Is Italy’s new Africa strategy a blueprint for Europe?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

The Italian-made Mattei Plan signifies not just a policy initiative but a window of opportunity to redefine Europe’s role in Africa and globally, Maddalena Procopio writes.

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Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her cabinet’s recent visits to Libya, following migration agreements between the European Union, Tunisia, and Egypt — largely championed by Meloni herself — have led to a perception that Italy’s new Africa strategy, known as the Mattei Plan, is focused solely on migration.

However, this view is misleading and overlooks the plan’s comprehensive scope and broader implications for both Italy and Europe. 

While addressing irregular migration by improving local socio-economic conditions is crucial, the Mattei Plan transcends mere migration concerns, potentially representing a pivotal shift in Europe’s approach towards Africa.

The plan embodies an attempt at a strategic recalibration of Italy’s relations with Africa, attuned to the evolving geopolitical landscape characterised by heightened competition for markets and energy resources. 

The Mattei Plan is what Europe needs for three key reasons.

Collaborative partnerships and benefits to local communities

Firstly, the plan hints at a reconceptualisation of ‘development cooperation’ linking development objectives with industry interests and should remain well focused on this without dispersing funds. 

Development funds would be used not only to address Africans’ social needs but also to enhance the investment climate, laying essential groundwork for sustained economic engagement. 

For instance, water system improvements should aim to benefit local communities while supporting agribusiness demands. Likewise, technical education programmes respond to local education needs while catering to industry-relevant skill development. 

This approach potentially translates into a collaborative public-private partnership that mitigates investment risks, moving away from traditional donor-centric methods and acknowledging shared interests between Italy and African nations. 

It challenges the paternalistic development aid narrative in Europe-Africa relations, which has faced criticism with the rise of more transactional international players like China and Russia.

Rome should pave the way

Secondly, the Mattei Plan hints at a crucial reality check on Europe’s actual capacity to effectively engage with Africa, emphasising pragmatic and competence-based approaches rooted in the established strengths of the Italian private sector and civil society. 

By prioritising sectors where Italy excels, such as agriculture and energy, the plan mitigates the risk of gaps between policy aspirations and on-the-ground implementation. 

This allows Italian players to compete more effectively amid growing international competition for Africa’s resources, avoiding the pitfalls of broader, less grounded strategies like the EU’s Global Gateway. 

A grand strategy largely decided upon in Brussels, which struggles to align with market realities. However, the Mattei Plan’s lack of a grand strategy makes it highly complementary to initiatives like the Global Gateway.

Thirdly, Italy’s approach could pave the way for a different European modus operandi in Africa, moving away from the dominance of a single great power like France towards a collaborative framework led by European middle powers such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the Nordic and Eastern European countries. 

These middle powers can pool their expertise within initiatives like the Global Gateway, recognising the potential for collective action to achieve greater impact. 

Italy’s relatively less controversial image in Africa positions it to lead this new approach, potentially acting as a bridge between Europe and other international actors, such as the Gulf monarchies, which have shown interest in supporting the Mattei Plan.

A window of opportunity is wide open

The success of the Mattei Plan for Italy and Europe hinges on robust multi-level engagement strategies. Effective communication must be prioritised across Italy, Europe, and Africa. The forthcoming progress report from the Mattei Plan steering committee, due by 30 June, should demonstrate initial results.

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Domestically, centralising the plan’s management within the prime minister’s office was a strategic move to align domestic interests with foreign policy objectives. However, inclusive governance is crucial, as is harnessing expertise from diverse stakeholders. 

Europe is where the fortunes of the Mattei Plan reside more than anywhere else. Proactive dialogue with EU institutions and member states is essential to garner support and foster cooperation. 

The Italian government should actively promote the creation of a European coalition to identify synergies among Africa strategies and with the Global Gateway. 

Without a European collective approach, the Mattei Plan may take a few steps, but it will not win the marathon. With Africa, comprehensive and clear communication about the plan’s objectives is crucial at national, sub-regional, and continental levels.

Internationally, Italy should continue to pursue cooperation with global partners, leveraging its less imposing presence in Africa to reconcile Europe with players in the Global South. Using its G7 presidency, Italy can further cooperate on mutual interests in Africa, such as infrastructure development and green energy.

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Ultimately, the Mattei Plan signifies not just a policy initiative but a window of opportunity to redefine Europe’s role in Africa and globally.

Maddalena Procopio is a Senior Policy Fellow in the Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

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Senegal’s presidential election: A look at the four main candidates

After a political crisis with many twists and turns, Senegalese voters go to the polls on Sunday to choose their new president. Seventeen contenders are hoping to succeed President Macky Sall. FRANCE 24 examines the political backgrounds and main proposals of  four candidates: Amadou Ba, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, Idrissa Seck and Khalifa Sall.

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A fast-paced electoral campaign is coming to an end for 17 Senegalese presidential candidates. Over just two weeks, they have been striving to convince voters to support them at the polls on Sunday.

This extraordinary campaign was cut short by the political crisis that began on February 3, when Sall cancelled the election that had been scheduled for February 25. Senegalese lawmakers voted to postpone the vote to December 15, but the Constitutional Council voided the cancellation and the postponement and forced Sall to set a new date. 

Read moreHow Senegal’s presidential election was postponed, reinstated and moved up

Sall is nearing the end of two terms (2012-2024) at the head of one of West Africa’s most stable countries. The constitution doesn’t allow him to run for a third mandate.

On March 9, two days after the council confirmed the March 24 vote, Senegal’s presidential candidates launched their campaigns. The 17 hopefuls have increased their trips and public meetings over the last few days to boost visibility and present their ideas on issues including sovereignty, civil liberties, emigration, schools, unemployment and a fishing industry crisis.

Here’s a look at the four main candidates’ key proposals:

  • Amadou Ba, the continuity candidate

Senegalese Prime Minister Amadou Ba speaks in Dakar on December 21, 2023. © Seyllou, AFP

Prime Minister Amadou Ba, 62, is a ruling party candidate and Sall’s preferred successor. The former minister of economy and finance and then foreign affairs, Ba presents himself as a candidate for stability and the continuity of the incumbent’s economic record, while also promising a return to calm after months of political crisis.

Ba focused his campaign programme on youth employment in a country where three-quarters of the population is under 35. His key promise: to create 1 million jobs by 2028 through public/private partnerships and investment in agriculture, industry, infrastructure and renewable energies.

He also calls for updating “conventions and contracts signed by the state of Senegal in the field of natural resources”, providing a minimum financial allowance to the elderly and accelerating the construction of a national school of cultural arts and crafts.

  • Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the anti-system candidate
Senegalese presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye gestures during a press conference in Dakar on March 15, 2024.
Senegalese presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye gestures during a press conference in Dakar on March 15, 2024. © John Wessels, AFP

Bassirou Diomaye Faye, 44, a replacement for opposition leader Ousmane Sonko who was excluded from the presidential race in January, has had even less time than other candidates to campaign in person. The cofounder of the opposition Pastef party, who was released from prison along with Sonko on March 14, is campaigning against the country’s political class and promises to reclaim Senegal’s “sovereignty”, a term used 18 times in his electoral platform.

To this end, Faye proposes getting rid of the CFA franc inherited from the colonial era to introduce a new currency, and to make the teaching of  English widespread in a country where the official language is French. He also says he wants to renegotiate mining and hydrocarbon contracts as well as defence agreements.

The Pastef platform also aims for institutional reform with the creation of the role of vice president and safeguards to check the power of the president, including potential removal from office.

  • Idrissa Seck, the veteran candidate
Idrissa Seck, founder of the Rewmi party, is seen during an opposition press conference in Dakar on January 15, 2019. Seck was also a candidate in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election.
Idrissa Seck, founder of the Rewmi party, is seen during an opposition press conference in Dakar on January 15, 2019. Seck was also a candidate in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election. © Seyllou, AFP

Former prime minister Idrissa Seck, who served under ex-president Abdoulaye Wade between 2002 and 2004, is running in a fourth consecutive presidential race. The 64-year-old former Sall opponent, who long maintained the suspense surrounding his eventual candidacy, has put his political experience and knowledge of the inner workings of government to use in his bid to win over voters.

Among his signature proposals are compulsory military service, the creation of a common currency for West African countries and a fund financed by oil and gas companies to compensate for damage to the fishing industry. 

The founder of Senegal’s Rewmi party also proposes to devote 60 percent of public investment to areas outside the Dakar region.

  • Khalifa Sall, the comeback candidate
Presidential candidate Khalifa Sall greets supporters during a tour of several areas in Senegal’s capital Dakar on March 9, 2024.
Presidential candidate Khalifa Sall greets supporters during a tour of several areas in Senegal’s capital Dakar on March 9, 2024. © Seyllou, AFP

Khalifa Sall (no relation to the outgoing president) is another Senegalese political heavyweight trying his luck in the race. Sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of 5 million CFA francs for fraud and embezzlement of public funds in 2018, the leader of the Taxawu Senegal coalition was barred from entering the 2019 presidential contest. Macky Sall’s rival has since returned to politics thanks to a presidential pardon and a law authorising the restoration of civil rights for convicted people who were amnestied following a national dialogue initiated by the government in May 2023.

In this election, the 68-year-old Sall is presenting himself as the candidate to heal a “damaged” country. The man who sees himself as the heir to Senegal’s socialist party promises to institute a citizen-initiated referendum. He also pledges to devote at least 1,000 billion CFA francs (1.5 billion euros) of the annual national budget to agriculture.

Sall’s foreign policy programme aims to “diversify and rebalance” diplomatic and economic partnerships by “strengthening (global) south-south cooperation and cooperation with emerging countries”.

This article is a translation of the original in French.

 

The 17 candidates in Senegal’s presidential election

Anta Babacar Ngom

Amadou Ba

Boubacar Camara

Déthié Fall

Daouda Ndiaye

Khalifa Sall

Idrissa Seck

Mame Boye Diao

Mouhamed Boun Abdallah Dionne

Aliou Mamadou Dia

Malick Gackou

Aly Ngouille Ndiaye

Mamadou Lamine Diallo

Serigne Mboup

Pape Djibril Fall

Bassirou Diomaye Faye

Thierno Allassane Sall

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How Senegal’s presidential election was postponed, reinstated and moved up

Voters in Senegal go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president in the most wide-open election in the country’s history. The vote comes a few weeks after the explosion of a profound political crisis triggered by its cancellation and then delay by President Macky Sall. FRANCE 24 takes a look back at recent events.

Senegal is set to experience a new stage in its electoral drama on Sunday as some 7 million voters go to the polls across the West African country to elect their next president.

The election is remarkable in several ways, not least because it marks the end of President Macky Sall’s 12 years in power. And with 17 candidates vying to succeed him, it is the most wide-open presidential vote since Senegal gained independence from France in 1960.

It also marks the culmination of an intense political battle over the date of the polls, which began when Sall cancelled the election three weeks before its initial date of February 25, sending shock waves throughout Senegal. FRANCE 24 traces the key developments during the democratic crisis that ensued. 

Postponement of the vote

Sall announced that the ballot would be postponed indefinitely while speaking on national television on February 3, just a few hours before the start of the presidential campaign.

“For the past few days, our country has been faced with a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Council, in open conflict over an alleged case of corruption of judges,” he said, arguing that this situation threatened the credibility of the vote.

FRANCE 24 Special Edition: Senegal vote postponed ‘indefinitely’



Senegalese President Macky Sall postponed the country’s presidential elections © FRANCE 24 screengrab

Senegalese lawmakers four days earlier approved a parliamentary inquiry into how some potential candidates’ applications to enter the race had been invalidated. The inquiry was called for by the party of Karim Wade, who was excluded from the contest due to his French citizenship, as only citizens of exclusively Senegalese nationality are allowed to run. Wade’s supporters said they suspected two Constitutional Council judges of having “dubious connections” with some candidates, notably Prime Minister Amadou Ba, Sall’s preferred successor.

At the same time, police took presidential candidate Rose Wardini, whose application had been validated by the Constitutional Council, into custody on charges of “forgery, use of forgery and fraud” on suspicion of having dual French-Senegalese nationality.

A political manoeuvre?

Sall said on national TV that “these troubled conditions” could “sow the seeds of pre- and post-electoral dispute”.

“Our country cannot afford a new crisis” after episodes of violence in March 2021 and June 2023, he said.

Sall announced the establishment of a “national dialogue” for “a free, transparent and inclusive election”, while reaffirming his commitment not to stand for a third consecutive term.

But Sall’s decision to postpone the vote sparked many questions in Senegal, not least because ruling party MPs themselves had voted in favour of the parliamentary inquiry. While these legislators said they wanted to clear the name of their candidate Amadou Ba, the opposition blasted a manoeuvre designed to torpedo the election and prevent his defeat. 

Ba is also facing two dissident candidates from within his own camp: former prime minister Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne and former interior minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye.

But general opinion in Senegal holds that Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a candidate chosen by opposition leader Ousmane Sonko to replace him after his own candidacy was invalidated, poses the main threat to the outgoing president’s preferred candidate.

Reacting to Sall’s decision to postpone the election, lawyer and Faye supporter Amadou Ba (not to be confused with the prime minister) criticised the president’s arguments as “incredibly unserious”, pointing out that the parliamentary commission of inquiry was set up only on “mere suspicions” of corruption.

The day after Sall’s televised speech, hundreds of Senegalese demonstrated in the capital Dakar, where clashes broke out with police.

Lawmakers approve December polls

To cancel the February 25 election, Sall repealed a decree summoning the electorate. All that remained was to set a new date. Wade’s coalition called for a six-month postponement and submitted a bill to parliament. During a particularly tense session, lawmakers on February 5 approved December 15 as the new election date, judging the initially proposed date of August 25 to be unfit due to the rainy season.

The new deadline meant that Sall’s mandate, due to end on April 2, would be extended by 10 months. Many people in Senegal objected, denouncing a “constitutional coup d’état” enabling the president to hold on to power. 

Read moreSenegal’s democratic record on the line as presidential vote delay sparks crisis

Several presidential candidates lodged appeals with the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Council to block the postponement of the vote. 

Tensions quickly escalated in the streets. Police cracked down on demonstrations organised across Senegal on February 9 and in the days that followed. Four people died in Dakar, Saint-Louis and Ziguinchor – the southern town where Sonko was elected mayor in 2022 – in connection with the protests, the worst outbreak of violence during the election crisis.

Constitutional Council rules against postponement

The Constitutional Council on February 15 delivered its verdict on the appeal of the election postponement, and it was a clear blow to Sall: the court annulled his decree abrogating the vote for lack of legal basis. The council also found that the law adopted by parliament to postpone the vote violated the constitution, a second no-go.

Noting “the impossibility of organising the presidential election on the initially scheduled date” of February 25, the Constitutional Council asked “the competent authorities to hold it as soon as possible”.

The “national dialogue” organised by Sall but boycotted by the opposition recommended in early March that the delayed vote take place on June 2. In that scenario, Sall would remain in office until the inauguration of Senegal’s fifth president. The proposal was rejected by the Constitutional Council, which ruled that the election must occur before the end of Sall’s term on April 2.

The president and the council on March 7 finally agreed to hold Senegal’s election on March 24. The new date has the advantage of not falling on the Easter holiday, but meant that the presidential campaign unfolded during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – a first in Senegal’s history. The campaign period was also shortened from 21 to 17 days.

As part of an amnesty law passed by parliament a week earlier, Sonko and his replacement candidate Faye were released from prison on March 14 to rapturous celebrations by their supporters in the streets of Dakar.

On the following day, a final petition from Wade’s camp seeking to ban the ballot on the grounds that it would occur too soon was rejected by the Supreme Court, thus removing the last potential obstacle to the presidential election on Sunday.

This article is a translation of the original in French.

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America’s failed ‘War on Terror’ in Africa is a global security crisis

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Without a drastic shift in policy that supports the emergence of strong and cohesive African societies, the world will be thrown into a global security crisis of earth-shattering proportions, Christine Odera writes.

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New shocking figures from the US Department of Defence are a glaring indictment of US policy in Africa: America’s “War on Terror” has disastrously spiked terrorism in Africa by an astonishing 100,000%, with Islamist violence alone jumping 20% in just the last year.

Decades of misguided US intervention have catapulted Africa into the epicentre of global terrorism, responsible for nearly half the world’s terrorist acts. 

This alarming trend dominated discussions at the African Union summit in Ethiopia, amidst a backdrop of escalating violence and political chaos.

Countries like Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso are already withdrawing from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) after military coups — a move that threatens to plunge the region into deeper turmoil.

The so-called Islamic State, having been territorially defeated in the Middle East, is also worryingly expanding its influence in West Africa and the Sahel, reportedly even readying itself to carry out attacks abroad once more.

The harsh truth is America and the wider Western approach, no matter how well-intentioned, sought security without fostering development and tragically achieved neither.

Because of these failures, Africa is now caught in the crosshairs of Washington’s authoritarian rivals, Russia and China. 

They’re aggressively establishing military bases and deploying foreign mercenaries who commit horrific human rights violations, especially against African women, in a ruthless scramble for Africa’s riches.

More boots on the ground won’t solve anything

For two decades, American counter-terrorism efforts in Africa have been centred on two main fronts: Somalia and West Africa. Each saw huge spikes in terrorism last year with France even recalling 1,500 troops from Niger after the recent coup.

But in a UNDP report last year, the most powerful factor pushing people into violent extremism was “disaffection with government”, with 40% of recruits into militant groups citing economic hardship specifically.

Those who live by the gun are taught that it is the only way to survive and prosper. 

This is a political message, not a religious one. Without addressing it appropriately, conflicts will fester and grow, plunging the world into endless displacement and refugee crises it cannot absorb or solve.

Global North nations must acknowledge their disastrous policies’ impact on Africa and urgently rebalance security and development strategies to prevent local terror groups from becoming emboldened enough to harbour global ambitions.

Because the solution isn’t increasing its armed presence — such as through the largest US-led joint military exercise — or forcing Western societal models onto Africa, but by embracing the continent’s unique strengths and diversity.

This means investing in Africa’s burgeoning youth, backing African-led peace and conflict resolution initiatives, empowering respected community and religious leaders over capricious and divisive politicians, and forging new economic partnerships that can counterbalance Russian and Chinese influence.

Faith-based organisations are taking the initiative

In the absence of unifying political leaders to create this counterbalance and bring Africans together, community and faith-based organisations are filling the trust deficit — and their potential and capacity to do more should not be underestimated.

For example, Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) goes beyond providing humanitarian aid: they are peacebuilders in conflict zones, offering lifelines by pairing economic empowerment with education to uproot the seeds of extremism and strengthen communities from the inside out. 

Locally in Kenya, the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK) unites diverse religious groups to dismantle extremist ideologies, hosting transformative peace workshops and fostering a culture of interfaith understanding in regions plagued by violence.

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Other NGOs like the Muslim World League (MWL) work regionally to promote a tolerant vision of Islam through groundbreaking documents like the Charter of Makkah which was signed by 1200 prominent Islamic figures from 139 countries in 2019. 

The Charter is actively being implemented through counter-extremism and capacity — which supports human rights, religious tolerance, and women’s rights — to strike at the core of why individuals turn to terrorism.

The MWL’s Secretary General, Dr Mohammed Al-Issa, has already forged ties with the African Islamic Union, an organisation with an estimated 100 million followers, which is now implementing the Charter to train a new generation of Imams across the region.

We’re failing to learn from our failures

The reality is that changing behaviours and attitudes for a day only requires the kind of transactional relationships that Russia and China offer, but changing the dynamic between communities for the long term requires the kind of tireless and sensitive approach adopted by influential civil society and grassroots leaders.

The opportunity for the West to finally get things right remains: reorientate towards strengthening civil society over a cold, security-above-all-else approach that has not even contained the problem of extremism, let alone put into motion solutions to solve it.

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Failure to learn from failed policies risks a future where a continent, soon home to a quarter of the world’s population, spirals further into extremism. 

To reverse this trend, we must not only rally around leaders who have consistently demonstrated moral leadership in times of crisis but also support their mission to create new generations of African leaders who do the same.

The stakes couldn’t be higher with Russia and China looking on. Washington’s war on terror failed dramatically in Africa, and without a drastic shift in policy that supports the emergence of strong and cohesive African societies, the world will be thrown into a global security crisis of earth-shattering proportions.

Christine Odera is a Kenyan peace and security expert. She is Member of the Board of Directors (Council) for Kenya’s National Youth Service (NYS), Co-Chair of the Kenya Coalition on Youth Peace, and former Global Coordinator of the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network based in London.

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A Trump win would see Africa (and the world) spiral into climate hell

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Trump’s election victory would see a return to policies that led to a whopping 110 million Africans facing humanitarian and environmental crises today. But what happens in Africa will not stay in Africa, Nathaniel Mong’are writes.

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African policymakers are bracing themselves for the return of Donald Trump. Having swept the Republican primaries, polls consistently put the former US leader neck-and-neck with incumbent Joe Biden in a presidential rematch. 

Yet, a Trump victory could end up guaranteeing climate disaster for Africa and the world, and Europe must take note.

Of course, at the forefront of most African leaders’ minds is Trump’s undisguised racism, embodied in his expletive-filled rant denigrating African nations back in 2018.

He had also gutted practically all climate funding for dedicated USAID programmes in Africa — programmes initiated under Barack Obama that were crucial to promoting climate resilience by arming African governments with tech, funds and support to fight climate change.

The programme’s departure — although it has shown signs of a recent revival under Biden — marked years lost and contributed directly to the deepening humanitarian and environmental crisis that today impacts more than 110 million Africans.

But what happens in Africa will not stay in Africa. Climate change will intensify, not weaken, migration. 

For US patriots who want to see secure borders, they would do well to recognise that the only way to do so is to support African nations in dealing with climate change.

Climate failure will make the exploitation of grievances worse

That’s why Europeans should equally recognise that Trump’s comeback is a warning signal. 

He represents a new and dangerous trans-Atlantic far-right movement exploiting mounting grievances due to economic challenges which are, ultimately, linked to our chronic dependence on fossil fuels — which has locked us into an inflationary economic crisis.

Trumpist tactics are designed to deflect public attention from this reality, but they are being used across the EU by far-right parties ranging from Germany’s AfD to Geert Wilders Freedom Party in the Netherlands. This requires a concerted fightback, not confused appeasement.

Both US and European progressive parties need to help voters realise that climate failure will set their futures ablaze. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, business-as-usual will create as many as 1.2 billion climate refugees by 2050.

If Americans and Europeans are worried about migrants now, climate change will make this an insoluble challenge. That’s why the EU must not make the same mistakes as President Biden on climate action.

Washington is not taking things seriously anyway

Under Biden, we’ve seen a record-breaking explosion in approvals for more oil and gas drilling permits — even more than Trump — coinciding with a new, mammoth ad campaign promoting the expanded use of fossil fuels launched by the American Petroleum Institute.

This approach has come at odds with US statements during last year’s UN COP28 climate summit in the UAE. 

The US publicly flirted with the idea of a phase-out of fossil fuels and signed up to the historic “UAE Consensus” agreement to transition away from fossil fuels and triple renewable energy capacity by 2030.

The US was also asleep at the wheel when COP28 broke new ground in operationalising a long overdue Loss and Damage Fund for rapid, disaster-relief support to the global South — the US pledged just $17.5 million (€16.1m), paling embarrassingly in comparison to other contributions from Norway ($25m), Denmark ($50m) and the UAE ($100m). 

And of course, Biden himself was conspicuously absent from COP28.

The EU is in danger of following the same road, however, planning €205 billion in new gas investments, while still offering paltry support for climate investments in the Global South. 

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We either mobilise trillions or face the same fate

At the International Energy Agency (IEA) ministerial meeting in Paris earlier in February, US and EU policymakers said little about the trillions needed to support clean energy in Africa and elsewhere.

It was only a week later during his first address at the IEA’s Paris headquarters after COP28 that the climate summit’s President Dr Sultan Al Jaber addressed this elephant in the room. 

Urging governments and industries to take “unprecedented action” to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels, he pointed to COP28’s launch of Altérra, the world’s largest private investment vehicle for climate action, as a model to be “replicated many times over … The world must raise the bar to address the challenges we face — mobilising trillions rather than billions”.

He also asked industries to “decarbonise at scale” while also calling on governments to invest heavily in expanding national grids so they can absorb new renewable projects at pace.

This is exactly the entrepreneurial mindset that European policymakers must adopt today. And it must prioritise unlocking trillions of climate finance for the Global South.

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A failure to do so would not only throw Africa into the flames of climate disaster but create the foundations for an unprecedented global migrant crisis that could be a gift to the far-right. 

Whatever fate we face in Africa will rapidly arrive on the shores of the US and Europe.

But the reality is that Africans want to prosper in Africa. So it’s time for Western, and European leaders in particular, to create a new unifying vision for a shared future of clean prosperity — or reckon with the demise of the EU experiment.

Nathaniel Mong’are is Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kenya. He also helped organise the first-ever Africa Climate Week in Kenya in 2023.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Senegal’s democratic record on the line as presidential vote delay sparks crisis

Violent protests have roiled Senegal since President Macky Sall abruptly called off a planned election at the weekend, with just three weeks to go before the high-stakes vote. The crisis puts one of West Africa’s most stable democracies to the test at a time when the region faces democratic backsliding and a surge in military coups.

Senegal’s parliament voted on Monday to delay the country’s presidential election until December 15, two days after President Sall stunned the nation of 18 million people by calling off a planned February 25 vote.  

The bill adopted by the National Assembly effectively extends Sall’s 12-year tenure, which was due to end on April 2. It was passed near-unanimously, with 105 votes in favour and just one against, after several opposition lawmakers were forcibly removed from the chamber. 

Its passage came as police used tear gas to disperse protesters gathered outside the parliament building and as mobile internet services were suspended nationwide to counter the threat of “hateful and subversive messages on social media”. 

The controversial move marks the first time a Senegalese election is postponed since the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1974. It has triggered fierce protests in the West African nation, seen as a democratic bastion of stability in a volatile region roiled by successive military coups. 

‘Constitutional coup’

The decision to delay the vote, just hours before campaigning was officially set to begin, has exacerbated an already tense political climate, with Sall’s critics accusing him of cracking down on opponents and seeking to hold on to power.  

In a televised address on Saturday, the president cited a dispute between the parliament and the country’s Constitutional Council over the disqualification of some candidates, arguing that this had created a “sufficiently serious and confusing situation” to justify delaying the vote. 

His opponents, however, suspect the postponement is part of a plan to extend Sall’s term in office or influence whoever succeeds him. They claim he feared his chosen successor, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, was in danger of losing the election. 


Opposition figure Khalifa Sall, who is not related to the president, denounced “a constitutional coup”, while two opposition parties filed a court petition challenging the election delay. The president’s announcement also sparked the immediate resignation of cabinet minister Abdou Latif Coulibaly, who expressed his dismay at Sall’s move. 

“Maybe it’s just that when you’re in power, you think anything is possible,” Coulibaly told FRANCE 24’s sister radio station RFI. The president “cannot extend his term, it’s impossible”, he added.  

Senegal’s democratic credentials now hang in the balance, said political analyst Gilles Yabi, head of the Dakar-based think tank Wathi, pointing to a constitutional crisis brewing. 

“The situation is alarming because the Constitutional Council, which upholds the constitution and the separation of powers, has come under attack,” he said. “I fear we are entering a period of uncertainty and weakening of our institutions, starting with the one that is most important for protecting freedoms and the fundamental principles of democracy.” 

Echoes of deadly unrest 

Senegal’s political crisis has led to fears of the kind of violent unrest that broke out in March 2021 and June 2023, which resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of arrests.  

The catalyst for the unrest was the arrest and later sentencing of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko in a rape case his supporters claim was politically motivated. Sonko and other prominent opponents have denounced a drift towards authoritarianism and accuse the government of manipulating the justice system.  

In the run-up to the last presidential election in 2019, legal woes prevented opposition figures Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade from challenging Sall. Sonko was likewise barred from the forthcoming vote, though his back-up candidate Bassirou Faye is on the ballot. 

Speculation that the incumbent might seek a third term in office, despite a constitutional two-term limit, had further stoked unrest, until he announced in July that he would not stand again. 

“On April 2, 2024, God willing, I will hand over power to my successor,” Sall confirmed on December 31, in what should have been his final New Year address as Senegalese president. 

Accusations of hanging on to power mark an ironic twist for the incumbent, who had led the challenge against his predecessor Abdoulaye Wade in 2012, arguing that the latter’s bid for a third term in office was unconstitutional.  

“Sall himself had warned Wade that he could not stay one extra day as president,” said Yabi of the Wathi think tank. “Back then, he was very clear that any attempt to extend a mandate was contrary to the constitution.” 

A ‘democratic model’ for the West  

Sall eventually ousted Wade, his former mentor, in a run-off vote in 2012. Twelve years on, Senegal’s fifth president since independence prides himself on having transformed the country during his two terms at the helm. 

Sall has introduced sweeping reforms and launched major infrastructure projects, including motorways, industrial parks and a new airport. He has also sought to position himself as a respected and influential player on the international stage, championing the respect of constitutional order even as a wave of military coups swept the region, toppling democratically-elected governments one by one. 

His standing as the leader of a bastion of democracy in the region explains why Senegal’s international allies have expressed concern at the current crisis – but refrained from condemning Sall’s move. 

As a “model of democracy”, Senegal is of extreme importance to the West, said Douglas Yates, a West African politics expert at the American Graduate School in Paris.  

“American presidents visit Senegal precisely because it is a model of democracy,” he said. “And for France, it is one of the most democratic French-speaking countries left standing.”


In a statement on Monday, the US State Department said it was closely monitoring the situation in Dakar. It urged “all participants in Senegal’s political process to engage peacefully in the important effort to hold free, fair and timely elections”. 

On Tuesday, West African bloc ECOWAS, of which Senegal is a key member, expressed its “preoccupation”, encouraging Dakar to “urgently restore the electoral timetable”. 

Rights groups were more alarmist, with Human Rights Watch warning that the country’s status as “a beacon of democracy in the region (…) is now at risk”. 

The advocacy group wrote in a statement: “Authorities need to act to prevent violence, rein in abusive security forces, and end their assault on opposition and media. They should respect freedom of speech, expression, and assembly, and restore internet, putting Senegal back on its democratic course.” 

Despite the alarm, analysts have played down fears of a military takeover akin to the ones witnessed across West Africa in recent years. Senegal has never experienced a coup since gaining independence from France in 1960, making it a rare outlier in a troubled region. 

“Coups are a real concern given the pattern in the region, but Senegal is a unique case,” said Yates. “It’s had three peaceful transitions of power. It’s a consolidated democracy. Elections really are the only game in town.” 

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Senegal’s President Macky Sall postpones Feb 25 presidential elections indefinitely

Senegalese President Macky Sall on Saturday announced the indefinite postponement of the presidential election scheduled for February 25, just hours before official campaigning was due to start.

In an address to the nation, Sall said he had signed a decree abolishing a previous measure that set the date as lawmakers investigate two Constitutional Council judges whose integrity in the election process has been questioned. “I will begin an open national dialogue to bring together the conditions for a free, transparent and inclusive election,” Sall added without giving a new date.

Under the country’s election code, at least 80 days must pass between the publication of the decree and the election, which means the earliest it could now be held is late April.

It is the first time that Senegal has delayed a presidential vote. Its four largely peaceful transitions of power via the ballot box since independence from France in 1960 have built up its reputation as one of West Africa‘s most stable democracies.


Last month, the Constitutional Council approved 20 candidates but disqualified dozens of others from the race, including opposition leaders Ousmane Sonko and Karim Wade. Wade was barred from running because he allegedly also holds French citizenship, a decision he denounced as “scandalous”. 

Sall reiterated Saturday that he will not be a candidate. He had repeatedly said he would hand over power in early April to the winner of the vote. After announcing he would not run for a third term as president, Sall designated Prime Minister Amadou Ba from his party as his would-be successor. But with his party split over his candidacy, Ba faced possible defeat in the elections.

Just hours after Sall’s announcement, Abdou Latif Coulibaly, the Secretary General of the government who has acted as its spokesman, announced his resignation. He was quitting because he wanted to have “full and complete freedom” to defend his political convictions, Coulibaly said in a statement.

France calls for vote ‘as soon as possible’

The US State Department urged Senegal to “swiftly” set a date for a “timely, free and fair election” in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “We acknowledge allegations of irregularities, but we are deeply concerned about the disruption to the presidential electoral calendar,” the department’s Bureau of African Affairs posted.


France on Sunday echoed the US, saying that Senegal should end “uncertainty” and called for a vote “as soon as possible.

“We call on authorities to end the uncertainty about the electoral calendar so the vote can be held as soon as possible, under the rules of Senegalese democracy,” Paris’ foreign ministry said in a statement as Senegal’s political crisis deepens.

The intervention from Paris, the former colonial power in Senegal, came as opposition presidential candidates called for a Sunday afternoon demonstration in Dakar.

The European Union also said on Sunday that the postponement of Senegal’s presidential election opens a “period of uncertainty”. “The European Union… calls on all actors to work … for the staging of a transparent, inclusive and credible election as soon as possible,” EU spokesperson Nabila Massrali said in a statement.

The opposition Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), whose candidate Karim Wade was among those excluded from running, had formally requested a postponement on Friday. 

But other oppposition figures have aleady expressed their disapproval of the president’s decision. Former mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall – who has no relation to President Macky Sall – called for pro-democratic forces to unite against the decision. “All of Senegal must stand up,” he told journalists.”All democratic political forces and civil society should unite so that this project does not succeed.”

One opposition leader, Thierno Alassane Sall, denounced what he called “high treason towards the Republic” in a post on X, formerly Twitter. He called on “patriots and republicans” to oppose it.

El Malick Ndiaye, former spokesman of the now-disbanded opposition party once led by the now jailed Ousmane Sonko, also denounced the decision. “This is not a delay of the election, but a cancellation pure and simple,” he wrote on Facebook.

Inquiry on Constitutional Council

Senegal‘s parliament on Wednesday approved a commission of inquiry into the workings of the Constitutional Council – the body which both finalises the list of candidates and announces the winner of the election.

The excluded candidates, who include opposition firebrand Ousmane Sonko, say the rules for candidacy were not applied fairly. The authorities deny this.

Many MPs from the president’s own party unexpectedly voted in favour of the inquiry, fuelling speculation that they could be trying to delay a vote they fear losing.

The campaign to establish an inquiry was launched by disqualified candidate Wade. He has accused two of the seven members of the Constitutional Council of having links with presidential hopefuls, including Prime Minister Amadou Ba, endorsed by the outgoing president.


Before the president’s speech, the influential League of Imams and Preachers of Senegal on Saturday warned of the dangers of postponement and appealed directly to President Sall to take steps to avoid fuelling instability.

“Any attempt to postpone the elections would be fraught with pointless risks,” it said in a statement. “As Senegal is stable in all respects and on track for elections, the wisest decision for the head of state would be to do everything possible to ensure that free and transparent elections are held.”

Senegalese voters are due to choose a successor to President Sall, who is not seeking a third term. For the first time in Senegal’s history, the incumbent is not on the ballot. His handpicked successor, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, is among 20 candidates cleared by the constitutional council to run.

Meanwhile, Rose Wardini, one of only two women in the approved list of candidates, was detained Friday on charges of allegedly hiding her French citizenship, according to judicial sources.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP & Reuters)



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With ECOWAS exit, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger leave democratic transition in limbo

The announcement that Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso will withdraw from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) “without delay” has put an abrupt end to fractious talks on organising elections and reinstating civilian rule. With their emphasis on restoring “national sovereignty” and driving out terrorist groups, the three West African countries’ military governments have made it clear that organising elections is not their primary concern.   

Since successive coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been trying to get the countries’ military leaders to commit to holding elections to reinstate civilian governments.  

Despite the heavy sanctions imposed, fractious negotiations between the three West African countries and ECOWAS have failed to produce tangible results. In their joint withdrawal announcement on January 28, the interim leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger criticised the West African regional organisation for its lack of support in the fight against terrorism and for adopting “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane” punitive measures. Their exit marks the end of negotiations regarding each country’s electoral timetable, which the military governments had shown little inclination to put in place. 

In Mali, the first country to be affected by the wave of coups that has spread across West Africa in recent years, talks initiated by ECOWAS on the duration of the transition period have seen many twists and turns. Following the August 2020 coup that toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, ECOWAS imposed an economic embargo, closing its borders with the country while maintaining deliveries of essential goods. The military then installed a civilian government committed to holding elections within two years, scheduled for February 27, 2022. However, a second putsch in May 2021 shattered this promise. 

Speaking to FRANCE 24 months after the second coup, Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Maiga described the February 2022 deadline as unrealistic. “It is better to have a few more weeks, even a few more months” than to have another post-electoral crisis, like the one that led to the fall of President Keïta, he said.   

Since then, the length of the transition period has changed several times. At the end of December 2021, following a “national consultation”, Mali’s interim President Assimi Goïta proposed extending it by five years. This was later reduced to two years under pressure from ECOWAS. Before announcing their withdrawal from the West African regional organisation, the Malian authorities had again postponed the presidential election, scheduled for February 4, 2024, for “technical reasons”, without giving a new date. 

Prioritising fight against terrorism  

The electoral timetable established for Burkina Faso has also been consigned to oblivion. Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who overthrew President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré in January 2022, had pledged to hold elections in July 2024 until he himself was overthrown by the young Captain Ibrahim Traoré in September 2022. Traoré initially said that he wanted to respect this timetable, but then changed his mind. “It’s not a priority, I’ll tell you that clearly, security is the priority,” he said, when asked about holding elections a year later.  

In Niger, which has been less affected by terrorist attacks by groups linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group, coup leaders have also justified their actions by citing the “deteriorating security situation”

Read moreNiger coup brings France’s complicated relationship with its former colonies into the spotlight

Following the July 2023 coup, ECOWAS once again entered into negotiations with a military junta to establish an electoral timetable. It threatened the new leaders with military intervention in order to re-establish constitutional order, but failed to bring them to heel.   

“These military regimes’ approach, which consists of prioritising the fight against terrorism over the question of democracy, effectively puts the return to constitutional order at risk, because no one knows when security will return,” said Abba Seidik, a journalist specialising in the Sahel. “It’s true that the situation in Burkina Faso is particularly difficult, but what about in Mali, where the authorities have regained control of Kidal [a town in northern Mali]? Or Niger, where it was possible to hold a presidential election at the end of 2020? Not all situations are identical. Although elections may not have been the primary reason why the three countries withdrew from ECOWAS, it is worth mentioning that [their exit from the group] removes any possibility of applying pressure in this area.” 

Military populism 

The three countries’ decision to leave ECOWAS is further evidence of the regional organisation’s failure to negotiate a return to civilian rule, said Thierry Vircoulon, a Sub-Saharan Africa expert at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). 

“The commitments by Mali and Burkina Faso’s military governments to hold elections were part of a dialogue with ECOWAS that had already failed,” said Vircoulon. “The elections were already doomed and leaving ECOWAS is just the latest proof of this. These countries practise a form of populist militarism; they have no intention of facing up to election results and are organising popular mobilisations to legitimise themselves.” 

“Regional partners and the international community continue to press them to hold elections – as does a silent segment of their population, which we should not forget,” said Seidik. “But these people are living in a society where freedom of expression has been considerably curtailed. In Mali, critical positions expose people to online lynching campaigns, and it is even worse in Burkina Faso, where we have seen that people can be arrested for criticising the authorities.” 

In Mali’s capital Bamako, very few people spoke out against the decision to leave ECOWAS. The February 20 Coalition (Appel du 20 février), which includes opposition political parties and civil society movements critical of the transitional authorities, issued a press release, denouncing a decision “taken without any form of democratic debate”.  

Meanwhile, the military leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger – united under the banner of the Alliance of Sahel States, a mutual defence pact established in September 2023 –organised “large mobilisations of support” on February 1 to celebrate a “courageous and historic” decision. 

In an interview with former RFI journalist Alain Foka shortly after the ECOWAS exit, Burkina Faso’s interim leader Traoré declined to commit to an election timetable. “There must be a minimum of security so that, if there is an electoral campaign, people can go anywhere in Burkina Faso to explain their ideas,” he said, before touting the army’s accomplishments. “You have to know how to awaken patriotism in a people, to give them confidence, to know that their homeland is the only thing they have left,” he added. “That’s what we’ve managed to do.”

This article has been translated from the original in French

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The Middle East is on fire: What you need to know about the Red Sea crisis

On October 7, Hamas fighters launched a bloody attack against Israel, using paragliders, speedboats and underground tunnels to carry out an offensive that killed almost 1,200 people and saw hundreds more taken back to the Gaza Strip as prisoners. 

Almost three months on, Israel’s massive military retaliation is reverberating around the region, with explosions in Lebanon and rebels from Yemen attacking shipping in the Red Sea. Meanwhile, Western countries are pumping military aid into Israel while deploying fleets to protect commercial shipping — risking confrontation with the Iranian navy.

That’s in line with a grim prediction made last year by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, who said that Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza meant an “expansion of the scope of the war has become inevitable,” and that further escalation across the Middle East should be expected. 

What’s happening?

The Israel Defense Forces are still fighting fierce battles for control of the Gaza Strip in what officials say is a mission to destroy Hamas. Troops have already occupied much of the north of the 365-square-kilometer territory, home to around 2.3 million Palestinians, and are now fighting fierce battles in the south.

Entire neighborhoods of densely-populated Gaza City have been levelled by intense Israeli shelling, rocket attacks and air strikes, rendering them uninhabitable. Although independent observers have been largely shut out, the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry claims more than 22,300 people have been killed, while the U.N. says 1.9 million people have been displaced.

On a visit to the front lines, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant warned that his country is in the fight for the long haul. “The feeling that we will stop soon is incorrect. Without a clear victory, we will not be able to live in the Middle East,” he said.

As the Gaza ground war intensifies, Hamas and its allies are increasingly looking to take the conflict to a far broader arena in order to put pressure on Israel.

According to Seth Frantzman, a regional analyst with the Jerusalem Post and adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “Iran is certainly making a play here in terms of trying to isolate Israel [and] the U.S. and weaken U.S. influence, also showing that Israel doesn’t have the deterrence capabilities that it may have had in the past or at least thought it had.”

Northern front

On Tuesday a blast ripped through an office in Dahieh, a southern suburb of the Lebanese capital, Beirut — 130 kilometers from the border with Israel. Hamas confirmed that one of its most senior leaders, Saleh al-Arouri, was killed in the strike. 

Government officials in Jerusalem have refused to confirm Israeli forces were behind the killing, while simultaneously presenting it as a “surgical strike against the Hamas leadership” and insisting it was not an attack against Lebanon itself, despite a warning from Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati that the incident risked dragging his country into a wider regional war. 

Tensions between Israel and Lebanon have spiked in recent weeks, with fighters loyal to Hezbollah, the Shia Islamist militant group that controls the south of the country, firing hundreds of rockets across the frontier. Along with Hamas, Hezbollah is part of the Iranian-led “Axis of Resistance” that aims to destroy the state of Israel.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Iran’s foreign ministry said the death of al-Arouri, the most senior Hamas official confirmed to have died since October 7, will only embolden resistance against Israel, not only in the Palestinian territories but also in the wider Middle East.

“We’re talking about the death of a senior Hamas leader, not from Hezbollah or the [Iranian] Revolutionary Guards. Is it Iran who’s going to respond? Hezbollah? Hamas with rockets? Or will there be no response, with the various players waiting for the next assassination?” asked Héloïse Fayet, a researcher at the French Institute for International Relations.

In a much-anticipated speech on Wednesday evening, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah condemned the killing but did not announce a military response.

Red Sea boils over

For months now, sailors navigating the narrow Bab- el-Mandeb Strait that links Europe to Asia have faced a growing threat of drone strikes, missile attacks and even hijackings by Iran-backed Houthi militants operating off the coast of Yemen.

The Houthi movement, a Shia militant group supported by Iran in the Yemeni civil war against Saudi Arabia and its local allies, insists it is only targeting shipping with links to Israel in a bid to pressure it to end the war in Gaza. However, the busy trade route from the Suez Canal through the Red Sea has seen dozens of commercial vessels targeted or delayed, forcing Western nations to intervene.

Over the weekend, the U.S. Navy said it had intercepted two anti-ship missiles and sunk three boats carrying Houthi fighters in what it said was a hijacking attempt against the Maersk Hangzhou, a container ship. Danish shipping giant Maersk said Tuesday that it would “pause all transits through the Red Sea until further notice,” following a number of other cargo liners; energy giant BP is also suspending travel through the region.

On Wednesday the Houthis targeted a CMA CGM Tage container ship bound for Israel, according to the group’s military spokesperson Yahya Sarea. “Any U.S. attack will not pass without a response or punishment,” he added. 

“The sensible decision is one that the vast majority of shippers I think are now coming to, [which] is to transit through round the Cape of Good Hope,” said Marco Forgione, director general at the Institute of Export & International Trade. “But that in itself is not without heavy impact, it’s up to two weeks additional sailing time, adds over £1 million to the journey, and there are risks, particularly in West Africa, of piracy as well.” 

However, John Stawpert, a senior manager at the International Chamber of Shipping, noted that while “there has been disruption” and an “understandable nervousness about transiting these routes … trade is continuing to flow.”

“A major contributory factor to that has been the presence of military assets committed to defending shipping from these attacks,” he said. 

The impacts of the disruption, especially price hikes hitting consumers, will be seen “in the next couple of weeks,” according to Forgione. Oil and gas markets also risk taking a hit — the price of benchmark Brent crude rose by 3 percent to $78.22 a barrel on Wednesday. Almost 10 percent of the world’s oil and 7 percent of its gas flows through the Red Sea.

Western response

On Wednesday evening, the U.S., Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom issued an ultimatum calling the Houthi attacks “illegal, unacceptable, and profoundly destabilizing,” but with only vague threats of action.

“We call for the immediate end of these illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews. The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways,” the statement said.

Despite the tepid language, the U.S. has already struck back at militants from Iranian-backed groups such as Kataeb Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria after they carried out drone attacks that injured U.S. personnel.

The assumption in London is that airstrikes against the Houthis — if it came to that — would be U.S.-led with the U.K. as a partner. Other nations might also chip in.

Two French officials said Paris is not considering air strikes. The country’s position is to stick to self-defense, and that hasn’t changed, one of them said. French Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu confirmed that assessment, saying on Tuesday that “we’re continuing to act in self-defense.” 

“Would France, which is so proud of its third way and its position as a balancing power, be prepared to join an American-British coalition?” asked Fayet, the think tank researcher.

Iran looms large

Iran’s efforts to leverage its proxies in a below-the-radar battle against both Israel and the West appear to be well underway, and the conflict has already scuppered a long-awaited security deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“Since 1979, Iran has been conducting asymmetrical proxy terrorism where they try to advance their foreign policy objectives while displacing the consequences, the counterpunches, onto someone else — usually Arabs,” said Bradley Bowman, senior director of Washington’s Center on Military and Political Power. “An increasingly effective regional security architecture, of the kind the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are trying to build, is a nightmare for Iran which, like a bully on the playground, wants to keep all the other kids divided and distracted.”

Despite Iran’s fiery rhetoric, it has stopped short of declaring all-out war on its enemies or inflicting massive casualties on Western forces in the region — which experts say reflects the fact it would be outgunned in a conventional conflict.

“Neither Iran nor the U.S. nor Israel is ready for that big war,” said Alex Vatanka, director of the Middle East Institute’s Iran program. “Israel is a nuclear state, Iran is a nuclear threshold state — and the U.S. speaks for itself on this front.”

Israel might be betting on a long fight in Gaza, but Iran is trying to make the conflict a global one, he added. “Nobody wants a war, so both sides have been gambling on the long term, hoping to kill the other guy through a thousand cuts.”

Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.



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Women’s rights take centre stage in DR Congo election

from our special correspondent in Kinshasa – Ahead of Monday’s election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), women’s faces can be seen everywhere, pinned up on electoral posters throughout the country. During his five-year term, President Félix Tshisekedi demonstrated a commitment to women’s rights and better female representation in politics, but there is still a long way to go.

Days out from the DRC‘s presidential election, campaign clips play constantly on state broadcaster Congolese National Radio and Television (RTNC). One of the advertisements, from the campaign of President Félix Tshisekedi, known colloquially as “Fatshi béton”, highlights one of his flagship policies: free maternity care. 

Since being implemented in September 2023, the measure is gradually taking effect in public hospitals and health centres. At the Kinshasa General Hospital (still informally known as “Mama Yemo Hospital”, after the mother of ousted President Mobutu), Julie is receiving postnatal care after giving birth to her daughter, Yumi.

“This is my third child. I had a C-section. For the first two, I gave birth elsewhere and paid 40,000 Congolese francs, then 65,000 for the second (€14 and €22.60 at current exchange rates),” says Julie. “I am satisfied with the free maternity care because, this time, if I was made to pay for the C-section, I would have died. I couldn’t have afforded the operation (one million Congolese francs, or €340).”

Julie gave birth to a baby girl by Caesarean section and benefitted from free medical care for the first time. © David Gormezano, FRANCE 24

She still must pay for her painkillers and the medicine for her newborn’s fever, but the impact of the financial relief is evident. “Before free childbirth, if you didn’t pay, they kept you in the hospital until the bill was paid,” Julie says.

Women and hospitals alike

Still lying on her bed after giving birth to her son Vainqueur (“Winner”, in English), Pierrette Mayele Moseka praises the policy. “This is my sixth child. According to my husband, when I arrived, I was in agony. We came from very far away, and care was immediately provided at the hospital. We will all vote for President Fatshi.”

Despite its dilapidated buildings and very basic equipment, Kinshasa General has one of the best public maternity wards in Kinshasa. For doctors, the free care provided to mothers and their babies can mean the difference between the life and death of their patients.

The maternity ward at the
The maternity ward at the “Mama Yemo” general hospital in Kinshasa. © David Gormezano, FRANCE 24

“The measure allows us to free up beds more quickly. After two or three days, women can go home if there are no complications. It makes our job easier,” says Olenga Manga, one of the two medical interns, finishing his shift.

“Often, women would refuse C-sections because they couldn’t afford them. With the free service, maternal mortality has decreased. Today, we can intervene quickly. We no longer worry about whether a woman can pay. Infant mortality has also decreased,” he says, walking through the delivery room still under partial construction.

Progress or politics?

In his brand-new office, hospital director Dr Jean-Paul Divengi likewise praises President Tshisekedi’s policy but believes the responsibility to make effective use of the funding ultimately rests with care providers.

Indeed, the director explains that the free childbirth policy does not only affect the maternity ward. “This involves other departments: functional rehabilitation, resuscitation, anaesthesia, paediatric surgery, and also the morgue for unfortunate situations,” says Divengi. “It’s a significant step forward for women but also the hospital in general.”

Jean-Paul Divengi, medical director of the
Jean-Paul Divengi, medical director of the “Mama Yemo” general hospital. © David Gormezano, FRANCE 24

With free childbirth, instead of asking patients to front the bill, the hospitals invoice the health ministry for their care each month. This has put less pressure on finances, says Divengi.

“I was at the helm for three years [before the policy was implemented], and almost no bill was fully paid!” says Divengi. “For this program to develop successfully, technical and financial partners must also follow suit.”

However, not everyone is convinced. According to lawyer Arlette Ottia, a member of the party of former president Joseph Kabila (2001-2019), it is “a political and populist measure. In reality, you will hardly find women who have given birth for free. It’s only politicians who talk about it.”

Read moreNobel Prize winner Denis Mukwege unveils DR Congo presidential bid

After just three months, it is difficult to determine the status of the ambitious program. While several institutions in Kinshasa have implemented the initiative, few data are available to assess the DRC at large, with its more than 100 million inhabitants.

‘Feminist president’

At the presidential palace in Kinshasa situated on the banks of the Congo River, Tshisekedi is nowhere to be seen. With the election just days away, he is touring the enormous territory to rally support – from Katanga to Kivu to Kasaï.

Tina Salama, Tshisekedi’s spokesperson and a former journalist from respected outlet Radio Okapi, vehemently rejects accusations that the government’s promises are empty. “The president of the republic is a staunch defender of women’s rights. Under his presidency, the country has never done better.”

In the gardens of the Nation’s palace which has housed the “great men” of Congolese history, from Patrice Lumumba to Laurent-Désiré Kabila, Salama explains why she thinks her boss is a “feminist president”.

Tina Salama, former Okapi Radio journalist and spokesperson for President Félix Tshisekedi.
Tina Salama, former Okapi Radio journalist and spokesperson for President Félix Tshisekedi. © David Gormezano, FRANCE 24

“In 2019, we had 17 percent women in state administrations and public enterprises. In 2023, we have reached 32 percent,” says Salama. “It is the first time we see women in decision-making positions. We have a deputy chief of staff, and I am the first spokesperson. There is also a woman heading the Central Bank of Congo, a woman minister of the environment and another who is the minister of justice.”

Tshisekedi’s advocacy for women’s rights comes from his belief that female emancipation is key to social development in the DRC, Salama says. “Women have strongly influenced his life: his mother (Marthe Kasalu Jibikila, wife of Étienne Tshisekedi, a former prime minister under Mobutu known as an ‘eternal opposition figure’), his wife, and his four daughters. He says he takes great pleasure in being surrounded by all these women.”

A long road to emancipation

At the other end of Kinshasa, in the offices of the Jema’h Association, an organisation that promotes women’s rights through access to education and the labour market, a group of young girls record a podcast about the dangers of social media.

Despite the lack of air conditioning in the studio, the young panellists discuss the harassment women can face and the potential toxicity of trending influencers.

For Tolsaint Vangu, 23, the project is about “influencing women who are ignorant of their rights, their duties, telling them about what they can do with their lives. I would like to influence them to be independent.”

Marie-Joséphine Ntshaykolo, who led the Carter Center program which funded the creation of the recording studio, says there has been “significant progress” in women’s rights in the DRC. She does say, however, that the women’s conditions vary by province or whether they live in cities or rural areas.

“The obstacles to women’s emancipation, especially in public affairs, are primarily cultural. In Congo, there is generally male domination. Women are discriminated against due to customs, norms that are not favourable to them,” she says. “But there are more and more women candidates at the legislative level. In the government, there are more women.”

“There is a change. Today, we are heard, and what we have to say is considered,” says Ronie Kaniba, another participant in the podcast.

Women in office

As the Congolese prepare to head to the polls on December 20, Kaniba, who works as a nutritionist for a UNICEF program, tries to keep her distance from politics. “We avoid [discussing political subjects] because it can be dangerous. But there are things we can do. For example, I am an observer (for an independent election watchdog). You observe, you note, and you report. You don’t need to disclose you have done the job because it can be dangerous.” 

Ronny Kaniba, 29, during the recording of
Ronny Kaniba, 29, during the recording of her podcast “A toi la parole” in Kinshasa. © David Gormezano, FRANCE 24

In addition to the next president, the elections will also determine the national and provincial deputies as well as municipal councillors.

According to a report by UN Women, 29,096 women are candidates for these positions (compared to 71,273 men). The percentage of successful female candidates is expected to be revealed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) on December 31, a result that will indicate the progress of women’s representation in Congolese public life.

The last time the country went to the polls, in 2018, conditions were disastrous and the results were contested. A repeat would be bad news for both women and democracy in central Africa’s largest and most populous country.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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