US launches a new Africa policy as Biden meets South African leader Cyril Ramaphosa

US launches a new Africa policy as Biden meets South African leader Cyril Ramaphosa

Plus: Making sense of Vladimir Putin’s mobilisation order and nuclear brinksmanship

Hi there Intriguer. Let us speak plainly. A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council has invaded its neighbour.” Those were President Biden’s words to the UN General Assembly late yesterday. To be honest, there weren’t a lot of lols to be found in global politics overnight, so rather than force a witty remark, let’s crack on, shall we?

Today’s briefing is a ~5.2 min read:

  • 🗺️ A new US-Africa strategy: Will anything actually change?
  • ➕ Plus: Understanding Putin’s mobilisation announcement, Hurricane Fiona hammers the Caribbean, and the Netherlands tries to patch things up with Suriname.

Our take: Putin’s mobilisation announcement appeared prominently in papers across Europe, North America, and the Middle East, while stories about the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York were on front pages across Africa and Latin America (where there was also much less focus on the war in Ukraine).


The new US approach to Sub-Saharan Africa

In brief:

  • South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and US President Joe Biden met last week to discuss areas of cooperation, including on energy, climate change, and food security.
  • The meeting came shortly after the announcement of a new ‘US Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa’, which seeks to engage African countries on a more equal footing.

Source: Giphy

The meet-cute

Last month, the White House unveiled a new ‘US Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa’. Against that backdrop, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa met President Joe Biden in Washington last Friday to discuss climate change, regional trade, and the Russo-Ukraine War.

  • The Russo-Ukraine War is a bit of a thorn in the side of US-South Africa relations because Ramaphosa has so far refused to condemn Russia’s invasion and has spoken out against Western sanctions.

But Washington appears willing to endure a few awkward moments if it means a closer relationship with South Africa and the opportunity to execute its vision for the future of US-Africa relations.

America says it’s back (again), baby

The US explains why it is refocusing on Africa:

“It has one of the world’s fastest-growing populations, largest free trade areas, most diverse ecosystems, and one of the largest regional voting groups in the United Nations (UN).” 

The ‘US Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa’

Zainab Usman, Director of the Africa Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, identifies four ways in which the US is changing its approach toward Africa:

  1. 🤝 A focus on partnership. The shift aims to address complaints of US foreign policy officials acting unilaterally and will elevate the importance of regional organisations, such as the African Union.
  2. 🌱 A humbler approach to the green transition. The new policy recognises that the African continent is responsible for a tiny fraction of global emissions and promises to push for decarbonisation while also taking into account each country’s energy needs.
  3. 🚢 Economic cooperation. Particularly in areas like securing supply chains for minerals and other natural resources.
  4. 💰 Mobilising private capital. If adequately implemented, strengthening the ties between US private capital and African infrastructure projects may benefit both sides.

Why now?

Perhaps the US is motivated by the need to develop and secure new energy sources, or perhaps the new policy is an implicit acknowledgement that Chinese investment (and Russian paramilitary activity) in Africa is challenging its influence. Either way, the US thinks now is the time to reset its engagement on the continent.

  • Crucially, the new US Africa strategy plays to the US’s own strengths without focusing on competition with Russia or China to make itself a more desirable development partner.

Professor Gilbert M. Khadiagala believes the strategy represents a “paradigm shift” in US-Africa relations:

“Instead of being preachy and prescriptive with respect to African relations with other powers, the strategy presents African states with the enticing option of working with the US in the advancement of common values, mutual respect, democracy, and prosperity.”

Many will have a healthy scepticism given that words – or in this case, impenetrable policy documents – aren’t actions. But so far, it seems experts have welcomed the new policy as at least a step in the right direction.

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The Americas

🇸🇻 El Salvador

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele has announced he’ll run for re-election in 2024, despite a previous constitutional restriction on consecutive presidential terms.

  • Just last year, a constitutional court filled with Bukele loyalists ruled that the president could serve a second consecutive term.
  • Despite his increasingly authoritarian tendencies, Bukele enjoys very high approval ratings, so many Salvadorans will welcome his decision.

🌎 The Caribbean

Hurricane Fiona is getting stronger by the day, with forecasters saying it could soon reach a Category 4 storm.

  • The hurricane has claimed at least seven lives in the Caribbean and left millions without electricity or running water in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Turks and Caicos.
  • The island of Puerto Rico was hit particularly hard as its ailing electricity infrastructure has yet to be fully restored after the destruction of Hurricane Maria five years ago.

🇸🇷 Suriname

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte visited Suriname last week for two days of government-to-government meetings.

  • Suriname is a small country on South America’s northeast coast that gained independence from the Netherlands in 1975, though relations remain (understandably) tricky between the two.
  • Rutte’s visit took advantage of the changing politics in Suriname – most notably the conviction on murder charges of former president Dési Bouterse – to rekindle a close relationship with the South American country.

🇺🇸 The US

President Joe Biden has, for the fourth time, suggested that the US would defend Taiwan militarily if China attacked the island.

  • Biden’s comments have always been followed by back-peddling from officials, but it appears that the Administration has actually decided to take a harder line against the possibility of a Chinese attack.
  • While some welcome a more explicit stance by the US, others have called Biden’s new approach “strategic confusion” and argued that it does not make Taiwan any safer.

🇻🇪 Venezuela

In a new report that has failed to attract much attention, the Venezuelan security services have been accused of committing crimes against humanity in their efforts to suppress political opposition to President Nicolás Maduro.

  • The report alleges that Maduro often personally selects individuals to be surveilled, harassed, or even attacked.
  • The report interviewed 471 victims of the Maduro regime, as well as their families and lawyers.

Making sense of Putin’s mobilisation announcement

The news: After a no-show on Tuesday night, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the nation on Wednesday morning and announced a partial military mobilisation in Russia.

  • While the precise scope of the campaign has yet to be defined, 300,000 reservists will be called up for military duty in Ukraine.

Why it matters: Calling for national mobilisation, partial or not, shatters the pretence that Russia is engaged in and winning a “special military operation”. Russian civil society is now closer than ever to being fully engaged in a war.

Russia correspondent for The Telegraph Nataliya Vasilyeva thinks this is a risky political move for Putin:

“Extraordinary statement from Putin this morning that breaks a two decade-long pact between the Kremlin and the Russian people: You can get on with [your] lives while we do whatever we [like] on the international stage.”

Will it make a difference in Ukraine? Not in the short term. Reservists must be trained and armed before they even get to the front line, which will likely take months.

  • However, as part of the new decree, military contracts have been extended indefinitely, which “could be enough to prevent a collapse of Russian forces” this winter, according to military analyst Rob Lee.

Nuclear threats: President Putin reiterated that Russia would “certainly use all the means at our disposal” to defend itself, alluding to the use of nuclear weapons, adding “it’s not a bluff”.

  • In addition, former member of the Russian Parliament Sergey Markov gave an almost satirical performance on British radio yesterday morning (from 4:15).
  • Markov threatened that Russia would attack the UK with nuclear weapons, and when asked whether the plan was to kill everyone, he responded, “well, not everyone“.

Putin is trying to raise the spectre of nuclear war in the minds of Europeans and Americans to (amongst other things) increase pressure on Western leaders to de-escalate the conflict.

[The mobilisation is] definitely a sign that Putin is struggling… [It’s] irresponsible rhetoric for a nuclear power to talk that way, but it’s not atypical for how he’s been talking the last seven months, and we take it seriously”.

US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby

Zoom out: According to military experts, Putin’s announcement is only the third time in history that Russia has declared a military mobilisation. The previous two were in 1914 and 1941.

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