Africa Brief

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

Turkey’s Newest African Ally

Ankara’s arms sales to Niger could make the country the center of counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel.

Gbadamosi-Nosmot-foreign-policy-columnist10
Gbadamosi-Nosmot-foreign-policy-columnist10
Nosmot Gbadamosi
By , a multimedia journalist and the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Nigerien Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou in Istanbul on Dec. 18, 2021.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Nigerien Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou in Istanbul on Dec. 18, 2021.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Nigerien Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou in Istanbul on Dec. 18, 2021. Murat Kula/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.

The highlights this week: Russia’s Vladimir Putin meets with African Union Chairperson Macky Sall; Tunisia’s president, Kais Saied, sacks judges; and a Picasso exhibition returns to Senegal after 50 years.

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: Russia’s Vladimir Putin meets with African Union Chairperson Macky Sall; Tunisia’s president, Kais Saied, sacks judges; and a Picasso exhibition returns to Senegal after 50 years.

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


Niger Bets on Turkey 

Niger has reportedly received six Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones as part of an arms contract signed in November 2021. The agreement also includes Hurkus light attack aircraft and armored vehicles. Niger’s government hopes the drone purchases will help in its fight against the Islamic State and al Qaeda-affiliated groups operating within the tri-border area with Mali and Burkina Faso.

Niger has been a key ally for European partners in the fight against terrorism, following the ousting of France and its allies from Mali by that country’s military junta. In February, French President Emmanuel Macron noted on the sidelines of the European Union-African Union summit, “The heart of this military operation will no longer be in Mali but in Niger … and perhaps in a more balanced way across all the countries of the region that want this [security help].” Niger is now a crucial base for French support and redeployed German military operations to counter jihadis.

Since 2015, fighting from Mali has spilled into Niger’s border region, while militants from Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province, and armed bandits have spread from Nigeria into the Sahel region. But international cooperation is waning. The G5 Sahel Joint Force created in 2017 includes Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Chad, and Mali, although the latter withdrew on May 15 amid tensions with France. The force has not convened a high-level political meeting since November 2021, and three of its member states have had military coups.

Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, who took office last year, has tried to position his country as a model for international cooperation in beating back jihadis after Mali shut down France’s Operation Barkhane on its territory and the EU-led Operation Takuba was suspended there.

“We expect that after the departure of Barkhane and Takuba, this area will be even more infested and that the terrorist groups will strengthen. However, we know that they are destined to extend their influence,” Bazoum said on the decision to host foreign troops. His country would “especially welcome Takuba, because it has great advantages for us,” he noted.

Development of an air base in Niger to accommodate Turkish drones is already under consideration, according to a report from Radio France Internationale. It comes as Nigeria’s authorities purchased 10 small tactical Songar armed drones from Turkey to help in the fight against Boko Haram and other insurgents.

Foreign Policy reported in December that Turkish officials were looking to form closer ties with Nigeria on defense through the purchase of drones. Turkish technology would “surely quicken the process and efforts to rid the country of pockets of terrorists,” Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s media aide stated at the time. And in April, Sen. Ali Ndume of Borno state, who is the chairman of the Nigerian Senate Committee on the Army, told Channels Television that Nigerian pilots were undergoing training on deployment of Turkish drones.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has positioned his country over the last decade as a key ally in Africa while looking to expand Turkey’s military and diplomatic footprint. Turkey built one of the largest military bases in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in 2017. It signed military cooperation agreements with Togo in August 2021 and with Senegal in February 2022.

The Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit, which took place in December 2021, was attended by Senegalese President Macky Sall, who is also chairperson of the African Union, and Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, currently the chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Turkey’s trade with Africa rose to $25.3 billion in 2020, compared with just $5.4 billion in 2003. The value of projects given to Turkish contracting companies in Africa reached $71.1 billion in 2021.

Drones manufactured by a company whose chief technology officer is Erdogan’s son-in-law have played a strong role in projecting Turkey’s power globally. As The New Yorker tells it, “The TB2 is a spectacular propaganda machine.” Bayraktar drones were used by Ukraine days after Russia’s invasion, and they have decisively influenced the outcome in the Libyan civil war. Some analysts believe Turkish drones reversed the Ethiopian government’s losses and helped it beat back Tigrayan rebels who were advancing on the capital, Addis Ababa, last year.


The Week Ahead

Wednesday, June 8 to Monday, June 13: Belgium’s King Philippe and Queen Mathilde continue their visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which started on Tuesday.

Thursday, June 9: U.N. Security Council briefing and consultation on the U.N. Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Friday, June 10: International Economic Forum on Africa to be held in Paris. Speakers include Senegalese President Macky Sall, African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, and Mathias Cormann, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Sunday, June 12: The World Trade Organization’s 164 member states attend a ministerial conference in Geneva.

Monday, June 13-Tuesday, June 14: African political and business leaders discuss investment at the Africa CEO Forum, to be held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Tuesday, June 14: Uganda’s finance minister, Matia Kasaija, makes a budget speech to Parliament.

Tanzania’s finance minister, Mwigulu Nchemba, presents a fiscal budget to Parliament.


What We’re Watching

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Macky Sall, Senegal’s president and chairperson of the African Union, in Sochi, Russia, on June 3.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Macky Sall, Senegal’s president and chairperson of the African Union, in Sochi, Russia, on June 3.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Macky Sall, Senegal’s president and chairperson of the African Union, in Sochi, Russia, on June 3.MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

Global food crisis. Macky Sall, Senegal’s president and the African Union’s chairperson, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday to discuss the global food crisis. Russia is currently blocking exports of approximately 25 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain. Yet the Kremlin said it was not responsible for the crisis. Moscow has instead blamed naval mines floating near Ukrainian ports and Western sanctions affecting its own grain exports.

Putin proposed moving grain through corridors along the Black Sea and through neighboring Belarus. Sall noted problems with this: “Belarus is also under sanctions, although it’s the most direct way in reality.” Meanwhile on Friday, Ukraine’s envoy to the United Nations accused Russia of playing “hunger games” to “put the blame on Ukraine and others for blocking Ukrainian food exports.”

Mozambique-Russia deal. Valentina Matviyenko, chair of Russia’s Federation Council, led a delegation to Mozambique to sign “a full-fledged agreement on interparliamentary cooperation” to form bilateral relations with the country’s Parliament last week. Moscow is reportedly giving Maputo military support through training soldiers to fight insurgents in the gas-rich Cabo Delgado region. Mozambique was one of 58 countries that abstained on a U.N. General Assembly vote on suspending Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The Russian private military contractor Wagner Group was unable to make significant strides in beating back Islamist rebels in Cabo Delgado when it won a contract in September 2019, and it subsequently withdrew less than three months later, after suffering heavy defeats.

Guinea demonstration. A man was killed in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, during protests against fuel price hikes, the first demonstration since the junta seized control in a coup in September 2021 that overthrew then-President Alpha Condé. The head of the military junta, Col. Mamady Doumbouya, says a return to civilian democratic rule could take three years.

Following criticism of that timeline, the junta last month banned all public demonstrations. On Sunday, the West African economic bloc ECOWAS postponed making a decision on Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso after leaders failed to agree on what actions to take against the military juntas in each of those three countries, which have failed to propose an acceptable democratic transition plan.

Saied extends power. Tunisian President Kais Saied has sacked 57 judges, accusing them of “obstructing the functioning of justice.” Saied’s detractors say Tunisia is backsliding toward a dictatorship. Under pressure from critics, Saied has promised to organize a July 25 referendum on political reforms to amend the constitution.

As Simon Speakman Cordall wrote recently in Foreign Policy: “For supporters of the country’s political parties, Tunisia stands prisoner to an emerging and illegitimate autocracy. For supporters of the president, the country is embarking on a bold constitutional project.”


This Week in Culture

Picasso in Dakar. An exhibition of Pablo Picasso’s work has opened in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, at the Museum of Black Civilizations, which opened in 2018 and was funded to a large extent by a $34 million gift from China. The exhibition is somewhat of a return, as the show premiered in the city in 1972. Picasso never visited the African continent, but in Paris the artist once met the first president of independent Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor, who had wished to organize an exhibition.

Picasso’s works were influenced by artifacts from the continent, especially African masks. His painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) is among the works in which the influence of African art has often been noted. The exhibition coincides with the 14th edition of the international art festival Dakar Biennale—known as Dak’Art—which runs through June 21. The biennale is being held two years late after the coronavirus pandemic forced a postponement in 2020.


What We’re Reading

Deradicalizing women. In HumAngle, Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu uncovers why Nigeria’s deradicalization program, known as Operation Safe Corridor, stopped admitting women. Fatima Akilu, a behavioral psychologist who designed and implemented the first program in Nigeria, found that the reintegration of 63 women into society was more difficult to achieve than the reintegration of their male counterparts.

Women abducted by Boko Haram had spent a decade living with their captors, and some had absorbed their ideologies. Despite a need for rehabilitation, no women have been part of the program since 2017.

East African oil. A $5 billion East Africa crude oil pipeline slated to run from oil fields in Uganda to a port in Tanzania has continued to receive local pushback. It is estimated that more than 12,000 households across Uganda and Tanzania have lost or will lose land because of the pipeline, and compensation payments have been criticized as inadequate.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveals New York-based insurance company Marsh McLennan won the contract to find insurance for the pipeline, which is being developed by France’s TotalEnergies and Chinese state oil group CNOOC. A number of banks and insurers have distanced themselves from the project.

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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