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Resources-for-Infrastructure (RFI) deals between China and African countries are not always win-win as advertised. For example, the Angola-China deal trading oil for infrastructure spending did not pan out as conceived. However, this new RFI deal between China and Ghana should pan out differently because Ghana has negotiated a more favorable deal than other African countries have in the past.

In sum, Ghana has negotiated a deal with Sinohydro under which Ghana will receive $2 billion in financing for infrastructure—roads, railways, and bridges—in exchange for access to 5 percent of Ghana’s bauxite reserve. The deal, which is part of a $19 billion credit facility between both countries, also includes 100 vehicles to be donated to Ghana’s Police Service, $43 million in grants, and $37 million in debt waivers.

This deal has stirred controversy and debate within Ghana and across Africa concerning debt sustainability and the environmental degradation that could result from mining bauxite in the Atiwa forest. But considering the summary of the deal and information available in the public domain, Ghana appears to have negotiated a favorable deal with Sinohydro for three reasons.

First, this deal will not cause Ghana’s public debt to increase because China’s claim for repayment is not secured by Ghana’s general revenue. Rather, it is secured by revenues from aluminum sales. This distinction is important because it has implications for public expenditures. When loan repayment claims are against the general revenue, governments cannot prioritize other expenditures over the repayments. That is, if the indebted government desired to spend $1 million on building a new clinic, the government could not choose the clinic over repayment because that would lead to a default and higher borrowing costs in the future. But when a repayment claim is tied to a specific revenue stream, such as aluminum sales, the government is not obligated to use revenues from other sources to repay the debt. In this case, Ghana can spend the entire $1 million on building the hospital and not worry about debt repayment. This deal is similar to the revenue bonds that American and European municipalities issue to build toll roads and bridges; the repayments are tied to the tolls collected, not the general revenue. Thus, because Ghana’s obligation to repay the $2 billion is tied to aluminum revenues, Ghana will not face the dilemma of choosing between repayment and building schools or hospitals.

Second, Ghana remains in charge under this deal. Other RFI deals have made the Chinese responsible for both extracting and exporting the resources. Here, by contrast, Ghana remains responsible for extracting the bauxite, setting up the refinery to process the aluminum, and then exporting and selling the aluminum. Furthermore, this deal allows Ghana to build-up its industrial capacity through the value-added processing of bauxite to aluminum. In short, this will be a process setup by Ghanaians, run by Ghanaians, and owned by Ghanaians. China will simply receive its share of the sales.

Third, this deal will contribute to Ghana’s infrastructure. Specifically, Ghana negotiated the deal so that it will receive the $2 billion in infrastructure financing before it must begin mining bauxite or processing the aluminum. This will give Ghana the space to design an environmentally responsible bauxite mining process. Furthermore, these newly built roads, rails, and bridges will contribute to closing Ghana’s infrastructure gap. A recent World Bank report shows that Ghana needs to spend $2.3 billion per year over the next decade to close its infrastructure gap. This level of infrastructure spending will have the additional benefit of adding 2.7 percentage points to the GDP per year.

Despite these favorable points, mining for bauxite in the Atiwa Forest comes with serious risks to the environment. Atiwa is home to the sources for three rivers that supply drinking water to five million residents in Accra. It is also the habitat for rare and endangered species such as the West African White-naped Mangabey monkey, Mylothris atewa, and Anthene helpsi – the latter two being rare butterfly species found only in the Atiwa forest. The government, in consultation with environmental groups and stakeholders, therefore needs to formulate an effective environmental pollution mitigation plan to protect the forest ecosystem.

In conclusion, Ghana has negotiated well and received a better RFI deal that ensures it will develop necessary infrastructure, maintain control of the bauxite extraction process, and add value to the bauxite before selling it on the international market. For African countries to transition from being mere exporters of raw materials to also being value-added processors, they must trade the resources they have to acquire the infrastructure upon which a new economic model can be built. This deal accomplishes precisely this feat.

Francis Kiazolu is a Senior Derivatives and Securities Analyst at PRA Group, Inc.

girl chad
A young girl in Chad. The people of the Sahel region and Africa writ large face an uncertain future the author writes.

Terrorist expansion and ethnic conflicts in Africa: worsening times lies ahead for African security

With the killing of the Chadian president by terrorist groups and new ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia a new

wave of clashes and instability is impacting Africa. Not that the continent was very safe and stable

before, with a legacy of post-colonial dictatorships and insecurity increased with the failure of Arab

Spring and the birth of new terrorist groups in the last ten years. But today the continent seems on the

verge of something worst. Things seems to heat up for security in Africa.



The situation in Mali out of hands of French intervention, with the killing of even UN peacekeepers, the

Nigerian Boko Haram increasing power weakening state security forces, the Islamic State expanding in

DRC and Al Shabaab expanding in East Africa, show that things are pretty gloomy on the security side of

Africa. And not only terrorist threat is looming on the future of Africa. The ethic strives are threatening

to destroy stable countries and fragile democratization transitions too. Take the example of Ethiopia, a

stable state until recently, again under the threat of civil war with the starting of the Tigray conflict last

November and the recent attacks between Amhara and Oromo people, increasing political and ethnic

violence but also humanitarian disaster.



I was in Tigray in the spring of 2019 to visit the Rock hewn churches and the monasteries that you could

reach only by foot, sometimes climbing with your hands. It is an amazing place, where you can breathe

spirituality of people, coming also from isolation of land, mostly a rock land, and the ancient civilization

of Axum. Today the cry from the region it's not hard to hear, with the hundreds of thousands of refugees,

hundreds of people killed, thousands of women raped and children taken from their mothers. Some

organizations speak about genocide others just confirm the destruction of the structures like Axum

Airport, Aduwa industry, agricultural tools and schools. As always, when some domestic conflicts arise,

besides to deal internally with elements that made it possible, from ethnic grievances to the political

elites’ power struggles, we need to see the regional system, with its regional dynamics and geopolitics,

how can support a domestic stabilization.



Unfortunately, the African Union is still weak to respond in a coherent and coordinated manner to the

terrorist threat that is expanding from the Sahel to Sub-Saharan Africa, from West to East. Silencing the

Guns program failed, with Last year AU inaugurated the new HQ of CISSA, the Committee of Intelligence

and Security Services, but the path seems long in the sharing of information among intelligence services

in order to fight once and for all armed conflicts in Africa. The other problem is that terrorist threat as

well as ethnic conflicts can be won only addressing root causes of instability and insecurity and so the all

spectrum of “Human Security” of the population, meaning the freedom from fear, from want and from

indignity, and Africa is still backward on this: poverty in Sub-Sahara Africa continues to rise. Not only

that but with modern complex times international threats are growing exponentially and making things

worst, from the pandemics like Covid 19, who worsened the human security situation in the continent,

to the natural disasters expected in the next decades with climate change that coupled with

demographic bomb (Africa expected to become four times the current population, reaching 4.5 billion

people by the end of the century) could make of Africa the first failed continent in human history.



Africa needs some anchor states, meaning some stable and powerful states that can represent the

leadership for continent-wide security and economic initiatives, as it has been for Europe guided by

France, Germany and Italy after WWII. Morocco, Egypt and South Africa are the candidates for North

and Southern part of the continent, but for East, West and Central Africa the path is still long with the

majority of countries considered “fragile states”. For this reason there is an urgent need for a Panafrican


strategy by the AU, supported by the UN and also the great powers of the world, first of all EU that

should even think to a modern Marshall Plan, on how to really tackle the terrorist threat expanding in

the continent, the ethnic grievances that need to be dealt with, in particular when countries will pass

from the many dictatorships to fragile democracies, and the urgent development need to couple with

sustainable energy production and solution to the endemic poverty that will worsen with demographic

expansion and urbanization. The work to be done is a lot, but the institutions, both domestically and

continental, seem to not rise to the occasion.

Western Sahara
A view toward the dividing ceasefire line in the Western Sahara. Photo via Wikipedia

A brewing conflict in the Sahara if left unchecked could contribute to destabilizing forces across North Africa and the Sahel. Renewed clashes between Polisario, a leftist rebel group, and Morocco is  the latest armed confrontation riling the continent. The past few months have seen an increase in insurgent activities in Mozambique and an outbreak of a new war in Ethiopia. In contrast, the United States has largely been distracted by the 2020 presidential campaign. The deterioration in the status quo between Morocco and Polisario in the Western Sahara deserves greater attention because decisive action now may be able to preserve a ceasefire which has largely held since 1991.                                                                                                                                                         

It is also worth noting that African Lion – a major military exercise involving the United States is set to take place in Morocco in a few months. That exercise will involve some 5,000 military personnel from the U.S., Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Tunisia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands and Portugal. Morocco will be one of the hosts for this exercise along with other countries in the region including Senegal, Spain and Tunisia.                                                                                                              

The Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat has described conflict under these terms: “the Western Sahara conflict remains the oldest unresolved conflict on the continent.” While technically not true (the conflict in Katanga which dates to 1960 is a decade older) the quote speaks to the perception of the conflict as an intractable one.                                                               

The current crisis focuses on a thin strip of land along Morocco’s border with Mauritania that is controlled by Polisario. Last month Polisario forces set-up a roadblock to prevent traffic between Mauritania and Morocco. This blockade stranded some 200 Moroccan truck drivers and trade with Morocco and parties across West Africa and the Sahel.  Under the terms of the ceasefire a line of control divides the two parties and a United Nations observer force, MINURSO, monitors the situation though such trade is supposed to continued largely uninterrupted since 1991.                         

A recent extension of MINURSO’s mandate – which the United States supported in October appears to have been the final straw for Polisario which is frustrated by a perceived lack of progress on ameliorating the conflict. Strategically the resumption of the armed conflict may have been meant to take advantage of President Trump’s lame-duck period to create new realities which it can use as barter in future negotiations. Indeed, a recent UN report on that current crisis noted multiple such “freedom of movement” provocations in recent months.                                                     

Polisario’s declaration of war comes following a recent United Nations report which called on to respect the terms of its ceasefire and highlighted those freedom of movement violations. Perhaps even more alarmingly the report noted discrepancies “observed between the order of battle and the number of heavy weapons held by Frente POLISARIO units in Agwanit, Bir Lahlou and Tifariti in the restricted area were declared violations in January, March and April. Requests by MINURSO to remove them from the restricted area remained unaddressed.” This seems to suggest the current clashes may have been part of a broader strategy. Even so, Morocco’s King Mohammed has reiterated his comment to the ceasefire and peacebuilding.                                                                                                                                                        

If Polisario had hopped to capture international attention with the conflict, they might have been badly misguided. Already, Guyana has severed ties to the group following the resumption of clashes. Sadly, a Polisario that is even more isolated on the national stage may not make it more conducive to international peace. It may also open opportunities for narco-traffickers who are increasingly using the Western Sahara as a transit area to increase their activities. This would be in no one’s best interest. Given the precarious nature of the situation, it is essential for the United States and the United Nations to move quickly to ensure this obscure conflict does not spiral into full open war.

A British soldier leaves the Hombori area aboard a Chinook helicopter on March 28, 2019 during the start of the French Barkhane Force operation in Mali's Gourma region. Troops will begin operating near the Burkina border from a new French military base in east-central Mali. The base will be the newest outpost of Operation Barkhane, France's 4,500-strong anti-jihadist force which is headquartered in Chad but also operates in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Daphné BENOIT / AFP
A British soldier leaves the Hombori area aboard a Chinook helicopter on March 28, 2019 during the start of the French Barkhane Force operation in Mali's Gourma region. Troops will begin operating near the Burkina border from a new French military base in east-central Mali. The base will be the newest outpost of Operation Barkhane, France's 4,500-strong anti-jihadist force which is headquartered in Chad but also operates in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. (Daphné Benoit/AFP)

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.

It has been reported that since 2004, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) programme has been operational in Kenya without public scrutiny. For its part, the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) has played a key role in identifying, tracking and fixing the location of targets. 

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.

The presence of foreign military forces in Africa is not limited to Western powers. China has been particularly active with its military presence in the Horn of Africa. It has become more engaged since 2008 when it participated in the multinational anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. 

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.

In 2017, China inaugurated its first overseas military base in Djibouti. This came after the US established Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti in 2003

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. 

The competition among some of the world’s powers has been heightened by the increasing presence of Asian powers. China’s expanding presence in Djibouti has caused concern. 

Its influence in Africa and the Indian Ocean has ruffled feathers within Japanese and Indian political and security circles. A Chinese monopoly could impede their engagement with the continent. 

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.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Trump has never been to Africa. At least not as president. Not for six decades, since JFK, has an American president even met with fewer African leaders than Trump. During JFK's time of course most African states were still colonial territories. His attitude toward the continent appears to be mired in either indifference or outright hostility, as his “shithole countries” comment and repeated (but unsuccessful) efforts to cut foreign aid demonstrate.

The feeling is mutual. As with the rest of the world, Africa’s view of the United States has declined under Trump’s leadership.

Yet, as more astute observers than the President recognise, this is exactly the moment to care about Africa. According to the UN, Sub-Saharan Africa is the only global region expected to sustain rapid population growth over the course of this century. By 2050, Nigeria will overtake the U.S. as the third most populous country in the world. The spill over effects of recent crises – such as piracy in the Gulf of Aden or the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean – demonstrate that Africa is an important geopolitical theatre with growing clout. America’s rivals, particularly China and increasingly Russia, recognise this and have seized the initiative, exposing U.S. policy as shallow and out of touch.

With the prospect of a new administration on the horizon, the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) conducted a series of debates with expert contributors from both the U.S. and Africa. The key critiques and recommendations are summarised in a proposed New U.S. Policy Framework for the African Century.

The framework is built on three key pillars: real partnerships, new partners, and revitalising public diplomacy. The key elements of these pillars are presented below.

Real Partnerships

The report argues that U.S. policymakers do not give Africa the same careful strategic consideration as other conglomerated regions around the world, such as Latin America and the Middle East. The U.S. needs to take its relationships on the continent more seriously.

That begins with undoing Henry Kissinger’s 1974 division of the continent into two separately imagined sub-regions – North and Sub-Saharan – and approaching Africa as a united whole. By standardising the scope of African affairs across all its foreign policy organisms – from the State Department to USAID, the Pentagon and beyond – the U.S. could consolidate the actual number of policymakers and potentially achieve greater focus in its policymaking. Indeed, more voices rarely add greater clarity to a discussion.

With a re-imagined African continent, the U.S. president and his top officials should engage more directly to influence policy outcomes. Instead of waiting at the finish line to shake the hands of pliant leaders, the president should be more of an active “problem solver” on the continent. This engagement should be supported with more meaningful policy tools – “real carrots and sticks” – to sway these outcomes.

New Partners

Africa’s transformation will require a new paradigm of relationships – both within the continent and externally – to help the U.S. achieve its strategic aims.

According to the UN, by 2050, Africa will be home to fourteen megacities spread right across the continent: including in Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Angola, DRC, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and South Africa. These cities will be engines of economic growth and centres of political power which the U.S. should leverage to diversify its existing partnerships and increase economic ties.

And with the growing global trend of regionalism, the U.S. needs to boost its engagement with Africa’s plethora of regional bodies, including SADC, COMESA, ECOWAS and ECCAS. This could include deploying personnel to work with these institutions and providing financial assistance.

In terms of external partners, the U.S. should look beyond France and the UK when engaging international partners to help fulfil its aims on the continent. And at home, U.S. companies require more hand-holding and strategic direction to increase foreign direct investment into Africa, particularly in the agribusiness, energy, entertainment, finance, services, and technology sectors.


African popular culture is vibrant, politically engaged, and growing in global influence. From the Afrocentric iconography of international blockbusters like Black Panther and the Lion King to the Afrobeat superstars topping charts around the world. Yet, the U.S. persists with old-school communication strategies and public diplomacy initiatives like the “Jazz Ambassadors” programme first established in the 1950s, when Louis Armstrong was sent on a tour through the continent. Now, as then, the U.S. needs to leverage its most popular African American stars to rebuild its positive image on the continent.

However, that also requires an honest dialogue about American society’s persistent challenge with racism. These issues matter to Africans and the U.S. needs to do more to understand and influence these sentiments through programmes like the Young African Leaders Initiative, established by President Obama in 2010.


CSIS’ framework presents an optimistic and progressive agenda for future U.S.-Africa relations. An agenda which, frankly, seems unobtainable with the ideology and tendencies of the current administration. Trump has never demonstrated the intellectual sophistication to suggest he might grasp Africa’s growing strategic importance and involve himself more directly in its affairs, as he does with China, for example. 

The administration’s open disavowal of multilateralism suggests that it would be unlikely to build new coalitions to address the challenges facing Africa. Furthermore, its antagonistic relationship with its own (predominantly Democrat-controlled) megacities and the steady hollowing out of State Department capacity, provides little hope for innovative approaches to engagement on the continent. Never mind Trump’s unprecedented racial divisiveness.

The prospect of a Joe Biden presidency looms ever more likely and with greater promise for a revitalised American foreign policy. Yet, it would be naïve to imagine that Africa would be among his priorities. The relationship with China requires a serious strategic re-set; America will need to reingratiate itself with multilateral platforms such as NATO and the Paris Agreement; and Russian interference in the Middle East and Europe will persist.

However, with Vice President Harris and Susan Rice as a potential Secretary of State, the Biden administration would be well placed to rebuild good will and engage its most senior representatives with African affairs. Similarly, high profile African Americans would likely be more inclined to represent their country under Biden’s leadership.

The U.S. presidential election is never a parochial affair. Africa’s leaders, like those around the world, will be watching closely in November.

A full copy of the CSIS report is available here.

Armed Dinka cattleguards in South Sudan in 2018. Photo via AFP.
Armed Dinka cattle guards in South Sudan in 2018.

Illegal firearms trafficking remains a critical problem for African states, and a new United Nations’ report on the problem may reveal just the tip of the iceberg. 

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released a report on firearms trafficking in July, a follow-up on a 2015 study on firearms. “Pistols are the world’s most seized type of firearm… driven to a large extent by the Americas,” the “Global Study on Firearms Trafficking 2020” notes. “In Africa and Asia, shotguns were the most prominent type. Rifles were the main type of firearm seized in Oceania, and in Europe the distribution was equal between pistols, rifles, and shotguns.” 

Africa’s oversupply of shotguns suggests many of the weapons seized are used for poaching activities, particularly the poaching of birds. Yet, in focusing on trafficked weapons, the UN report left out the role of improvised weapons, an essential part of the illegal weapons trade in Africa. 

Relying on data from 2016 and 2017, the report noted that some 550,000 firearms were seized in eighty-one countries. By comparison, a January 2019 BBC news report on Ghana’s illegal arms trade suggested that illegal gunsmiths in Ghana have the capacity to make up to 200,000 guns a year. While much of the improvised weapons are used to commit crimes, a large portion of these guns are essentially single use. 

About 90 percent of armed robberies in Ghana are reported to involve the use of homemade guns, according to the Ghana Police Service. Such weapons can be purchased for as little as US$9, and most are used for home defense by residents who live in areas with a high crime rate. Many of these weapons are crudely fashioned single-use zip guns. 

Ghana’s blacksmith may be the most productive on the continent. By comparison, Mali authorities estimate that some 5,000 guns are produced in the country each year. 

Ghana’s blacksmiths have been making guns for centuries after European traders often refused to sell Africans firearms in large quantities to not lose their comparative military advantage during colonial era conflicts. Ghana’s gunsmiths are perhaps the most advanced on the continent capable of producing weapons that mimic in appearance (but, not functionality) Kalashnikovs AKMs, for example. What they lack in modern machinery they more than compensate with skill. 

Some twenty-two African countries have notable illegal firearms manufacturing, most of which are located in West Africa. Such ECOWAS countries include  Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, and Mali. 

Homemade weapons usually lack the durability to become a significant combat arm of insurgent groups. One exception is in the Cameroonian conflict known as the Anglophone Crisis, where the relative lack of availability of internationally produced weapons has led some armed Anglophone separatists to rely on improvised hunting rifles as their primary combat arm. 

 In 2019, the African Union Commission and the Small Arms Survey released a study, “Weapons Compass: Mapping Illicit Small Arms Flows in Africa”, that identified the scale, availability, and supply patterns of illicit small arms on the continent. The study estimated there were some 40 million firearms in the hands of African civilians (including militias and rebel groups), whereas governments held fewer than 11 million firearms. 


Weapons originating outside the continent can have diffuse origins. Europe and the Middle East have long been a source for Africa’s illegal small arms trade (especially in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. However, China is a growing source for much of the continent’s weapons. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China’s conventional arms sales surged from US$645 million in 2008 to US$1.04 billion in 2018. Though only a small percentage of those weapons have ended up in Africa, the number is growing. 

A 2020 study released by Conflict Armament Research found that most of ammunition used to fuel conflict between herders and farmers in Nigeria originated in China.  

Checkpoints for weapons searches and quicker response times to reports of shots fired by local security forces are two measures that can lead to more arms seizures. Indeed a combination of tighter enforcement measures within countries and renewed searches at borders suggest probable.

US secretary of defense Mark Esper (Olivier Douliery/AFP)
US secretary of defense Mark Esper (Olivier Douliery/AFP)

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.


Priority Shifts

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)
Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (Riccardo Savi/via AFP)

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.

The full report of the auditors can be read here.


A satellite image of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Abbay River (Blue Nile) in Ethiopia on July 11, 2020. (courtesy of Maxar Technologies/via AFP)
A satellite image of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Abbay River (Blue Nile) in Ethiopia on July 11, 2020. (courtesy of Maxar Technologies/via AFP)

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.


This photo posted on the official Facebook page of Egypt’s presidential spokesman on July 16 shows President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (center) meeting with Libyan tribal leaders in Cairo. (Egyptian Presidency/via AFP)
This photo posted on the official Facebook page of Egypt’s presidential spokesman on July 16 shows President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (center) meeting with Libyan tribal leaders in Cairo. (Egyptian Presidency/via AFP)

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.


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