Amid heightened tension along its border with Ethiopia, Sudan swore in a new defense minister. Major General Yassin Ibrahim Yassin was recalled from retirement to fill the position following the death of General Gamal al-Din Omar.
Yassin's swearing-in came after an alleged Ethiopian cross-border attack which left at least one Sudanese soldier and a child dead, according to Sudan's military. Three Sudanese civilians and a soldier were also wounded.
The attack, which took place in the eastern province of al-Qadarif, started after an Ethiopian militia group penetrated Sudan's border to fetch water at the Atbara river, Brigadier Amer Mohammed al-Hassan, a spokesman for the Sudanese military, said.
"It is not clear exactly what triggered a flare-up of this long-standing border dispute. Sources suggest that Sudanese security forces may have responded to incursions by Ethiopian farmers, which in turn brought in Ethiopian security forces," William Davison, senior Ethiopia analyst at the International Crisis Group, told DW.
The heavy exchange of fire reportedly left one Ethiopian militia wounded. "If these allegations are true, then it is an escalation," Kjetil Tronvoll, professor of peace and conflict studies and Research Director of International Studies at Bjorknes University College in Oslo, told DW.
The border clashes flared up as Ethiopia and Sudan were preparing to meet in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, for a second round of talks aimed at resolving the border dispute. "There have been negotiations and they reached an understanding that most or all of this contested land can be under Sudan," Tronvoll said. "The interesting aspect is why there is new violence now and possibly also at a higher level than before."
According to Sudan's military, tensions along the border between the two countries have recently heated up amid increasing attacks on Sudanese troops. Following the incident, Sudan summoned Ethiopia's envoy and urged the Ethiopian government to do all it can to end such border clashes.
Ethiopia's call for diplomacy
Ethiopia offered its "deep sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims of the conflict along the Ethiopia and Sudan border." Addis Ababa urged the two countries to pursue diplomacy as a means of resolving the border dispute saying there was no need for the countries to "descend into hostility". Last month, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent General Adam Mohamed Mahmoud, the country's military chief to Khartoum in a bid to ease the tensions.
For Tronvoll, solving the dispute via diplomatic means is reasonable and should be encouraged. However, he said there could be more to the clashes. "There are various actors and processes within the region, and this is an opportune moment for some to ignite some tension between Sudan and Ethiopia," Tronvoll said. "Hopefully, the two sides can sit at the negotiating table and come to a conclusion."
Sudan's ousted former president Omar al-Bashir had tolerated Ethiopia's encroachment along the border
Root of Ethiopia-Sudan border dispute
Sudan and Ethiopia share a common boundary that stretches over 1,600 kilometers (994 miles). The border was drawn following a series of treaties between Ethiopia and the colonial powers of Britain and Italy. However, to date, this boundary lacks clear demarcation lines.
Sudan's al-Fashqa region which covers approximately 600 km, is a rich fertile land conducive for agriculture. For decades, Ethiopia has allowed its farmers to plant crops there.
Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir largely turned a blind eye to his country's territorial incursion. However, Sudan's transitional authorities, who took over after popular protests which eventually led to the ousting of al-Bashir, have initiated talks with Ethiopia in a bid to have to Ethiopian farmers withdraw.
More Sudanese boots at the Ethiopian border
For the first time in nearly 25 years, Sudan deployed its troops along the al-Fashqa border strip at the end March. This came after an attack which prompted a top security team to visit the area.
"There are old problems. Herders have lost their livestock and farmers have lost their lands," Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, Chairman of Sudan's Sovereignty Council, said in an interview with the national network, Sudan TV, after touring the border region. Al-Burhan defended the troop deployment saying the armed forces were left with no choice but to protect their territory because the Ethiopians had imposed their presence.
Sudan's military has vowed that it is willing and ready to protect its citizens and territory.
Sudan's about-turn in Ethiopia's mega dam project
The border dispute could complicate Ethiopia's plan to construct the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). On Wednesday, Sudan wrote to the UN Security Council calling on it to urge Ethiopia and Egypt, not to take unilateral action on the dam. Sudan had initially backed Ethiopia's project but later refused to sign on an initial agreement which would have paved the way for Ethiopia to begin filling the dam.
For Ethiopia analyst Davison, the border dispute has little to do with GERD. "Ethiopia and Sudan are holding regular discussions to prepare the ground for the resumption of trilateral GERD talks, so the process is restarting rather than stalled," Davison said. "It does not appear therefore that the border incident has caused a significant disruption to the negotiations."
According to Davison, Sudan and Ethiopia need to ramp up their existing discussions over the borderlands in order to come to an understanding that will lead to a final resolution of the issue.
Credit: Deutsche Welle
Wildlife officials in Botswana have dismissed poaching and poisoning as reasons for the deaths of 110 elephants since March.
Authorities in the country, which has the largest population of elephants in the world, continue to search for a reason for the deaths.
Fifty-four elephants were found dead at the end of May on the Okavongo Delta, less than two weeks after 12 were found.
It adds to 44 which were discovered in March, officials said.
Wildlife officials in Botswana have dismissed poaching and poisoning as reasons for the deaths of 110 elephants since March. Pictured: One of the dead elephants. The picture was posted on the Facebook page of local media outlet Botswana Safari News
Dimakatso Ntshebe, a regional wildlife director for the Botswanan government, told Bloomberg News: 'I would say 90% of the new cases we have found are old carcasses we previously did not locate.'
'However, a few are indeed new deaths. All recovered carcasses do not show signs of poaching.'
The carcasses have reportedly tested negative for anthrax, according to local media outlet Botswana Safari News.
And after the bodies of 12 elephants were found in May, Mr Ntshebe said it was 'very unlikely' the animals had been poisoned.
'If it was poisoning, some scavengers who were feeding on elephant carcasses could have died but that was not the case,' he added.
However, efforts to find out the cause of death have been hampered by travel restrictions imposed in an attempt to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
It means that the sending of samples for testing have been delayed.
There are an estimated 135,000 elephants in Botswana. They have become a political issue because they have damaged crops and trampled villagers in the past.
Last year, the country's president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, lifted a ban on hunting elephants.
And in February, a major auction for big game hunters to kill 70 elephants was held, the first since the hunting ban was scrapped.
The sale was conducted by a local firm Auction It from the premises of the Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism in the capital Gaborone.
Masisi fended off criticism of his government's decision to lift the hunting ban, saying the move would not threaten the elephant population.
Credit: Daily Mail
Mozambique's National Petroleum Institute expects Exxon Mobil 's final investment decision on a $30 billion gas project in the north of the country in 2021, it said on Wednesday, though the U.S. company dismissed this as speculation.
"The final investment decision of the Rovuma LNG project has been postponed to, in principle, next year," the institute's Chairman Carlos Zacarias told journalists, referring to the Exxon-led project in the gas-rich province of Cabo Delgado.
However, an Exxon spokesman referred to the comments as "third-party speculation", adding that "Rovuma LNG is a complex project that will take several years to develop".
He said the decision would not be made this year but declined to comment on when it would.
The oil giant's decision on the project, which had been expected this year, was postponed in March as the coronavirus outbreak and an oil price slump forced companies to delay projects and cut spending.
Exxon did not say when it planned to make a call on the project.
Other big oil companies, including France's Total and Italy's Eni, are also involved in projects in the region, home to one of the biggest gas finds in a decade.
The projects have the potential to transform the economy of Mozambique, one of the world's least developed nations. But apart from the coronavirus, the projects are complicated by militant Islamists in the province with links to Islamic State.
On the eve of May Day 2020, in full coronavirus pandemic, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) released some hair raising statistics. About 1.6 billion workers from the informal sector are in dire straits because of the lockdowns governments have imposed to stop the spread of the virus.
According to the ILO, some 60% of the world’s workers are in the informal economy, working without contracts, safety nets or savings.  Depending on the country, women represent a higher or lower share of the informal workforce, but either way they are paid less than men. 
Now, because of quarantines and confinement, stoppages and curfews, there is no work. No work means no income. No income, no food. Without alternative income sources, the ILO warned, “these workers and their families will have no means to survive”. 
If workers in the informal sector are not able to feed themselves, they are also unable to continue feeding millions, if not billions more. Informal labour is what keeps food systems functioning in most of the world: it accounts for 94% of on-farm labour globally, and a big part of the workforce in food trade, retail, preparation and delivery in many parts of the world. 
The coronavirus crisis has laid bare our dependence not only on well functioning health and food systems, but the gross injustices inflicted on those working in these essential sectors in the “best” of times: low wages, no access to health care, no child care, no safety protection at work, often no legal status and no representation in negotiating work conditions. This is true in both the informal and the formal sectors of the global food system. Indeed, the contrast between the wealth at the top of the largest food companies and the plight of their frontline workers is extreme. Nestlé, for instance, the world’s number one food company, awarded its shareholders US$8 billion in dividends at the end of April 2020, an amount that surpasses the annual budget of the UN World Food Programme (WFP). 
The only question that matters now is how to ensure everyone has access to food while keeping people safe and healthy at every step from farm to consumer. Unfortunately, this has not been the priority that has shaped food systems over the past decades. But getting there is not as complicated as it may appear.
Shutdown leading to hunger
The shutdown of much of the world economy since March 2020 has meant that many people are confined to their homes or their communities and cannot work. Factories have stopped, construction projects halted, eateries and transportation closed, offices shut. In many countries, migrant workers and students immediately tried to go home, where they have family to lean on, but many got blocked for lack of transport or border closures.
These measures seem to have been implemented without much thought about the actual workings of food systems. Farmers have been mostly able (not always) to continue working on their farms, but they lack labour – precisely when it’s harvest or birthing time in many parts of the world – and the means to move produce and livestock off the farm to cooperatives, collection points, slaughterhouses, traders or markets. Closures of schools, offices and restaurants have choked the system, leading to enormous waste. As a consequence, milk is being dumped, animals are being euthanised and crops are being ploughed into the soil. Similarly, fisherfolk who fish at night in place likes Uganda have been grounded because of curfews. 
In the cities, violence, abuse and corruption have accompanied these shutdowns in incomprehensible ways. In East Africa, as in parts of Asia, street vendors caught out in the streets have been met with whips and rubber bullets.  Riots have arisen in urban and peri-urban communities when scarce food aid arrived.  In Lebanon, one person was even killed in such riots.  And in eSwatini, formerly Swaziland, the government has simply decided that it will not feed the cities, only focus on the rural areas. 
Meanwhile food companies have been granted lockdown exemptions that have greatly exacerbated the health crisis, without necessarily keeping people fed. Some of the world’s worst outbreaks of Covid-19 have been at meat processing plants owned by multinational corporations in Brazil, Canada, Spain, Germany and the US. Although these plants mostly produce meat for export, they were deemed an “essential service” and allowed to operate at full capacity, knowingly putting their workers and the surrounding communities at grave risk of infection.
 In the US, as of 6 May 2020, 12,000 meat plant workers have fallen ill and 48 have died.  Seafood processing plants are hotspots too, such as in Ghana, where an outbreak at a tuna canning plant owned by Thai Union is responsible for 11% of the Covid-19 cases in the entire country.
 Supermarket workers and ecommerce platform employees have also been facing the huge difficulty of staying safe while keeping open for the purpose of rendering so-called “essential services”, exempt from the lockdowns. Oil palm plantations have mostly kept operational — to serve the production of much-needed soaps to fight the pandemic, their owners claim – but some have defied local ordinances or not provided the necessary protections for workers. 
The cure is at risk of becoming worse than the disease. People who have no work or wages since the pandemic broke – most of the informal sector, but also workers from the formal sector – are now facing the growing reality of hunger. The WFP says that the risk is highest right now in about ten countries, most of them engulfed in armed conflict, such as Somalia or South Sudan. But the lack of access to food due to Covid-19 work closures, and the resulting global recession that we are told will last for months, is now threatening many other countries. In India, 50% of rural people are eating less due to the lockdown.  Worldwide, the number of people suffering acute hunger could double from 135 million today to 265 million by the end of the year, WFP says. 
Already, those hardest hit have been feeling the pain. The saying “I would rather die of coronavirus than hunger” is commonly heard in Haiti, Angola, Lebanon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mayotte, India and Latin America, according to news reports.  In Belgium, it’s “Either we die of hunger or of coronavirus. We have to choose.”  In West Africa, the saying is “Hunger will kill us before corona does”.
What’s clear is that if this spreading hunger does reach the scale of a global crisis, it will not be for lack of production or even because of hoarding. There is plenty of supply. It’s the distribution system that has shown its incapacity to feed us safely – especially the highly concentrated and globalised part that cannot respond to the crisis.
Creative community responses
One of the first measures many authorities took to halt the spread of coronavirus was to shut down restaurants, cafés, food stalls and fresh markets. As a response, communities have devised many other ways to get food to where it is needed, often using social media. On Facebook and Whatsapp, groups have been formed to collectively identify where food stocks are located or to collectively procure produce from farmers. Shuttered restaurants and cantines are using their resources to access and repackage bulk food supplies like flour or grains, repackage them and sell them in small quantities. “Repurposing” has become the word of the day, as communities come together, or take form, to find and move food through creative means.
Farmers have also devised innovative ways to sell and move their produce. In Europe, they have started home sales, deliveries to hospitals and online sales, in addition to connecting with consumers directly through community-supported agriculture schemes and farmers’ markets.  In Asia, farmers have been going online through social media or ecommerce tools to organise alternative markets.
 For example in Karnataka, India, farmers have started using Twitter to post videos of their produce and connect with buyers. Others are resuscitating traditional systems of bartering, to overcome their lack of cash and match supply with demand.
 In Indonesia, a union of fisherfolk in Indramayu, West Java, has started an initiative to barter with local farmers’ groups through a collective action called “fisherfolks’ food barn”. As restaurants and markets have shut down, the fisherfolk have no buyers. So they exchange fish for rice and vegetables with farmers. This is providing food and livelihood security to the different communities.
 In Latin America, rural communities are the ones least affected by the virus. Many of them are organising to give away food to the poor in the cities. In Cauca, Colombia, the Nasa people – who consider themselves longterm survivors of viruses, wars and the incursion of agribusiness – have collectively organised a “food march” and brought supplies from their harvest to impoverished neighbourhoods in the cities, defying the lockdown.  In Brazil, without any state support, the Landless Workers Movement has donated 600 tonnes of healthy food to hospitals, homeless people and other vulnerable communities in 24 states across the country.  Members are also converting urban cafés into soup kitchens and educational facilities into makeshift hospitals, where allied healthcare workers are rendering their services. 
In Zimbabwe, the lockdown has crippled the movement of agriculture produce off of large farms across the country. Small farmers, will limited support, are hustling to fill the gap, finding new ways to get vegetables and other supplies to markets. Peasant movement organisers say this shift in the food matrix shows that the country’s 1.5 million small holders are capable of feeding the nation. 
Local governments, private citizens and companies have also been doing their share. In Vietnam, public dispensers called “rice ATMs” have been invented to allow families to access a free daily ration of rice without physical contact or hoarding.  In India, the state of Kerala has launched a campaign called “Subhiksha Keralam” aimed at achieving self sufficiency in food production through subsidies, infrastructure and other support mechanisms.  In Thailand, mobile vegetable shops have been revived under the quarantine with support from Bangkok’s local authorities. The city wholesale market is providing small producers and traders hundreds of trucks to allow them to shift to door-to-door deliveries.  And in many parts of Africa, motorbike delivery services are adjusting their practices to help get food supplies to people who need them. 
Whether it’s through solidarity, mutual aid, volunteer work or cooperatives, and whether it’s formal or informal, this surge in community-oriented efforts to get food to where it’s needed is crucial and needs resourcing, urgently. While grassroots initiatives are not “the” solution, they certainly point in the right direction.
Shift to community-based food systems
To prevent the disaster that both ILO and WFP are warning us about, we would call for three kinds of measures.
1) Resource community initiatives: As a matter of urgency, we need massive recognition of and support to community efforts to feed those in need. Funds, tools and other resources should be allocated to these efforts. This can mean funding or materials for neighbourhood groups or indigenous communities who need personal protective equipment, rooms or spaces in which to organise and transport food pantries. It can mean resources for regional and local governments to do the work together with community-based organisations, cooperatives and farmers. And it should mean support from local governments themselves, whether through policy measures or infrastructure. Many are already doing this, but it needs scaling up, massively and quickly. While the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other donors help governments face health crisis funding needs, most of it is going to big business. It would be better to allocate more to local governments so they can support community efforts.
2) Improve conditions for farmers and workers: We need to uplift the position of food system workers, from production or procurement all the way to retail, delivery and food service. This means things like: higher wages or a universal basic income that will pay low-income workers much better or reach people outside the wage economy; a seat at the table to redefine work and renegotiate work processes, as many unions are clamouring for; full rights to health care, hazard pay, safe working conditions and child care; and, perhaps most importantly, a better status in society. Farmers must also be supported with safe systems to get produce to markets and fair prices that provide for their livelihoods. At the same time, farm labourers must receive decent wages and healthy work conditions. The Covid-19 crisis has made it clear how important farm work, transportation, food distribution and delivery are to our well being. People working in the system are frontliners as much as the health care workers. They deserve a better place, better pay and a fairer distribution of benefits – and now is the time to make that structural change.
3) Rebuild public food systems: We need to reinvent and reinforce public, community-controlled markets in the food sphere, from the local level up. And we need to connect these markets to the produce of small scale farmers and fishers.
The coronavirus lockdown has shown us, quite starkly, how we cannot rely on global trade as a strategy and how corporate sector control over key segments of our food supply makes survival precarious. We need to put an end to public funds going to large food or agribusiness corporations, except as support for workers. We also need to address concentration in the food industry through measures like anti-trust or anti-factory farm legislation, and direct support towards small scale fisheries, abattoirs, dairies and wholesale markets. We know that more pandemics will come. Now is the chance to move forward and consolidate a public orientation to our food systems, somewhat like in the health sector where we have public medical research, public hospitals and generic medicines outside the grip of patent laws that serve corporate greed. Food is not merely a public good; it’s a social good and needs to be guaranteed, protected and provided to all like healthcare.
If one thing positive comes from this crisis, it could be that we regain and reassert public systems in our countries, after decades of privatisation and encroaching corporate control. These systems should support and build on solutions that local communities are already providing. Food, like health, is a crucial place to start.
Uganda’s coffee exports have continued to surge despite the coronavirus pandemic with April figures showing growth compared with a year ago.
Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) said in a report released in April that Uganda coffee exports were 359,973 60 kilogramme bags worth $36.93 million compared with the 305,643 bags exported in April 2019 valued at $30,048,530 million.
This was an increase of 18 per cent and 23 per cent in quantity and value respectively, compared with the same period last year.
For the coffee authority, the increase in exports has been attributed to higher production on account of fruition of the newly planted coffee and not necessarily the harvest season.
“Coffee exports for the first 10 months of the financial year 2019/20 amounted to 4.24 million worth $ 413.53 million compared with 3.48 million bags worth $350.26 million the previous year. This represents 21.89 per cent and 18.06 per cent increase in both quantity and value respectively. Cumulatively in 12 months, (May 2019-April 2020), a total of 4.93 million bags worth $478.47 million were exported,” said UCDA in a statement.
American rapper Rick Ross is reported to have agreed on a deal to tour Uganda for a series of shows, although dates of tour are yet to be announced owing to the coronavirus pandemic which has necessitated air traffic restrictions globally.
The 44-year old artiste, renowned for his energetic and bare-chested performances on the stage, confirmed the visit in a video released via Telecom Company, which is behind his planned trip to Kampala.
Daily Monitor’s entertainment pullout The Sqoop has reported that the show will be a charity concert and part of the proceeds will be channelled towards aiding health workers in the country.
The shows dubbed Uganda Benefit Concert will have other Ugandan artistes performing in a curtain-raising role.
This will not be first time Rick Ross is visiting to East Africa.
Last year, the American rapper, who has a large fan base in the region, toured Kenya and performed during the NRG Wave on April 28, 2018 at the Carnivore grounds in Nairobi.
He founded the record label Maybach Music Group in 2009 on which he has since released studio albums such as Deeper than Rap, Mastermind, Black Market and Hood millionaire.
He is also popular for the Wacka hit which he released alongside Tanzanian musician Diamond Platnumz.
South Africa’s public enterprises ministry said that it had not yet discussed a draft business rescue plan for struggling South African Airways (SAA), which an opposition party made public earlier in the day.
“Government has not discussed the plan yet and no decisions have been taken on some of the proposals it contains,” the ministry said in a statement. “We will review the plan, explore various funding options, and communicate our decisions in due course.”
Along with natural resources, arms exports are a key component of Russia's economy. In the last two decades, Moscow has managed to deepen its connection with Africa and became the biggest arms supplier on the continent.
Russia's state arms seller Rosoboronexport announced in April the first contract to supply assault boats to a country in sub-Saharan Africa. The recipient's identity is concealed. What is known: It marks the first export contract of Russian-made final naval products to this region in the last 20 years. While this news might not have caught much international attention, this new deal adds up to a pattern: Russia is building its path to gain a foothold in Africa and broaden its export map for arms on the continent.
Once a major supplier during the Soviet era, Russia's role in Africa waned after the collapse of the USSR. But by 2000, Russia had made inroads again, and within the last two decades Russia has managed to become the biggest arms exporter to Africa. Currently, it accounts for 49% of total arms exports to Africa, according to the database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Since 2000, Russia's arms exports to Africa have grown significantly. The increases were mainly due to growth in Russia's arms exports to Algeria.
Russia's eye on Africa
Until now, Algeria remains the biggest recipient of Russian arms in Africa, followed by Egypt, Sudan and Angola. According to Alexandra Kuimova, a researcher with SIPRI's Arms and Military Expenditure Program, the number of African countries buying Russian arms increased over the last two decades. In the early 2000s, 16 African countries were recipients of Russian arms. Between 2010 and 2019, the figure went up to 21.
Starting in 2015, Russia started selling arms to oil-rich Angola — mainly fighter aircraft and combat helicopters. The Angolan government in Luanda has long maintained strong ties with Moscow, dating back to the USSR. In 1996, Russia forgave 70% of Angola's $5 billion (€4.56 billion) in debt, which was mainly a result of several export credits the USSR had issued Angola for buying Soviet arms and military equipment. In the new millennium, Russia was a predictable choice for Angola to sign new arms deals — and within the last five years, Angola has become the third-biggest African client for Russian arms after Algeria and Egypt. Luanda's other suppliers are Bulgaria, Belarus, Italy and China, but their shares are small.
The situation was similar with Algeria, the largest importer of Russian arms on the African continent. Soviet-era connections allowed Russia to secure its monopoly on arms deals, and Moscow completely wrote off Algeria's $5.7 billion in debt in 2006. That same year, Algeria signed another arms deal to buy Russian weapons for $7.5 billion.
"Officials in these countries intrinsically look at Moscow from the Soviet-era links and Moscow has been able to maintain its influence. In some cases, like Algeria, it is done by debt release; sometimes by claiming that it will build repair facilities and manufacturing or maintenance facilities," says Paul Stronski, a senior fellow in the Carnegie Endowment's Russia and Eurasia Program.
Opening new markets in line with geopolitical vision
Russia's growing interest in Africa is defined by not only economic, but also political and strategic reasons. Russia sees Africa as a key potential partner in the vision for a multipolar world order.
"Less European, less trans-Atlantic and focused more on rising powers and rising regions," Stronski said. This is where Russia's ties with countries like Zimbabwe and Sudan have been established, he stressed.
Zimbabwe has been subject to financial sanctions from the West since the early 2000s. The state was reportedly responsible for violence, tortures and killings of the president's opponents during the era of former President Robert Mugabe. Despite widespread international condemnation of Mugabe's regime, Russia stayed on the side of Zimbabwe: together with China, it vetoed the UN's Security Council resolution for an arms embargo in 2008 and criticized Western sanctions. Russia exports a number of both raw and finished materials to Zimbabwe, ranging from wood, wheat and fertilizers to printed materials, railway cars and electronics. Russia, in turn, imports coffee and tobacco from Zimbabwe.
Russian companies are also involved in diamond and gold mining projects in the country. According to Gugu Dube, a researcher at the Transnational Threats and International Crime program in the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, Russia has been scaling up activities in the mining of resources such as coltan, cobalt, gold, and diamonds in several other countries across Africa. In Zimbabwe, Russian companies are also involved in a joint venture of the Darwendale project — mining and smelting one of the world's largest deposits of platinum group metal — for which production is planned in 2021.
A Russian Mi-35P military helicopter on display at the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019
Russia hosted the first-ever Russia-Africa summit in Sochi in 2019 as a way of further identifying cooperation possibilities across the continent. During the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that "the strengthening of ties with African countries is one of Russia's foreign policy priorities".
Arms deals were at the center of attention at the summit. African delegates were invited to exhibitions of Russian weapons: from subsonic jet trainor Yakovlev Yak-130, the Pantsir missile system, and the Tor-M2KM surface-to-air missile systems to smaller arms including a new Kalashnikov AK-200 series assault rifle. This exhibition showed that Russia does not aim to offer disruptive new technologies in arms; instead, it focuses on improving the models that have been demanded the most.
These include aircrafts, missiles, tanks, air defense systems and artillery. For example, Algeria alone bought around 200 aircraft items from Russia from 2000 to2019, ranging from transporter helicopters to combat helicopters, bomber and fighter ground aircrafts. Various models of surface-to-air missiles (SAM) that are designed for destroying aircrafts or other missiles have been ordered from Algeria (several orders through 2000-2019), Burkina Faso, Egypt (several orders), Ethiopia, Libya and Morocco. Algeria also ordered tanks (more than 500 items in total), as did Uganda (67 items).
Cheap weapons — no questions asked
In Russia's publicly available strategy documents, such as its foreign policy concept or defense doctrine, African states are defined as belonging to an unstable continent and posing an international threat in light of terrorist groups' activities, particularly in the North African region. Such documents highlight Russia's aims to expand interaction with Africa by developing beneficial trade and economic relations and supporting regional conflict and crisis prevention.
This ongoing instability feeds a continuous market for arms — and for Russia, Africa represents a major market without a limit in the form of economic sanctions that came from the West after the annexation of Crimea. Africa is the continent where Russia can freely push one of the key elements of its exports: weapons. Arms trading accounts for 39% of Russia's defense industry revenue.
"Russian arms are good. It is universally recognized. Russian arms are also cheaper. There is no reason why African countries would not want to buy them," says Irina Filatova, a history professor at Moscow's Higher School of Economics and professor emeritus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who specializes in Russo-African history and relations.
In comparison to other big players, arms deals with Russia do not demand political or human rights conditions. In some cases, Russia has managed to fill the gap where European or American suppliers stepped out.
For example, in 2014, government soldiers in Nigeria were accused of human rights abuses against suspects in the country's fight against Boko Haram. Afterwards, the US cancelled a shipment of attack helicopters, even though the deal had already been signed. That same year, Nigeria placed an order and received six Mi-35M combat helicopters from Russia.
Egypt is a similar case. After a military coup in 2013, the US started cutting military aid and arms supplies to the country. This left Russia (together with France, another leading arms exporter) with an open opportunity; the country quickly intensified arms transfers to Egypt. From 2009 to 2018, Russia accounted for 31% of Egypt's imports of major weapons.
According to Kuimova, arms deals with Russia generally go fast. If a certain country needs weapons right away and Russia has them, Russia will be able to supply. What also plays in its favor is a lack of pressure from local civil society groups to track weapons sales. Russia's defense industry is secretive; the law does not oblige companies to report on arms exports as such, and usually this information falls under the state's secrecy laws. A general lack of data and transparency has created a situation where civil society groups for monitoring arms trading simply do not exist.
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit (l.) meets Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Russia-Africa Summit in 2019
Competition for Russia? Growing potential of Chinese arms
For now, Russia seems to be secure in its markets for arms in Africa. However, experts see the potential of China to become a bigger player for arms supplies in Africa. Currently, China accounts for 13% of arms exports to the continent.
"China has improved the quality and quantity of what it sells. They also do reverse-engineered Russian weapons. Since 2014, Russia has shared sensitive military technology as a part of its growing ties with China," Stronski said.
Kuimova adds that today China is able to produce and offer all kinds of arms. "China is generally growing as an arms exporter and shows similar patterns as Russia in a way of giving weapons with less political conditions," she explained.
Researcher Filatova does not see China as a threat to Russian arms in Africa, however — in her opinion, the main competitors for Russian arms will remain the same: the US and France. She defines China's interest in Africa as predominantly economic and says that "Russia's competition in Africa in that regard is already lost" — because economically, Russia is not able to offer what China can. Moscow instead focuses on natural resources exports and locking down arms deals. For arms importers, switching to other suppliers is costly, so the likelihood is high that Russia can ensure new deals with its arms buyers well into the future.