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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Conflict is spreading across the African continent

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Many African countries are run by dictatorships, but their grasp on power is increasingly unstable. Mali has seen at least 2 changes of power in the past year. In Chad, the President was fatally wounded in a shoot out with terrorists. The deterioration of the security situation in Africa has witnessed a wave of brutal terrorism that has spread to Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Guinea is the most recent victim of a coup executed by the army. On September 5, shortly after 8:00 am a fierce exchange of gunfire broke out near Sekhutureya, the presidential palace, where President Alpha Condé was staying at that time. A special forces group of the Guinea Army captured President Condé, and troops were seen on the streets of the capital Conakry. In the presence of senior representatives of the Alpha Condé government, the leader of the coup, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, promised to create a “government of national unity” that would lead to a period of political “transition”.

Many partner countries have since called for the release of the president and a cease-fire. But despite statements from the UN condemning the armed seizure of power, the situation in Guinea Conakry is far from being resolved.

Looking back to the source of conflict that led to the coup, according to political scientist Amadou-Sajo Barry, the military putsch was predictable. Alpha Condé now aged 83, was a former opposition leader, imprisoned and even at one time under sentence to death. He became the first democratically elected president of Guinea in 2010 after decades of authoritarian regimes. Condé was elected for a third term in October 2020. But protests against the changes in the constitution that he had introduced in favour of his government continued to smoulder in the country.

The candidacy of Alpha Condé for a third term as president led to tension in the months before and after the elections, and there were many deaths in bloody political clashes. The elections were preceded and followed by the arrest of dozens of opponents.

The head of the coup, Mamady Doumbouya was formerly a soldier of the French Foreign Legion, who was invited to Guinea to lead the Special Operations Forces (GPS) created in 2018. Colonel Doumbouya is alleged to be a close friend of Colonel Assimi Goita, the current president of Mali. There are reports that both men have met on more than one occasion during joint special forces exercises designed to combat terrorism. Could it be possible that there is a hidden sub-plot here?

Mali is suffering from an anti-French mood fuelled in part by disillusionment in the country because the people do not see any results from the presence of the military. Despite the deployment of French troops in Mali and in the Sahel, terrorism remains a problem. In addition, the country is experiencing economic and political crises.

The situation in Mali continues to be unstable. Following a coup in August 2020, the military officer leading the takeover Colonel Asimi Goita declared himself in charge of Mali. Goita criticised the previous government saying that their actions led to nationwide strikes and protests. But he nevertheless confirms that he intends to hold democratic elections to replace the current provisional government with a civilian one. 

Equatorial Guinea, too, is going through bad times. A recent report by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) shows that Equatorial Guinea is among the countries with the steepest decline in the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies. Another concern is the significant drop in military expenditure and the poor shape of the defence forces of Equatorial Guinea. All these factors make the country more likely to experience increasing levels of violence over the next decade. 

The President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, has been the country’s leader since August 1979. The concentration of such power in a single strong man makes the state vulnerable, as the death of its leader may trigger instability and possibly violence. Such a scenario unravelled in Libya in 2011 with the death of Muammar Gaddafi, and more recently in Chad with the death of President Idriss Déby. The demise of a sole leader risks plunging the state into chaos opening the flood gates to all kinds of competing armed groups who may try to fill the perceived power vacuum. 

Earlier this year on July 28, a French army light helicopter of the Fennec type landed in Bata, the second-largest city in Equatorial Guinea. The authorities decided to immobilise the plane, and six French soldiers on board were arrested. According to the chief of staff of the Air Force of Equatorial Guinea, Major General Fausto Abeso Fuma, the French plane that flew over the city of Bata on July 28 did not have authorisation. The general accused Paris of trying to undermine the security of the country.

Militia members involved in border clashes between Chad and the Central African Republic.

Fuma admitted that the French military did have annual permission to land in Bata, but after checking the registration of the aircraft he said that the permit did not match. “This is a serious violation of aviation regulations. We can say that this is an attack on the security of the state, because it is a military apparatus,” said the air force chief of staff. It is unclear what lies behind the dispute, and it is not possible to predict what the repercussions may be.

In the Central African Republic, an alleged French agent Remy Quignolot was arrested. During his arrest, weapons and everything necessary for conducting espionage activities in the republic were found, according to the CAR authorities. The CAR prosecutor’s office has accused Quignolot of being an agent engaged in financing and training militants in the CAR. 

The CAR has an agreement on military cooperation with the Russian Federation which thwarted an attempted coup in December 2020 led by the former President Bozize. CAR government troops assisted by Russian allies managed to claw back territory which had been held by rebel militia for years. 

After a coalition of insurgents launched an offensive last December, Moscow’s paramilitary units joined government forces to repel them and have been gaining ground nationwide since. Moscow’s involvement in the country dates back to a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra in October 2017. The two countries’ alliance began with a donation of weapons and ammunition to CAR’s military and a contingent of 175 military instructors.

From the Russian perspective, the CAR offers them a showcase for military hardware manufactured by Russia. The war-wracked state is located in an unstable neighbourhood—Chad, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and South Sudan all border it, making this potentially a significant arms market for Russia.

But, military and terrorist groups continue to pose an ever-increasing threat to African democracies. The solution is not through arms but through peaceful statecraft, enlightened development policies to rebuild prosperity and enable the people to regain control of their own futures without fear of war or terror. But we are close to the point of no return for the security of this region, and we still need to strengthen the fight against terrorism if economic and development policies are to have a chance of success here.



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