African countries

US bill aims to punish African countries for ‘aligning’ with Russia

A United States (US) bill that would require Washington to punish African governments that encourage Russia’s “malicious” activities on the continent is going through Congress.

Countering Russian Malicious Activities in Africa Law passed the House of Representatives on April 27 by a huge bipartisan majority of 419 to 9 and is now sure to pass the Senate and become law soon. It would direct the US Secretary of State “to develop and submit to Congress a strategy and implementation plan outlining United States efforts to counter the malign influence and activities of the Russian Federation and its agents in Africa”.

The bill broadly defines such malicious activities as those that “undermine the purposes and interests of the United States.” The Secretary of State should monitor the actions of the Russian government and its “proxies” – including private military companies (Wagner is clearly in the crosshairs) and the oligarchs.

The government should effectively counter these activities, including through US foreign assistance programs. It should “hold accountable the Russian Federation and African governments and their officials who are complicit in aiding such influence and malign activities.”

The bill was introduced in Congress on March 31 and was clearly a response to Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Several other punitive laws targeting Russia — including one ordering the administration to gather evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine — were introduced around the same time.

New York Democrat Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the bill was designed to thwart Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to “loot, manipulate and exploit resources in parts of Africa to evade sanctions and undermine American interests”, and to finance his war in Ukraine.

Mr Meeks also touted the bill as pro-Africa, intended to protect “all innocent people who have been victimized by Putin’s mercenaries and agents credibly accused of gross human rights abuses in Africa.” , including in the Central African Republic and Mali”. It was precisely in the Central African Republic (CAR) and in Mali that Wagner was accused to commit human rights offenses to support dubious governments and thwart Western interests.

Some African governments suspect there is more at stake than protecting “Africa’s fragile states”, as Mr. Meeks put it. “Why target Africa? asked a senior African government official. “They are obviously unhappy with the way so many African countries voted in the General Assembly and their relatively unaligned position.”

It is true that in proportion to other regions, more African states did not support the March 3 United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine. Twenty-seven African governments vote for the resolution. Only one – Eritrea – voted against, while 17 abstained and the rest were absent.

Does this mean that the new US bill is designed, at least in part, to punish Africa for its relative lack of support for the US-led effort to punish Russia? Maybe. Although sponsors would say he is targeting Africa because that is where Russia and its proxies have been most active.

And some of the actions the bill enjoins could benefit Africa. It targets Russian efforts to “manipulate African governments and their policies, as well as the public opinions and voting preferences of African people.”

What the authors seem to have in mind here are, for example, the alleged efforts by alleged proxies of the Russian government to bribe candidates in the last Malagasy elections, and the Activities in Africa from the Association for Free Research and International Cooperation (AFRIC). It is a Russian election observation organization, apparently independent, but which appears to be headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the man widely known as Putin’s leader and supposedly leading Wagner.

Western intelligence agencies and others believe that Wagner and AFRIC are proxy operations for Putin’s government, with a mission to thwart Western activities in Africa and elsewhere. These agencies argue that AFRIC’s real function is to counter election monitoring by Western and local observers, thus giving credence to the likes of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front. AFRIC has indeed given a positive judgment on the last elections in Zimbabwe.

On the flip side of this injunction, the bill urges the U.S. government to strengthen democratic institutions, improve government transparency and accountability, improve standards for human rights, labor, anti- corruption, fiscal transparency, oversight of natural resources and extractive industries, and ‘other principles of good governance.’

But what about the bill’s intent to thwart Russian efforts to “invest in, engage in, or otherwise control strategic sectors in Africa, such as mining and other forms of extraction and exploitation of natural resources, military bases and other security cooperation arrangements, and information and communications”. Technology’? Does this mean that any African country where a Russian company invests will fall under this legislation? Or will it apply only to investments that advance Putin’s supposedly nefarious ambitions?

Two potentially controversial case studies from South Africa come to mind. One is the lucrative United Manganese of Kalahari mine in South Africa, possesses by Putin’s oligarch’s crony Viktor Vekselberg – but with 22% owned by the ruling African National Congress (ANC)’s own company, Chancellor House.

This dubious investment is likely keeping the cash-strapped ANC afloat. And it’s been speculated that this is the real reason why the government controversial “non-aligned” position on the war in Ukraine.

Another case study could be the joint venture between African Rainbow Minerals – owned by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s brother-in-law Patrice Motsepe – and Russia’s Norilsk Nickel in potentially lucrative Nkomati nickel. mine.

How the United States will view these investments is unclear. However, what emerges is not so much a picture of the US targeting Africa because it voted the wrong way at the UN. Instead, it seems that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a new Cold War psychosis – and that all other considerations are now subordinated to the imperatives of this conflict.

Michael McCaul, a senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which co-sponsored the bill, alluded to it on May 4. He Told a congressional committee examining several anti-Russian bills: “We must force each state to choose between doing business with the free world or with the war criminal.

So the danger then, as now, is that Africa is caught in the crossfire.

Peter Fabricius, consultant to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS)

(This article was first post by ISS Today, a PREMIUM TIMES syndication partner. We have their permission to republish).

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