Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The highlights this week: Equatorial Guinea’s latest sham election, growing Russia-Algeria ties, and Africa’s homegrown soccer coaches.
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Can a Cease-Fire Hold in Congo?
Kenya’s former President Uhuru Kenyatta has called on Rwandan President Paul Kagame to assist in mediation efforts with M23 rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Kagame agreed to help encourage a cease-fire, said Kenyatta, who is mediating the conflict on behalf of the seven-nation East African Community (EAC), a regional political bloc. The two men spoke via telephone late Friday.
Kagame vowed to assist EAC facilitators “to urge” the M23 to withdraw from captured territories, marking a significant shift in rhetoric, despite official denials from Kigali that it has any involvement with the rebel group.
“It is encouraging to see Paul Kagame recognize that he can influence the M23,” said Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi’s deputy spokesperson. Tshisekedi has accused Rwanda of reorganizing and arming the latest insurgencies, which Kagame denies. Both sides—and neighboring Uganda—have long engaged in proxy wars in the region.
Peace talks between the Congolese government and armed rebels scheduled for Monday in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, were postponed at the last minute while another round of talks between Congolese and Rwandan officials is slated for later this week in Angola’s capital, Luanda.
There are no immediate signs that skirmishes will stop after M23 made considerable gains capturing territory in Congo’s North Kivu province. The M23 rebels had managed to take control of the town of Kibumba, near Goma. Kenya deployed a contingency of about 900 troops to the city earlier this month as part of an EAC regional force, but according to local witnesses cited in news reports those troops are not yet engaged in active fighting.
More than 120 armed groups operate in eastern Congo, and the protracted conflict has displaced nearly 6 million people, with about 188,000 people uprooted from their homes since Oct. 20. The conflict is the world’s most neglected crisis, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.
What is M23? The March 23 Movement, which takes its name from a 2009 peace treaty, began in 2012 when the armed group National Congress for the Defense of the People, led by Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, along with other armed groups, claimed the Congolese government had failed to fully uphold the treaty, which integrated the rebels into Congo’s federal army.
Ntaganda and his soldiers between 2009 and 2012 enjoyed high-ranking positions within Congo’s army, known as FARDC. They controlled mineral-smuggling routes, especially for gold and tantalum, which is used in smart phones. (A high percentage of minerals and cocoa from Congo are smuggled into Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, according to the United Nations.)
However, with mounting international pressure to arrest Ntaganda, who was wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, the group defected and demanded that Congo implement the March 23 accord granting amnesty for crimes committed.
In 2012 and 2013, M23 seized swathes of territory, including the city of Goma, before U.N. forces and the Congolese army drove out the rebels. Ntaganda was prosecuted by the ICC and is serving a 30-year sentence, while other rebels fled into Rwanda and Uganda, becoming embroiled in local conflicts. M23 signed a peace accord in 2013, but fighting erupted in late 2021 when rebels claimed Kinshasa had failed to integrate them into the Congolese army.
During nearly 10 years of dormancy, rebels say they survived and hid weapons in the forest. But as Mélanie Gouby explained in a deep dive for Foreign Policy, “It remains hard to square how the group survived five years on an inhospitable mountain with the sudden, spectacular conquests.” A leaked report by U.N. experts in August said drone footage confirmed the presence of Rwandan army members in M23 camps. “State support of armed groups is unacceptable, and we reiterate our concern about Rwanda’s support to the M23,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said last month.
Another diplomatic breakthrough? Experts say many disarmament initiatives within Congo failed to create sustainable livelihoods for ex-militia. The past few weeks have seen a slew of regional activities to address Africa’s escalating conflicts. Few observers had much hope for the African Union-led talks aimed at addressing Ethiopia’s civil war, and it came as a surprise when a peace agreement was reached between Tigrayan forces and the federal government. A previous “de-escalation” deal signed between the DRC and Rwanda in July proved inconsequential. However, if the talks between Tshisekedi and Kagame manage to happen in Luanda, this could be another surprise deal facilitated by regional mediation.
On Monday, Uganda’s army said it would send 1,000 troops to Congo to fight alongside Kenyan and Burundian troops within the EAC’s regional force. Guinea-Bissau’s president, Umaro Sissoco Embaló, who is the chair of West African regional bloc ECOWAS, has also traveled to Kinshasa and Kigali. Although the endgame is unclear, Kagame’s pledge is nevertheless an important breakthrough—and it could help facilitate a peaceful resolution.
Wednesday, Nov. 23, to Thursday, Nov. 24: King Charles III continues to host South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on a U.K. state visit that began on Tuesday.
Wednesday, Nov. 23, to Friday, Nov. 25: The African Union continues to host a summit that began Nov. 20 on industrialization and economic diversification in Niamey, Niger.
Thursday, Nov. 24: South Africa announces an interest rate decision.
Monday, Nov. 28, to Friday, Dec. 2: U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speak at the Internet Governance Forum held in Addis Ababa.
Equatorial Guinea elections. It came as no surprise to political observers that oil-rich Equatorial Guinea’s longtime leader, President Teodoro Obiang, won 99 percent of the vote in the country’s presidential elections held on Sunday. Having seized power in a coup in 1979, Obiang has never received less than 90 percent of the vote in what critics and pro-democracy activists consider to be “sham” elections. The 80-year-old is the world’s longest-serving leader and will continue to lead the country after 43 years of authoritarian rule.
Last month in Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Smith and Tutu Alicante lambasted the U.S. government’s continued ties with Obiang despite more than four decades of serious human rights violations. “U.S. foreign direct investment to Equatorial Guinea has actually increased since 2016 and steadily during the Biden administration, totaling nearly $1 billion today,” they wrote.
Russia-Algeria military exercises. Nearly 200 Algerian and Russian soldiers are training until Nov. 28 at a testing ground close to Morocco’s border amid tensions between Rabat and Algiers over the status of the disputed territory of Western Sahara, over which Morocco claims sovereignty. The Desert Shield anti-terrorism drills began last Wednesday in Béchar province, the Russian state news agency Sputnik reported. It’s the first time that soldiers from both countries are training together on Algerian soil since their joint military exercises began last year.
There are concerns from Western officials about Algeria’s blossoming ties with the Kremlin. Russia is Algeria’s biggest arms supplier and the third-largest recipient of Russian arms in the world, after India and China. It’s believed that a significant chunk of Algeria’s allocated $23 billion defense budget for 2023 will go to Moscow. Around 17 members of the European Parliament wrote to European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen expressing concern over Algeria’s economic and political ties to Russia. In September, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for sanctions against Algeria.
Sahel insurgency “standby” force. Heads of state from seven West African countries met on Sunday in Ghana’s capital for the Accra Initiative, created in 2017 to address violent extremism in the region. Members are “considering establishing a standby force” to tackle armed insurgencies, according to Ghana’s national security minister, Albert Kan Dapaah.
However, cooperation between participating countries—Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Mali, and Niger—has so far failed to lead to any tangible results. The British defense official James Heappey was among the European security delegates that attended the meeting, coming at an awkward time as Britain and Germany have announced their troops will pull out of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali. Mali’s ties with Russian private military firm the Wagner Group have significantly eroded regional and global cooperation. Ivory Coast also announced a gradual withdrawal of its troops over the detention of its soldiers by Mali’s junta.
“Loss and damage” deal. At COP27, richer nations agreed to the creation of a “loss and damage” fund to pay compensation for the impact of climate change for developing countries. The United States and European Union had for weeks rejected calls that richer nations who emitted the most should pay for the damage caused by climate change. The details of when financing will be available and how the fund will work will probably not be hammered out until next year’s climate talks in Dubai. Under the deal, a committee with representatives from 24 countries will work on firming up details about where the money should go, and which countries should pay.
This is a “very positive result for 1.3 billion Africans,” Collins Nzovu, Zambia’s environment minister, told the BBC. António Guterres, the U.N. secretary-general, said the fund was “an important step towards justice” for poor countries that have done little to cause the climate crisis.
Africa’s homegrown coaches. Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, and Tunisia are representing the African continent in this year’s World Cup, which began in Doha, Qatar, on Sunday.
For the first time, all five participating African squads are being led by an African coach at a time when African soccer fans have increasingly criticized teams’ overreliance on foreign coaches. It wasn’t until 2014 that a homegrown coach—Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi—led an African team to the knockout stage of the World Cup.
There were high hopes for Senegal’s team under the helm of Senegalese coach Aliou Cissé. But without star player Sadio Mané, who is out with a knee injury, the team suffered a 2-0 defeat in Monday’s game against the Netherlands. Cissé has been in charge of the Senegalese squad since 2015, securing its first-ever Africa Cup of Nations win in Cameroon in February and becoming the continent’s highest-ranked team in FIFA world rankings, currently in 18th position. “Of course, Sadio being missing is a problem for us,” Cissé said. Senegal’s next game on Friday against host Qatar “is like a final now,” he added.
Economists forecast Nigeria’s Central Bank will devalue its currency, the naira, after elections in February. The naira is trading at record lows after officials abruptly announced that high-value notes would be redesigned and replaced by Jan. 31. In government-controlled markets, the naira is trading at about 444 naira to the dollar and 780 per dollar in the unauthorized market. Nigeria’s economy is struggling under high inflation, a foreign currency shortage, and sluggish oil outputs.
Myanmar trafficking ring. Aggrey Mutambo in the East African uncovers the proliferation of Facebook adverts promising jobs to East African migrants in Thailand, but many who make the trip end up trafficked and effectively “enslaved” in Myanmar. Those rescued by Laotian security forces working with Kenya’s foreign ministry said they were made to work long hours without pay and mostly within conflict areas. Kenyan authorities say they will “raise supervision” on any East African traveling to Thailand via its main international airport.
Russia’s prisoner recruits. Mutale Pamela Kapekele in the Continent interviews the family of Lemekhani Nathan Nyirenda, a 23-year-old Zambian student who died on the front lines of Russia’s war in Ukraine. His family has unanswered questions and wants to identify the body in Russia. It’s unknown how Nyirenda ended up in Ukraine, although Moscow has offered freedom to some prisoners in exchange for fighting. Leaked footage showed Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner Group, recruiting prisoners. “If you serve six months, you are free,” Prigozhin said. “If you arrive in Ukraine and decide it’s not for you, we will execute you,” he added.