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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 3rd July 2018

AFRICAN UNION: Security and corruption top agenda of sparsely-attended summit in Nouakchott

Patrick Smith

We start this week in the Mauritanian capital, which has been hosting an African Union summit tasked with a tough agenda on regional security. The meeting crafted a compromise on Morocco and Western Sahara. Meanwhile, in Beijing, the Ministry of Defence has been hosting African military chiefs to discuss better cooperation and more arms sales. Finally, to Nairobi, where the recent political dramas have taken a new twist.

AFRICAN UNION: Security and corruption top agenda of sparsely-attended summit in NouakchottAbout 30 leaders, including Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari and South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa, flew to Mauritania for an AU summit which ended yesterday (2 July) with a special session on regional security attended by France's President Emmanuel Macron. Three jihadist attacks over the past week in West Africa and Mogadishu concentrated minds on the subject.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, AU Commission chairman, also called for the organisation to take tough measures against  the warring parties in South Sudan after they had breached the terms of their latest ceasefire agreement, signed in Khartoum only last week.

Also on the AU agenda were deteriorating conditions in Congo-Kinshasa and Cameroon: the crises in both countries have been spilling over national borders. Neither Cameroon's Paul Biya nor Congo's Joseph Kabila attended the summit. They had been keen to keep their crises off the agenda.
The AU is to send a monitoring mission to Zimbabwe ahead of national elections due on 30 July. First, a short-term delegation will gauge whether the vote meets the required 'free and fair' criteria, and later it will also send a longer-term economic and political mission.

Summit host Mauritania's President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz made much of the summit's anti-corruption agenda, even though his government doesn't have the strongest record here. There are questions about Abdel Aziz's political intentions: he seized power in a coup d'état in 2005 and the ensuing regime was initially put under AU and European sanctions. Subsequently Abdel Aziz organised elections and mended fences with both organisations. But many in Nouakchott believe he plans to stay in power beyond his two elected terms.

Macron's visit to the region was partly to send a message about France's  commitments to regional security, following his government's international fund-raising to support the G5 Sahel security alliance of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania.

The visit followed hard on the attack on the headquarters of the G5 in Sévaré, central Mali, with what looked like a truck bomb on 29 June, killing at least six people. The Groupe de soutien à Islam et aux musulmans (GSIM) led by Iyad Ag Ghali has claimed responsibility. Al Mourabitoune, which has launched several other attacks in the region, is part of the group.  And on Sunday (1 July), a group of jihadi fighters, also suspected to be from GSIM, killed four civilians after targeting a French military patrol near Gao in Mali.

Macron is due in Nigeria on 3-4 July to meet President Buhari in Abuja, and then commission the new Alliance Française building in Lagos, as well as preside over the launching of former President Olusegun Obasanjo's think-tank, the Africa Progress Group, in Ogun State. He is also due to visit The Afrika Shrine, established by Fela Anikulapo Kuti and now run by the late musician's sons, Femi and Seun.

MOROCCO/WESTERN SAHARA: AU will play a role in last-ditch UN talks over the future of Western SaharaWith the 55 members of the African Union still chronically divided over the future of the Western Sahara, African leaders in Nouakchott devised a painstaking compromise which gives their organisation a role in negotiations at the UN over the territory.

After joining the AU last year Morocco had hoped to make serious progress on consolidating its grip on Western Sahara. Its plan was to build up enough support within the AU to get the organisation to expel the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. That failed because two of the SADR's biggest supporters, Algeria and South Africa, are among the most powerful members of the AU.

South Africa was one of 11 African states which didn't support Morocco's bid to host the World Cup in 2026. Its courts also ruled that a 55,000-tonne shipment of phosphates despatched by Morocco but held in Algoa Bay in South Africa last year had been illegally mined in Western Sahara. The courts then turned the phosphates over to the SADR's Polisario Front.

Since then Morocco has taken a more emollient line in the AU. It won a seat on the Peace & Security Council and is winning support for its proposed reforms of the Council.

During the debate on Western Sahara Moussa Faki tried to steer a middle course between  South Africa/Algeria on one hand and Morocco on the other. However, the compromise means that AU delegates, and the AU envoy Joaquim Chissano, who is close to South Africa, will get involved in the debate at the UN over the extension of the Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (Minurso) and the possibility of direct talks organised by UN mediator Horst Köhler between Rabat and the SADR.

CHINA/AFRICA: Beijing hosts its own summit for Africa's military chiefsThe first China-Africa Defence and Security Forum (26 June-10 July) suggests that Beijing's military power and influence over security in Africa are growing as fast as its economic might. The two areas are closely linked for Beijing: it has ramped up its military presence in north-east Africa, opening a naval base in Djibouti in support of its One Belt, One Road trading network which links East Asia to Europe via Central Asia and East Africa.

Beijing's defence ministry says it's hosting this inaugural forum to focus on regional security and defence cooperation, and upgrading Africa's military capacity. China is stepping up its contribution to UN peacekeeping missions and pan-African security operations but it has increased arms sales and other military services to African states by over 50% between 2013-2017, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. China's share of arms exports to Africa has risen to 27% from 16% in those years. Its biggest customers are Algeria and Egypt, two of the most militarised regimes in the world.

KENYA: Raila Odinga's manoeuvres raise spectre of new political alliancesAlmost six months after the much-feted handshake between opposition leader Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta, there are signs that the opposition is regrouping around him. (In our next edition, Africa Confidential will be carrying a detailed analysis of how insiders think the Odinga-Kenyatta deal has changed the country's political dynamics.)

Odinga has convened several important meetings recently: one, with Kenyatta's business and political supporters from the Mount Kenya region; and several reconciliation meetings with his erstwhile colleagues, Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi. Another former ally of Odinga's, Moses Wetangula, hasn't joined the meetings as he has teamed up with Vice-President William Ruto.


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COMMODITIES: Glencore's market value falls by $7.3 billion after the United States orders documents in fraud and money laundering probe

SOUTH AFRICA: Suspended tax chief Tom Moyane changes his defence tactics as government steps up investigations