space; and the editor-at-large of Inkani Books.

Continue Reading

AFRICA

Why Can’t Algeria Solve Europe’s Gas Woes?

Published

on

Why Can’t Algeria Solve Europe’s Gas Woes?
Several measures and decisions had been taken by Sonatrach to remedy the damage caused by the oil spill. AP Photo

European politicians have been scouring their neighborhood to find new gas supplies to replace those threatened by Russia. They have secured some promises in their tour that took them from Azerbaijan via the Gulf to Egypt and Israel. They have visited Algeria too – but Africa’s largest country and biggest gas producer remains a prickly partner.

Algeria exports gas via pipelines to Spain and Italy, and by tankers from two liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants. It has long played a critical role in Europe’s gas balance, as the third-largest supplier (after Russia and Norway), providing 10 percent of the continent’s imports.

Outgoing Italian prime minister Mario Draghi visited Algiers on July 18 and came back with a promise from President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to supply $4 billion worth of gas. State firm Sonatrach says it has delivered more than double the forecasted amount to Italy so far this year. The TransMed pipeline that links the countries via Tunisia has been out for maintenance; after its intended restart this week, flows will have to speed up significantly to reach the target.

Algeria achieved record gas output last year, with a leap to more than 100 billion cubic meters (bcm), a surprise after a period of stagnation since 1999 when production has wobbled between 80-90 bcm per year. The country consumes about half of its produced gas itself, and rising domestic use had been eating into exports, but the production boost saw exports at levels not hit since 2008.

This may have been a false dawn. The ability of Algeria to help Europe through its gas crisis – profiting handsomely in the process – is hampered by two factors: capacity, and politics.

After 2021’s record, gas exports fell sharply in the first half of 2022. While flows to Italy have risen a little, those via a pipeline to Spain and Morocco, and LNG supplied by ship, have all dropped. The culprit is a little puzzling. Supplies to Morocco have been cut off entirely following the expiry of the contract for the Gaz Maghreb Europe (GME) pipeline, and a major political bust-up between Algiers and Rabat over the disputed territory of Western Sahara and Morocco’s normalization with Israel.

GME runs on to Spain and, though its loss has partly been substituted by higher flows through another pipeline – the Medgaz line that runs directly under the Mediterranean from Algeria to Spain – this is not a complete replacement. Spain has begun supplying Morocco by running GME in reverse, irritating Algiers which does not want its gas circuitously reaching its rival. On July 24, Sonatrach reported that Medgaz suffered a breakdown in the Spanish leg of its subsea route, but Spanish operator Enagas denied this. The incident might have been intended as a warning.

Algeria could have directed the gas not going to Morocco and Spain to its LNG plants, which are running at only 40 percent or so of their capacity. Yet supplies from these also dropped. Domestic demand would have risen and, as Algeria’s oil production ceiling under the OPEC+ deal rises, it may need to re-inject more of the produced gas to support oil output.

None of these factors seem fully sufficient to explain the drop, and with record-high European gas and LNG prices, Algeria has every incentive to maximize sales. It may be trying to put pressure on its customers to raise the prices in their contracts, and indeed it has signed a revised higher-priced deal with Engie of France.

So far, therefore, Algeria’s contribution to replacing Russia has largely been limited to cutting overall exports while switching supplies from Spain to Italy.

That shift is not a bad thing for European energy security: The Iberian Peninsula has surplus LNG import capacity and very limited connectivity with the rest of the continent, while Italy has typically obtained almost half its gas from Russia and a quarter from Algeria. But if Algeria could get back to the export levels of the first half of last year, another annual 10 bcm would be a helpful if not huge contribution to replacing 130 bcm of Russian gas.

Algiers, though, dances to no-one’s tune but its own. With high hydrocarbon prices, its shaky fiscal situation is improving, and it holds the upper hand in negotiations. It has strong relations with Russia, whose foreign minister Sergei Lavrov visited in May.

The country has long been accused of underinvestment, unattractive fiscal terms and painfully slow bureaucracy, hampering hydrocarbon sector development. But new deals have been signed since a new oil law was passed in 2019, notably a $4 billion oil project with ENI, France’s TotalEnergies and the US’s Occidental. Italy’s ENI has been particularly active, agreeing to take additional volumes of gas through the TransMed pipeline and to invest in boosting Algerian production.

At the start of July, Sonatrach announced a large discovery at its biggest gas field, Hassi R’mel, which will be developed speedily to add 3.65 bcm of annual production from November, very favorable timing with the European winter looming. But other major new additions won’t arrive until 2024, while Sonatrach continues to battle rising domestic demand and decline from maturing fields.

For Algeria to help alleviate the European gas crisis, diplomacy will have to continue, which might require some awkward concessions from Spain. European solidarity will be important to limit competition between Madrid and Rome. Gas distribution companies will probably have to bite the bullet on paying significantly higher prices.

On a more positive side, Europe can offer to help tackle the 8 bcm of Algerian gas that goes up in smoke each year – flared at the fields because of limited capacity to gather, process and transport it. It can save Algerian domestic gas by cooperating on Saharan solar power.

So, facing its own upstream constraints, non-aligned stance, and complex and opaque decision-making, Algeria is no savior for Europe’s gas needs. Still, with some intelligent diplomacy and investment, Europeans may still be able to coax some more much-needed energy from the Sahara.

Syndication Bureau________________

Robin M. Mills is CEO of Qamar Energy, and author of The Myth of the Oil Crisis.

Continue Reading

/From The Past/

close