This Week In Africa 72623: UK sanctions officials and organisations linked to Wagner Group; Kenyan protesters clash with police over tax hikes; IMF approves a $43 million loan to the DRC; Morocco invites Israeli PM following recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara
On Thursday, the UK announced sanctions against officials and organisations from three African countries linked to the Russian mercenary group Wagner. The sanctions target those facilitating Wagner’s activities in the Central African Republic, Mali, and Sudan. The UK Foreign Office said Wagner had caused instability in the countries by committing human rights abuses, exploiting natural resources, and suppressing opposition. The sanctions are intended to target those supporting Wagner’s objectives. The targeted officials include Mali’s interim prime minister and ministers from Sudan and CAR involved in deals with Wagner.
Meanwhile, in Kenya, protesters clashed with police on Wednesday as three days of demonstrations against tax hikes and rising living costs began. The protests were called by veteran opposition figure Raila Odinga, who has been critical of the government’s economic policies. In Nairobi, about 100 protesters hurled rocks at police in the Kibera neighbourhood, and police responded with tear gas. There were also reports of protests in other parts of the country, including Kisumu and Nakuru. The government has closed schools in the capital and two other areas in anticipation of the protests. At least 15 people were killed and hundreds were arrested in two rounds of protests earlier this month. The protests come as Kenya faces several economic challenges, including rising inflation and a growing budget deficit. The government has imposed several austerity measures recently, including tax hikes and cuts to public spending. These measures have been met with widespread public anger.
Elsewhere, Ghana’s Supreme Court rejected a bid to block a bill that would criminalise same-sex relations and advocacy for LGBTQ rights. The bill, which has been debated in parliament since August 2021, would also make it illegal to be transgender. The court ruled on Wednesday that the bill did not violate the constitution and that it was constitutional for parliament to pass it. The bill is expected to be passed by parliament in the coming weeks. Once it is passed, it will become law, and anyone found guilty of violating it could face up to 10 years in prison.
On the economic front, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $43 million loan to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on Wednesday to help the country strengthen its economy. The loan, part of the IMF’s Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI), will help the DRC implement its development policies, maintain macroeconomic stability, and strengthen economic recovery. The IMF said the loan would help the country address these challenges and “support the authorities’ efforts to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth.” The loan is the first installment of a larger $1.5 billion loan package approved by the IMF for the DRC. The IMF also noted that the remaining funds will be disbursed if the country meets certain conditions, such as implementing economic reforms.
In other economic news, Nigeria’s petrol prices soared to 617 naira ($0.78) per litre, the highest ever, following the government’s decision to scrap fuel subsidies in May. The move, which aims to save the government $10 billion annually, has exposed consumers to rising global oil prices and the naira’s depreciation. The state-owned NNPC, the sole importer of petrol, has raised its prices across its fuel stations. The government has said that the subsidy removal was necessary to save money and improve the fuel market’s efficiency. It also noted that it is working to address these challenges, but it is unclear how the removal of the fuel subsidy will affect its efforts.
In diplomatic news, King Mohammed VI of Morocco moved to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Morocco following Israel’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara. In a message of thanks published on Wednesday, the Moroccan monarch said that Netanyahu’s decision was “far-sighted” and would “open up new possibilities for bilateral relations between Morocco and Israel.” The invitation comes as Morocco and Israel seek to normalise relations following years of estrangement. In December 2020, the two countries announced they would reopen their respective embassies in Rabat and Tel Aviv. The visit by Netanyahu would be the first by an Israeli prime minister to Morocco since 1993. It is expected to take place in the coming weeks.
On a more concerning note, on Monday, dozens of troops from Russia’s Wagner private military company arrived in the Central African Republic (CAR) ahead of a constitutional referendum on July 30 that could see the president extend his term. The group’s arrival comes amid growing concerns about the country’s stability. CAR has been mired in conflict since 2013, and the referendum is seen as a crucial test of the country’s ability to hold democratic elections. However, the CAR government has denied that the Wagner troops are there to help President Faustin-Archange Touadera extend his term.
In other news, Tunisia and the European Union (EU) signed a “strategic partnership” deal on Sunday to stem migration from Tunisia to Europe. The deal, signed by Tunisian President Kais Saied and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, includes measures to disrupt the business model of smugglers and human traffickers, strengthen border control, and improve registration and return procedures. The EU has also pledged to aid Tunisia with €100 million ($112 million) to help combat illegal migration. This deal comes as the number of migrants leaving Tunisia for Europe has increased recently. In the first half of 2023, more than 10,000 Tunisians will have arrived in Europe by sea, according to the EU’s border agency, Frontex. The Tunisian president said the deal would “strengthen cooperation between Tunisia and the EU in the fight against illegal migration. The deal is expected to be implemented in the coming months.
On Friday, Algeria applied to join the BRICS group of countries comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The North African country has also requested to become a shareholder member of the BRICS Bank with $1.5 billion. The application comes as Algeria seeks to diversify its economy and strengthen its ties with other emerging economies. The country is rich in oil and gas resources but is also looking to develop its agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing sectors. If Algeria’s application is accepted, it would be the first country from the Middle East and North Africa to join the group.
Finally, on Saturday, the Constitutional Council of Mali announced a massive victory for those who voted “yes” in the recent referendum on a new draught constitution. With 96.91% of the votes counted, the new constitution would strengthen the president’s powers, give pride of place to the armed forces, and emphasise “sovereignty.” The long-awaited announcement ends the hopes of opposition groups that had demanded the referendum be annulled. However, critics of the project describe it as tailor-made to keep the colonels in power beyond the presidential elections scheduled for February 2024, despite their initial commitment to hand it over to civilians after the elections.