Mali’s Prime Minister Accuses France, Europe of Seeking to Divide Country

Mali’s interim prime minister has accused France of using its military mission there against Islamist militants to divide the African country.Speaking to diplomats late Monday, Interim Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga said Mali would always be grat…

Mali’s interim prime minister has accused France of using its military mission there against Islamist militants to divide the African country.

Speaking to diplomats late Monday, Interim Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga said Mali would always be grateful to French soldiers who died in the fight against Islamist militants. But he added that the French mission to help Mali was aiding the terrorists.

He said the French people, some who have children who have died in Mali, don’t know that it was their government that cut Mali in two.

“France created a sanctuary for terrorists to regroup and reorganize for two years, so that they could come back and invade our country,” he said.

Maiga has in the past accused the French military of training terrorists and supporting Tuareg separatists when the French intervention began in 2013. He has not offered evidence to back up those accusations or those made during his speech Monday. There was no immediate reaction from the French government or the embassy in Bamako.

A French military operation known as Serval helped take back northern Mali from Islamist militants.

The operation ran from 2013 until 2014 when it was replaced by Operation Barkhane, an ongoing anti-insurgent mission.

Barkhane last year began drawing down troops from northern Mali military bases.

Europe says Mali has contracted Russian mercenaries, which the Malian government claims are just military trainers.

Maiga on Monday also accused the European Takuba Task Force sent to help Mali fight insurgents of being created to divide the country.

In January, a Danish contingent of Takuba that had just arrived in Mali was asked to leave.

Paris is evaluating its military presence in Mali after Bamako last week expelled the French ambassador after France’s foreign affairs minister sharply criticized the military government.

Tensions between Mali and France have been rising since Paris backed West African sanctions for the military delaying elections.

Mali has had two coups since 2020. The military government pulled back from an agreement to hold elections in February, saying the vote would instead take place in 2026.

Source: Voice of America

Private Military Contractors Bolster Russian Influence in Africa

Russia’s geopolitical ambitions in Africa have in recent years been backed by private military contractors, often described as belonging to the “Wagner group” — an entity with no known legal status.Most recently, Western nations have condemned the alle…

Russia’s geopolitical ambitions in Africa have in recent years been backed by private military contractors, often described as belonging to the “Wagner group” — an entity with no known legal status.

Most recently, Western nations have condemned the alleged arrival of Russian mercenaries in Mali’s capital Bamako, a claim denied by the junta that seized power in 2020.

As relations with France worsen, the military rulers may be looking for ways to make up for shrinking numbers of European troops fighting Mali’s years-old jihadist insurgency.

“Mercs [mercenaries] working in Africa is an established norm” thanks in part to decades of operations by contractors from South Africa, said Jason Blazakis of the New York-based Soufan Group think tank.

“The Wagner folks are walking through a door that has long been open to their ilk,” he added.

No information is publicly available about the group’s size or finances.

But around Africa, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington has found evidence since 2016 of Russian soldiers of fortune in Sudan, South Sudan, Libya, the Central African Republic (CAR), Madagascar and Mozambique.

Botswana, Burundi, Chad, the Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria and Zimbabwe are also on the CSIS’s list.

In Africa “there is a convergence of many states’ interests, including China’s,” Alexey Mukhin of the Moscow-based Centre for Political Information told AFP.

“Every state has the right to defend its business assets,” he added.

‘Hysteria’

Wagner does not officially exist, with no company registration, tax returns or organizational chart to be found.

When the EU wanted to sanction the group in 2020, it targeted Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin who is suspected of running Wagner.

It imposed further sanctions in December last year when mercenaries’ arrival in Mali appeared certain — drawing accusations of “hysteria” from Moscow.

Western experts say military contractors are embedded in Russia’s official forces like intelligence agencies and the army, providing plausible deniability for Moscow.

Their deployment to African countries aims to “enable Russia to… regain this sphere of influence” that fell away with the collapse of the Soviet Union, said CSIS researcher Catrina Doxsee.

The mercenaries’ presence has been growing even faster since a 2019 Russia-Africa summit.

Moscow has been active “especially in what has traditionally been France’s zone of influence” in former colonies like CAR and Mali, said Djallil Lounnas, a researcher at Morocco’s Al Akhawayn university.

While military contractors sometimes shepherd Russian arms sales, the revenue “really pales compared with the profit they are able to generate from mining concessions and access to natural resources,” Doxsee said.

That makes unstable countries with mineral or hydrocarbon wealth prime customers — such as in Syria where the mercenaries first became known to the wider public.

No questions asked

Lounnas said that another advantage for clients is a lack of friction over human rights and democracy that might come with Western partners.

“Russia has its interests. It doesn’t ask questions,” he added.

Reports of violence and abuse on the ground suggest that same latitude may extend to the mercenaries themselves.

In the CAR, the United Nations is probing an alleged massacre during a joint operation by government forces and Wagner fighters.

One military source told AFP that more than 50 people died, some in “summary executions.”

On Thursday, the European Union said it would not resume military training in the CAR — suspended since mid-December — unless the country’s soldiers stop working for Wagner.

Meanwhile the mercenaries’ results do not always measure up to the hopes of the governments that hire them.

In Libya, Russian mercenaries suffered heavy losses in Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s year-long attempt to conquer the capital Tripoli, which was ultimately unsuccessful.

And in Mozambique, the Russians retreated in the face of Islamic State group jihadists, ultimately losing out to South African competitors.

Although lacking language skills and experience with the terrain, Wagner “were picked because they were the cheapest”, Doxsee said.

“They didn’t have what it took to succeed,” she added, noting that “they’ve had a fair few failures” across Africa.

Succeeding completely might actually harm the mercenaries’ business model, which thrives on unrest, conflict and crisis.

“If a country such as the CAR hires them to train forces, to help them in their military efforts, it’s in their interest to accomplish that just well enough to continue to be employed,” Doxsee said.

“If they actually were to do it well enough to resolve the conflict, they would no longer be needed.”

Source: Voice of America

Guinea Interim Assembly Holds First Post-Coup Session

CONAKRY, GUINEA — Guinea’s transitional assembly, which is tasked with organizing a return to civilian rule after the military overthrow last year of resident Alpha Conde, held its first session Saturday.All 81 members of the national transitional coun…

CONAKRY, GUINEA — Guinea’s transitional assembly, which is tasked with organizing a return to civilian rule after the military overthrow last year of resident Alpha Conde, held its first session Saturday.

All 81 members of the national transitional council, known by its French acronym CNT, were present for the inaugural session in parliament buildings in the capital, Conakry, AFP journalists said.

The session lasted several hours and was opened by CNT President Dansa Kourouma and in the presence of transitional Prime Minister Mohamed Beavogui, a development expert.

“The radical change in the mechanisms that bring elites to power and allows them to remain in power almost indefinitely (is a problem that) must be definitively resolved,” Kourouma said in his speech.

He called for a constitution to be drawn up “that will not be easily modified,” a reference to Conde, who had sparked fury by changing the constitution in order to run for a third term.

“Our path will be strewn with all sorts of pitfalls that we are called upon to overcome from now on, until the installation of the future National Assembly, at the end of credible and transparent elections that will be organized to put an end to the transition,” Kourouma added.

Conde, who was Guinea’s first democratically elected president and had been in power since 2010, was deposed Sept. 5 the age of 83.

‘Work starts today’

Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, who led the coup, was sworn in as interim president a month later, promising to “re-found the state.”

He also vowed to fight corruption and reform the electoral system to hold “free, credible and transparent” elections.

The CNT, whose members were chosen by Doumbouya from lists submitted by political parties and associations, is tasked with drafting a new constitution and suggesting a date for a return to civilian rule.

In the meantime, the government and other institutions have been dissolved and ministers, governors and prefects replaced with administrators and soldiers.

The U.S. ambassador to Guinea, Troy Fitrell, congratulated the country on the new CNT.

“Work starts today to return democracy to the Guinean people,” he wrote in a tweet. “The challenge is to do it in 2022.”

Guinea is one of three West African countries where the military seized power in the last 18 months, along with Mali and Burkina Faso.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has suspended both Guinea and neighboring Mali from the bloc and imposed sanctions over the coups.

In a mark of defiance, the president of the transitional council of Mali and former junta member Colonel Malick Diaw attended Saturday’s inaugural session of Guinea’s assembly.

“With the political transition under way in Mali and Guinea our two countries are at a crossroads,” Diaw said, insisting the end goal was “political normalization.”

ECOWAS demanded that Guinea hold elections within six months of the coup, which would fall in mid-March.

Source: Voice of America

Guinea Bissau President Withstands Coup Attempt

Guinea-Bissau is the latest West African country to be swept up in a coup contagion that has already hit Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso. Though Tuesday’s coup attempt in Guinea-Bissau was unsuccessful, the country continues to reel from political insta…

Guinea-Bissau is the latest West African country to be swept up in a coup contagion that has already hit Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso. Though Tuesday’s coup attempt in Guinea-Bissau was unsuccessful, the country continues to reel from political instability, corruption and drug trafficking.

It started as they so often do: with a spatter of gunshots outside a government building. Inside, Guinea Bissau’s President Umaro Sissoco Embalo was holding a cabinet meeting.

Though Embalo survived the attempted coup – both physically and politically — several security personnel died protecting him and his ministers.

There have been four successful coups in Guinea Bissau since the country gained independence from Portugal in 1974, and many more attempts. The impoverished country of two million is a transit hub for cocaine trafficked from South America to Europe.

Western governments believe members of the country’s military are complicit in the trade.

Though this coup could be tied to drug trafficking, other recent coups in the region have been fueled by anger over a surge in jihadist activity.

But the common thread is poor governance, says Barka Ba, a Senegalese political science researcher.

The solution, Ba says, is for regulatory bodies like ECOWAS – the 15-member Economic Community of West African States – to get involved before a crisis implodes instead of implementing sanctions after the fact.

For the moment, he says, it makes them seem incapable and powerless to handle this phenomenon. So it’s an opportunity for ECOWAS to restore its image and readapt so it can gain much more credibility and influence on the events taking place.

ECOWAS most recently implemented sanctions on Mali and Guinea after successive coups last year.

The bloc is currently holding an emergency summit to decide whether to impose sanctions on Burkina Faso, where the military overthrew President Roch Marc Christian Kabore on January 23.

John Mukum Mbaku is a Cameroonian native and a senior fellow with the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative.

He urged West African nations to give democracy a chance.

“Democracy is a work in progress,” said Mbaku. “You have to work at it. Getting soldiers to overthrow the government, it will only exacerbate problems. Being able to use the constitution and the law to discipline individuals who are not performing well is the only way African countries can move ahead and develop democratic systems.”

Instead of coups, Mbaku said citizens can hold their governments to account by protesting, voicing their concerns on social media and seeking out help from human rights organizations.

Source: Voice of America

Southeastern Africa Cleans Up From Tropical Storm Ana

Rescue efforts continued across southeastern Africa Monday for thousands of people cut off by flooding from last week’s Tropical Storm Ana. The storm killed at least 90 people across Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi. Experts say a fresh cyclone formin…

Rescue efforts continued across southeastern Africa Monday for thousands of people cut off by flooding from last week’s Tropical Storm Ana. The storm killed at least 90 people across Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi. Experts say a fresh cyclone forming near the island nation of Mauritius could hamper rescue efforts and worsen damage in the region.

The storm damaged public infrastructures, including health care facilities and roads, and interrupted medical services to people affected by the storm.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the storm killed 20 people in Mozambique and displaced 121,000 others. In Madagascar, according to the Africa CDC, 48 people were killed and 148,000 others left homeless.

In Malawi, the Department of Disaster Management Affairs says Tropical Storm Ana killed 32 people and displaced 188,000 from their homes across 17 districts.

“For Chikwawa alone, [a] total of 44 camps have been set to accommodate the displaced. But the figures might rise, as the council is still conducting some assessment, and the general public will be updated on any development,” said Chipiliro Khamula, the department’s spokesperson.

On Thursday, Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera declared a national disaster in areas hard-hit by Tropical Storm Ana and called for urgent assistance for the flood victims.

In a statement Sunday, the Department of Disaster Management said relief assistance is reaching some areas, although efforts to access others are hampered by impassable roads.

The countries affected by Tropical Storm Ana are concerned by reports of a fresh tropical cyclone, known as Batsirai, is forming near the island nation of Mauritius.

However, weather experts in the region have downplayed those fears.

Yobu Kachiwanda, the spokesperson for Malawi’s’ Department of Meteorological Services, said Tropical Cyclone Batsirai is currently still in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar.

“And at this stage, the track is not very certain. So, more of its possible track will be observed in the next three days, but otherwise for now, there is no threat to Malawi weather. But if there [will] be any cause of threat to Malawi weather, Malawians will be informed accordingly,” Kachiwanda said.

If it does approach Malawi, he advised people in flood-prone areas to take heed of any warnings from weather experts and officials.

“If they are saying move to higher ground, they should act immediately, because these threats are there, and climate change is with us,” Kachiwanda said.

President Chakwera offered similar advice Monday when he visited flood victims in the Chikwawa and Nsanje districts in southern Malawi.

Source: Voice of America

Malian Cultural Festivals Continue Despite Sanctions

Mali has long been known for its music, dance, and cultural festivals, despite an ongoing insurgency that has halted most tourism. Two military coups since 2020 and delayed elections led West African nations to impose economic sanctions against Mali wh…

Mali has long been known for its music, dance, and cultural festivals, despite an ongoing insurgency that has halted most tourism. Two military coups since 2020 and delayed elections led West African nations to impose economic sanctions against Mali which Europe has supported. But as the festival season kicks off, participants and organizers are still finding reasons to sing and dance.

Véronique Djehinan Lou is an interpretive dancer from Ivory Coast living in Niger.

Lou was invited to Mali’s Fari Foni Waati dance festival this year, arriving by bus on January 9. That same day, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, imposed travel and economic sanctions on Mali, closing land and air borders between Mali and its West African neighbors.

Lou is unsure of how exactly she will get home to Niger. In the meantime, she performed as part of a group dance piece in an auditorium at the Blonba cultural center, packed with adults and neighborhood children alike.

She said she found a festive atmosphere in the country, despite the sanctions.

People aren’t even worried about that, she said. The government, they work for themselves, and we the artists we are doing our thing. We’re just one voice. We’re the voice of the people. We don’t know when all these problems will be solved, so we are doing our activities, we continue our party.

Before the 2012 takeover of northern Mali by Islamist militants, the country was known for its cultural festivals, which were a frequent attraction for tourists. But these festivals have always been popular with Malians, and even though tourism has nearly ground to a halt, the festivals have for the most part continued.

New festivals have popped up in the years since unrest began. The Ogobagna Festival is a week-long Dogon cultural festival held on the Niger riverbank in Bamako, in its seventh year.

Amassagou Dougnon is the president of the organizing committee of the festival, which he hopes can be a place for people to unwind.

There has been this embargo, he said, there has been worry of “what will we do tomorrow?” Culture is a neutral means of expression. No one is afraid to come here, because it’s a place of culture, a place of exchange, a place of dialogue, and this is the best kind of place for people to gather to talk and de-stress, he said.

The Fari Foni Waati festival depends on participants who come from other countries in the West African region as well as Europe to perform original dance pieces alongside Malian performers.

Drissa Samake, the managing director of the Blonba center, said that even though many participants could not make it to Bamako this year because of the travel embargo, calling off the festival was never an option.

He said that it’s during times when the country is facing crises that it’s even more important to hold these cultural activities.

He said, nothing can unite so many people during this period like these cultural events. It’s important to us to strengthen this sector, that allows us to create what we call social cohesion.

The Festival on the Niger will be held next weekend in Ségou, Mali, and Festival Agna in Koulikoro takes place later in February. Both will bring together musicians from around the country.

How Mali’s current political situation will progress remains to be seen, but music and dancing is sure to continue.

Source: Voice of America