On December 10, 2019, the southwestern region of Tillabéri, in Niger, was shocked by an act of armed violence against Nigerien military forces. Around 500 heavily-armed men stormed a military camp in In-Atès, about 180 km from the capital Niamey and 20 km from the border with Mali. More than 70 soldiers were killed, dozens injured and many weapons and pieces of equipment stolen.
Jihadist insurgency, geostrategic competition, smuggling, and migrant flows. More than anywhere in Africa – and perhaps the world – the Sahel is where these phenomena come together, fuelling social and economic crises. Keeping an eye on the Sahel in 2020 will be paramount.
On November 12, French president Emmanuel Macron and his Chadian counterpart, Idriss Déby, met in Paris, at the Peace Forum. Faced with the urgency of the situation in the Sahel, where the G5 military forces (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) have just suffered a major setback with the death of 50 Malian soldiers during a terrorist attack, France seems more than ever to rely on Chad and its army to restore security.
As the first-ever Russia-Africa summit made headlines around the world in the past few weeks, the comparison between the Russian and the Chinese approach to Africa was recurrent. It originated in the fact that both China and Russia are not Western countries, both have seemingly ‘returned’ to Africa in the 21st century for economic and political reasons, both advocate a non-interference approach in the internal affairs of other countries and both are perceived as great powers in international relations.
The Russia-Africa summit hosted at the Black Sea retreat of Sochi, with the participation of 43 African heads of state, marked the culminating point of the Kremlin’s renewed interest in the African continent and its political and economic assets.
Russia’s presence in Africa has returned to the fore. The first-ever Russia-Africa summit, held in Sochi on 23-24 October 2019, sparked international attention, raising questions about Russia’s new Africa strategy.
The language of empire strikes back. Against the backdrop of China’s growing influence on the African continent and the attempts of other great powers to counter Beijing’s sway, Western news outlets have, in the last eighteen months, seized on comparisons between these current rivalries and those of the nineteenth-century colonial era. The Economist led the way with its headline “The New Scramble for Africa.”
On 17 August the historic signing of the Political Agreement and Constitutional Declaration by the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) paved the way for Sudan’s political transition. A joint civilian-military Sovereign Council and a transitional government, led by senior economist and former deputy executive of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), prime minister Abdalla Hamdock, will lead the transition.
The African continent has been increasingly in the sights of many global actors such as China, the United States of America, the European Union, Turkey, Japan, India and, more recently, the Russian Federation. The successor to the Soviet Union is not a new actor in Africa, but relations deteriorated with the collapse of the USSR at the end of the Cold War. Its renewed engagement, through its “Pivot to Africa” has been more niched, focusing in the areas of security, weapons trade, oil and gas.
In recent years, Russian president Vladimir Putin has increasingly placed a high premium on re-building Russia’s global influence in Africa.