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Collective Sanctions Isolating Mali in the Sahel Sahara as Russia Rides the Wave of Anticolonialism

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Mali Sahel transitional President

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

The Republic of Mali, a landlocked West African state with an impoverished population, faces increasing isolation from the international community over the political power grab.

Even as the African Union (AU), the continental organization, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the regional bloc, both suspended the membership of the Republic of Mali following military coups in August 2020 and May 2021, the ruling military officials are still holding onto political power by delaying the proposed elections earlier next year.

The African Union “decides to suspend the Republic of Mali from participation in all activities of the African Union, its organs and institutions, until normal constitutional order has been restored in the country”, the organization Peace and Security Council said in a statement earlier and further called on the military to return to barracks. It underlined the negative impact on the democratic gains made thus far throughout Africa.

Besides the African Union and ECOWAS, the international community has shown deep concern. Since October, the United Nations together with some European Union members have been urging the military officials to fix the polls on February 27, 2022.

Quite recently, West African leaders meeting at a summit in Nigeria demanded the military abide by plans for February polls, threatening further sanctions if Bamako fails to commit to returning to democracy and constitutional rule.

“The heads of state… decided to keep the (deadline) of February 27, 2022, for elections in Mali,” President of the West African ECOWAS bloc Jean-Claude Brou reiterated in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, adding sanctions would be imposed in January if Mali did not move to stage polls.

Colonel Assimi Goita, the Head of Mali’s Transitional Government had, at first, promised to provide the regional bloc with an election timetable by the end of January 2022, but now offered multiple reasons to justify postponing the election, and said he would hold national consultations which he described as “indispensable” for peace and stability.

In a two-page letter to ECOWAS, Goita highlighted the need to “create the conditions for transparent and credible elections”, including stepped-up security operations, a new electoral law and the beginning of a series of national forums aimed at building a consensus for the return to civilian rule, without specifying concrete dates.

Several military leaders such as Defence Minister Sadio Camara and interim President Assimi Goita were trained by Russia. Despite various condemnations and calls for re-establishing a democratic government, undeterred Malians seem to enjoy all kinds of enormous support from Moscow.

While attending the conference at the United Nations, Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that the Malian government was turning towards private Russian companies. “This is an activity which has been carried out on a legitimate basis,” he said during a press conference at the UN headquarters in New York.

“We have nothing to do with that,” he added, saying the Malian government estimated that “its own capacities would be insufficient in the absence of external support” and initiated the discussions.

According to reports, Mali’s army-dominated government in Bamako is close to hiring 1,000 Wagner paramilitaries. France has warned Mali that hiring the fighters from the Russian private-security firm would isolate the country internationally.

Then during the joint media conference held with Mali’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, on November 11, Sergey Lavrov referred to the historical legacy, including the traditions of combating colonialism and overcoming colonial dependence and the subsequent recurrences of neo-colonialism in Africa. Regrettably, they have not yet become thing of the past.

“The fact that terrorist groups have been increasingly active, especially in the north of the country, does not offer a favourable environment for launching an election campaign. Mr Diop said the Malian government will determine the timeline for the election campaign before the end of the year,” Lavrov told the media conference.

“We do understand the need to reinforce Mali’s counter-terrorism potential. In this connection, the Russian state supplies the necessary equipment, weapons, and ammunition. We will do everything we can to prevent any threat to Mali’s statehood and territorial integrity,” he reassured his Malian counterpart.

Involvement of Russian ‘Mercenaries’

As for private military companies established by Russian nationals, Lavrov further explained: “We have nothing to do with this. If they sign agreements with the lawful governments of sovereign states, I don’t see anything negative in this.”

As for the nervous reaction of the French and some other Western representatives to Mali’s plans to work with a private military company from Russia (something the Prime Minister of Mali spoke openly about at the UN General Assembly session), this question is exclusively within the competence of the lawful Malian government.

Over the past few years, Russian authorities have in their speeches expressed anti-colonial sentiments and openly declared unflinching support for fighting against what they referred to as neocolonial tendencies in Africa. Russia is particularly against France in French-speaking African countries in West Africa including the entire Sahel and Central African Republic.

In an interview with Steven Gruzd, Head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), pointed out that Russia seeks to build on Soviet-era ties, and several African leaders of today studied in the USSR or in countries of the Soviet sphere of influence, and deploy the rhetoric of anti-colonialism in Africa.

He explained in his emailed discussion that Russia is fighting neo-colonialism from the West, especially in relations with the former colonies. It sees France as a threat to its interests especially in Francophone West Africa, the Maghreb and the Sahel. Russia has invested resources in developing French-language news media, and engages in anti-French media activity, including through social media.

In terms of political support like the UN Security Council, there is close interaction between Russia and the African States, but as recent research by SAIIA shows, not as much as assumed. (See this.) The relationship has to however deliver, and move from words to deeds, Gruzd, who also heads the Russia-Africa Research Programme initiated this year at SAIIA, South Africa’s premier research institute on international issues, concluding his discussion on Russia in Africa.

Joseph Siegle, Director of Research and Daniel Eizenga, Research Fellow at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, co-authored an article headlined “Russia’s Wagner Play Undermines the Transition in Mali” in which they highlighted Wagner’s potential entry into Mali, and it reminds how the group started operating in the Central African Republic. The researchers offer an insight into possible reasons why Malians will delay smooth return to constitutional government.

With coup leader Colonel Assimi Goita still at the helm, Mali has been especially ripe for the picking as part of Russia’s asymmetric influence campaign in Africa. Borrowing from its Syria playbook, Moscow has followed a pattern of parachuting to prop up politically isolated leaders facing crises in regionally pivotal countries, often with abundant natural resources. These leaders are then indebted to Russia who assume the role of regional powerbroker.

By accepting Wagner troops in Mali, Goita will therefore gain a foreign security force that will help him consolidate his hold on power and break the prospects of returning to democratic rule. Allowing Wagner into Mali would have profound long-term implications for Mali’s sovereignty, security, governance, and foreign policy with repercussions for the broader region.

The two researchers reminded the African Union and ECOWAS to invoke the African Convention for the Elimination of Mercenarism, which went into effect in 1985, prohibiting states from allowing mercenaries into their territories. Declaring Wagner a mercenary force identifies them, appropriately, as an illegal entity, one that should be categorically prohibited from operating in Mali (and other parts of Africa).

Several reports have indicated that the Wagner operatives have dubious involvement in the Central African Republic (CAR), where some of the Russian military instructors backing the beleaguered government are believed to be mercenaries. They are also linked to war crimes in Libya’s civil war.  Russia entered the fray in CAR in 2017 as part of efforts to expand its influence across the continent. It gave the African country weapons, ammunition and 175 military instructors, but reports indicated they are in thousands.

The U.S. State Department sanctioned Wagner Group, run by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, back in July 2020, as well as several front companies for the group’s operations in Sudan.

On December 13, the European Union (EU) imposed sanctions on the Wagner Group and several people allegedly associated with it, further accused of human rights violations, and in particular torture, extrajudicial executions and killings.

In a statement posted on its website, the Western nations warned that the deployment of Wagner mercenaries could “lead to an aggravation of the human rights situation in Mali [and] threaten the agreement for peace and reconciliation” in the conflict-torn country.

They also said they “deeply regret” the choice of the Malian authorities to use “already scarce public funds” to pay foreign mercenaries instead of supporting the country’s armed forces. The statement was jointly issued by Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania and Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The Wagner Group and Operation Barkhane

According to the local Russian media Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the Wagner Group is facing sanctions for its work in Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan, Mozambique and Ukraine.

The main architect of sanctions against Mali and the PMC Wagner is France. Both of its foreign and defence ministers have repeatedly criticized the possibility of deploying employees of the PMC Wagner to Mali, saying its activity was incompatible with France’s further military presence.

France has approximately 5,100 troops in the region under Operation Barkhane, which spans five countries in the Sahel—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Currently, Russia sees both Chad and Mali as conduits to penetrate into the Sahel by pushing the much-criticized Wagner Group that organizes private military for countries in conflict. It is aggressively targeting the Sahel region, an elongated landlocked territory located between north Africa (Maghreb) and West Africa region, and also stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

As developments explicitly show, Mali already stands in isolation here if the Goita military junta does not finally drop close deals with Russia’s Wagner and further ignores moving towards democratic elections next February.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, the United Nations, and the bilateral and multilateral partners endorse and support the implementation of sanctions and other strict measures to ensure a peaceful return to constitutional and democratic government in the Republic of Mali.

This article was first and originally published by IDN-InDepthNews.

Kester Kenn Klomegah writes frequently about Russia, Africa and the BRICS. As a versatile researcher, he believes that everyone deserves equal access to quality and trustworthy media reports. Most of his well-resourced articles are reprinted elsewhere in a number of reputable foreign media.

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Cape Town to Host 2022 African Energy Week October 18

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2021 African Energy Week

By Adedapo Adesanya

The annual African Energy Week (AEW) will be taking place on October 18 -22, 2022, in Cape Town, South Africa, the organisers have announced.

The African Energy Chamber (AEC), which organises the event, will bring energy leaders and global stakeholders together for a week of intense dialogue on the African energy sector, with a strong pursuit of making energy poverty history by 2030.

In pursuit of an electrified economy, AEW 2022 will introduce critical topics that cover the entire energy value chain.

Regarding the upstream sector, there will be a focus on exploration, licensing rounds, and remaining competition for investment in 2022 and beyond.

With emerging frontier markets such as Somalia, Kenya, Namibia, Uganda and Côte d’Ivoire gaining increased attention from regional and international players, AEW 2022 will emphasize the potential and current opportunities across Africa’s emerging and mature upstream markets.

On the midstream front, AEW 2022 will offer critical insight into new and existing projects – such as the $6 billion African Renaissance Pipeline Project and the proposed 1,800km Tanzania-Uganda Natural Gas Pipeline Project – introducing lucrative opportunities to investors.

With the scaling up of refinery construction underway across the continent, the conference is committed to increasing investment and enhancing production across key African markets.

The organisers noted that by discussing the challenges and opportunities present across the downstream sector, African stakeholders will collaboratively discuss the future of the African energy industry.

On his part, Mr NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman of the AEC said, “In 2021, they said it could not be done in Cape Town and we all must go to Dubai.

“With massive support from the City of Cape Town, the government of South Africa IOC’s and NOC’s and alternative energy companies, we demonstrated that Africa is ready and capable to hold a continent-wide energy event in Africa and we held the largest event on the continent. Even in the midst of the pandemic, AEW took place, ushering in a new era of safe, accessible, and industry-focused events.

“This year will be huge for the African energy industry. We expect a range of investments to be made and developments to take off that will drive the continent’s economic advancement.

“During this year’s edition of AEW, an emphasis will be placed on finance, natural gas, electrification, hydrogen, upstream and a just transition as we believe these sectors have a specific role to play in Africa.

“By developing our gas resources, Africa can meet the growing demand for energy while reducing emissions. From AEW 2022, we will be going to COP27 to meet with global leaders and discuss African energy – from Cape to Cairo.”

The organisers noted that as the continent continues to deal with reduced funding for hydrocarbon projects, AEW 2022 will offer new insights into how Africa’s oil and gas projects can raise capital in a post-COVID-19, energy transition context.

Accordingly, panel discussions and investor forums will place a focus on finance, enabling environments, and the role that African Energy Banks will play in financing the future of the industry. By introducing African stakeholders to innovative capital raising, AEW 2022 is committed to the growth of African oil and gas.

Regarding gas, the Chamber noted that Africa is not only rich with resources but opportunities. Markets such as Nigeria, Mozambique, Mauritania, Senegal, Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea, the Republic of the Congo, and Ghana have significant untapped resources.

Already, there has been an influx in investment and development within the gas sector, and yet a range of opportunities remain, particularly within the gas-to-power and Liquefied Natural Gas space.

AEW 2022, therefore, has placed a strong emphasis on the role that gas will play in electrifying Africa, driving socio-economic growth and industrialization for years to come. By introducing project profiles, highlighting key discoveries, and emphasizing how gas will drive a just transition in Africa, AEW 2022 has placed gas at the centre of its programme agenda.

The recent move by the European Union to label certain gas projects as green is likely to usher in a new wave of investment in Africa and AEW 2022 will be the place where deals in this area will be made.

The development of resources such as gas, hydrogen and renewables according to the organisers will ensure Africa adheres to global climate mitigation targets while at the same time driving economic growth.

During the summit, speakers will highlight key opportunities across Africa’s renewable energy space, providing insight into potential markets such as the Congo, Mozambique, the Gambia, Kenya, Angola, and Libya, all rich with renewable resources.

Additionally, the programme will emphasize the role that hydrogen will play in Africa by detailing high potential markets and projects such as Hive Hydrogen’s green ammonia plant in South Africa and the $9.4 billion green hydrogen project in Namibia.

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Intra African Trade Could Reach $300bn in 2025—Akinwuntan

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Intra African Trade

By Aduragbemi Omiyale

The Managing Director/Regional Executive of Ecobank Nigeria, Mr Patrick Akinwuntan, has projected that intra Africa trade could reach $300 billion by 2025.

He gave this forecast during an interview with Arise TV while speaking on the recently launched Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS).

He described the payment platform developed by Afreximbank as a good development, noting that it will serve as a backbone through which all the countries in Africa are able to actualize transactions done within the free trade area, adding that it will also create employment, wealth, and deliver values to exporters on the continent.

“This common payment platform will enable Africa to move intra trade from the current 16 per cent, representing $70 billion to the range of 50-55 per cent in the next two to three years. This is huge because we could be talking about $300 billion intra African trade close to 15 per cent of Africa GDP.

“Besides, PAPSS will also eliminate payment delays, third party currencies as well as benefit households, small businesses, and financial institutions. This is a positive development for intra Africa trade. It is a step in the right direction. It will promote cross border trade for African exporters, liberalize payments and will deliver payment that delivers value. Africa is here for real business. Africa is ready. Let’s go for it,” he said.

Further, Mr Akinwuntan disclosed that “Ecobank is a supporter of this initiative. Today, we can reach up to 35 countries because we already have a Pan African switch, and we are already connected to PAPSS.

“I call for the collaboration of all stakeholders to achieve the desired objectives; we have the key industry sectors that deals on Pan African trade.

“We need to go through with them, helping them to see the practical possibilities. We have a responsibility to take this message to them that if they want to do any transaction across Africa, they don’t need to look for an international bank. PAPSS will work the same way NIBSS works in Nigeria.”

PAPSS is expected to boost intra-African trade by transforming and facilitating payment, clearing and settlement for cross-border trade across Africa.

At the launch, Prof. Benedict Oramah, the President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Afreximbank, said “we are eager to build upon AfCFTA’s creation of a single market throughout Africa.  PAPSS provides the state-of-the-art financial market infrastructure connecting African markets to each other, thereby, enabling instant cross-border payments in respective local African currencies for cross-border trade.

“Afreximbank as the main settlement agent for PAPSS, provides settlement guarantees on the payment system and overdraft facilities to all settlement agents, in partnership with Africa’s participating Central Banks.

“PAPSS will effectively eliminate Africa’s financial borders, formalise and integrate Africa’s payment systems, and play a major role in facilitating and accelerating the huge AfCFTA-induced growth curve in intra-African trade,” he stated.

Also speaking at the event, PAPSS’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Mike Ogbalu, emphasised that the payment system was not designed to compete with or replace existing payment systems.

He said it would facilitate the connectivity level that brings all payments systems together into one network that was interoperable, efficient and affordable.

“PAPSS is designed to make our currencies regain value to domesticate intra-Africa payments in this journey toward African prosperity. This is done while providing the superhighway which connects others to reach every part of this continent as we seek to create the Africa that we want,” he said.

The PAPSS pilot in WAMZ central banks has been completed and all six central banks have tested and gone through the trial operations.

In the last week of August 2021, all the central banks became live on the system and have since been sending through live transactions across the WAMZ region.

PAPSS has been successfully piloted in the six countries of the West African Monetary Zone, and promises to deliver multiple advantages and efficiencies to intra-African trade payments. As a major supporter of this initiative, Ecobank is already connected to PAPSS.

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Russia Proposes Complete Ban on Cryptocurrencies

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Cryptocurrencies

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Russian central bank has proposed a complete ban on cryptocurrencies in the country.

The proposal emphasized that crypto is extremely volatile and has helped to spread fraudulent activities in the country, adding that it is also a potential risk to the country’s national economy.

Director of the Bank of Russia, Ms Elizaveta Danilova, during a presentation, said that a complete ban would mean no mining, trading, or usage of crypto in the country.

However, owning cryptocurrencies would still be legal.

The report also suggested that the government should introduce punishments for individuals who buy or sell products/services using crypto.

The central bank, which is planning to issue its own digital currency, said crypto assets becoming widespread would limit the sovereignty of monetary policy, with higher interest rates needed to contain inflation.

This isn’t the first time the Bank of Russia has gone after cryptos as it had banned mutual funds from investing in any cryptocurrencies.

In 2019, the country blamed cryptocurrencies for spreading money launching and terror financing.

However, the government legalized crypto in 2020, although banning their use as payments.

The move is the latest in a global cryptocurrency crackdown as governments from Asia to the United States worry that privately operated and highly volatile digital currencies could undermine their control of financial and monetary systems.

With the total ban of the asset by China, Russia witnessed a rise in crypto mining and this move has already triggered investors to dump their coins.

In September, China intensified its crackdown on cryptocurrencies with a blanket ban on all crypto transactions and mining, hitting bitcoin and other major coins and pressuring crypto and blockchain-related stocks.

Market analysts note that although the Bank of Russia’s proposal can cause significant worry for its crypto traders and miners, it’s still not confirmed if the government will follow through with a total ban.

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