Africa in the news: France hosts G-5 Sahel summit, Zimbabwe presents 2018 budget, and UN peacekeeping base in DRC attacked

France hosts G-5 Sahel summit

On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a meeting with African leaders to discuss the recently created G-5 Sahel force. The force, designed to combat terrorism in the Sahel region, is composed of troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. This week, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledged $100 million and $30 million, respectively, to support the group, bringing the total pledges to $250 million after earlier commitments of $60 million each by the United States and the European Union.

The urgency around the mission is high given the recent deaths of U.S. troops in the region and other attacks on U.N. peacekeeping forces. As Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta warned, “With what is happening in the Middle East, with the end of the war in Syria, there will be an influx [of jihadists] towards us.” At the conference, French President Emmanuel Macron committed to strong cooperation between the 4,000 French troops stationed in the region and the new G-5 Sahel force. Notably, the U.N. Security Council and Human Rights Watch, given past abuses recorded in the region, have stressed that the new force should comply with international law including human rights and refugee laws.

France is not creating goodwill with all African countries this week: On Wednesday, the Rwandan government released an independent report accusing the French of complicity in the 1994 genocide. The report, published by a Washington-based law firm, alleges that the French government trained Rwandan forces and supplied arms even after a U.N. embargo was imposed. Relations between the two nations have been tumultuous for some time, with Rwanda breaking off diplomatic relations with France between 2006-2009, and the French blocking the nomination of Rwanda’s ambassador to the European Union in 2015. On the publication of the report, Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said, “What happened in the early ’90s and even before, in the lead-up to the genocide, is something France will have to come to terms with, Rwanda is not going away. We’re not going anywhere.” The release of the report follows the September 2017 start of an investigation on French bank BNP Paribas and its role in the genocide through the transfer of funds used to finance weapons.

Zimbabwe’s latest budget proposes economic reforms

Last week, Zimbabwean Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa presented the country’s 2018 budget proposal—the first budget since President Emmerson Mnangagwa took office last month—which included several breaks from Mugabe-era policies. Notably, the budget proposes to amend a controversial 2008 indigenization law, which required that foreign firms own no more than 49 percent of shares in local businesses. In the new amendment, the indigenization law is lifted for all sectors except for the diamond and platinum industries. Chinamasa explained the change by noting that the law did not produce the intended consequences of boosting state revenues, but rather it reduced foreign investment. The budget proposal also called for a reduction in diplomatic missions and a ban on first class travel for government officials, except the president. These changes are meant to boost the ailing economy, which grew at just 3.7 percent in 2017, according to government estimates.

In total, the 2018 proposed budget amounts to $5.1 billion, with allocations of $905 million to education, $497 to agriculture, $420 million to defense, $408 million to health, $363 million to higher education, and $132 million for elections next year. Some civil society leaders criticized the budget for failing to live up the country’s commitment of improving the health sector by allocating it 15 percent of the national budget—although the health sector did receive a funding increase of 45 percent compared to the previous year. The proposed budget will be mostly funded from taxes. Meanwhile, the African Export-Import Bank has pledged a $1.5 billion package for Zimbabwe, which will aim to provide currency liquidity and investment guarantees as well as help revive productivity, especially within the export-oriented manufacturing and mining sectors.

Attack on UN peacekeeping base leaves 14 dead

Yesterday, Tanzania hosted a ceremony to remember the fallen soldiers of the December 7, Islamist militant raid on a United Nations peacekeeping base in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The four-hour attack killed at least 14 peacekeepers and five Congolese soldiers, as well as wounded 44 peacekeepers. The base is home to the peacekeeping mission’s rapid intervention force, which has the rare ability to go on the offensive. The United Nations has named the Allied Democratic Force, a Ugandan Islamist militant group, the perpetrator of the attack. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the assault, calling it “the worst attack on [United Nations personnel] in recent history.” The majority of the peacekeepers killed in the attack were from Tanzania, which presently has more than 1,000 soldiers serving in the DRC. The Tanzanian government is now calling for a full U.N. investigation into the killings. The chief of the United Nations mission in the DRC, better known under its French acronym MONUSCO (the “United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo”), has vowed that his organization will take the actions necessary to ensure that the perpetrators of the attack are held accountable and judged before a court of law