Egypt’s Sisi Clamped Down on Political Opposition—Next Up Is the Economy

The military has amassed a growing business empire under the former general-turned-president, leading to renewed popular resentment

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi speaks during the inauguration of an agricultural project at a military base. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

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  • CAIRO—Three years ago, President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi’s government announced that a gleaming new capital city would rise in Egypt’s eastern desert by 2022, featuring tree-lined boulevards, new homes for five million people and the tallest building in Africa.

    The project is now well behind schedule, according to its military-controlled developer. The only finished structure is a military-owned hotel in a cream-colored compound. Project spokesman Khaled El Husseiny said just one of three phases is under construction. “We did not plan for anything other than the first phase, I have to be honest,” he said.

    President Sisi won re-election in March with 97% of the vote, facing only a token challenger after every credible opposition candidate was jailed or removed from the race. Within the Arab world, Mr. Sisi’s continued rule is an example of the resurgent regimes that increasingly claim victory over the forces unleashed by the 2011 Arab Spring.

    The site of a planned new administrative capital in Egypt’s eastern desert.
    The site of a planned new administrative capital in Egypt’s eastern desert. PHOTO: AHMED GOMAA/XINHUA/ZUMA PRESS

    Egypt is also an example of how those same forces are bubbling just under the surface. In many ways, Mr. Sisi’s strategy mirrors that of former President Hosni Mubarak, whose nearly three-decade rule here was ended by popular uprising. Like Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Sisi has relied on a vast security state and an economic approach that privileges the military. Many in the business sector complain that Mr. Sisi has gone even farther in sidelining private enterprise, to the detriment of the economy.

    “They trust the military first. And the private sector, they accept them,” said Naguib Sawiris, a billionaire who says some of his own Egyptian business plans have been thwarted by state intervention. “The security can block any project. They have their own companies now. It’s not a good situation.”

    Arab Winter

    Egypt is doing better than many of its peers in overall economic growth since the Arab Spring, but ordinary Egyptians remain plagued by a soaring cost of living and high unemployment.

    GDP growth

    6%

    Egypt

    4

    Algeria

    2

    Jordan

    Tunsia

    0

    Morocco

    –2

    ’13

    ’12

    ’11

    2010

    ’16

    ’17

    ’15

    ’14

    Unemployment

    18%

    Jordan

    16

    Tunsia

    14

    Egypt

    12

    Algeria

    10

    Morocco

    8

    ’12

    ’13

    ’16

    ’17

    2010

    ’15

    ’11

    ’14

    Inflation

    14%

    Egypt

    12

    Algeria

    10

    Jordan

    8

    Tunsia

    6

    Morocco

    4

    2

    0

    –2

    ’12

    2010

    ’13

    ’14

    ’15

    ’11

    ’16

    ’17

    Source: World Bank

    Egypt’s economy is growing at a modest clip of about 5.4%, according to the central bank. But for the vast majority of Egyptians, living standards have been slipping amid high youth unemployment and rising food prices, fueling some of the same grievances that preceded the revolution—and raising the prospect of a repeat.

    Inflation and economic malaise have triggered demonstrations across the wider Middle East in recent months. In Iran in December and January, economic frustration sparked more than a week of protests that left at least 20 people dead. In Tunisia, budget cuts triggered raucous demonstrations and clashes with security forces in 10 cities and towns coinciding with the anniversary of the ouster of long time strongman Zine Al Abedine Ben Ali. In Jordan, sit-ins and other protests took place in January in reaction to the rising price of bread. Spontaneous protests erupted in Egypt earlier this month after the government announced a surprise increase in the price of subway tickets.

    Riot police recently guarded a metro station at Tahrir square in the center of Cairo, a focal point of protests during the Arab Spring.
    Riot police recently guarded a metro station at Tahrir square in the center of Cairo, a focal point of protests during the Arab Spring. PHOTO: AMR ABDALLAH DALSH/REUTERS

    In the Gulf, wealthy monarchies count Egypt’s government as a firewall against a repeat of the popular upheaval.

    “I prayed to God that Egypt would not collapse,” said Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a visit to Cairo in March.

    A former commander of the armed forces, Mr. Sisi surged to power after he led the overthrow in 2013 of the elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Following the coup, security forces cracked down on Mr. Morsi’s supporters and other political opponents, killing at least a thousand people and jailing tens of thousands of others, according to rights groups.

    Mr. Sisi promised Egyptians stability and prosperity, claiming credit for steering Egypt away from the turmoil and war that engulfed other Arab countries such as Syria, Libya, and Yemen.

    For a time, Mr Sisi enjoyed cult status. His inspired supporters stamped his likeness on everything from chocolates to women’s underwear.

    But the sheen has worn off his presidency. Stability has proved elusive as the government struggles to halt attacks by militant groups, including the Islamic State which has killed hundreds of soldiers and civilians in recent years.

    Discontent has even surfaced within the same military establishment that brought Mr. Sisi to power. Since December, the government has detained and sidelined a series of opponents who stepped forward to challenge the president in the election, including three current and former military officers.

    Although Mr. Sisi has helped expand the military’s economic profile, would-be opposition candidates from military backgrounds assailed the president’s record on security, the economy, and a lack of political freedoms.

    Mr. Sisi’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. Egypt’s armed forces spokesman declined to comment.

    Analysts say Mr. Sisi sees himself as a part of a world-wide cohort of strongman rulers. Prior to Egypt’s vote, he made a point of congratulating Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on his victory in a scripted election. He also lauded China’s President Xi Jinping, who just became China’s de facto leader for life.

    A Cairo market, where signs of inflation abound.
    A Cairo market, where signs of inflation abound. PHOTO: KHALED DESOUKI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

    Egypt’s military has played a major role in the economy for decades. Business ventures helped the armed forces offset budget cuts imposed by Mr. Mubarak in the years following the 1978 peace treaty with Israel. By the end of Mr. Mubarak’s 30 years in power, the military owned supermarkets and hotels and also made pasta as well as weapons, taking advantage of its tax-exempt status and access to cheap labor in the form of conscripted soldiers.

    But under Mr. Sisi, the military has achieved new heights of economic power. The exact percentage of the economy controlled by the armed forces is impossible to calculate, as military-linked enterprises don’t disclose their profits and the details of the military’s budget aren’t made public. Any accounting by government watchdogs is now even harder, since Egypt’s former chief corruption auditor is on military trial after he joined an opposition presidential campaign and threatened to release incriminating evidence about the military leadership.

    In an interview with state TV in March, Mr. Sisi said the military makes up only 2% to 3% of the economy. “If it was 50% I would have been proud,” he said. “The armed forces are part of the government.”

    Experts believe the true size of the military’s economic role is much higher than the official figure, based on observations of army-led enterprises.

    “He doesn’t trust the private sector. He doesn’t trust businessmen,” said Andrew Miller, a former official responsible for Egypt at the U.S. National Security Council.

    When Mr. Sisi came to power, he turned to the military to help fix the stumbling economy. He assigned the Armed Forces Engineering Authority to organize an expansion of the Suez Canal, one of his signature megaprojects.

    With Mr. Sisi’s blessing, the military soon encroached on civilian enterprises too. The government discarded a civilian-authored plan to parcel out land along the canal to build an industrial zone and port area. He instead awarded a pair of contracts, including one to a partnership between the military and a private developer, according to Ahmed Darwish, the former chairman of the Suez Canal Economic Zone. To date, the planned zone hasn’t materialized, although the government says it is pressing ahead with the project.

    Mr. Darwish was later replaced at his post by Admiral Mohab Mamish, a military leader who also heads the Suez Canal Authority. Several other business-oriented civilian officials have departed Mr. Sisi’s government over the years, including two economists who served in previous cabinets, leaving the military even more dominant.

    The military also exerts influence through a diffuse network of current and former officers who sit on corporate boards and own stakes in private businesses. Those holdings help the military class gain control and profit even from enterprises it doesn’t directly own.

    “They just have a finger in every pie,” said Shana Marshall, an expert on Egyptian political economy at George Washington University.

    Military and security officials have orchestrated a takeover of at least three major privately owned television channels in the past two years. A former military spokesman took charge of the satellite channel Al Asema in January 2017. A security company headed by a former military intelligence official took over Al Hayat TV in mid-2017.

    The takeover rolled back the influence of some of Egypt’s most powerful civilian businessmen. Mr. Sawiris, the former owner of popular network OnTV, said the government asked him to fire at least three news anchors. When he refused, the network OnTV was taken over by a pro-government steel magnate, before his shares were sold to a company owned by Egypt’s intelligence service in 2017.

    Egyption billionaire Naguib Sawiris says some of his business plans have been thwarted by state intervention
    Egyption billionaire Naguib Sawiris says some of his business plans have been thwarted by state interventionPHOTO: SIMA DIAB/BLOOMBERG NEWS

    Mr. Sawiris said the security forces also have thwarted private-sector business plans. He said his attempt to acquire the investment firm CI Capital was blocked by the security services in 2016. CI Capital didn’t respond to a request for comment.

    Objections by Egyptian security services scuttled an attempt last year by Archer Daniels Midland Co. to acquire Egypt’s National Company for Maize Products, according to Mr. Sawaris. A person familiar with the matter confirmed that Egyptian regulators blocked the planned acquisition.

    The maize company, which couldn’t be reached for comment, later merged with another Egyptian company instead.

    During Mr. Sisi’s years in power, the government has ushered in regulatory changes that make it easier for the armed forces to do business. His government expanded their ability to strike real estate deals and authorized the military to form a pharmaceutical company.

    When a currency crisis resulted in shortages of staples like sugar in 2016, the army began selling subsidized parcels of food out of the backs of trucks. It also supplied baby formula at a discount through pharmacies, touting the move as a victory over the private sector. “The Armed Forces has landed a blow against the greedy monopoly of traders and companies working in the milk industry,” the military spokesman said in a written statement in September 2016.

    The most visible element of the military’s expanding economic empire is a vast array of government construction projects, including roads and apartment buildings, such as a national initiative to build a million housing units across the country. New regulations have allowed military-linked contractors to establish a virtual monopoly over public building contracts, experts say.

    The so-called “New Administrative Capital” is the most ambitious of those projects. Announced in 2015, the government hoped it would attract five million residents, alleviating overcrowding in greater Cairo, currently home to an estimated 20 million people. Millions live in slums and other informal housing with unreliable access to government services.

    The planned new city has offered the military ample opportunity to flex its economic muscle. When a Chinese state company backed out of a $3 billion deal to build government buildings at the site in 2017, the Armed Forces Engineering Authority offered to complete construction at half the price through subcontracts, according to Mr Husseiny.

    In March, the Egyptian government announced the start of construction of a commercial district in the new capital, an area that includes plans for a 1,263-foot skyscraper. The building would be Africa’s tallest if completed. To complete this section of the new capital, the military-backed company overseeing the new capital contracted with China State Construction Engineering Corp.

    On the dusty road to the construction site is a billboard for the Talaat Moustafa Group, which is one of the largest known investors in the project.  The firm of Hisham Talaat Moustafa, a former senior member of Mr. Mubarak’s party, has poured nearly $2 billion in the new capital.

    Mr. Moustafa emerged from an extraordinary bout of legal trouble to contribute to the project.

    Banners lauding President Sisi are common at election time.
    Banners lauding President Sisi are common at election time. PHOTO: AMR ABDALLAH DALSH/REUTERS

    A Cairo criminal court convicted Mr. Moustafa of hiring the former police officer who stabbed to death a Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim in a Dubai hotel in 2008. The trial made Mr. Moustafa into a symbol of what many saw as a culture of excess and cronyism in the twilight years of Mr. Mubarak’s presidency. Mr. Moustafa’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

    In June 2017, Mr. Sisi pardoned Mr. Moustafa, freeing him from prison and allowing him to resume his position as CEO of his company, TMG Holding. The firm later reported that its revenue more than doubled following Mr. Mousafa’s release and its involvement in the military-led new capital project.

    COURTESY: WSJ

    Shell, Eni oil executives on trial for graft in Nigeria

    A corruption trial against oil giants Shell and Eni and Nigeria’s ex-oil minister Dan Etete is getting started in Milan. The case deals with alleged bribes valuing millions, and the Italian trial is not the only one.

        
    Oil rig in the sea. (public domain)

    Starting Monday, the Italian city of Milan will be the scene of a month-long trial that deals with corruption allegations in the oil industry.

    The Milan public prosecutor’s office accuses the Italian oil firm Eni and the British-Dutch oil company Shell of having paid millions of dollars in bribes in order to acquire a lucrative oil exploration and drilling license in Nigeria.

    Now 15 defendants are facing trial. Most of them employees of the two companies but Nigeria’s ex-Minister of Petroleum, Dan Etete, will also be tried.

    Read moreOil companies Shell and Eni to stand trial in Italy over Nigeria bribes

    Milan is not the only place where court proceedings are taking place. The second trial for the oil giants is the Federal Court of Justice in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, where rights group Human & Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) is challenging the oil companies. HEDA wants Shell and Eni to lose their licenses for oil production in Nigeria, Africa’s largest crude oil producer.

    Both cases emanate from events in 2011 when Shell and Eni reportedly transferred $1.3 billion (€1 billion) into a Nigerian government bank account. The two companies wanted to secure the rights to an oil field called OPL245, which according to estimates by the oil companies was worth $3 billion. However, the majority of the payments did not end up in the Nigerian treasury but went to a company called Malabu Oil & Gas, which was controlled by then oil minister Etete.

    Former oil minister Etete indicted but ‘missing’

    The accusations are that $520 million of the purchase price was converted into cash and paid to politicians as bribes. Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan also allegedy profited from the cash. Only $210 million are said to have reached Nigeria’s treasury.

    The Nigerian government already declared in a lawsuit in England that the 2011 purchase of the production license for the huge oil field was unlawful.

    Etete, the man behind Malabu Oil & Gas, was oil minister under Nigeria’s former dictator Sani Abacha in the 1990s. In this function, he allegedly acquired the oil mining license for OPL245 in 1998 and transferred it to his company. In 2007, Etete was convicted of illegal financial transactions in France. Though he is also supposed to stand trial in Milan, HEDA’s spokesperson, Lanre Suraju, stated that Etete has disappeared.

    HEDA wants the trial to put more pressure on the Nigerian government to take action against the accused oil companies.

    “We want to reveal the players in the notorious Malabu scandal, in which laws and guidelines were broken and ignored,” Suraju told DW in an interview. He is optimistic that he can win the process and set a precedent. After a hearing, the court in Lagos set June 13 as the day when the trial should begin.

    No admission of guilt

    In Milan, the Italian prosecutor accuses Eni’s Managing Director, Claudio Descalzi, and managers of both oil companies of having known that most of the $1.3 billion would be dished out as bribes.

    Nigeria's former oil minister (r) Dan Etete (picture-alliance/dpa/G. Barbara)Former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete (r) is believed to have played a central role in the Eni, Shell corruption scandal

    The accused oil companies continue to deny any wrongdoing. Independent investigations have shown no misappropriation, Eni said, and the firms maintain that all payments had only been made to the government. “Eni has not made any agreements with Malabu,” Roberto Albini, press spokesperson for the Italian oil company, told DW.

    Shell Group’s position does not differ from Eni’s: “We believe that there is no basis for convicting Shell and its employees,” Anna Haslam, Shell’s spokeswoman told DW. “If evidence ultimately shows that Malabu or others had made improper payments to former members of the government and received consideration for them, this would have happened without Shell’s knowledge or instruction.”

    Unprecendented process

    According to the British environmental organization Global Witness, Shell has already admitted to having done business with the convicted money launderer Dan Etete. Confidential e-mails from a former Shell employee were sent to the organization in April 2017 and Global Witness published the emails: “The emails we have published today show senior executives knew the massive payment for the oil block would go to Dan Etete — a convicted money launderer and former Nigerian oil minister,” they said of the report’s publication.

    Confronted with the emails, Shell admitted to The New York Times that it had no choice but to deal with Etete and his Malabu Company— but the British oil giant argued that everything had been done legally.

    Nigeria Ogoniland Shell (DW/A. Kriesch)Shell and Eni could have their oil production licenses revoked should environmental group HEDA win the case

    Read moreNigeria: Amnesty International accuses oil giants of ‘negligence’ in Niger Delta

    For Barnaby Pace, head of investigations at Global Witness, the Milan trial is unprecedented: “Never before have companies of this size been tried for corruption. Managers of other oil companies should be really worried that they could end up in prison for corrupt practices.”

    The trial also gives hope to the victims. “This [corrupt] deal with Shell and Eni cost the people of Nigeria a sum as high as its public health expenditure in 2017,” Pace told DW in an interview. “One in ten children in the country dies before their fifth birthday.”

    According to Edward Kianagbo, a media personality in Port Harcourt, many Nigerians are angry and agree that corruption must be drastically fought and punished. “The oil wealth of the Niger Delta should benefit all Nigerians.”

    Muhammad Bello contributed to this article.

    Watch video02:47

    Illegal practices in Nigerian oil industry

    COURTESY: DW

    Nigeria military rescues 1,000 Boko Haram hostages

    More than 1,000 people held captive by the militant group Boko Haram have been freed, according to Nigeria’s military. Most were women and children, although some men who were forced to be fighters were also rescued.

        
    Nigerian soldiers man a checkpoint in Gwoza, Nigeria in April 2015 (picture-alliance/dpa)

    Over 1,000 Boko Haram hostages in northeastern Nigeria have been freed, military spokesman Brigadier General Texas Chukwu said on Monday.

    Although Nigeria’s military has attempted to rescue captives of the jihadist group before, many remain missing — including some of the school girls abducted from Chibok in 2014.

    Read moreBoko Haram has abducted over 1,000 kids since 2013: UN

    What we know so far

    • Mostly women and children were rescued, but some men who had been forced to fight for Boko Haram were rescued as well.
    • The rescues were carried out in four villages in the Bama area of Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State.
    • The military spokesman did not say when the rescues took place.
    • Nigeria’s military and the Multinational Joint Task Force — comprised of troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin — took part in the rescues.

    Read moreNigeria fails to protect schools from Boko Haram’s attacks

    Watch video01:32

    Boko Haram frees abducted Nigerian schoolgirls

    What is Boko Haram? The extremist group’s name roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden.” They are mostly active in northeastern Nigeria where they carry out kidnappings and bomb attacks. Over 20,000 people have been killed during the group’s nine-year insurgency and 2.5 million people have fled the region.

    The missing Chibok girls: In 2014,Boko Haram militants kidnapped 200 school girls from the town of Chibok, prompting international condemnation. Although some of the girls have been rescued, other victims remain missing.

    Watch video04:15

    Boko Haram conflict threatens food security in Nigeria

    rs/kms (AP, dpa)

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    COURTESY: DW

    West Africa: Fulani conflict getting worse

    Whether in Mali, Niger or Nigeria, the nomadic Fulani herders often find themselves in conflict with farmers over scarce resources. But there is more to it than that: Often it becomes a struggle for political supremacy.

        
    herd of cows in Africa (DW/K. Gänsler)

    The mood is tense in the Menaka region in eastern Mali. According to Reuters, armed men raided two villages earlier this week and killed at least 16 people belonging to the Tuareg ethnic group. By the end of April, at least 40 Tuareg had been killed. The governor of Menaka, Daouda Maiga, described the perpetrators as Fulani, who were linked to the terrorist group, the so-called “Islamic State” (IS). Maiga said the act may have been a retaliatory strike after the Tuareg had supported French troops in an anti-terrorist operation.

    In fact, in the Mopti region, several hundred kilometers west of Menaka, there is an Islamist Fulani preacher, Amadou Koufa. Since founding an armed group in 2015, the country’s Fulani minority have come under suspicion of collaborating with extremists.

    Read more: Nigeria’s communal violence: It’s about more than land

    But it’s not that simple, says Abdoulaye Sounaye from the Leibniz Center for Modern Oriental Studies (ZMO). “You cannot reduce everything to religion,” he told DW. While this has great potential to mobilize people, it also has political and economic power. “Nevertheless, it would be more of a conflict between the population groups and the Malian government.”

    Fulani used as a scapegoat

    The Fulani people (also known as Fulbe or Peul) are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa, with at least 25 million members. However, because the Fulani are scattered throughout the region, in most states they are a minority. Traditionally, they live as nomadic pastoralists. Conflicts occur frequently, days DW journalist Usman Shehu — he himself a Fulani from Nigeria.

    Even though the situations vary according to the country and region, there are recurrent patterns. “Our politicians repeatedly call opposition groups terrorists. The same thing now is happening to the Fulani people. Because they are vulnerable people who live in the bush and are mainly uneducated, they use them as scapegoats.”

    Nigerian journalist and blogger, Aliyu Tilde, is part of a team that works to solve territorial conflicts on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) — especially in Mali and Nigeria, where Tilde says conflicts with the Fulani have escalated. He was involved in the documentation of many incidents in Nigeria.

    “You’ll find hat whenever there is a conflict, it is not usually the Fulani who begin that conflict,” he told DW, “You will find that they were under attack and they were trying to protect themselves, or they were carrying out a reprisal attack.”

    Three types of conflicts

    In Nigeria alone, one must distinguish between three types of incidents, says Tilde. First is the conflict over land between nomadic herders and farmers. However, if the Fulani’s cattle destroyed farmland, this would usually be resolved locally. There is also the possibility of gang criminality. “This is a crime, which must be regarded as such,” says Tilde. “If a state cannot enforce its laws, that’s a problem.”

    The third type is the most problematic: In the struggle for political supremacy in Nigerian states, local rulers would often strengthen their own ethnic groups and agitate against minorities.

    The consequence of this, says Tilde, is essentially “ethnic cleansing.”

    For example, the Fulani recalled a bloodbath in Taraba state in June 2017, where around 200 people were massacred. For Major General Benjamin Ahanotu, there was no doubt that the goal was to wipe out the Fulani population.

    In January it was announced that the Ministry of Justice had ordered the release of all suspects following the massacre. At the end of April, Governor Aminu Yaminu’s assistant was arrested in neighboring Benue. Aminu, who is allegedly linked to the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, is accused of distributing thousands of rifles to the population.

    People watch as casket is lowered into grave (Getty Images/P. Utomi Ekpei)Pall bearers lower a casket during a mass burial for 73 people who died in clahses with Fulani herdsmen

    The same thing happened in other states — usually without much media coverage.

    Mistrust increases

    There are various reasons for the conflict escalation. Businessman and philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, who uses his foundation to strive for good governance across Africa, says climate change is a driving factor. In an interview with DW, Ibrahim says the erosion of usable farming areas will exacerbate the dispute.

    “It happened in Darfur before, it’s happening now in Nigeria — it’s going to happen everywhere because you have two communities who, over hundreds of years, sorted out a certain mode of cooperation,” he told DW. “Now with climate change, the herders need to drive their cattle into areas where they have never been before. And this requires sensitivity and quick action by governments to see how they can bring this community together. A new form of cooperation needs to be developed.”

    But Tilde says the lack of a state presence in Mali and Nigeria is the biggest problem. In areas where there are no job opportunities, young people are increasingly joining criminal groups. “These can be people of all ethnicities — Fulani, Haussa or Tuareg,” he says.

    In both countries the state monopoly is not guaranteed. And when the state offers no security and crime goes unpunished, people turn to their own form of justice and the distrust between different population groups increases.

    Three women hug, grieving (Getty Images/P. Utomi Ekpei)Grief and consolation during a funeral service

    The duty of states

    Current approaches to solving the problem often target the state level. Tilde names Senegal and Mauritania as positive examples in this regard. “Such conflicts now do not exist because of the implementation of legal factors in place between the two countries,” says Tilde. Cattle herds have to be registered and cannot cross the border unnoticed. Alternate areas are designated for the cattle, so that they do not graze on farmland.

    In Cameroon, the Fulani herdsmen have a better deal, says Usman Shehu, with full rights and obligations. The state receives taxes from the shepherds — but heavy penalties are imposed if their cattle are robbed or killed.

    In Mali, action has begun with announcements. The government in Bamako condemned the incitement to ethnic hatred and threatened criminal prosecution accordingly. In Nigeria, a commission has been set up to deal with the conflicts. But experts still remain skeptical as to whether an improvement on the ground can really be achieved.

    COURTESY: DW

    Trump-Buhari state meeting: A chance to mend the US-Nigeria relationship?

    The meeting comes shorty after Trump’s unflattering comments concerning the African nation. It’s likely the US will attempt to rebuild trust, while Nigeria has the chance to promote itself on the world stage.

    US President Donald Trump and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari

    Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is set to meet US President Donald Trump in Washington on Monday.

    The meeting marks the first time President Trump has hosted an African president at the White House after over a year in office. However, Trump’s recent controversial remarks regarding the continent — including referring to African states as “s***hole countries”and claiming that Nigerians would never want to leave the US and “go back to their huts” — hardly sets the stage for a productive and cordial discussion on bilateral issues of importance.

    So why is the meeting even being held at all? The official line from White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, is that “President Trump looks forward to discussing ways to enhance our strategic partnership and advance our shared priorities.” But there are a number of possible reasons for the meeting.

    Mending fences

    In light of Trump’s recent unflattering comments concerning Nigeria, it’s possible the meeting will be used as a chance to make amends.

    “This is an opportunity for the US — especially under Trump — to turn a new page and convince Africa that they don’t harbor serious contempt towards us and that a mutual, strong relationship is the key,” Tukur Abdulkadir, a senior lecturer in political science at Kaduna State University told DW.

    Trump is likely to use the meeting as an attempt to reset the troubled state of US-African diplomacy. Buhari was notably one of the first African leaders Trump personally called following his election. Since then, however, Trump appears to have shown little interest in the continent — largely indicated by his firing of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the middle of an African tour and the fact that he has not yet appointed anyone within the state department to a senior leadership position designed to handle African affairs.

    “Generally Nigerians see the US relationship as relatively cordial, but of course it depends on the dynamics of the time,” Abdulkadir told DW.

    Read more: Donald Trump’s lack of interest in Africa 

    The Nigerian army patrols Borno State in the north-eastern region of the countryThe Nigerian army is likely to receive military aid from the US in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency

    Addressing the Boko Haram threat

    Security is one of the highest issues on the agenda for the meeting — particularly with regards to Boko Haram in Nigeria. The Islamic extremist group began a violent insurgency in the country’s northeast nine years ago, with the ultimate aim of consolidating an Islamic state. Tens of thousands of people have since been killed and the group is now active in neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

    Given that Boko Haram has evolved into one of the most serious security threats in West Africa’s Sahel region, it is expected that Buhari will seek further US military assistance. The Trump administration has already made a $600 million deal (€496 million) to supply the Nigerian government with military planes and security equipment, although the US is likely to announce the deployment of more military advisers to Nigeria to assist in the fight against Boko Haram.

    Strengthening economic ties

    Economic issues are also high on the agenda. According to Nigerian presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, Trump and Buhari will “discuss ways to enhance the strategic partnership between the two countries and to advance shared priorities such as promoting economic growth.” Although no major trade announcements are expected to come out of the meeting, it’s likely the two leaders will discuss ways to further develop their economic cooperation.

    Watch video01:09

    China and Nigeria tighten ties in trade and currency

    “The US has the biggest economy in the world and Nigeria has the biggest economy in Africa. There are ample opportunities on both sides,” Abdullkadir told DW.

    Nigeria is an economic powerhouse on the African continent and its leading crude oil exporter. In light of this, the US may be looking to counter the growing economic influence of China.

    “If you’re looking at what is happening now, China seems to be the most influential country [in Africa] — they have displaced countries like the US, the UK, and France in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in Nigeria,” says Abdullkadir.

    “They are involved in multi-billion dollar projects in various sectors of the economy. I think the US really needs to do a lot to convince the people of Nigeria that they really mean well.”

    Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari addresses the UN General Assembly in 2015 (picture alliance/ZUMA Press)Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari addresses the UN General Assembly in New York in 2015. With an upcoming election, Buhari is likely to increase his presence on the world stage

    Promoting Nigeria on the world stage

    Buhari could also use the meeting as a chance to promote his own political goals.

    After announcing his intention to seek a second term in office, Buhari now faces elections early next year. He won office in 2015 in a rare democratic transfer of power — largely based on promises to stem the tide of Boko Haram, which have so far failed to materialize. This trip to Washington, then, is a good chance for Buhari to boost his international profile as a world leader and attempt to shake off his unflattering nickname ‘Baba Go-Slow’ before the campaign season begins.

    “The [Nigerian] opposition dismissed [the meeting] as a propaganda stunt by the president,” Abdulkadir told DW.

    “But it shows clearly that the powerless status that Nigeria had in the past is gradually giving way to a more respectable relationship with the community of nations, and especially the United States.”

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    COURTESY: DW

    ISIS & Africa terrorist groups stirring new, bigger migrant crisis for Europe – UN food chief

    ISIS & Africa terrorist groups stirring new, bigger migrant crisis for Europe – UN food chief
    Islamic State leaders who fled Syria are now conspiring with terrorist groups in Africa to use food as a recruitment tool and weapon to trigger another migrant crisis in Europe, the head of the UN World Food Program has warned.

    David Beasley said that Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) was partnering with terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda to spark a wave of African migration into Europe – and infiltrate the ranks of migrants in the process.

    Many IS militants are fleeing from the wannabe caliphate that failed to appear in Syria and Iraq. But now they have reportedly found refuge in Africa’s Sahel region, a belt of semi-arid land spanning east-west across Africa south of the Sahara Desert. According to Beasley, the terrorist coalition is now using food as a weapon to destabilize the region, which is home to 500 million people, and force a new wave of mass migration into Europe.

    “You are going to face a similar pattern of what took place years ago, except you are going to have more ISIS and extremist groups infiltrating migration,” Beasley told the Guardian during a visit to Brussels for a two-day Syria summit.

    The size of the crisis will also be far worse this time around, Beasley warned. “My comment to the Europeans is that if you think you had a problem resulting from a nation of 20 million people like Syria because of destabilization and conflict resulting in migration, wait until the greater Sahel region of 500 million people is further destabilized. And this is where the European community and international community have got to wake up.”

    Referring to the threat of an African migration wave into Europe, Beasley told the Associated Press last month the migration crisis created by the war in Syria “could be like a drop in the bucket compared to what’s coming your way.”

    Beasley warned that the international community needed to take immediate action to prevent a food crisis in the Sahel region, noting that the UN’s food program was already over-extended and under-funded due to “19 or 20 countries in protracted conflict.”

    More than 2.5 million migrants poured into the European Union in 2015-16, leading to political, social and economic friction that the bloc is still struggling with today.

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    Courtesy: RT

    Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Buried, Hailed as South African Hero

    • Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife died on April 2 at the age of 81
    • Madikizela-Mandela’s image sullied by kidnapping conviction
    The coffin of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela during the state funeral ceremony at Orlando Stadium in Soweto, South Africa on April 14.Photographer:  Ihsaan Haffejee/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, whose reputation as a fearless opponent of white-minority rule in South Africa earned her the title of “Mother of the Nation,” was laid to rest on Saturday and lauded as a hero by the nation’s leaders.

    The former wife of Nelson Mandela died on April 2 at the age of 81 after a long illness. Thousands of people attended her state funeral at Orlando stadium in Soweto, southwest of Johannesburg, ahead of her burial at the city’s Fourways Memorial Park.

    “Her life was dedicated to the unity of the oppressed of all nations,” President Cyril Ramaphosa told the mourners, who included Madikizela-Mandela’s daughters, supermodel Naomi Campbell and Denis Sassou Nguesso, president of the Republic of the Congo. “She was seen by the enemy as a threat to the racist state. Proud, defiant, articulate, she exposed the lie of apartheid. Loudly and without apology, she spoke truth to power. They could not break her.”

    Madikizela-Mandela trained as a social worker. She married Mandela in 1958 and was at the forefront of the struggle to end apartheid while her husband was serving a 27-year jail term for treason. The security forces subjected her to constant harassment, a 17-month stint in solitary confinement and a nine-year banishment to a tiny rural town.

    “She emerged from all these torments emboldened,” Ramaphosa said. “She felt compelled to join a struggle that was as noble in its purpose as it was perilous in its execution.”

    Tarnished Image

    Her image was tarnished by her entourage of bodyguards, known as the Mandela United Football Club, who lived with her in her Soweto home and were responsible for numerous crimes in the area in the late 1980s, including the killing of 14-year-old anti-apartheid activist Stompie Seipei in 1988.

    Madikizela-Mandela was convicted of Seipei’s kidnapping in 1991 and sentenced to a six-year jail term that was reduced to a fine and suspended sentence on appeal. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a panel that probed apartheid-era atrocities, found Madikizela-Mandela initiated and participated in an assault on Seipei and three other youths and implicated her in other crimes — allegations she dismissed as “ludicrous.”

    Several apartheid security operatives interviewed by filmmaker Pascale Lamache for a documentary on Madikizela-Mandela that broadcaster eNCA screened April 11 recounted how they worked to plant negative stories about her in the media to discredit her. They also implied that she was apportioned part of the blame for Seipei’s death due to the testimony of unreliable witnesses, including a police informant.

    Mandela appointed Madikizela-Mandela a deputy minister after he took power in the country’s first multiracial elections in 1994, but fired her the following year when she took an unauthorized trip to West Africa. The couple were divorced in 1996.

    ANC Lawmaker

    In 2003, Madikizela-Mandela was convicted of fraudulently obtaining bank loans in the name of bogus employees of the ruling African National Congress’s women’s league when she was its president and received another suspended sentence.

    While the case forced Madikizela-Mandela to resign her party post, she remained revered among the ANC’s rank and file. In 2007, she polled the most votes in an election of the party’s national executive committee and was re-elected to the top decision-making panel five years later. She served as a lawmaker for the ANC at the end of her political career, but rarely attended parliamentary sitting

    Courtesy: Bloomberg