Is France Prepared to Fight in a Hostile Environment?

Is France Prepared to Fight in a Hostile Environment?

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From France 24:

Demonstrators stormed an airport runway in northern Mali on Monday to protest against arrests by French forces of people suspected of links to Islamist militants who operate in the region, local officials and witnesses said.

Security forces fired warning shots and teargas to deter the mostly female protesters in the town of Kidal who also ransacked and set fire to airport facilities, said a local official, witnesses and the U.N. mission in Mali, MINUSMA.

The protests appear to mark a deterioration in relations between foreign forces and the local community in Kidal, a town at the centre of a separatist movement and violence by Islamist militants, some of whom are linked to al Qaeda.

One person died and six were injured, said Ahmoudane Ag Ikmasse, who represents Kidal in the national assembly. Ikmasse said he was in the capital Bamako but was in contact with people in Kidal.

A doctor in Kidal’s health centre said two died from gunshot wounds.

When France started its military intervention in January 2013, it was greeted as a liberator by southern Malians and parts of the northern population. But France has not been able to resolve the political conflicts within Malian society and instead concentrated on hunting down members of terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

France's strategy has been described as "permission to kill" suspects without any transparency why certain individuals were designated as targets. Unfortunately for the French forces, AQIM's and other terrorist organizational structures overlap considerably with purely criminal endeavors, primarily large-scale smuggling of narcotics and contraband within the wider region. Smuggling in turn, while also a contributor to AQIM's finances, is widely accepted among the local population as a normal way to make a living, with few other economic opportunities available.

Under these circumstances, it is almost assured that France's aggressive anti-terrorism operation results in a lot of people perceived as innocent either in body bags or in prisoners after pre-dawn raids.  With political tensions complicating the picture, France's position vis à vis the local population will become ever more precarious and other international forces, like the U.N. and E.U. missions, are liable to become swept up in the anti-French sentiment.

So if France so far wasn't even able to limit the activities of isolated groups like AQIM, how will the international presence fare if large parts of the population especially in northern Mali turn hostile?

Is the Russian-South African Nuclear Deal at the Heart of the Zuma’s Political Crisis?

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Allister Sparks made some interesting observations in BusinessDay last week:

Last week, all four of SA’s big banks closed Oakbay’s accounts, KPMG announced it would no longer audit the company’s books, and the family’s stock exchange sponsor abandoned them.

This was followed by Atul and Varun Gupta resigning their directorships of Oakbay, and Duduzane Zuma, the president’s son, from his nonexecutive chairmanship of Shiva Uranium, an Oakbay subsidiary.


There is something fishy going on here. The critical thing is that Oakbay, and particularly Shiva, a uranium mine in the North West, is central to Zuma’s eagerness to do a deal with Russia to build and operate a series of nuclear plants capable of providing Eskom with 9,600MW of electricity.


It is a deal that would make both the Guptas and the Zuma family a fortune, since Duduzane Zuma owns a sizeable slice of Shiva’s shares.


But it is a deal two finance ministers, Pravin Gordhan and Nhlanhla Nene, have blocked because they deemed it unaffordable.

Sparks goes on to allege that it was Nene's resistance to the nuclear deal prompted his sacking, directly contributing to South Africa's current political crisis.

It is interesting to note that a few hours before firing Nene on that critical night, Zuma had persuaded the Cabinet to approve the 9,600MW deal — in itself an illustration of how he has packed his administration with toadies. He must have been furious when Nene refused to okay it, thus obstructing his grand plan.

I have always thought that investing in nuclear power was the worst idea ever for South Africa's power sector. There is not a single nuclear power plant in the world that has ever been cost effective. Adjusted for government incentives, research and development and waste disposal, nuclear is way more expensive than large-scale solar or wind power, not to speak of hydro, all of which have substantial potential in South Africa and the wider region.

Is now the time for Vesuvius of Zupta scandals to erupt? via Martin Plaut

Africa’s Industrialization Challenges

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On Brookings’ Africa in Focus blog, John Page touts his co-authored new book Made in Africa: Learning to Compete in Industry, criticizing the World Bank and other donors for their lack of support for the continent’s manufacturing sector:

In its January 2016 Global Economic Prospects report the World Bank proposes a policy solution to Africa’s continued vulnerability to commodities: “creating the conditions for a more competitive manufacturing sector.” Sadly, while advocating “structural reforms…to alleviate domestic impediments to growth [and] a major improvement in providing electricity,” the Bank is woefully short on specifics. This is hardly surprising. Beyond supporting improvements in the “investment climate”—structural reforms by another name—and pushing its Doing Business agenda, the Bank and the larger donor community have ignored Africa’s industrialization challenge for more than 20 years.

I would go even further. The World Bank and others have actively pushed resource-rich countries to prioritize developing an export economy and mega-projects like Congo’s Inga Dam to the detriment of investing in local value chains.

Sometimes this has been explicit, like when pressuring countries to sign up to a free trade agenda, even though this exposed local businesses to vastly more competitive competition from abroad. At other times, it has been more of a byproduct of how the system works, like how measuring economic success by GDP masks fundamental problems with equitable development.

Page rightly asks African governments to “address the objectives of boosting manufactured exports, supporting industrial agglomerations, and building firm capabilities”. I would add that these technocratic fixes must be accompanied by measures to ensure the equitable redistribution of the benefits garnered by both resource extraction and industrialization to have an actual positive impact on the lives of the majority.

Commodities, industry, and the African Growth Miracle via Africa in Focus

Africa Progress Report – 2015 edition

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This year the report focusses on renewable energy. This is a pet topic of mine, so I'll read it closely and advise you to do the same:

For Sub-Saharan Africa, 2015 is a turning point. The summits on sustainable development, financing and climate change are swinging the spotlight not only onto Africa’s needs to accelerate development and adapt to global warming, but also onto the region’s urgent energy crisis. Two in three Africans lack access to electricity.

But this crisis is also a moment of great opportunity, as we demonstrate in the Africa Progress Report 2015, Power People Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities. Demand for modern energy is set to surge, fuelled by economic growth, demographic change and urbanisation. As the costs of low-carbon energy fall, Africa could leapfrog into a new era of power generation. Utility reform, new technologies and new business models could be as transformative in energy as the mobile phone has been in telecommunications.

Source: Africa Progress Report 2015 – Africa Progress Panel

The death of South Sudan’s economy won’t end its civil war

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Ever since early 2012, South Sudan’s imminent economic collapse has been routinely predicted. Impressions from a recent visit to Juba indicate that this time around it might be more to these divinations than before.  The economic crisis is compounded by a de facto break-down in peace negotiations and South Sudan faces a formidable threat to its existence as an independent state.

This is an interesting blog post by Øystein Rolandsen on the economic situation of South Sudan (spoiler: its bad). But I don't agree with some of its conclusions and observations.

First of all, I don't think that South Sudan's "existence as an independent state" is threatened. The country's independence in 2011 was the result of several decades of civil war and intense international negotiations. There are many people, including all parties of South Sudan's civil war that would in no way accept the integration of  the country back into North Sudan (assuming Khartoum would even want that) or into another of its neighbors.

Due to the civil war and the government's inability to foster a national cohesion (which is strongly related to the economic problems), South Sudan might follow the trajectory of Somalia and fracture into smaller fiefdoms that act with autonomy from each other. But statehood is still a very entrenched concept and the state of South Sudan will continue to exist for decades, if only as a mostly empty shell (like the state of Somalia has, for more than two decades).

I'm also pessimistic about Rolandsen's hope that "the crisis might generate enough momentum for Juba and SPLM-IO to reach a compromise […]."

South Sudan's civil war is not about financial resources per se, but about who controls access to them. This is a function of South Sudan's "winner takes all" political system. All resources are worthless, unless your faction controls the presidency and therefore the power to distribute those resources. In that sense the economic crisis contributed to the outbreak of the conflict (because president Kiir had less money to pay off rivaling factions) but will do little to increase the will to compromise of any of the parties involved no that the war is in full swing.

Lastly, I should note that Rolandsen's assumption that "neighbouring countries appear to have no appetite for external military intervention" is not accurate. Uganda has committed substantial military resources, including ground troops and its modern aircraft fleet, to keep the government from being overrun. The government of president Kiir is also leaning on support from rebels from North Sudan, making an overt or covert intervention of the regime in Khartoum only a question of time.

South Sudan's economy has already collapsed. Waiting for it to collapse further in the hope that it will take the civil war with it into the grave will be fruitless. Instead, mediators and third parties should focus on the roots of the war that predate the country's economic woes (and its very existence): Its centralized, top-heavy political system; low levels of trust between political actors; the abysmal failure of DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration) after the civil war; military and political interventions of neighboring states (not only North Sudan); and the incapability of unwillingness of central political actors (including Kiir and his direct opponent Makar) to put the interest of their country and their people before their own.


Source: Dead economy walking in South Sudan

Vera Songwe on family dynasties in Africa

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Interesting analysis:

The automatic succession of sons does not seem to be the norm. There have been over 38 cases on the continent where the leader passed away in office, and sons have succeeded their fathers in only three. Over the last two years there have, however, been two contested elections that involved the son and brother of a former president—Kenyatta in 2013 and Mutharika in 2014. Increasingly, countries have put in place constitutional provisions to handle the passing of the president or are respecting constitutional provisions from earlier constitutions such as in Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, and Ethiopia, all countries who have seen their presidents pass away and whose transitions have been handled in a smooth and constitutional way. It seems that the passing of presidents has not generated prolonged political instability on the continent.

Her recommendations are sensible:

However, to guard against the creation of birth-right dynasties as opposed to merit-based family political dynasties, recent events suggest that countries should and must have clear constitutional processes for succession as well as open transparent freely contested elections.

Source: From father to son: Africa's leadership transitions and lessons | Brookings Institution

German company buys into Burundian rare earths

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Only days before his announcement to run for an unconstitutional third term led to violent demonstrations and an enduring political crisis, Burundian President Pierre Nkrununziza sold the rights to the Gakra rare earth deposit to a Guernsey-based shell company that will resell the minerals to ThyssenKrupp:

.The signature of the decree follows an offtake agreement signed on 14 April by another company of the same group, Rainbow Rare Earths Limited, withThyssenKrupp Metallurgical Products GmbH, part of the German ThyssenKrupp group. According to the deal, the German firm will purchase 5,000 tonnes per annum (“tpa”) of Rare Earth concentrate or downstream products resulting from this concentrate. Besides, Rainbow appointed ThyssenKrupp Metallurgical Products as its exclusive agent for sale worldwide. Production should begin during the last quarter of 2015, says Rainbow’s Managing Director, Martin Eales.

We'll see how ThyssenKrupp will position itself, should the political crisis in Burundi continue.

Source: German firm to sell Burundi’s rare earths | Kongo-Echo

The shenanigans of the 88 Queensway Group

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Looking forward to reading this report in more detail:

This report examines these linkages by tracking the practices of one group of investors that has been particularly active on the continent since the early 2000s: a Hong Kong-based consortium known as the 88 Queensway Group. Cultivating relationships with high-level government officials in politically isolated resource-rich states through infusions of cash, promises of billions of dollars in infrastructural development, and support for the security sector, Queensway has been able to gain access to major oil and mining concessions across Africa. Starting in Angola in 2003, Queensway has been engaged in the extractive industries in at least nine African countries, including Guinea, Madagascar, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

Source: The Anatomy of the Resource Curse: Predatory Investment in Africa’s Extractive Industries | Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Poverty in Africa rising despite economic growth

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2015 marks the 20th year since sub-Saharan Africa started on a path of faster economic growth. During that period, growth has averaged 5.2 percent per year. Meanwhile, the number of people on the continent reportedly living under $1.25 a day has continued to creep upwards from 358 million in 1996 to 415 million in 2011—the most recent year for which official estimates exist.

The article goes on to look in detail at the trend of increasing poverty numbers and why economic growth has not diminished poverty across Africa. This includes a very interesting discussion of the effects of inequality. While the available data does not indicate that inequality is rising,

inequality is already at unusually high levels. Where initial inequality is high, it is to be expected that economic growth delivers less poverty reduction, since the absolute increases in income associated with rising average incomes will be that much smaller for the have-nots versus the haves. Moreover, the degree of inequality that exists on the continent is worse than it looks. The fact that Africa is divided into so many countries masks big differences in income between them. If Africa were a single country, its inequality would look much worse—worse even than Latin America. Since incomes across African people vary so widely, only a fraction of people are likely to cross the poverty line at any one time. That contrasts with India where a concentration of people immediately below the $1.25 mark means that even a small increase in incomes can result in a sudden flood of people moving above the poverty line.

Another important factor: Many of the poorest countries are not benefiting from the continent-wide growth trend. This is due to conflict (DR Congo) or bad governance (Madagascar).

Source: Why is the number of poor people in Africa increasing when Africa’s economies are growing? | Brookings Institution

A poor man’s travel agency

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Interesting opinion piece on the European Union's unhealthy fixation on "smugglers":

But smugglers are in most cases merely the “poor man’s” agent; a deregulated, brazen, relatively cheap and lucrative travel agency for refugees and people sans papiers. Unseaworthy vessels, bought by smugglers for a one-time use, sink and capsize whether they are overcrowded or not, whether a Mare Nostrum is there to intervene at the last minute or not. If the EU actually wanted to save lives, they could donate their fleet of FRONTEX ships to the smugglers—instead of indulging in false indignation and a predictable humanitarianism that proverbially always arrives too late.

Be sure to click through some of the (very interesting) links.

Source: The people smugglers of the Mediterranean | Africa is a Country