Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The highlights this week: South Africa’s cabinet reshuffle, Nigeria’s unfunded census, and Congo criticizes French paternalism during Macron visit.
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African Countries Fly Citizens Out of Tunisia
The World Bank has paused future work with Tunisia while Guinea, the Ivory Coast, Mali, and Gabon are repatriating hundreds of their citizens from the country following a crackdown on Black migrants. As Simon Speakman Cordall reported from Tunis in FP, “Gangs of predominantly young men are nightly kicking down doors and dragging Black migrant families into the street, some to watch their possessions burn. Testimonies of those confined to their houses, too scared to emerge for fear of their neighbors reporting them, are legion,” noting, “The plight of Black migrants here is ironically familiar to the thousands of Tunisians who migrate to Europe without paperwork every year.”
Tunisian police in a number of cities have detained hundreds of Black African migrants, including women and children. Black migrants have reported being beaten, stabbed, verbally assaulted, and evicted by landlords. Some are having to camp in makeshift tents outside the headquarters of the International Organization for Migration.
As a result, many have been queueing up at their nations’ embassies, hoping to be flown out.
Two weeks ago, Tunisian President Kais Saied ordered security forces to implement “urgent measures” against Black African migration, which he said was part of a conspiracy to change the country’s racial makeup to that of “only an African country that has no affiliation to Arab and Islamic nations.” There are only around 21,000 Black migrants in Tunisia out of a population of 12 million people—about 0.17 percent.
“As you heard from the World Bank, we, too, are deeply concerned by President Saied’s remarks regarding migration from sub-Saharan Africa to Tunisia and reports of arbitrary arrests of migrants in recent weeks,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Monday.
The populist president’s comments echoed the great replacement theory embraced by far-right politicians in the United States and Europe. He accused “hordes of irregular migrants” of criminality and violence.
The African Union (AU) postponed a continental conference scheduled for next week in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis. Meanwhile, the AU’s chairperson, Moussa Faki, has condemned Saied’s use of “racialised hate speech.”
Many security analysts believe that Saied’s incendiary remarks are devised to whip up racial hatred at a time of fierce opposition toward his one-man rule. Saied began ruling by decree in July 2021 after he suspended parliament and released a new electoral law late last year which stripped parliament of any power. In January, Tunisians overwhelmingly boycotted legislative elections over the change. Negotiations on a crucial $1.9 billion International Monetary Fund bailout has faltered.
On Saturday, Tunisia’s powerful trade union, the UGTT, led thousands of demonstrators through Tunis. And on Sunday, the National Salvation Front took to the streets in defiance of a ban on protests. Demonstrators called for Saied’s resignation and for the release of the front’s members and other critics detained by Saied’s government.
“It’s a way to distract people from the socioeconomic problems Tunisia is facing. People need scapegoats,” Vincent Geisser, a research fellow at the French National Center for Scientific Research, told France 24. “While he doesn’t provide political, social, or economic prospects, he does explain on a daily basis that problems come from abroad.” More than six in 10 Tunisians agree that racism is an issue in the country, according to an Arab Barometer survey.
It appears condemnation from multilateral partners has forced Tunisia to walk back some statements, although Saied’s administration refuses to apologize. In a statement, Tunisia’s presidency rejected that there was any form of “alleged racism” in the country but said it would set up a hotline to report abuse. A relaxation of visa rules for “sisterly African Countries” was also announced, although which nations are to be included was not specified. The change allows one-year residency for students from those countries and a stay of up to six months instead of three.
It’s unclear how many people will take up the offer, given the violence Black Africans have faced in recent weeks.
Wednesday, March 8, to Saturday, March 11: Victoria Kwakwa, the World Bank’s vice president for eastern and southern Africa, visits Mozambique on a tour that began Monday. She’s expected to discuss the Mozambican government’s economic reform agenda.
Friday, March 10: Rwanda releases February inflation figures
Saturday, March 11: Nigeria holds governorship and state House of Assembly elections.
Macron misfires. Some Congolese took to the streets of Kinshasa over the weekend to protest French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit, burning French flags. The Democratic Republic of Congo is not a former French colony, in contrast to other countries where anti-French sentiments are high, but there is anger toward Paris over French support for neighboring Rwanda, which Congo and the United States accuse of backing the rebel M23 group.
Macron’s African tour began last Wednesday in what is his 18th trip to Africa since he took office in 2017. Congo was Macron’s last stop on his trip, which also included visits to Gabon, Angola, and Republic of Congo.
As part of a new Africa policy, Macron has said France will stop hosting military bases in Africa and will transform its bases into partnerships with African soldiers, “academies” to be co-run by France and the host countries. France has one of the heaviest military presences in Africa of any European country. In a bid to counter growing anti-French sentiments, it would seem Macron is emulating U.S. policy in Africa by engaging in military training on the continent without a noticeable military personnel presence.
Paris has pledged €34 million (about $36 million) in humanitarian aid to Congo, although tensions emerged at a press conference between Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi and Macron when the latter appeared to suggest Congo’s insecurity was mostly its own fault. “Look at us differently, considering us partners and not with a paternalistic gaze,” Tshisekedi said.
South Africa cabinet reshuffle. Paul Mashatile, deputy president of the African National Congress (ANC), was announced late Monday as South Africa’s new deputy president in a long-awaited cabinet reshuffle. He replaces David Mabuza, who resigned last month. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa also named Kgosientsho Ramokgopa as the country’s first electricity minister responsible for fixing the country’s power shortages.
South Africans are facing rolling blackouts of up to 12 hours a day due to failures at state-run energy company Eskom. Ramokgopa is also tasked with rooting out rampant corruption at Eskom. Two weeks ago, Eskom removed its outgoing chief executive, André de Ruyter, following an interview in which he alleged the company was in the grip of organized crime and that senior ANC politicians were involved.
Burkina Faso curfew. The authorities in Burkina Faso have imposed overnight curfews until the end of March in the country’s northern region and the central-eastern Koulpelogo province to help curb armed attacks by jihadist groups. The long-running insurgency and the failure of an ill-equipped Burkinabe army to tackle it led to two coups last year. Burkinabe authorities say a curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. would help the army in the region bordering Mali. About 40 percent of Burkina Faso’s territory is no longer controlled by the government. Since 2015, more than 2 million people have fled their homes.
Population boom or bust? Estimations of Nigeria’s population are anywhere between 200 million and 225 million people, but nobody really knows as the country hasn’t had a census in almost 20 years.
The United Nations forecast Nigeria could overtake the U.S. as the world’s third most populous country by 2050 but many believe that Nigeria’s population numbers are off the mark since a count last took place in 2006. A housing and population census is expected to begin across the country between March 29 and April 2 at a cost of 869 billion naira (about $1.89 billion).
Yet weeks before it commences, the country’s budget and national planning minister, Clem Agba, said that the government has only committed about half of the money needed. Nigerian billionaire philanthropist Tony Elumelu has argued that an accurate population figure is critical to Nigeria’s future.
“Census figures and population distribution have unfortunately become politicized,” said Elumelu, who is chairman of United Bank for Africa. “Population figures have ramifications for revenue allocation, office allotment, legislative power and even elections.”
Supporters of opposition candidates angered by the Feb. 25 Nigerian presidential election results will be looking to make their disapproval of the ruling All Progressives Congress felt at the ballot box this Saturday, when governorship and House of Assembly elections are held.
The Feb. 25 ballot saw the lowest turnout in decades. Around 87 million picked up their voter cards, but only about 25 million voted. Observers suggest this may be due to the failure of technology used for the first time in this election cycle.
Biometric verification methods that were deployed to increase the election’s credibility made it more difficult to engage in electoral fraud (using non-existent voters to inflate the rolls) but electoral officials also struggled to work the new devices and at some polling stations not enough machines were deployed meaning that many voters who waited for hours were unable to vote.
FP’s Most Read This Week
• The Conversation About Ukraine Is Cracking Apart by Stephen M. Walt
• How Ukraine Learned to Fight by Jack Detsch
• Why China Is Not a Superpower by Jo Inge Bekkevold
South Sudan’s crude deal. A three-year investigation by The Sentry into an oil-backed loan agreement between a South Sudanese company and a regional bank backed by South Sudan’s government found major red flags for bribery, tax evasion, and the potential for trade-based money laundering.
According to Sentry investigators, the arrangement gave Trinity Energy—a company that had never before traded crude oil—privileged access to South Sudan’s market with clear indications that the arrangement enabled South Sudan’s powerful individuals to benefit from business manipulation.
“The loan deal skirted legislation on oversight, transparency, and competition and facilitated off-book government spending, including supplies of fuel to the South Sudan army,” according to the report.
CIA’s involvement in Mandela arrest. In Time, former editor Richard Stengel suggests CIA operatives betrayed South Africa’s former president, Nelson Mandela, to the South African police before he was captured in 1962. Stengel, who ghostwrote Mandela’s autobiography, A Long Walk To Freedom, claims that the United States believed Mandela was under the control of Moscow and would aid the Soviet Union in threatening South Africa—which is rich in uranium and gold. Newly declassified CIA files show that the agency was tracking Mandela in 1961 and 1962 before his arrest.
“It was at a time when the U.S. intelligence community was focused on Africa as a strategic battleground in the Cold War,” Stengel noted. Mandela was arrested the year after Congolese independence hero and democratically-elected leader Patrice Lumumba—whom the CIA viewed as a Soviet sympathizer—was assassinated.
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