Date: Wednesday, 15 November 2023
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The highlights this week: Darfur violence intensifies in Sudan, tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea mount, and Kenya announces the cost of its planned Haiti deployment.
Saudi Arabia’s African Diplomacy
Riyadh hosted African leaders last Friday at the first Saudi-Africa summit on fostering trade ties. Among other measures, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman proposed $10 billion to finance and insure Saudi exports through 2030 and an additional $5 billion in development financing for African nations.
Saudi Arabia is touting both debt relief and conflict resolution to African nations. This month, Riyadh has attempted to mediate peace negotiations between Sudan’s warring generals. And an ambitious blueprint to invest a total of about $25 billion in Africa by the end of the decade was recently unveiled, in fields ranging from clean energy cooperation and counterterrorism to climate change response and cheaper financing.
Now Riyadh is starting to put those plans into action. The Saudi Development Fund signed a conservative 2 billion riyals ($533 million) worth of deals with Arab and African governments during the Saudi-Arab-African Economic Conference, which was held ahead of the Nov. 10 summit. “We are working with partners to support Ghana and other countries regarding their debt,” said Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan.
Security experts say that the global energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has provided Saudi Arabia with an opportunity to strengthen its influence and become less reliant on Washington.
As Persian Gulf analyst Anna Jacobs writes, “the new approach is also informed by Saudi perceptions that the U.S. has become unreliable in its longstanding de facto role as a guarantor of Gulf security, putting more pressure on Saudi statecraft to create a geopolitical climate that is conducive to its goals and interests.”
The linchpin of the crown prince’s approach is Vision 2030, a geoeconomic plan introduced in 2016 to cut Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil wealth and expand its economy into renewable energy, sports, tourism, logistics, and artificial intelligence.
Of course, that blueprint needs varied partners. To achieve it, Riyadh has pursued an aggressive soft diplomacy tilt toward nations in the so-called global south, particularly in Africa. And other Middle Eastern rivals have increased their diplomatic presence on the continent, too, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Turkey.
“As we know, Africa is a focal point for major powers such as the U.S., China, and Russia, in addition to emerging nations,” said Khaled Manzlawiy, the assistant secretary-general for international political affairs at the Arab League. “Saudi Arabia’s growing global role necessitates expanding relations with both the East and the West, including the African continent,” Manzlawiy told London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.
Those efforts culminated with the crown prince launching the King Salman Development Initiative in Africa—a project expected to run until 2030, the global deadline for the U.N. sustainable development goals— at the summit in Riyadh. Moreover, he announced an intention to increase the number of Saudi embassies on the continent from around 27 to more than 40.
Among attendees were the leaders and foreign ministers of Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Rwanda, the Seychelles, and Mauritania. The leaders of African nations ostracized by Europe and the United States also attended, including Gabon, Niger, and Sudanese junta leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
Nigerian President Bola Tinubu was accompanied to Riyadh by a raft of cabinet ministers, including those for economy, education, and national security.
The Saudis agreed to a series of Nigerian investment deals, including one to revamp Nigeria’s four oil refineries and a financial deposit to sustain the government’s foreign-exchange reforms. Other energy agreements were signed with Senegal, Chad, and Ethiopia; meanwhile, the Seychelles sought partnership for managing its exclusive economic zone.
Mozambique’s finance ministry said it had signed a financing agreement of $158 million with the Saudi Development Fund for the construction of hospitals and a dam.
The event was also intended to rally Africa against what Saudi Arabia views as the disproportionate Israeli response in the Gaza Strip to last month’s attack by Hamas militants. It was part of a slew of summits Saudi Arabia hosted with Arab, Islamic, and African nations to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Leaders attending the African summit issued a joint declaration calling for a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza and intensified efforts toward a two-state solution, the state Saudi Press Agency reported.
A little more than a month after the crown prince told Fox News that his country was moving closer to normalizing relations with Israel, Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, traveled to Riyadh on Saturday—the first trip by an Iranian leader to Saudi Arabia in 11 years—to push Arab nations toward a stronger response against Israel. The crown prince condemned what he called “the violations of international law by the Israeli occupation authorities.”
At the Arab-Islamic summit convened in Riyadh, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned that a delay in stopping the war in Gaza could lead to an expansion of military confrontations in the region. On the sidelines, Raisi discussed the normalization of diplomatic relations between Egypt and Iran.
What We’re Watching
Kenya’s Haiti deployment. Kenya needs 36 billion Kenyan shillings ($237.55 million) to train and deploy 1,000 troops to Haiti, Kenyan Interior Secretary Kithure Kindiki told parliament on Thursday. The bill excludes costs for other African nations that are expected to be part of the U.N. backed mission, including troops from Senegal, Burundi, and the Seychelles. The value is more than the $200 million that the U.S. government pledged to support the mission. A court case in Kenya against the deployment is ongoing.
Ethiopia and Eritrea’s shaky peace. One year after a peace deal signed in Pretoria, South Africa, ended a bloody civil war, Tigrayan leaders say that the terms of the agreement have not been implemented. Eritrean forces were meant to withdraw from Tigray, but nearly a million Tigrayans remain internally displaced as several parts of Tigray remain occupied by Eritrean forces and Amhara fighters, according a statement from the region’s interim administration.
At the same time, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has inflamed tensions with Eritrea over access to the Red Sea, which he said was “an existential issue.” Ethiopia became landlocked after Eritrea’s independence in 1991. More than 90 percent of Ethiopia’s imports currently come through Djibouti, while Eritrea controls the Assab port. As Mohamed Kheir Omer writes in Foreign Policy, Eritrean military sources suggest that the country is now bracing for a potential war as Ethiopia amasses troops and weapons near the border.
Liberia runoff. Liberians voted on Tuesday in a runoff election between incumbent President George Weah and former Vice President Joseph Boakai. Weah got 43.83 percent of the vote and Boakai received 43.44 percent in the first round. It’s a rematch of the last runoff in 2017, which Boakai lost to Weah. Final results are expected later in the week.
Violence intensifies in Sudan. Around 4.5 million people have been internally displaced since fighting broke out in April between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). In recent days, there has been an increase in civilians fleeing from the Darfur region into Chad. A video showing civilians from the Masalit ethnic group being rounded up or shot by the RSF and allied militia emerged last week on social media. The leader of the RSF, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagalo, was the chief of the janjaweed, a conglomeration of Arab militias that was accused of killings, rapes, and torture in Darfur between 2003 and 2006.
The United Nations said last week that it had received credible reports that the RSF committed atrocities against civilians between Nov. 4 and Nov. 6, at a military base it seized from Sudan’s army in the Ardamata neighborhood of Geneina, West Darfur. Recent Saudi-hosted peace talks failed to deliver a cease-fire. The RSF now controls four of Darfur’s five states.
This Week in Government Sell-offs
Egypt’s luxury sales. Egypt is close to finalizing the sale of historic state-owned hotels built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the head of the Sovereign Fund of Egypt, Ayman Soliman, said Thursday. The sale forms part of Egypt’s effort to sell $1.9 billion of state assets and enhance private sector participation, which is required for a $3 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan that was approved in December 2022.
Egypt is looking for funding to bridge a projected $17 billion state budget gap by 2026. According to Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, the country faces debt service payments totaling $71.6 billion over the next three years. There are worries that the war in Gaza will impact Egypt’s tourism sector; meanwhile, ratings agencies including Fitch have downgraded Egypt’s sovereign rating deeper into junk territory. Fitch said the downgrade reflected risks to tourism from the Israel-Hamas war and the likelihood that Egypt’s final IMF deal could be “potentially larger” after Egyptian elections in December.
UAE firm displacing communities. Last week, Foreign Policy reported on the recent public backlash against United Arab Emirates investments in ports and land across Africa. Hundreds of members of Kenya’s Ogiek community are being evicted from their lands in the Mau Forest area of Sasimwani, allegedly to cede land for a UAE carbon offset program, the BBC reports. Last month, Dubai-based firm Blue Carbon signed a carbon credit deal with Kenya for “millions of hectares” of forest.
The $2 billion global carbon credits market allows companies to generate higher carbon emissions by paying to preserve forests elsewhere. The firm has similar deals with Liberia, Zambia, and Tanzania, which have been opposed by rights groups.
What We’re Reading
USAID’s billion-dollar failures. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its contractor Chemonics made the performance of a $10 billion health project look better by “adopting easy targets and writing off bad results” while carrying out few independent evaluations, according to a report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The project to improve supply chains to deliver medical supplies—including HIV drugs, mosquito nets, and contraceptives—worldwide was allegedly subject to abuse by subcontractors. An updated version of the project has been designed to hold subcontractors to higher standards; however, Chemonics is still likely to win more funding despite the earlier failures, the investigation found.
Misinterpreting Nigeria’s youth. In Africa Is a Country, Afolabi Adekaiyaoja—an occasional FP contributor—argues that the February Nigerian election results, in which Peter Obi (a seasoned politician backed by young campaigners) came third, illustrate that young Nigerians are not a uniform group. The “monolithic ‘youth voice’ was much less resonant than expected,” Adekaiyaoja writes, noting that Obi failed to obtain critical northern votes—as highlighted in FP’s analysis. Adekaiyaoja suggests that an alternative approach would be to view Nigerians through their differing generational experiences of independence, civil war, and more recently military-run and democratic-led governments.