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The highlights this week: Burkina Faso ’s president is detained in a coup, Ghana moves to review licenses following an explosion in a gold mining town, and the Islamic State-West Africa Province posts a video of child soldiers in Nigeria .
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The highlights this week: Burkina Faso’s president is detained in a coup, Ghana moves to review licenses following an explosion in a gold mining town, and the Islamic State-West Africa Province posts a video of child soldiers in Nigeria.
If you would like to receive Africa Brief in your inbox every Wednesday, please sign up here.
Mali’s Junta Won’t Budge
Thousands of people took to the streets this month in Mali heeding the government’s calls to protest economic sanctions leveled by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The sanctions were imposed over Mali’s failure to transition to democratic rule.
Yet Col. Assimi Goïta, who has led two coups within nine months, has used nationalist rhetoric to pin the blame for his country’s dire prospects firmly on ECOWAS and France. Goïta urged Malians to “defend our homeland” against the punitive measures. ECOWAS had “once again betrayed Africa,” the National Workers’ Union of Mali said.
It has been easy for military rulers to cling firmly onto power amid rising public anger against France. The protests were a culmination of a deteriorating relationship with Mali’s former colonial power, whose reputation across the Sahel has soured over the last year. Many Malians have been unhappy about the country’s worsening security, with 1.2 million people facing hunger.
In October 2021, hundreds of people gathered on the streets of Bamako, Mali’s capital, to demonstrate against French troops who helped push jihadi groups out of the northern region in 2013 but have since been accused of killing civilians. Malian security forces also killed more civilians than the jihadis in 2020, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
In August 2020, Goïta overthrew Mali’s unpopular president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, amid mass protests; Keïta died on Jan. 16. Facing the threat of sanctions, Goïta promised to hold elections by February 2022 and briefly handed over power to a civilian-led transitional government. But in May 2021, after a cabinet reshuffle sidelined some of those involved in the August overthrow, Goïta staged a second coup, ousting the country’s interim civilian leaders.
Last month, Goïta announced plans to remain in power for up to five years, prompting ECOWAS leaders to close borders, impose a trade embargo, and freeze the country’s assets held at the Central Bank of West African States. The World Bank, which was financing around $1.5 billion worth of projects in Mali, halted funding last June.
Mali’s junta argues that rebel attacks and Islamist insecurity prevent the country from organizing safe elections. It is a position supported by some Malians who want a longer transition period.
There is growing frustration among foreign diplomats. “If it’s safe enough to demonstrate, surely it is safe enough to vote,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, as European Union foreign ministers met in Brest, France, this month. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres echoed similar sentiments last Thursday, saying that Mali’s leaders should be able to hold elections within a reasonable amount of time. “We don’t need a transition of five years,” Guterres said.
Eager to withstand all punitive measures, Mali, a landlocked country, has leveraged support from neighboring Mauritania, which withdrew from ECOWAS in 2000, and from Guinea, which was suspended last year in response to a coup in that country. A Malian delegation last week visited both countries’ ports.
Mali is one of Africa’s biggest gold producers, and mining companies have so far remained unaffected by sanctions. Gold miners, including Canada-based companies Barrick Gold and B2Gold as well as Australia-based Firefinch, reported no disruptions to shipments and expect sales to carry on as normal.
Meanwhile, public support for the junta could be short-lived if its pivot toward Russia, which involves the deployment of Russian troops in the country’s north to train Malian forces, brings further human rights abuses, particularly after European troops have withdrawn and Mali struggles to find stability. Operatives from the Wagner Group, a private Russian military firm, are reported to have been involved in rights violations in the Central African Republic and war crimes in Libya’s civil war.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Jan. 26: European Union foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell hosts his G5 Sahel counterparts for talks in Brussels. The G5 Sahel comprises Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad.
Thursday, Jan. 27, to Monday, Jan. 31: Borrell visits Kenya and Mozambique. He is expected to discuss the Ethiopia conflict in Kenya.
Monday, Jan. 31: Mali’s interim leader, Col. Assimi Goïta, told ECOWAS in December 2021 that he would provide a detailed election timetable by Jan. 31.
Also on Jan. 31, South Africa’s state capture inquiry delivers the second part of a report on government corruption to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Tuesday, Feb. 1: The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a hearing on Sudan’s transition following the Oct. 25, 2021, coup. The meeting includes Molly Phee, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, and Isobel Coleman, deputy administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
What We’re Watching
Burkina Faso coup. Burkinabe President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré was overthrown in a military coup, announced on state television on Monday, ending more than six months of public demands for him to resign. Kaboré was reelected for a second term in 2020 in an election that just over half of registered voters took part in; at the time of the vote, 926 polling stations could not open due to the country’s ongoing security crisis.
Last month, the country’s prime minister, Christophe Joseph Marie Dabiré, resigned in a move many saw as a deflection given widespread demands for Kaboré’s resignation. Kaboré had faced mounting criticism over his government’s failure to tackle Islamist insurgencies that spread from neighboring Mali and over the presence of French troops. The coup came two days after security forces fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters marching through the capital, Ouagadougou, calling for his resignation.
Despite international condemnation of Kaboré’s arrest, many Burkinabes took to the capital’s streets in support of the military. Aware of the sanctions imposed on Mali by the region’s bloc following a similar undemocratic transition, demonstrators chanted, “Down with ECOWAS.” Burkina Faso joins Guinea, Chad, Sudan, and Mali as the fifth country within the Sahel taken over by a military coup since 2020.
Nigeria conflict. Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission introduced a new rule to expand federal government oversight in monitoring financial links with groups sanctioned as terrorists. Capital market operators are “to screen and verify every client” before onboarding them and when carrying out one-off transactions.
On Jan. 20, around 17 girls were abducted in Pemi, near Chibok in Borno state. The incident came days after a 27-minute video was released by the Islamic State-West Africa Province (ISWAP) reportedly showing child soldiers being trained and a boy of about 12 years old executing two members of the Nigerian military. Extremism in northeastern Nigeria is still a “very, very dangerous” and “very threatening” crisis, U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said last Friday.
Ghana blast. At least 13 people were killed and 190 people injured in an explosion near Bogoso in Ghana’s western region. A truck transporting explosives to the Chirano gold mine, run by Toronto-based Kinross Gold, collided with a motorcycle on Jan. 20. That collision caused a fire, leading to an explosion in the small mining town of Appiate. More than 300 homes were leveled.
Gold is one of Ghana’s top exports, and authorities say the blast is an opportunity to review protocols around the transportation of highly explosive materials. Ghana’s minerals commission suspended the license of Maxam Explosives, the Spanish multinational company that owned the explosives.
U.N. Security Council reform. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni urged that the continent be given permanent representation on the United Nations Security Council to avoid the U.N. being “misused to commit aggression against Africa.” Museveni spoke at an African Union meeting of 10 nations, held last Thursday, that focused on reforming the 15-member council.
The council’s five permanent members—the United States, China, Russia, France, and United Kingdom—reflect power dynamics at the end of World War II. “The U.N. Security Council should have been and must be reformed,” Museveni said. Currently, the council’s 10 other seats are allocated among members that serve two-year terms. The African contingent at the U.N., which includes 54 states representing almost 1.4 billion people, has pushed for permanent membership.
This Week in Tech
Near-expired vaccines. Last Thursday, Africa’s top health chief called for donated COVID-19 vaccines to have a longer shelf life of three to six months so countries could prepare for rollouts. Lower-income countries rejected more than 100 million doses from COVAX, the U.N.-led vaccine-sharing initiative, last month mainly because they were nearing expiration. They want to avoid the “narrative that vaccines have expired in their countries,” said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
In December 2021, after reports that Nigeria destroyed more than a million expired doses because the delivered vaccines had a shelf life that left only weeks to administer jabs—which prompted social media misinformation that Nigerians would be given expired doses—the country said it would reject near-expiration vaccines. Malawi destroyed 20,000 doses and South Sudan around 60,000. Africans complain the continent has become a dumping ground for expiring vaccines that logistically cannot be administered quickly enough.
None of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, purchased through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, have expired, Nkengasong said, because countries received doses with adequate shelf life and the vaccine requires only one dose. In contrast, the United States has thrown away at least 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines since March 2021 because of over-purchasing and low uptake.
Cheap COVID-19 pill. South Africa and Kenya will make generic versions of Merck’s COVID-19 pill under an agreement to give poorer countries access. Under a deal negotiated by the U.N.-backed Medicines Patent Pool, the U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck will not enforce royalty fees on cheap versions of the antiviral pill, molnupiravir, while the pandemic continues.
Around 27 generic drug-makers have signed up to supply 105 countries across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East with the drug. A molnupiravir course of 40 pills for five days is expected to cost about $20 in poorer nations compared with an initial deal in the United States for $700 per course.
Chart of the Week
France is winding down Operation Barkhane; however, foreign governments have pledged to continue various military missions in the Sahel to combat jihadi insurgencies. Hundreds of Russian soldiers have been deployed to Timbuktu, Mali, to train Malian forces despite Western objections.
What We’re Reading
Boko Haram detainees released. Last July, the Nigerian Army announced it was releasing more than 1,000 innocent detainees after clearing them of any links to Boko Haram. Adam Bulama Modu was released in November 2021 after spending over six years in Giwa barracks, a notorious detention center called “a place of death” in an Amnesty International report.
Modu’s family was displaced from Borno state in 2015 during attacks by Boko Haram, but he was arrested by Nigerian soldiers as a Boko Haram suspect, HumAngle Media reports. Around 200 to 300 people are kept in a room at Giwa barracks. Modu said he shared a cell with 39 other people and that he contracted tuberculosis while in detention.
IDPs return home. Last week, residents of the northeastern Sinai Peninsula returned home to their razed houses after being displaced for seven years by government offensives against militants affiliated with the Islamic State in the area. The returns were carried out under supervision of the Egyptian military, reports Mada Masr. Farmland had been rendered nonarable, and most of the villages were completely destroyed.
A government committee will decide on the amount of compensation paid to residents; however, returnees fear that not enough people will come back to vacant villages. Authorities promised to repair electricity networks and connect water over a month ago, but nothing had been done on the ground so far.