Photo: Sergei Bobylev TASS Associated Press The President of Guinea-Bissau, Umaro Mokhtar Sissoco Embalo, is welcomed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on the occasion of the Russia-Africa summit held in Saint Petersburg in July 2023.
Célia Lebur – Agence France-Presse and Benoît Toussaint – Agence France-Presse in Paris
Diplomatic ballets, economic and security agreements…: exchanges are multiplying between a French-speaking Africa where French influence is declining and powers which, from China to Turkey via the Emirates or the United States, want to densify their presence on the continent.
“What is happening in Africa is a strategic surprise. We are in a historic moment, we are leaving an international order, in a rather violent way, and another is emerging,” explains Niagalé Bagayoko, president of the African Security Sector Network, a pan-African organization dedicated to the reform of systems. security in Africa.
This is evidenced by the succession of coups d'état in West Africa in recent years, marked by the coming to power of military juntas in Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea, the almost generalized rejection of France in the region and the departure of French armed forces in several of these countries.
“Some African states are redefining their relationships abroad and seeking to assert their own interests rather than defining themselves in relation to alliances, past or future,” analyzes Ms. Bagayoko .
Intense diplomatic activity has been underway for several weeks: Nigerien Prime Minister in Russia, Turkey and Iran; visit to Africa by the head of Chinese diplomacy, then by his American counterpart; BRICS delegation in Niamey, visit of the Chadian president to the United Arab Emirates then to Moscow and the recent Italy-Africa summit.
- How Macron lost Africa
- Africa has been rocked by eight coups in three years
African countries are looking for new security allies, “because what they obtain from these new actors is different from what they could receive from traditional partners like the United States or France”, points out Wolfram Lacher, Sahel specialist at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
The Central African Republic and Mali have thus used the services of Russian mercenaries to try to put down armed insurrections on their territories.
“Russia does not ask questions about human rights, does not demand democratic elections, but is simply ready to help African leaders defeat their enemies,” Konstantin Kalatchev, Russian political analyst, told AFP. .
On the economic level, while Westerners are regularly criticized for not investing enough in Africa, it has certainly been “years since the continent has been developing its trade with countries other than its traditional partners . But […] it is more than ever a question of diversifying cooperation, underlines an African Union diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.
“What we need are major infrastructure projects in transport, energy, and everyone who wants to participate is welcome,” adds this diplomat, who hopes for “maximum investments” and more only “budgetary aid”. Like the railway financed by Beijing linking Djibouti to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, inaugurated in 2017.
Africa occupies an important place in the Chinese strategy of the “New Silk Roads”, which has long resulted in the granting of loans to African countries or the financing of infrastructure, even if the economic slowdown in China and the African debt overhang have recently slowed down this dynamic.
Other foreign powers, although more discreet, are also playing their part on African soil, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
With more than 40 embassies in Africa, Ankara has notably sold combat drones to Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad in recent years, as well as planes and armored vehicles. Turkish companies have also built a mosque in Ghana, stadiums in Rwanda and Senegal and airports in several countries. Turkish Airline serves more than 60 destinations on the continent.
Another example, Saudi Arabia, after having spread its rigorist Wahhabi Islam on the continent, is now investing in the fight against terrorism in the Horn of Africa, worried about possible migratory waves in coming from these countries and keen to maintain security in the Red Sea to defend its commercial and tourism objectives.
We should “not read current developments in Africa except through the economic or military prism”, warns Niagalé Bagayoko.
“Cultural and religious “soft power” is essential,” especially when it comes from countries perceived as authoritarian: “The figure of the strong man is the one that appeals the most […] on the African continent. The religious factor is also fundamental,” underlines the researcher.
Moreover, promoting a model of authoritarian government to succeed in the region, as Russia does, “very explicitly aims to undermine the influence and discourse of the West,” warns Mr. Lacher .