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The Brief – Coup epidemic in Africa

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The recent military coup in Gabon comes in a line of similar events in former French colonies in Africa: Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Niger.

Meanwhile, public demonstrations on the streets across the region show the French flag being torn, with young Africans enthusiastically waving the Russian flag.

The developments have put an end to France’s military presence in the Sahel through the now nine-year-long ‘Barkhane’ operation launched to fight jihadism in former French colonies across the Sahel: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger.

The deployment reached 5,100 French troops at its peak in 2020 for a territory the size of Western Europe. It’s not much, but national armies from the Sahel region also followed the orders of the French, at least in part.

The reasons behind the successive coups are numerous. The rise of jihadism is one of them. Political instability resulting from corrupt governance and election fraud – widely perceived as benefitting from the support of or complicity from Paris – is another.

The social and economic woes are equally decisive. A huge young population that sees no prospects for a dignified future is a ticking time bomb.

This situation was low-hanging fruit for Russian propaganda, which has been effective in blaming France’s post-colonial policies for the problems facing African countries.

In contrast, Russia presents itself as a country that never had colonies and strongly stood for decolonisation.

It does not matter that Russia was known as “the prison of nations”, according to the expression of Astolphe de Custine (1790-1857), the famous French aristocrat and writer best known for his travel writing, in particular the accounts of his visit to imperial Russia in 1839.

The Soviet empire only expanded this prison to Eastern Europe. Now Vladimir Putin dreams of restoring this empire, the conquest of Ukraine being only the first step.

It’s a paradox that French President Emmanuel Macron, the Western leader most inclined to listen to Putin’s arguments, is the one who suffers the most from Russia’s policies.

But France is also the country that had the most to gain from the recent mysterious death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the boss and mastermind of the Russian private army Wagner, which used to have a huge presence in Africa.

Without Prigozhin, the future of Wagner in general – and in particular the role of the Russian mercenaries in Africa – is a big question mark.

If the various military coup leaders in Africa expect strong material and military support from Russia, they risk being disappointed.

But while the West and Russia spar in Africa, this benefits the jihadists.

The EU would be the big loser should the entire region fall prey to jihadism, resulting in another wave of terrorist attacks against European capitals, coupled with another wave of millions of people migrating from failed states.

What can the EU do?

The author of this Brief is not afraid of putting forward controversial ideas. In the absence of other alternatives, why not engage with the coup leaders?

Why not propose a constructive agenda, instead of treating them as pariahs?

The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell should consult with EU member states, then speak to the African Union, to ECOWAS, and book a plane to Libreville, Bamako, Conakry, Ouagadougou, N’Djamena, and Niamey as we speak. There is no time to waste.

The Roundup

There was much talk about cancer warnings similar to the ones used for cigarettes on alcohol products sold in the EU after a recent law proposed by the Irish government.

China’s Premier Li Qiang will attend G20 Summit in the Indian capital New Delhi this weekend, a Beijing foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Monday.

The UK faces a “real risk of being sidelined” on global affairs due to Brexit, Lord Peter Ricketts, who chairs the House of Lords European Affairs Committee, told EURACTIV in an interview while praising a thaw in the EU-UK relationship.

Ukraine said on Monday Russian drones had detonated on the territory of NATO member Romania during an overnight air strike on a Ukrainian port across the Danube River, but Bucharest denied its territory had been hit.

President Vladimir Putin told Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdo?an on Monday that Russia was open to discussions about the Black Sea grain deal, an agreement that helped get Ukraine’s grain to market and thus ease a global food crisis.

The European Commission plans to propose a new ‘European Defence Production Act’ to boost the bloc’s defence industrial base, from research to joint procurement, to help EU member states better face future crises.

Last but not least, check out our latest agrifood video: Will you soon see cancer warnings on alcohol in the EU?

Look out for…

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participates in Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi on Tuesday.
Informal meeting of agriculture ministers on Sunday-Tuesday.
Informal meeting of development ministers Monday-Tuesday.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Nathalie Weatherald]



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