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France accused of 'still controlling' some of its former colonies in Africa

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France has been accused of “clandestinely exercising control” over francophone African countries since they formally obtained freedom.

The French colonial encounter in West Africa was driven by commercial interests and, perhaps to a lesser degree, a civilizing mission.

By the close of the Second World War the colonized peoples of French West Africa were making their dissatisfaction with the colonial system heard.

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As of 2021, France still retains the largest military presence in Africa of any former colonial power.

France maintains a tight stranglehold in Francophone Africa, both to serve its interests and maintain a last bastion of imperial prestige.

France is accused of forcing African countries to give preference to French interests and companies in the field of public procurement and public biding.

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It is argued that one such example of where France is said to be still exercising an unhealthy control in Africa is Mali which fell under French colonial rule in 1892 but became fully independent in 1960.

France and Mali still have a strong connection. Both are members of Organisation internationale de la Francophonie and there are over 120,000 Malians in France.

But, it has argued that current events in Mali have once again put the spotlight on the often turbulent relationship between the two countries.

After all its recent turbulence, Mali, currently led by a new interim leader, is only now just starting to get back on its feet again, albeit very slowly.

However, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the UN and the African Union - and especially France -  appear to be in no hurry to recognise Assimi Goita, the former interim Vice-President and current transitional leader of Mali, as a legitimate candidate for upcoming presidential elections despite a decision apparently to the contrary by Mali’s Constitutional Court.

The French media have often called Colonel Goita as "the boss of the junta", and "the head of the military junta" and French President Emmanuel Macron described the May coup, which Goita led, as a "coup within a coup”.

Tensions between the two countries intensified when Mali recently summoned France’s ambassador to the country to register its “indignation” at President Macron’s recent criticism of the country’s government.

This came after President Macron suggested that Mali’s government was “not even really one” – because of the Goita-led coup in Mali in May. The war of words continued when President Macron called on Mali’s ruling military to restore state authority in large areas of the country which he said had been abandoned in the face of the armed uprising.

Colonel Goita installed a civilian-led interim government after the first coup in August last year. But he then deposed the leaders of that government this May in a second coup.

This also comes against a backdrop of violence in the Sahel, a band of arid land that borders the south edge of the Sahara Desert, that has intensified in recent years despite the presence of thousands of UN, regional and Western troops.

The current political changes in Mali have attracted much international attention.But, according to Fernando Cabrita questions of a different kind also need addressing.

Fernando Cabrita is a Portuguese lawyer, expert in international law, co-founder of the SOCIEDADE DE ADVOGADOS law firm. Fernando Cabrita has been writing for several regional, national and foreign newspapers and has a wide experience in international civil law.

He argues that these include asking what is the future of the country in terms of peace and security, what political decisions will strengthen the position of Mali in general and the position of its current interim leader in particular.

In an interview with this website, Cabrita gave his assessment on recent events in the West African country, particularly from the judicial view point.

He recalls, that in May 2021, the Malian transitional president, Bah Ndaw, and his prime minister, Moctar Ouane, were arrested by members of the armed forces, as Goita, then vice-president, suspected them of sabotaging the transitional process (allegedly under French influence).

Bah Ndaw and Moctar Ouane resigned, and the power shifted to Goita, a young Malian leader, who shares what is seen as strong anti-French sentiment that has been rising in Mali for some long time.

Cabrita says such a change in Mali’s political landscape is seen as “disagreeable” to France, the long-standing “partner” of Mali and its former colonial master.

He claims, “France has been clandestinely exercising control over francophone African countries since they formally obtained freedom”.

He cites France’s Operation Barkhane as a means for Paris to maintain “a significant military force” in the region.

In June, Paris began re-organising its forces deployed in the Sahel under Operation Barkhane, including by pulling out of its northernmost bases in Mali at Kidal, Timbuctu and Tessalit.Total numbers in the region are to be cut from 5,000 today to between 2,500 and 3,000 by 2023.

Cabrita says that now that Barkhane is being turned into a smaller mission, Paris is “desperate to solidify its influence through political means.”

Using the media, he says some Western countries, led by France, have tried to water down the political power of Colonel Goïta by portraying him an “illegitimate”, or unqualified, leader.

However, according to Cabrita, such attacks are groundless.

He says the Transitional Charter, signed in September 2020, that, says Cabrita, is often used to undermine Goita’s credentials, “cannot be recognised as a document with any legal force as it was adopted with a number of serious irregularities.”

He said, “The charter contravenes Mali’s constitution and it was not ratified through appropriate instruments. As such it is the decisions taken by the constitutional court that should take precedence above all others.”

On May 28, 2021, the Constitutional Court of Mali declared Colonel Goïta as the head of State and President of the transitional period, making him the leader of the country de jure.

Another factor that supports Goita’s legitimacy, says Cabrita, is the fact that the national community and international players recognise him (Goita) as the representative of Mali.

According to the recent opinion polls, Goita’s ratings among Mali’s public are rising upwards, with people approving of his determination to end the current violence in the country and deliver democratic elections in accordance with the agreed timetable.

Cabrita states, “Goita’s popularity among the people make him the most appropriate candidate for the position of the president of the country.”

But will Goita be eligible to take part in the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for February? Cabrita insists that he should be allowed to stand.

“Even though the Article 9 of the Charter prohibits the President of the Transitional period and the Deputy from participating in Presidential and parliamentary elections to be held during the end of the transitional period, the invalidity of this document and its internal contradictions leave all the important decisions to the Constitutional court. 

“Due to the fact that the Transitional Charter is an unconstitutional document, its provisions cannot restrict anyone's civil rights, including Goita.”

Mali’s Constitution, which dates to 199 and continues to be applied in the country, defines the procedures, conditions and nomination of candidates for presidential elections.

Cabrita added, “Article 31 of the constitution states that each candidate for the post of President of the Republic must be a Malian citizen by origin and also be granted all his or hers civil and political rights. So, on the basis of this (that is, the constitution), Goïta has the right to stand as a candidate for the presidential elections in Mali.

“If he is allowed to stand for President it will mark the start of a new chapter for all francophone African countries, not just Mali.”

Libya

Reflections on the failures of Libyan talks at Geneva and beyond

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Libyans must themselves work to restore the long-lost unity of our nation. External solutions will only exacerbate our country’s already precarious state. It is time to end the series of failures that has plagued the collapse of talks and return the Libyan homeland to a state of legitimacy, writes Shukri Al-Sinki.

The demand to return Libya to constitutional legitimacy as it was last enjoyed in the country in 1969 is a genuine right of the nation. It is a plight to recover a stolen system of guaranteed rights and not the battle of an individual to reclaim his throne. Returning to constitutional legitimacy means returning to the state of affairs that Libyans enjoyed before 1969’s coup d’etat. The idea itself is not novel. The desire of Libyans to return to its original constitution and with it, restore the monarchy, was first introduced at a conference in 1992 in London, attended by representatives of the international press as well as several high-profile political personalities.

In line with the wish of the people, Prince Muhammad, the crown prince residing in London, has not publicized himself, nor will he appear as an aspirant to the throne until the conflicting factions of Libyan society agree to a compromise. Only the people can proclaim him a legitimate ruler. This is the legacy of the Senussi family, which Prince Muhammad has pledged to honor. The source of the family’s strength is precisely in the fact that it stands at an equal distance from all parties in Libya, in a neutral position. This is the kind of leadership that Libyans can seek refuge in should conflict intensify.

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“I know, my son, that our Senussi family does not belong to a single tribe, group or party, but to all Libyans. Our family was and will remain a large tent that all men and women in Libya can seek shelter under. If God and your people choose you, then I want you to serve as a king for all the people. You will have to rule with justice and equity, and be of assistance to everyone. You will also have to be the sword of the country when in need, and defend our homeland and the lands of Islam. Respect all local and international covenants.”

The time has come for Libya to recover after a prolonged period of hardship. The real solution to all of our existing divisions, wars and conflicts lies in a nationwide project deriving its legitimacy from the legacy that our founding fathers left behind. Independent from external pressures and internally imposed plans of the few, we must work together to restore legitimacy itself.

We have to come to terms with the fact that warring parties will not give in to each other’s requests out of their own volition, and will likely continue to battle. This threatens the entirety of our homeland’s existence. Perhaps a more easily acceptable and non-partisan leader, who is free of tribal and regional affiliations, could offer the remedy. A person of good standing and moral values who descends from a family chosen by God Himself. A family of both religious and reformist legacy whose forefather, King Idris, achieved one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of Libya: our country’s independence. The Al-Senussi heritage is one of nationalism and fighting for the people.

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We must overcome the ones who meddle with the future of Libya in the hope of putting their hands on our national resources, deriving personal benefit, or hoping to favor foreign agendas and impose authoritarian means of governance. We have to reject the further prolongation of the transitional period lest we risk inviting more opportunities for disputes and bring unwarranted danger back to Libya. We have had enough of wasting the country’s resources as well as the people’s time. We have had enough of taking on additional risks. We have had enough of walking down an unknown path. We have a constitutional heritage within our grasp, which we could call on any time. Let us call on it, let us invite our legitimate leader back, and let us pledge allegiance to a united Libya.

Shukri El-Sunki is a widely published Libya based writer and researcher. He is the author of four books, his most recent being Conscience of a Homeland (Maktaba al-Koun, 2021,) which chronicles the stories of Libyan heroes who faced and resisted the tyranny of the Gadhaffi regime.

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Africa

Rapprochement between Israel and Arab countries set to drive economic growth in MENA

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Over the past year, several Arab countries have normalized relations with Israel, marking a significant geopolitical shift in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. While the details of each normalization deal vary, some of them include trade and tax treaties and cooperation in key sectors such as health and energy. Normalization efforts are set to bring countless benefits to the MENA region, boosting economic growth, writes Anna Schneider. 

In August 2020, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) became the first Gulf Arab nation to normalize relations with Israel, establishing formal diplomatic, commercial, and security ties with the Jewish state. Shortly after, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco followed suit. Some experts have suggested that other Arab nations, such as Saudi Arabia, may also consider fostering relations with Israel. The string of normalization efforts is historic, as hitherto, only Egypt and Jordan had established official ties with Israel. The agreements are also a major diplomatic win for the United States, which played a critical role in fostering the deals. 

Historically, Arab nations and Israel have maintained distant relations, as many were staunch supporters of the Palestinian movement. Now, however, with the growing threat of Iran, some GCC nations and other Arab countries are beginning to lean towards Israel. Iran is investing significant resources in expanding its geopolitical presence by way of its proxies, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis, and others. Indeed, several GCC countries recognize the danger Iran poses to the region’s national security, critical infrastructure, and stability, leading them to side with Israel in an effort to counterbalance Iranian aggression. By normalizing relations with Israel, the GCC can pool resources and coordinate militarily. 

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Furthermore, the trade agreements featured in the normalization deals allow Arab nations to purchase advanced US military equipment, such as the famed F-16 and F-35 fighter jets. Thus far, Morocco has purchased 25 F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. The U.S. has also agreed to sell 50 F-35 jets to the UAE. Although there are some concerns that this influx of weaponry into the already-unstable MENA region could ignite current conflicts. Some experts believe such advanced military technology could also augment efforts to combat Iran's presence. 

Mohammad Fawaz, director of Gulf Policy Research Group, states that “advanced military technology is essential in obstructing Iranian aggression. In today’s military arena, aerial superiority is perhaps the most critical advantage an army can possess. With Iran’s military equipment and weaponry heavily dampened by decades-long sanctions, a formidable airforce will only work to further deter the Iranian regime from escalating provocations.” 

The normalization agreements could also enhance cooperation in the health and energy sectors. For example, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UAE and Israel developed technology to monitor and combat the coronavirus. The two nations are also exploring collaboration opportunities in the area of pharmaceuticals and medical research. In June, the UAE and Israel also signed a double taxation treaty, citizens to generate income in both nations without paying double tax. Additionally, Bahrain, the UAE, Israel, and the US  have agreed to cooperate on energy issues. In particular, the quartet aims to pursue advancements in petrol, natural gas, electricity, energy efficiency, renewable energies, and R&D. 

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These noteworthy agreements could help boost economic growth and social benefits in the region. Indeed, MENA nations are currently battling with a new outbreak of COVID-19, thanks to the Delta variant, which is severely impacting economies and health industries. In order to improve the region’s critical institutions, such normalization deals are sure to improve the region’s reliance on oil. In fact, the UAE has been working on reducing its own dependence on oil, diversifying its economy to include renewable energy and high tech, such progress is sure to spill over to others in the region. 

The normalization of relations between a handful of Arab nations and Israel will have major benefits on the geopolitical and economic structure of the Middle East and North Africa region. Facilitating cooperation across the Middle East will not only boost economic growth, but it will also foster regional stability. 

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Africa

Tunisia crisis underscores risks of European push for democratization in northern Africa

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While the European Union and the United Nations struggle to keep Libya’s transition to elections on track, the dramatic events unfolding next door in Tunisia have raised the spectre of upheaval and instability in yet another North African member of the European neighbourhood. In a series of moves that leaves the Arab Spring’s only success story at risk of backsliding into authoritarianism, Tunisia’s populist president Kais Saied (pictured) has disbanded the rest of the country’s government and granted himself emergency powers under the terms of the country’s 2014 constitution, writes Louis Auge.

In addition to disbanding Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending the highly fractious national parliament, within which Rachid Ghannouchi’s Islamist Ennahda party represented the largest group, Saied has also shuttered the offices of al-Jazeera and removed multiple top officials, all as Tunisian foreign minister Othman Jerandi seeks to reassure EU counterparts that his country’s democratic transition is still on track.

Fledging Tunisian institutions fall flat on COVID and the economy

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Kais Saied’s power grab has understandably provoked outrage among his Islamist political opponents, but his dismissal of Prime Minister Mechichi and his dissolution of parliament were also the central demands of nationwide protests in Tunisia over the past several days. As Tunisia lurches through Africa’s most lethal COVID epidemic, a growing cross-section of Tunisian society is losing faith in the ability of the country’s deadlocked political institutions to address widespread joblessness, corruption, and endless economic crisis.

Between Tunisia and Libya, the EU finds itself face to face with both the best case and worst-case outcomes of the Arab Spring, each presenting its own challenges for European foreign policy in North Africa and the Sahel. Despite the supposed success of its transition, the number of Tunisians who traversed the Mediterranean to reach European shores increased fivefold as their elected officials brawled on the floor of the Assembly in Tunis last year.

The experience has made European leaders understandably wary of pushing other countries in the region towards overly hasty political transitions, as demonstrated by the French and European handling of the situation in Chad since the battlefield death of President Idriss Déby three months ago. When the tenuous stability of multiple countries could be at play, decision makers in Brussels and the European capitals have proven more patient with transitional African counterparts of late.

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Prioritising stability in Chad

The news of President Déby’s death this past April immediately, if only briefly, threw the future of French and European policy in Africa’s Sahel region into question. Under its former leader, Chad emerged as France’s most active and reliable ally in a region overrun by jihadist groups taking advantage of weak governance in countries like Mali to carve out territory for themselves. Chadian troops have been deployed alongside French forces against jihadists in Mali itself, and have borne the brunt of operations against Boko Haram in the region surrounding Lake Chad.

A breakdown in government authority in N'Djamena along the lines of the collapse seen in Mali would have been catastrophic for European foreign policy and security priorities in the Sahel region. Instead, the country’s immediate stability has been ensured by an acting government headed by the late president’s son Mahamat. In a sign of the country’s importance to European interests, both French president Emmanuel Macron and EU High Representative Josep Borrell attended the late president’s funeral on April 23rd.

Since then, Macron has welcomed Mahamat to Paris in his role as head of Chad’s Transitional Military Council (TMC), both to discuss Chad’s 18-month transitional period to elections and to define the parameters of the two countries’ joint fight against jihadism in the Sahel. While France’s long-running Operation Barkhane is set to wind down between now and the first part of next year, its objectives will shift to the shoulders of the French-led Takuba European task force and to the G5-Sahel – a regional security partnership of which Chad has proven to be the most effective member.

Delicate balancing acts

While the TMC has ensured the continued stability of Chad’s central government in the short term, regional security challenges help explain why neither the EU nor the African Union (AU) are pushing the country’s interim authorities too hard on speedy elections. The transition to civilian rule is already under way, with PM Albert Pahimi Padacké forming a new government this past May. Next steps include the appointment of a national transitional council (NTC), a national dialogue bringing together both opposition and pro-government forces, and a constitutional referendum.

As they navigate the next stages of the transition, actors both within and outside of Chad could look next door to Sudan for lessons on how to move forward. Despite the fact more than two years have already passed since the overthrow of longtime president and alleged war criminal Omar al-Bashir, Sudan will not be holding elections to replace Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok’s transitional government until 2024.

At a major conference held in Paris and hosted by President Macron this past May, Sudan’s European partners and creditors made clear they understood the long time horizon was necessary for Hamdok and other post-revolutionary leaders in Khartoum to focus on the urgent problems facing post-Bashir Sudan. Alongside an economic crisis that makes even basic commodities hard to come by, Sudan is also juggling tens of billions of dollars in external debt and a “deep state” of officials loyal to the deposed president. In an endorsement of the transition’s progress thus far, Hamdok came out of the conference with a pledge from IMF members to clear the arrears Sudan owns them, while Macron also insisted France supported clearing the $5 billion Khartoum owes Paris as well.

If N'Djamena and Khartoum can navigate their perilous transitions to democratic governance in the face of “staggering” challenges, Chad and Sudan could jointly revive hopes for Arab democracy in both European and Middle Eastern capitals – even if the last flame of the original Arab Spring appears to be flickering out in Tunisia.

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