Africa Brief

From Algeria to Zimbabwe and countries in between, a weekly roundup of essential news and analysis from Africa. Delivered Wednesday.

Biya Bets on Russia

Cameroon’s president signs a security deal with Putin amid war in Ukraine and conflict at home.

Gbadamosi-Nosmot-foreign-policy-columnist10
Nosmot Gbadamosi
By , a multimedia journalist and the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief.
Cameroonian soldiers conduct the daily flag-lowering ceremony at the Force Multinationale Mixte base in Mora, Cameroon, on Sept. 28, 2018.
Cameroonian soldiers conduct the daily flag-lowering ceremony at the Force Multinationale Mixte base in Mora, Cameroon, on Sept. 28, 2018.
Cameroonian soldiers conduct the daily flag-lowering ceremony at the Force Multinationale Mixte base in Mora, Cameroon, on Sept. 28, 2018. ALEXIS HUGUET/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.

The highlights this week: An assassination attempt in Somalia, East African Community agrees to deploy joint force to counter rebels in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and experts say South Africa’s floods sound alarm on climate crisis.

If you would like to receive Africa Brief in your inbox every Wednesday, please sign up here.

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.

The highlights this week: An assassination attempt in Somalia, East African Community agrees to deploy joint force to counter rebels in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and experts say South Africa’s floods sound alarm on climate crisis.

If you would like to receive Africa Brief in your inbox every Wednesday, please sign up here.


Cameroon Signs Military Deal With Russia

Cameroon is the latest African country to ink a strategic military deal with Russia. The deal, signed on April 12 but revealed last week, covers the sale of weapons and armored trucks, as well as intelligence gathering and training and an agreement to engage in peace support operations under the United Nations.

The deal may not come as a surprise to foreign-policy observers because it is largely a revision of a 2015 agreement between Moscow and Yaoundé. Yet the timing of the agreement—amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and reports of war crimes there as well as in the Central African Republic, Libya, and Mali—has been criticized by Cameroonians.

Former colonial power France had historically been Cameroon’s main military backer, but as in other Francophone African countries, Paris appears to be losing clout to Russia. Moscow has been exploiting African governments’ diplomatic disputes with France—which has the largest military presence of any former colonial power in Africa—as a springboard for its own interests.

The deal fits squarely with Russia’s playbook of exploiting acute security crises in African countries to secure either private military consignments through the Wagner Group or arms sales—often with minerals concessions added to the mix. This has been the case in the Sahel and Libya.

But unlike CAR and Mali, Cameroon doesn’t seem to be rejecting French support; instead, President Paul Biya is seeking a full range of security allies. Indeed, the military deal with Russia comes on the back of previous military hardware purchases from China and— up until recently—training support from the United States.

There are two major conflicts in the country: In the Anglophone regions, where around 4 million people are in need of humanitarian aid this year, separatists have waged war against the Biya administration since it cracked down on demonstrations protesting the judicial and educational system, which is largely conducted in French—marginalizing the 20 percent of the population that is English-speaking. And in a conflict that has spread from neighboring Nigeria, Boko Haram has escalated its attacks in the far north.

While Cameroonians may not necessarily welcome Russian military support, in some parts of the Sahel there is simmering pro-Russian sentiment partly due to dissatisfaction with French military interventions and state failure to curb jihadi insurgencies. There is also a big gap between how ordinary Africans perceive Russia and how African or Western leaders perceive it.

In CAR, there is growing civilian anger over killings by federal troops and Russian mercenaries. And in Sudan, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo’s close ties to the Kremlin are not supported by the local population, who feel that Moscow is helping coup leaders to stay in power.

Russia has primarily worked to secure African leaders in government, rather than supporting democracy or responding to regional public opinion. In other words, it works for the state, not the people.

There have been six military coups in Africa since 2021, and rising frustration against central governments means that some leaders are politically weaker. Following the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit, the Kremlin signed military cooperation and arms deals with more than 30 African countries estimated to be worth around $12.2 billion. Not all of these deals are active, however. For example, in countries with robust governments, such as Botswana and Ghana, there seems to be less need for or reliance on Russian assistance.

There are countries where Russia has tried and failed to get a foothold using its strategy of presenting itself as an alternative to France. In 2019, Wagner forces were deployed to Mozambique to combat Islamist insurgencies in the northern Cabo Delgado province, where the French oil giant TotalEnergies operates. Wagner was forced to withdraw after humiliating defeats, leaving the door open for Rwandan troops to move in with French support.

Burkina Faso also has yet to take up Russia’s offer of help. Moscow’s suggestion that now-deposed Guinean President Alpha Condé be allowed to run for a third term also drew anger across Guinea.

A refrain among some observers is that the debate surrounding Russia’s presence in Africa has been similar to the U.S. preoccupation with China in Africa, leading to unhelpful rhetoric that does not seek to understand on a deeper level why some African countries would pivot to Russia.

A common grievance is that Western powers do not consistently apply a mandate of democracy and transparency. And for some African leaders, the purely military relationship that the Kremlin offers is appealing because it does not require any compromise with secessionists or rebels or the upholding of human rights, which the Biya administration has repeatedly been accused of violating.


The Week Ahead

Wednesday, April 27: South Africa marks its Freedom Day, the date in 1994 of the country’s first non-racial democratic elections.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, meets Eritrea’s foreign minister, Osman Saleh Mohammed, in Moscow. 

Wednesday, April 27, to Thursday, April 28: United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres meets with Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, in the capital of Abuja.

Thursday, April 28: The U.N. Security Council meets on the adoption of its Support Mission in Libya. The council will also hold a briefing on the International Criminal Court investigation in Libya.

Saturday, April 30: Part 4 of South Africa’s state capture inquiry report is due.

Thursday, May 5: OPEC and non-OPEC members meet virtually.


What We’re Watching

Joint troop force in DRC. East African heads of state agreed on Thursday to deploy a joint military force to the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where armed groups operate in large numbers. In a statement following a summit in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, the East African Community (EAC) regional bloc said that “all armed groups in the DRC should unconditionally participate in a political process to their resolve grievances.”

More than 120 rebel groups operate across eastern Congo, and it is unclear how much of a difference the new agreement will make, as most East African countries already have troops in Congo, with the exception of Rwanda.

Congo, which joined the EAC last month, appeared to be making a concession on discussions with armed groups under the facilitation of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. There has been a resurgence of M23 rebels, in particular; however, a meeting that had been expected to take place in Nairobi on Friday with Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, M23 representatives, and other armed groups did not happen.

Liberia’s new schools. More than 60,000 school-going children in Liberia have dropped out to become motorbike taxi drivers, according to the country’s Education Ministry. The trend has been attributed to the realities of a post-Ebola economy in which children feel the need to earn an income to help their families. However, the Education Ministry says the lack of high schools in several parts of Liberia is to blame and it is going to invest in building more.

This year, President George Weah announced that his administration would use a $47 million grant received from the World Bank to address the infrastructure deficit in the education sector. Liberia’s government also announced the recruitment of counselors to provide basic social counseling for female students from 14 years up to increase the number of girls in school.

Somalia assassination attempt? Somalia’s foreign minister, Abdisaid Muse Ali, has said he survived an armed confrontation on Thursday carried out by regional government forces in the northeastern state of Puntland. Ali said he had been on holiday in the district of Galkacyo when a local police commander ordered security forces to attack him in what he described as a politically motivated assassination attempt.

Puntland deputy leader Ahmed Karash condemned the incident and promised an investigation. Meanwhile, the governor of Puntland’s Mudug region blamed the foreign minister for causing the confrontation because he “came to the town to propagate unproductive policies.”

People walk pass the Quarry Road informal settlement outside Durban, South Africa, on April 18. Winds, heavy rainfall, and mudslides destroyed many homes and infrastructure the week prior.

People walk pass the Quarry Road informal settlement outside Durban, South Africa, on April 18. Winds, heavy rainfall, and mudslides destroyed many homes and infrastructure the week prior.RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP via Getty Images

South Africa floods. The South African government has deployed more than 10,000 troops to help with relief and rescue operations following last week’s floods in parts of KwaZulu-Natal province. Scientists believe climate change played a role in making the storm more intense. The official death toll has reached 443, but the government said it could not confirm how many people are missing. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared a state of emergency.

Climate change is having a devastating impact on African countries. As a result of drought in Somalia, more than 81,000 people are at risk of famine by the end of June, humanitarian groups warn, but much of the world’s attention has largely been diverted to Ukraine. An appeal by the World Food Program to prevent famine in the Horn of Africa raised less than 4 percent of the required amount. But the drought situation in the Horn of Africa has been worsened by the soaring cost of food and fuel, triggered by the Russia-Ukraine war.


This Week in Culture

Nigeria’s Chess in Slums project. Since 2018, Chess in Slums Africa has provided math skills and mentorship to more than 500 underprivileged kids living in informal settlements in the Nigerian financial capital, Lagos. The chess classes, which often take place in the open air, have gone viral on social media, securing over 200 scholarships, so far, for kids to go to school.

According to UNICEF, Nigeria has 10.5 million school-age children not in school. Extreme poverty prevents children living in poorer urban communities around Lagos from attending school regularly. For example, in Oshodi, a district in Lagos, “99% of the kids in [the slum communities of] Oshodi don’t have a home—they sleep under the bridge,” said Chess in Slums founder Tunde Onakoya, who grew up in one of those communities. “You are more inclined to solve a problem that you understand and can directly relate to,” he told Pulse Nigeria.

One of the unique aspects of Onakoya’s initiative is that it also attempts to involve illiterate young adults known locally as “area boys” and marginalized as petty criminals in their towns. They are given official roles in match proceedings, which make them feel involved in the games and a part of the community.


Chart of the Week

Fewer Africans perceive Russian engagement, along with that of former European colonial powers, as having a positive influence on the African continent. The United States is second to China as the preferred partner for economic and political support.


What We’re Reading

Zimbabwe’s digital hubs. Zimbabwe is one of the costliest places in Africa to access mobile internet, relative to people’s average income. Some Zimbabweans living near border towns with Mozambique have found a workaround, Rest of World uncovers. Enterprising traders cross over on foot or on motorbikes, bulk-buy Mozambican SIM cards, and return to distribute the SIMs to supermarkets and corner shops—with a 50 percent markup.

South Africa’s surveillance machine. South Africa’s security industry for privately owned homes and businesses has fully embraced artificial intelligence technologies, which have created a centralized but entirely privatized mass surveillance operation, MIT Technology Review finds.

Facial recognition and other data pooled is fueling a new form of digital apartheid and unraveling people’s democratic liberties, rights groups say, as large numbers of white people pay for surveillance and large numbers of Black people end up being surveilled without consent.

Nosmot Gbadamosi is a multimedia journalist and the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief. She has reported on human rights, the environment, and sustainable development from across the African continent. Twitter: @nosmotg

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