H I G H L I G H T S
• NIGERIA ON THE BRINK
• COVID THIRD WAVE
• POLITICAL UPDATE
• DARK SIDE OF INDIA IN AFRICA
NIGERIA ON THE BRINK
Embattled Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari asked the United States for assistance to tackle a spreading wave of insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and secessionist violence that is threatening to undermine Africa’s largest country. Reports that Buhari had gone as far as to ask the US secretary of state Tony Blnken to move the headquarters of the US African Command to Nigeria were denied by Lagos. Nonetheless, many Nigerians are calling on Buhari to mobilize foreign assistance to handle the spreading violence. Analysts say Buhari is failing to address deeper structural problems at home without which foreign aid will have little impact. The lower house of parliament passed a resolution calling on Buhari to “immediately declare a state of emergency on security so as to fast track all measures to ensure the restoration of peace in the country.”
Buhari has used increasingly threatening language against the insurgents, invoking the Biafran war that lasted from 1967 to 1970 and led to over a million deaths. After a tweet in which he warned that veterans of that civil war, like himself, would handle those “misbehaving” today “in the language they understand,” his tweet was deleted by Twitter for violating its content rules. The Nigerian government responded by temporarily banning Twitter. The Nigerian press said Lagos had begun consultations with Beijing about replicating China’s extremely controlled internet controls, but this was denied by Lagos. Indian social media app Koo, already functioning in Nigeria, speculated that it might be worthwhile to consider a greater push in Nigeria if Twitter does disappear. About 39 million Nigerians have Twitter accounts.
A worsening crisis in Nigeria, with a population of 214 million, will have an enormous impact on stability across West Africa and a Sahel region already struggling with a half-dozen jihadist groups. A Foreign Affairs article warned, “state failure in Nigeria is having profound consequences for the entire region—and beyond.” But its description of Nigeria as a “failed state” was denounced by the government.Nigerian president accuses foreign affairs magazine of spreading fake news
While the world knows of the Nigeria-based Islamist terrorist organisation Boko Haram, it is less familiar with how this has metastasized into a series of overlapping security problems. The northwest of Nigeria has become infested with armed groups who kidnap for ransom, rustle cattle and sometimes ransack entire villages. The groups will storm towns driving in on hundreds of motorcycles and vehicles, drive away or kill the few police present, and then pillage and terrorise the population before disappearing. Locals have formed armed vigilante groups in response. The government and media refer to this generically as “banditry” but these armed groups are starting to merge with terrorist groups operating in the same region. Both of them are often better equipped than the security forces arraigned against them.
The military has responded with increased use of air power: the first quarter of calendar 2021 saw 150 air missions carried out in Kaduna state alone. The overall violence has spiralled in the past five years. One Nigerian official said, “In the northeast, we know the enemy is Boko Haram. In the northwest, it’s like the Wild West.” Nigeria has bought drones from China and, recently, three JF-17 fighter planes from Pakistan to bolster its air capabilities. The insurgents are known to be seeking anti-aircraft weapons to defend themselves.
One Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, deliberately wooed Fulani bandits to allow his faction to spread its influence into northwest Nigeria. Mass kidnappings of schoolchildren in Katsina in 2020 were a fallout of this alliance. One bandit commander, Dogo Gide, who operates across three states has held negotiations with Boko Haram to align their activities. Jihadi fighters sometimes join the robbers to seek financial gain. These various groups sometimes fight with each other as well. A police commander in Niger state said his men are unable to distinguish between terrorists and bandits but stated “we see banditry as an offshoot of Boko Haram.”
Several factors have combined to create this crisis including ethnically-based herder-farmer conflicts over land use and cattle. All this has been aggravated by climate change, military grade weaponry coming from Libya and the Sahel, and heavy-handed response of the Nigerian military. Many of the bandits are Fulani, a pastoral group increasingly dispossessed of grazing land and water by farmers who are Hausa or other ethnic groups. Foreign migrants from neighbouring countries are also involved. The region is awash with weapons since the Libyan civil war broke out in 2011, making mass kidnappings and large-scale assaults easier. A programme to delineate grazing areas to reduce friction between farmers and herders while modernizing Nigeria’s livestock industry and bolstering Fulani socioeconomic development has been started.
The government’s failures in the north is encouraging insurgency in the more populous south. Separatists are finding traction again in Yorubaland while Igbo armed groups are being blamed for a spate of attacks in the southeast, an echo of the Biafran war. As Lagos is losing its grip on these multiple problems, regional militia and quasi-police forces supported by local politicians or state governments are multiplying. This has led to a widespread domestic debate on the future of the Nigerian polity with important voices arguing for the breakup of Nigeria, or a return to military rule or a reworking of the present federal structure. The government’s weaknesses are compounded by its dependence on oil and gas revenues, both under price pressure, and its lack of alternative tax sources.
COVID THIRD WAVE
The World Health Organisation said the Covid pandemic was now trending upwards in 14 African countries and in the first week of June eight countries had witnessed an abrupt 30% rise in cases. Expert say Africa should brace for a third wave given that the continent has received only 50 million vaccine doses of which only 31 million have been administered. Officially Africa has only had five million Covid cases and 130,000 deaths but this is widely seen as massive undercounting. The World Health Organisation said Covid-19 vaccine shipments to Africa had ground to a “near halt”. Vaccine imports have been most affected by export bans imposed by the US and India. Even countries like Zimbabwe which accepted Chinese vaccines are facing shortages.
Seeking to diversify from India, the African Union is seeking largescale purchases of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The African Union and its member-states will continue to receive Astra Zeneca doses manufactured by the Serum Institute of India under the Covax scheme when India resumes exports. But plans to order additional vaccines from India have been abandoned. John Nkengasong, head of the African Centres for Disease Control, said the African Union had recently signed a deal to acquire 400 million Johnson & Johnson doses in the third quarter of this calendar year. The first one million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been delayed because of contamination concerns in a US factory. Nkengasong called the US vaccine “essential” because it requires only one dose and can be stored at normal fridge temperatures.Africa cdc says fda announcement on jj issues imminent
Covid-19 has claimed the lives of 32 lawmakers in the Democratic Republic of Congo — more than 5% of its parliamentarians. Congo is struggling to roll out Covid-19 vaccines, fight off other deadly disease epidemics and grapple with the eruption of one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes.
Vax doubts. Vaccine scepticism is sweeping Africa hampering even its limited vaccination drives difficult. In Zimbabwe there are concerns about Chinese-made vaccines, in Cote d’Ivoire conspiracy theorists say the virus is a “a planned event by foreign actors”, in Somalia the Islamist militant Al-Shabaab group is warning people they’re “guinea pigs” for AstraZeneca. Similar beliefs in many African countries mean large numbers of doses are going to waste. Only about 17.5% of the doses available in Ivory Coast and 19% in Zimbabwe have been used while Malawi recently destroyed 20,000 expired doses. South Sudan says it will have to destroy nearly 60,000 doses. The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria sent their unused doses to other African countries. Togo and the Gambia are among the few African countries to have used all their quota of jabs. Uganda’s health minister had to refute allegations she faked receiving a shot, even posting a video of herself being vaccinated with the message: “Please stop spreading fake news!” Sierra Leone’s health minister says a third of the 96,000 doses the country received in March will likely not be used because citizens felt the virus was not dangerous, comparing it to the higher fatality rate of experienced by an earlier Ebola breakout.
IMF aid for Uganda. The International Monetary Fund will provide a $1 billion facility to Uganda, the second bailout of an African economy because of the impact of the pandemic. The loan days comes after the IMF staff on May 27 agreed to provide $1.5 billion to the Democratic Republic of Congo over the next three years. The Fund has also provided more than $15 billion for sub-Saharan African nations since the pandemic hit the region in 2020. The latest deals need final approval by the IMF’s management and executive board. The funds will help Uganda and Congo recover from a pandemic that has pushed 30 million Africans into “extreme poverty.”
Volunteer medics in Sudan. Two US-based Sudanese doctors have created a video mentoring system to deploy volunteer medical students across Sudan to help Covid-19 sufferers in their homes. Dr Nada Fadul, co-founder of Sudan’s Community Medical Response Team, and a physician at the University of Nebraska said, “We leveraged youth organisations that led to Sudan succeeding in overthrowing this dictator.” Medical students, many of whom were stranded at home because of school closures, have been trained and deployed at the grassroots level. “It’s very normal when you’re a medical student that your neighbour will ask you to come and check her blood pressure, or give an injection, so why don’t we leverage that trust in the neighbourhood to help these students direct people to do the right thing?” says Fadul.
Tigrayan tragedy. Ethiopia said its forces were close to “finalising operations” and would soon eliminate all armed opposition in the rebellious province of Tigray as the United States, United Nations and many European states called for a ceasefire. The UN and the World Food Programme have warned 90% of Tigray’s population needs emergency food aid. Addis Ababa has so far resisted allowing such aid because it would require a ceasefire and fighting continues in many parts of Tigray, especially in small towns and rural areas. Ethiopia has repeatedly said its “law enforcement mission” was close to completion. An estimated two million of the province’s six million people have been displaced and 5.2 million people need emergency food assistance. The US embassy in Addis Ababa tweeted: “We agree with the UK that the humanitarian situation in #Tigray is rapidly deteriorating. A break in the fighting NOW, coupled with unfettered humanitarian access, will immediately help avert the risk of famine.”
The Biden administration has appointed a retired US diplomat, Jeffrey Feltman, as special envoy to the Horn of Africa. Feltman has said resolving the Tigrayan crisis, including ending neighbouring Eritrea’s role in the conflict, is his priority. Ethiopia’s border issues with Sudan, the continuing instability of Somalia and the brewing regional dispute over Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam and its impact on the Nile will also be on his agenda.
Military rule in Mali. The African Union suspended Mali’s membership after a second coup d’etat in May led to Colonel Assimi Goita being sworn in as head of its transitional government. With even the fig leaf of civilian control maintained after the first coup in August last year now gone, the African Union invoked the rule suspending member-states who experienced a coup. “Mali’s democracy has been broken for months, and the recent events don’t suggest it’s on the path to recovery,” said Ornella Moderan, the Bamako-based head of the Sahel programme at the Institute for Security Studies. It seems the coup used a pro-Russian demonstration in Bamako as a smokescreen for the takeover. The supposedly civilian protest had a number of coup plotters in its ranks and two protestors admitted they had met at the Kati military base the day before. The protests provided a distraction during which the president and prime minister were detained. The new military government is reportedly interested in closer ties with Moscow.
Cameroon peace. A small grassroots peace movement is trying to bring an end to the four-year secessionist conflict in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions. Attempts to negotiate an understanding between government and rebel fighters demanding independence for “Ambazonia” have stalled. Talks are hamstrung by divisions within the separatist movement and by the government’s refusal to engage with external mediators. A series of grassroots peacebuilding initiatives launched by private individuals, rights groups, and the Catholic church have cautiously tried to fill the gap by negotiating local peace deals in Cameroon’s two anglophone regions. Many of these attempts are being led by women but walk a tightrope to avoid being labelled either pro-government or pro-secessionist. Nonetheless, the movement is spreading across the troubled area.
Parliamentary punch-up. The Pan-African Parliament, the advisory legislative arm of the African Union, began a meeting near Johannesburg on May 24 which descended into chaos with lawmakers trading blows and exchanging death threats. The parliament was trying to elect a new president but is facing a major dispute over the rotation of the post. The countries of southern Africa are demanding that an African Union resolution calling for the leadership to be rotated be implemented. Eastern and western African delegates oppose the move. Proceedings had to be called off after the African Union Commission chairman, Moussa Faki Mahamat,, was unable to bring temperatures down. The parliament has only an advisory role. The last two presidents, the incumbent Cameroon’s Roger Nkodo Dang, and his predecessor Nigerian politician Bethel Nnaemeka Amadi both hailed from western Africa.
Russian navy base. Sudan Reviews Russian Base. The Sudanese military has said the government will review an agreement that would allow Russia to set up a naval establishment in Port Sudan. The original agreement was signed by deposed Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and has not been ratified by the Sudanese parliament. Sudan’s Genelra Mohammed Othman al-Hussein said negotiations are underway with Russian officials “to achieve Sudan’s interests.” Moscow posted the deal to an official website in December. Under the deal, Russia can station 300 Russian troops and up to four navy ships, including nuclear-powered ones, in Port Sudan for 25 years with extensions for 10-year periods if both sides agree. Russia was to provide Sudan weapons and military equipment in return.
Namibian genocide. A reparations agreement between Germany and Namibia over the massacre of Herero and Nama people by German colonisers between 1904 and 1908 has been strongly criticised by descendants of the genocide. After five years of negotiations, Germany accepted these killings amounted to genocide and agreed to pay development funds of 1.1 billion euros over the next 30 years in compensation. The agreement avoids the word “reparations.” Descendants of the two groups say they were never party to the negotiations and that both the terms and the language used in the agreement are unacceptable. Many of the ethnic leaders said they first heard about the agreement when it was finalised and announced by the media. In 1904 German colonial soldiers, after defeating a rebellion by the two groups, subsequently killed 60,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama, herding many of the remainder into concentration camps.
DARK SIDE OF INDIA IN AFRICA
Gujarati and Sindhi trading communities were central to the financing and logistics of the African slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. A Eurasia Review article looks at the Indian role in the Portuguese colonial slave trade says Hindu and Muslim trading communities from Gujarat like the Vanias, Bhatias, Khojas and Bohras, many operating out of the Portuguese enclaves of Daman and Diu, responded to French and Brazilian slave demand after the 1807 British ban on slavery ended such activities in West Africa. Most of the slaves came from the Portuguese colony of Mozambique.. While the primary Gujarati interest was ivory, because their cotton textiles were used as currency in much of eastern Africa they began underwriting slave shipments, then owned the ships involved and eventually became slave buyers. Most of the slaves were sent to Brazil. A few were also sold in South Asia where Africans were used as mercenaries, sailors and domestic help in wealthy homes and mercenaries and seamen. Having Africans in one’s home was seen as a sign of high status in western India. Because they were outside the caste system they were even used by the Peshwas as cooks.
The historian Pedro Machado in the book Ocean of Trade: South Asian Merchants, Africa and the Indian Ocean traces the entry of Indians into the Mozambique slave trade to 1805-1806 when a wealthy Gujarati Shobhachand Sowchand bought a slave ship from Joaquim do Rosario Monteiro, a leading Portuguese slave merchant. Shobachand expanded the trade, trafficking slaves to the French islands of Mauritius and Réunion and the Arabian peninsula. The trade came to a close when Brazil banned slave imports in 1830 and the British navy began enforcing the slavery ban in the Indian Ocean.
Fraud in South Africa. The National Prosecuting Authority Johannesburg issued Interpol Red Corner Notices against Indian-origin businessmen Atul and Rajesh Gupta, their wives and business associates. South Africa wants to bring the Gupta brothers to stand trial for their alleged role in a 25 million rand fraud and money laundering case linked to the failed Estina Dairy Farm project. Atul and Rajesh, along with their elder brother Ajay, have also been accused of siphoning billions of rands from state-owned corporations through their closeness to former South African president Jacob Zuma.
In a non-related case, a South African court sentenced a great-granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi to seven years in jail. Ashish Lata Ramgobin was found guilty in a Rs 33.3 million fraud and forgery case. She has been refused the right to appeal. Ashish, the daughter of rights activists Ela Gandhi and Mewa Ramgobind, defrauded a businessman by showing fake documents claiming three containers of cloth were arriving from India. She persuaded the businessman to extend her funds to clear customs even though no such consignment existed.