Islamist militants are capturing territory in north-central Burkina Faso, while steadily advancing towards the capital. Security forces are increasingly reluctant to engage militants and mutinies are becoming more frequent, while political pressure is mounting on the government. Coup plots abound and street protests will intensify ahead of next year’s elections.
Although Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi played little more than a symbolic role within Islamic State affiliate groups in Africa, his death is likely to achieve the undesired effect of increasing the terrorism threat in many African countries primarily through renewed intent and unchanged capabilities.
EXX Africa’s analysis series focussing on threats facing the aviation sector explores the incidence and impact of petty and grand corruption in some of Africa’s most important economic hubs.
In a three-part analysis briefing series, EXXAfrica is exploring specific threats to the aviation sector in Africa. In part two, we examine the threat posed by crime, whether by petty criminals or organised crime syndicates, and the impact this has on individuals and businesses.
In a three-part analysis briefing series, EXXAfrica explores specific threats to the aviation sector in Africa. In part one, we examine how the risks of war and terrorism may manifest via an explosive device attack, assault on an airport, or shoulder to air missile attack.
As security conditions across the Sahel continue to rapidly deteriorate, regional and international states have renewed their efforts to support joint counter-terrorism operations. EXX Africa assesses the potential for these efforts to address the current crisis, and the possible outcome for the security outlook across the broader region, including the resurgence of the narcotics trade.
With 54 countries and a continental coastline of 30,500 km that spans the Mediterranean sea in the north, the Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the northeast, the Indian Ocean in the east, and the Atlantic Ocean in the west, Africa’s borders are both numerous and vulnerable. EXX Africa delves into the primary threat actors taking advantage of these vulnerabilities to further their own objectives across the continent. The report will be submitted the United Nations General Assembly this month and is pre-released to our clients ahead of the publication.
EXX Africa takes a closer look at the idiosyncrasies of some of the prominent internet shutdowns on the continent over the last year, exploring the causes and consequences of this repressive technological tactic.
The use of internet shutdowns by African governments to suppress popular dissent is becoming increasingly common. So far in 2019, there have already been reports of internet shutdowns in at least 12 countries. The states most affected usually have few internet providers, which makes it easier to implement a ban. Although such shutdowns may be contrary to local law, they are often detrimentally effective before they can be challenged in court. Furthermore, there is a lack of a binding international legal framework to hinder governments from acting with impunity.
These partial or near-total internet blackouts are most often implemented in anticipation, or in the wake, of anti-government protests, particularly around elections. However, governments also use targeted blocking of certain websites to restrict access to specific information during critical periods, such as national examinations. We explore some recent case studies from the past 12 months in this latest briefing. We also examine the impact such shutdowns have on commercial operations and the wider economy in African countries.
This briefing follows on from EXX Africa’s special report published at the beginning of the year and updates the key forecasts established in that report (See SPECIAL REPORT: THE COST OF INTERNET SHUTDOWNS IN AFRICA).
Sudan: Prolonged shutdowns to control unrest
Internet blackouts have become a staple during the past 12 months in Sudan, particularly from December to April as protesters took to the streets to oust former president Omar Al Bashir from power. During this period, the government intermittently blocked access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Whatsapp. However, it was the near-total shutdown instituted in June until July, following particularly violent unrest in the capital, which garnered the most attention (See SUDAN: HARD-LINE DARFURI MILITIA SEIZE CONTROL OF THE CAPITAL).
On 3 June, the Sudanese Transition Military Council ordered a partial internet shutdown amidst reported paramilitary attacks on pro-democracy demonstrators in Khartoum, during which an estimated 100 people were killed. To begin with, the ban targeted mobile networks before escalating to encompass fixed-line connections on 6 June. From 6 June to 9 July, a near-complete blackout was implemented, cutting the population off from the outside world. According to NetBlocks, a web freedom group, the internet disruptions under the rule of the Council were “more severe” than those imposed under Al Bashir at the time.
The Council’s actions contributed to significant condemnation from local and international watchdogs, in turn spurring social media campaigns. For example, throughout June, international social media campaigns, #BlueForSudan and #IAmTheSudanRevolution, were launched in an attempt to gain attention for the massacres and censorship being perpetrated in Sudan.
Locally, a lawyer, Abdel-Adheem Hassan, challenged the shutdown in court. On 23 June, Hassan was successful in ordering his telecoms operator, Zain Sudan, to restore connectivity. Yet, while his win was widely publicised and celebrated in the belief that the internet would be restored countrywide the next day, the operator only restored connection to his personal line.
According to Human Rights Watch, the near-total blackout in Sudan resulted in “wide-ranging harm”. Notably, it prevented activists and residents from reporting critical information regarding paramilitary forces, who were responsible for the attacks in Khartoum and previously for violent campaigns in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile. Medical professionals further added that it made it difficult to organise ways to provide care.
The internet was only fully restored on 9 July after a further court challenge and a formal denouncement of the shutdown by the UN.
Chad: The longest night
Although Chad has a very low internet penetration rate – with only 6.5 percent of the population reported as having access to the internet as of 2017 – the country was recently subjected to the longest-running internet blackout on the continent. In March 2018, President Idriss Déby announced a partial internet block that affected major sites including WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook, as he prepared to amend the constitution to remain in office until 2033. Sixteen months later, the ban was lifted on 13 July 2019 (See CHAD: CREATING A DE FACTO MONARCHY AMID MULTIPLE CHALLENGES TO POLITICAL STABILITY).
According to the government, the ban was implemented for security concerns over terrorism threats. While this justification was challenged in local courts, all appeals were ultimately unsuccessful. The government only lifted the ban following a sustained international campaign, led by Internet without Borders, which included diplomatic pressure, protest action, as well as the sponsorship of VPN access for Chadians.
Long-term social media blackouts are common in Chad. Previously, in 2017, the government cut connections for ten months following controversial elections. These long periods of internet blackouts have severe economic consequences for the already impoverished country. According to the ‘Cost of Shutdown Tool’ by NetBlocks, the 2017 blackout cost the government an estimated USD 163 million. It is estimated that the most recent blackout cost upwards of USD 253 million.
Moreover, during the blackout, the country’s largest ISP, Millicom, a Swedish telecommunications company, was subject to substantial adverse media in Sweden regarding the company’s alleged failure to honour its UN commitments to protect free expression. In the early days of the blackout, the company claimed that the outage was due to technical problems before later admitting that the government had ordered the blackout. In June 2019, Millicom completed the sale of its operations in Chad to Maroc Telecom, a Moroccan telecommunication company. Although part of wider strategic disinvestment from Africa, Millicom’s withdrawal was likely impacted by the reputational damage it faced following the Chad blackout.
Mauritania: Internet shutdowns and propaganda campaigns
Mauritania held its presidential elections on 22 June. When violent protests broke out on 23 and 24 June in the capital Nouakchott, challenging the initial election results, the government moved to disrupt the internet before instituting a near-complete ban on both mobile data and fixed-line connections by 25 June. All of Mauritania’s consumer ISPs – Mauritel, Chinguitel, and Mattel – were impacted by the government’s decision.
By suppressing social and news media, the government was able to provide its own account of the protests through a false propaganda campaign. On 26 June, the state television broadcaster paraded a group of foreign nationals who alleged to take full responsibility for the protests. Only after the internet services were fully restored on 3 July did a more accurate picture of the post-election situation emerge.
Contrary to state propaganda, a number of Mauritanian political activists were reported to have been arrested for participating in the protests. Moreover, it was revealed that during the blackout, the state had detained two prominent journalists without charges. Lastly, once connectivity had resumed, delayed reports of civil unrest in the immediate aftermath of the elections from outlying rural areas began to emerge (See MAURITANIA: NATURAL GAS AND MINING BONANZA WILL MITIGATE INVESTMENT RISKS).
Ethiopia and Somalia: Shutdowns for exams
Internet shutdowns are not always instituted for political reasons. In Ethiopia and Somalia, they have also been implemented during national exams to prevent cheating. While internet access is occasionally restored in the evenings during these periods, the impact of such shutdowns is significant. According to Netblocks, a one-day shutdown of the internet costs Ethiopia at least USD 4.5 million and has a long-term impact on investor confidence in the host country.
The latter is particularly true in the case of Ethiopia as newly elected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has sought to privatise the national telecommunications provider, Ethio Telecom. Nevertheless, while such government interference is likely to concern potential investors, the anticipated establishment of an independent regulator is expected to provide appropriate checks and balances (See
Countries to watch
Protests in Zimbabwe have also been met with internet shutdowns in recent months. In January 2019, for example, the government imposed a “total internet shutdown” amid violent protests against a dramatic fuel price increase. Access to the internet and social media apps like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp were intermittently blocked as the country’s largest telecom company, Econet, sent customers text messages relaying the government’s orders and calling the situation “beyond our reasonable control”. As the situation has continued to decline over the past few months, with reports of load shedding of up to 16 hours a day, food shortages, and the outlawing of anti-government protests, further unrest and associated internet clampdowns are expected.
Tunisia is scheduled to hold the first round of its presidential elections on 15 September 2019. The country has enjoyed relatively free access to the internet since widespread blackouts during the Arab Spring in 2011. After transitioning into a democracy, a key test for the budding democracy will be whether or not these elections are free and fair. Any internet shutdowns during the election season, which the government would likely justify by appealing to the threat of terrorism, will instead be an indication of the state’s democratic integrity.
Burundi is expected to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in May and June 2020. In 2015, as President Pierre Nkurunziza, sought to seek a third term ahead of the country’s elections, messaging services including Facebook, Whatsapp,Twitter, and Tango were shutdown. Actions by the government since then have further pointed to little tolerance for media freedom. In March 2019, for example, the government renewed its suspension of Voice of America and withdrew the BBC’s operating license. As such, it is highly likely that next year’s elections will be accompanied by an internet shutdown and near-total blackout.
Tanzania is expected to hold multiple elections in 2020, including presidential and parliamentary votes. With current President John Magufuli having cracked down on online media over the last year (See EXX Africa Special Report: The Cost of Internet Shutdowns in Africa) it is likely that he may move to control messaging ahead of and during the elections by implementing partial bans on the internet and removal of anti-government sites. Indeed, during an August 2017 meeting with leaders from China, the Tanzanian Deputy Communications Minister praised his counterpart for blocking social media platforms and replacing them with “homegrown sites that are safe, constructive and popular”.
Each case of those in power using internet blackouts to control information, and therefore people, has its particularities. However, one constant in all of these cases is the economic impact of the blackouts at both a macro- and micro-economic level. Decreased productivity, lack of email communication, disruption to online sales, decreased online advertising; these are a few examples of the consequences of internet shutdowns for commercial entities. At a national level, a recent Global Network Initiative report indicates that the loss of internet connectivity has a pronounced effect on a country’s daily GDP. The report estimates that an average high-connectivity country stands to lose at least 1.9 percent of its daily GDP for each day of a total internet shutdown. For an average medium-level connectivity country, the loss is estimated at one percent of daily GDP, and for an average low-connectivity country, the loss is estimated at 0.4 percent of daily GDP.
Activist groups like NetBlocks and Global Network Initiative are creating awareness of both the prevalence of internet shutdowns around the world and their associated economic impact. This awareness is vital for the media, NGOs, and international organisations to try to combat the increased use of shutdowns across the African continent. Indeed, internet access and the guarding against the abuse of it by those in power are fast becoming a key frontier for the protection of international human rights. However, the fight against the abuse of freedom of expression is expected to be prolonged in Africa, as more and more leaders are turning to this form of control to suppress dissent and manipulate access to information. In the interim, businesses and the wider economy are expected to bear the brunt of these decisions.
SEE COUNTRY OUTLOOK: ALL COUNTRIES
Over the past two years, there has been a dramatic escalation in violence across the Sahel, as both militancy-related violence and inter-communal ethnic conflicts have expanded and intensified. EXX Africa assesses the outlook for the current situation, and the likely implications on security for commercial operators in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
The Islamist insurgency in the Sahel has undergone a significant shift since 2016, with the past year recording the highest number of militancy-related violent incidents to date. Moreover, the intensification and expansion of regional militant activity has corresponded with an escalation of violent inter-communal ethnic conflicts, greatly complicating counter-insurgency efforts by both local and international security forces. EXX Africa has monitored such threat developments in a series of recent analysis briefings (See MALI: UNRELENTING SOUTHWARD EXPANSION OF ISLAMIST MILITANCY IN THE SAHEL).
Amidst the general intensification of violence across the region, the threat of terrorism and kidnapping posed to foreign nationals and international commercial interests in remote areas of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger has been elevated, with the mining sector in particular becoming increasingly vulnerable to attack.
Since 2016, the frequency, impact, and geographic spread of Islamist militancy-related violence in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso has increased dramatically. The formation of broad militant alliances, such as the Jama’at Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) coalition, as well as the deepening of militant ties to organised crime networks, has facilitated a rapid expansion of the militant presence across the Sahel. As such, while Mali remains the focal point of the regional Islamist insurgency, militant groups are now also entrenched in the border areas between Mali, western Niger, and northern and eastern Burkina Faso, where they carry out frequent attacks on security forces and local communities.
Militant tactics have also adapted to regional counter-terrorism efforts, as the number and effectiveness of hit-and-run and roadside Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks has increased substantially in the past two years. In addition, militant groups have demonstrated a strong capability to carry out high-impact attacks in the region’s urban centres, despite the presence of multinational security forces. Since 2015, seven high-impact terrorist attacks have taken place in the capital cities of Mali and Burkina Faso.
Alongside this militant expansion, inter-communal ethnic tensions in the region have also spiked. Faced with a lack of reach into peripheral areas and an inability to push out insurgents, regional states chose to allow the formation of communal militias, such as the Dan Na Ambassagou organisation in Mali, which was established in 2016. In the past year, spurred on by regional militant groups, inter-communal tensions over land-rights and access to resources have erupted into large-scale violence, much of it perpetrated by these same militias. In the most significant incident to date, on 23 March 2019, at least 153 people were killed and 73 wounded in a massacre targeting the Fulani ethnic group in a village in central Mali. As a result, inter-communal violence in the region now accounts for more casualties than militant attacks (See MALI: FRUSTRATION MOUNTS AS SECURITY CRISIS SPINS OUT OF CONTROL).
Faltering counter-insurgency efforts
International and regional efforts to address the insurgency have thus far been unsuccessful in limiting the scale of the violence. While both the UN Multinational Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the French counter-terrorism mission, Operation Barkhane, remain ongoing, both are too limited in size and resources to cover the entirety of the affected region effectively.
As such, the primary responsibility for counter-terrorism operations in the region falls on national security forces, the majority of which are overstretched, under-trained, and ill equipped. In Mali, the security forces are completely reliant on external support from Barkhane and MINUSMA, and most units cannot operate independently. In Burkina Faso, the security apparatus, including the Special Forces and the intelligence services, was largely dismantled with the departure of former president Blaise Compaoré after a popular uprising in 2014. The G5 Sahel Joint Force, a regional counter-terrorism partnership between Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania, and Chad, has yet to become fully operational despite extensive international support, and remains hamstrung by a lack of training and equipment.
Impact on commercial operations
The vast majority of militancy-related attacks in the Sahel have either targeted local and international security forces or pastoral villages. Nonetheless, regional Islamist militant groups have both declared and repeatedly demonstrated their intent to target international commercial interests.
In May 2018, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) issued a statement explicitly threatening to conduct attacks on Western companies, particularly French entities, which operate in the area “from Mauritania to Libya”. This declaration did not signal a new threat, but rather highlighted an increasing effort by regional militant groups to connect foreign commercial operations to the Western military presence across the region.
In regional capitals, commercial activity has not been substantially disrupted by the militant threat. High-impact terrorist attacks have typically focused on areas popular with Western expatriates, such as hotels, beach resorts, and restaurants, as well as sites specifically connected to France. Commercial offices of Western companies have been unaffected, as militants continue to focus on those targets that offer the greatest opportunity to cause high numbers of casualties.
However, commercial operators in more remote areas face more significant challenges. Given the relative isolation of mineral deposits across the region and the limited security presence in these areas, the mining sector in particular has become increasingly vulnerable to direct attacks. Since September 2017, there have been at least nine recorded attacks on mining operations across the Sahel which have resulted in death, injury, or the destruction of property.
This vulnerability has been further underlined by the kidnappings of at least five foreign nationals employed in the mining sector during the same period. Most recently, on 14 January 2019, a Canadian national was kidnapped from a mining exploration site in northern Burkina Faso, near the country’s borders with Mali and Niger. Two days later, the victim’s body was found bearing multiple gunshot wounds.
Frequency and impact of attacks to continue
The current trajectory of the militant threat is likely to be sustained in the coming year. The intensification of inter-communal ethnic conflicts has greatly complicated efforts by regional and international authorities to conduct counterinsurgency operations and has led to a diversion of resources intended to deal with militancy. Moreover, while the development of local security forces has been prioritised, international efforts to do so continue to bear mixed results, and progress has been slow and uneven.
The longevity of the international commitment to this effort also remains uncertain, as internal debates in Washington over the past year have left significant questions over the future of US support for security capacity building in the region. As such, in the coming year it is unlikely that the G5 Sahel Joint Force or national security forces will reach a point where they can reverse the current situation.
Increasing regional expenditures on security also threatens to undermine government capabilities to address the social and governance-related issues that have contributed to the spread of militancy in the region. Militant groups in the Sahel have developed a keen awareness of where local dynamics and gaps in security and governance can be exploited to their advantage and have repeatedly done so through providing limited services and security to marginalised communities. With the ongoing escalation in inter-communal violence and resultant population displacement, the trend of militant expansion to new areas of operation is therefore likely to continue.
Greater responsibility on businesses for security
The continued deterioration of the region-wide security situation will present a growing number of challenges to foreign commercial operators in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. While commercial mining operations in south-western Mali have been largely sheltered from the insurgency up until this point, a significant number of mines in Burkina Faso and Niger are situated in vulnerable areas and have become increasingly exposed to militancy, as well as opportunistic violence by criminal armed groups.
Beyond the threat posed to mining facilities themselves, overland travel by commercial operators in remote areas is also likely to become increasingly difficult. In addition to the threat of kidnapping, the employment of indiscriminate roadside IEDs and mines has been reported in close proximity to commercial sites. For instance, on 14 August 2018 five people were killed when a police convoy came under heavy fire after striking a mine upon returning from the Boungou mining complex in eastern Burkina Faso.
Both local and international security forces are likely to remain overstretched in the foreseeable future and will therefore be largely limited to adopting a reactive posture to the militant threat to commercial sites. For instance, in response to the 3 October 2018 militant attack on the Inata gold mine in northern Burkina Faso, French armed forces from Barkhane intervened by deploying air assets to track down the perpetrators. While such responses may provide a limited deterrent, regional militant groups have proven extremely adaptable and are likely to quickly development counter-tactics to evade detection following attacks.
As such, in Burkina Faso, the government has stated that security measures at mines must be improved and has proposed the building of barracks and deployment of military personnel to commercial sites. However, it is unclear when these measures will be implemented, and to what extent they will be effective in countering the threat. Militant groups across the region have demonstrated their willingness and capability to target well-manned and equipped military and police outposts, often for the purpose of acquiring vehicles, weapons and ammunition. In order to continue operating effectively, commercial entities in the region will have to take much greater responsibility for their own security and adapt to the changing situation.
SEE COUNTRY OUTLOOK: MALI, NIGER, BURKINA-FASO
EXX Africa explores Russia’s growing influence in Africa. We look at the drivers of this foreign policy shift, the locations of interest, and the implications for traditional players across the continent.
At the end of this year, in October 2019, Russia will host its very first Russia-Africa Summit, which will bring together more than 50 African leaders in Sochi. While Russian influence across the continent is nothing new, as the former Soviet Union enjoyed extensive support among many African nations throughout the Cold War, there has been a notable shift in its focus over the past half-decade. We explore the nature of this shift and the strategic objectives behind Russia’s engagements with select countries. We further look at how Russia fares against other global powers in this latest ‘scramble’.
Russian influence across the continent is not unprecedented. From 1960 until the end of the Cold War, the former Soviet Union supported liberation movements in Algeria, Angola, the DRC, Ethiopia, Guinea, Morocco and South Africa, among others. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, these relations faded. Indeed, throughout the next decade, Africa experienced a so-called ‘third wave of democratisation’ during which Vladimir Putin showed limited interest in Africa.
This outlook changed significantly after 2014. With the Russian annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, relations with the West reached its lowest point since the Cold War. The US and EU responded to Russian expansionist policies in Eastern Europe by implementing sanctions against the regime, while both sides of the dispute engaged in a military build-up.
In response to actions from the West, Russia amended its foreign policy to establish strategic ties outside of the West and to insulate its economy against ongoing sanctions. As a part of this, Russia established new economic and security ties with South Asia, the Middle East, South America and indeed, Africa.
The Africa pivot
According to leaked documents obtained by the Dossier Centre, a London-based investigative unit, Russia’s pivot towards the continent typically involves a deal in which it offers some level of political or security support to African leaders in return for various concessions, such as in mining, oil and gas, arms or infrastructure contracts. Through these deals, Russia also establishes close personal ties with various heads of state and upcoming leaders, ensuring longevity to its plan.
The man reportedly driving this shift to Africa is known as Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman and close ally of Putin who is believed to be a funder of Wagner Group: a private military contractor with a presence in Africa. According to the leaked documents, Prigozhin has identified various countries with which Russia is seeking to bolster relations through political and economic ties, police training, media and humanitarian projects, and “rivalry with France”. Each country is ranked out of five in terms of priority with five being the highest level, and one the lowest.
The following countries are identified as part of this shift, according to the leaked documents:
― Rank five: Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan and Madagascar
― Rank four: Libya, Zimbabwe, and South Africa
― Rank three: South Sudan
― Rank two: the DRC, Chad and Zambia
― Countries cited where Russia “plans to work”: Uganda, Equatorial Guinea and Mali
― Countries cited “where cooperation is possible”: Ethiopia
― Countries cited as “traditionally supportive”: Egypt
We explore the nature of these relations and the impact on Western interests in some of these countries of interest.
Central African Republic – Rank Five
Russian influence in the CAR – a former French colony – failed to garner much attention until July 2018 when it was reported that three Russian journalists had been killed around 180km from the capital, Bangui, while on an assignment focused on investigating the activities of Wagner Group in the country. By the end of the year, Russia’s involvement had made its way into a UN Experts Report.
In the midst of a protracted armed conflict that had been ongoing since 2013, it emerged that President Faustin-Archange Touadéra sought out Russian assistance on the side-lines of a UN General Assembly meeting in 2017 to help bring about peace and get armed groups around the negotiating table. Russia responded by providing the national army with training and equipment and provided the president with security advice and personal protection.
To date, this has included: the free delivery of thousands of smalls arms to equip local law enforcement and two local battalions totalling 1,300 men; the deployment of Valery Zakharov (a former member of Russian intelligence services) as the top security advisor to Touadéra; the deployment of over 170 servicemen to train local security services; the deployment of an additional 30 servicemen to join the local UN peacekeeping mission; and plans to open a local office in the country.
Rich in natural resources – such as gold, diamonds and uranium – Russia is suspected to be shoring up support with Touadéra to secure these contracts. Indeed, reports have emerged of the presence of Wagner Group mercenaries guarding valuable gold and diamond mining operations in the country. This includes the large Ndassima gold mine that is alleged to have been taken over by Russian interests funnelled through a locally registered company known as Lobaye Invest. Ndassima was previously owned by a Canadian company before falling into the hands of Seleka rebels.
In addition to winning contracts in the extractives sector, the leaked documents further reveal that Russia plans to “replace national assembly representatives and [the] foreign minister who are orientated towards France” and “own [a] radio station and two print publications”. These objectives were partially achieved with the establishment of a new government this year and the opening of Radio Lengo Songo, which is funded by Lobaye Invest and the Russian embassy, last year.
France’s response to Russian meddling in its former colony has been vociferous. Following the free delivery of arms to the CAR the French Defence Minister noted, “I am not sure that this presence and the actions deployed by Moscow… help to stabilize the country”. In November 2018, in a show of force, France announced that it would be delivering its own arms to the CAR as well as aid to the value of USD 27.4 million.
South Africa – Rank Four
Ranked as a level four, recent Russian interests in South Africa have revolved around entering into political consultations with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party ahead of the May 2019 general elections, monitoring of public-political social processes, and creating a new media – according to the leaked documents. This plan was formed as part of Putin’s strategy to support incumbents in office and to work against “pro-Western” parties and movements.
Just prior to the elections in May, in which doubt began to emerge as to whether the ANC would garner above 50 percent of the vote, a local investigation by the Daily Maverick revealed that these plans were underway. It emerged that entities linked to Prigozhin had devised to “create a disinformation campaign that favoured the ANC and put out a propaganda action against the opposition DA [Democratic Alliance] and EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters].” As a part of this strategy, Russia reportedly deployed a small team of political analysts to South Africa to work within a research outfit that would influence public rhetoric, degenerate and disseminate video content, coordinate with a “loyal pool of journalists” and produce “pro-ANC videos”.
While subsequent reports revealed that the initiative was not very effective and that there was no disinformation campaign, the attempt nevertheless points to the intent my Russia to meddle in African politics to ensure a favourable outcome.
Moreover, the investigation by the Daily Maverick further pointed to various business interests in South Africa that Russia planned to pursue under the leadership of Prigozhin. These include the supply of ammunitions and short-barrelled weapons to a South African company, the acquisition of stakes in a local industrial packaging company and various infrastructure projects, particularly in Johannesburg.
Beyond South Africa, the report revealed interests in Zimbabwe (a rank four country), particularly under the new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Here, Russia is looking to secure access to gold mining, tantalite, copper and chromium deposits – it is already developing one of the world’s largest deposits of platinum group metals – and the establishment of a military industrial complex.
South Sudan – Rank Three
Russia’s relationship with South Sudan cannot be explored without acknowledging the close ties it enjoys with its neighbour, Sudan (a rank five country). Putin had long enjoyed a close relationship with former Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir who reportedly even offered Russia a naval base at the Red Sea in return for support for his government, particularly in light of mounting protests. While Al Bashir was eventually removed in 2019, Putin still enjoys relations with the transitional military council in power and will likely play an active role in the 2020 elections.
South Sudan is crucial to Sudan, and therefore Russia. While Sudan lost 75 percent of its proven oil reserves after South Sudan gained independence in 2011, it nevertheless retains the infrastructure required to bring South Sudan’s oil to market and, as such, continued flow between the two states is necessary. As South Sudan has looked to open up its hydrocarbons sector to potential investors in light of its peace deal in 2018, Russia has emerged as a top contender.
In late 2018, a delegation from South Sudan along with officials from the government-owned Nile Petroleum Company travelled to Russia to a sign an MoU with a Russian oil company, Zarubezhneft, to explore some of its blocks open for licensing. The officials also signed two other MoUs with Russian oil producer, Gazprom Neft and energy company, Rosneft, to develop a geological map of the country’s minerals. In addition to these oil exploration deals, Russia is also reportedly working to establish a refinery for South Sudanese oil back in Sudan.
Furthermore, it is alleged that as Russia’s commercial relationship with South Sudan continues to expand, Russia may soon shift to promoting its military interests in the country. In this scenario, much like in the CAR, its security forces are expected to be deployed to guard Russian interests – such as oil blocks – and train local forces.
Democratic Republic of Congo – Rank Two
Russia has recently hedged its bets by backing newly-elected President Félix Tshisekedi following the controversial general elections that took place at the end of 2018. While many Western countries – including France and Belgium – supported opposition concerns that Tshisekedi had struck a deal with former President Joseph Kabila ahead of the vote, Russia not only sided with the new president but – along with China and South Africa – also blocked the UN from taking any meaningful action regarding the vote.
This action is unsurprising given that Russia had engaged in discussions with Kabila and his supporters about reviving a 1999 agreement on military cooperation in 2018, and had reportedly cultivated a relationship with Tshisekedi ahead of the vote. Rich in natural resources, Russia is likely looking to gain access to new concessions whilst promoting an anti-Western ideology in the country – a stance previously undertaken by Kabila and likely to be pursued under Tshisekedi.
While Russian engagement with Africa has certainly grown, with trade and investment climbing by 185 percent between 2005 and 2015, it lags behind the initiatives of other major powers, such the US, the EU, and China. Each one of these countries has established economic and military ties across the continent and has their own programmes in this regard.
While US investment in Africa has barely risen since 2010, in June 2019, it launched a new Prosper Africa policy to reverse this trend and, indeed, counter both Chinese and Russian influence across the continent. The US also has a vast military presence in Africa, which includes 34 sites with high concentrations in the north, west and the Horn of Africa.
The EU and Africa also have extensive ties. Economically, 41 African states have signed Economic Partnership Agreements with the bloc and there is even talk of a continent-to-continent free trade agreement. Military, France has a large presence across the continent, particularly in the Sahel and the Maghreb. As part of Operation Barkhane alone, France has deployed over 3,000 personnel to the region in its largest overseas operation.
Lastly, China remains the top contender (economically speaking) with it being the continent’s leading trading partner. The total volume of two-way trade between China in Africa currently exceeds USD 200 billion while investment from China to Africa doubled between 2010 and 2016. As a show of further commitment to the continent, in September 2018, President Xi Jinping pledged an additional USD 60 billion in broad and diverse financing. Its key focus in this regard has been its Belt and Road Initiative.
In comparison to these other actors, Russian influence in Africa appears relatively weak and poses a limited threat to more established players. However, instead of competing head to head in terms of military or economic might, Russia is likely playing a more subtle game in which it establishes itself in less popular destinations, sows seeds of discontent with the West, helps up prop up long-term leaders and secures access to natural resources.
SEE COUNTRY OUTLOOK: SOUTH-AFRICA, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC, SOUTH-SUDAN, SUDAN, MADAGASCAR, CHAD, ZAMBIA, GUINEA, UGANDA, EQUATORIAL-GUINEA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO, ETHIOPIA, EGYPT, MALI, LIBYA, ZIMBABWE
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