This Week In Africa 72023: Russia’s Putin is to be absent at the BRICS summit in South Africa; Egypt’s massive 114-kilometre artificial river as part of the ‘New Delta’ project; Protests in the Central African Republic against proposed constitutional changes; Migrants from North Africa drowned off Tunisia’s coast; Iran’s President visits Africa to boost trade ties with Africa; Bola Tinubu as ECOWAS chairman; UNHCR accused Ghana of forcibly deporting Burkina Faso nationals seeking protection, and others
In a bold move, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has confirmed that the 15th BRICS Summit, scheduled for August 22–24, 2023, in Johannesburg, will take place in person with all heads of state in attendance, except Russian President Vladimir Putin. President Ramaphosa’s office said Putin will not attend the conference “by mutual agreement,” adding that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit instead, which is due to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) arrest warrant against Putin for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. Previously, the South African government stated that the country respects Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and does not recognise the ICC’s jurisdiction over Putin. Ramaphosa added that the in-person summit will provide an opportunity for BRICS leaders to discuss issues of common interest such as trade, investment, health, security, and climate change.
Meanwhile, Egypt announced on Monday, July 10, that it is constructing a massive 114-kilometre artificial river parallel to the Nile River as part of the ‘New Delta’ project, valued at $5.25 billion. According to Professor of Water Resources and Irrigation Abbas Sharaky, the artificial river will be the longest of its kind and is intended to irrigate 2.2 million acres of land. The Nile River is the primary water source for Egypt, Sudan, and South Sudan, supporting vital agriculture and fishing industries. Sharaky stated that the first 42-kilometre channel of the artificial river would transport 10 million cubic metres of water annually to irrigate 600,000 acres. A second 170-kilometre channel will transfer 2.5 billion cubic metres to irrigate 800,000 acres in the south. A 12-kilometre twin pipeline will also irrigate 64,000 acres using treated wastewater. The massive artificial river aims to provide 3.5 billion cubic metres of water per year for agricultural irrigation in the region.
In another development, the 15th U.S.-Africa Business Summit was held July 11–14, 2023, in Gaborone, Botswana. Co-hosted by the Corporate Council on Africa and the Government of Botswana, the summit attracted over 1,000 participants, including African heads of state, U.S. and African government officials, and private sector executives. Confirmed attendees included the presidents of Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, as well as the prime minister of Lesotho. With the theme “Enhancing Africa’s Value in Global Value Chains,” the summit focused on strengthening U.S.-Africa commercial ties as both emerge from recent health and economic challenges. Building on the successful 2022 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, attendees advanced trade, investment, and business partnerships between the U.S. and African nations. The U.S.-Africa Business Summit is the largest conference for doing business and investing across Africa.
Defying a ban, hundreds rallied in Bangui, Central African Republic, on Friday to protest proposed constitutional changes, including ending presidential term limits. The opposition “Republican Bloc for the Defence of the Constitution” organised the march of around 500 under heavy security. Protesters oppose plans that would allow current President Touadéra, who is serving his second term, to remain in power indefinitely. They argue that Touadéra, who initially came to power democratically, should not be able to give himself lifelong rule. Another controversial proposed change would ban dual citizens from running for president, preventing citizens with dual nationalities from running. Opponents say all Central Africans should have equal rights, regardless of origin. The campaign against the changes started on July 15, with voting expected on July 30. Touadéra’s administration continues battling a years-long rebellion after a civil war.
In a tragic incident, at least 17 migrants from North Africa drowned off Tunisia’s coast on July 13th after their boat sailing to Italy capsized. The Tunisian navy rescued 37 other passengers. The tragedy highlights the ongoing migrant crisis as people risk dangerous sea crossings to seek better lives in Europe. This year, over 500 migrants have died in the central Mediterranean trying to reach Europe. In response, Tunisian President Kais Saied declared Tunisia “not a land of transit or settlement” for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, ordering officials to prevent irregular migration and deport all undocumented immigrants. His statements drew criticism from rights groups, accusing him of racism and xenophobia.
Meanwhile, Kenyan President William Ruto issued a stern warning that protests will no longer occur, declaring the opposition’s planned demonstration on Wednesday “will not be possible.” Ruto made the remarks to supporters just two days after at least 10 people died amid clashes between protesters and security forces. Opposition leader Raila Odinga has led a series of protests over recent tax hikes, including fuel taxes signed into law last month. “Elections ended in August last year. You cannot seek the leadership of this country using the blood and death of citizens and destruction of property,” Ruto stated. He emphasised that demonstrations will not take place and that the opposition cannot extra-constitutionally and extra-judicially grasp power. Odinga had announced three more protest days starting Wednesday next week.
At an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit on July 10th, Nigerian leader Bola Tinubu was appointed chairman of the 15-nation bloc. As Nigeria’s presidential candidate, Tinubu takes over ECOWAS amid political instability and Islamist militant threats. His appointment comes as West Africa has seen military coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Chad since 2020. ECOWAS has struggled to restore democratic rule after suspending those nations, with Tinubu stating ECOWAS must recommit to democracy. In another development, Tinubu declared a state of emergency on Friday to address rising food costs and shortages. Initiatives include utilising fuel subsidy savings to provide farmers with fertiliser and grain and increase security, as over 350 farmers were kidnapped or killed last year. Poorer households will receive a $10 monthly stipend for six months. Officials said new security will protect farmers but gave few details.
In a bid to boost Iran’s trade ties with Africa amid U.S. sanctions, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi received warm welcomes in Kenya and Uganda on Wednesday, launching a three-nation Africa tour. Tehran promoted the visit as a “new beginning” in relations with the continent. Raisi’s first presidential trip to Africa, also including Zimbabwe, aims to expand Iran’s trade ties amid crippling U.S. sanctions reimposed in 2018. Raisi and Kenyan leaders signed five agreements related to IT, fisheries, livestock, and investment. He voiced interest in boosting commercial ties with African countries, saying the current economic exchange is unsatisfactory. Kenya’s president sought Raisi’s help in exporting more goods to Iran and Central Asia. In Uganda, Raisi signed four agreements and offered to share her oil refinery experience. Iran expects over $2 billion in African trade this year. Raisi has also visited Latin American allies burdened by U.S. sanctions. The last Iranian president to visit Africa was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2013.
In a shocking move, the United Nations refugee agency said Thursday that Ghana has forcibly deported hundreds fleeing violence in Burkina Faso, mostly women and children seeking refuge. Approximately 251 people were expelled, according to the UNHCR, which called the repatriation involuntary. The UNHCR stated that under international law, the principle of non-refoulment bars returning people to countries where they face danger. Ghana’s actions violate this Islamist extremist violence that has ravaged Burkina Faso for years, displacing over 2 million internally. Thousands more have fled abroad, with Ghana receiving about 8,000 last year. The UN has collaborated with Ghana to protect asylum seekers, establishing a reception centre in the Upper East Region. But Ghana’s security ministry denied the claims, saying Burkina Faso citizens were voluntarily repatriated consistent with protocols. Burkina Faso’s government said returnees couldn’t take their belongings and asked Ghana to allow their retrieval.
Meanwhile, Senegalese authorities banned opposition leader Ousmane Sonko’s party from holding rallies on Saturday and Sunday, according to an official statement on Thursday. The July 15 rally aimed to formally nominate Sonko as the presidential candidate for his Pastef party in 2024, though he was recently convicted, making him ineligible. The governor of Dakar justified the ban by citing risks to public order and saying social media posts urged Sonko supporters to mobilise in markets and gathering places. He said individuals had attacked property when Sonko called for protests in early June. Sonko, President Macky Sall’s fiercest critic, was sentenced to 2 years in prison last month on morality charges and confined to his home. The verdict sparked Senegal’s worst unrest in years, leaving dozens dead. Sonko has threatened “chaos” if barred from the election despite his conviction. Sall has said he will not seek a third term after being elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2019.