AfricaSource Strategic Insight on the New Africa

Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC) signed a political power-sharing agreement today with the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFC), the umbrella group of trade unions, professional associations, students, and opposition political parties that brought down thirty years of autocratic rule and have stood their ground since April in the face of military rulers thinking they might perpetuate the former regime by changing some of its lead actors.

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Mauritania’s presidential election on June 22 stands to mark the country’s first democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960. This comes as Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who assumed control in a 2008 coup d’état, has agreed to step down, abiding by term limits. Aziz’s ruling Union for the Republic (UPR) party maintains a strong grip on power, but there have been signs of pushback since Aziz directed the abolition of the country’s senate in 2017. The opposition has returned to participate in the current election after largely boycotting in 2014, and the polls will serve as a test for the Muslim Brotherhood party, Tawassoul, which currently heads the opposition.

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In March 2015, Muhammadu Buhari made history by becoming the first presidential candidate in Nigeria to unseat an incumbent president in an election.

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In December, when US National Security Advisor John Bolton previewed the Trump Administration’s security strategy for Africa, he focused more on the rising financial and political influence of China and Russia than on US plans to fight the “proliferation of Radical Islamic Terrorism” across Africa. This is surprising, because in Somalia, the United States has dramatically ratcheted up airstrikes against al-Shabaab and local ISIS militants. And the death of four US special operations soldiers in Niger in November 2017 brought scrutiny to the unreported activities of US special forces in Africa.

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Joseph Kabila’s reluctant withdrawal from the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s December 23 presidential election, after seventeen years in power, was supposed to be a big victory for democracy.

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When a Tuareg rebellion started in northern Mali in early 2012, the fate of the entire Sahel region hung in the balance. In March of that year, army mutineers, unhappy with the Malian government’s response to the uprising, ousted President Amadou Toumani Touré in a coup. Then Islamist groups slowly coopted the tribal rebellion, imposing Sharia in rebel-held cities in the northern half of the country. By the end of the year, Islamist territorial gains were approaching Mali’s capital, prompting interim President Dioncounda Traoré to call for a French military intervention. But the security situation across the Sahel continued to deteriorate, with local terrorist groups such as Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) – both more or less loosely connected with the Saharan branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – seeking refuge in the large desert swaths and planning future attacks.

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This article appeared originally in French in the current print edition of the magazine Pouvoirs d’Afrique.

This past summer, one could not help but wonder as the leaders of Europe and Africa, in separate meetings, seemed to talk past one another as they sought to deal with what has become one of the most significant—if not the single most important—challenge in the relations between those countries north of the Mediterranean Sea and those located along the southern shore of the old Mare Nostrum and their neighbors farther down on the continent.

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Next week in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping will open the seventh Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the triennial summit gathering of the People’s Republic of China’s top leadership and their counterparts from all the African states except eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), Taiwan’s sole remaining diplomatic partner on the continent. Numerous African leaders, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, the United Nations Secretary-General, and the heads of twenty-seven international and African regional organizations are expected to attend this year’s summit. 

As underscored by the upcoming pageant, there is no denying that a great deal has changed in Sino-African relations since the first FOCAC summit in 2000. During the intervening years, China has gone from being a rather new and relatively marginal actor in Africa with a volume of trade worth only a little more than $10 billion in 2000 to the continent’s biggest economic partner with the total value of exports to the continent and imports from it amounting to more than $170 billion in 2017, a figure that represents an increase of 14 percent from the year before during a period when the commodity price index rose only a modest 7 percent (after having slumped in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis). 

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Amid strong pressure from the Trump Administration, the United Nations (UN) voted at the end of June to cut over $600 million from its peacekeeping budget. The majority of these cuts are set to come from key operations in Sub-Saharan Africa, including the UN’s mission in the Central African Republic (CAR), known by its French acronym MINUSCA, which was originally authorized in April 2014.

While CAR’s military, the Forces Armées Centrafricains, or FACA, is retrained by a European Union (EU) force known as EUTM RCA, MINUSCA acts as CAR’s primary guarantor of security in a country overrun by competing rebel groups.  Unfortunately, these cuts could not come at a worse time. Faced with increasing religious violence, the mission has come under critical strain in recent months according to UN Special Representative Parfait Onanga-Anyanga. 

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Protected by some 36,000 troops especially deployed to counter attacks by jihadist terrorists and other militants that had disrupted voting at 644 polling places (out of 23,041) during the first round just two weeks ago, millions of Malians went to the polls Sunday to vote in the presidential runoff between the incumbent head of state, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, commonly known by his initials “IBK,” and Soumaïla Cissé, a former finance minister.

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