Why is the Sahel/Africa becoming a battleground between Russia and the West?

Why is the Sahel/Africa becoming a battleground between Russia and the West? Once again, the Sahel-Saharan zone is on the brink of conflagration. If these West African countries (ECOWAS) decide to intervene militarily to dislodge the Niamey putschists and restore constitutional order, it will be one of the worst crises in African history.

Why is the Sahel/Africa becoming a battleground between Russia and the West?

The deposed president, Mohamed Bazoum, was a great ally of the West, but the military junta that took power is waging a war of words with the Western powers, who are fighting to maintain their dominance not only in Niger, but in several African countries.

All this is happening at a time when Russia’s presence on the continent is growing – with increasing investment and military support from Moscow, as well as the increasingly frequent involvement of mercenaries from the Wagner group in local conflicts.

The West, particularly the United States, accuses Vladimir Putin’s government of interfering to derail democracy in some African nations, while seeking allies for its position in the Ukraine war.

“Our respect for the sovereignty of African states, their traditions and values, their desire to independently determine their own destiny and freely build relations with their partners remains unchanged,” wrote Mr. Putin in a statement issued in July this year on the occasion of the Russia-Africa summit, which brought together several leaders in St. Petersburg.

For Nigerian researcher Ebenezer Obadare, of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) think tank, the power struggle between Russia and the West in Africa is a new chapter in the rivalry between these two poles of power, which intensified especially last year following the invasion of Ukraine.

“What Russia wants in Africa is what Western countries want too: diplomatic influence, influence over the economy and politics, projection of their power and influence,” he explains.

“There are no altruistic intentions, only political ones.”

The West, Russia and the Africans!

What is currently at play is far from being a simple ethnic or religious conflict. The West, which has vigorously rejected the coup d’état, suspects Moscow of pulling the strings.

According to Western theories, Vladimir Putin is seeking to open a new front in his all-out war against NATO through the Wagner militias, already well established in these countries. The master of the Kremlin would also seek to deprive his enemies, led by France, of their influence and vital natural resources, such as uranium.

According to experts, the actions of the two sides mainly take the form of aid, military presence and economic investment, as well as propaganda and cultural influence.

According to documents obtained by The Intercept, in 2019, the United States had 29 bases located in 15 countries or territories on the African continent.Another force with a strong presence is France. The European country, which once colonized the territories where Algeria, Senegal, Chad, Mali, Benin, Sudan, Gabon, Tunisia, Niger, Congo, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire are located today, maintains bases in Djibouti, Gabon, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire.

British troops are also present in countries such as Djibouti, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Kenya. In the latter country, the British government maintains a permanent training center where military exercises are organized every year.

Why is the Sahel/Africa becoming a battleground between Russia and the West

Tatiana Smirnova, a Russian researcher at the Université du Québec à Montréal and a specialist in Sahel politics, explains that the paramilitary organization’s presence is one of the main ways in which the Kremlin is expanding its presence not only in Mali, but also in several other countries on the continent.”

Russia is one of the main suppliers of arms to Africa, in particular to Egypt and Algeria. But in addition to this official security cooperation, there is the work of the Wagner Group and other private military companies”, explains Ms Smirnova.

In addition to Mali, Wagner is also very active in the Central African Republic, Libya, Mozambique, Chad and Sudan. More recently, the US government accused the paramilitary group of “profiting” from the instability in Niger following the military coup.

The links between the mercenaries, the Kremlin and local political forces are hard to pin down. However, according to analysts, since the organization’s leader, Evgeniy Prigozhin, called for an uprising against the Russian army, it has become increasingly difficult to deny these links.”

We can now state with certainty that the Wagner group is supported and financed by Moscow.”

The power most affected by the coup in Niger? Nigeria, not France?

All too often, the foreign media overestimate the Western perspective. Indeed, apart from the African countries hit, the state perceived to be most affected by these military coups is France. However, all analyses emphasizing the decline of the French Republic’s strategic position on the African continent overlook the importance of geography.

Rather, it is Nigeria, which shares a border of over 1,500 kilometers with Niger, and not France, that is the power most affected by these anti-democratic developments in West Africa.

There is a long list of complex challenges facing the Nigerian state, including corruption in the oil industry and difficulties with development and security.

That said, Nigeria is a country of the rule of law and a young democracy that has survived a long history of military coups. Let’s be clear: despite its shortcomings, Nigeria is a regional power with demographic, economic and military clout unmatched by its West African neighbors, which is why Abuja is the cornerstone of ECOWAS.

Mauritania and Chad next targets for Algeria and Wagner

Why is the Sahel/Africa becoming a battleground between Russia and the West

Algeria‘s decision to authorize Wagner’s growing presence in the Sahel is sparking intense debate as to the motivations and consequences of the Algerian strategy, especially as Mauritania and Chad could be the Russian paramilitary group’s next targets, after Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, according to Western experts.

At a time when the Sahel remains a zone of great turbulence, with its share of conflicts and terrorist threats, this strategic opening towards Wagner raises questions about Algeria‘s underlying interests and the potential repercussions of the Russian group’s presence on the regional balance.

One of the arguments put forward by the Chief of Staff of the People’s National Army (ANP), General Saïd Chengriha, in favor of Wagner’s involvement, is the need to reinforce capacities to combat independence groups and movements in southern Algeria and northern Mali.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is also keen to consolidate Wagner’s presence to strengthen economic and energy relations with Russia. Russian companies could potentially invest in infrastructure and natural resource extraction projects, creating long-term economic opportunities.

By allowing Wagner to establish itself in the Sahel, Algeria is also seeking to diversify its geopolitical alliances. For Algerian leaders, this move will serve as a counterweight to Western influences or other regional players.

BRICS Summit – How South Africa is banking on China and Russia

BRICS Summit – How South Africa is banking on China and Russia: The unusual degree of official enthusiasm in South Africa for this summit serves, according to some observers, to underline just how far and how fast this country seems to be moving away from the West, not only towards a more multipolar world, but also firmly into the orbit of China and, to a lesser extent, Russia.

BRICS Summit – How South Africa is banking on China and Russia

At a recent pre-summit meeting of Brics foreign ministers in Cape Town, and at a foreign policy workshop organized by the South African government, there was overwhelming consensus that China was the future and the West was in decline.

After three decades in power, the African National Congress (ANC) is struggling to rid itself of infighting, corruption and administrative chaos.

Faced with the war in Ukraine, for example, the South African government offered a confusing set of responses: first condemning the invasion, then ostensibly refusing to condemn it, then blaming NATO, praising Putin, offering to mediate peace, hosting Russian naval exercises, rushing to explain itself to Washington and glibly repeating the Kremlin’s talking points.

Finally, it remains to be seen whether South Africa supplied arms to Russia last year, as the US claims.

BRICS Summit – How South Africa is banking on China and Russia

There is no doubt that President Ramaphosa is deeply uncomfortable with Russia’s invasion, and is keen to present himself as a wise and neutral advocate of a more multipolar world.

But many members of his government and party regularly undermine this position, often invoking nostalgia for Moscow’s support during the struggle against apartheid and a more general distrust of US foreign policy.

This disjointed message succeeded in irritating all parties to the conflict and making South Africa appear weak and indecisive.

Nelson Mandela’s “rainbow nation” is certainly in trouble at the moment, some even going so far as to say that it could soon become a “failed state”.

Driven by China, enlargement tears coalition apart

Some 50 “Brics-friendly” heads of state are also expected to attend the summit, which runs until Thursday August 24. The theme of the meeting is “BRICS and Africa”. On the agenda for this year’s Johannesburg summit will be the possible enlargement of the BRICS.

Africa is a new diplomatic challenge for the West, Russia and China, who are vying for influence against a backdrop of divisions fanned by the conflict in Ukraine and tensions between China and the United States. An increase in the number of BRICS members could give greater weight to the bloc and its message of global reform.

“An expanded BRICS will represent a diverse group of nations with different political systems who share a common desire for a more balanced world order.”

Some forty countries have applied for membership or expressed interest in joining the group, including Iran, Argentina, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. Nearly twenty of these countries have formally applied for membership.

Iran and Venezuela, under sanctions, are seeking to reduce their isolation and hope that the bloc can provide relief for their downing economies. “Other global integration frameworks are blinded by the hegemonic vision of the US government,” said Ramón Lobo, former finance minister and governor of Venezuela’s central bank.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates see the BRICS as a way of playing a more important role in global forums, analysts believe. As for Ethiopia and Nigeria, they are attracted by the bloc’s commitment to reforms at the United Nations that would give greater weight to the African continent.

But enlargement has become a point of contention.

Russia is keen to welcome new members to counter its diplomatic isolation following its invasion of Ukraine. South Africa has also expressed its support.

India, which is wary of Chinese domination and has warned against hasty expansion, has “a positive intention and an open mind”, said Foreign Minister Vinay Kwatra on Monday. Brazil, meanwhile, fears that BRICS expansion will dilute its influence.

What do the BRICS want?

These countries are calling for international organizations such as the UN Security Council and the Bretton Woods institutions – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, etc. – to be rebuilt.

At present, at the IMF, for example, the 5 BRICS countries have just 10% of the votes, and 15% at the World Bank. A distribution which, in the eyes of the BRICS leaders, under-represents them on the international stage. In contrast, BRICS decisions are taken unanimously, on the principle of “one country – one vote”.

BRICS Summit – How South Africa is banking on China and Russia

BRICS members are also trying to break the hegemony of the US dollar in trade. They are promoting the use of their national currencies for trade. Brazil has even floated the idea of launching a common BRICS currency to counter the US dollar. The idea is on the table, but will not be officially discussed at the Johannesburg summit.

E-commerce in Africa to reach over $40 billion by 2024

E-commerce in Africa is set to reach over $40 billion by 2024: Africa is becoming the next home of the Internet giants, and more specifically those involved in E-commerce. As smartphones and the Internet become more and more within everyone’s reach, E-commerce is evolving, particularly among young people.

E-commerce in Africa is set to exceed $40 billion by 2024

According to statistics, the African e-commerce industry is expected to reach an annual growth rate of 24.7% in 2024. Whereas in 2017, the industry’s annual sales were just $7.7 billion. It is expected to reach $42.3 billion in 2024. Annual revenue is thus expected to achieve cumulative growth of almost 500% in 7 years.

Over the past two years (2020-2021), the Covid-19 pandemic has also helped the e-commerce industry, as elsewhere in the world. On the other hand, the short-term effects of inflation could cause a slowdown in growth on the African continent.

In 2021, the African e-commerce industry brought in $28 billion in revenues. It recorded growth of 31% on 2020 ($21.4 billion). “The annual growth rate is expected to gradually decline to 9% by 2025”, says the Statista report.

In 2022, the African e-commerce industry is expected to generate $33.3 billion in revenues, following an increase of 19%. For 2023, the report forecasts growth of 14.7% to $38.2 billion. In 2024, the annual growth rate will fall further to 11%, with revenues of $42.3 billion.In 2025, annual sales will reach $46.1 billion, thanks to an annual increase of 9%.

Net growth in the number of users

The growth of the e-commerce industry in Africa is mainly due to the continent’s expanding e-commerce user base.

In 2017, just 138.9 million people shopped online in Africa. This figure is expected to rise to 519.8 million by 2024, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.9%. It should be noted that the growth rate of revenues is higher than that of the user base.

Furthermore, e-commerce penetration among the African population in 2024 is expected to be 40%. Thus, the revenue growth rate could record a more attractive rate than that forecast.

Challenges and opportunities for trade on the continent

Despite the growing popularity of e-commerce, the industry faces obstacles.

UNCTAD’s 2018 E-Commerce Index, which measures an economy’s readiness to support online shopping, covers 151 global economies, including 44 African countries. Mauritius is ranked 55th, the best position in Africa. Nigeria and South Africa rank 75th and 77th respectively. Nine of the bottom ten countries are African.

Challenges include slow and expensive Internet connectivity, poor infrastructure, weak logistics and little or no consumer protection.

Although payment by cell phone is on the rise, payment on delivery remains popular in Africa, making cross-border e-commerce difficult. Policies are often not adapted to complex payment chains, and merchants have fewer options for connecting their local e-payment systems to the services used by global customers.

By promoting greater interoperability between payment systems, policymakers can help strengthen Africa’s position as a global leader in mobile payments.

Scheduled for 2024, the new Free Trade Area of the African Continent (ZLEC) aims to create the world’s largest trading bloc, with a market of 1.27 billion consumers, set to grow to 1.7 billion by 2030. Bridging the digital divide and creating an enabling environment would help entrepreneurs win over new customers, and offer numerous opportunities for innovation.

The role that e-commerce can play in the realization of the ZLEC is essential. “E-commerce can boost intra-African trade, which accounts for 18% of trade, and boost Africa’s share of world trade, estimated at less than 3%,” said Ajay Kumar Bramdeo, AU Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, during E-Commerce Week.

The belt of coups in the Sahel is completed by Niger

The belt of coups in the Sahel is completed by Niger: Niger is a key country in the Sahel, both because of its geographical location and the concentration of Western military bases on its soil.

The belt of coups in the Sahel is completed by Niger

In the Sahel, everything seems to converge on Niger, which until the July 26 coup d’état appeared to be an island of relative security stability in a region haunted by jihadist insurgency. In a report published in 2022, the US State Department even described the country as a “linchpin for stability in the Sahel”.

As The Washington Post recalls, the country was an exception in the midst of a “coup d’état belt”, an expression used to describe the horizontal line running from west to east between the countries of the sub-region that have seen a brutal overthrow of the authorities in power in recent years.

This small country of 25 million inhabitants is also home to numerous Western military bases. According to the Washington Post, the United States has around 1,100 soldiers and a drone base. As for France, after the disappointment and rejection of the Barkhane force by Mali and Burkina Faso, it chose Niger to establish the bulk of its forces, i.e. between 1,000 and 1,500 soldiers.

Finally, Niger abounds in mineral wealth, including precious uranium. In another article, the Washington Post estimates that the country, the world’s seventh largest producer of this mineral, has some of the largest gross reserves in Africa. It is also one of the main exporters of uranium to Europe. If the situation in Niger were to worsen, “this could force European governments to reconsider new punitive measures against Russia, one of the world’s biggest uranium exporters”.

So, will Niger follow in the footsteps of its two neighbors? In Niamey, the scenes involving Russian flags and anti-French slogans are already reminiscent of the events in Mali and Burkina Faso.

International position on the coup d’état in Niger

U.S. President Joe Biden called Thursday for the immediate release of Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, who was ousted last week in a military coup.

Biden said in a statement that Niger is “facing a grave challenge to its democracy.”

“The Nigerien people have the right to choose their leaders. They have expressed their will through free and fair elections—and that must be respected,” Biden said.

Briefing journalists at UN Headquarters in New York, Léonardo Santos Simão reiterated condemnation of the attempted overthrow of Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum on 26 July.

He also underscored support for efforts by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) aimed at restoring constitutional order and consolidating democratic gains in the country.

“The unfolding crisis, if not addressed, will exacerbate the deteriorating security situation in the region. It will also negatively impact the development and lives of the population in a country where 4.3 million people need humanitarian assistance,” he said, speaking from Accra, Ghana. 

He added that “Niger and the region do not need coups d’état. Populations deserve to enjoy peace, democratic governance and prosperity.”

A delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is currently in Niger to “negotiate” with members of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP), which overthrew the elected Nigerien president, Mohamed Bazoum, said one of the Community’s officials at the opening of Wednesday’s meeting of West African chiefs of staff in Abuja, Nigeria.

“Nigeria disconnected the high-voltage line carrying electricity to Niger yesterday (Tuesday),” the source told the media. A Nigelec official said that the capital, Niamey, was “supplied by local production”.

Exit France, Russia seduces in the Sahel

After Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger is the third country in the region to experience a coup d’état since 2020. Each time, France’s presence is denounced. A situation that benefits Russia, which is conducting intense propaganda on the ground.

“A bas la France!”, “Vive la Russie!” It’s a familiar scenario in the Sahel. After Mali, hit by two coups in 2020 and 2021, and Burkina Faso, hit by two putsches in 2022, it’s the turn of neighboring Niger to be overthrown by the military. Here again, supporters of the putschists have denounced France’s presence in their country. On Sunday July 30, in front of the French embassy in Niamey, they tore down the building’s plaque before trampling it and replacing it with Russian flags.

For several years now, France, the former colonial power, has been unwelcome in the Sahel, a region stretching from Senegal to Chad. The French army has been driven out of Burkina Faso and Mali, and Operation Barkhane, launched in 2014 to combat terrorism, forced to withdraw to Niger in summer 2022. Taking advantage of this situation, Russia continues to extend its influence and present itself as an ideal political, economic and security partner.