Africa Political Monitor No. 22

Related Categories: International Economics and Trade; Warfare; Border Security; China; Africa; North Africa; West Africa; Central Africa

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zambia has become the first African nation to default on its foreign debt to China. The pandemic allowed Beijing's economic footprint on the continent to grow, with the PRC becoming Africa's largest creditor, and now countries are finding themselves unable to repay their debts to Beijing. To help alleviate the crisis, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently visited Zambia in hopes of assisting its debt restructure. The visit came shortly after Yellen spoke with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He asking for "cooperation in trying to reach a speedy resolution" on the debt negotiations, but the PRC rejected any U.S. involvement. For his part, Zambia's President, Haikainde Hichilema, is looking at a range of options to attract other foreign investment into the country, rebuild its economy, and lower the debt. 

Zambia is hardly the only African nation facing a debt dilemma. According to a recent report by the United Nations Development Programme, "24 of 54 lower-income countries [are now] at high risk of debt distress in Africa." The list of countries deemed by the UN to be in the throes of a debt crisis includes both Nigeria and Egypt. (Foreign Policy, February 1, 2023) 

In spite of the recent conclusion of a peace agreement putting an end to Ethiopia's years-long struggle against the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), Eritrean troops are reportedly still in the country. Forces from neighboring Eritrea fought alongside the Ethiopian military throughout the course of the two-year conflict, and remain loyal to Addis Ababa. The civil war ended as a result of a November 2022 peace agreement, and all foreign forces were supposed to leave the country as a result of that deal. However, Tigrayan officials say that "thousands" of Eritrean soldiers are still present in Ethiopia – a claim that the government denies. (Reuters, January 28, 2023) 

Leery over mounting violence and instability in the Central African Republic (CAR), the neighboring nations of Sudan and Chad have agreed to increase joint patrols along their common border and step up security coordination. The two countries had originally established a joint border force back in 2010. However, deteriorating security conditions in the CAR in recent times had led to growing activity by Sudan's Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which have extensive ties to Russia's Wagner paramilitary outfit, in a development that drew concern from Chadian officials. The new pact between Sudan and Chad, hammered out as a result of consultations between the leaders of the two countries in Ndjamena, is designed to alleviate Chad's concerns. It contains an agreement from the two sides that there needs to be "direct and continuous relations" in order to improve security surrounding the border with the CAR. (Sudan Tribune, January 29, 2023) 

Last Fall, France withdrew its troops from Mali following a decade of deployment there fighting jihadist insurgencies, and now French forces have been asked to leave Burkina Faso as well. In an effort to capitalize on the waning Western presence on the continent, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Mali in February to deepen his discussions with Bamako regarding military assistance. Moscow has already sent planes, attack helicopters, and personnel (although some claim these "soldiers" are mercenaries tied to the Wagner group) to assist the government of President Assimi Goita. The February visit marked Lavrov's third trip to Mali since July 2022, and was complemented by stops in Mauritania and Sudan as well in a very public sign of Russia's interest in expanding its presence on the continent. (Euro News, February 9, 2023) 

The United Nations' envoy to Libya is establishing a steering committee to promote political progress in the north African nation. Abdoulaye Bathily, who serves as the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for Libya and head of the UN's Support Mission to that country, recently told the UN Security Council that his hope is to break the year-long stalemate that has lingered over Libya's December 2021 election. In the wake of that vote, opposing legislative bodies refused to agree on constitutional rules regarding their electoral process, effectively deadlocking politics in a country that has been plagued with instability and factional fighting since the ouster of strongman Muammar Qadhafi more than a decade ago. Bathily's efforts are focused on enabling new legislative elections this year – something that necessitates the creation of a panel to bring together political stakeholders, tribal leaders, civil society groups, and other influencers. (U.S. News & World Report, February 27, 2023)