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NIAS Africa Weekly #85&86 | Niger-France ties and Liberia elections

  NIAS Africa Team

Africa Weekly #85&86 Vol. 2, No.39 & 40

31 October, 2023

France's increasing unpopularity in Niger
The popular hostility towards France has caused a significant decline in the post-coup relations between France and Niger. The junta has capitalised on the anti-French sentiments to gain public support for its action.
Jerry Franklin

On 10 October, France began the withdrawal of its troops from Niger following the Niger junta’s requests. The junta asked the French 1,500 troops deployed in the country to leave after worsened ties between the two actors following the coup. The ties worsened after France refused to recognise the coup government and imposed sanctions. 

Background to France-Niger Relations
Since Niger gained independence from France in 1960, it has maintained a strong relationship with its former coloniser. According to the World Bank Report 2021, 42.9 per cent of Niger's population has been living under the poverty line; 83 per cent of people live in rural regions and 20 per cent of people cannot afford daily necessities, making it one of the poorest countries in the world. France has been providing significant aid to Niger. It offered a development package worth EUR 97 million (USD 106 million) IN 2021 through the French Development Agency. 

Additionally, around 1500 French soldiers have been stationed in Niger, training Nigerien soldiers and undertaking joint operations to combat the Islamist insurgency. France and the US relied heavily on Niger in its fight against Islamist insurgency in the larger Sahel region. Before the coup, Niger was seen as the West's last and most important ally in combating Islamist insurgency after Mali and Burkina Faso severed ties with France post-coup in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

Niger stands as the fourth-largest producer of uranium in the world and a significant supplier of gold and oil to West Africa. A study from World Nuclear News says that Niger provides around five per cent of the uranium used worldwide; a resource critical to France’s nuclear energy. Approximately, 70 per cent of France's energy demands are met by nuclear energy. Niger supplies 15-17 per cent of the Uranium requirements in France. Orano, formerly known as Areva, a French nuclear fuel cycle firm, has been mining uranium for over 40 years from Niger. In 2021, the European Atomic Energy Community's Supply Agency reported that Niger was the EU's primary supplier of uranium, followed by Kazakhstan and Russia.

Post-coup Niger-France relations
Popular hostility towards France has increased since the coup. Following President Mohamed Bazoum's overthrow by the military in July, nearly 30,000 people assembled in a stadium in Central Niamey, where they chanted anti-French slogans such as “down with France” and burned French flags. Shortly after seizing power, the junta severed military ties with France. French President Emmanuel Macron strongly opposed the coup and suspended the aid to Niger. Macron urged the junta to immediately restore constitutional order and release President Bazoum, who had been under house arrest for high treason. Since July, the junta has been demanding the immediate withdrawal of 1,500 French soldiers stationed in Niger and has urged French Ambassador Sylvian Itte to return to France without delay. 

Additionally, there have been attacks on the French embassy and a series of protests outside the French military base in Niger. As a result, the French ambassador, Sylvian Itte, returned to France and French President Emmanuel Macron ordered the evacuation of French soldiers from Niger. Niger has formed new alliances with military juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso which were the former colonies of France.

Factors contributed to the decline of France's influence in Niger
First, anti-French sentiment. The anti-French sentiment stems from French military presence for over a decade in Niger. Following the takeover, Niger's military authorities have leveraged the country's anti-French sentiment to foster a sense of national unity and pride. They have cited the withdrawal as a positive step towards the country's sovereignty. To combat Islamist insurgents, France and the UN provided military assistance to countries throughout the Sahel since 2014. France and the UN deployed thousands of soldiers in the Sahel region as a part of Operation Barkhane to combat the jihadist insurgency. However, despite their efforts, the insurgency has continued to escalate. As of November 2022, the operation has come to an end without fully achieving its objectives. The junta leaders in Niger took control of the government claiming to address the issue of insurgency and ensure the protection of their people. They claimed that the country needed a military government to initiate constructive measures and bring about positive changes in their country.

Second, neo-colonialism. France holds significant economic influence in Niger. France’s West African currency, CFA Franc, is Niger’s national currency. The currency is pegged to the Euro and requires Niger to deposit half of its reserves with the French treasury. CFA Franc is often criticised as a neo-colonial tool that hinders economic development in West African countries.

Third, unchecked extraction of Uranium. France has made huge profits from Uranium extraction in Niger, however, the people of Niger have not benefited from this extraction. Niger has exclusive access to uranium, however, it boosts the country's GDP only by around five per cent. Besides, there are also health and environmental issues raised in three of the uranium mines controlled by France. In 2021, one of the three mines was closed, leaving the town of Arlit in northern Niger with an estimated 20 million tonnes of radioactive waste. This has raised concerns about the safety and well-being of the locals, as well as the impact on the environment. The sanctions imposed by Nigeria after the coup have further worsened the situation. Multinational corporations that mine uranium often engage in secretive negotiations and covert agreements, lacking transparency and fairness, which benefit the companies more than the people of Niger. The careless exploitation of natural resources paved the way for increasing anti-French sentiments.

What does it mean?
The unchecked extraction of natural resources coupled with external influence and interference led to the military and people turning against France. The people of Niger demand full control of their resources and sovereignty. France's withdrawal from Niger would have a significant impact on the country's foreign relations. Additionally, the counterterrorism activities would be severely hindered by France's withdrawal from Niger. Beyond security concerns, Niger has significant challenges such as high rates of young unemployment and economic crises. The Sahel region's geopolitics is undergoing major transformations. The Sahel actors seek to expand beyond French control and align with countries like China and Russia. 

Liberia elections: Explained
Nithyashree RB

On 10 October, Liberians participated in the first round of elections to elect 73 legislators, 15 senators and the president. President Weah secured 43.83 per cent and Joseph Boakai secured 43.44 per cent with Cummings securing just 1.61 per cent. Since nobody secured an absolute majority, the second round of elections will be held on 14 November 2023 between Weah and Boakai. According to the NEC, the voter turnout was record high 78.86 per cent of 2.4 million registered voters.

 Despite the several coups in West Africa, the democracy in Liberia highlights the country’s commitment to inclusive development and stability. The election occurred on the 20th anniversary of the Accra Peace Agreement which ended the second Liberian civil war. The 2023 election is significant as this will be the first election to be conducted by the National Elections Commission (NEC) autonomously since the end of the civil war in 2003. International partners such as the UN and ECOWAS would not be supporting the election process. New reforms such as the biometric voter system have been introduced by the NEC.  

What is the background to the election?
Liberia, in 1847, upon independence elected its first President, Joseph Jenkins Roberts. The country went through several waves of political instabilities until 2003 including coups, multiple civil wars and rebel movements. Liberia has been politically stable since 2005 after Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first woman president in Africa. In 2017, International football star, George Weah, became the president with a larger public support by securing 60 per cent votes. Weah’s victory highlighted the country’s democratic transfer to power since 1944, following two civil wars between 1989 and 2003, and an Ebola outbreak between 2014 and 2016.

In April 2023, 46 political parties accredited by the National Elections Commission pledged to refrain from violence under the Farmington River Declaration. The declaration was drafted by the UN and the ECOWAS.  

The president is elected for a six-year term. The general election occurs on the second Tuesday of October during the election year. The run-off election may occur on the second Tuesday after the announcement of the results of the general election if an absolute majority has not been obtained. 

Who are the major contenders?
There are 20 contenders for the presidential seat; of which two are women. 

George Weah, a former international football star, is the current President of Liberia and is the leader of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC). CDC initially consisted of the Congress for Democratic Change, the National Patriotic Party and the Liberia People’s Democratic Party. 

Under Weah’s administration, access to electricity has increased and numerous road infrastructure projects are underway across the country. Persisting corruption and increase in food prices jeopardise his victory. His election manifesto guarantees a social health insurance scheme and off-the-grid solar energy for public hospitals and secondary hospitals. It also includes formalising artisanal and small-scale mining activities.

Joseph Boakai, also known as “Sleepy Joe,” leads the Unity Party which is in coalition with the Movement for Democratic Reconstruction (MDR). Boakai has emerged as a strong contender against Weah. Boakai, who is 78 years old, was the minister of agriculture from 1983 to 1985 and was the vice president under the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration. His election campaign focuses on development in the agricultural sector, facilitating cross-border trade, fighting against corruption and energy recycling.

Alexander B Cumming, leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) now leads the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) which is made up of ANC and Liberty Party (LP). He was placed fifth in the 2017 presidential election. His campaign emphasises women's empowerment, youth employment and human rights.

Other notable contenders include Tiawan Gongloe of the Liberian People’s Party, who is a human rights lawyer. Sara Nyanti, a former deputy special representative of the UN mission in South Sudan is also one of the contenders. 

What are the major issues?
Corruption and economic crisis are some of the major issues persisting in the country. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Liberia ranks 142 out of 180 countries. In 2017, Weah’s administration pledged to fight corruption, however, it failed. Trust in government institutions is diminishing as corruption persists. 

In 2022, the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned three government officials of Liberia. Nathaniel McGill (Chief of Staff), Sayma Syrenius Cephus (Solicitor General and Chief Prosecutor) and Bill Twehey (Managing Director of the National Port Authority (NPA). The sanctioned individuals were involved in public corruption. 

High rates of poverty resulting from civil wars are exacerbated by corruption. According to the World Bank, more than half the population receive USD 1.90 wage per day, and half a million face food insecurity due to rising food prices due to the Ukraine war.

Institutionally, the National Police face challenges in ensuring safety and security to the Liberians. According to the Elections Coordinating Committee’s chairperson Oscar Bloh, the absence of international partners in overseeing the elections will burden the police. Bloh states: “The police, the internal security, they are faced with enormous challenges from limited human resource capacity, limited logistics, uniform issues, issues of finances to deploy across the country.” 

11 October-31 October
By Anu Maria Joseph

Hosts Cairo Peace Summit
On 21 October, the Cairo Peace Summit was held in the Egyptian capital Cairo. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and leaders from Jordan, France, Germany, Russia, China, the US, the US and Qatar attended the summit along with the UN and the EU officials. The summit aims to discuss ways to de-escalate the Israel-Palestine conflict and the urgent need for humanitarian support. Ramaphosa asserted that his country could bring out its experience of conflict resolution in Africa and mediate peace talks between the conflicting parties. Previously, the Egyptian government had raised concern over the mass exodus of Palestinians through the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. On 18 October, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stated that his country would oppose the forced displacement of Palestinians into Sinai which would create a threat to the Egyptian peninsula turning into a base for attacks against Israel. (“World leaders attend Cairo peace summit to ‘de-escalate’ Israel-Hamas war,” Al Jazeera, 21 October 2023)

US and Saudi Arabia to resume peace talks
On 26 October, the US and Saudi Arabia announced that they would resume peace talks in Jeddah to reach a ceasefire in Sudan. Representatives of the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces have agreed to attend the peace talks.  Previous peace talks held in Jeddah were ineffective after the warring sides failed to commit to the agreed ceasefires. The conflict between the two military factions has reached a sixth month leaving 9,000 people dead. Meanwhile, the same day, BBC Africa reported that the RSF has taken control of the Nyala town in the state of South Darfur. (“Sudan army, RSF to resume peace talks in Jeddah,” BBC, 26 October 2023)

The US calls on RSF to stop shelling civilian regions
On 20 October, the US called on the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group fighting against the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in Sudan to stop shelling in civilian regions stating that it was “deepening the suffering of the Sudanese people.” The Department of State commented: "The United States calls on the RSF to immediately cease shelling of civilian neighbourhoods and to protect civilians in Nyala, Omdurman, and throughout Sudan.” The RSF and SAF have been fighting since April, a conflict that according to the UN has killed more than 5000 people and displaced nearly five million. Recently, RSF increased its attacks in the civilian regions near Omdurman and Bahri to weaken the SAF-held regions. (“US urges Sudan's RSF to stop shelling civilian areas,” BBC, 20 October 2023)

Eritrea against Prime Minister Abiy’s Red Sea remark 
On 16 October, the Eritrean government commented that they would not be “drawn into” discussions on Ethiopia’s access to the Red Sea. The tensions come after Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed stated that access to the Red Sea is “a matter of existence” for his country. He stated: "The Red Sea and the Nile River define Ethiopia. They are the foundations for Ethiopia's development or its demise.” Ethiopia is a landlocked country that depends on Djibouti for 85 per cent of its exports and imports. (“Eritrea responds to Abiy's controversial Red Sea remark,” BBC, 16 October 2023)

King Charles visit
On 11 October, BBC reported on the UK’s King Charles's visit to Kenya later in October. He will be accompanied by Queen Camilla during the four-day visit. The visit also comes alongside Kenya marking its 60th anniversary of independence from Britain. King Charles' office commented that he would acknowledge the “painful aspects” of the colonial history of Kenya during the visit. Deputy private secretary to the King, Chris Fitzgerald, stated: "The King and Queen's programme will celebrate the close links between the British and Kenyan people in areas such as the creative arts, technology, enterprise, education and innovation. The visit will also acknowledge the more painful aspects of the UK and Kenya's shared history, including the Emergency (1952-1960). His Majesty will take time during the visit to deepen his understanding of the wrongs suffered in this period by the people of Kenya." (“King Charles to make a state visit to Kenya,” BBC, 11 October 2023)

King Charles visit 
On 29 October, King Charles and Queen Camilla began their four-day visit to Kenya. During the visit, he acknowledged the “painful aspects” of Britain's colonial rule in Kenya. More than 10,000 people were killed during the suppression of the Mau Mau uprising in 1950. In 2013, the UK paid reparations worth USD 24 million to around 5,000 people. The response to the visit is divided. One section believes that the visit will be a new beginning for Kenya-Britain relations. The other section believes that the visit will be an insult to the painful past of the colonial era. (“King Charles Kenya trip: Mau Mau uprising hangs over visit,” BBC, 29 October 2023)

President signs new health legislation
On 19 October, Kenyan President William Ruto approved the new health legislation. The new scheme would require all workers to contribute 2.75 per cent of their wage towards a new health fund. The government aims to make healthcare easily accessible to poor Kenyans. However, the scheme faces major criticism with many Kenyans considering it as a new tax. They claim that the new policy is against the promises he made during the election to ease financial difficulties. Others fear that it will be beset by corruption. (“Kenya healthcare: President William Ruto signs controversial UHC bills,” BBC, 19 October 2023)

Tensions with Somalia
On 20 October, Somaliland condemned the move by the Somali government announcing that it would work with self-declared administration in the disputed regions of Somaliland including Sool, Sanaag and Ayn (SSC-Khatumo). Somaliland claimed that the move was a "deliberate attack on Somaliland's statehood and territorial integrity.” Although the Somali government did not recognise the self-declared regions, it welcomed the formation of the SSC Khatumo. Somaliland authority stated: "The government of Somaliland firmly asserts that neither Somalia nor the clan militia have jurisdiction or claim over Las Anod.” In 1991, Somaliland unilaterally claimed autonomy from Somalia and has since been seeking international recognition. (“Somaliland accuses Somalia of 'attack' on its statehood,” BBC, 20 October 2023)

World Bank to provide loan for power crisis
On 26 October, the World Bank announced that it would loan USD one billion to South Africa to assist the country in addressing the long unresolved power crisis. The World Bank stated: “The loan endorses a significant and strategic response to South Africa’s ongoing energy crisis and the country’s goal of transitioning to a just and low carbon economy.” 80 per cent of the country’s energy production depends on coal, making the country the 14th largest emitter of carbon dioxide. (“SA gets $1bn World Bank loan to tackle power crisis,” BBC, 26 October 2023)

Talks with Ukrainian president on revival of grain deal
On 17 October, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky held talks on the revival of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Both leaders agreed to work together on the revival of the deal. Additionally, Ramphosa emphasised on the commitment to the Africa Peace Initiative, a proposal by seven African countries as a basis for peace. The development comes after Kenyan President William Ruto's statement last month on Ukraine agreeing to set up a grain hub in the port of Mombasa aiming to supply the East African region. (“SA and Ukraine leaders discuss grain deal revival,” BBC, 19 October 2023)

Four children were killed in heavy rains

On 18 October, BBC Africa reported on heavy rains in the provinces of Manicaland and Midlands in Zimbabwe. Five children were killed in the heavy rains and lightning. Meanwhile, heavy rains were also reported in the neighbouring country, South Africa, in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape. In September, at least 11 people were killed in heavy rains in the province of Western Cape in South Africa. (“Five children killed amid heavy rains in Zimbabwe,” BBC, 18 October 2023)

Opposition protests against election irregularities
On 17 October, BBC Africa reported on protests in Mozambique’s capital Maputo. The protests were carried out by the opposition party, Renamo, against the elections held on 13 October which they claimed were rigged and favoured the ruling party, Frelimo. Meanwhile, the police fired tear gas against the protesters injuring several. An unnamed protester stated: "They didn’t need to do this, after all, isn’t this democracy? We are marching peacefully and we don’t want problems with anyone.” Renamo failed to secure any seats this term although it governed seven municipalities previously. Leader of Renamo, Ossufo Momade, asserted that they will continue the protests until the “election truth” is uncovered. (“Dozens injured as riot police tear-gas election protests,” BBC, 17 October 2023)

Deal with UAE giant DP World
On 23 October, United Arab Emirates (UAE) maritime giant DP World signed a multimillion-dollar deal with Tanzania. The deal worth USD 250 million will give the DP World the managing authority of the Dar es Salaam port for the next 30 years. The deal has sparked several criticisms  that it "violated Tanzania's constitution and endangers national sovereignty.” However, the high court of the town of Mbedya has dismissed the petition demanding to halt the deal. The Dp World, owned by Emirati ruling families, has port operations in Angola, Djibouti, Egypt, Morocco, Mozambique, Senegal and Somalia. In 2021, it promised to invest USD one billion in Africa. (“DP World in Tanzania: The UAE firm taking over Africa's ports,” BBC, 23 October 2023)

Tensions delay elections
On 12 October, BBC Africa reported that the constitutional court of Madagascar postponed the presidential election by a week. The elections will be held on 16 November. Political tensions have been rising in the country with the opposition staging protests over the irregularities in the election process. (“Tension as Madagascar delays election by a week,” BBC, 12 October 2023)

40 people were kidnapped in Touboro
On 24 October, BBC Africa reported that at least 40 Chadian and Cameroonian citizens were kidnapped by the bandits in the town of Touboro in Cameroon. Mayor of the town, Celestin Yandal, told BBC that the bandits targeted the Chadian traders who were returning from Touboro market. Cameroon and Chad share 1,100 kilometres of borders which are prone to ransom kidnappings. (“Bandits in Cameroon kidnap around 40 people - mayor,” BBC, 24 October 2023)

ADF attack, M23 resurgence and tensions with East African force
On 24 October, BBC Africa reported that at least 23 civilians were killed in a rebel attack in the town of Oicha in the Beni region of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congolese government attributed the attack to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Uganda-based rebel group linked to Islamic State active in the region. Meanwhile, on 23 October, BBC Africa reported on a new wave of fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo between the government forces and March 23 (M23) rebels. According to the report, the rebels have captured the town of Kitshanga in the province of North Kivu. An unnamed security source informed AFP news agency: "The rebels are in Kitshanga and we are trying to find a way to retake the town.” The previous week, the Congolese government had asked the East African force to leave the country by December owing to its failure to address the M23 unrest. Forces from Kenya, Burundi, Uganda and South Sudan have been deployed in the eastern DRC against the M23 campaign in November 2022. However, the rebel campaign has worsened in the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu with the Rwandan government allegedly supporting the rebels. According to the UN refugee agency, more than 6.2 million people have been displaced due to the insurgency in the region. (“Islamists kill 23 in morning attack - DR Congo mayor,” BBC, 24 October 2023)

New wave of fighting in eastern DRC
On 23 October, BBC Africa reported on the eruption of a new wave of fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo between the government forces and M23 rebels. According to the report, the rebels have captured the town of Kitshanga in the province of North Kivu. An unnamed security source informed AFP news agency: "The rebels are in Kitshanga and we are trying to find a way to retake the town.” The resumed fighting has disrupted a six-month truce. The previous week, the Congolese government had asked the East African force to leave the country by December owing to its failure to address the M23 unrest. Forces from Kenya, Burundi, Uganda and South Sudan have been deployed in the eastern DRC against M23 rebels in November 2022. However, the rebel campaign has worsened in the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu with the Rwandan government allegedly supporting the rebels. According to the UN refugee agency, more than 6.2 million people have been displaced due to the insurgency in the region. (“Rebels recapture DR Congo town in fresh fighting,” BBC, 23 October 2023)

Protest against East African force
On 19 October, BBC Africa reported on a protest in the Democratic Republic of Congo against the East African force. The protests are led by a coalition of civil societies in the country against the failure of the regional force in dealing with the M23 rebels. Forces from Kenya, Burundi, Uganda and South Sudan have been deployed in the eastern DRC against M23 rebels in November 2022. However, the rebel campaign has worsened in the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu with the Rwandan government allegedly supporting the rebels. According to the UN refugee agency, more than 6.2 million people have been displaced due to the insurgency in the region. (“Congolese protest against East African force,” BBC, 19 October 2023)

DRC-Uganda's new scheme of visa-free travel
On 16 October, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda governments announced their agreement for visa-free travel between the countries. The agreement aims at free movement of people and strengthening trade. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has been promoting the idea of visa-free entry for months. Previously he stated: “Crossing in East Africa should be cost-free. You pay for a visa when going to America, or Europe, but a visa to DR Congo?! That is rubbish. If that is the case, I have removed it.” (“Uganda and DR Congo agree on visa-free travel,” BBC, 16 October 2023)

To ease restrictions in conflict-hit regions ahead of elections
On 13 October, the Democratic Republic of Congo government announced the reduction of restrictions in the conflict-hit regions. A state of siege or martial law has been imposed in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri for the past two years after multiple insurgent groups created unrest in the region. President Felix Tshisekedi announced the lifting of the restrictions to allow the free movement of people and goods and to restore peaceful demonstration and assembly ahead of the upcoming presidential elections. He stated: "This is all the more important as the various players involved in the electoral process are entitled to participate fully and without hindrance.” (“DR Congo to ease restrictions in conflict-hit region,” BBC, 13 October 2023)

Military leader discusses ties with Russian president
On 11 October, BBC Africa reported on a telephone conversation between Malian military leader Colonel Assimi Goita and Russian President Vladimir Putin. They discussed economic and security cooperation. Goita stated: “During a telephone conversation, I spoke to President Putin about our cooperation in the economic, security and counter-terrorism fields. I expressed my gratitude for all the support Russia is giving Mali.” The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the two leaders "reaffirmed their mutual commitment to further enhance trade and economic relations, cooperation in providing security and fighting terrorism. The Mali side expressed appreciation for the diverse assistance provided by Russia.” (“Mali junta chief and Russian president discuss ties,” BBC, 11 October 2023)

Military orders UN mission leader to leave
On 11 October, the Niger junta ordered the head of the UN diplomatic mission in the country to leave within 72 hours. Niger’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the UN of using “underhanded manoeuvres” carried out by France to halt Niger from participating in the UN General Assembly in September. (“Junta orders UN boss to leave Niger within 72 hours,” BBC, 11 October 2023)

Russia to build nuclear power plant
On 13 October, the Burkina Faso junta signed a deal with Russia to build a nuclear power plant in the country. The development comes after Putin’s talks with Burkinabe military ruler Captain Ibrahim Traore during the Russia-Africa summit held in Moscow in July. Capt Traore stated: "We have a critical need for energy, this is an important point for me because we need, if possible, to build a nuclear power station in Burkina Faso to produce electricity." He added: "Our position is rather strategic because we are in the heart of West Africa and we have an energy deficit in the sub-region." The deal aims to achieve 95 per cent electricity access in urban areas and 30 per cent in rural areas by 2030. The country’s ties with Russia strengthened after the coup in 2022 and the worsened ties with France. (“Burkina Faso to sign nuclear power deal with Russia,” BBC, 13 October 2023)

To distribute USD 1.5 billion to poor
On 18 October, the Nigerian government announced that it would begin distributing USD 1.5 billion to 15 million financially struggling households. According to the Ministry of Finance, eligible families will receive USD 32 for three months. Nearly 62 million Nigerians belong to vulnerable households in Nigeria where the total population is 200 million. The scheme aims to assist families facing economic hardships due to the removal of a fuel subsidy in May. (“Nigeria to start distributing $1.5bn cash to the poor,” BBC, 18 October 2023)

Gunmen abduct 50 people
On 17 October, BBC Africa reported that at least 50 people including women and children were abducted by gunmen in the state of Zamfara in Nigeria. The incident happened after armed men stormed the village of Bagega on motorcycles. At least three people were killed and several others were injured after the gunmen used weapons indiscriminately and set houses on fire. Kidnappings for ransom are common in northwestern Nigeria. It is carried out by armed men, also known as bandits, who target villages and schools. There has been a relative lull in ransom kidnapping for the past few months. However, the latest development is concerning considering the worsening security situation in West Africa followed by the coup in Niger and the withdrawal of the UN and French troops. (“Armed men kidnap 50 people in north-west Nigeria,” BBC, 17 October 2023)

600 killed in diphtheria outbreak
On 12 October, BBC Africa reported that at least 600 people including children have died in Nigeria after the outbreak of diphtheria in December 2022. The epicentre of the disease is in the state of Kano in northern Nigeria where more than 500 deaths were reported. Diphtheria is a highly contagious disease that is spread by coughs and sneezes or through close contact with an infected person. According to Primary Health Care Development Agency head, Dr Faisal Shuaib, the disease is preventable through vaccines. However, the majority of the children in the country have not received vaccination. He stated: "Witnessing the young children suffering from this entirely preventable disease at the centre today was profoundly heart-wrenching.” (“Nigeria diphtheria outbreak kills 600,” BBC, 12 October 2023)

Power crisis amid unpaid bills
On 18 October, BBC Africa reported on Guinea-Bissau’s power crisis due to unpaid bills. A Turkish firm, Karpowership, has been providing five per cent of the country's electricity needs. However, the country failed to pay a bill of USD 15 million plunging the city into constant power cuts. The Ministry of Economy asserted that the bills would be settled within 15 days. Energy Minister Isuf Balde stated: "In a small and poor country like Guinea-Bissau, carrying out a transfer operation of this level, $10m, takes time.” A Karpowership spokesperson stated: "Unfortunately, following a protracted period of non-payment, our [floating power plant] is now unable to continue operating, we are working around the clock with officials to resolve this issue and we aim to have generation back online as soon as possible." (“Guinea-Bissau capital without power over an unpaid bill to Turkey's Karpowership,” BBC, 18 October 2023)

US to remove four countries from Agoa
On 31 October, US President Joe Biden announced that the US will remove Uganda, Gabon, Niger and the Central African Republic from the US-Africa trade programme. Biden stated that those countries are involved in “gross violations” of human rights. In 2000, the US introduced the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa). It gives duty-free access to more than 1,800 US-based products. Biden stated that Niger and Gabon are ineligible to Agoa as they “have not established, or are not making continual progress toward establishing the protection of political pluralism and the rule of law.” Additionally, CAR and Uganda carry out  "gross violations of internationally recognised human rights.” (“US to remove Uganda and three other African countries from Agoa trade deal,” BBC, 31 October 2023)

About the Authors
Nithyashree RB is a Postgraduate Scholar at Stella Maris College, Chennai. Jerry Franklin A is a Postgraduate Scholar at Madras Christian College, Chennai. Anu Maria Joseph is a Research Assistant at NIAS.

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