Floods Devastate West Africa
Hundreds of thousands of people are suffering in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger due to government failures to invest in preventive infrastructure.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The highlights this week: African leaders demand United Nations Security Council reform, Guinea faces sanctions, and South Africa sells its new military aircraft.
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Floods Threaten Nigeria’s Food Supply
Floods along Nigeria’s borders with Niger, Chad, and Cameroon have killed hundreds of people and left tens of thousands homeless, according to local authorities.
The most affected areas in Cameroon and Nigeria are agricultural districts that supply the majority of food in the region, particularly rice fields. There is a looming health and nutrition crisis; in Kano State alone, more than 14,000 farms have been destroyed while the United Nations’ humanitarian agency warns that a cholera outbreak is spreading among communities already displaced by insurgencies. There are reports of corpses being washed up from inundated cemeteries.
In Chad, the worst downpours experienced in 30 years continue and have affected more than 400,000 people since late August, according to the country’s Ministry of Public Health and National Solidarity. In Niger, over the last week, the number of people affected by the floods increased 60 percent to 226,000 people, according to the U.N.
In an emergency meeting last week, the director-general of the Nigeria National Emergency Management Agency, Mustapha Habib Ahmed, said flooding has affected 29 out of Nigeria’s 36 states, including the capital, Abuja, since February this year. Nigeria’s hydrological agency issued alerts six months ago, but those early warning systems lacked detail about the severity, and there was a lack of adequate preparation by authorities. More than half a million people have been impacted, and 100,000 Nigerians are now living in shelters.
Poorly maintained drainage networks across Nigeria and a planned dam release this month in Cameroon have not helped matters. “The released water complicates the situation further downstream as Nigeria’s inland reservoirs—including Kainji, Jebba, and Shiroro—are also expected to overflow between now and October,” Ahmed said. Like the recent floods in Pakistan, officials neglected to invest in flood defenses that water experts had sounded the alarm on for years. Over the last decade, floods had become more frequent without any action being taken by the government to improve infrastructure.
Many houses and unofficial settlements in Nigeria—particularly in the financial capital of Lagos—are built in flood plains, leaving poorer communities dangerously vulnerable. Nigerian authorities are trying to address some of the country’s challenges, but the sources of climate change are primarily elsewhere.
Indeed, Africa—despite making up 17 percent of the world’s population—contributes just 3.8 percent of global carbon emissions but is experiencing the greatest effects, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Both the European Union climate chief Frans Timmermans and U.S. special envoy John Kerry argued this month that fixing the climate crisis should not be focused on who is responsible for creating the emissions.
At the U.N. General Assembly, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari rejected this argument—lambasting richer nations for failing to take action on their emissions. “We are, in effect, literally paying the price for policies that others pursue. This needs to change,” he said. Buhari called on world leaders to honor their fiscal climate adaptation commitments. In 2009, richer nations committed to $100 billion of assistance annually for poorer countries to help them adapt to extreme weather events, but those funding targets have never been met.
“Africa’s young people, the entire continent, are waiting for polluting countries to comply with promises made,” Madagascar’s president, Andry Rajoelina, said.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Sept. 28, to Friday, Sept. 30: The African Union hosts a workshop in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, on its Continental Operational Centre for combating irregular migration.
Saturday, Oct. 1: Nigeria celebrates 62 years of independence from Britain.
Monday, Oct. 3, to Friday, Oct. 7: The Africa Oil Week conference is held in Cape Town, South Africa.
What We’re Watching
Africa wants a permanent seat. Senegalese President Macky Sall and current chairman of the African Union led calls by African countries—including Nigeria, Chad, and Ghana—for “just” representation on the world stage. At the U.N. General Assembly, Sall reminded his fellow world leaders that African leaders have demanded two permanent seats on the Security Council and that the continent does not wish to become the stage for another proxy war. “I have come to say that Africa has suffered enough of the burden of history, that it does not want to be the breeding ground of a new cold war,” Sall said.
U.S. President Joe Biden called for reforms to allow the Security Council to become “more inclusive” and better able to respond to the world’s needs. The United States “supports increasing the number of both permanent and nonpermanent representatives of the council,” Biden said. “This includes permanent seats for those nations we’ve long supported and permanent seats for countries in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.” The United States and Russia have expressed support for India and Brazil as the most likely candidates.
Observers perceived the remarks on Africa as politicking. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told African ministers last month that Tokyo would push for a permanent African seat. China promised the same. However, expansion of the council has been debated for decades with numerous proposals, each backed by a different set of countries, and there are still only five permanent members.
CAR constitution change. The Central African Republic’s Constitutional Court on Friday annulled President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s decrees setting up a committee to rewrite the constitution to remove term limits so he can keep running for office. The court ruled the decrees “unconstitutional and invalid.”
Touadéra was elected in 2016 and reelected in 2020 amid an offensive by rebel groups, including those backing ex-President François Bozizé. Touadéra sought the help of Russian military contractors to beat back attacks on the capital, Bangui. He has since relied on Russia’s Wagner Group to maintain the government’s security. Under the current constitution, he cannot run for a third term. (In recent years, the presidents of Rwanda, the Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, and Guinea have pushed through constitutional or legal changes that allow them to stay in office.)
In Benin, President Patrice Talon is maneuvering to secure himself a third term. Despite rejecting military coups, as Adem K. Abebe, noted in Foreign Policy, the African Union “has repeatedly condoned constitutional maneuvers effectively establishing life presidencies.”
Guinea sanctions. West African leaders will impose sanctions on individuals in Guinea’s military government in response to last year’s coup. Heads of state within the Economic Community of West African States made the decision while attending the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Although the bloc has not decided who would be included on the list of “gradual sanctions,” those within the Guinean junta will be identified “very soon.” Guinea’s military leaders say they need three years to return the country to democracy and reject the bloc’s demand for a maximum two-year transition.
This Week in Tech
South African arms sales. A private South African firm has sold the first combat aircraft to be designed and made in the country in nearly two decades. Paramount Group announced it had sold nine of its Mwari aircraft, a precision-strike aircraft, to two undisclosed clients.
Paramount has so far invested more than $250 million in the aircraft’s development as a lower-cost alternative to high-maintenance military spy planes used for counterinsurgency operations. A basic model costs around $10 million, with add-on options including advanced control systems, electronic intelligence-gathering, and night vision.
Alternatives to Eskom. The South African government signed the first of three agreements to increase its renewable energy supplies and reduce reliance on poorly maintained coal-fired power stations. The deal struck on Thursday was with independent producers to supply wind energy.
The state energy provider, Eskom, has suffered from a lack of investment, strikes, and allegations of corruption and mismanagement leading to unprecedented power outages. South Africa’s GDP shrank by 0.7 percent in the second quarter of 2022, according to official figures released this month, in part due to rolling backouts.
Chart of the Week
Xenophobic attacks by anti-migrant vigilante groups have increased in South Africa, fueled by rhetoric from South African politicians that African migrants are to blame for an increase in crime and for the country’s high unemployment rates.
One analysis published this month looking at data from between 2012 and 2017 suggests those arguments are misleading. Rather than taking jobs from South Africans, “there is evidence that the opposite is true—that immigrants often create employment for South Africans,” the study found. World Bank data shows that “one immigrant worker generates approximately two jobs for locals.”
What We’re Reading
Nigeria’s “ghost soldiers.” British government officials believe thousands of soldiers fighting terrorism in northern Nigeria “exist only on paper,” according to government documents obtained by Declassified UK. British officials wrote of concerns over “cruel, inhumane” treatment by the Nigerian Army but still offered to lend the country 1.5 billion pounds (about $1.62 billion) to buy British weaponry, judging that Nigeria is the “third biggest supplier of oil to the UK.”
British and U.S. governments continue to arm and train Nigeria’s security forces, including its police, despite widespread abuses. According to Declassified, ministers planned to keep offering weaponry because they believed that “there would likely be minimal reporting from domestic media” in Britain about the sales or abuse, thereby avoiding reputational risk.
Kenya state plunder. A new platform created by the Nairobi-based Africa Uncensored catalogues corruption allegations involving Kenya’s governments since 1978. The aggregated data set is based on financial scandals reported in Kenyan media outlets under each administration.
According to the data, former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration had the biggest alleged misappropriation of funds, totaling 586.1 billion shillings (about $4.85 billion). However, it noted that “the information could be a reflection of reforms, such as the presence of more vigilant oversight agencies,” according to Africa Uncensored.
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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