Daily Briefs

Photo : Source: Stefano Rellandini, Pool / AP

08 March 2023, Wednesday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #455

Macron’s visit to Africa: Three Takeaways | Ukraine war: Day 377

EM Comment
By Trisha Roy

Macron’s visit to Africa: Three Takeaways

What happened?
On 04 March, French President Emmanuel Macron completed a four-day tour of Central Africa starting from 01 March 2023 wherein he visited Gabon, Congo, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The tour comes against the backdrop of France’s failing reputation in the continent and a renewed scramble for Africa. The visit has been termed an attempt to ‘reset’ or ‘redefine’ the erstwhile colonial power’s engagement with the region. However, this reset will require a non-armed approach, with a touch of humility.

During France’s presence in the region, security conditions deteriorated, plummeting its popularity. Shifting away from its former colonies, Macron included visits to other non-French colonies such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Moving away from regions brewing with anti-French sentiments is strategically important for France if it wants to remain a key player in the region.

The visit launched a strategy of reduced military presence in the African countries. This comes after the setback France faced in Mali and Burkina Faso, where it launched ambitious military interventions to tackle terrorism. 

Macron has tried to shift the focus away from politics by announcing French humanitarian aid to eastern DRC, including support for agriculture and forests. Recognising the increasing influence of other powers in the geo-strategically important continent, Macron pointed that "Africa is a theatre of competition. It has to be done in a fair framework ... We have our role to play, neither more nor less."
The visit follows several important developments bearing a significant impact on France - a renewed push from the United States of America to strengthen its economic ties after a lull of over a decade, build up of Russian presence in Sahel, particularly of its private military contractor Wagner Group and China’s diversified interest in Gabon and Angola. These have been coupled with France’s exit from Mali and very recently Burkina Faso, breaking up of age-old military ties of these countries and a deepening security crisis in West Africa’s Sahel region. 

What are the major takeaways?
The following three takeaways can be identified.

1. Need to win hearts and not wars
The African theatre is increasingly becoming more complicated and competitive. What used to be a stronghold of France decades ago has gradually eroded. The anti-French sentiments in these African nations have brought a lens of scepticism through which the erstwhile colonies look at France. Given these underlying sentiments, an attempt to renew France’s strategy will be difficult. 

After a failed decade-long fight in the Sahel, France’s capabilities and its intentions have begun to be questioned by the region. Jean Gaspard Ntoutoume Ayi, vice-president of Gabonese opposition party Union Nationale said there was no political or strategic coherence to this four-day trip. Hence, to win this war of influence, France will have to be a winner of the hearts of the new target states, alongside improving relations with countries it has already been engaged with for decades.
2. Jostling for influence 
The tour comes at a juncture when global politics witness another war of influence, with different actors this time. Macron’s visit follows several high-profile visits to the continent as each tries to expand its sphere of influence. China is known to have decades-long presence and deep-rooted economic ties, albeit often criticized for its debt-creating development projects across Africa. Russia is another entrant, which has been ousted with sanctions from Western countries for its year-long war in Ukraine. Russia has been eyeing Sudan, which was kept out of the Second US-Africa Leaders Summit in December 2022, for its strategic location next to the Red Sea and has a swaying influence over Sahel, a region where France had strategic interests up till now. The Wagner Group, Russia’s private military contractor, is said to have entered regions where France has had influence. But anti-French sentiment has pushed France to withdraw from Sahel with Macron stating "France's role is not to fix all the problems in Africa.” The tight rope on which France is walking on now needs to be tread with a balancing act.

3. Resetting a long due Africa policy 
Macron pointed to a reduction in French military presence in the continent, but not a complete withdrawal. Following setbacks in Mali and Burkina Faso, Macron is now looking for co-running France’s military bases with the host nations. Macron claimed Francafrique, a reference used to explain France’s relations with its erstwhile colonies, is a thing of the past. The time is ripe for France to reflect and reassess their policies in Africa. More unarmed cooperation with African nations will enable it to restore some trust and rebuild deeper relations if it wishes to maintain influence in the region. 

The visit, thus, points to a shift in France’s approach to the continent. The influence and status it once enjoyed has transformed and eroded to some extent over the years. Macron’s strategy will have to make room for a sustained presence of France in this increasingly competitive arena. The President’s approach of reduced military footprint in the continent is a step in the right direction to tackle the anti-French sentiment and suspicion on its intentions. The focus now should be on building a stronger democracy and ensuring grassroots development. 

The article was previously published in NIAS Africa Weekly

About the Author
Trisha Roy is a PhD scholar at the CHRIST (Deemed-to-be University), Bangalore. 

War in Ukraine: Day 377
By Padmashree Anandhan

War on the Ground
On 07 March, Ukrinform reported on Severodonetsk District Military Administration, Head reported on how Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, and Rubizhne has been used by Russian military as base. He said: “There are places where troops are stationed, ammunition depots. There are training centers on the outskirts of Severodonetsk. There are bases of Russian troops almost everywhere in the district.”

On 07 March, Ukraine State Border Guard Service with help from aerial surveillance forces reported on elimination of seven Wagner groups in Bakhmut. According to the report in the attempt by Wagner group in Bakhmut were blocked by Ukrainians which pushed them to step back. The surveillance took place using drone, and mortar units. On the same Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “The command unanimously supported this position. There were no other positions. I told the commander-in-chief to find the appropriate forces to help our guys in Bakhmut.”

The Moscow View
Claims by Russia

On 07 March, RT reported on Ukraine’s demand for “cluster munition,” to target Russia’s military. According to the report, the weapons are barred in 100 countries due to its “high risk” nature for people. It especially highlighted Ukraine’s ask for MK-20 Cluster bombs that can be deployed through drones.

On 07 March, RT reported on Russia’s Defence Minister comments on benefit of capturing Artyomovsk (Bakhmut). According to the Defence Minister: “Taking [Artyomovsk] under control will allow further offensive actions deep into the defense of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.” Artyomovsk is observed as key base for Ukraine to operate its supplies as it provides a 70 kilometres line and functions as protection against fighting in Donbass. The report also confirmed the circling of the are from north, east and south, the Defence Minister accused the West for boosting the military supplies and equipment to Ukraine. On the same the Wagner group Head, Yevgeny Prigozhin continues to warn about the shortages in “ammunition, and reinforcements.”

The Defence Ministry also confirmed on the prisoner exchange where 90 were sent back into Russia and 130 were sent into Ukraine, including 126 being servicemen and service women.  

The West View
Responses from the US and Europe 

On 07 March, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg issued a statement on increasing the need to boost military aid to Ukraine in the meeting with Defence Ministers in Sweden. He highlighted the situation to be turning into “war of attrition” and so increasing problems in logistics, thereby ensuring increased ammunition production has become important. 

On 07 March, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the extension of training period to October. Apart from this Canada also committed to provide USD one billion as military aid to Ukraine which includes Leopard tanks, armoured vehicles, surface to air missiles and munitions.

On 07 March, The New York Times reported on the US’s report on Nord-Stream pipelines. According to the report, the pro-Ukrainian groups have been suspected behind the damage in the Nord Stream pipelines. Germany’s Die Zeit a weekly says that Poland based company had influenced the Saboteur team, but the investigations does not give evidence on those responsible for the destruction of pipeline.

On 07 March, Poland’s Defence Minister announced to supply 10 more Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, with four already delivered 14 will be the total pledged number of tanks.

"Bakhmut will fall’ – Ukrainian tank soldier to AFP,RT, 07 March 2023
"Ukrainian military eliminate at least seven Wagner mercenaries in Bakhmut," Ukrinform, 07 March 2023
"Russian defense minister outlines importance of key Donbass city," RT, 07 March 2023
"Russians set up military bases almost everywhere in district - Severodonetsk administration head," Ukrinform, 07 March 2023
"Secretary General in Stockholm: time to welcome Finland and Sweden as NATO Allies," NATO, 07 March 2023

By Femy Francis

Protestors aim to halt government's operations against the pension reform bill
On 07 March, France came to a “standstill” as the country witnessed a mass gathering with 1.3 - 3.5 million people gathering against Emmanuel Macron's government “pension reform bill.” To further push Macron the unions have called for two more strikes scheduled for 11 March including the departments of transportation, education, refineries and energy. The protests also witnessed several power cuts demonstrations which have been criticized for negating the rights of protesting and several chemical plants shut down halting various sectors of the country. Nearly 47 per cent of EDF employees organized against the bill, a vital electricity provider for France. The demonstrations also took place in Paris with 700,00 protestors taking the road. It's estimated that nearly 24.4 per cent of civil servant employees have participated in the strike and the Senate is still debating the bill with many rejecting the amendments proposed by Macron to incentivise opting for the bill stating CDI provisions of a permanent employee where an employee can get the economic benefit. (“Pensions: what to remember from the mobilization day of March 7,” Les Echos, 07 March 2023)

Earthquake damages to cross USD 100 billion says UNDP
On 07 March, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimated that the cost of Turkey's earthquake damage might exceed USD 100 billion. This estimation is excluding the cost that needs to be incurred for the recovery and rebuilding of Turkey. They also expressed their dissatisfaction over the low-level response for funding pleas, stating that thousands of homes have been destroyed and the needs are rising while the resources are depleting. (“UN says Turkey's earthquake damage exceeds $100 billion,” Deutsche Welle, 07 March 2023)

The UK
Government discloses the plan to halt access for asylum for migrants reaching through small boats
On 07 March, the UK announced its plan to halt the access for asylum seekers who reach in small boats crossing the English Channel. The number of migrants reaching England increased to 45,000 in 2022, threatening the International Boundary Law. According to the proposed law, migrants arriving from small boats won't be granted asylum and would be detained where they would be kept under trial for 28 days and later deported. The only exception would be made for women and children or people who are medically unfit and in need of assistance. The opposition has called this move taking a risk at creating 'Chaos', while the refugee council called this move a shattering of the UN Refugee Convention where the refugees would be locked up like criminals. The UK government owes this move as a way to aid more legal channels of migration and stop illegal trafficking and dangerous crossing. (“UK reveals plan to stop asylum-seekers in small boats,” Deutsche Welle, 07 March 2023)

EU plans to propose Critical Raw Material Act
On 07 March, Euractiv reported about the Critical Raw Material Act draft set to be introduced on 14 March, which aims at making Europe a more self-sufficient nation. The proposal wants to minimise supply risk by strengthening the EU’s capacity of production in all stages, especially of raw material, extraction and recycling. The draft states, “10% of the Union’s consumption of strategic raw materials” should be mined in the EU. In addition, 15% of the Union’s annual consumption of each critical raw material should come from recycling and 40% of the bloc’s annual consumption of each strategic raw material.” Europe is heavily dependent on the imports of raw materials, whereas it is 100 per cent dependent on foreign suppliers, especially for raw materials. This move comes after the EU seeks to minimize dependency on China, which holds a monopoly where they import 93 per cent of magnesium and 86 per cent of rare metals. The draft also proposes to include special treatment of projects which are considered “Strategic” to the region, where the permitted time for mining projects will be drastically reduced from 10 years to 2 years and be aided by additional financial support to boost the industry's development. (Oliver Noyan, “LEAK: EU Commission wants 10% of critical raw materials mined in EuropeEuractiv, 07 March 2023)

EU proposal for Net-Zero Industry Act
On 08 March, Euractiv reported that the European Commission's Net- Zero Industry act (NZIA) draft aims to decrease dependency on foreign clean tech products, laying in parallel to the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The proposal aims to push European production of renewable technologies, this comes in light of their criticism of US IRA subsidies as discriminatory. The draft very clearly mentions that the public authorities have to be conscious of whether the green technology they are buying is produced in the EU or not. Some experts have called this move dangerous because they would be solely focusing on domestic requirements with EU bias and hence violating WTO provisions. (János Allenbach-Ammann, “The ‘Buy European’ clauses in the Net-Zero Industry Act” Euractiv, 08 March 2023)

Survey warns about the rising number of child poverty in the EU
On 07 March, Deutsche Welle reported on the Save the Children estimate that almost 20 million in EU countries are facing poverty. When aggregated puts every one in four children at risk of being in poverty. The report states that this was further pushed by the rising cost of living and the COVID-19 pandemic added an edge to the issue.  According to at risk of poverty or social exclusion (AROPE) Spain and Romania rated the worst with 33 per cent and 41.5 per cent of children risked at the line of poverty. While Finland at 13.2 per cent and Denmark at 14 per cent did the best among the European member states. The rise in cost and the soaring food prices affect the families of lower to middle-income class groups the most, where there is a large aggregate of migrant families, refugees and asylum seekers facing the worst of it. (“1 in 4 children at risk of poverty in Europe, report says,” Deutsche Welle, 07 March 2023)

Other Daily Briefs