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Russia Steadily Rebuilding Presence in Africa

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Russia has drawn the world’s attention with its aggressive stance toward Ukraine. The former Soviet power has been rebuilding ties with Africa more quietly, strengthening economic and military cooperation, but also raising Western concerns about its tactics and goals there.

Russian flags waved in Burkina Faso’s capital following January’s military coup in the West African nation. A statue unveiled in the Central African Republic last fall shows local soldiers, backed by Russian fighters, protecting civilians.

Those are the more obvious symbols of Russia’s resurgent presence on the continent. Africa is a foreign policy priority, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the first Russia-Africa summit of political and business leaders in 2019.

“We are not going to participate in a new ‘repartition’ of the continent’s wealth,” he said. “Rather, we are ready to engage in competition for cooperation with Africa.”

A second summit is planned for St. Petersburg in October. The first, at the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, generated diplomatic agreements and billions of dollars in deals involving arms, energy, agriculture, banking and more, said the organizer, the Roscongress Foundation.

Moscow has been building new ties and refreshing alliances forged during the Cold War, when the former Soviet Union supported socialist movements across Africa. After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, it largely withdrew from the continent.

Since at least 2007, especially in the last few years, Russia has been increasing military and other economic involvement in Africa. The 2019 summit produced contracts with more than 30 African countries to supply military armaments and equipment. Businesses, including state-backed commercial interests, have invested heavily in security sectors, technology and industries that extract natural resources such as oil, gas, gold and other minerals.

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Rusal is a company that excavates minerals for aluminum in Guinea and nuclear group Rosatom seeks uranium in Namibia. Alrosa, the world’s largest diamond mining company, has pushed to expand operations in Angola and Zimbabwe, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“Russia is clearly interested, in search of new economic markets and geopolitical influence in Africa,” said Tatiana Smirnova, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Quebec’s Centre FrancoPaix and an associate with the University of Florida’s Sahel Research Group. “It’s important for Russia.”

Russia Steadily Rebuilding Presence in Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa’s Import-Export Partners

Trade between Russia and African countries has doubled since 2015, to about $20 billion a year, African Export-Import Bank President Benedict Oramah said in an interview last fall with Russia’s state-owned Tass news agency, cited by the Russia Briefing investment news site. He said Russia exported $14 billion worth of goods and services and imported roughly $5 billion in African products.

However, Africa does more business with other countries, notably China, its biggest trading partner in recent years.

Russia’s overtures in recent years offer cooperation without the “political or other conditions” imposed by Western countries, Putin has said.

“Russia provides, as did the Soviet Union before, an alternative vision for African nations” based on “this common anti-Western critique,” said Maxim Matusevich, a history professor who directs Russian studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

However, while the Soviets tried to sell socialist ideas of modernization in Africa, Russians today “are not offering any ideological vision,” he said. “What they’re essentially doing is they’re contracting with African elites on a one-on-one basis. … They insist on the importance of sovereignty and contrast that with the West, which is trying to impose its values, such as transparency, honest governance, anti-corruption legislation. Again, I’m not saying the West is always sincere doing that, but that’s the official message – and they [Russians] are not doing any of that.”

Shifting dynamics

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The spread of militant Islamist extremism and other violence in Africa has created more openings for Russian military involvement. For instance, five nations in the volatile Sahel region – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – solicited Moscow’s military support in 2018. Russian fighters also have been engaged in Mozambique and Angola.

France’s planned drawdown of troops from Mali, its former colony and partner in the fight against jihadists since 2013, leaves still more room.

Last Thursday, France and its security partners announced they would exit Mali, citing “multiple obstructions” by the military junta that took power in 2020. France will redeploy its 2,400 troops elsewhere in the Sahel.

Russia Steadily Rebuilding Presence in Africa
FILE – French Barkhane force soldiers who wrapped up a tour of duty in the Sahel leave their base on a transport plane in Gao, Mali, June 9, 2021.

Private military contractors also are helping advance Moscow’s agendas in Africa, Western observers say. These include fighters in the shadowy Wagner Group, allegedly controlled by Putin associate Yevgeny Prigozhin. Putin has denied any connection with the group.

“It’s not the state,” Putin said. “… It’s private business with private interests tied to extracting energy resources, including various resources like gold or precious stones.”

Those private fighters operate in parallel with the Kremlin, said Joseph Siegle, who directs research for the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, part of the U.S. Defense Department. He said they are part of Moscow’s tool kit to prop up weak African leaders in exchange for economic or other advantages.

“Every place we’ve seen Wagner deployed around the world and in Africa – be it Libya, Sudan, Mozambique, Central African Republic – it has been a destabilizing force,” Siegle said. “What Russia has been doing has been deploying mercenaries, disinformation, election interference, arms-for-resources deals, opaque contracts … aimed at capturing wider influence.”

That influence can protect Russia’s interests in international circles, Matusevich said, citing Russia’s 2014 seizure of the Crimean Peninsula.

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“We know that in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine, when Russia was sanctioned in the United Nations, a lot of African nations abstained from the vote,” he said. “So, they are gaining diplomatic support and alternative diplomatic blocs that they can count on.”

The United Nations is investigating reports of “grave” human rights abuses in the Central African Republic, allegedly committed by private military personnel. Meanwhile, Russian mercenaries are glorified as public protectors amid a coup attempt in the 2021 Russian film The Tourist. The movie, set in the Central African Republic, reportedly was funded by Putin ally Pregizhin.

Security concerns

In Mali, the leaders of a 2020 military coup brought in Russian military trainers – and what U.S. and French authorities say are Wagner mercenaries.

Russia Steadily Rebuilding Presence in Africa
FILE – Malians demonstrate against France and in support of Russia on the 60th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Mali in 1960, in Bamako, Mali Sept. 22, 2020.

Some in Mali welcomed them by waving Russian flags, reflecting not only the country’s historic ties with the former USSR but also public impatience over continued insecurity, said Niagalé Bagayoko, a Paris-based political scientist who chairs the African Security Sector Network. The organization seeks security and justice reforms, and is among advocates for more protections for civilians in the Sahel and more transparency and accountability for military operations there.

“In 2013, the whole Malian population [was] enthusiastic when the French arrived … today they are rejecting their presence,” Bagayoko said.

“To be honest, I would not be very surprised if, in two years or so, the same could happen with the Russian presence,” she said.

African countries are showing a willingness to look beyond a single foreign partner in their efforts to find stability and security, she said. “There is the realization … that being only engaged with single actors …. is restricting the possibility for diplomacy, but also for military apparatus.”

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Russia is not the only foreign government trying to broaden influence in Africa, home to vast resources including a surging youth population.

The White House plans a second U.S.-Africa leadership summit later this year, following up on an initial Washington gathering in 2014 and the European Union has announced a new $172 billion investment in infrastructure, countering China’s Belt and Road initiative.

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AFRICA

AICC: Egyptian Grandmasters Dominate Tourney

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With just two rounds left to play, top Nigerian chess players have dropped out in the ranking at the on-going African Individual Chess Championship holding at the Orchid Hotel in Lekki, Lagos.

Although Nigerian players showed shade of genius in the battle field as the tournament reached its climax on Sunday night, the Egyptian who are higher rated players dominate play with Adly Ahmed (African number 2) and Woman Grandmaster Wafa Shahenda leading the pack of other players in both Open and Women sections.

Both have consolidated their lead in the competition, as every win counts to games 4 and 5.

WGM Wafa trounced her Angolan opponent, Woman International Master Esperanca Caxita, in a Sicilian opening with black mostly dominating the game right from the middle play.

The Egyptian WGM is all but a massive one point ahead of the pack leading into the final rounds starting this morning.

While the Egyptian masters are dominating play, credit also goes to some Nigerians raising their heads to be countedNigeria Youth Games product, Onoja Iyefu Joy continues to show resilience and determination to earn her first chess title and create a record while at it.

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She had on Saturday continued her fine run of form by scoring an entire point against Paulo Jemima to register the second position on the ranking table with 9 points. A win in the 7th round will help Joy secure a Woman International Master Title.

WIM (elect) Ofowino Toritsemuwa bettered her AICC Tunisia 2019 record, and she is bound to create a new one as she takes on WGM Wafa in the seventh round.

Toritsemuwa currently shares second place with her compatriot, Iyefu Onoja, both holding 4.5 points, hence making the 7th game point as crucial for the player.

In the Open section, 20-year-old Eyetonghan Denyefa Callistus is pulling his weight. He scored an outstanding 4.5 points after six games, but it is not about the score, somewhat the opponents; defeating 1 GM, 2 IMs, and three draws against two IMs and FM, the youngster will get his chance at GM Adly in the seventh round.

With a half point behind the tournament leader, African Number 1–GM AminBassem landed his second consecutive win after the drawn game with compatriot GM Ahmed Adly, demonstrating he still stands a chance to catch up and maybe win the tournament.

Bassem faces IM David Silva of Angola in the seventh round, who had to offer a draw to his opponent in the sixth round due to health issues. We hope he’s gotten his strength back for this crucial game.

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The tournament ends tomorrow with Maltina and Gulder are among the top sponsor of the event.

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AFRICA

Don’t vote for ‘killers’ in 2023 elections – ex-President Jonathan urges Nigerian youths

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A former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, has urged Nigerians not to elect “killers” in the 2023 general elections.

Mr Johnathan stated this on Sunday in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State during a thanksgiving service to mark the 35th anniversary of the state.

Mr Johnathn and his wife, Patience, were the special guests of honour at the service which was also attended by the governor of his home state — Bayelsa — Douye Diri.

“In 2023, you must not make the mistake to vote killers. Those who carry knives, guns, and all kinds of gadgets to go and kill people because of politics, are the enemies of society.

“If you kill to become a leader, you will continue to kill to remain a leader and the people will continue to suffer.”

The former president said he has monitored the growth of Akwa Ibom, adding that he has been visiting the state at least once a year since he joined the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission, now Niger Delta Development Commission, in 1994 as an assistant director.

While thanking the youth of the state for not vandalising infrastructure, the former president recalled how some people sabotaged his development efforts in the power sector by using arc saws to fell towers because they wanted Nigeria to remain in darkness.

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Mr Johnathan said the election of the State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, should teach politicians a good lesson, especially those who doubted Mr Emmanuel’s ability to manage “human beings”.

Governor Emmanuel was an executive director at Zenith Bank before he was appointed Secretary to Akwa Ibom State Government, a position he later resigned from to vie for the governorship of the state which he won in 2015.

Akwa Ibom is ‘strong national story’ – Gov Emmanuel

Earlier in his speech, Mr Emmanuel thanked the people of the state for their support and described this year’s state anniversary as his last as the state governor.

The governor said Akwa Ibom has become a state with a “strong national story and a sparkling destination of choice for Nigerians and others around the world”.

He appreciated the people for the choice of “Moving Forward,” as the theme of the celebrations but also reminded them that in “moving forward we have to also look back.”

He referenced Joseph, a Biblical figure who later became the Prime Minister of Egypt and added that the children of Israel suffered because of Joseph’s mistake.

“Joseph made a mistake in Egypt when he was about to go, he did not look at the issue of who succeeded him and that is why the children of Israel suffered.

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“If you are a God-sent man you must also learn. I’ve learnt from what Joseph did and today we went back to God and I want to appreciate all Akwa Ibomites because a man after God’s heart will come after another man after God’s heart,” Mr Emmanuel said.

He promised to complete before leaving office next year, the international worship centre that his administration is building in the state.

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AFRICA

Knocks, Kudos as Peter Obi promises 100m poor Nigerians ‘access to free medical care’

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Mixed reactions have trailed the promise by the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, stating that his administration will prioritise the welfare of the poor Nigerians if elected.

Obi said youths would be the proponent of his agenda to transform the economy.

“If elected the next president of Nigeria, youths would be the main proponents of my main agenda to transform Nigeria from a consuming nation to a producing nation. The two main components of this agenda are human capital development and finance.”

Obi further said health and education are vital to the development of the country, promising to ensure “at least 100 million poor Nigerians have access to free medical care”.

“Given the role of health in reinforcing education in the measure of productivity, my leadership will pay serious attention to the health system by ensuring that at least 100 million poor Nigerians have access to free medical services through an integrated health insurance scheme.”

Obi’s promise which has gone viral, generated divergent reactions on social media platforms.

While some supporters of Obi believed the promise made by their candidate is possible, they argued in support that the country is buoyant enough to take care of citizens’ medical care.

Reacting, a Twitter user; @el_bonga posited: “Peter Obi governed Anambra State for 8 years and he couldn’t provide the state— probably less than 10 million— with free healthcare but he wants to give free medical care to 100 million Nigerians. Interestingly, under his watch, Doctors went on a 13-month strike in Anambra in 2013.”

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Favour Abdalla Destiny said: “The problem is not to vote; the problem is that they know how to promise and after election they will forget all.”

kingharzyz1 argued: “How is this possible? Can you even do free medical care for carcinoma patients alone? Aspirants need to start telling us “How”.

Another user @tha_niel said: “Affordable healthcare is different from free healthcare. Affordable is realistic because the beneficiaries wld contribute an amount. We cannot have a subsidised economy yet. Except when we begin to efficiently recognise all revenues and apply subsidies where it’s needed.”

Oluwashola @Sholexx_ said: “Health is very expensive. Even in the US, you can’t get free medical healthcare due to the cost. What you can get anywhere in the world is subsidised healthcare via health insurance. He should be realistic with his electoral promises.”

Defending Obi’s promise, @drpenking stated that: “Peter Obi said that 100m Nigerians will have access to free medical care and you people think it’s not possible. In Akwa Ibom State there has been free medical care for elderly, children and pregnant women. Our country is rich enough to do these things. Politicians just refuse it”

@urchilla01 said: “This is why I’ve always said that this election should be about antecedents. There’s nothing Peter Obi says he’ll do that he didn’t do as Governor. This is the famous “Anambra ANIDS card” with which students, disabled, & elderly accessed free health care in govt hospitals. ‘

“Under Peter Obi’s Government. When we say #GoAndVerify verify, it is because we fear not for what you will find. Our principal na talk & do. A comprehensive integrated health insurance scheme made this possible, just the same way he said he’ll do it.”

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AFRICA

ASUU: Seven months after, FG orders VC’s to reopen schools

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The Academic Staff Union of Universities has been on strike for about seven months now.

The association is demanding from FG the funding of the Revitalisation of Public Universities, Earned Academic Allowances, University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) and promotion arrears.

Others are the renegotiation of the 2009 ASUU-FG Agreement and the inconsistency in Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System.

Recall that the federal government went to court to challenge the action of the association. Last week the national industrial court through Polycarp Hamman, the judge in the NIC, granted the federal government’s application for an interlocutory injunction to restrain ASUU from continuing with the strike.

The outcome of the judgement was questioned by Femi Falana, human rights lawyer and senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who stated that the national industrial court does not have jurisdiction to rule on the case between the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

However, tired of the lingering strike the Federal Government through the National Universities Commission ordered vice-chancellors to re-open schools and allow students resume lectures.

In a letter disclosed to journalists on Monday, signed by the Director, Finance and Accounts of the NUC, Sam Onazi, on behalf of the Executive Secretary of the commission, Professor Abubakar Rasheed, FG instructed all vice-chancellors; Pro-Chancellors and chairmen of governing councils of federal universities to re-open schools.

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“Ensure that ASUU members immediately resume/commence lectures; Restore the daily activities and routines of the various University campuses”, part of the letter read.

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