Djibouti and France launch review of their defense agreement

Djiboutian Foreign Affairs Minister, his French counterpart, the French Defence Minister, his Djiboutian counterpart in Paris on May 30, 2023.   –   Copyright © africanews
Cleared / AFP

By Rédaction Africanews

On Tuesday, France and Djibouti launched a review of the defense agreement between Paris and this strategically located country on the Horn of Africa.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu received Mahmoud Ali Youssouf, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Hassan Omar Mohamed Bourhan, Minister of Defense, in Paris, according to a joint statement from the French ministries.

“The meeting launched the review of the Defense Cooperation Treaty (TCMD) between Djibouti and France, the framework for which was set out in the joint declaration by the President of the Republic and his Djiboutian counterpart, Mr. Ismaël Omar Guelleh, in 2021”, the statement said.

An island of stability in a troubled region, Djibouti is a strategic base for France, which intends to maintain its largest overseas military base there, alongside other countries such as the United States and China.

Bound to the former French colony by agreements signed in 1977 and again in 2011, Paris has many reasons for wanting to retain its position in this small country of one million inhabitants, located just a stone’s throw from the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, through which much of the world’s trade between Asia and the West passes.

“The four ministers reaffirmed their shared desire to pursue the strategic partnership between France and Djibouti, and to deepen bilateral relations in all areas of cooperation”, according to the press release.

C.Africa president calls referendum on new constitution

Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadera delivers his speech during his inaugural ceremony in Bangui Tuesday March 30, 2021   –   Copyright © africanews
Adrienne Surprenant/Adrienne Surprenant / Collectif Item

By Africanews with AFP

President Faustin Archange Touadera of the Central African Republic said Tuesday that he would call a referendum on a new constitution that would allow him to seek a new term.

“I have decided… to submit this project for a new constitution to a referendum,” he said in an address to the nation posted on Facebook, without saying when the vote would take place.

Touadera’s opponents have already accused him of seeking to extend his rule despite constitutional limits.

Touadera was elected in 2016 and was returned for a second term in 2020, despite widespread accusations of electoral flaws.

In October, he removed the country’s top judge, Daniele Darlan, in what critics denounced as a “constitutional coup d’etat” after she opposed presidential decrees aimed at revising the constitution.

Currently a president can serve only two terms.

“There won’t be a third term, but the count will be set back to zero, so anyone can seek a new term, including Touadera if he wants,” the president’s main advisor, Fidele Gouandjika, told AFP after the announcement.

South Africa: opposition seeks to prevent Putin visit

FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks to South African President,..   –   Copyright © africanews

By Rédaction Africanews with AFP

South Africa’s main opposition party said on Tuesday that it had taken legal action to ensure that Vladimir Putin would be arrested if he set foot in the country, where he is due to attend a summit in August.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is asking the courts for “an order” stipulating that if Mr Putin arrives in South Africa to take part in the Brics summit (a group of countries comprising South Africa, Brazil, China, India, and Russia), the government must arrest him, as required by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The ICC, based in The Hague, issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin in March for the war crime of “deporting” Ukrainian children as part of Moscow’s offensive against Ukraine.

As South Africa is a member of the ICC, it is theoretically supposed to arrest the Russian president on his arrival in the country.

But Pretoria, which maintains close diplomatic relations with Moscow and insists on its “neutrality” in the conflict in Ukraine, has not yet indicated whether it will do so.

The DA explains that it has launched a “pre-emptive” judicial application to ensure that the government “respects its obligations” and hands Mr Putin over to the ICC if he comes to South Africa. No “judicial ambiguity” should persist, the statement said.

Kremlin spokesman Boris Peskov confined himself to saying on Tuesday that Russia would be “duly represented” at the Brics summit, without specifying whether Mr Putin planned to attend.

Moscow “assumes, of course” that its Brics partners “will not be guided” by “illegitimate decisions”, namely the ICC arrest warrant, he added.

The DA’s legal action comes as the government granted diplomatic immunity to officials attending a meeting of BRICS foreign ministers this week, followed by a summit of heads of state in August.

Some read the decision as a preparatory step to provide legal cover for Putin’s visit, but Pretoria insists it is standard procedure for the organisation of international conferences.

“These immunities do not cancel an arrest warrant issued by an international court against any participant in the conference”, the foreign affairs ministry defended itself on Tuesday morning.

South Africa has been criticised since the start of the war in Ukraine for its proximity to Moscow. In April, Mr Ramaphosa said that the ICC’s arrest warrant against Mr. Putin was putting a “spanner in the works” for South Africa.

It’s time for Africa’s partners to get serious about the AfCFTA

It has become quite fashionable, whenever the African continent is mentioned by development partners, to talk about the African Continental Free Trade Area. This is rightly so: the AfCFTA is potentially game-changing for the continent, and is the world’s largest free trade area by numbers of countries.

Image : Nopphon / Adobe Stock

The AfCFTA now covers a market of 1.2 billion people – only 500m of whom live above the poverty line. But, if United Nations projections are to be believed, by 2050 it will cover a market of 2.5bn people and, based on current projections, around 2.1bn people will live above the poverty line.

Furthermore, if African aspirations are to be believed, then this market will not just be the world’s largest consumption market but also a manufacturing hub, similar to the role China currently plays in the world economy. This is elaborated in the African Union’s collective development plan Agenda 2063 – in which the AfCFTA is just one of 15 flagship projects and six policy frameworks to be implemented over the coming years, albeit a massive one.

The AfCFTA has also shown itself to be effective. It came into force in January 2021 and by May 2023 46 countries have ratified the agreement out of 54 signatories; protocols for harmonised competition, investment and special economic zone rules have been adopted; and Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda, Tanzania and Tunisia have already traded “tariff free” in various products.

This progress is comparable to, if not even faster than, that of the Asian-dominated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The problem is that, despite it being fashionable, most of Africa’s development partners are not yet being serious about the AfCFTA.

Why partners need to deal with the AfCFTA

How and why does this matter? I know there are readers who will already be saying out loud as they read this – “the AfCFTA is an internal policy, it only needs Africans to be serious about it.” Before I explain why that might be a limiting perspective, let me first explain why I think the partners are not being serious.

If Africa’s development partners were being serious, we would see mention of the AfCFTA in major policy documents and schemes such as communiqués from the G7 group of “most advanced” economies or the G20 forum of 19 countries and the European Union. That hasn’t happened yet.

This is partly because, as research that my firm will soon release explains, Africa currently accounts for just 3% of G20 imports. So even when the G7 are saying “we recognise that economic resilience requires de-risking and diversifying” they are hardly thinking about the African continent. Switzerland occupies a greater share of G20 imports than does the entire African continent.

If Africa’s development partners were being serious, we’d also be seeing more policy papers being released by think-tanks across the world about options for integrating the AfCFTA with current trade initiatives, such as the US Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) or the UK’s recently-revised preferential trade scheme for developing countries.

I say “more” because as far as I know, there are only a handful of such papers – including one by my colleagues, commissioned by the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA). This focused on trade policy relationships between China and African countries. It considered a spectrum of measures; from preserving status-quo duty-free schemes targeted at least-developed countries, combined with specific bilateral free trade agreements to, at the other end of the spectrum, creating a free-trade area with the entire AfCFTA region.

It argued that the option that would best complement the AfCFTA would be a preferential trade agreement for the entire AfCFTA. In other words, duty-free, quota-free access for every African country.

This result is also likely to apply for the US, the UK and most other development partners. But where are the think-tanks and policymakers from African countries – or those from the UK or US themselves – reviewing these options in depth, linking them to direct policy negotiation opportunities, or global meetings such as those of the World Trade Organization?

My colleagues argued that such a preferential trade agreement should be a key outcome at the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), convened every three years by Chinese and African leaders. The next FOCAC will take place in Beijing in 2024.

There is a strong case to be made for fully recognising the AfCFTA in AGOA, for example, as a means for the US to address the failings of this existing trade regime. But this case has not yet been made, even though AGOA is due for renewal in 2025. This means serious options are not yet on the table, either from the African or the American side.

Does it matter? If, as I have noted, the AfCFTA is an African regional policy – is it not therefore only what is done on the continent that matters? Beyond this, some might argue that trade partners are being serious because many are ploughing millions into “aid for trade” schemes, such as Trade Mark Africa (TMA) which primarily provides training and digital equipment from British and European experts to reduce customs procedures and other at-the-border processes.

To consider Africa in isolation is ahistorical

The AfCFTA’s success is of course dependent to a degree on the willingness of individual member states and their leaders to make it work. But to rely only on action on the continent is short-sighted and ahistorical. Africa’s trade patterns are highly dominated by extractive-based investment and consumption – from agricultural products such as cocoa, to critical minerals such as lithium, to simple medicines. This pattern typically shows itself in trade deficits in all other sectors. For instance every single African country – even the most industrialised – is a net importer of pharmaceutical products.

These extractive patterns were established in colonial times and the era of slavery – and are so pervasive that they even set the tone for trade partners that were never involved in these gross atrocities. There is just one G20 country – Mexico – that does not have a trade deficit with the vast majority of African countries.

The fact is that the AfCFTA on its own, even with aid-for-trade and targeted preferential schemes, will not change these extractive patterns with development partners – however many tariffs are reduced or customs procedures simplified or digitalised. To change those patterns needs intentional, proactive policies.

The two questions that every African trade negotiator and leader must therefore have for our development partners must be: what policies are you taking to recognise the AfCFTA in your own trade policy; and how quickly do you think those new policies will reshape your trade patterns with the continent to make them more resilient, sustainable and reliable?

Only when development partners can answer this, will they demonstrate they are being serious, not just fashionable.

US conducts strike near site of Shabaab attack in Somalia

AFP , Sunday 28 May 2023

The United States conducted an airstrike that destroyed stolen Al-Shabaab weapons and equipment in Somalia near an African Union military base that was attacked by the group, officials reported Saturday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Somalia s counterpart Abshir Omar Jama (Huruse) attend a signing ceremony following their talks in Moscow on May 26, 2023. AFP

The base in Bulo Marer, 120 kilometers (75 miles) southwest of the capital Mogadishu, was housing Ugandan troops when it was raided Friday in an attack claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group.

In a statement, US Africa Command said that it “destroyed weapons and equipment unlawfully taken by Al-Shabaab fighters,” without specifying when or where the weapons were stolen.

“US Africa Command conducted an airstrike against militants in the vicinity” of Bulo Marer on Friday, in support of the Somali federal government and the AU force known as ATMIS, it said.

Al-Shabaab militants drove a car laden with explosives into the base, prompting a gunfight, local residents and a Somali military commander told AFP.

It was not immediately known if there were any casualties from the Al-Shabaab attack.

US Africa Command said its “initial assessment is that no civilians were injured or killed” in its operation.

Pro-government forces backed by ATMIS forces launched an offensive last August against Al-Shabaab, which has been waging an insurgency in the fragile Horn of Africa nation for more than 15 years.

The 20,000-strong ATMIS force has a more offensive remit than its predecessor known as AMISOM.

The force is drawn from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, with troops deployed in southern and central Somalia.

Its goal is to hand over security responsibilities to Somalia’s army and police by 2024.

China denies hacking Kenyan government amid debt strain

China’s ambassador Zhou Pingjian (L), seen here with President Ruto last year…   –   Copyright © africanews
@KBCChannel1 – twitter

China’s embassy in Kenya has debunked allegations in a report by Reuters news agency stating that Chinese hackers attacked key state agencies in the capital, Nairobi, including the presidency.

This was reportedly done to assess whether the East Africa nation would service billions of dollars owed to Beijing.

According to the Reuters report, the years-long cyber-attacks started in 2019 when the Chinese started closing credit taps to Kenya as debt strains started showing.

However, in a tweet on Wednesday, the Chinese embassy said the report was “far-fetched and sheer nonsense”.

“Hacking is a common threat to all countries and China is also a victim of cyber-attack,” it added.

The embassy says it is a highly sensitive political issue to blame a certain government for a cyber-attack without solid evidence.

It says the ties between Kenya and China are founded on mutual respect.

“China and Kenya are good friends, good partners, and good brothers,” the embassy spokesperson said.

Kenya has reportedly cut borrowing from China. As of March, it owed the south-eastern Asian country $6.31bn (£5.8bn).

African leaders to broach thorny issue of paying Russia for fertilizers in Kyiv and Moscow talks

AP , Sunday 21 May 2023

A delegation of six African leaders set to hold talks with Kyiv and Moscow aim to “initiate a peace process,” but also broach the thorny issue of how a heavily-sanctioned Russia can be paid for the fertilizer exports Africa desperately needs, a key mediator who helped broker the talks said in an interview with The Associated Press.

African heads of state gather for a group photograph at the 35th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Feb. 5, 2022. AP

Jean-Yves Ollivier, an international negotiator who has been working for six months to put the talks together, said the African leaders would also discuss the related issue of easing the passage of more grain shipments out of Ukraine amid the war and the possibility of more prisoner swaps when they travel to both countries on what they’ve characterized as a peace mission.

The talks will likely be next month, Ollivier said.

He arrived in Moscow on Sunday and will also go to Kyiv for meetings with high-level officials to work out “logistics” for the upcoming talks. For one, the six African presidents would likely have to travel to Kyiv by night train from Poland amid the fighting, he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have both agreed to separately host the delegation of presidents from South Africa, Senegal, Egypt, Republic of Congo, Uganda and Zambia.

The talks also have the approval of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, the African Union and China, Ollivier said in a video call with the AP on Friday.

Neither side in the war appears ready to stop fighting, though.

The talks were announced last week by President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa just as Russia launched an intense air attack on Kyiv. On Sunday, Russia claimed to have taken the key eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut after fierce fighting, a claim denied by Ukraine.

“We are not dreamers,” Ollivier said on the chances the African leaders will achieve an immediate breakthrough with regard to stopping the 15-month conflict. “Unless something happens, I don’t think we are going to finish our first mission with a ceasefire.”

The aim was to make a start, said Ollivier, a 78-year-old Frenchman who brought opposing sides together in high-stakes negotiations in the late 1980s that helped end apartheid in South Africa.

“It starts with signs. It starts with dialogue. And this is what we are going to try to do,” Ollivier said. “No guarantee that we are going to succeed but, for the time being, Russia and Ukraine have accepted … a delegation coming specifically to their countries to talk about peace.”

A key starting point for Africa is grain and fertilizers.

The war has severely restricted the export of grain from Ukraine and fertilizers from Russia, exacerbating global food insecurity and hunger. Africa has been one of the hardest-hit continents. Last week, Russia agreed to a two-month extension of a deal brokered by Turkey and the U.N. that allows Ukraine to ship grain through the Black Sea and out to the world, and the six African presidents would like to see that extended further.

But they also need to broach ways of making it easier for African nations to receive shipments and pay Russia for fertilizers, Ollivier said. Russian fertilizer is not under international sanctions but the U.S. and some Western nations have targeted Russian cargo ships for sanctions. Russia’s access to the SWIFT global financial transaction system also has been restricted by the sanctions, leaving African nations struggling to order and pay for critical fertilizers.

“We will need to have a window whereby SWIFT will be authorized for this specific point,” Ollivier said. “That will be on the table and we hope that in that case we will gain the support of the Russians for the grains from Ukraine, and we will gain the support of the Ukrainians to find payments and shipments possible for the Russian fertilizer.”

The African mission is not the only mediation effort. China offered its own peace proposal in February and a Chinese envoy has been in discussions with Ukrainian officials. But China’s plan has largely been dismissed by Ukraine’s Western allies and is clouded by Beijing’s political support for Moscow.

Ukraine and Russia are far apart in terms of any agreements that might form the base of a peace deal.

The African delegation still had a wide cross-section of backing, Ollivier said, after China also “came to us and offered support” on the basis it would be a “parallel effort” to Beijing’s plan.

“More support, more weight will be put on the negotiation (with Moscow and Kyiv),” said Ollivier, the founding chairman of the London-based Brazzaville Foundation, an organization that deals with conflict resolution. “If one party says no, they will consider to who they are saying no. Are they saying no only to Jean-Yves Ollivier? To the Brazzaville Foundation? To the six (African) heads of state?”

“Or are they saying no to the United Nations, or to the Chinese, or to the Americans. To the British? To the European Union?”

Unlocking Africa’s debt solutions: experts champion investment in its digital economy

A Logo of the G7 with national flags in the background are pictured during …   –   Copyright © africanews

By Rédaction Africanews

G7 leaders convene in Japan to tackle urgent global concerns including the Ukraine invasion, climate change, and food insecurity.

Simultaneously, African nations prioritize economic recovery from the pandemic and debt risks, with the digital economy emerging as a pivotal driver of employment and growth, projected to dominate the global workforce by 2100.

A recent report by the World Bank titled “Digital Africa: Technological Transformation for Jobs” highlights Sub-Saharan Africa’s significant gap between digital infrastructure availability and actual usage. Bridging this gap would unlock enormous potential for job creation and economic recovery in a highly digitalized world.

The fintech industry in Africa is emerging as a vital player in this digital transformation. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of tech startups in Africa tripled, with nearly half of them operating in the fintech sector. 

These companies are leveraging digital technology to address challenges in healthcare, agriculture, and e-commerce. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated the trend towards digitalization, providing opportunities for new technology players to thrive.

African companies and governments are actively partnering with counterparts from the global south to develop innovative solutions and build digital infrastructure. These partnerships aim to provide digital public goods and expand access to essential services for citizens, particularly those in remote and underserved areas. 

By investing in digital public goods, governments can overcome traditional obstacles and reach a broader percentage of the population.

Creating a favorable legal and policy climate is crucial for developing Africa’s capital markets and digital economy infrastructure. Governments must enact policies that attract domestic and foreign investors while safeguarding property rights and fostering transparency and accountability. 

Collaboration and partnerships among African governments, international organizations, and private sector firms are essential for sharing knowledge, experiences, and resources to drive the expansion of Africa’s digital economy.

Promoting south-south cooperation is key to addressing common challenges and sharing best practices. Elevandi, a company established by the Monetary Authority of Singapore in partnership with Rwanda’s Kigali International Financial Centre, is hosting the inaugural Inclusive Fintech Forum in Kigali. 

This event aims to facilitate the transfer of digital technologies and knowledge across regions, enabling countries in the global south to learn from successful implementations elsewhere. Harmonizing digital infrastructures will further facilitate capital movement and potential investment between countries in the global south.

Kenya: German chancellor in quest for clean energy deals

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz & Kenya’s President William shake hands after a joint press conference in Berlin on March 28, 2023.   –   Copyright © africanews

By Rédaction Africanews

President William Ruto of Kenya welcomed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Nairobi, Friday, for the second leg of the diplomat’s African tour.

The German chancellor is knocking on Kenya’s door, seeking clean energy partnerships after Germany had to wean itself off Russian energy import’s following the war in Ukraine.

Kenya is currently Germany’s biggest trading partner from East Africa. 90% of the east African nation’s power needs are covered by renewables with plans to fully go green by 2030.

Scholz will be visiting a geothermal power plant at Lake Naivasha on Saturday. Geothermal power is key in Kenya’s energy mix and offers excellent conditions for the production of green hydrogen.

“The hope is that green hydrogen could eventually be imported from Kenya,” explains a German government source.

German leaders have over the last months been sealing energy deals with a wide variety of countries after it was forced to rapidly wean itself off cheap Russian energy imports following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Although Scholz government recognizes Kenya as an important economic and value partner, this tour mainly underlines the strategic importance of the continent and the efforts undertaken by Western states to counter China and Russia’s overtures to the region.

Scholz will seek to rectify Russian propaganda justifying its war on Ukraine as a result of NATO’s expansion zeal.

With an eye on China’s huge economic investments in Africa, Scholz will also seek to “offer political and economic cooperation on equal terms,” the government source said.

Zimbabwe: discovery of a hydrocarbon deposit

This photograph shows storage tanks with the “Esso-ExxonMobil” logo of the …   –   Copyright © africanews
LOU BENOIST/AFP or licensors

By Rédaction Africanews with AFP

The Australian oil company Invictus Energy announced Monday the discovery of a hydrocarbon deposit in the north of Zimbabwe, a country which suffers from massive energy cuts.

Analysis of the samples confirms the presence of petroleum, helium and “high quality” natural gas, the company said.

The Australian company has reassessed the data from a study carried out in the 1990s by the American oil giant ExxonMobil (ex-Mobil) which had abandoned its project on this site located 240 kilometers north of the capital Harare.

Invictus Energy signed an agreement in 2018 with Zimbabwe that provides for production sharing with the government as the country suffers massive power cuts of up to 19 hours a day.