On February 11th, this year, the Cameroon military raided the small village of Tiben, in Batibo, in western Cameroon. A village family, including a father named Jonas Ndi, fled their home, fearing arbitrary arrest by the military. A child, sleeping, was left behind. In the attack, the military torched a quarter in the village, including Jonas Ndi's home. His child was burnt to death.
Atrocities such as this and ongoing human rights abuses and crimes against humanity against the Anglophone communities of northwest and southwest Cameroon are happening every day. These abuses are being diligently documented by the University of Toronto's "Cameroon Anglophone Crisis, Database of Atrocities."
The growing number of atrocities in the conflict has caught the attention of the new administration of U.S. President Joseph Biden. Indeed the Biden administration has acknowledged the severity of the crisis in Cameroon.
Jan Egeland, a former senior Norwegian diplomat who is the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a partner of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, served in 2019 as a panelist at a UN Security Council meeting about the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon.According to an NRC survey utilizing four criteria to evaluate humanitarian crises in areas of conflict and disaster globally (number of displaced persons deriving from a crisis; political will to solve a crisis; international media attention on a crisis and level of financial aid for crisis relief), the NRC ranked Cameroon FIRST out of ten countries as the most neglected humanitarian crisis in the world for two consecutive years (2019 and 2020).
During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 19th, Secretary of State Blinken said that the administration would uphold US values in defending human rights in Africa and expressed concern with the conflict in Cameroon.Secretary Blinken said,
“The United States must actively participate in the resolution of the situation in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon where populations are victims of multifaceted violence.”
Recent media reports claim that a covert Kenyan paramilitary team is responsible for the unconstitutional killing of terror suspects in nighttime raids. The reports are based on interviews with US and Kenyan diplomatic and intelligence officials.
The team was trained, armed and supported by US and British intelligence officers.
This has drawn renewed attention to the reality of widespread foreign security operations in Africa.
Several African governments are hosting foreign military bases. This is despite the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council’s ongoing concerns about the proliferation of foreign military bases on the continent. The AU is also concerned about its inability to monitor the movement of weapons to and from these military bases. Regardless, a host of bilateral agreements between AU member states and foreign powers underlie the spread of foreign military forces across the continent.
At least 13 foreign powers have a substantial military presence on the continent. The US and France are at the forefront of conducting operations on African soil.
Moreover, private military groups are active in several conflict zones on African soil. Northern Mozambique is the most recent case.
These dynamics coincide with claims that Russian MiG-29 and Su-24 warplanes have now conducted missions in Libya in support of Kremlin-backed private military forces to extend Moscow’s influence in Africa.
Military base mapping
Currently, the US has 7,000 military personnel on rotational deployment in Africa. These troops carry out joint operations with African forces against extremists or jihadists. They are hosted in military outposts across the continent, including Uganda, South Sudan, Senegal, Niger, Gabon, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In addition, 2,000 American soldiers are involved in training missions in 40 African countries. American special forces operate across east Africa in so-called forward operation locations in Kenya and Somalia.
Like the US, France has either deployed military forces or established bases in a number of African countries. The country has more than 7,500 military personnel currently serving on the continent. Its largest presence is in the Sahel, especially in the border zone linking Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
Since then China has maintained an anti-piracy naval presence in the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden. Between 2008 and 2018, the Chinese Navy deployed 26,000 military personnel in a variety of maritime security operations.
Lemonnier was established alongside French, Italian, Spanish, German and Japanese bases. China has developed a 36-hectare military facility to host several thousand Chinese troops and provide facilities for ships, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
China’s military base in Djibouti was set up to support five mission areas. These are counter-piracy in the Gulf of Aden; intelligence collection on other countries; noncombat evacuation of Chinese citizens in East Africa; international peacekeeping operations where Chinese soldiers are deployed; and counter-terrorism operations.
India is another Asian nation that has increased its naval presence in Africa. The country has established a network of military facilities across the Indian Ocean to counter China’s rising military footprint in the region.
It also wants to protect its commercial sea lanes from piracy.
India has ongoing deployments that monitor developments in the Horn of Africa and Madagascar. The country also plans to establish 32 coastal radar surveillance stations with sites in the Seychelles, Mauritius, and other locations outside Africa.
When it comes to the Middle East, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are the two countries with a notable military presence in Africa.
Turkey joined the international counter-piracy task force off the Somali coast in 2009. In 2017, it opened a military base in Mogadishu, Somalia. The purpose is to train recruits for the Somali National Army. Turkey will also support the Somali navy and coastguard.
The UAE has had a military base in Eritrea since 2015. It comprises a military airfield with aircraft shelters and a deepwater naval port. The base has been used in operations against opposition forces in Yemen.
Foreign military motivations
It is clear that the Horn is the epicentre of foreign military activity in Africa. Foreign troops have been deployed there to counter threats to international peace, subdue terror groups and pirates, and support foreign security initiatives.
But there are other motivations to establish military bases in Africa. These include protection of commercial interests, aligning with friendly regimes, and expressing dominance on a continent that is the focus of rising global competition.
Of course, Africa is not the exception. The US, for example, also maintains a substantial military and security presence in the Gulf region. It has bases in countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and UAE.
For some observers it might seem like foreign governments are imposing their militaries on Africa, but, in fact, many African governments are keen to host them.
Bilateral agreements with major powers generate income for African states. The opening of China’s military base in Djibouti is a case in point. Most of Djibouti’s economy relies on Chinese credit.
The presence of foreign military forces has also played a significant role in fighting terror groups. These include groups like al-Shabaab in East Africa and jihadists in Mali. This explains why several African countries are willing to turn to foreign governments for advice, intelligence and support.
But there is a downside to the presence of foreign forces on the continent. For instance, the African security landscape has become overcrowded by a multiplicity of foreign security and military activities. These activities often function at cross purposes.
Finally, African countries are not agreed on how to regulate foreign security and military activities. The approach so far has been disjointed.
Though Africa’s peacekeeping capacity has increased significantly, the AU is still highly dependent on external funding and resources for its peacekeeping operations. It does not have the freedom to take independent strategic, operational and even tactical decisions in its operations.
As long as these shortcomings exist in Africa’s response to armed conflict, foreign militaries and intelligence services will continue to operate on the continent.
These are matters that have to be addressed before African states can heed the AU Peace and Security Council’s concerns about extensive foreign military involvement on the continent.
Theo Neethling is professor of political science at the department of political studies and governance at the University of the Free State in South Africa.
The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has been told to start making plans to move its headquarters out of Stuttgart, Germany. In a media statement released on July 31, AFRICOM commander General Stephen J. Townsend said it would likely take months to consider potential locations and make a decision, but the process had started.
This news comes two days after US defense secretary Mark T. Esper announced that the US Department of Defense will withdraw 11,900 troops currently stationed in Germany, sending some home and moving the rest to other NATO countries. The headquarters of the United States European Command (EUCOM) will also move from Germany to Mons, Belgium.
This fits with the Pentagon’s troop reallocation plan as part of a broader initiative to shift American military policy away from counterterrorism and toward counteracting China and Russia’s expanding influence. But it also reflects the increasing estrangement between the US and Germany, a key European ally.
Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), has been cleared of corruption following the conclusion of a second ethics probe, which the United States had insisted on. A three-person team found insufficient evidence to prove allegations of corruption and nepotism that whistleblowers had leveled against Dr. Adesina, and found his submission to be persuasive.
A report by the AfDB’s Ethics Committee and Board of Governors had cleared him of misconduct in April, but the US, which is the second-largest AfDB shareholder, rejected the internal investigation and insisted that an independent panel review the case. The panel, led by former Irish president Mary Robinson, reviewed all the evidence and agreed with the earlier finding.
The Americans’ demand for a second investigation into Dr. Adesina’s conduct sparked outrage among African states that hold shares in the AfDB, with Nigeria in particular pushing back against what they perceived as an imposition on the bank by a non-African nation.
Dr. Adesina is free to pursue his re-election bid for president of the AfDB
The AfDB has been a key financier of major infrastructure projects, such as Mozambique’s liquid natural gas plant in Cabo Delgado province and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Inga III hydropower project. The AfDB has also committed US$10 billion in funding to assist in the fight against COVID-19 on the continent.
With his name cleared, Dr. Adesina is free to pursue his re-election bid for president of the AfDB in August, running as the only candidate for the position and generally supported by the Bank’s African shareholders.
Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s office put out a press release on July 21 confirming the first year’s filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been achieved thanks to heavier than normal seasonal rainfall and runoff. Abiy commended the African Union for leading the latest talks between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt to address their differences over the dam’s filling and operation, and said that further technical discussions would continue.
The statement was light on details but seems to indicate that Ethiopia is pulling back from some of its more aggressive rhetoric used against Egypt, as the two nations have rattled sabers at each other over the course of negotiations. Egyptian hackers have even launched a cyberattack on Ethiopian government websites in the past month.
There has been no official response to the press release from Egypt or Sudan.
Egypt has referred to the GERD as an “existential threat” over fears that a rapid filling of the dam could lower water levels in the Nile to a dangerous degree. Amid rumors last week that Ethiopia had begun to fill the GERD before an agreement had been reached between the three countries, Sudan reported a drop in the water level of the Blue Nile—also known as the Abbay River—reaching it from upstream Ethiopia.
When Egypt sought urgent clarification from Ethiopia over the reports that the reservoir was being filled, the Ethiopian water and energy minister responded that the level was rising due to heavy rains and not to conscious efforts to fill the dam. He said the overflow would be “triggered soon.”
Key Questions Remain
The key questions are how much water Ethiopia will release in years of low rainfall, and how future disputes will be resolved.
The United States, United Nations, and African Union have mediated negotiations to resolve the impasse. The American response has been ambivalent, however, as some in the Trump administration want to side with Egypt, a strategic US military partner, whereas others worry this risks driving a wedge between the US and Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation.
Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president who ruled with impunity for thirty years before being ousted last year following weeks of civilian protests, entered a Khartoum courthouse on Tuesday, July 21, to face charges over his involvement in the 1989 coup that brought him to power.
Bashir has already been sentenced to two years in prison for corruption, after he confessed to taking bribes to the value of US$90 million from Saudi Arabia during a trial held last year. He faces a possible death sentence if convicted. His court appearance was brief, as the judge adjourned the trial until August 11 with the intention of continuing in a larger venue that could seat the defendants and their relatives while also being mindful of COVID-19 containment measures.
In the meantime, the International Criminal Court in The Hague is still waiting for the dictator to be transferred to its jurisdiction, having indicted Bashir in 2009 and 2010 for crimes against humanity linked to ethnic cleansing campaigns in the Darfur region. Sudan agreed in February that Bashir should be brought before the ICC, but has since done little to make this happen.
Egypt’s parliament has given President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi a mandate to deploy troops “outside the borders of the Egyptian state, to defend Egyptian national security in the Arab strategic direction against the actions of armed criminal militias and foreign terrorist elements.”
The mandate was passed only a few days after Sisi met with Libyan tribal leaders, who asked for the support of the Egyptian armed forces to “expel the Turkish colonizer.” The vagueness of the mandate’s wording, however, suggests that this approval by parliament could also have been given in the context of the ongoing dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
It increases the risk of the conflict turning into a full-blown regional proxy war
Egypt has been a continuous supporter of the Libyan House of Representatives, based in Tobruk, the rival government to the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is based in Tripoli. The House of Representatives is supported by the Libyan National Army (LNA) under its commander Khalifa Haftar, which has been waging a steady campaign to oust the GNA since April 2019. Just a few months ago, Turkey began to send troops and material support to the GNA, helping to stop the LNA’s advance on Tripoli and reverse several key gains it had made.
Reacting to these setbacks, Sisi has issued several public statements making it clear that the seizure of the Libyan cities of Sirte and Jufra by rival forces would be viewed as a red line, thus inviting military intervention. Jufra functions as a corridor into western Libya and is home to an airbase that has been crucial for LNA advances. Sirte is an oil port that plays a key role in the Libyan oil economy. Both Egypt and Turkey are looking to expand their Mediterranean energy markets, with Libya a key strategic location for both countries.
Unlike prior escalations of the Libyan conflict, the direct involvement of the Egyptian military in Libya’s protracted civil war increases the risk of the conflict turning into a full-blown regional proxy war akin to what has transpired in Yemen and Syria. With Turkey a member of NATO and Egypt an ally of the United States, the fallout of such a conflict would be catastrophic for regional security and for the well-being of Libyan civilians. Every effort now needs to be made to pull all foreign actors operating in Libyan territory back from the brink.
Mali’s fraught political environment continues to involve more international mediators, with Morocco the latest country to intercede between President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and the Mouvement du 5 Juin–Rassemblement des Forces Patriotiques (M5–RFP). King Mohammed VI sent Moroccan foreign minister Nasser Bourita to Mali to mediate talks between Keïta and Imam Mahmoud Dicko, the de facto leader of the M5–RFP.
Arriving on July 11, a day after protests in Bamako escalated into deadly clashes with security forces, Bourita delegated Hassan Naciri, the Moroccan ambassador to Mali, to meet with Dicko at his home. Dicko listed his terms for resuming talks with the government, including the release of opposition leaders, and Naciri convinced him to make a public statement calling for calm and a cessation of protests while negotiations took place. Naciri then met with President Keïta to relay Dicko’s demands.
ECOWAS Proposals Rejected
This past weekend, a delegation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met with M5–RFP members to try to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis, but their proposals were dismissed.
Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, one of Africa’s foremost philosophers, civil rights activists, and pro-democracy scholars, passed away at the University Clinic of Kinshasa on Wednesday, July 15.
Wamba dia Wamba obtained his education in the United States after earning a scholarship through the African-American Institute, studying at Western Michigan University before earning his MBA at Claremont University. He taught at Brandeis and Harvard universities while in the United States, where he met his wife and got involved in the civil rights movement through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
He became a history professor at the University of Dar es Salaam
He moved Tanzania and became a history professor at the University of Dar es Salaam, which had become an intellectual nexus of Pan-African thought. He founded the university’s philosophy club, and from 1992 to 1995 he served as the president of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA).
In 1998, Wamba dia Wamba founded the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) with the support of Uganda and Rwanda, and began a campaign against newly installed DRC president Laurent-Désiré Kabila. In August, the RCD launched an attack on Goma, starting the Second Congo War. The RCD later split into two factions, supported by the two rival neighboring countries, after which Wamba dia Wamba faced revolt in his own faction.
After the war, Wamba dia Wamba became a senator in the DRC government and helped to draft a new constitution. He continued to write and was a noted political theorist. More recently, in May 2017, he was appointed president of the political-religious movement Bundu dia Mayala.
A transport vehicle carrying French troops came under fire from Chadian security forces outside the private residence of President Idriss Déby on Monday night. Luckily, no injuries were sustained and the vehicle continued on toward a French base, returning from a sortie carried out earlier in the day.
An investigation has been launched into the events leading up to the incident, but observers have expressed concern that this was the second time that Chadian troops have engaged in accidental friendly fire against French forces, the first occurring on June 9, again outside the presidential residence.
The US expressed deep concern over allegations of human rights abuses
The June 9 incident happened three weeks after a meeting between the heads of state of the G5 Sahel military alliance and French president Emmanuel Macron, where all parties agreed to stay the course while noting the deteriorating humanitarian situation.
Last Thursday, the United States Department of State released a statement expressing deep concern over allegations of human rights abuses committed by Sahelian security forces, and threatened to cut support for the offensive should they persist. This is an outcome the G5 Sahel cannot afford, nor can France, which has asked its European partners to send more soldiers and equipment to the Sahel.